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The 14 Best Travel Credit Cards in October 2023

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Jarrod West

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Boasting a portfolio of over 20 cards, Jarrod has been an expert in the points and miles space for over 6 years. He earns and redeems over 1 million points per year and his work has been featured in o...
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Let’s take a look at some of the best travel rewards credit cards available in 2023, review their perks and benefits, and consider which card might be the best one for you to sign up for.

Credit CardWelcome Bonus & Annual FeeMain Benefits
  • Annual fee of
  • 5x points on all travel booked via Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 3x points on dining, online grocery purchases, and select streaming services
  • 2x points on all other travel worldwide
  • $50 annual credit on hotel stays booked via Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 10% annual bonus points
  • Access to over 1,400 worldwide lounges, including Amex Centurion Lounges, Plaza Premium Lounges, and more
  • 5x points on flights purchased directly with the airline or with Amex Travel (up to $500,000 per year)
  • 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with Amex Travel
  • Annual and monthly statement credits
  • Annual fee of
  • 10x points on car rentals, hotels, and dining booked via Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 5x points on airfare booked via Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 3x points on all other travel and dining purchases
  • Up to $300 annual travel credit
  • Priority Pass airport lounge access
  • Annual fee of
  • 10x miles on hotels and rental cars purchased through Capital One Travel
  • 5x miles on flights purchased through Capital One Travel
  • 2x miles on all other purchases
  • $300 annual travel credit on bookings made through Capital One Travel
  • Access to Priority Pass Lounges, Capital One Lounges, and Plaza Premium Lounges
  • 10,000 anniversary bonus miles
  • Annual fee of
  • Up to $189 per calendar year in statement credits after you pay for a CLEAR® Plus membership with the Card.
  • 3x points at restaurants, including takeout and delivery in the U.S.
  • 3x points on travel including airfare, hotels, cruises, tours, car rentals, campgrounds, and vacation rentals
  • 3x points on transit purchases
  • Annual fee of
  • Up to 17x points at Marriott hotels
  • 3x points on the first $6,000 spent in combined purchases each year on grocery stores, gas stations, and dining
  • 1 Free Night Award (valued up to 35,000 points) every year after account anniversary
  • Automatic Silver Elite status with a path to Gold Elite status when you spend $35,000 on purchases each calendar year
  • 4x points at restaurants, including takeout and delivery in the U.S.
  • 4x points at U.S. supermarkets, up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases; and 1x thereafter
  • 3x points on flights purchased directly from airlines or at Amex Travel
  • Up to $120 annual dining credit
  • Up to $120 Uber Cash 
  • Annual fee of
  • 3x points at restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, airfare, and hotels
  • Annual hotel savings benefit
  • Annual fee of
  • 5x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
  • 2x miles on all other purchases
  • 2 complimentary visits to a Capital One Lounge or Plaza Premium Lounge each year
  • Annual fee of
  • 2% cash-back on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash-back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • 3% cash-back on purchases at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in purchases each year, then 1% back after
  • 3% cash-back on purchases at U.S. gas stations on up to $6,000 in purchases each year, then 1% back after
  • 3% cash-back on purchases on online retail purchases on up to $6,000 in purchases each year, then 1% back after
  • Statement credits towards The Disney Bundle and Home Chef
  • 6% cash-back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year) and on select streaming services
  • 3% cash-back on U.S. gas stations and transit (including rideshares, parking, etc.)
  • Annual fee of
  • 5% cash-back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 3% cash-back on dining and drugstore purchases
  • 1.5% cash-back on all other purchases
  • Annual fee of
  • 14x points on Hilton purchases
  • 7x points on select travel and dining
  • Complimentary Hilton Diamond status
  • $250 Hilton Resort statement credit
  • $250 airline fee credit
  • 1 Free Night Award each cardmember anniversary
  • Priority Pass Select membership

Best Travel Credit Cards for First-time Cardholders

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

One of the most compelling reasons to sign up for a travel rewards credit card is to fund your travel goals, and one of the most valuable ways to accomplish this is to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points. That’s because Chase Ultimate Rewards points are easy to earn and offer flexible redemption options.

This is a great card for first-time cardholders since you’ll go on to earn 5x points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3x points on dining, online grocery purchases, and select streaming services, plus 2x points on all other travel purchases.

When it comes time to redeem your Ultimate Rewards points — whether you’re transferring your points to the Chase travel partners or using the Chase travel portal to book your travel — the experience will make you a fan forever.

You can’t go wrong beginning your travel-rewards journey with any Chase credit card that earns Ultimate Rewards points. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is an especially fine first choice because it allows you to redeem your points for 25% more in value. Plus, it comes with perks like a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards hotel credit, and bonus points equal to 10% of your total purchases made the previous year.

It’s difficult to find a downside to the Chase Sapphire Preferred card as it’s one of the most well-rounded travel rewards cards out there. If we had to dig deep and find any travel benefits that would make the card better, however, it would be that the card does not reimburse for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fees or offer lounge access.

With that having been said, for a modest annual fee of , the card provides exceptional value as a travel rewards card.

American Express® Green Card

American Express Membership Rewards points are some of our favorite points to earn thanks to their wide variety of redemption options, and their ability to be redeemed with high-value Amex travel partners.

Fortunately, the Amex Green card is great at earning points since it earns 3x points per $1 at restaurants worldwide, on all eligible travel purchases (including airfare, hotels, cruises, tours, car rentals, campgrounds, and vacation rentals), and transit purchases (including trains, taxicabs, rideshare services, ferries, tolls, parking, buses, and subways).

Other great perks of the card include receiving up to a $189 annual CLEAR Plus statement credit to get you through airport security much faster, and up to a $100 annual LoungeBuddy credit allowing you to purchase access to select airport lounges worldwide.

We also love that the card includes rental car insurance, trip delay insurance, baggage protection, access to Amex Offers, purchase protection, and much more.

All information about the American Express® Green Card has been collected independently by Upgraded Points.

Best Travel Credit Cards for Luxury Travelers

The Platinum Card® from American Express

When you prefer the best travel experiences, you want only the best travel rewards card. If you’re an international traveler who won’t settle for anything less than a nice comfy seat, lounge access, and premium travel perks and benefits, you’re going to want the Amex Platinum card.

The benefits of the Amex Platinum card collectively create a stunning package of everything a luxury international traveler needs to elevate their travel experience.

Note that some benefits require enrollment through your American Express account.

There’s no doubt the Amex Platinum card has a high annual fee, however, the card does offer premium travel benefits that, if used, can more than offset that fee. And while the card offers many valuable statement credits, the airline incidentals credit can be difficult to use as it does not cover airline tickets.

We like the worldwide lounge access, especially Centurion Lounges. However, the Priority Pass membership, unlike Priority Pass Select memberships offered by other card issuers, does not include any participating restaurants.

And finally, although the card comes with a long list of special offers that can save you plenty of money, most offers require you to register or add an Amex Offer to your card in order to activate the offer.

Bottom Line: The Amex Platinum card sets the standard for a premium travel rewards card. If its benefits are some you can use, the value will far exceed the annual fee. There’s even a possibility of getting a 100,000- to 150,000-point welcome bonus for the Amex Platinum card

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card is not just another premium travel rewards credit card. Yes, it earns rewards on travel and dining, offers a fine collection of premium travel benefits (including lounge access), and grants annual statement credits for travel purchases.

But it also does something that no other travel rewards credit card does: when you redeem your points for travel on the Chase travel portal, 50% more value is added to your points.

For example, if you redeem 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points, you’ll receive $900 in value toward your travel purchase.

While expensive long-haul premium flights can be better secured utilizing Ultimate Rewards airline transfer partners, a sweet spot for redeeming your Ultimate Rewards points is for first class domestic flights.

If you’re a frequent domestic traveler, this means you can basically travel in first class for the price of economy.

We should also talk about earning Ultimate Rewards, too, as the card is clearly a winner with earnings of 10x points on hotels, car rentals, and dining purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 5x points on airfare through Chase Ultimate Rewards, and 3x points spent on all other travel and dining purchases. All other purchases earn 1x, and purchases using the Chase shopping portal can earn as much as 20 points per $1.

Benefits of this card include complimentary Priority Pass Select membership that includes access to over 1,300 network airport lounges, participating restaurants, and Minute Suites worldwide. There are also more than 110 locations domestically.

A $300 travel credit each card anniversary year is easy to utilize and automatically reduces travel expenses. Plus, you’ll receive a statement credit of up to $100 for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck, adding even more value.

The road warrior will find value in the additional travel coverage that comes with the card, including primary auto rental collision damage coverage and 24/7 travel and emergency assistance.

While the Chase Sapphire Reserve card also comes with a high annual fee, you’ll find plenty of premium travel benefits that provide value. We like that the card includes participating restaurants and Minute Suites with its Priority Pass Select membership, but the card falls short of the Amex Platinum card when it comes to overall worldwide lounge access.

Additionally, the card does not offer hotel or airline elite status.

Bottom Line: The world traveler can certainly find value in having the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, but the frequent domestic traveler who likes to fly first class, enjoys Priority Pass lounge and restaurant access, and spends a lot on travel and dining will fare very well by having the card. 

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

Packed with premium benefits a traveler can appreciate, such as elevated rewards for travel purchases and a generous welcome bonus to jumpstart your earnings, you’ll find value early on as a cardholder.

Your earning and redemption experiences are also enhanced significantly when you utilize the Capital One Travel portal. With an extraordinary 10x earnings on hotels and rental cars, 5x earnings on flights, and a travel credit of $300, it will pay to utilize the portal frequently.

