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There is little in life more thrilling than the feeling of a jet powering up for takeoff. But while travel may be fun, the cost of flights and hotels can turn even a small getaway into several thousand dollars of costs. If you want to save money on travel, a travel rewards credit card may be perfect for your needs. However, finding the best credit cards for travel can be a complex task.
Travel credit cards are available with a wide array of rewards, redemption options, fees, and bonuses. Weeding through so many general and branded travel rewards cards can be tough, so we picked out some favorites for a wide range of travel styles – so you can find the best travel credit card for your wallet. Whether you want airport lounge luxury or just care about getting to your final destination in one piece, follow along to find the best travel card for your needs.
If you are new to travel rewards credit cards, Chase Sapphire Preferred is a greatplace to start. This travel card does a great job balancing rewards with a reasonable $95 annual fee. Sapphire Preferred is a general travel rewards credit card that allows you to book flights, hotels, cruises, trains, or transfer points to a handful of great airline and hotel travel partners.
This travel rewards card offers 2x points per dollar on travel and dining purchases and 1 point per dollar everywhere else. Points are worth at least 1.25 cents each, the rate you get when booking travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal. New cardholders can get a 60,000-point bonus after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. That’s worth at least $750 in free travel.
To get the best value from your travel card points, however, you should look at transferring to a partner like United, Southwest, or Marriott. I recently took my dad on a trip to Israel using Chase points. I transferred them to United and booked a premium award which gave us a value of 5+ cents per point. This travel credit card is loaded with additional benefits including travel and purchase protections and no foreign transaction fee. Chase Sapphire Preferred is a winner!
If you’re looking for the best travel credit card for decadent adventures, divert your attention to the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Upgrade your travel experience to a more luxurious one by way of a $450 annual fee. This travel card includes a Priority Pass membership that gives you access to more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world. Those include free drinks, snacks, fast internet, clean bathrooms, and an oasis from the hustle bustle of the terminal.
Yes, the annual fee is a big number. But if it doesn’t scare you off, you get a lot in return. In addition to airport lounges, this is one of the best travel credit cards in terms of purchasing power – we’re talking 3x points per dollar on travel and dining purchases and 1x everywhere else. It offers a 50,000-point bonus after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. This card gives you 1.5 cents per point in Chase Ultimate Rewards so that bonus is worth at least $750 in free travel.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve travel credit card also gives you a $300 annual travel credit on your first travel purchases after the account anniversary. If you would have spent $300 on flights or hotels anyway, that $300 is as good as cash. The card comes with all of the benefits of the Sapphire Preferred above, plus more. If you travel frequently for work or pleasure, it’s worth considering.
Looking for the best travel credit card with simple, flat-rate benefits? Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard from Barclaycard is a great option. This card offers 2x miles per dollar on every purchase. Miles are worth a flat 1 cent each. Every time you redeem for travel, you get a 5% bonus back.
There is an $89 annual fee, waived the first year. But at the 2x per mile rate, you break even on the fee at less than $4,500 in annual purchases, making this one of the best credit cards for travel Miles are redeemed as a statement credit, which means you can pay for travel anywhere you want with the card as usual. When the charge shows up on your statement, you can redeem miles once you spend enough to wipe the charge off of your balance.
The card has no foreign transaction fee. As an added perk for regular international travelers, the card supports Chip + PIN security. That means you can use it to check out at kiosks and self-service checkouts in Europe and other countries that require that higher level of protection. This card starts you out with a 70,000-mile bonus worth $700 after spending $5,000 on travel in the first 90 days after opening a new account.
If you love restaurants and travel, this is the card for you. The recently refreshed Amex Gold card gives you 4x Membership Rewards points per dollar at restaurants and grocery stores in the US (The grocery bonus is limited to $25,000 in annual purchases). Earn 3x points per dollar on flights booked with airlines or Amex Travel.
The card also gives you a $100 statement credit per calendar year toward incidentals with airlines. That includes things like baggage fees, in-flights food and beverage purchases, and seat assignment fees. Also, get up to $10 per month in credits using the card at Grubhub and a list of partner restaurants.
There is a $250 annual fee, but you can get a 50,000-point signup bonus worth two to four times that toward free travel. Spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months to get that bonus. Membership Rewards are redeemable for travel through the Amex portal or transferrable to a list of airline and hotel partners.
PenFed Pathfinder Rewards
If you’re on the hunt for the best travel credit card without an annual fee, the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards should be on your radar. While PenFed Credit Union is primarily geared toward military households, anyone can join with a modest $15 donation to a partner nonprofit. Once you do, you can open a travel credit card that offers rewards and benefits with zero annual fees.
This American Express travel credit card gives you 3x points per dollar on travel purchases. PenFed Honors Advangate members get 4x points. Earn 1.5x everywhere else. The card offers 25,000 bonus points after spending $2,500 in the first 3 months from account opening.
This travel credit card includes a $100 annual credit for airline incidentals, a credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, and other valuable benefits. Points are worth 0.9 cents each toward airfare and 1.18 cents toward each hotels. Your travel credit card points can be redeemed as a statement credit for a wide range of travel category purchases.
The best travel credit cards are those suited to your spending habits and adventure goals. Consider the options above and narrow down your travel card options. Bon voyage!
Eric Rosenberg is a finance, travel, and technology writer in Ventura, California. He is a former bank manager and corporate finance and accounting professional who left his day job in 2016 to take his online side hustle full-time. He has in-depth experience writing about banking, credit cards, investing, and other financial topics. You can connect with him at Personal Profitability or EricRosenberg.com.