Best Travel Credit Cards of August 2021

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 of August 2021

Best Overall, Best for Luxury Travelers : Chase Sapphire Reserve®


Our Rating Among Travel Cards
4.7
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Current Offer

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $900 total travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

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 (%) 16.99% - 23.99% 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:
  • Pros & Cons:
  • Highlights:
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 welcome bonus is sizable, too: If you spend $4,000 within your first three months, you’ll earn 60,000 points. They're worth $900 when redeemed through Ultimate Rewards, and potentially more when transferred to another program.

Pros & Cons:
Pros
  • Earn extra points for travel and dining purchases

  • Many different purchases count as travel spending, which makes earning rewards easier

  • Several valuable ways to use points, including transfers to partner loyalty programs

  • Jam-packed with valuable travel credit and travel insurance benefits

Cons
  • Massive annual fee

  • High ongoing APR

Highlights:
  • Receive 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Get an annual $300 travel credit for eligible purchases charged to your card each anniversary year.
  • Earn 3 points on travel (excluding purchases eligible for the travel credit), restaurants, and dining. Earn 1 point per $1 spent on other purchases.
  • Points are worth 50% more when you redeem them for travel through Chase's Ultimate Rewards portal.
  • Transfer points 1:1 to eligible Ultimate Rewards airline and hotel partner programs.

Read the full Chase Sapphire Reserve® review

Best for Business Owners : Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card


Our Rating Among Travel Cards
4.2
Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card
Current Offer

Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 cash back or $1,250 toward travel rewards when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

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 (%) 15.99% - 20.99% variable
Annual Fee $95
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on shipping purchases, advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines, internet, cable and phone services, and travel each account anniversary year. Earn unlimited 1 Point Per $1 spent on all other purchases. Points do not expire as long as your account is open.
Cash Advance APR (%) 24.99%
Cash Advance Fee Either $15 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • Why We Chose This Card:
  • Pros & Cons:
  • Highlights:
Why We Chose This Card:

Chase’s popular Ultimate Rewards program coupled with a reasonable annual fee make this our favorite business travel card. There’s a generous 100,000-point bonus for new cardholders who spend $15,000 within three months of opening an account. That bonus is worth $1,000 cash back or $1,250 toward travel rewards when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. It may be worth even more if you transfer points to an eligible hotel or airline loyalty program. Day-to-day, you earn a competitive rewards rate on common business expenses like online advertising and shipping. 

Pros & Cons:
Pros
  • Outstanding bonus for new cardholders

  • Extra rewards points on many different types of business expenses

  • Many ways to redeem rewards

  • Option to transfer points to eligible airline loyalty programs, in some cases getting more value per point

Cons
  • No rewards on dining or gas

  • Rewards tiers and caps, which are higher maintenance

  • Steep spending requirement to earn bonus

Highlights:
  • 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening. That's $1,000 cash back or $1,250 toward travel rewards when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, and on advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines each account anniversary year.
  • Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
  • Stay on top of your business with Fraud Protection, Purchase Protection, personalized Account Alerts, and more.
  • Employee cards at no additional cost.

Read the full Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card review

Best With Annual Fee Under $100 : Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card


Our Rating Among Travel Cards
4.0
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Current Offer

Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

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 (%) 15.99% - 22.99% variable
Annual Fee $95
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 2X points on dining, including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose This Card:
  • Pros & Cons:
  • Highlights:
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 points per $1 spent with this card) and the welcome bonuses are similar. Plus, as with the Reserve, you can transfer your points to a partner loyalty program that potentially offers more value. For example, a 100,000-point bonus is worth about $1,485 if you transfer the points to United Airlines, based on our valuation of United's miles.

Pros & Cons:
Pros
  • Good bonus compared to other travel cards with similar annual fees

  • Option to transfer points to eligible airline and hotel programs, often at a 1-to-1 ratio

  • Points are pretty valuable when redeemed for travel

  • Some premium travel insurance benefits

Cons
  • No credits to cover incidental airline fees or other travel-related costs

  • Few everyday purchase categories earn extra points

Highlights:
  • Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 100,000 points are worth $1,250 toward travel.
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022.
  • Transfer points 1:1 to eligible Ultimate Rewards airline and hotel partner programs.
  • With Pay Yourself Back, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.