The elevated earning on the card goes beyond Capital One Travel purchases with 2x miles per dollar spent on every other purchase. Plus, at your card anniversary, you’ll earn another 10,000 miles.

Additional redemption options allow you to transfer miles earned on your card to travel partners, most of which transfer at a ratio of 1:1.

As a Visa Infinite card, you’ll enjoy related benefits such as cell phone insurance, primary car rental insurance, and travel insurance protections such as trip cancellation, trip interruption, trip delay, and baggage insurance.

We also like that the card comes with special Gravity Haus benefits, complimentary Priority Pass Select membership, giving you access to over 1,300 lounges worldwide, and unique access to Capital One Lounges and Plaza Premium Lounges.

If you’ll utilize Capital One Travel, this premium card offers a lot of value for just a annual fee.

The Capital One Venture X card does have a higher annual fee than most travel rewards cards, but the card is a nice value alternative to premium travel rewards cards that come with even higher fees.

Additionally, in order to receive the best earning and redemption values, you must utilize Capital One Travel. Booking via Capital One Travel can negate any hotel elite benefits or elevated earnings you would normally receive when booking directly.

Bottom Line: With a lower annual fee for a premium travel rewards card, the Capital One Venture X card could deliver plenty of value for the cardholder who will utilize the Capital One Travel portal for travel purchases and redemptions. 

Best Value Hotel-branded Card

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card

For the traveler who values choice when it comes to hotels, you won’t find a hotel chain with more properties around the world than Marriott. Plus, each year after your card anniversary, you’ll receive a complimentary hotel night certificate (good for up to 35,000 points in value).

We like that the card delivers plenty of earning potential, good-value redemption options, and lots of additional benefits without a high annual fee.

Additional benefits of having the Marriott Boundless card include:

  • Complimentary Elite Status: 15 elite night credits per year toward a higher elite status, good for Silver Elite status
  • Accelerated Earnings: Earn up to 17 points per $1 at participating Marriott hotels and 2 points per $1 on all other purchases

You’ll also receive a variety of Visa Signature travel perks with the card, including:

  • Roadside dispatch
  • Auto rental collision damage waiver
  • Travel and emergency assistance
  • Baggage delay insurance and lost luggage reimbursement
  • Travel accident coverage
  • No foreign transaction fees

The Marriott Boundless card does come with a annual fee, so utilizing the annual free night certificate would be critical to receiving full value from the card. Additionally, the Marriott Bonvoy Silver Elite status that comes with the card is the lowest level of status in the loyalty program.

Bottom Line: If you’re loyal to a particular hotel brand, it makes sense to be earning additional rewards on those hotel expenditures with a hotel-branded travel rewards credit card… especially when those rewards can be turned into more free nights. 

Best Travel Credit Cards for the Everyday Spender

American Express® Gold Card

Want a card that doubles as an everyday spending card and a travel rewards card? Get richly rewarded with the Amex Gold card that offers a stellar 4 Membership Rewards points for every $1 spent at U.S. supermarkets, up to $25,000 per calendar year (1x thereafter), and at restaurants!

As a traveler, there’s no need to be loyal to a single airline — with the Amex Gold card, you’re going to earn 3 valuable Membership Rewards points for every $1 spent for flights purchased directly from the airline and via Amex Travel.

You can also redeem those Membership Rewards points for travel with any airline or hotel and for other travel purchases at Amex Travel.

With a annual fee (rates and fees), you can offset that fee thanks to the card’s $120 annual Uber Cash credit and $120 annual dining credit, along with your 4x rewards on dining and supermarket purchases.

If there’s another downside to the card, it might be that the card does not offer any type of lounge access — but we might be getting a tad critical.

Citi Premier® Card

The Citi Premier card earns 3x ThankYou Points on everyday purchases such as restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations. Plus, you’ll be earning 3x ThankYou Points on airline flights and hotels. If you spend a lot in these bonus categories, the card will offer strong earnings for your spending mix.

The card offers a generous welcome bonus and no foreign transaction fees, as well as a $100 hotel credit each calendar year for a single hotel stay of $500 or more.

Points can be redeemed for travel via the ThankYou portal or transferred to airline and hotel partners for greater potential value.

While the card does come with purchase protection and extended warranty coverage, it does not come with travel insurance benefits. If you have another travel rewards card with travel benefits and protections, however, the card is worth it for the earning potential and redemption options.

Hot Tip: With so many different issuers in the travel credit card space, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with each bank’s specific rules before applying. 

Best Credit Cards for Travelers Who Want Simple Earnings and Redemptions

Keeping track of bonus spending categories, quarterly registrations, and complicated redemption processes may have deterred you from securing a travel rewards-earning credit card.

If that’s the case, you’ll find these 2 travel rewards cards refreshingly simple:

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on every purchase
  • Redeem miles for travel or transfer to airline partners
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee reimbursement
  • No foreign transaction fees

The only downside to the Capital One Venture Rewards card is that it has an annual fee of . If you spend enough on the card, however, the ongoing fee (beyond the first year) should not be an issue.

