Research the 42 best travel credit cards
Below is a directory of the most popular travel credit cards. I used this directory as a starting point for my research and analysis on travel cards. The directory is updated weekly to reflect any new changes, to add new cards, and to remove expired cards.
The travel credit cards directory is a sub-directory of rewards credit cards. This directory highlights the most important features specific to travel cards and displays all important information about each card.
Travel credit cards directory
The travel rewards credit card directory lists every travel credit card and high level information for each of the cards, so you can make quick comparisons. In order to rank and value each of these cards, certain features were weighted accordingly based on overall importance to the prospective cardholder.
Sort, filter, or search for what matters most to find the best travel credit card for you.
Perks Tier Level
Sign up Bonus Tier Level
Rewards Tier Level
Good Signup Bonus
Great Ongoing Rewards
No Annual Fee
No Foreign Transaction Fee
To develop an overall rating for each travel credit card, we used the features and corresponding data from the directory above. To better describe the ratings of each card, there were a number of elements to consider. Some of the valuable information is displayed in the directory, while additional information is outlined below.
Rewards Rate refers to the actual rate at which you can earn rewards using the travel rewards card. This rate, typically 2% or higher, will usually be highest on travel-related purchases. Travel credit cards usually have a base rate of at least 1% which enables you to earn points on everyday purchases as well. The very best travel credit cards will have an incentive to book travel through their own travel portals.
Some of the best rewards rates are on hotel, airline, or travel site cards. These cards try to entice you to only use that specific hotel, airline, or travel site. If you travel often and prefer one brand over others, this approach is fine. Others who prefer flexibility in how they travel will want to consider a more general rewards program that still carries a generous Rewards Rate on travel.
Rewards Categories are the spending categories in which your travel card earns greater than 1%. Most travel cards offer better Rewards Rates in certain categories. The more ways you can earn greater than 1% in rewards, the better a card will score in Rewards Categories.
For example, the offers 2% rewards on travel booked through the Ultimate Rewards platforms and 2% for dining out. The card earns 1% on all other purchases.
Sign-up Bonus is the amount of extra points each card offers to a new cardmember when signing up. Sign-up Bonuses can be very lucrative on travel cards, with the best travel cards offering around 40,000 bonus points. That translates to at least $400 of cold-hard cash to spend on travel. If you’re strategic about redeeming the points, you can turn those points into much more.
The important thing to note about Sign-up Bonuses is that there are usually certain spending requirements to make before you actually earn the points. It’s common for credit card issuers to require you to spend $4,000 in the first three months you have the card before you get your Sign-up Bonus.
Sign-up Bonus carries a high importance rating because it’s a quick way to grab a large chunk of points to use for an upcoming travel adventure.
The best travel rewards cards give you a number of ways to redeem your lucrative points. These Redemption Options can dramatically impact how much your points are worth. Top cards like use the Chase Ultimate Rewards® platform to help you book travel. When you redeem your points through Chase Ultimate Rewards® for travel, your points are worth 25% more. For example, you can redeem 40,000 points for $500 in airfare instead of the usual $400.
Most cards also allow you to redeem points for non-travel. You may redeem points for gift cards and merchandise, but this is not recommended because points on the best travel credit cards are usually more valuable when used for travel.
Your third option on several of the best travel credit cards is to transfer your points to a partner airline, hotel, or other partner. This is where the point geeks go crazy to maximize and hunt for last-minute point deals. American Express allows point transfers to many partners, as does .
There are some additional benefits of owning a travel credit card that become important when you’re actually traveling. A huge benefit for cardholders is that foreign transaction fees are waived. The offers priority boarding, and free checked bags.
Additional benefits of top cards include 24/7 customer service, car rental insurance, and emergency travel assistance. Benefits are of medium importance when compared to how points can be accumulated by the card, but Benefits can often swing a decision between two comparable cards.
APRs on travel credit cards are of low importance, mainly because we always recommend paying off your balance each month. Interest charges negate point accumulation, so it never makes sense to have a travel credit card if you plan to carry a balance.
Travel cards have ongoing APRs that range as low as 10.99% and go beyond 20%. The key determinant of your ongoing APR is usually your credit score and history. If you have good credit, the APR rate for you will be on the lower end. If you need a low-interest rate card, consider one of the best balance transfer cards on the market today.
In case you missed it: Chase, Visa, & PayPal
In July, JPMorgan Chase and PayPal announced a partnership that would give Chase cardholders more flexibility in paying for purchases.
Using Chase Pay, cardholders can connect their Chase cards to their PayPal Wallets. Once they’re liked, the cardholder will have the option to pay with Chase Ultimate Rewards™ points at millions of online merchants served by PayPal. That includes Braintree services like Uber and Stubhub. Also, cardholders will have the ability to use PayPal in-store with PayPal mobile wallet.