Read the full Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card review

Best With No Annual Fee : U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa Signature® Card


Our Rating Among Travel Cards
3.4
U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa Signature® Card
Current Offer

Earn 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in eligible purchases within the first 90 days of account opening That's a $200 value redeemable towards merchandise, gift cards, cash back, travel and more.

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 (%) 14.99% - 23.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 4x points on takeout, food delivery and dining, earn 2x points at grocery stores, grocery delivery, streaming services and gas stations. Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 12 Billing Cycles
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose This Card:
  • Pros & Cons:
  • Highlights:
Why We Chose This Card:

This no-annual-fee card is perfect for racking up points on everyday, non-travel purchases to fund a vacation later. It boasts a top-notch earning rate on dining purchases (including takeout and delivery), and also offers extra points on grocery, gas, and streaming services. There’s a nice $200 bonus for new cardholders who spend $1,000 within three months of opening the account. If you make this your go-to card for day-to-day purchases, earning that should be a breeze. Whether you use points to book a trip or cash them out to cover other travel expenses, they will be worth a consistent 1 cent each. 

Pros & Cons:
Pros
  • High earning rates on dining purchases

  • Option to earn extra points and a statement credit on streaming service purchases

  • Decent introductory 0% APR offer on purchases and transfers

  • No annual fee

Cons
  • Few valuable travel or purchase insurance perks

Highlights:
  • Earn 4 points per $1 on takeout, food delivery and dining
  • Earn 2 points per $1 on groceries, gas, and streaming services
  • $15 credit for annual streaming service purchases
  • No annual fee
  • Low Introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers
  • Points never expire

Read the full U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa Signature® Card review

Best for Student Travelers : Chase Freedom® Student Credit Card


Our Rating Among Travel Cards
3.3
Chase Freedom® Student credit card
Current Offer

$50 Bonus earned after first purchase made within the first 3 months from account opening.

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 (%) 14.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 1% cash back on all purchases.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 3%
  • Why We Chose This Card:
  • Pros & Cons:
  • Highlights:
Why We Chose This Card:

This student card is like your favorite sweatshirt: not super flashy, but reliable and low effort. It’s a no-annual-fee card that offers just 1% cash back on all purchases, but will automatically up your credit limit if you make five on-time payments within 10 months of account opening. Keep paying on time to earn 2,000 extra points each year, for five years. Cash back rewards are issued as Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which means you can use them in several ways, including travel. We love that the card's APR is lower than average, and the bonus is easy to earn, too.

Pros & Cons:
Pros
  • Simple cash-back program makes earning and redeeming rewards easy while building credit

  • Lets you earn a credit limit increase by making five on-time monthly payments within 10 months of opening account

  • $20 bonus each year your account is in good standing (for up to 5 years)

Cons
  • Card cannot be applied for online. You must visit a Chase branch

  • Low rewards-earning rate compared to other student cards

Highlights:
  • $50 bonus earned after first purchase made within the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn 1% cash back on all purchases.
  • $20 Good Standing Rewards after each account anniversary for up to 5 years.
  • Earn a credit limit increase after making 5 monthly payments on time within 10 months from account opening when meeting credit criteria.

Read the full Chase Freedom® Student Credit Card review

Best for Travelers Who Prefer Cash Back : Chase Freedom Unlimited®


Our Rating Among Travel Cards
2.9
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Current Offer

$200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

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 (%) 14.99% - 23.74% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target(R) or Walmart(R) purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year. Earn 5% on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards(R), 3% on dining and drugstores, and 1.5% on all other purchases.
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 15 Months
Foreign transaction fee (%) 3%
  • Why We Chose It:
  • Pros & Cons:
  • Highlights:
Why We Chose It:

If you'd rather earn generous rewards on travel purchases that can be redeemed for cash back, this is our pick for you. For starters, you’ll get 5% back on travel booked through Chase, 3% back on dining and drugstore purchases, and then a very competitive 1.5% back on everything else. Whenever you'd rather use rewards for travel, you can tap into the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal to book flights, hotels, rental cars, and more.

Pros & Cons:
Pros
  • Easy-to-earn and competitive welcome bonus

  • Good 0% APR intro offer for purchases

  • No annual fee

  • Several ways to redeem points through Chase Ultimate Rewards, including for travel

Cons
  • Unlike comparable cards, this card still charges a foreign transaction fee

  • APR may be above average, depending on your credit

Highlights:
  • $200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase.
  • Earn 5% cash back on Lyft rides through March 2022.

