Best Travel Credit Cards of March 2020

The Best Credit Cards for Travel as Chosen by the Editors

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The best travel credit cards give consumers valuable travel perks and the ability to earn rewards, but the cream of the crop offers more than one way to cash in your points.

We analyzed the top flexible travel credit cards in the industry to find out which ones boast the most lucrative rewards, the most diverse redemption options, and plenty of travel benefits. The cards below have the best of the best travel features, but those often come with a hefty annual fee. Take time to see how they stack up before you decide which one to bring with you.

Best Travel Credit Cards

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Best Overall

,

Best for Luxury Travelers

,

Best for Everyday Spending

Our Rating Among Travel Cards
4.8
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Excellent
Regular APR (%) 18.49% - 25.49% variable
Annual Fee $550
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 3x points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit, 3X points on dining at restaurants, and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card
Despite a very high annual fee, the Reserve leads the pack because of generous rewards on travel and restaurant purchases, a $300 annual credit toward travel, and premium perks like unlimited access to participating airport lounges. You can use reward points to book trips through the Chase Ultimate Rewards website or transfer them at a 1-to-1 ratio to eligible airline and hotel rewards programs. The new cardholder bonus is sizable, too: If you spend $4,000 within your first three months, you’ll earn 50,000 points. They're worth $750 when redeemed through Ultimate Rewards, and potentially more when transferred to another program.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Second Best Overall

,

Second Best for Luxury Travelers

Our Rating Among Travel Cards
4.5
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) N/A
Annual Fee $550
Rewards Earning Rate 5X Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel. 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card
This is another premium travel rewards card that offers a lot for its steep annual fee. On top of a high rewards-earning rate on flights and prepaid hotels, cardholders get a $200 annual airline fee credit (with one eligible airline), monthly Uber credits, access to more than 1,000 participating airport lounges, gold status with Hilton and Marriott, and an option to transfer points to many eligible airline and hotel loyalty programs, often at a 1-to-1 rate. Plus, new cardholders who spend $5,000 on purchases within their first three months will earn 60,000 points—an offer worth about $714, based on our valuation of the points.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Best for Cost-Conscious Travelers

Our Rating Among Travel Cards
4.1
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 17.49% - 24.49% variable
Annual Fee $95
Rewards Earning Rate 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card
The relatively low annual fee makes this a more affordable version of the Reserve. There are fewer travel benefits, but both cards pay points on travel and restaurant purchases (you’ll just earn fewer per $1 with this card) and the new cardholder bonuses are similar. Plus, as with the Reserve, you can transfer your points to a partner airline or hotel program that potentially offers more value. For example, the 60,000-point bonus—earned by spending $4,000 in the first three months—is worth $1,296 if you transfer the points to United Airlines, based on our valuation of United's miles.

American Express® Green Card

Second Best for Cost-Conscious Travelers

Our Rating Among Travel Cards
4.0
American Express® Green Card
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) N/A - See Rates & Fees
Annual Fee $150
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 3 points per $1 spent on eligible travel and at restaurants. Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card
Thanks to a recent refresh, this card is finally a good option for occasional travelers looking to quickly stack up rewards without a huge investment. Cardholders earn extra Membership Rewards points on more than the typical travel expenses (including annoying parking fees and tolls, for one) and whenever they dine out. If you do fly frequently, even better, since rebates on airport lounge passes and expedited security clearance costs can offset the annual fee. Note: While this is no longer a charge card, we still recommend paying off your balance each month.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

Best for Hotel Loyalty

Our Rating Among Travel Cards
4.1
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Excellent
Regular APR (%) 15.74% - 24.74% variable
Annual Fee $450
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 6X points for every $1 spent at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 3X points at U.S. restaurants and flights booked directly with airlines, and 2X points everywhere else.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card
This card has a premium annual fee, but in return, you’ll get a card that takes loyalty to Marriott very seriously. Not only do the competitive rewards-earning rate and redemption values translate to a great opportunity to earn hotel stays, but you’ll get perks like Gold Elite guest status and a $300 annual statement credit toward eligible purchases at participating hotels. Plus, frequent flyers will love that you get a complimentary Priority Pass membership providing access to more than 1,300 airport lounges. The value of that alone just about offsets the cost of the card.

Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card

Best With No Annual Fee

Our Rating Among Travel Cards
3.8
Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 16.49% - 24.49% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere.
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 12 Billing Cycles
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card
You won’t have to think hard when using this straightforward travel rewards card. The 1.5 miles for every $1 you spend is about as good a flat rate as you’ll find on a travel card with no annual fee. Plus, Bank of America bank account holders can earn even more (up to 75% more), depending on their bank balances. The generous new cardholder bonus is relatively easy to get, too. Just spend $1,000 within three months of opening your account to earn 25,000 points that are worth $250 toward your next trip.

Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students

Best for Student Travelers

Our Rating Among Travel Cards
3.8
Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 16.49% - 24.49% variable
Annual Fee $0
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 12 Billing Cycles
Rewards Earning Rate Earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card
If you want to earn rewards for an upcoming trip or study-abroad adventure and have good credit, this is a worthwhile student travel card. You'll earn a very decent rewards rate for a student card (the single rate keeps things simple for new rewards users, too), and there’s no annual or foreign transaction fee. To top it off, this card offers some nice introductory incentives. Not only will new cardholders have a 0% APR on purchases for their first 12 months, but there’s an impressive bonus: If you spend $1,000 within your first 90 days, you’ll earn 25,000 extra points worth $250 in travel.

American Express® Gold Card

Second Best for Everyday Spending

Our Rating Among Travel Cards
3.7
American Express® Gold Card
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) N/A - See Rates & Fees
Annual Fee $250
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 4 points per $1 spent at restaurants and at US supermarkets (up-to $25,000 per year). 3 points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com. 1 point per $1 on other elgible purchases.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card
A stellar 4 bonus points per $1 on purchases made at restaurants and U.S. grocery stores make this card ideal for occasional travelers who want to earn rewards for future trips even when they’re not traveling. As with other Amex cards, you’ll have some nice flexibility when redeeming points for travel; you can either book directly through amextravel.com or transfer your points to an eligible airline or hotel loyalty program. Plus, there are a couple of good travel perks, like a $100 annual airline fee credit. Just remember: This is a charge card, so you’ll need to pay it off monthly.

United℠ Explorer Card

Best for Airline Loyalty

Our Rating Among Travel Cards
3.7
United℠ Explorer Card
Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 17.99% - 24.99% variable
Annual Fee $0 for the first year, then $95
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants, on hotel stays and on purchases from United. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card
United miles are the most valuable of those offered by a major U.S. airline rewards program, according to our research. Not only that, but new cardholders who spend $3,000 within their first three months get 60,000 of them right off the bat—a bonus worth almost $1,300, based on our valuations. What's more, purchases at restaurants, hotels, and with United all earn 2 miles per $1 spent, and the card comes with some nice travel benefits, including two airport lounge passes each year. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the annual fee is waived for the first year, either.

Find Your Credit Card Match We consider travel rewards, perks, and fees the most important things you should consider when choosing a travel credit card, but we know you might have different priorities. See what suits you best.
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What Are Travel Credit Cards?

Before you sign up for a travel credit card, it helps to know the different types of cards available. While each card in this niche serves the same purpose—letting consumers earn free travel based on their spending—the type of rewards they offer can vary quite a bit. 

What Are the Different Types of Travel Credit Card?

  • Hotel credit cards: Co-branded hotel credit cards let you earn points on regular spending as well as bonus points on paid hotel stays with a specific brand of hotels. 
  • Airline credit cards: Co-branded airline credit cards offer frequent flyers airline-related perks and the opportunity to earn more miles from all their spending.
  • General travel credit cards: These travel credit cards offer flexible points you can redeem for travel as well as for other goods and services. 
  • Fixed-rate travel credit cards: Fixed-rate travel credit cards let you earn points that can be redeemed for any type of travel at a fixed rate—usually 1 cent per point. 

What Are the Pros and Cons of Travel Credit Cards?

What We Like
  • Airline and hotel cards often provide an easier path to elite status—and their perks

  • Airline credit card redemption values can be extra valuable if your travel plans are flexible

  • General travel credit cards offer redemptions for travel and other options like statement credits and gift cards.

  • Some travel cards offer perks that can make travel more enjoyable, like airline lounge access or priority boarding.

What We Don't Like
  • Travel credit cards are more likely than cash-back credit cards to have annual fees.

  • Travel loyalty programs can be restrictive when you redeem your points.

  • Travel loyalty programs can be complex and difficult to understand.

How Do Travel Credit Cards Compare to Cash-Back Credit Cards?

Before you decide between a travel card and a cash-back card, see how they stack up.

Travel Credit Cards

  • Let you earn points for travel for each dollar you spend on your card
  • May let you redeem your rewards for airfare, hotels, cash back, statement credits, gift cards, merchandise, and more
  • Usually have an annual fee
  • May offer travel-related perks like airport lounge access, annual travel credits, or priority boarding

Cash-Back Credit Cards

  • Let you earn cash back for each dollar you spend on your card
  • May let you redeem your rewards for cash back, statement credits, gift cards, merchandise, and more
  • Usually do not have an annual fee
  • No travel perks

Should You Pay an Annual Fee for a Travel Rewards Credit Card?

Before you pay an annual fee on a travel credit card, gauge whether you’ll take advantage of the added benefits you’re paying for. If airport lounge access is included, for example, do you fly often enough to get plenty of value? On the other hand, if you rarely leave home, you may be better off with a general travel rewards card with a lower (or no) annual fee. 

How Should You Choose a General Travel Credit Card?

If you’ve decided to go with a general travel credit card with flexible rewards, several factors should come into play.

  • Can you transfer points or miles to your favorite airline or hotel?  
  • Do the cardholder perks and benefits justify the annual fee (if any)?
  • Do you have redemption options other than travel (gift cards, merchandise, statement credits)?
  • If there’s a sign-up bonus, can you reach it while staying within your budget? Among competing sign-up bonuses, which one offers the biggest boost?

How Should You Choose an Airline Credit Card?

Picking a co-branded airline credit card can be smart if you usually fly with the same airline or airline alliance and want elite status other benefits. 

  • Start with an airline you’ll use.
  • Decide which perks you want.
  • Weigh annual fees.
  • Consider airline credit card sign-up bonuses: How much are they worth and how easy are they to get?
  • Going for elite status this year? Choose a card that will get you there faster based on card use.

How Should You Choose a Hotel Credit Card?

Choosing the best hotel credit card also requires some legwork. 

  • Start with the hotel brands with properties where you need them.
  • Consider how many points you’ll earn for each dollar you spend with the hotel brand and elsewhere.
  • Compare sign-up bonuses and account anniversary perks like free hotel nights.
  • Look at award charts to learn how many points you’ll need for a free stay.
  • If you want elite status, choose a hotel card that offers it (or helps you reach it). 
  • Weigh annual fees to determine whether automatic elite status (and other perks) are worth it.

How Should You Compare Travel Credit Cards?

As you dive into offer details and fine print, you may be wondering which details to compare among travel credit cards. 

  • Annual fees: There’s nothing wrong with paying an annual fee if you’re getting plenty of value. 
  • Rewards rates: Make sure you understand how many points or miles you’ll earn for each dollar you spend. 
  • Sign-up bonus: Compare sign-up bonuses and how easy they are to earn.
  • Foreign transaction fees: Some foreign transaction fees can add up to 3% on each purchase made abroad.
  • International acceptance: While Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted worldwide, this isn’t the case with all credit cards. 
  • Insurance and protections: Look for travel friendly perks like trip cancellation/interruption insurance, baggage loss or delay insurance, travel accident insurance, among others.

