The Best Travel Credit Cards for Every Type of Traveler

best travel rewards credit cards

For most typical travelers, playing the credit card rewards game is daunting. There are reward points, blackout dates, non-transferrable credits, and frequent flyer miles to figure out. It all feels like a confusing mess of terms and conditions that most ordinary folks don’t want to concern themselves with. Let us make it easy for you. Whether you’re a business traveler, a frequent flyer, or just looking to score the biggest cash-back reward, here are our picks for the best travel credit cards.

Ultimate Travel Flexibility

Capital One Venture Rewards Card

Capital One’s Venture Rewards Card is among the most flexible travel credit cards available. If we had to pick just one, all-purpose card, this would be the clear winner. It offers the most dead-simple reward structure on the market: you’ll earn 2 miles for every $1 spent. That’s it. Cardholders can redeem points for almost any travel expense including cruises, hotels, flights, or taxi rides. There’s no minimum spend required to start earning or using points. Booking through Capital One’s branded Hotels.com travel portal also secures a 10X miles multiplier on tons of hotels.

  • Credit score required (approx.): 690+ (Good to Excellent)
  • Annual fee: $0 the first year, then $95 per year thereafter
  • Bonus: A one-time 50,000-mile bonus (equivalent to $500 in travel) after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months
  • Downside: Like most non-branded cards, it lacks the perks of the dedicated airline- and hotel-specific alternatives.

No Annual Fee

Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card

For Bank of America customers, the company’s Travel Rewards Credit Card is a fantastic option to earn travel rewards and cash back. The rewards scheme is fairly straightforward: for every $1 spent on purchases, you’ll earn 1.5 points (with each point worth 1 cent). Bank of America and Merrill Lynch customers also score a bonus of between 10-75% when redeeming their points (the actual bonus depends on the total value in their customer accounts).

  • Credit score required (approx.): 690-plus (Good to Excellent)
  • Annual fee: None
  • Bonus: A one-time 25,000-mile bonus (equal to a $250 credit) after making $1,000 in purchases during the first 90 days from account opening
  • Downside: While it’s a solid card all-around, the best perks and rewards are reserved only for Bank of America customers.

Big Miles with a Big Cash Bonus

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Branded cards are tied to a specific hotel or airline which really limits your rewards flexibility. In contrast, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card can be used to score points virtually anywhere. For travel and dining, cardholders earn two points for every $1 spent and one point per dollar spent on everything else. You can earn a 25% bonus when booking travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. The actual card is also metal instead of plastic which is also pretty bad-ass.

  • Credit score required (approx.): 690-plus (Good to Excellent)
  • Annual fee: $0 the first year, then $95 per year thereafter
  • Bonus: 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within three months of opening your account
  • Downside: It lacks the perks (like priority boarding and free checked baggage) of dedicated airline cards

Frequent Travelers

Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card

Chase’s Sapphire Reserve Credit Card is among the company’s best travel credit card offerings. The reward scheme is simple: 3 points for every $1 spent on dining and travel, plus 1 point per $1 on everything else. Each point is worth 1.5 cents as long as they’re redeemed through Chase’s travel booking portal. Cardholders can also opt to trade their points in on a 1:1 basis with many airline and hotel partners. There’s also reimbursement for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry every four years. Plus, a $300 travel expense credit is provided to cardholders each year on the anniversary of their account opening. The annual fee might feel steep, but the card can easily pay for itself provided you max out the benefits and perks each year.

  • Credit score required (approx.): 720-plus (Excellent)
  • Annual fee: $450 every year
  • Bonus: 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within three months of opening your account
  • Downside: The steep annual fee may be a waste for all but the most frequent travelers.

Frequent Business Travelers

Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card

Chase’s Ink line of credit cards is among the best available for business-owning travelers. The Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, in particular, offers a sizable one-time bonus, plus a great rewards scheme that allows cardholders to earn 3 points for every dollar spent on many business-related expenses (up to a total of $150,000 annual spending). The card also offers a one-to-one reward point transfer scheme with numerous partners like Marriott, Hyatt, United, and Southwest.

  • Credit score required (approx.): 690-plus (Good to Excellent)
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Bonus: A one-time bonus of 80,000 points (equivalent to $1,000 in travel rewards) after your first $5,000 spent on purchases within 3 months
  • Downside: Aside from the (high) limit on how many points you can earn, not much.

Best Airline-Branded Card

United Explorer Card

Most branded airline credit cards are similar in their fine print, including rewards, their annual fees, etc. For most travelers, the decision of which card to pick comes down to their home airport and which airline they’re most likely to fly. The United Explorer Card offers the typical 2 miles for every $1 spent on air travel with United, plus the same rewards on hotels and dining. Every other purchase is rewarded with 1 mile per dollar. United-specific perks include one free checked bag for cardholders and their companions, plus two complimentary passes to worldwide United Club airport lounges each year.

  • Credit score required (approx.): 690-plus (Good to Excellent)
  • Annual fee: $0 the first year, then $95 per year thereafter
  • Bonus: 40,000 points after spending $2,000 within the first 90 days of opening your account
  • Downside: The best perks are offered to United customers. However, for travelers who tend to fly several carriers, there are better, more flexible card alternatives.

Luxury Perks and Rewards

American Express Platinum Card

No other card issuer makes their customers feel more like a baller than American Express. The company’s Platinum Card offers a wealth of luxe perks. The rewards are solid: 1 point per dollar on everything, plus 5 points per dollar on hotels and air travel (some restrictions apply). With this card, however, most customers are after the additional benefits. Cardholders can score free Global Entry or TSA PreCheck (a USD $100 value every five years), plus $200 credits on both Uber rides and airline fees — all told, that nearly covers the first year’s sky-high annual fee. Cardmembers also gain access to more than a thousand lounges in airports around the world. At many hotels, members-only concierge service is also available.

  • Credit score required (approx.): 690-plus (Good to Excellent)
  • Annual fee: $550 the first year
  • Bonus: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your new account
  • Downside: The ultra-steep annual fee will likely turn off all but the highest-end traveler seeking the highest-end perks and rewards.

For more information on how to game the airline points system, check out our interview with famed The Points Guy.

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