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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Citi Prestige Card
While we’d all love to be able to book every trip for free using only points and miles, once in a while we have to break down and actually pay cash for a flight, hotel, rental car or other travel expense.
But if we can’t burn miles on a trip, we should at least be certain that we’re earning them, and preferably as many as possible. Or if a travel expense can be reimbursed via a travel or airline fee credit, that can effectively offset the cost of the trip even better than any loyalty currency.
So which cards should you use for your travel purchases? We’ve put together this list of the best ones for this year, which can all stay in your wallet wherever you go, even overseas since none of them charge foreign transaction fees.
Even though the 100,000-point sign-up bonus has expired, there’s still tons of value to be had from the Chase Sapphire Reserve on travel purchases. The card comes with a $300 travel credit that can be used for a ton of different expenses, and it also includes travel as a 3x bonus points category (along with dining).
If that weren’t generous enough, Chase has made the travel category rather broad for this card, so not only will you be able to get 3x points for purchases at airlines and hotels, you’ll also receive it for using the card at online travel agencies such as Expedia and Orbitz, trains, buses, taxis and cruises. You’ll even get the bonus points at toll booths and parking lots.
But the cherry on top is the 1.5 cents per point you get when redeeming these points through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal. That’s the best guaranteed redemption on any personal credit card on the market. And, of course, the points are also transferable to Chase’s airline and hotel partners, so you can also use them for standard loyalty program awards that might otherwise be extraordinarily expensive.
When you consider all the benefits on this card, even with its pricey $450 annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is clearly our choice for the top card to use on travel purchases this year.
With a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year, Citi’s mid-level entry in its ThankYou line doesn’t cost much to keep in your card collection, but it’s got an awfully nice 3x travel category of its own. You’ll get those bonus points on the same collection of purchases as the Sapphire Reserve, but interestingly, the ThankYou Premier also counts gas stations as travel. So this can be a great card to use when you’re just filling up the tank at home or on your rental car.
Once you’ve earned ThankYou points, with this card you’ll have the option to transfer points to Citibank’s travel partners, which aren’t as strong as its competitors but do have some sweet spots. Plus you’ll also have the option to redeem them directly for airfare at the Citi ThankYou travel portal for 1.25 cents per point.
The real value in this card — at least for a little while longer — is found when you pair it with a Citi Prestige card. Then the ThankYou points from both cards become worth 1.33 cents per point on all airfare and 1.6 cents per point for airfare on American Airlines. That’s terrific value. In fact, it’s so good that it’s probably why Citibank is eliminating that perk on July 23, 2017. So if you’re considering this card, make sure to get it sooner rather than later to maximize your return.
After all the excitement about the Chase Sapphire Reserve, it’s easy to forget its little sibling. But the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still here, and with just a $95 annual fee (that’s waived the first year), it’s still a very attractive option for regular travelers.
While its bonus on travel purchases is 2x instead of 3x like the CSR’s, the category still encompasses the same generous list of merchants, which also includes car sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. You’ll only get 1.25 cents per point for direct travel redemptions with this card — unless you hold both this card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which makes all your points worth 1.5 cents per point — but the Ultimate Rewards points continue to be extremely valuable when transferred to partners such as United and Hyatt.
Finally, the CSP also provides primary car insurance when you’re renting vehicles, which is a fantastic benefit if you don’t want to rely on your own personal auto insurance to cover you and drive up your premiums if an accident happens.
4. Citi Prestige
We’ve already talked about the power of this card when paired with the Citi ThankYou Premier, but the Citi Prestige is also a great travel card all by itself. Even though it comes with a $450 annual fee, that cost is easily offset in the first year with a $250 air travel credit that can be used on most airline charges, including actual tickets. Since the air travel credit is calendar-based, you should be able to get it twice in the first full year of being a cardholder.
The card also comes with the ability to transfer ThankYou points to travel partners or redeem them at the Citi ThankYou travel portal for 1.25 cents each for airline redemptions as of July 23, 2017. In the meantime, you’re also earning 3x points for both airfare and hotels and 2x for dining and entertainment.
But the real prize of this card is the 4th Night Free benefit. Even though this perk will be calculated somewhat differently after July, it’ll still provide fantastic value for hotel stays that are four nights or longer.
You’ll get a ton of travel perks with this $550 annual fee card, including Centurion Lounge and Delta Sky Club access (when flying Delta), Gold status with Hilton and Starwood, a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit and many others. But the Platinum Card from American Express hasn’t necessarily been a great card for travel purchases… until now.
Late last year, American Express added the very first permanent bonus category to this card, and it’s a terrific one: 5x Membership Rewards points when booking tickets directly with airlines and 5x points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com. That’s better than any other card on the market for airfare. Add to that a $200 annual airline fee credit, up to $200 per year in Uber credits and a 60,000-point bonus when you spend $5,000 in the first three months — it’s clear why this card belongs on this list for the first time.
If you’re looking to simply save money rather than earn rewards on your travel purchases, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is an intriguing choice since the miles earned with the card (which aren’t really “miles” in the true sense of the word) can be used to “erase” travel purchases in their entirety. And, for a limited time, the card is being issued in metal.
This is the first of two cards on our list that don’t come with an associated transferable points program, and the miles from this card have a fixed value of 1 cent per point, so you won’t get outsized value for them. But you do earn them at a rate of 2 miles per dollar spent on all purchases, which means you’re effectively getting a locked 2% return from this card with the money coming as a reimbursement for your travel expenses.
Capital One makes it pretty easy to redeem these miles, since you can get a statement credit for a broad range of travel charges and there’s no minimum redemption if your purchase is under $25 (the minimum is $25 for partial redemptions on purchases over that amount). With a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year, it’s a decent card to consider if you’re making travel purchases that you’d prefer to effectively pay for with “miles” rather than cash.
Rounding out our list is the other card that also can be used to completely offset travel purchases. Like its Capital One counterpart, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard earns 2 miles-but-not-really-miles per dollar spent on all purchases, and the miles are worth 1 cent each when redeemed against travel charges. You can also redeem Arrival miles for cash back or gift cards, but you shouldn’t because you’ll only get half a cent per mile in value that way.
There’s one little bonus that comes with this card — a 5% rebate on all redeemed miles — which effectively makes the return on this card a slightly better 2.1%. But since it also comes with a $89 annual fee (waived the first year) and a $100 minimum for redemptions, it’s probably a wash between this card and the Venture Rewards. Still, it’s another card to consider if you’d prefer to cancel out the cost of travel purchases.
Since so many credit cards focus on travel, there are a ton of great options for purchases, and you can’t go wrong with any of these cards. Whether your interest is points and miles or using up travel credits, this list has the pick of the litter. So the next time you find yourself facing a significant travel expense — or even a minor one — make sure you know which card to use.
With great travel benefits, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game. Here are the top 5 reasons it should be in your wallet, or read our definitive review for more details.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards