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BEST TRAVEL REWARDS CREDIT CARDS

Updated January 2024
Bottom line
Pros
Cons
Best of the Best
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Chase
Sapphire Preferred® Card
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Best First Travel Card
Bottom Line

The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers flexible ways to earn and redeem awards; it's an excellent choice for frequent travelers. APR is 21.49% - 28.49% variable.

Pros

Offers 60,000 bonus points for members that spend $4,000 in the first 3 months of new accounts. Travel purchases earn 2x points and dining purchases earn 3x points. Points are worth 25% more when used for purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards. No foreign transaction fees.

Cons

Annual membership fee is $95. Applicants with less than excellent credit aren't likely to be accepted.

Best Bang for the Buck
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Capital One
Venture Rewards Credit Card
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Great Miles Return
Bottom Line

The Venture offers incredible points returns and a great intro bonus. Great all-around card for travelers and those looking for rewards and travel benefits. Regular APR fluctuates between 20.99% - 28.99% variable.

Pros

Earn a flat 2 miles per dollar spent and 5 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. Nice intro offer of 75k bonus miles after spending $4k in the first 3 months of account opening. Lounge credits, Hertz 5-star status and TSA Pre-check/Global Entry credit are great bonuses.

Cons

$95 annual fee. Its points are not quite as versatile as Chase or Amex. Excellent credit required.

United Gateway SM Card
United
Gateway SM Card
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Excellent Introductory Bonus
Bottom Line

This credit card offers many ways to get points and is perfect for frequent flying on United.

Pros

Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. It has a 21.99% - 28.99% variable APR, but for the first 12 months, you can enjoy a 0% intro APR on purchases. You'll earn two points for every $1 spent on United purchases, gas stations, local transit and commuting expenses, and one point for every $1 spent on all other purchases. There's no annual fee.

Cons

The rewards program isn't as comprehensive as other travel rewards credit cards.

American Express® Gold Card
American Express®
Gold Card
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Versatile Card
Bottom Line

The Amex Gold Card is a powerful everyday earner with its big points multipliers on many purchases and its more than significant intro bonus.

Pros

American Express Ultimate Rewards is tied with Chase Ultimate Rewards for most valuable points program, with tons of great transfer partners. 60,000 points after spending 6,000 on eligible purchases in first 6 months, 4x points at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1x), along with 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com

Cons

Higher annual fee ($250) than most others on the list.

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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. About BestReviews  
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Buying guide for best travel rewards credit cards

Few things in life are better than going on vacation, but we all know it can be expensive to travel. Whether you’re planning a dream vacation or fly often for business, a travel rewards credit card can help you save money and make your adventures more enjoyable.

With a travel rewards credit card, you’ll be able to earn points the same way you would with a standard credit card, but travel perks and benefits are easier to attain. For example, a travel rewards credit card might offer three times the usual points when you spend money on travel. Some cards might let you earn miles instead of points, which can be used for a discount on a flight.

Even if you don’t travel often, a travel rewards credit card might come in handy should you need to travel abroad in the future or if you’re saving for a vacation. Plus, in most cases, you can spend your points on purchases other than travel, if you’d like.

Travel rewards credit cards

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

If you want a card with one of the best rewards programs, check out the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. It’s comprehensive, and while you can certainly rack up plenty of points on travel purchases, you’ll have plenty of flexibility for earning points in other ways and spending them.

You’ll earn five times the points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards and two times the points on all other travel purchases. Plus, you’ll receive a complimentary $50 Annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit. You’ll also get three points at restaurants when you dine out.

The only potential downside to this credit card is the $95 annual fee. But in our eyes, the rewards program makes it worth it. You’ll be able to redeem points for flights, hotel stays, car rentals and more. Plus, you’ll earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

 

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

This credit card offers fantastic points returns and is one of the best if you’re often on the road. The intro bonus is 75,000 miles after spending $4,000 within your first three months of opening the account. You’ll earn five miles for every dollar spent on hotels and rental cars that you book through Capital One Travel. For all other purchases, you’ll earn two miles per dollar spent. You can use your miles for hotel stays at any hotel, flights on any airline, car rentals and more.

Another excellent benefit is the $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. This is a big plus for anyone who wants to zip past the long lines at security and customs. Enjoy two complimentary visits annually to Capital One Lounges or one of over 100 locations through Capital One’s Partner Lounge Network. Though there is a $95 annual fee, the rewards program makes it worth it, especially for those who want to take advantage of travel benefits.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

 

United Gateway Card

This card is excellent for frequent flyers, specifically those who travel through United Airlines often. It offers a variable APR of 21.99% - 28.99%, but for the first 12 months after opening your account, you can take advantage of a 0% intro APR on purchases.

The welcome bonus is a nice incentive for getting this card, as you’ll receive 30,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in your first three months. You’ll earn two miles for every dollar you spend on United purchases, gas stations and transit and commuting expenses. For all other purchases, you’ll get one mile for every dollar you spend.

