Travel rewards credit cards are not one-size-fits-all. They fall into several broad categories.
These categories include airline rewards credit cards designed to reward spending with specific airlines or airline partnerships, hotel credit cards that focus their rewards firepower on hotel stays and related expenses, and even cash back credit cards that offer accelerated cash back earnings on travel-related purchase categories like gasoline, airfare, and restaurant purchases.
If you’re a frequent traveler, you likely stand to benefit from all of these card types. And if you own your own business, you can count on many consumer travel credit cards having small business credit card counterparts, often with additional features and benefits for small business owners.
Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards
Here’s a look at today’s best travel rewards credit cards.
Pay close attention to these cards’ annual fees, redemption options and point or mile values for each, travel credits, and potentially valuable fringe benefits, such as complimentary airport lounge memberships or hotel credits.
Best Overall: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card delivers the best value of any travel rewards credit card on the market.
The $50 annual credit against hotel purchases made through Chase Travel offsets about half the $95 annual fee. It’s backed up by an excellent rewards program:
- 5x Points on Chase Travel Purchases: 5x total points on eligible travel purchases made through Chase Travel after the $50 annual Ultimate Rewards hotel credit is exhausted. Through March 2022, 5x points on qualifying Lyft rides.
- Unlimited 3x Categories: 3x points on eligible restaurant dining purchases, select streaming service purchases, and online grocery purchases.
- Unlimited 2x Categories: 2x points on other eligible travel purchases.
- Base Rewards: Unlimited 1x point on most other eligible purchases.
Sapphire Preferred has some additional features worth noting:
- Sign-up Bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points, worth up to $750 on travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards, when you spend at least $4,000 within 3 months.
- Key Fees: $95 annual fee after the first year; no foreign transaction fee.
Best Sign-up Bonus: IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card
The IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card has the best offer for new cardmembers right now:
- Earn 140,000 bonus points plus one free night when you spend at least $3,000 on eligible purchases during your first 3 months of cardmembership. This is worth more than 10 free nights at lower-tier IHG properties.
- This bonus is worth more than 10 full award nights at lower-priced IHG properties. IHG operates nearly 6,000 hotels and resorts in about 100 countries.
- Up to 26x Total Points on IHG Purchases: Up to 26x IHG points on all eligible purchases at IHG properties, depending on your status level.
- Unlimited 5x Categories: 5x points on eligible purchases on travel, gas stations, and restaurants.
- Base Rewards: Unlimited 3x points on most other eligible purchases.
- Key Fees: $99 annual fee; no foreign transaction fee.
- Enjoy Platinum Elite status as long as your account remains in good standing.
- Claim 1 complimentary award night each year at select IHG hotels.
Best Annual Travel Credit: Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card has a $300 annual travel credit that applies to eligible travel purchases: hotels, airfare, car rentals, and more. When fully utilized, it effectively reduces Sapphire Reserve’s $550 annual fee down to $250.
- Sign-up Bonus: Spend at least $4,000 in qualifying purchases within 3 months to earn 60,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards points. That’s worth up to $900 when redeemed for airfare, hotels, and other travel purchases through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
- 10x Categories: 10x total points on eligible hotel and car rental purchases made through Chase Travel.
- 5x Category: 5x total points on eligible airfare purchases through Chase Travel.
- Unlimited 3x Categories: 3x total points on eligible dining purchases and most travel purchases (after exhausting the $300 travel credit).
- Base Rewards: Unlimited 1x point on all other eligible purchases.
- Key Fees: $550 annual fee; $75 annual authorized user fee per user, per card; no foreign transaction fee.
- Transfer Ultimate Rewards points 1-for-1 to 10+ travel loyalty partners.
- Get complimentary access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide through Priority Pass Select.
- Get a free year’s subscription to Lyft Pink ($199 value).
- Earn a $100 statement credit against your TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee
Best Bonus Categories: Citi Premier® Card
The Citi Premier® Card is one of the few travel rewards credit cards that includes gas and gas station purchases in its travel tier, which earns 3x points per $1 spent. That makes it an ideal choice for travelers driving to or around their destinations.
Citi Premier also adds two broad nontravel categories to its 3x points category: restaurants and supermarkets. That’s a great value-add for anyone who eats.