Citi® Double Cash Card

  • Earn a total of 2% cash-back on every purchase: 1% when you make a purchase and 1% when paying your card (earned as ThankYou Points)
  • Unlimited earnings
  • Redeem for cash-back, travel, a statement credit, or gift cards
  • No annual fee

We like that the card earns cash-back on every purchase you make on a daily basis. There are, however, no additional bonus categories to reward your highest purchases.

Cardholders can transfer ThankYou Points to Choice Privileges at a 1:1.5 ratio and Wyndham Rewards and JetBlue TrueBlue at a 1:0.8 ratio, but will need a premium Citi ThankYou Point-earning cards (like the Citi Premier card) to receive potentially higher value when transferring points to the full suite of travel partners.

The card also charges a 3% foreign transaction fee and does not come with any travel benefits or protections.

Bottom Line: To learn more about additional card options for Capital One travel rewards credit cards and Citi ThankYou Rewards cards, these articles expand on some of the most popular choices. 

Best Travel Credit Card for the Low Spender

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

You don’t have to be a big spender to earn travel rewards. With a relatively low minimum spend requirement once you’re approved for the Amex Blue Cash Everyday card, you can earn a welcome bonus and jumpstart the rewards-earning process.

Perhaps you haven’t pursued a rewards-earning credit card because you don’t spend a lot and might be wondering whether it’s worth the effort at all. You may be surprised to learn that the purchases you’re already making can earn rewards to help you fund a trip, or just add some cash to your bottom line.

Because you’ll be earning rewards on your everyday purchases with the Amex Blue Cash Everyday card, you don’t have to spend big for the cash-back to start adding up. On groceries alone, you’ll earn $180 after getting 3% back from $6,000 in annual purchases at U.S. supermarkets.

Cash-back is the most liquid form of rewards you can earn. Whether your travel goal is a weekend trip away with the family or a flight to visit an old friend, you can utilize the cash-back you earn on the Amex Blue Cash Everyday card to help offset the cost of your adventure.

Unfortunately, redeeming cash-back is limited compared to flexible rewards points that could be transferred to travel partners for the potential to earn greater value. You won’t have this option with cash-back.

Hot Tip: If you’re working toward a travel goal and using a cash-back credit card, you may want to purchase gas, hotel, or other travel-related gift cards with your rewards to help save for your trip. 

Best Travel Credit Card for Family Road Trippers

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

It’s Friday afternoon and the workweek is done. You’re ready to high-five the family when you arrive home because you’re hitting the road for a weekend adventure. It doesn’t happen often … but this weekend it’s on!

We’re certain the Amex Blue Cash Preferred card was created with family road trippers in mind. After all, you’ll earn cash-back on all the purchases you’ll be making during your trip, and you can use the cash-back you earned previously on everyday expenses to actually help fund your trip.

It’s a win-win cash-back solution for the family that hits the road together or those who just want a little extra cash flow.

Earning 6% cash-back on U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year, then 1%) delivers up to $360 each year in cash-back. Add all the cash you’ll earn with 3% cash-back on your U.S. gas stations, and you’ll have plenty of travel funds for that weekend road trip.

Not only do you earn cash-back at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations, but the card also offers 6% cash-back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions and 3% cash-back on transit, including taxis and rideshares, parking, tolls, trains, buses, and more.

The Amex Blue Cash Preferred card just might make you a family road trip hero!

The card does have an annual fee (rates and fees), so you’ll need to be spending enough on the card to offset that fee. We also prefer flexible rewards for the purpose of receiving potentially higher value at redemption time, but if you’re just trying to earn cash-back to help fund a family vacation, this card could work just fine for that purpose. Families can also take a look at our in-depth guide on the best credit cards for families for additional card choices.

Best Travel Credit Card for the Budget Traveler

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Do you like to travel but have a tight budget? The Freedom Unlimited card has a little secret that might help you out.

The Freedom Unlimited card earns 5% back on travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, 3% on dining and drugstore purchases, plus 1.5% back on all other purchases that fall outside of these bonus categories.

The trick is, the cash-back you earn on all of your purchases with the Freedom Unlimited card is not just cash-back; it can be redeemed for travel or transferred to Chase premium credit cards for even greater value.

If you like to travel on a budget, Ultimate Rewards points are perfect for securing economy flights on the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. Booking travel is easy, and you can redeem your points for airline tickets, hotels, car rentals, and travel experiences.

To step up the value of your Ultimate Rewards points, you can transfer them to a Chase premium card such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred card where the value of your Ultimate Rewards Points is increased by up to 50% more (see our example below). You’ll also have the option to then transfer your points to airline and hotel partners for even greater potential value.

With no annual fee, a simple earning structure, and the value you can receive when redeeming Ultimate Rewards Points (or transferring points to premium Chase cards), the Freedom Unlimited card is a fine choice for the budget traveler.

Normally, we wouldn’t recommend a card that charges a 3% fee on foreign transactions as a good choice for a travel rewards card. However, the card earns well on everyday purchases (and more), making it easy to accumulate a lot of rewards. Then, when paired with a premium Chase card, as mentioned above, your rewards will go much further.

Bottom Line: When redeeming Ultimate Rewards points for travel, you can pick any airline, hotel, or travel experience without worrying about award availability or blackout dates — redeeming your points is just like paying with cash. You’ll also be earning frequent flyer miles!

Best Travel Credit Card for the Hotel Loyalist

If Hilton is your hotel brand of choice, you’ll be happy to learn that the perks and benefits you receive in its Hilton Honors loyalty program will be elevated to a new level when you carry and use one of its hotel-branded credit cards.

Let’s take a look at how your experience can be enhanced by signing up for a hotel-branded credit card.

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

It’s unusual that a credit card alone would grant top elite status to the cardholder, especially without a required level of spending each year — but that’s exactly what you’ll receive by having the Hilton Aspire card. And it’s not the only premium benefit that comes with this card!

  • Top Diamond Elite Hilton Honors status: Valid for as long as you have the card, you’ll receive room upgrades (including suites), breakfast, hotel amenities, bonus points, internet, and more. Diamond elite members receive 20 Hilton Honors points per $1 spent at Hilton properties, and the Hilton Aspire card elevates that to a total of 34 points per $1.
  • Free Hotel Room Nights: Receive 1 free hotel room night each card anniversary year, plus another when you spend $60,000 on the card each year. You’ll also receive your fifth night free when booking award nights with your points.
  • Airline and Hotel Statement Credits: Get $250 in incidental airline fees, a $250 Hilton resort credit, and a $100 property credit at Conrad or Waldorf Astoria properties.
  • Worldwide Lounge Access: Your Hilton Aspire card comes with a full Priority Pass Select worldwide lounge membership.
  • Terms Apply.

The Hilton Aspire card comes with a high annual fee, so you would only want to have the card and pay that annual fee if you’re a Hilton loyalist who can realize most of the Hilton-centric benefits that come with the card.

That said, earning Hilton Honors points is easy: you’ll receive 14 points per $1 spent at Hilton properties; 7 points per $1 spent on airlines, Amex Travel purchases, U.S. restaurants, and U.S. rental cars; and 3 points per $1 spent on all other purchases.

Redeem your Hilton Honors points for the best value by booking free hotel nights with points or with cash and points. Our expert guide on the best ways to redeem your Hilton Honors points will help make sure you receive maximum value at redemption time.

All information about the Hilton Honors American Express card has been collected independently by Upgraded Points.

How We Selected Our List of Best Travel Credit Cards

There are several factors we use to determine our choices for the best travel rewards cards. Some of the most important factors include the level of associated travel benefits, earnings structure, best credit card bonus offers, fees, and travel redemption value.

Here is some insight into our thought process when selecting the best travel rewards cards:

Associated Travel Benefits

The top travel rewards cards will offer benefits that can make your travel more comfortable, save a traveler money, or provide protection should something go wrong during the journey. Benefits such as worldwide lounge access, travel statement credits, elite-style hotel and airline benefits or status, and travel insurance are just some examples of travel perks we look for.

Earnings Structure

We look for cards that earn well and either offer bonus earnings on travel purchases or have other bonus categories that provide for accelerated earnings. A good travel rewards card could also have flat-rate earnings on all purchases, making it easy to accumulate travel rewards on everyday purchases.

Welcome Bonuses

A card’s welcome bonus is a unique opportunity to earn a large number of rewards in a short period of time. Welcome bonuses do play a role when we select a travel rewards card to recommend. We’ll provide you with the current welcome bonus information available to us for each card, but we also encourage you to confirm the welcome bonus and review any earnings offers before applying for any card.


The best travel rewards cards come with premium travel benefits, but you’ll also be paying a higher annual fee for those benefits. It’s important that the benefits offered by a travel rewards card could potentially offset any annual fee you’ll be paying. The best travel rewards cards also do not charge foreign transaction fees, although a card that does could still provide good value for domestic travel and offer good redemption for international travel.

Travel Redemption Value

A card will score high if it earns flexible rewards that allow for several options at redemption time. The best travel rewards cards provide the option to redeem points directly for travel, provide a bonus for rewards redeemed via a travel portal, allow rewards to be redeemed for statement credits for travel purchases, or allow the transfer of rewards to airline and hotel partners for the opportunity to receive the greatest potential value.

Hot Tip: You can read more about Upgraded Points’ credit card rating approach in our detailed guide.

What Are Travel Credit Cards? How Do They Work?

Travel rewards credit cards earn points or cash-back on every dollar charged to the credit card. They’re called travel rewards credit cards because you either earn points or cash on travel-related purchases, redeem points or cash for travel, or both.