The news comes as PayPal and Visa expand their partnership, originally announced in 2016, to accelerate digital and mobile payments in Asia Pacific, including China, Japan, and India, three of the world’s biggest economies. PayPal subscribers are already able to select their Visa card as “preferred payment”, but the new agreement encourages expansion of the Visa Digital Enablement Program (VDEP), which “provides Visa’s partners with access to tokenization technology, which enables payment on mobile phones or any connected device.” In short, more physical retailers in Asia Pacific will be able to accept PayPal – and thus Visa – as payment.
Resources for frequent travelers
The science of mastering rewards with your travel credit card is more of a journey than a destination, and even the savviest cardholder still has things to learn along the way.
In addition to rewards, many credit cards also provide travel insurance to help you protect yourself as you ramble around the globe.
The following section offers useful information to help you maximize the benefits of your travel credit card — not just the rewards points, but also insurance and other features that can improve your travel experience.
Travel credit cards vs. vacation taxes
Taking a vacation should mean getting away from it all, but there’s no getting away from taxes.
Travel-related taxes can increase the cost of travel by more than half. To put that figure in perspective, consider this: American Express has estimated the average vacation expense at $1,145 per person. By those calculations, the average person would pay about $750 for the vacation itself and $395 in the form of taxes on hotels, airline tickets, rental cars and more.
Before you start writing your elected representatives, take a deep breath – we’re not here to debate tax policy. Then take comfort in the fact that using a travel credit card can help you save money on travel in a number of ways, including:
- Hotels. Redeeming reward points toward hotel stays is a central feature of many hotel and travel credit cards. Typically, earning a certain number of points makes the cardholder eligible to redeem the points for a free night. Some cards also offer free nights every year you celebrate your anniversary as a cardholder.
- Transportation. Redeeming rewards points toward airline tickets is another popular feature of airline credit cards and other types of travel cards, as is using points to save on car rentals.
- Recreation. Some cards affiliated with hotel and resort chains offer benefits for onsite activities such as spa sessions.
- International purchases. A growing number of travel credit cards feature $0 foreign transaction fees, which means you avoid paying the extra 1% to 3% per transaction that other cards charge.
What about cruises, where lodging and transportation are part of the same package? Good news — some cards let you redeem points toward vacation cruises.
What about things that cost time instead of money? With a travel credit card that features concierge service, it’s like having a personal assistant who can help you shop, make dinner reservations, find lost luggage, and more.
Don’t let travel taxes cast a shadow over your vacation or business trip. Strategic use of your travel credit card can help you save big.
How credit cards protect you while you travel
Decades ago, people used a combination of cash and traveler’s checks when traveling abroad. Unfortunately, carrying around a ton of cash comes with certain risks, and exchanging currencies in each new country can be a huge pain.
Modern travelers still carry some cash, but as more of a novelty than anything else. Instead, they make the majority of their international purchases with travel credit cards that not only reward them for making purchases, but also protect them from fraudulent charges and other pitfalls. Here’s how credit cards can protect you (and save you money) while you travel:
- Use a card that offers no liability for unauthorized purchases. When traveling abroad, you want to make sure you use a credit card that won’t hold you accountable if someone gets ahold of your card and starts making purchases. The card, for example, comes with no liability for unauthorized purchases and no foreign transaction fee, making it a good option. Just make sure the country you’re traveling to is prone to accept Discover since international acceptance varies.
- Carry your credit card contact information separately from your card. Most credit cards let you call collect from anywhere in the world if your card is lost or stolen. Obviously, you won’t have access to their number if you no longer have your card, which is why most experts suggest keeping these important contact numbers separate from your credit cards in case of loss or theft.
- Choose a card with free travel insurance. If you want to take advantage of free travel insurance, make sure to book the major components of your itinerary with a credit card that offers excellent travel and trip cancellation insurance, like the . Doing so can mean getting reimbursed if your trip is cancelled due to flight interruptions, a natural disaster, or other unexpected events.
Do you need additional travel insurance?
Although it’s easy to brush off travel insurance as an unnecessary expense, you should always give it a second look. With all the upheavals that can unravel your travel plans, not to mention your own personal health, you might be wise to purchase a simple travel insurance plan — or at least pay for your trip with a credit card that offers this benefit for free. Your best option might be a combination: buying a travel insurance policy that supplements the coverage provided by your credit card and fills in the gaps.
Also, don’t fall victim to some common misconceptions about travel insurance:
Myth #1: My existing insurance coverage provides all the protection I might need. This myth is exceptionally problematic when it comes to health insurance. The further you travel from home, the more likely you are to be out-of-network for medical care. When you’re out-of-network, your benefits can be less generous and your deductibles higher. Since many policies do not cover doctor or hospital visits outside of the country, a medical travel insurance policy might be a good bet.
