The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards of 2020

Jan 24, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

At TPG, we are firm believers that travel can be absolutely transformative. It provides an opportunity to learn about different people and cultures and you can end up with some unforgettable memories. In light of recent travel restrictions and general concern around the coronavirus, now isn’t the best time to be cashing in your travel rewards for a trip. However, these credit cards can be used for everyday expenses now to build up your points balances for an amazing redemption in the future.

Travel credit cards offer rewards on different purchases that can help you book flights, hotels and more for little to no out-of-pocket expenses. Some cards also provide valuable perks and benefits that upgrade the overall travel experience — from Global Entry application fee credits to lounge access to complimentary elite status. If you have the right card (or cards) in your wallet, the sky is the limit on where your travels can take you — literally.

In this guide, we’ve pulled together a rundown of the top travel credit cards of 2020 for every type of traveler. Whether you’re a points-and miles beginner or a seasoned frequent flyer, there is a travel credit card for you.

It’s no surprise that the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card tops this list as the best travel credit card, with it’s solid earning structure, excellent sign-up bonus and low $95 annual fee. It even won the honor of Best Travel Rewards Credit Card at the 2019 TPG Awards. However, this list encompasses a range of exceptional travel credit cards (including a few that also brought home honors from this year’s awards), all considered the best in their own categories.

New to The Points Guy? Sign up for our TPG daily newsletter for tips and tricks to make the most of your travel rewards.

Without further do, here are my top picks:

Best travel credit cards of April 2020

To start our analysis, here are some comparisons of the best travel credit card offers available right now:

Summary of the best travel credit card offers

 

Credit Card Best For Travel Rewards Rate Bonus Value* Annual Fee
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card Total value 2x on travel

2x on dining

$1,200 $95
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Earning miles 2x on all purchases $700 $95
Chase Sapphire Reserve Travel credits 3x on travel

3x on dining

$1,000 $550

*Annual fee waived the first year.
**Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer.
***After meeting minimum spend requirements.

Best Travel Credit Cards

I’ve done lots of research for you, so let’s take a look at the details of each of these travel credit cards and offers, including their bonus values and some of the ways I’ve been able to put the credit cards’ benefits to use. (Note that the bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer.)

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best for total value

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Why this is the best travel credit card for sign-up bonus: The Chase Sapphire Preferred’s sign-up bonus is one of the most valuable bonuses available on a mid-tier travel credit card. We value Chase Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents each, meaning this value packs a $1,200 punch.

Current bonus: Earn 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months (valued by TPG at $1,200).

Rewards rate: Earn 2x on dining and travel purchases

Travel benefits: When you redeem your points for travel through the Chase portal, you get a 25% bonus that makes your points worth 1.25 cents each. The CSP also comes with an entire suite of travel protections, including trip delay insurance, trip cancellation coverage, baggage delay and primary rental car insurance.

Annual fee: $95

Why it’s worth it: We’ve long suggested the Chase Sapphire Preferred as a great option for those who are new to earning travel rewards, because it lets you earn valuable, transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards points with strong bonus categories and a reasonable annual fee. You’ll earn a solid return (4% back) on dining and travel on top of your generous sign-up bonus and you have access to some of the best travel protections offered by any travel rewards credit card.

If you are a frequent Lyft customer, you’ll enjoy the 5x on Lyft rides. Fans of DoorDash food delivery service can take advantage of at least 12 months of DashPass membership. While you won’t get the same travel credits or lounge access as you do with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, this is the perfect starter travel credit card for anyone who can’t justify a higher annual fee, yet.

Further reading: Chase Sapphire Preferred review

APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best for earning miles

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Why this is the best travel credit card for earning miles: With the Capital One Venture, you’re earning double miles on every single purchase. That makes it easy to rack up rewards without having to juggle different bonus categories or spending caps.

Current bonus: Earn 50,000 Capital One miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months (valued by TPG at $700*).

Rewards rate: Earn 2x miles on every purchase

Travel benefits: You get an up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit every four years, which is a nice additional perk for a mid-tier card that only costs $95 a year.

