The only thing better than taking a fantastic vacation is taking that fantastic vacation free. That’s the promise of travel rewards credit cards, but in reality, many cards don’t live up to it. Many frequent flyer programs now require you to spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of miles on expensive flights.
However, don’t give up hope. There are still some great travel rewards credit cards that allow you to transfer your points to miles with several different airline carriers. And when you redeem these miles for expensive flights in business or first class — or even last-minute tickets — you can receive tremendous value.
You can also redeem hotel points for free nights’ stay awards, which aren’t usually as restrictive as airline miles and which also offer excellent value.
Here are seven excellent travel credit cards that we’ve found here at Investor Junkie.
The Best Credit Cards for Travel Rewards
#1: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
This card offers you 3x points on all travel and dining purchases and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Points are worth 1.5 cents each toward travel booked through Chase, or you can transfer them to airline miles or hotel points.
Don’t let the $450 annual fee scare you, because you also get a $100 credit toward the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck and a $300 annual statement credit toward any travel purchase. You also get a Priority Pass Select membership good for yourself and up to two guests at more than 1,000 airport lounges around the world.
You can read our full Chase Sapphire Reserve® review here.
#2: Chase Sapphire Preferred®
This card can be thought of as the younger sibling of the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. The differences are that it offers you only 2x points on travel and dining and points are worth just 1.25 cents toward travel booked through Chase. This card’s benefits don’t include the fee credits or the airport lounge access, but you can still transfer points to miles and hotel rewards.
This card charges only a $95 annual fee.
You can read our full Chase Sapphire Preferred® review here.
#3: Capital One® Venture® Rewards
This card offers two points per dollar spent on all purchases. These points are worth 1 cent each as statement credits toward travel expenses. Alternatively, you can transfer your rewards to airline miles, most at a 1.5:1 ratio, meaning that redeeming 15,000 Capital One® points will give you 10,000 airline miles. This card also offers a $100 credit toward the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
There’s a $95 annual fee for this card, but it’s waived for the first year.
You can read our full Capital One® Venture® Rewards review here.
#4: The Gold Card® From American Express
Not only do you get a very attractive metal card, but it also offers a lot of bonus points. You earn 4x points on up to $25,000 spent each year at U.S. grocery stores and 4x points at restaurants around the world. You also receive 3x points for airfare booked with the airlines or through amextravel.com.
Other benefits include a $120 annual dining credit that’s offered as a $10-a-month credit toward featured merchants. You also get an annual $100 credit toward expenses such as baggage fees, change fees, seat selection fees and in-flight purchases.
There’s a $250 annual fee for this card, but the $120 annual dining credit and the $100 annual air travel fee credit make the net cost to you much less.
#5: The Platinum Card® From American Express
This card has long been considered the standard of luxury travel credit cards. It comes with a $200 annual airline fee credit, which you can apply to expenses such as baggage fees, in-flight Wi-Fi and food and drinks. You’ll also receive a $100 credit toward the TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee and access to the Delta SkyClub, Priority Pass Select and American Express Centurion airport lounges.
You can earn 5x Membership Rewards points for airfare booked through airlines or amextravel.com and hotels booked through amextravel.com. You earn one point per dollar on all other purchases, and points can be transferred to airline miles or hotel rewards. Additional benefits include elite status with Hilton and Marriott hotels, as well as Avis, Hertz and National car rentals.
However, all of this doesn’t come cheap. There’s a $550 annual fee for this card.
You can read our full Platinum Card® From American Express review here.
#6: Citi Premier
This card offers loads of bonus points that are most valuable when booking airline reservations through Citi or when transferred to frequent flyer miles. It also offers 3X points on travel and gas, 2X points at restaurants and on entertainment, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Points can be redeemed for 1.25 cents each for travel booked through Citi or transferred to airline miles.
There’s a $95 annual fee for this card.
#7: Bank of America® Cash Rewards
With this card, you can earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice including gas, dining and travel (among other categories). You also earn 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
However, there are limits to how much you can earn with this card. You can earn the 3% and 2% cash back only on the first $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter and 1% beyond that.
You’ll also get a $200 signup bonus after spending $1,000 within 90 days of account opening. There’s no annual fee for this card, but travelers beware: It does charge a 3% foreign transaction fee.
How Do Travel Rewards Credit Cards Work?
All of these cards let you earn rewards using a points-based system. That means you earn points for each dollar you spend using your card. How many points you earn depends on the types of transactions. In general, these kinds of cards will let you earn 2x, 3x or more on airfare purchases and associated travel expenses such as hotel bookings and dining out.
How you redeem your travel rewards is also dependent on which card you use. With some cards, you must use their travel booking portal to use your points. Others have special deals with certain airlines or hotels.
But rewards points aren’t all that you get with many of these cards. You can also take advantage of benefits such as credits toward TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fees and access to exclusive airport lounges.
Are Travel Rewards Cards Worth It?
A lot of these cards charge relatively high annual fees (along with hefty APRs), which may leave you wondering if their rewards are worth the hassle.
The answer to this question is: It depends. If you are a frequent traveler or dine out a lot, you may find that the benefits and bonuses make up for the high fees. If you travel frequently for work and your employer reimburses you for your expenses, you’ll find this especially true. After all, you’ll be spending the large amounts required to rack up lots of points that you can then use for recreational travel.
It’s also worth pointing out that you should use these cards only if you’re able to pay off large balances right away.
How to Choose a Travel Rewards Card
Before jumping in for a new travel rewards credit card, you’ll want to consider the following:
- Do I travel often enough to take advantage of this card’s rewards?
- Do I use the card’s partner airlines or hotels regularly?
- Will I earn enough rewards to balance out the fees?
- Can I pay off my balances every month?
- Do I often travel internationally? (If so, consider any international transaction fees.)
- Is my credit score high enough for this card?
Every travel rewards credit card is different, so be sure to research all of each card’s offers, along with the fine print.
Travel rewards credit cards can be a great way to see the world for less. However, make sure that the program you’re signing up for meets your individual needs.