Best Travel Credit Cards of October 2019

Disclosure: We are committed to recommending the best products for our readers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to products, but this never affects our reviews or recommendations.

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

We analyzed the top 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.

Editors' Picks

Best Overall

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Our Rating Among Travel Cards
3.9
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 (%) 18.99% - 25.99% variable
Annual Fee $450
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

The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers travelers generous bonus rewards, a big annual travel credit, a Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit, airport lounge membership, and more. Chase Ultimate Rewards are also versatile; you can use them to book travel through Chase or for 1:1 transfers to airlines and hotels. The attractive sign-up bonus and the steep annual fee, while not the highest in this category, confirm this card’s place among the elite.

First Runner-Up

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Our Rating Among Travel Cards
3.9
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 (%) 17.99% - 24.99% 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 minuscule annual fee makes the Chase Sapphire Preferred a more affordable version of the Reserve card. While there are fewer travel benefits than with Reserve, the bonus points offer is still solid and the earnings rate is respectable. Plus, you’ll have access to Chase Ultimate Rewards and that program’s many travel-related redemption options.

Second Runner-Up

American Express® Gold Card

Our Rating Among Travel Cards
3.4
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
Annual Fee $250
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 4X points at restaurants and 4x at US supermarkets (up-to $25,000 per year). 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com. 1x on other elgible purchases.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card

The Amex Gold Card is an enticing card—perhaps more enticing than its shinier sibling—thanks to its great rewards-earning structure, its annual dining and airline fee credits, and its travel perks. A generous welcome offer is available for those willing to pay the annual fee. Plus, you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to a limited selection of airlines or hotels or use them to book travel via AmexTravel.

Third Runner-Up

Citi Prestige®

Our Rating Among Travel Cards
3.4
Citi Prestige®
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 (%) 18.74% - 25.74% variable
Annual Fee $495
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 5 points per dollar at airlines, travel agencies, and restaurants, 3 points per dollar at hotels and cruise lines, and 1 point per dollar on other purchases.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

Why We Chose This Card

Travelers need to eat, too, so the Citi Prestige offers cardholders a high rewards earnings rate on airfare and dining both, plus a good rewards earnings rate on hotels and cruises. The annual fee is steep, but with it you get a generous sign-up bonus, a fourth night free hotel benefit, airport lounge access, a $250 airline credit, and more. Citi ThankYou points can be used to book travel directly or transferred to airline partners.

Fourth Runner-Up

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Our Rating Among Travel Cards
3.6
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

It’s made of metal and shines with status, but what makes the Platinum Card from Amex stand out is the lucrative welcome bonus and the sky high earnings bonus on airfare booked directly or through AmexTravel.com. (Prepaid hotels also earn the bonus.) For the also sky high annual fee, you’ll receive an airline fee credit, monthly Uber credits, airport lounge membership, Hilton Gold status, points that transfer to airlines and hotels, and more.

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.
My Credit Score is
POOR EXCELLENT
{{ groupWeights[item].display }}
A LITTLE A LOT
{{ filterMessage }}

Your Results

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. 

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.

Travel Credit Cards Versus 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

Travel Rewards Credit Cards With Annual Fees

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 to 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 to 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 to 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 to 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 to 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.

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

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

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 more than 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.