Myth #2: If a canceled flight leaves me stranded, the airline will pay to put me up in a hotel. Don’t count on it, unless you see it in the contract. Generally, regulations in the U.S. and Europe avoid making specific requirements to this effect. Depending on the carrier and the circumstances behind the cancellation or delay, the airline may be legally required to offer nothing more than a refund or a ticket on the next available flight. Some airlines are more accommodating than others, if you’ll forgive the pun.
Myth #3. One travel insurance policy is the same as any other. Actually, policies vary widely in scope and levels of coverage.
Certain type of travel credit cards offer certain travel benefits to cardholders. Take the , for example. Premium travel insurance, including trip cancellation, is included as a card member benefit. If you wanted to take advantage of this perk, all you would need to do is use your card to purchase your airfare and accommodation. Other types of travel insurance your credit card might offer include trip interruption insurance, which can reimburse you for nonrefundable travel expenses if you end up getting sick before your trip or it gets cancelled for almost any other reason. Different cards offer different versions of trip cancellation or trip interruption insurance, so make sure you understand your card’s policy before you count on it for coverage. You can usually buy travel insurance at the same time you purchase airfare or book your hotel.
If you want to compare travel insurance policies, check out our post on the best travel insurance options currently available. Just remember, travel insurance only seems frivolous until you need it. If your trip gets cancelled, travel insurance could protect you from thousands of dollars in losses. Some common events that are covered with various types of travel insurance include personal illness or illness of a family member, natural disaster, emergency evacuations, or even lost or stolen baggage or belongings. Obviously, none of those events are ones you can plan for ahead of time, so it’s best to be adequately insured instead.
10 questions to ask yourself when buying travel insurance
Before you hit “buy,” on your next travel insurance plan, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the region I plan to visit considered “high-risk?” Potential issues can vary depending on where you are going. And if you’re visiting an area deemed “high-risk,” your travel insurance policy may deny coverage altogether. Before you set sail or get on that plane, check your travel insurance policy to see if your intended destination is, in fact, covered. Also check for travel advisories that might alert you to any upcoming safety concerns you need to be aware of.
- Do I travel often enough to consider a long-term policy? If you travel more than once or twice per year, you may be better off buying a more comprehensive, multi-trip plan. This type of coverage is great for families who travel or vacation often, those planning multi-country or extended trips, last-minute travelers, or those who travel often for business.
- What will my current health insurance cover if I become injured or get sick abroad? Assuming that your health insurance will provide coverage overseas is always a mistake. The fact is, many health insurance plans don’t provide comprehensive coverage outside of your home country or territory. Medicare, for example, never provides coverage overseas. If you want to ensure that you’re covered, a travel insurance plan that includes major medical is always a good bet.
- Do I have any pre-existing conditions that might flare up? If you do purchase a travel insurance plan that includes medical coverage, it’s important to note that pre-existing conditions are rarely covered. If you have a medical condition that is prone to act up, your trip abroad might pose a greater risk than you realized.
- Do I plan on bringing anything expensive with me? Baggage insurance protects you from financial loss if your valuable items become lost or stolen. If you plan on bringing expensive items with you, it might be a good idea to buy travel insurance that includes this perk. Likewise, if you aren’t bringing anything valuable with you, you might consider opting out of this specific coverage.
- How likely is it that I will need to cancel my trip? When you’re traveling with kids or aging parents, the likelihood of a trip cancellation due to illness or injury increases. However, the risk still exists when you leave those same loved ones at home. If something happened, you might need to cancel your trip to take care of them. Trip cancellation/interruption insurance can help mitigate those risks for you.
- Do I want to be able to cancel my trip for “any reason?” Some types of trip cancellation or trip interruption insurance require you to prove your cancellation was due to unforeseen circumstances such as an illness, a death in the family, or a job loss. Meanwhile, other policies let you cancel for “any reason” — even if you just changed your mind. Make sure you know the difference, and buy a policy that offers terms you can live with.
- Will I be driving a rental car? Some travel insurance policies offer either collision coverage on rental cars or other types of rental car coverage. However, others do not. If you plan on driving during your stay and don’t have coverage otherwise, you might want to seek out a travel insurance policy that offers this perk.
- Do I plan on doing anything risky? If your trip involves any adventurous activity such as rock climbing, cross-country biking, or skiing, you need to ensure that your travel insurance provides coverage for those activities. Never assume it does, and always check to make sure.
- Do I already have life insurance? Some travel insurance policies offer extra coverage that basically amounts to life insurance that pays out only if you die. If you already have life insurance (as you should), you may not need this additional coverage and may not want to pay extra for it.