Read the full Chase Freedom Unlimited® review

Best for Airline Loyalty : United℠ Explorer Card


Our Rating Among Travel Cards
3.6
United℠ Explorer Card
Current Offer

Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, an additional 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $6,000 in the first 6 months.

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% - 23.49% variable
Annual Fee $0 for the first year, then $95
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, eligible delivery services, on hotel stays, and on United purchases. Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United ClubSM with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose This Card:
  • Pros & Cons:
  • Highlights:
Why We Chose This Card:

United miles are among the most valuable 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, plus another 10,000 after spending $6,000 in the first six months, making the total bonus worth about $1,386, 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.

Pros & Cons:
Pros
  • Miles are worth more than most other major U.S. airline's, according to our calculations

  • Lots of great travel perks, such as lounge passes and free checked bags

  • Extra miles can be earned on more than just flight purchases

Cons
  • Annual fee is waived the first year, but it’s still a notable cost

Highlights:
  • 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, earn an additional 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $6,000 total on purchases in the first 6 months your account is open.
  • Get 2 United Club one-time passes each anniversary year.
  • Save up to $140 per roundtrip with a free checked bag for you and a travel companion on the same reservation.
  • Get 25% back as a statement credit on inflight United purchases.

Read the full United℠ Explorer Card review

Best for Hotel Loyalty : World of Hyatt Credit Card


Our Rating Among Travel Cards
3.0
World of Hyatt Credit Card
Current Offer

Earn 30,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. Plus, up to 30,000 More Bonus Points by earning 2 Bonus Points total per $1 spent in the first 6 months from account opening on purchases that normally earn 1 Bonus Point, on up to $15,000 spent.

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 (%) 15.99% - 22.99% variable
Annual Fee $95
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 4X points for Hyatt stays, 2x for eligible transit, restaurants, gym memberships, and airfare purchased directly from the airline. 1x on other purchases.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose This Card:
  • Pros & Cons:
  • Highlights:
Why We Chose This Card:

This is a superb hotel card for travelers who make Hyatt their hotel of choice. It boasts an excellent bonus: Spend $3,000 within three months of opening an account to earn 30,000 bonus points worth $564, thanks to the high value of Hyatt points (1.88 cents each, on average, based on our analysis). Plus, you can earn an additional 30,000 points by earning two points per dollar on purchases up to $15,000 in your first six months. This card also offers a free hotel stay annually (and a second if you can spend $15,000 each year), many ways to earn rewards, and nice hotel perks, thanks to automatic World of Hyatt elite status.

Pros & Cons:
Pros
  • Outstanding two-part bonus for new cardholders

  • Points are worth more than any other major U.S. hotel chain’s, according to The Balance’s calculations

  • Fitness club, restaurant, and local transportation expenses also earn extra points, unlike other hotel rewards cards

Cons
  • World of Hyatt rewards program includes earning two types of points, which can be complicated to track

Highlights:
  • Earn 30,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Plus, 2 Bonus Points per $1 spent on purchases that earn 1 Bonus Point up to $15,000 in the first 6 months of account opening.
  • Earn a free night certificate valid at any Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel or resort each year on your cardmember anniversary.
  • Receive automatic Elite status as long as your account is open.
  • Enjoy complimentary World of Hyatt Discoverist status for as long as your account is open.
  • Receive 5 tier qualifying night credits towards status after account opening, and each year after that for as long as your account is open.

Read the full World of Hyatt Credit Card review

Best for Fair Credit : Petal 2 Visa® Credit Card


Our Rating Among Travel Cards
2.7
Petal 2 Visa® Credit Card
Current Offer

For a limited time only: Get $50 for a Petal 2 card approval. Full terms apply.

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
Fair - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 12.99% - 26.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate 1% cash back on all purchases. 1.25% after 6 months of on time payments, and 1.5% after 12 months of on time payments.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose This Card:
  • Pros & Cons:
  • Highlights:
Why We Chose This Card:

The chance to earn rewards when you don’t have a strong credit score can be tough to find. Usually it’s recommended that you have good to excellent credit for the best rewards cards. Enter the Petal 2 Visa card. This card rewards good habits, allowing you to graduate from a so-so 1% cash-back rate to a more respectable 1.5% after 12 months of on-time payments. While this isn’t a travel card, per se, you can easily start a travel fund with your cash back. Request it in check form, add to a high-yield savings account, and you’re on your way to your next vacation.