This is an excellent introductory card, and although there aren’t many ways to spend your points, there’s no annual fee or foreign transaction fees, and you’ll save money on traveling expenses if that’s your primary focus. Also, your accumulated miles never expire, and you can get 25% back on United inflight and Club premium drink purchases.

American Express Gold Card

We don’t recommend this card if you’re applying for your first credit card. However, if you have excellent credit history and don’t mind paying the annual fee of $250, this is hands down one of the best travel reward credit cards.

The APR for this card  is 21.24% to 29.24% Variable, based on your creditworthiness and other factors as determined at the time of account opening.

This card offers a welcome bonus of 60,000 Membership Rewards Points if you spend $6,000 in your first six months on eligible purchases. That benefit makes it more appealing than other cards whose bonuses require you to spend a specific amount in just three months.

You’ll get four times the points on dining worldwide and groceries at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 in purchases per year. All claims for bonus points need to proceed with U.S. if it’s limited to the U.S. and three times the points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. There are no foreign transaction fees; you can use your points to cover some or all of your travel costs.

Other benefits include a $120 annual dining credit and if you add this card to your Uber account, you’ll receive $10 in Uber Cash each month. Enrollment required and terms apply.

All information about the American Express Gold Card has been collected independently by BestReviews.

* See rates and fees; Terms apply for American Express Gold Card

 

What to know about travel rewards credit cards

Types of travel rewards credit cards

The best way to ensure you’ll be approved for a credit card is to apply for cards that match your needs and current credit rating.

The following are some of the different types of travel rewards credit cards available:

  • Hotel credit cards are used exclusively to rack up points for hotel stays. Some examples of hotel credit cards you can get are offered by hotel chains such as Marriott and Hilton.

  • Airline credit cards work the same way as hotel credit cards, but you’ll collect points for specific airlines instead. Airlines such as Delta and United offer credit cards that let you earn miles you can use to pay for part or all of a flight.

  • Travel rewards cards are more flexible than hotel and airline credit cards since they let you accumulate points you can use for stays at various hotels or flights on multiple airlines.

How they work

If you’ve owned a credit card before, you might be familiar with how rewards programs work. Travel rewards credit cards are no different. These cards focus primarily on giving you more points when you use them for travel purchases, including flights, hotel stays, car rentals and vacation packages.

Unlike a cashback credit card that gives you a statement or cash credit when you use your card, a travel rewards card earns you points or miles you can redeem for travel. However, most travel rewards credit cards have comprehensive rewards programs, and you can often redeem them for other things, such as gift cards or getting back some cash.

Welcome bonus

It can take a while to accumulate enough points for a flight or hotel stay, especially if you don’t use your card often. However, many credit card companies offer welcome bonuses as an incentive for you to open an account with them. A welcome bonus is usually a substantial amount of points or miles that can help you pay for travel expenses on your next trip.

The cardholder usually must spend a predetermined amount of money within a specific period. Most credit cards require you to spend at least $1,000 within your first three months. But since all credit cards are different, you should double-check to determine what you need to do to get your bonus.

Low introductory interest rate

As with many cashback credit cards, some travel rewards credit cards offer a low or 0% interest rate on your balance for a few months. If you’re planning a big purchase, charging the amount on a 0% interest card and paying off the balance before the interest rate goes to its standard rate can save you some money. Sometimes, you can transfer balances from high-interest credit cards to a card with a low introductory rate and save money that way.

Things to look for in your first travel credit card

  • Flexibility is necessary if you want the freedom to fly with multiple airlines and stay at various hotel chains.

  • High points returns let you accumulate points faster, making a discounted hotel stay or flight much more attainable.

  • A comprehensive rewards program lets you spend your hard-earned points or miles the way you want. Travel rewards credit cards are best for traveling, but the freedom to redeem your points for other things is nice to have.

  • Manageable credit cards are those that you can afford to keep afloat. That means paying any applicable annual fee and foreign transaction fees. If you can’t afford to pay additional fees to keep a credit card account open, look for a more manageable card with a lower credit limit and no annual fee.

FAQ

Q. Do I have to have a traditional checking or savings account to receive a credit card?

A. Not necessarily. Certain cards are specifically made for those with no traditional bank accounts. However, the card issuer may limit how you can use the card, or it may be far more difficult to get approved. 

Q. How is a credit card different from a debit card?

A. A debit card pulls funds directly from your checking account when you make a purchase. A credit card is a loan the card issuer makes for your purchases. In other words, the card issuer pays for the purchase, and you then pay the issuer back when you pay your monthly bill.

Q. Are travel rewards cards better than cashback credit cards?

A. It depends on your needs and wants. Travel rewards credit cards are ideal for frequent flyers and for saving on trips. However, a cashback credit card might be a better option if you don’t plan to travel often.

Q. How do I redeem points or miles?

A. You can redeem accumulated points or miles through an issuer’s online portal. Alternatively, you may be able to transfer them to an airline loyalty account.

*For rates and fees of the American Express Gold Card.

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