The best travel rewards credit cards run the gamut in terms of benefits and bonuses you can earn. They are a foremost tool for consumers to accumulate mileage for flights, free hotel stays, dining discounts, and so much more. I'm going to look at some of the best deals available on the market in terms of their offerings and specific restriction/terms.
Typically, the larger institutions are able to provide better perks because of the partnerships they maintain with the airline companies and hotel providers. Below I've provided you with a review of the top 5 travel rewards credit card offers.
The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards: What to Consider
The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards
Below I've outlined the main points to keep in mind when deciding which card to choose:
Ideally, you want to select a travel rewards card which has no annual fee. Sometimes cards won't have one for the first year but then an exorbitant amount kicks in at year two so it's important to be aware of all terms prior to enrolling. It's also important to weigh the annual fee against the rewards system - some cards have a higher point multiplier which can cancel out the effect of the fee. Do the math to make sure you're getting the highest reward.
Choose a card which offers some sort of reward for signing up. This can come in the form of bonus miles or points. Keep in mind that the top travel rewards credit cards require a minimum dollar amount of spending within the first 90 days of membership in order to earn this bonus. Make sure you can meet this spending requirement.
Your personal preferences are a significant deciding factor in which travel credit card you choose. If you're more keen to earn discounts on hotels and airfare as opposed to restaurants or car rentals then select a card which caters to your desires. Also, watch for affiliations between the card issuer and your favorite hotels and airlines. These partnerships result in even more savings.
Keep in mind that the top travel rewards credit cards require a minimum dollar amount of spending within the first 90 days of membership in order to earn this [sign-up] bonus.
Credit cards charge an annual percentage rate which is the cost of borrowing the money from the institution. Review the' terms and agreements prior to signing up as the APR is based on a number of factors including current interest rates and your creditworthiness. The terms and agreements are typically external links located at the bottom of the product or service offerings.
Keep a sharp eye out for balance transfer fees, cash advance fees, late payment fees, etc. They can add up quickly if you don't pay close attention to your charges.
How to Make the Most of the Best Travel Credit Cards
Once you've decided that a rewards card is a smart move, you'll need to know how to maximize the points you can earn toward travel expenses. I've compiled some tips that will help you get the most out of your rewards.
The best travel rewards credit cards offer points for everyday purchases such as gasoline and groceries.
1. Know How You're Going to Use It
Resist the temptation to apply for the first offer you get in the mailbox. Before you sign up for a program or choose a credit card, have a destination in mind and then research programs based on your destination. This means looking at how helpful a program is for domestic flights versus international, as well as which hotels the company is affiliated with. If you never stay at a card issuer's partner hotels then you are not going to get the maximum benefits from their rewards program.
2. Pay for Everyday Expenses with Your Travel Rewards Card
This is going to be your quickest route to racking up travel points. The best travel rewards credit cards offer points for everyday purchases such as gasoline and groceries. There's even one card on my list that doubles your points at the end of the first year. This means that you want to pack in as many purchases as possible in order to earn free miles. Just make sure you're setting aside bill and expense money to pay your statement off each month in order to avoid interest charges.
3. Keep It Simple
While diversifying your rewards via a card with multiple affiliates and reward tiers can be a great way to bump up your points, keeping track of everything can also become very complicated. According to U.S. News & World Report it's wise to use tools (such as AwardWallet and PointHub) which keep track of everything for you - account numbers, miles earned, etc. - so that you don't waste too much time trying to keep it all straight. These programs even send you alerts if your points are about to expire.
Benefits of Using the Best Credit Card for Travel Rewards
According to an AARP survey, more than a third of Americans pay for at least half of their purchases using a credit card. You might as well be earning extras for those activities while you're at it.