How Can You Maximize Travel Rewards?

There are plenty of ways to earn more rewards and get more value when it’s time to redeem them. 

  • Take advantage of sign-up bonuses: Some bonuses can be worth hundreds of dollars.
  • Take advantage of credit card bonus categories: If your travel credit card lets you earn “bonus points” on certain purchases, try to use your card for those purchases.
  • Travel off-peak: Most travel rewards programs offer better redemption rates for travel outside of peak travel times, and you may find better award availability as well. 
  • Consider a general travel credit card: If you’re unsure of which hotel or airline program to go with, consider choosing a flexible travel credit card that lets you transfer points to your favorite programs instead.

What Are Some Additional Travel Card Benefits?

Benefits to look for include: purchase protection, extended warranties, auto rental collision damage waiver, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, guaranteed returns, cell phone protection, lost luggage insurance, baggage delay coverage, roadside assistance, and travel accident insurance.

Methodology

We collect data on hundreds of cards and score more than 55 features that affect your finances. We do this because it's our mission to give you unbiased, comprehensive credit card reviews.

Our reviews are always impartial. No one can influence which cards we review, the way we present them to you, or the ratings they receive.

About This List

We determine this list of cards each month or whenever there's a drastic change in the travel-rewards credit card market. We start by filtering our database of cards to show only those classified as "general travel" cards. This means we exclude co-branded airline and hotel cards, and we do this because airline- and hotel-specific cards are only valuable if your travel habits allow you to fly those airlines or stay at those hotel chains frequently. If that's what you're looking for, check out our list of the best airline credit cards and best hotel credit cards.

What We Score

The driving factors in our scores for travel credit cards are the value of a credit card's points or miles and the highest rewards-earning rate the card offers. We determine a point or mile's value by examining Americans' travel habits, the ways a cardholder can redeem rewards, and the average cost of flights and hotel stays.

Next, we look at the maximum value of the sign-up bonus and how much you have to spend to earn it. Bonuses with higher values and lower spending requirements get the highest scores. Equally as important are the number of airlines you can redeem your points with, as well as how widely accepted the credit card network is. Because travelers need the freedom to use their card wherever they go, cards on networks with higher acceptance rates receive higher scores.

Important

According to the Nilson Report, more merchants (domestically and internationally) accept Visa and Mastercard than Discover, and those three have greater acceptance than American Express.

Those factors—point value, highest rewards-earning rate, sign-up bonus value, sign-up bonus spending requirement, airline partners, and card acceptance—account for nearly half of a product's score on our Best Travel Credit Cards list.

Beyond those main features, credit cards for travelers who prioritize flexibility should offer a variety of perks, especially those we consider "excellent" perks:

  • Global Entry/TSA Precheck application fee reimbursement
  • Travel fee reimbursement
  • Airport lounge access
  • Insurance coverage for trip cancellation, interruption, or delay
  • Insurance coverage for lost or delayed luggage
  • Travel accident insurance
  • Emergency medical/dental and evacuation benefits
  • Primary rental car collision insurance
  • Cellphone insurance coverage
  • Free towing and other roadside services

Cards with several common perks—like rental car insurance that kicks in after your personal policy or concierge services—receive higher scores than those with fewer benefits, though excellent perks have greater bearing on scores.

Travelers should get a lot of value from their cards, so we look closely at fees. Following all the above features, we favor cards with low annual fees, no foreign transaction fees, and long introductory purchase APRs, which are perfect for spreading out the cost of a one-time dream vacation.

Warning

Whenever you use an introductory purchase APR, make a plan to pay off your balance before the period ends. Otherwise, you'll end up with debt subject to double-digit interest rates.

Other Things We Consider

Travel-specific features make up about three-quarters of our scoring system for our best travel credit cards, but we also account for several things we think make a quality credit card. We favor cards with low APRs, few fees, outstanding security features, and easy-to-access customer service. You can read more about everything we evaluate in our full methodology.