Best travel credit cards for travel purchases
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with the latest credit card information and offers.
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. Alternately, 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 already put together lists of the best ones to use for booking flights and hotels, but today we’re looking at the best ones for all other travel spending. Think car rentals, cruises, tours, ride-share services and trips booked through third-party travel websites (i.e., Orbtiz, Expedia, Priceline).
The best credit cards for travel spending in 2020
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- American Express® Green Card
- Citi Premier℠ Card
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
- Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card
- The Platinum Card® from American Express
Welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months
Rewards: 3 points per dollar on travel (excluding $300 travel credit) and dining at restaurants and 1 point per dollar on everything else
Annual fee: $550
Analysis: There’s a ton of value to be had from the Chase Sapphire Reserve when it comes to 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; 1x on all other purchases). If that isn’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, as well as on trains, buses, taxis and cruises. You’ll even get the bonus points at toll booths and parking lots. Plus, all of your travel purchases made with this card are covered by industry-leading travel protections.
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. 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 travel credit card, despite its pricey $550 annual fee the Chase Sapphire Reserve is clearly our choice for the top card to use on travel purchases this year. See our card review for more details.
APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Reserve
Welcome bonus: 30,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $2,000 in purchases in your first three months.
Rewards: 3 points per dollar spent on worldwide travel, transit and restaurants and 1 point per dollar on everything else
Annual fee: $150 (see rates and fees)
Analysis: The revamped Green from Amex is a great mid-tier card for travel purchases. Amex expanded the bonus categories to include a wide range of travel purchases, including transit and short-term vacation rental website purchases on top of traditional airfare and hotel spending — something other Amex cards have yet to do. The card also got some upgrade features, such as an up to $100 Clear membership credit and an up to $100 LoungeBuddy credit. See our card review for more details.
Related reading: What counts as travel on the new Amex Green card?
APPLY HERE American Express Green Card
Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus ThankYou Points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
Rewards: 3 points per dollar spent on travel, including gas stations; 2 points per dollar spent on dining and on entertainment; and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
Analysis: With a $95 annual fee, Citi’s mid-level card 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 Citi 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. As a World Elite Mastercard, the Citi Premier also comes with a slew of travel perks that appeal to travelers, such as a $10 discount on every five Lyft rides taken within a calendar month, $5 off Postmates food deliveries, a 10% discount when booking luxury homes and villas with onefinestay and access to the Luxury Hotels & Resorts portfolio with on-property perks like free daily breakfast.
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, especially with the addition of Avianca LifeMiles as an airline partner. You’ll also have the option to redeem points directly for airfare at the Citi travel portal for 1.25 cents per point. See our card review for more details.
The information for the Citi Premier has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
APPLY HERE: Citi Premier Card
Welcome bonus: Earn 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first three months.
Rewards: 3 points per dollar on travel, dining (eating out and ordering in), gas stations purchases and select streaming services; 1 point per dollar on everything else.
Annual fee: $0
Analysis: This card offers a lot of value for a card — with no annual fee. Similar to the Amex Green, the 3x you’ll earn with this card includes (but isn’t limited to) flights, hotels, taxis, ride-hailing services, car rentals, passenger railways and trains, ferries, tolls, limos and gas stations, plus the addition of select streaming services.
You can pair the Propel with the Wells Fargo Visa Signature® Card to redeem all of those points earned at 1.5 cents each (which is the same as the travel portal redemption rate on the Chase Sapphire Reserve). If you spend $50,000 on the card a year, that value increases to an impressive 1.75 cents each. See our card review for more details.
The information for the Wells Fargo Visa Signature card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
APPLY HERE: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
Rewards: Earn 2 points per dollar on dining and travel purchases and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
Annual fee: $95
Analysis: 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, 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 ride-hailing services. You’ll only get 1.25 cents per point for direct travel redemptions with this card, 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, as well as other travel protections such as trip delay insurance and trip cancellation insurance. See our card review for more details.
APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Current bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening (valued by TPG at $500).
Rewards: 2 points per dollar on travel and dining purchases, 1.5 points per dollar on everything else
Annual fee: $95
Analysis: At first glance, Bank of America’s entry in the travel rewards market might not seem that exciting. The Premium Rewards card earns a respectable 2x points on both travel and dining and 1.5x points on all other purchases, but there are no transfer partners with this card. Instead, you can redeem your points for a statement credit, a bank deposit, gift cards or travel booked directly at a rate of 1 cent per point.
However, the real value of this card comes when you combine it with Bank of America’s Preferred Rewards banking program. Depending on how many assets you maintain at Bank of America and Merrill Lynch — including checking accounts, savings, retirement, investment portfolios and the like — you’ll earn one of three status tiers in the Preferred Rewards program, which translate to higher earning rates with the Premium Rewards card. At the highest Platinum Honors tier, the normal 2x on travel turns into 3.5x and the everyday earning rate on this card becomes 2.625x instead of 1.5x. With those returns, the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card is definitely one to consider for travel purchases. Plus, you’ll get an up to $100 TSA PreCheck/Global Entry application fee credit and an up to $100 airline incidental statement credit for qualifying purchases. See our card review for more details.
APPLY HERE: Bank of America Premium Rewards
Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months.
Rewards: 5 points per dollar on airfare purchased directly with the airlines or through the Amex Travel portal; 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked through Amex; and 1 point per dollar on everything else
Annual fee: $550 (see rates and fees)
Analysis: While The Platinum Card from American Express hasn’t necessarily been a great card for general travel purchases, since it doesn’t have travel as a bonus category, it does offer a terrific return for two of the most popular types of travel spending — airfare and hotels.
Earning 5x Membership Rewards points when booking tickets directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and 5x points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com is better than any other card on the market for airfare, and extremely competitive for hotel reservations. Add to that an up to $200 annual airline fee credit, up to $200 per year in Uber credits, an up to $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit and a plethora of travel perks such as unparalleled airport lounge access, automatic elite status with Hilton and Marriott, complimentary memberships with Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, Avis Preferred and National Car Rental Emerald Club Executive and a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit (up to $100), and it’s clear why this card belongs on this list. See our card review for more details.
APPLY HERE: Platinum Card from American Express
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.
- Best hotel credit cards
- Best credit cards for airfare purchases
- Best credit cards for airport lounge access
- Best credit cards for restaurants and dining out
- Best credit cards for everyday spending
Additional reporting by Julian Kheel.
Featured image by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.
This is The Points Guy’s permanent page with the best currently available credit cards for travel purchases, so you can bookmark it and check back regularly for updates. Keep in mind you may see some reader comments referring to older offers below.
SIGN-UP BONUS: 50,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,000
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on all travel and dining, $300 annual travel credit, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
- 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
- Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
- Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
- One Year Complimentary Lyft Pink ($199 minimum value). Complimentary DashPass subscription from DoorDash after activating by 12/31/21.