If you've never used a card specifically designed to give you perks every time you use it to pay for everyday expenses, you may not realize just how many benefits you can reap through this simple choice. Even though they're commonly known as "miles cards", there are several other advantages of the top travel credit cards aside from just airline miles. These include:
- The ability to pay for other types of travel with your points, such as by train
- Extra luxury perks such as concierge services and free breakfast at hotels
- Travel insurance and/or trip interruption
- The ability to transfer points to the card issuer's affiliates
Each card offers different benefits, so consider your situation carefully before choosing the best travel credit card for you. For example, a fixed value card is one which uses a flat point-to-dollar system (i.e. 100 points always equals $1.00 in credit). This might be fine for those who don't travel often or only travel domestically.
On the other hand, if you need to be able to convert your points to larger amounts for, say, international travel, a transferable option is your best bet. This type allows you to redeem your points with affiliates (for example a specific airline), which often boosts the value considerably. The kinds of benefits that are most useful to you will dictate which of the best travel credit card offers is the most lucrative in your situation.
The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards
Chase Sapphire Preferred
- 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000
- Annual fee waived the first year
- 2X points on dining and travel
- 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
- 24/7 customer service
- $95 annual fee after first year
- 3% or $5 balance transfer fee
- 5% or $10 cash advance fee
With the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within the first three months. Cardholders will love that this card has no annual fee the first year, however it spikes to $95 every year after that. You get two times the points on travel and dining plus one point for every dollar on other purchases.
The 1:1 point transfer program is essentially a way to transfer your points to partners of Chase. For example 2,000 Chase Rewards points are equal to 2,000 points in travel programs offered by British Airways, Korean Air SKYPASS, United MileagePlus, Southwest Airlines, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Hyatt Gold Passport, as well as other partners.
There is another benefit of the Chase Sapphire card - if you redeem your points through their Ultimate Rewards program they're worth 25% more. This means your initial 50,000 point bonus translates to $625 toward travel booked via the Ultimate Rewards travel center, as opposed to $500 for other cards.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card has some impressive features as a travel and rewards card. What I didn't like was the high annual fee beginning at year two. Overall, however, it has some fantastic earning potential for travel points and exchanges with affiliates. This fact keeps it in the running for the spot of best credit card for travel rewards.
- Sign-up bonus: You'll get a generous 50,000 bonus points after spending $4000 in the first three months of card ownership.
- Key fees: The annual fee after the first year is $95. There is a 3% or $5 balance transfer fee, whichever is greater, and the higher of 5% or $10 for cash advances. Late payment fees depends upon your balance, and range between $15 and $37. The returned payment fee is up to $37.
- Introductory APR: There is no intro APR.
- APR: The APR on balance transfers and purchases ranges from 16.24% to 23.24%. The cash advance APR is 25.24%.
- Other perks: Chase offers 24/7 customer service, travel protections like rental car coverage and trip delay reimbursement, and purchase benefits like price protection and extended warranties.
Discover IT Miles Review
- No annual fee
- Unlimited 1.5 miles
- Matched miles for the first year for new members
- No blackouts
- Cash redemption option
- Discover not accepted as widely as Visa/Mastercard
- Full points not rewarded until a year is up
Discover it® stands out for a few reasons. This is one of the few top travel rewards credit cards which does not charge an annual fee. In addition, Discover matches all of your miles for the first year of card membership. This means if you earn 20,000 points your first year, that turns into 40,000, which is a great start on your spendable travel money.
Discover also offers you the option to redeem your rewards as travel purchases, statement credit, or even a cash deposit into your bank account (100 points = $1). One of the best parts is that there are no exclusions on qualifying purchases in order to earn points. In addition, you may use your travel rewards card benefits for any airline at any time, with no blackouts.
The generous suite of perks along with the lack of an annual fee earn the Discover it® travel rewards card a top spot on my list of the best credit cards for travel rewards.
- Sign-up bonus: Discover will match your reward miles for the first year of card ownership.
- Key fees: Balance transfers cost 3% of the transfer amount, cash advances are the greater of $10 or 5%, and late payments (after the first one) and returned payments can cost up to $37.
- Introductory APR: You will get a 0% APR on purchases and 10.99% on balance transfers for the first 12 billing cycles. Balance transfers must post by February 10, 2017.
- APR: Once your intro period expires your rate for both purchases and balance transfers will be between 11.24% and 23.24%. The cash advance APR is 25.24%, and there is no penalty APR.
Other perks: There are no blackout dates for redeeming your miles. You will also get free FICO scores, the Freeze It® option to turn your card on and off from the mobile app, and up to $30 annually in reimbursement for inflight Wi-Fi. Customer support is 100% U.S. based and available by phone or live chat.
Capital One Venture
- Bonus 40,000 miles
- Flexible redemption options
- Unlimited miles; never expire
- Annual fee waived first year
- 2X miles for every dollar spent
- Need excellent credit
- $59 annual fee after first year
- Up to $35 returned payment fee
The Capital One Venture Rewards card gives you 2X the miles for every dollar you spend on every purchase, a bonus of 40,000 miles when you spend $3,000 in the first three months, and flexibility when you decide to redeem your miles for hotel stays, flights, gift cards and rental cars.
What differs with the incentive, in contrast to other rewards cards, is that you get unlimited miles which never expire, no blackout dates, and flexible redemption options whether you want to book a flight, redeem for hotel accommodations, and more. One fast and easy way to determine the value of your miles is to take the number of miles you've earned and just remove the last two zeros. So let's say you've accumulated 25,000 miles. The equivalent in dollars would be $250 which can be applied to hotel stays, a flight, etc. If that doesn't interest you, then you also have the option to redeem them for cash back or merchandise.
The biggest drawback with this card is that you need excellent credit which means it may be harder for some individuals to be approved. If you qualify, however, the extra benefits like 2x points and flexibility to choose any airline make this card a solid option among the choices in my travel credit card comparison.
- Sign-up bonus: You'll earn 40,000 extra miles by spending $3000 within your first three months.
- Key fees: There is a $59 annual fee after the first year, up to $35 for returned or late payments, and $10 or 3% for cash advances.
- Introductory APR: There is no introductory APR.
- APR: The current Capital One Venture Rewards APR (at the time of this review) ranges between 13.24% and 23.24%. The cash advance APR is 23.24%.
- Other perks: You will receive a number of travel-related benefits including travel savings/upgrades, $250,000 travel accident insurance, free extended warranty on purchases up to 12 months, lost luggage reimbursement and zero fraud liability.
Barclaycard Arrival Plus
- Annual fee waived first year
- 50,000 bonus miles in the first 90 days
- Free FICO score access
- Flexible use of travel points
- 5% miles back upon redemption
- $89 annual fee after first year
- Slightly higher interest rates than some cards
- Low return when redeeming points for gift cards or merchandise
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus Elite World MasterCard tops the charts as one of the best travel miles cards available. In fact, it has such an extensive list of benefits that it was recognized by Money Magazine and a number of other prominent review sites. Barclays is a banking institution with headquarters located in London. Barclays rebranded itself in 2003 as Barclays Bank Delaware after purchasing Juniper Bank, a U.S.-based credit card company.
When you sign up you'll automatically enjoy 50,000 bonus miles assuming you spend $3,000 on qualifying purchases within the initial 90 days. This is enough to receive a $500 travel statement credit. You earn 2X miles on all purchases (travel, gas, groceries, bills, restaurants, etc. - no exclusions or categories).
Travel options couldn't be any more wide ranging. These include things like airfare, hotels, and cruises. The redemptions begin when you reach 10,000 miles, which is equivalent to $100 toward travel purchases made in the prior 120 days. Redemption for cash statement credit or gift cards starts at 5000 miles, or $25 (a half cent for every mile).
Everything about the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard is on point. Aside from the high annual fee beginning at the end of the first year and the few penalty fees, it offers great benefits. Even though the cash statement credit and gift card redemption values are relatively low, I highly recommend this card if you're a frequent traveler who typically uses your rewards for travel expenses.