Travel rewards credit cards can earn points or cash-back for travel purchases, dining, gas, groceries, or other categories. The rewards can be used for free travel or to offset the cost of travel.

The Difference Between Cash-back Credit Cards and Travel Credit Cards

This should feel relatively straightforward, and it is! Cash-back credit cards are designed for those looking earn cash-back on all of their daily purchases, and travel rewards cards are for those looking to earn rewards redeemable towards travel purchases.

While there are many travel rewards cards that offer the ability to redeem your points towards cash-back, you’ll often get significantly better value when redeeming them towards travel.

Further, it is common for cash-back credit cards to not charge an annual fee, while most travel credit cards do charge an annual fee. Given that, travel rewards cards make the most sense for people who travel often enough that the rewards and card benefits will easily outweigh the annual fee.

The Different Types of Travel Credit Cards

When it comes to travel rewards credit cards, there are 4 main categories that nearly every card will fall into: transferable rewards cards, fixed-value rewards cards, airline cards, and hotel cards.

Transferable Rewards Cards 

Transferable rewards cards are offered by programs that include a wide array of airline and hotel transfer partners that you can move your points to. These include cards from programs like American Express Membership Rewards, Bilt Rewards, Capital One Miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Rewards.

These cards are often rated as the very best travel credit cards in our view, due in large part to their flexibility. One of the best ways to consistently get great value out of travel rewards is by having multiple redemption options, and transferable travel rewards cards offer you that.

Fixed-value Rewards Cards

A fixed-value rewards card is any program that offers you a predetermined value towards travel purchases when you redeem your rewards. One such example is the Bank of America Preferred Rewards program, which offers you a fixed 1 cent per point in value towards any travel redemptions you make through its travel portal.

Programs with fixed-value rewards take much of the complexity of the equation when it comes to redemptions, but what you make up for in ease-of-use, you lose the upside by not having access to higher-value redemptions that transferable programs offer.

Airline Cards

An airline credit card is one tied to a specific airline, which only earns points or miles for that airline alone. Further, all perks of the card will be tied to its airline, and popular features are free checked bags, early boarding, discounts on inflight purchases, and more.

Airline cards are a great option for those who are loyal to one airline and are working towards reaching high levels of elite status with that airline.

Hotel Cards

Similar to airline cards, hotel cards are tied to a specific hotel chain, and all of the rewards you earn are redeemable at hotels within that hotel chain.

Hotel cards can be a great way of enhancing your hotel stays, even on paid stays, as they often offer some level of complimentary elite status, which might offer benefits like late checkout, room upgrades, free breakfast, and more, depending on the hotel program.

The Pros and Cons of Travel Credit Cards

Pros of Getting a Travel Rewards Card

  • Rewards cards allow you to travel farther, and better, for less. Using points and miles can make any travel destination attainable, and you can even fly there in style in first or business class for a fraction of what a cash ticket would usually cost.
  • Welcome bonuses kickstart your travel savings. Most travel rewards credit cards come with very lucrative welcome bonuses that you receive after meeting a minimum spend requirement. These bonuses alone can be enough points for a free business class flight or multiple free nights in a luxury hotel.
  • Enhance your travel experiences. Having a travel rewards card can help make the whole experience of travel much nicer for you by giving you airport lounge access, an expedited airport security experience, and hotel elite status.
  • Save money each time you fly. Travel rewards cards, specifically airline cards, can help you save money each time you fly by offering you perks like free checked bags, free seat selection, discounts on inflight purchases, and priority boarding.
  • No foreign transaction fees. If you’re going to be traveling overseas, the last thing you want to do is use a card that charges foreign transaction fees, as it can add an extra 3% to all of your purchases. This is where travel rewards cards come in handy, as any card worth it’s salt won’t charge foreign transaction fees.

Cons of Getting a Travel Rewards Card

  • Rewards cards charge annual fees. Most travel rewards credit cards charge an annual fee, and the very best cards can charge annual fees of $550 to $695. Put simply, if you don’t travel often enough in order to for the benefits you receive from the card to easily outweigh the annual fee you pay, then a travel rewards card probably wouldn’t be worth it for you.
  • Rewards redemptions can be complicated. Making strategic use of your points through transfer partners, tracking down award space, navigating airline alliances, and more can all be quite complicated at times. There is definitely a degree of difficulty added in for those looking to make the most out of their travel rewards points. That said, the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.
  • Not ideal for those who don’t pay their balance off in full. Travel rewards cards usually carry much higher interest rates than other types of credit cards. That said, if you pay your balance off in full each and every month, this should make little difference to you. On the other hand, if you’re not sure that you can pay your balance off in full every month, then travel rewards credit cards are not for you.

When Should You Use a Travel Credit Card?

