Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards
Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Whether you love taking exotic trips or just enjoy an occasional getaway, travel rewards credit cards can help you earn free flights, hotel stays, and other trip benefits.

The right card can accelerate your rewards earning and take some of the financial sting out of planning vacations. In this guide, we’ll review the top travel cards across categories like airline miles, hotel points, flexible rewards, and premium perks. Read on to find the ideal option for your next adventure.

How Travel Rewards Credit Cards Work

Travel rewards cards let you earn points or miles on purchases that can be redeemed for free travel. Here’s an overview:

  • Earn 1-5 points or miles per $1 spent in common categories
  • Redeem rewards toward airfare, hotels, vacation rentals, and more
  • Some co-branded airline and hotel cards offer branded miles
  • Cards with flexible rewards can book any brand of travel
  • Redemption values vary from 0.5 cents to 2+ cents per point
  • Intro bonuses like 50,000 points help you earn rewards faster

Let’s explore some of the top travel card options across different categories.

Airline Co-Branded Credit Cards

Airline co-branded cards earn branded miles with specific carriers that you can redeem for award flights.

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

  • Earn 2X miles at restaurants worldwide, U.S. supermarkets and on Delta purchases
  • Get a free first checked bag and priority boarding on Delta flights
  • Annual fee waived the first year then $99
  • Up to 60,000 bonus miles for new cardholders

UnitedSM Explorer Card

  • Earn 2X miles on United Airlines purchases, dining, and hotel stays
  • Receive two complimentary United Club lounge passes per year
  • Annual fee $0 intro for first year, then $95
  • Up to 70,000 bonus miles for new cardholders

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

  • Earn 6,000 bonus points each cardmember anniversary
  • 3X points on Southwest travel and select dining purchases
  • $99 annual fee
  • 40,000 points signup bonus after spending $1,000 in first 3 months
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Hotel Co-Branded Credit Cards

Hotel cards provide free night certificates and elite status along with points for free hotel stays.

Hilton Honors American Express Card

  • Earn 7X Hilton points on Hilton stays, 5X points at U.S. restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets
  • Get a Weekend Night Reward from Hilton after spending $15,000 on the card in a year
  • Annual fee of $0
  • 80,000 Hilton points signup bonus after $1,000 spend in 3 months

IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card

  • Earn 10X points total at IHG hotels, 2X gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants
  • Get a free night certificate every cardmember anniversary
  • Annual fee $99
  • 125,000 points signup bonus after spending $3,000 in 3 months

Marriott Bonvoy BoundlessTM Credit Card

  • Earn 6X Bonvoy points per $1 spent at over 7,000 hotels worldwide
  • Receive 1 free night award (up to 35K points) every year after account anniversary
  • $95 annual fee
  • 75,000 points bonus after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months

Flexible Travel Rewards Cards

Flexible travel cards allow you to redeem rewards for any brand of flights, hotels, cruises, and more.

Chase Sapphire Preferred®

  • Earn 5X points on travel purchased through Chase, 3X points on dining and select streaming services
  • Points worth 25% more when redeemed for travel via Chase portal
  • 60,000 point signup bonus after spending $4,000 in first 3 months
  • $95 annual fee

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

  • Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One, 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Transfer miles to 15+ airline and hotel partners
  • 75,000 mile signup bonus after spending $4,000 on purchases within 3 months
  • $95 annual fee

Wells Fargo AutographSM Card

  • 3X points restaurants, travel, gas stations, transit and popular streaming services
  • Intro APR 0% for 18 months on purchases and balance transfers (15.24% – 27.24% variable after)
  • $300 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,500 in first 3 months
  • $0 annual fee first year, $95 after that
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Premium Travel Credit Cards

Premium travel cards offer high-end perks like lounge access, credits, and elite status in exchange for higher annual fees.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

  • 10X points on hotels and car rentals booked through Chase portal
  • $300 annual travel credit, Priority Pass airport lounge access
  • 50,000 point signup bonus after spending $4,000 in first 3 months
  • $550 annual fee

Capital One Venture X Rewards

  • Earn 10X miles on hotels booked through Capital One, 5X miles on flights
  • Up to $300 per year statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel
  • 75,000 mile signup bonus after spending $4,000 on purchases within 3 months
  • $395 annual fee

The Platinum Card® from American Express

  • Earn 10X points on hotels and flights booked through Amex Travel
  • Up to $200 in annual airline fee credits, up to $200 in Uber credits
  • 100,000 point signup bonus after spending $6,000 in first 6 months
  • $695 annual fee

What to Look for in a Travel Rewards Card

Key factors to compare when choosing a top travel credit card include:

Annual Fee – Make sure perks outweigh costs

Point Earning Rates – Aim for 2X or 3X multipliers in big categories

Redemption Value – Cents per point vary, with higher values meaning better deals

Signup Bonus – Big intro bonuses can give your earnings a boost

Travel Credits – Offset annual fees with statement credits for travel purchases

Airline Transfers – Transferable points provide more redemption options

Foreign Transaction Fees – Avoid cards charging 3% on international purchases

Travel Insurance and Protections – Look for trip delay coverage, rental car insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, and more

Maximizing the Value of Travel Credit Cards

Once you’ve selected the best travel card for your needs, here are some tips to maximize value:

  • Use the card for all (or nearly all) purchases to let rewards earn faster
  • Pay your statement balance in full each month to avoid interest charges
  • Take advantage of rewards bonuses on big purchases like airfare and hotels
  • Learn the most efficient ways to redeem points and miles for your preferred brands
  • Use points for high-value redemptions like first class, luxury hotels, and vacations
  • Don’t let points expire – redeem regularly for rewards statement credits or deposit into frequent flyer accounts
  • Check cardmember-only travel discounts and transfer bonuses
  • Compare redemption costs often – award charts and airline pricing frequently change
See also  Credit Card Protections for Delayed Flights

Is a Travel Rewards Card Right for You?

Travel credit cards make sense for those who:

  • Spend several thousand dollars or more annually on flights, hotels, rental cars, etc
  • Frequently book expensive airline tickets and hotel rooms
  • Want flexibility to redeem rewards across different travel brands
  • Seek premium benefits like airport lounge access and companion tickets
  • Can pay off balances monthly and avoid interest charges

However, if you rarely travel or carry balances on credit cards, a no-annual-fee cashback card may be a better fit. Only open travel cards if you will use the perks and earn enough rewards to outweigh costs.

Final Thoughts on Travel Credit Cards

The right travel rewards card can take your earning potential to the next level and help unlock free flights, hotel nights, and dream vacations. But be sure to consider annual fees and your redemption goals before applying.

Aim for a card that aligns category bonuses with your biggest travel spending – airfare, hotels, cruises, etc. This helps you maximize points on necessary purchases.

Keep credit card balances low, pay on time, and use rewards efficiently by transferring points to loyalty programs and booking high-value awards.

Bon voyage on earning your next adventure for less! Travel credit cards help you explore the world with rewards you can earn every day.

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