- Sign-up bonus: If you spend $3000 within the first three months you'll receive 50,000 bonus miles.
- Key fees: There is an $89 annual fee after the first complimentary year. Balance transfers are the greater of $5 or 3%, and cash advances cost 5% or $10. There are late and returned payment fees of up to $37.
- Introductory APR: During the introductory period of one year, you will get 0% APR on purchases as well as balance transfers completed within the first 45 days of opening your account.
- APR: At the time of this review, the annual Barclaycard Arrival Plus APRs are 16.24%, 20.24%, and 23.24% depending upon your credit score.
- Other perks: You'll get the standard protections afforded by MasterCard, such as rental car collision protection and zero fraud liability, plus there are no foreign transaction fees and your miles won't expire. You also get free FICO score access.
- No annual fee
- 20,000 bonus points
- 10% bonus points for Bank of America account holders
- Unlimited 1.5x points earned on purchases
- No foreign transaction fees
- Must redeem travel points prior to statement credit being issued
BankAmericard Travel Rewards is a great choice if you want to avoid the steep annual fees typically associated with miles cards. While the bonus points signup offer is lower than some, at 20,000 (as long as you make $1000 in purchases during your first 90 days), this is one of the best credit card offers for travel due to several other attractive features.
Firstly, you will get 1.5x points per dollar spent on all purchases - no tracking of categories necessary. Even better, you get 3x points for all of your purchases made through the Travel Center. The Travel Center features 200+ airlines and 10,000 hotels from which to choose, making it easy to earn extra points simply by using the site to book your trip.
BankAmericard makes the process of earning travel points simple and lucrative, earning it my approval as one of the best credit cards for travel rewards.
- Sign-up bonus: Spending just $1000 in your first 90 days will net your 20,000 bonus points.
- Key fees: Balance transfers are the greater of $10 or 3%. Cash advances cost $10 or 5% for over-the-counter, ATM, same-day online, or cash equivalent. Direct Deposit and Check Cash Advances cost $10 or 3%. Overdraft advances are $12 per transaction. The late fee is up to $37, and returned payments cost up to $27.
- Introductory APR: The introductory rate is 0% for the first 12 months on purchases.
- APR: The APR on purchases and balance transfers ranges between 15.24% and 23.24% depending upon your creditworthiness. Cash advance APRs range between 18.24% and 25.24%.
- Other perks: Other features include EMV chip technology, digital wallet protection, and no foreign transaction fees. Plus, you'll get a 10% bonus on all purchases if you have a BoA checking or savings account. BoA Preferred Rewards status boosts that bonus to between 25% and 75%.
Can the Best Travel Credit Card Impact Your Credit?
As with any credit card, you may be concerned about the effects of using a travel rewards card. While there are certain activities that can increase the risk of affecting your credit score, remaining vigilant and using them responsibly will only help your score.
- Don't carry a balance. Aside from accruing interest fees, this practice can lead to negative effects on your credit score.
- Keep close track of what's going on with your accounts. Even a small unpaid fee may impact your score for up to a year.
- Don't open card accounts and then close them after you've reaped the first year's bonuses. This can be tempting, particularly if you're trying to avoid the annual fee kicking in, but according to Forbes the practice may lower your credit score.
In other words, use the same practical approach you do with all of your finances and you will be able to enjoy the rewards without worries about your long-term creditworthiness.
More Advice on the Best Credit Cards for Travel Miles
Want to learn more? My advice doesn't end with this top travel credit card comparison. Check out the travel rewards card advice section of the website to find useful tips on earning free airfare, saving money on peak-season flights, and perks you might not know about. The more you learn about earning points on travel, the more money you will save for vacations, business trips, and more.
To recap, the highest rated travel credit cards offer a flexible points system, additional rewards for signing up, waived fees the first year as well as the other considerations explained above. Do your best to weigh the pros and cons for each provider as well as your personal preference towards travel affiliates, locations, etc. If you play your cards right, you could be at your favorite vacation spot in no time!