Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards for 2018
Travel credit cards are a great way to pay for your travel, whether that’s flights, hotels, cruises, or rental cars. Travel credit cards pay miles or points on purchases you make with your credit card. Then, after you’ve accumulated a certain amount of rewards, you can redeem your rewards for travel purchases or apply your rewards as a statement to offset travel booked on your card. The best travel credit cards offer great rewards and other travel perks.
Quick Tips for Choosing a Travel Rewards Credit Card
Normally, a credit card’s APR would play a major factor in choosing a credit card. The APR is only important when you plan to carry a balance on your credit card because a lower APR means you’ll pay less in interest. You should never pay interest on a travel credit card because it devalues the rewards you’ve earned on the credit card. That means you should always pay your balance in full and never charge more than you can afford to pay.
Don’t choose a travel credit card based on a promotional balance transfer offer. Balances transferred don’t earn rewards and take up available credit that you could be using to earn your initial bonus. Not only that, balance transfers incur a balance transfer fee, an additional cost that offsets any rewards you earn on the card.
Once you’ve been approved for your choice of travel credit card, make sure you keep your account open, active, and in good standing to avoid losing your rewards.
Best Travel Credit Cards
There are dozens of travel credit cards to choose from and comparing them all could take hours. Below is a list of the best travel rewards credit cards, grouped into specific categories.
Most Flexible Redemption
Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard
- Great signup bonus
- Flexible redemption options
- Free online FICO score
Some travel credit cards make restrictions on how you can redeem your rewards, e.g. only for hotel stays. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard lets you redeem rewards for a statement credit on any type of travel as long as your purchase was made within the last 120 days.
You’ll earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days. This 50K bonus is worth a $500 statement credit.
The Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard pays a steady 2 points on all purchases. Many travel credit cards have a tiered reward program that pays the most rewards on travel purchases. With these cards, maximizing rewards requires more travel. This flat rewards structure makes it easy to understand how many rewards your purchases will earn.
On top of the rewards you earn on purchases, you’ll get 5 percent points back with each redemption. Redeeming 50,000 rewards would allow you to earn 2,500 bonus points. You can use your rewards toward your next redemption.
You can redeem your rewards for cash or merchandise, but rewards aren’t worth as much when you redeem this way.
The $89 annual fee is waived in the first year and there are no foreign transaction fees.
Drawbacks: The flat reward system means there’s no way to maximize rewards other than making a redemption.
Best No Annual Fee Travel Rewards Credit Card
BankAmericard Travel Rewards Card
- 20K bonus points
- Flexible redemption
- No annual fee
Most of the best travel credit cards charge an annual fee, at least in the second year and every year thereafter. If you’re looking for a travel credit card that will provide great value year after year with no annual cost, look no further than the BankAmericard Travel Rewards Card.
Earn 20,000 bonus points when you make $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of opening your account. The spending requirement is relatively low compared to many other travel credit cards, some of which require $3,000 or $4,000 of spending in the same time period. Your 20K bonus points can be redeemed for a $200 statement credit toward travel purchases made on your credit card.
Your purchases earn an unlimited 1.5 points for every dollar you spend on all purchases. You can earn additional rewards on purchases if you have other Bank of America accounts. For example, if you have an active Bank of America checking or savings account, you’ll receive 10 percent customer points bonus on all your purchases. And, if you’re a Bank of America Preferred Rewards client, your bonus could increase to 25 percent to 75 percent depending on your benefit level.
There’s as much flexibility in redeeming your rewards as in earning them. Use your card to book travel, then redeem your points for a statement credit. You’re not restricted to certain website or dates and your points can be applied to flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees.
Not only is there no annual fee, there also is no foreign transaction fee on purchases you make in other currencies.
Drawbacks: The BankAmericard Travel Rewards Card has a lower signup bonus than most other travel credit cards. Of course, the card also does not have an annual fee, so there’s somewhat of a tradeoff. The flat rewards program makes it easier to know what you’ll earn, but also makes it difficult to maximize rewards unless you also have a Bank of America checking or savings account.
Best for Hotel Stays
Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card From American Express
- 5x Starpoints earned on Starwood hotels
- Ability to transfer points to airline miles
With the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, you earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints after you use your card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of opening your credit card.