You should use a travel rewards credit card if you fall into the following 3 criteria:

  1. You love to travel and want to earn travel rewards for every purchase you make that you can later redeem for free flights and hotel stays.
  2. You travel often enough that, even though most travel rewards cards charge an annual, you know you’ll easily get more value out of the card thanks to benefits like airport lounge access, travel credits, hotel elite status, expedited airport security, and more.
  3. When you receive your credit card statement, you pay it off in full each and every month so that you never pay interest on your purchases.

If you meet all of those 3 criteria, then you likely should be using a travel rewards credit card.

How to Choose the Best Travel Credit Card

If you’re still struggling to decide which travel rewards credit card is best for you, here are some tips to help you decide.

Consider What Rewards You Want To Earn — Transferable or Co-branded

One of the biggest items to consider is the type of rewards you want to earn. Do you regularly fly with a certain airline or stay at a specific hotel chain and want a card that earns rewards and provides benefits that are specific to that airline or hotel? If so then you should opt for a co-branded travel rewards card.

If your travel patterns have more variation, or you simply prefer to earn flexible points that can be redeemed with a wide variety of airlines and hotels to give more options, then you’d be better off with a transferable travel rewards credit card.

What Travel Perks and Protections Are You Looking For?

The type of perks a travel rewards credit card will offer can vary greatly from items like airport lounge access, Global Entry/TSA PreCheck, free checked bags, elite status, statement credits, and much more.

Consider which of the benefits are more important to you when selecting your new travel rewards credit card. If you want your new card to include airport lounge access, that will limit you to a certain set of card options, whereas if you want a card that offers automatic elite status with a specific hotel chain then your card options might be completely different. It is all about determining what you value most.

Similarly, you’ll want to consider what protections you want your card to offer to help you narrow your options further. Do you want your card to have trip delay insurance, rental car insurance, purchase protection, etc.? These are all items that will help you decide the best travel rewards card for you.

Does the Card Have Great Bonus Categories To Help You Earn More Points?

Earning points, and then spending them on travel, is the name of the game. Given that, you want to make sure your new card helps you earn as many points as possible.

Some cards help you optimize for specific bonus categories, like the Amex Gold card that offers 4x points per $1 on restaurants and U.S. supermarket purchases, while others like the Capital One Venture card offer a flat 2x points per $1 spent on any purchase.

Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong answer here. Deciding which card will help you earn the most points will come down to your unique spending habits.

How To Make the Most of Your Travel Rewards Credit Card

Once you’ve added the best travel rewards credit card for you to your wallet, here are the steps to take to get the most out of it.

Use Your Card for as Many Purchases as Possible — And Pay It Off

Once you have your new card, you should begin using it for every purchase that you need to make so that you can start earning rewards. This is especially true for large reoccurring bills as those often help you earn the most points per transaction.

Further, most cards come with a welcome offer that can be worth anywhere from $500 to $2,000 after you meet the minimum spend requirement, so you’ll want to make sure you do so to prevent you from missing out on this big windfall of points.

If you have multiple travel rewards credit cards, make sure you are optimizing each purchase based on the bonus categories that each card offers. For instance, one card might offer 3x points on gas while the other offers 3x points on dining, so you’ll want to use them accordingly.

Lastly, and most importantly, you want to pay your statement balance on time and in full each and every month. This will keep you from having to pay any interest on your purchases, and help increase your credit score by showing a record of great payment history.

Activate Perks That Your Card Offers

Many of the best travel rewards credit cards come with tons of great perks to give you added value, but you have to make sure they are activated in order to start using them.

For instance, the Amex Platinum card offers perks like Priority Pass lounge access, along with Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy elite status, but you have to activate each of these perks from the benefits section of your account in order to start using them.

Similarly, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers 5x points per $1 on Lyft rides, and benefits with DoorDash, Gopuff, and Instacart. To use these benefits, you’ll want to link your Chase Sapphire Preferred card as your payment method on these platforms and activate your benefits on their respective pages.

Make Sure To Use Your Statement Credits

If you have a card that offers any sort of statement credit, make sure you use that credit before it expires. Some cards offer an annual credit, while others dole out the credits monthly. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card has a $300 annual travel credit that can be used all in one purchase if you so choose, while the Amex Gold card has a $120 annual dining credit and a $120 annual Uber Cash credit, but both are given out in $10 monthly increments.

Use Shopping Portals and Dining Programs

Linking your card to a shopping portal and/or dining program is a great way to earn even more points for purchases you were planning to make anyway.

This way, when you make a certain purchase through a shopping portal or dine at an eligible restaurant, you’ll earn points on top of the points you’d have already earned depending on your card’s bonus category.

Hot Tip: When it comes to online shopping, you can use a tool like Cashback Monitor to help you determine how many points you’ll earn for your purchase across a wide variety of shopping portals.

Tips for Getting Approved for a Travel Rewards Credit Card

Have a Strong Credit Score and Why Building Credit Is Important

When submitting an application for a travel rewards credit card, arguably the most important factor is your credit score, as the higher it is the more likely you are to be approved for the card.

