7 of the best credit cards for general 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 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. Alternatively, 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 credit card 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 types of travel spending. Think car rentals, cruises, tours, ridehailing services and trips booked through third-party travel websites (i.e., Orbitz, Expedia, Priceline).
The best credit cards for travel spending in 2021
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- American Express® Green Card
- Citi Premier® Card
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
- Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card
- The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
The information for the Amex Green 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.
Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.
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 many 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.
As of Aug. 16, 2021, the card will introduce additional bonus categories as follows:
- 10 points per dollar on Chase Dining booked through Ultimate Rewards
- 10 points per dollar on hotel and car rental purchases through the Ultimate Rewards Travel portal
- 5 points per dollar on airline travel booked through the Ultimate Rewards Travel portal
It will still earn 3x points on other travel and dining purchases.
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 of this travel credit card, despite its pricey $550 annual fee the Chase Sapphire Reserve is a top choice to use on travel purchases this year. See our card review for more details.
APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Reserve
Welcome bonus: 45,000 Membership Rewards points after using your new card to make $2,000 in purchases in your first six months of card membership.
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 Amex Green 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 offers an up to $100 Clear membership credit and an up to $100 LoungeBuddy credit. See our card review for more details.
(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus ThankYou Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening.
Rewards: 3 points on per dollar air travel, hotels, gas stations, restaurants and supermarkets, and 1 point per dollar 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 awfully nice 3x categories of its own. 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 quite as strong as its competitors but do have some sweet spots, especially with the addition of Avianca LifeMiles as an airline partner. See our card review for more details.
APPLY HERE: Citi Premier® Card
Sign-up bonus: Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
Rewards: See below
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 a very attractive option for regular travelers.
Like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, this card introduced new bonus categories that began on Aug. 16, 2021:
- 5 points per dollar on travel booked through the Ultimate Rewards Travel portal
- 3 points per dollar on dining (up from 2x)
- 3 points per dollar on select streaming services
- 3 points per dollar on online groceries (excludes Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs)
It will continue to earn 2x on other travel purchases. You’ll only get 1.25 cents per point for direct travel redemptions with this card. Still, Ultimate Rewards points continue to be extremely valuable when transferred to partners such as United and Hyatt, and these earning rates cannot be beat. The card will also begin offering A $50 annual credit on hotel stays purchased through Ultimate Rewards and 10% of your points back each year based on your card spending. The 10% will be based on a rate of 1 point per dollar you spend throughout the year, not including bonus points from specific categories).
Finally, the Sapphire Preferred 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
Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.
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 2 points per dollar on both travel and dining and 1.5 points per dollar 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 translates 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 annual airline incidental statement credit for qualifying purchases. See our card review for more details.
APPLY HERE: Bank of America Premium Rewards
Welcome bonus: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 on purchases in your first six months of card membership.
Rewards: 5 points per dollar on airfare purchased directly with the airlines or booked with American Express Travel; 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
Annual fee: $695 (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 (up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year) and 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel 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 statement credit, up to $200 per calendar year in Uber Cash, an up to $100 Saks Fifth Avenue statement 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. Enrollment required for select benefits. See our card review for more details.
APPLY HERE: Platinum Card from American Express
Sign-up bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
Rewards: Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on every purchase.
Annual fee: $95
Analysis: Ease of use is the name of the game for the Venture card. Earn 2 miles per dollar on virtually every purchase, including all your general travel expenses.
The Capital One Venture also allows you to redeem miles for a fixed value or transfer the miles you earn to airline and hotel transfer partners, including Avianca, Etihad, Turkish Airlines and Singapore Airlines. Capital One has recently added a new 1:1 transfer tier for many partners. However, there’s also a less lucrative 2:1.5 or 2:1 transfer tier for some partners.
In addition, Capital One plans to open a network of airport lounges in the future. While we’re still waiting for full details on exactly what these lounges will look like or who will be eligible for access, Capital One did confirm that cardholders will receive a special entry rate. Finally, it’s the one card The Points Guy himself, Brian Kelly, can’t live without. See our card review for more details.
APPLY HERE: Capital One Venture Card
Since so many credit cards focus on travel, there are many 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.
Additional reporting by Julian Kheel and Chris Dong.
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.
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WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,600
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on dining and 2x points on travel, 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 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.