Ongoing, you’ll earn 5 Starpoints on for every dollar you spend on Starwood hotels, 2 Starpoints per dollar on eligible Marriott Rewards hotels and 1 Starpoint per dollar on everything else. If you’re staying in a lot of Starwood or Marriott properties, you’ll have a chance to earn a lot of Starpoints. Otherwise, you’re only earning one Starpoint for every dollar you spend.
Redeem your Starpoints for free nights at Starwood properties including St. Regis, W Hotels, Westin, Four Points by Sheraton, The Luxury Collection, Aloft, Sheraton, and Tribute Portfolio. You may have to pay a service charge for some hotels and resorts.
You can turn your Starpoints into air miles and redeem for free flights on over 150 airlines. Points can also be transferred to certain airline frequent flyer programs, mostly on a one-to-one basis. You’ll receive a bonus 5,000 Starpoints when you transfer 20,000 points to a participating frequent flyer program.
There’s a $95 annual fee that’s waived in the first year and there’s no foreign transaction fee charged when you use your card to make purchases in other currencies.
Drawbacks: This card won’t be a great value unless you stay in Starwood or Marriott properties often. The initial bonus is relatively low for a credit card that charges an annual fee. You may not be able to earn the bonus if you’ve earned another bonus on an American Express credit card.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Large signup bonus
- Annual travel credit
The Chase Sapphire Reserve has one of the biggest signup bonuses of any credit card — travel and otherwise. Rewards cardholders with a whopping 50,000 bonus points after meeting the spending requirement of $4,000 in the first 3 months. The 50K bonus is worth $750 toward travel if you redeem your points through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
You’ll earn 3 points per dollar on travel and dining purchases and 1 point per dollar on everything else. (Many other credit cards with a tiered point system pay less rewards on dining purchases.)
Your points are worth 50 percent more when you use them to book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. So, 50,000 bonus points are actually worth 75,000 points.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve has plenty of other amazing perks: $300 annual travel credit will automatically reimburse you for travel purchases you’ve charged to your card.
Receive a $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, programs that allow you to move through the airport faster. You must use your Chase Sapphire Preferred Reserve Card to complete the application and pay the fee. Get more details about the Global Entry program, operated by U.S. Customers and Border Protection, by going to globalentry.gov. For more information on TSA PreCheck, operated by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, visit tsa.gov.
Get complimentary Priority Pass Select membership giving you access to 900+ airport lounges.
If you've racked up points with other hotel or airline points you can combine your rewards for a bigger benefit. Chase offers 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs.
There’s a $450 annual fee for the primary cardholder and an additional $75 for each additional authorized user. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Reserve doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
Drawbacks: The $450 annual fee is expensive and needs to be paid off in the first month of having the credit card to avoid interest and to avoid losing the value of the rewards. You may not be eligible for the bonus if you’ve received another bonus from Chase within the past 24 months.
Best Overall Value
Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Great signup bonus
- Ability to transfer rewards to other programs
New Chase Sapphire Preferred cardmembers earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. The 50K bonus is worth $625 in travel when you redeem through the Chase booking tool, Chase Ultimate Rewards. You can earn an additional 5,000 bonus points if you add an authorized user and make your first purchase within the first 3 months of account opening.
You’ll earn two points on travel and dining at restaurants and one point per dollar on everything else. Your rewards are worth 25 percent more when you redeem them through Chase Ultimate Rewards. That means 50,000 bonus points are worth 62,500.
There are no blackout dates or seat restrictions when using your rewards to book travel.
You can make 1:1 point transfers to any of Chase’s travel partners which include Southwest, Marriott, and British Airways.
The $95 annual fee is waived in the first year. There are no foreign transaction fees charged on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
Drawbacks: The perks aren’t as extensive as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, but the Preferred is still a great travel credit card, particularly for consumers who’d rather not pay a $450 annual fee. Like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can only receive the bonus points if you haven't received another bonus from Chase within the last 24 months.
Disclaimer: Credit card terms are subject to change. Visit the credit card issuer's website for the most up to date rewards and pricing details.