Pros & Cons:
Pros
  • Available to those with a limited (or no) credit history, which is rare for an unsecured rewards card

  • Earn a higher rewards earning rate by making 12 on-time payments

  • Very few transaction or penalty fees

Cons
  • Limited reward redemption options compared to similar cash-back cards

  • Must redeem rewards in $20 increments

Highlights:
  • Earn 1% cash back right away. Earn up to 1.5% cash back after twelve on-time monthly payments.
  • $500-$10,000 limits. Higher limits can help you build credit when you keep your utilization low.
  • No fees.
  • Up to 10% back with select merchant offers. All offers are linked to your Petal card so that you don’t have to activate each one.

Read the full Petal 2 Visa® Credit Card review

FAQs

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 bonus, can you reach the spending requirement while staying within your budget? Among competing bonuses, which one offers the biggest boost?

Keep these features in mind as you decide which card to apply for. Here’s another look at the travel credit cards we think are best in class:

Compare The Best Travel Credit Cards

Credit Card Annual Fee
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Best Overall, Best for Luxury Travelers
$550
Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
Best for Business Owners
$95
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Best With Annual Fee Under $100
$95
U.S. Bank Altitude Go Visa Signature Card
Best With No Annual Fee
$0
Chase Freedom Student Credit Card
Best for Student Travelers
$0
Chase Freedom Unlimited
Best for Travelers Who Prefer Cash Back
$0
United Explorer Card
Best for Airline Loyalty
$0 for the first year, then $95
World of Hyatt Credit Card
Best for Hotel Loyalty
$95
Petal 2 Visa Credit Card
Best for Fair Credit
$0

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 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 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. 
  • Bonus for new cardholders: Compare 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 to pay for your trip

  • Take advantage of bonuses for new cardholders: 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 give preference to those classified as "general travel" cards. This means we penalize co-branded airline and hotel cards, and we do this because they are only valuable if your travel habits allow you to fly those airlines or stay at those hotel chains frequently. If you want a list with more options specific to brands, 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 estimated value that the average U.S. traveler could earn on hotel and airline expenses in a year. We base that on the value of the credit card's points, the rewards-earning rates, and average travel spending data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We calculate 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 bonus. Bonuses with higher values get the highest scores. Travel credits offered by the card also get considerable weight. Those credits reimburse you for travel-related charges and can make up for what you have to spend on the annual fee—another factor we look at. (We consider a card’s average annual fee over three years to smooth out the impact of having an annual fee waived the first year, a common feature of travel cards).

Cards also get credit for allowing you to earn bonus points on non-travel purchases—which we account for in an estimate of the card's total potential annual earnings. The factors mentioned so far—flexible rewards structure, airline and hotel earn valuations, bonus value, travel credit value, annual fee, and total potential annual earnings—account for more than 60% of a product's score on our Best Travel Credit Cards list.

Beyond those main characteristics, we look at how widely accepted the card’s network is. 

According to the Nilson Report, Visa and Mastercard are the card networks with the widest acceptance in the U.S., though Discover and American Express had nearly caught up with them by the end of 2019. However, internationally, Mastercard and Visa are tied as the most widely accepted networks by far, according to 2018 Nilson figures. Discover comes in a distant third, and American Express is fourth.

We also weigh the card’s required credit score—giving higher scores to cards with less stringent credit requirements—as well how much you have to spend to earn the bonus. 

A card's perks can also be very valuable. We favor cards with these valuable benefits:

  • Airport lounge access
  • Airline or hotel partners with whom you can earn or redeem more points 
  • Global Entry/TSA Precheck application fee reimbursement
  • Primary rental car coverage

We give some weight, too, to more common perks—like rental car insurance that kicks in after your personal policy, or concierge services

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 other things we think make a quality credit card: 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.

Article Sources

  1. Nilson Report, February 2020. "General Purpose Credit Cards Issued in the U.S." Page 9. Accessed September 18, 2020.

  2. Nilson Report, October 2019. "Global Brand Card Acceptance Worldwide." Page 1. Accessed September 18, 2020.