This is why building your credit is so important as having a strong score will allow you to be approved for cards that offer the best perks and rewards.

For the most part, if you have a credit score of 700 or better, you’ll have reasonably good odds of being approved for most travel rewards credit cards. If you don’t you’ll want to focus on improving your credit score by making sure you are paying your bills on time each month, keeping your credit utilization low, limiting the number of new accounts you open, and more.

Hot Tip: If your credit score isn’t as high as you’d like it to be, read through our guide on the top strategies to improve your credit score.

Understanding the Difference Between APR and Interest

When adding a travel rewards card to your wallet, another important factor for you to be aware of is the card’s interest rate.

You may have heard both interest rate and annual percentage rate (APR) used, and while these 2 figures can be different for certain financial products, they are the exact same when it comes to credit cards.

The APR can vary from card to card and is the amount you will pay on any purchases that you do not pay in full on your credit card statement balance. This is why you want to make sure that you are always paying off your full statement balance when it posts to your account, as paying interest on your charges will negate the value of any rewards you accrued on the purchases you made.

How Old Do You Have To Be To Get a Starter Travel Rewards Credit Card?

Technically speaking, you are eligible to get your first travel rewards credit card as soon as you turn 18 years old. That said, it will likely be difficult for you to get approved without previous credit history and a regular source of income.

Due to this, we recommend that you have at least 2 years of solid credit history before applying for your first starter travel rewards credit card.

Alternative Option: Becoming An Authorized User

If you’re not able to get your very own starter travel rewards card just yet, an excellent option is to become an authorized user on a trusted friend or family member’s account.

This allows you to use a caliber of card that you’d be unlikely to be approved for on your own and allows you to build your credit score faster by piggybacking off the main account holder’s more established credit history.

Again, you want to make sure the main account holder is someone that you trust because if they mismanage their credit, it will adversely impact you as well as the authorized user.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to selecting a travel rewards-earning credit card. Fortunately, each card has its own distinct characteristics that match up with certain travel and spending profiles. This makes it possible to zero in quickly on which travel rewards credit card might be a good fit for you.

Remember, because Chase plays a prominent role in the travel rewards credit card arena, you’ll want to consider the Chase 5/24 rule in your selection process.

Regardless of which card you choose, we know for sure that travel rewards credit cards can change the way we travel and the way we live. The cards allow us to earn points, cash, or miles on purchases we would be making anyway and give us the ability to offset the cost of travel we may have never considered otherwise.

For Capital One products listed on this page, some of the above benefits are provided by Visa® or Mastercard® and may vary by product. See the respective Guide to Benefits for details, as terms and exclusions apply.

The information regarding the American Express® Green Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Everyday® from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, click here.

Frequently Asked Questions

The best travel rewards credit card for you is the one that earns rewards you can use and fits your spending habits. For example, if your everyday spending is on groceries, gas, and at department stores, but you rarely travel, you won’t find value in a premium travel rewards credit card that offers global lounge access and luxury hotel perks. You probably won’t want to pay the high annual fee either. You may fare much better with a cash-back or flexible rewards-earning credit card that doesn’t charge an annual fee but allows you to earn rewards to offset the cost of an annual vacation.

You will generally need to have excellent credit to secure the best travel rewards credit cards. There are many sources of credit scores as each of the 3 major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) have their own, and then there are combination scores such as FICO and VantageScore. According to Experian, an excellent VantageScore (which is widely used by creditors) is considered to be 750 or higher.

If you frequently travel internationally, you’ll want a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Most of the travel rewards credit cards we covered in this article do not charge these fees. If you value premium travel perks and don’t mind paying an annual fee, you can’t go wrong with the Amex Platinum card or Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Both offer global lounge access, flight credits, and great redemption value for your points when redeemed for flights. If you can use the benefits these cards offer, you’ll receive value that more than offsets the annual fee.

When comparing travel credit cards, you should first consider what type of card is best for your travel goals. Do you want a card that earns transferable rewards, or one for a specific airline? Then, you should consider factors like the card’s benefits, rewards rates, and annual fee, to help you determine which card would be the best fit for you.

Both terms of used interchangeably and it really just comes down to what the rewards program decided to name its rewards currency. For instance, when it comes to transferable rewards, you have Chase Ultimate Rewards “points” and Capital One “miles,” but both programs function in similar ways. Similarly, when it comes to airlines, you have American AAdvantage “miles” and JetBlue TrueBlue “points.”

How many miles you need to book a free flight can depend on a variety of factors like what program you are booking through, what cabin class you’d like to fly, how far you are flying, and the time of year you are planning to fly if the airline uses dynamic pricing.

About Jarrod West

Boasting a portfolio of over 20 cards, Jarrod has been an expert in the points and miles space for over 6 years. He earns and redeems over 1 million points per year and his work has been featured in outlets like The New York Times.


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