- Sign-up Bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus ThankYou points after you make $4,000 in purchases with your card in the first 3 months.
- Base Rewards: Unlimited 1x point on all other eligible purchases.
- Key Fees: $95 annual fee; no foreign transaction fee.
- Earn a $100 hotel credit once per year on eligible hotel stays where you spend $500 or more.
- Transfer ThankYou points to 10+ travel loyalty partners, mostly 1-for-1.
Best for Frequent Flyers: Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card offers a slew of valuable benefits for Delta loyalists — a better mix than any other airline credit card. They include:
- Complimentary Delta Sky Club membership (free airport lounge access).
- A complimentary companion certificate (free airfare, less taxes and fees, for a companion with your paid fare) once per year.
- Accelerated progress toward Delta Medallion status with possible benefits like complimentary first class and Comfort+ upgrades, complimentary upgrades for ticketed companions, discounted CLEAR® membership (terms apply and enrollment is required for all these benefits).
- General frequent flyer benefits like priority wait list, baggage fee waivers, and priority check-in and boarding.
- 3x SkyMiles Category: Earn 3x SkyMiles on eligible Delta purchases.
- Base Rewards: 1x SkyMiles on all other eligible purchases.
- Status Boost: Get 15,000 bonus Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost after you spend $30,000 on your card, up to 4 times per year. Terms apply.
- Key Fees: $550 annual fee; no foreign transaction fee (see rates and fees).
Best for Elite Status: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card promises automatic Gold Elite Status in the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program as long as your account remains in good standing. That’s enough to make it our top credit card pick for complimentary elite status at hotels.
Gold Elite Status benefits include:
- 25% bonus on base point earnings at participating Marriott properties
- Complimentary room upgrades where available, including select suites
- Flexible late checkout (up to 2pm)
Spend $75,000 on your card in a cardmember anniversary year to unlock an upgrade to Platinum Elite Status. Platinum Elite benefits include a 50% bonus on base point earnings, complimentary hotel lounge access where available, and super-flexible late checkout (4pm).
- Welcome Offer: Earn 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases on the Card within the first 3 months. Terms apply.
- 6x Rewards Category: 6x points at participating Marriott hotels.
- 3x Rewards Categories: 3x points at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines.
- Base Rewards: 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
- Key Fees: $450 annual fee; no foreign transaction fee (see rates and fees).
- $300 Marriott Bonvoy statement credit each year for eligible purchases at participating hotels.
- 1 free night award per year at participating Bonvoy properties.
- Complimentary airport lounge access at more than 1,000 locations worldwide (enrollment required).
- $100 annual Marriott Bonvoy property credit at participating properties.
Best for Luxury Perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American Express has the most generous travel perks lineup of any card on this list. Highlights include:
- A $200 airline fee credit each year with the airline of your choice (enrollment required)
- Credits worth up to $200 per year on Uber rides (enrollment required).
- Complimentary Gold Status with Hilton Honors and Gold Elite Status with Marriott Bonvoy (enrollment required).
- Complimentary access to 1,300+ airport lounges in the American Express Global Lounge Collection (enrollment required).
- Up to $550 (on average) in exclusive benefits like room upgrades and complimentary breakfast at Fine Hotels & Resorts Collection properties.
- Up to $100 off your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee (enrollment required).
- Welcome Offer: 100,000 bonus Membership Rewards points when you spend at least $6,000 within 6 months of opening your account.
- 5x Rewards Categories: 5x Membership Rewards points on eligible travel purchases, including flights booked directly with airlines, flights booked through American Express Travel, and prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel. Airfare earnings capped at 500,000 points per year.
- Key Fees: $695 annual fee; no authorized user fee or foreign transaction fee; late and returned payments cost up to $40 (see rates and fees).
Best for Business Travelers: The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express is a lot like its consumer cousin, the Platinum Card® from American Express. It’s built specially for business travelers seeking the optimal combination of luxury and convenience, with benefits like:
- A 35% bonus when you use Membership Rewards® points to book travel with your selected qualifying airline (up to 1 million bonus Membership Rewards® points each calendar year)
- A $200 annual statement credit against purchases made with an airline of your choice (enrollment required)
- Complimentary access to more than 1,400 airport lounges worldwide (enrollment required)
- Reimbursement for TSA Precheck ($85) or Global Entry application fees ($100), but not both programs
- Welcome Offer: 120,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend at least $15,000 in eligible purchases within 3 months of opening your account.