TSD strategies: Using travel rewards to see the fall foliage
Fall has arrived, and that means a few things: temperatures will (eventually) get cooler, Halloween is just around the corner, and soon the trees will start changing color. If you’re in love with the season, maybe you’re planning on taking a weekend trip with friends or family to see the fall foliage.
Whether you’re travelling to New England, America’s Heartland, or the Southwest, our list of the best travel cards of 2017 can help you maximize rewards, find unique benefits, and plan for holiday travel. After all, Thanksgiving is just two months away.
Looking to rent a car?
Watching the leaves change colors doesn’t necessarily mean you need to take a flight. Sometimes, it’s better to drive or rent a car – that way you can see more of the scenery.
Despite the name, the card can be used to earn more than just airline miles. Miles earned can be turned into statements for travel-related spending, or simply for cash back as a statement credit. And if you shop through Discover’s online marketplace, Discover Deals, you’ll find reduced rates and free upgrades with multiple car rental agencies.
Through December 31, 2017, Discover cardholders can save 5% off their rental and get a free upgrade at Alamo Rent a Car, save up to 25% and get a free upgrade at Avis Rent a Car, save 5% and get a free upgrade at Enterprise Rent a Car, and more. Simply log on to Discover Deals, scroll down to categories, and choose Travel.
cardholders can put their 1.5x miles for every $1 spent on purchases toward reduced rates and free perks. Rewards never expire, and Discover will match all the miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year of card ownership.
Want to take your own car?
Seeing the fall foliage can be a weekend trip – sometimes you don’t need to drive far, and it’s less of a hassle to pile friends and family into your own car. When you do, gas can be a considerable expense, and you want to make sure you have a card that can maximize rewards when you purchase gas or snacks.
holders earn an unlimited 2x miles per dollar, on every purchase, every day. That means cardholders get 2X miles per dollar spent whenever they fill up their car, or stop for a bite to eat. Miles are redeemable for travel statement credits, covering airfare, hotels, rental cars, and more, and if you spend $3,000 on purchases within your first three months of card ownership, you’ll earn 40,000 bonus miles. That’s a big chunk off the cost of future travel expenses.
Or, you could consider the . Cardholders also receive 2X miles per every dollar spent, good for travel statement credits when you redeem miles starting at 10,000. You’ll be able to earn a 40,000 mile signup bonus when you spend $3,000 in purchases within your first 90 days.
Looking to fly instead?
For the most part, seeing the changing leaves means staying stateside. Southwest Airlines bills itself as the nation’s biggest carrier in terms of originating domestic passengers boarded. The is a strong choice for rewarding frequent flyers or anyone who simply happens to be travel-minded.
Southwest flyers will be able to earn 2X miles per dollar when booking with Southwest and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car rental partners. And the additional perks add up: no charge for first or second checked bag, there are no flight change fees, blackout dates, or seat restrictions. And the Rapid Rewards store is open year-round, offering exclusive discounts in a wide variety of categories, including clothing, electronics, and entertainment.
If there’s a concert near your location, you can purchase a StubHub ticket via the Rapid® Rewards store to earn an additional 1 point per dollar.
Southwest isn’t the only airline out there, and if you prefer to fly Delta, JetBlue, or any other airline, check out our list of the Best Airline Cards of 2017, and see how you can maximize benefits no matter who you fly with.
Want to spend the night?
If you’re considering extending your trip overnight, your choice of hotel will matter just as much as the fall colors themselves. You’ll want a comfortable place to rest your head after a long day hiking between the trees.
Starwood Hotels and Resorts has more than 900 locations in North America. If you’re a cardholder, that translates to plenty of lodging options, and a high rewards rate.
Cardholders earn 2 Starpoints® per dollar on purchases at SPG® and Marriott Rewards® hotels, and 1 Starpoint® for all other purchases. Spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of card ownership, and you’ll be able to earn a 25,000 Starpoint® signup bonus.
Points are transferrable to Marriott Rewards® at a 1:3 ratio – that’s 3 Marriott Rewards® points for every Starpoint®. And with Delta’s Crossover Rewards™, you’ll be able to earn miles with Delta when you stay at participating Starwood properties.
Bringing it all together
To maximize your travel rewards, start by making a strategy and then learning as you go. Our tips for choosing a card with generous, easy-to-earn rewards include:
- Start earning travel points with a flexible travel rewards card
- Learn about loyalty programs and find your preferred airlines and hotels
- Add a more targeted travel credit card using what you’ve learned
By keeping it simple and taking it slow, you’ll graduate from being a novice traveler in no time, and you’ll soon be experiencing unforgettable travel experiences for less — just like the pros!