- 5x Rewards Categories: 5x Membership Rewards points on eligible travel purchases, including flights booked directly with airlines, flights booked through American Express Travel, and prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel.
- 1.5x Rewards Categories: 1.5x points on purchases in key business spending categories and purchases of $5,000 or more ($2 million annual purchase cap applies).
- APR: Your APR on purchases eligible for Pay Over Time will be 16.49% to 24.49% APR, depending on your creditworthiness and other factors as determined at time of account opening. Terms apply.
- Key Fees: $695; no foreign transaction fee.
- Up to $400 in annual purchase credits for U.S. purchases with Dell (terms apply; enrollment required)
Best Flat-Rate Card: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card’s rewards program couldn’t be simpler. With the exception of hotel and car rental purchases made through Capital One Travel, all eligible purchases earn unlimited 2 miles per $1 spent. That’s an effective 2% rate of return on all spending.
- Early Spend Bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,000 on the card within 3 months from account opening. That's worth $750 in travel expenses at redemption.
- 5x Bonus Category: 5x miles on hotel and car rental purchases made through Capital One Travel.
- Unlimited 2x Rewards: Unlimited 2x miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Transfer points to participating travel loyalty partners at favorable rates.
- Get a $100 credit against your TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee.
Best for Driving Vacations: U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card
The U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card is a cash back credit card that earns 4x points on eligible gas station, EV charging station, and car rental purchases. That’s enough to make it the best travel card for road trips. (See rates & fees.)
- 4x Travel Categories: 4x points on eligible travel purchases, including airfare, hotels, and car rentals.
- 2x Rewards Categories: 2x points on streaming, restaurant dining, and grocery store and grocery delivery purchases.
- Base Rewards: 1x point on all other eligible purchases.
- Sign-up Bonus: Spend $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 120 days of account opening to earn 50,000 bonus points.
- Key Fees: $0 for the first year, then $95 annual fee; no foreign transaction fee.
- Up to $600 in cell phone protection coverage per incident (less $25 deductible).
- Up to $30 in annual statement credits for eligible streaming services, including Netflix and Spotify®.
- Up to $100 to offset your TSA PreCheck® or Global Entry® application fee.
Terms and conditions apply; see rates & fees.
Best for Hotel Stays: Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card from Chase
The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card from Chase offers tremendous value for Marriott loyalists. Benefits include:
- Up to 17x Bonvoy points per $1 spent on all eligible purchases at participating Marriott properties.
- Earn 3x Bonvoy points per $1 spent on the first $6,000 spent in combined purchases each year on grocery stores, gas stations, and dining.
- 1 free night’s stay at participating properties with redemption thresholds up to 35,000 points per night.
- Automatic Silver Elite Status with benefits including 10% points bonus on eligible Marriott spend.
- Upgrade to Gold Elite Status with $35,000 annual card spend (benefits include a 25% points bonus on eligible Marriott spend).
- Sign-up Bonus: Earn 3 free nights (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after qualifying purchases.
- Base Rewards: Unlimited 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
- Key Fees: $95 annual fee; no foreign transaction fee.
Methodology: How We Select the Best Travel Credit Cards
We evaluate travel credit cards using 10 key metrics that matter to frequent travelers.
Some relate to the structure of the card itself, like whether it has a welcome offer for new cardholders (and if so, how generous it is) and the type of rewards it earns (cash back, points, miles).
Others tie back to the card’s intended user: road trippers, frequent flyers, people who prefer a particular hotel brand, and so on.
Here’s why they’re important.
Depending on the issuer, you might see these advertised as “welcome offers,” “early spend bonuses,” or “new cardmember offers/bonuses”.
But no matter what we call them, we can agree on one thing: The travel credit card category is famous for extending ridiculously generous offers to new cardholders able to meet often-hefty spend requirements. With our top travel sign-up bonus pick, the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card, you can fund well over a week of free accommodations at select InterContinental Hotel Group properties.
When is an annual fee not really an annual fee?
When it’s reduced dollar-for-dollar by an annual travel credit. As long as you spend enough on eligible travel purchases to earn the full credit value each cardmember anniversary year, you’ll lower your effective annual fee by a corresponding amount.
A $200 travel credit turns a $500 annual fee into a $300 annual fee, a $300 travel credit turns a $550 annual fee into a $250 annual fee, and so on.
Nontravel Bonus Categories
Many travel credit cards reward nontravel spending over and above the baseline rewards rate. Some cards do this better than others, however. Our top pick, the Citi Premier® Card, pays 3x points on purchases in five categories:
- Air travel
- Gas stations
Of these, two are very clearly not travel-related (restaurants and supermarkets) and one straddles the line between travel and nontravel (gas stations). All three nontravel or travel-adjacent categories are broad and popular.
Rewards and Benefits for Frequent Flyers
Few frequent travelers get around exclusively on the ground. It takes too long and it’s more dangerous than flying besides.
Accordingly, we give deference to cards that offer frequent flyer benefits like elite status with co-branded airlines, in-flight and pre-flight perks (like priority boarding), and value-adds like complimentary airport lounge access.
Rewards and Benefits for Frequent Hotel Guests
Unless you’re truly committed to the short-term rental game or have an extensive network of family and friends in every city you visit, you’re going to want a travel credit card that rewards you for staying in hotels.
On this measure, the top travel credit cards offer some or all of the following:
- Automatic elite status or accelerated progress toward elite status
- Bonus points on eligible purchases at participating hotels
- One or more award nights (free night’s stay) after your cardmember anniversary and/or meeting qualifying annual spend
- An automatic award night tacked onto the end of a minimum-length stay, often four or five consecutive nights at the same property
Rewards and Benefits for Road Warriors
Whether your travel driving consists entirely of tooling a rental car around your destination or you prefer road tripping from start to finish, you’ll want a travel card that delivers solid value on gas spending and offers driver-friendly benefits like complimentary rental car insurance coverage and 24/7 roadside assistance.
Because its potential value is so great for frequent travelers loyal to specific brands, elite status is worth calling out in its own category. The best travel cards for elite status are generally super-premium cards with annual fees north of $400, but that expense can easily pay for itself if you’re on the road as often as you’re home.
Luxury Perks and Benefits
Even travel cards that defy easy categorization as “airline cards” or “hotel cards” can distinguish themselves with grab-bags of high-value perks and benefits for frequent flyers and hotel guests. When evaluating these cards, pay attention to “below the fold” benefits that can be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars annually when fully exploited.
Rewards and Benefits for Business Travelers
Some of the best cards for business travelers have close cousins on the consumer side. The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, our top pick in this category and near-twin to The Platinum Card® from American Express, comes to mind.
Type of Rewards
Many travel credit cards earn points or miles best redeemed for travel purchases. Their rewards programs revolve around specific spending categories or tiers — often travel-related — in which cardholders earn at accelerated rates.
Some travel cards break this mold though. They might be cash back credit cards that favor travel purchases, earning honorary distinction as travel cards, or more traditional travel rewards cards that apply one flat rewards rate to all spending. Both types of alternative cards appeal to casual travelers and so deserve a place on this list.
Become a Travel Credit Card Expert: Your Travel Rewards Questions Answered
You have questions about travel credit cards and travel rewards. We’ve got answers.
What Are the Different Types of Travel Credit Cards?
There are two main types of travel credit cards: general-purpose travel cards and co-branded travel cards.
General-purpose travel cards earn points or miles that can be redeemed through the issuer’s loyalty program. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card both earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points. You can redeem Ultimate Rewards points in the Chase Travel portal for airfare, hotel stays, and other travel services from a variety of travel merchants, or transfer your points to participating travel loyalty programs and redeem directly with them.
Co-branded travel cards earn loyalty points or miles issued by a particular travel merchant, such as Delta or Marriott. The best way to redeem this type of loyalty currency is for free or discounted travel services (award travel) from the issuing merchant. Co-branded cards often but not always offer better redemption value than general-purpose cards.
A general-purpose travel card is a better fit for you if you’re not loyal to one particular travel brand. A co-branded card makes more sense if you are loyal to a particular brand and want to maximize your rewards’ value within their loyalty program.
Can You Get a Travel Credit Card With Bad Credit?
With difficulty, maybe. Credit card companies prefer to market travel rewards cards to applicants with good to excellent credit and ample spending power. There’s not much of a market for subprime travel credit cards.
If you have impaired credit or limited credit and hope to get your hands on a travel card in the near future, do the following:
- Apply for a general-purpose secured credit card or credit-builder credit card right now
- Use it responsibly, keeping your credit utilization rate low and making timely payments
- Make sure the card issuer reports your payment behavior and card utilization to the three major credit reporting bureaus
- Closely monitor your credit score
With responsible use and no black marks elsewhere, your credit score should increase over time. Eventually, you’ll have a credit profile strong enough to qualify for one of the cards on this list.
Is the Annual Fee Worth It for Travel Credit Cards?
It depends on the card, but the answer is often “yes.” The best travel rewards credit cards justify sometimes-hefty annual fees with perks and value-adds like:
- Annual Travel Credits. If you spend enough on travel each year, your card’s travel credit acts as a one-for-one offset for the annual fee. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card’s $300 annual travel credit reduces its $550 annual fee down to $250 on net.
- Elite Status. Permanent elite status can be extremely valuable for travelers loyal to specific hotel or airline brands.
- Airport Lounge Access. Airport lounges typically charge $60 per person at the door. If your long-haul travels involve layovers long enough to get comfortable at a lounge (and enjoy what’s often an all-you-can-eat-and-drink refreshments table), you’ll quickly earn back your annual fee and then some.
- Discounts and Privileges With Participating Travel Partners. Really high-end travel cards often partner with similarly high-end hotels and resorts (often boutique properties) to offer discounts and perks worth hundreds of dollars per stay. These vary from card to card and property to property, and you sometimes have to work to claim them, but they’re totally worth it if you can.
Should You Get More Than One Travel Card?
It depends on a number of factors, including:
- How often you travel
- How much you spend on travel
- How you typically travel — for example, do you prefer to stay in nice hotels, crash on a friend’s couch, or nest in a short-term rental?
- Whether you’re loyal to specific travel merchants or simply seek the most affordable, convenient options
If you’re an occasional traveler who doesn’t spend much when you leave home, a single general-purpose travel credit card is adequate. Ideally, this card would have no annual fee, or you’d be able to extract enough value from it to offset the hopefully modest charge.
If you’re a frequent traveler who enjoys the finer things and/or spends a good amount of money on the road, you’ll want at least two cards.
One should be a high-end general-purpose card that affords maximum flexibility when you travel and ensures you’re maximizing your travel spend. Another should be a co-branded card backed by the travel brand with which you spend the most money year in and year out. And if you have more than one preferred travel merchant, perhaps one favorite airline and one favorite hotel, you’ll want a co-branded card for each.
How to Choose the Best Travel Credit Card
The first recognizable travel rewards card was the Air Travel Card. Starting in the 1930s, upscale travelers used the Air Travel Card to purchase discounted airfare from participating airlines on a promise to pay later.
We’ve come a long way since then. (And air travel is a lot cheaper after adjusting for inflation.)
But with more choice comes more potential decision points. Which means the process of choosing the right travel rewards credit card is more important than ever.
Not sure where to start? Review the cards on this list, then consider:
- Whether you’re willing to pay an annual fee
- If you are willing to pay an annual fee, what your annual fee budget is, and whether you’d like to offset it with an annual travel credit
- Your preferred rewards currency: general-purpose or branded
- Whether you’d like to be able to transfer your points or miles to participating travel partners
- The types of purchases that earn bonus rewards
- The cards’ welcome offers for new cardholders, if any
- Any value-added perks that you can take advantage of, like hotel credits or airport lounge access
Answer these questions and you’ll be a lot closer to figuring out which travel credit card works best for your needs. Then, once you have your selection, there’s just one thing left to do: put in your application and cross your fingers for good news.
For rates and fees of the Platinum Card® from American Express, please visit this rates and fees page.
For rates and fees of the Business Platinum Card® from American Express, please visit this rates and fees page.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card, please visit this rates and fees page.