Annual fee: $95

Why it’s worth it: The Capital One Venture Card was already a solid value proposition with a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit (up to $100), but you can also transfer the miles you earn to several airline transfer partners, including Avianca, Etihad and Singapore Airlines. Plus Capital One added Accor and Wyndham hotels as transfer partners. The transfer ratio is 2:1.5 for most partners, though some have a less-lucrative rate of 2:1.This means that for every dollar you spend on this card, you’re effectively getting 1-1.5 points or miles with a partner airline. This greatly enhances the potential value you can get with this card, as miles are no longer worth a fixed 1 cent apiece. Plus it’s the one card The Points Guy — Brian Kelly — can’t live without.

Further reading: Capital One Venture Card review

APPLY HERE: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer.

Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for travel credits

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

Why it’s the best credit card for travel credits: The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with some of the most extensive travel protections available on any credit card, including trip cancellation/interruption insurance, primary rental car coverage, trip delay insurance, emergency medical and more. While these protections won’t cover you in all scenarios (including disinclination to travel due to pandemic), they are still more wide-reaching than most other issuer-offered coverage.

Current bonus: Earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months (valued by TPG at $1,000).

Rewards rate: Earn 3 points per dollar on travel (excluding $300 travel credit) and dining at restaurants and 1 point per dollar on everything else.

Travel benefits: The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with an annual $300 travel credit. But rather than limiting that credit to only airline incidental fees like many other cards, you can use it to offset the cost of a number of travel expenses such as airfare, hotels, rental cars, transit and more. You’re also getting an up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit once every four years.

New benefits have now been added to the card, including a combined $120 in food delivery credits with DoorDash between 2020 and 2021. In addition to the myriad travel credits that come with the Reserve, you’ll also get Priority Pass lounge access, a full suite of travel protections just like the Sapphire Preferred, but with better coverage. The 50% redemption bonus when you use your points to pay for travel through the Chase portal is a nice perk.

Annual fee: $550

Why it’s worth it: The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers a stellar selection of perks on top of solid earning rates. Best of all, if you have this card, the Ultimate Rewards points you earn on other Chase credit cards can be transferred over and  redeemed at the 1.5 cent rate. You could get even more value by transferring your rewards to partners like Hyatt and United.

You also get an impressive 3x points on travel (after the $300 travel credit is exhausted) and dining purchases, which equates to a 6% return based on my valuations. Plus, for cardholders who can utilize the new benefits, Lyft Pink, DashPass and the DoorDash credits are all great additions to this card. This credit card is a prime example of benefits more than making up for a steep annual fee.

Further reading: Chase Sapphire Reserve review

APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Reserve

How we choose the best travel credit cards

I reviewed numerous travel credit card offers and spent countless hours studying the pros and cons of each offer. My method for assigning value to these credit cards relied on assessing a number of criteria:

  • Sign-up/welcome bonus value – The first thing I look at for each card is the value of each sign-up bonus. While you shouldn’t choose a credit card based solely on the welcome offer, you can use bonus values as a tiebreaker of sorts between similar cards or as a way to prioritize which card to get first.
  • Earning rate – While bonus value is important, so is the long-term value each card offers. I looked at the rewards rates to see which cards would reward cardholders throughout usage.
  • Travel credits – The best travel credit cards often offer an assortment of travel credits for cardholders. Some cards, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, offer broad travel credits. Others like the Amex Platinum offer shopping and airline fee credits. It’s also not uncommon to see cards that offer a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit.
  • Travel benefits – In addition to travel credits, top travel credit cards often come with benefits like complimentary elite status or lounge access. I took these into consideration as well when choosing our best travel credit cards.
  • Rewards program – Not all credit card rewards programs are created equal. Each points program has its own point valuation, which you can study here. The value of each individual type of point will always be a vitally important factor when rating travel credit cards and their promotional offers.
  • Foreign transaction fees – This is a huge factor when choosing a credit card. If you plan to use your travel rewards credit card abroad or on websites hosted abroad, you want to ensure you don’t have a foreign transaction fee biting into your earnings.
  • Travel insurance coverage – Lastly, I look at what travel protections each card offers. These are often overlooked benefits that can potentially save travelers hundreds or even thousands of dollars when things go awry during trips.

How travel credit cards work

Travel credit cards help you upgrade your travel experiences in a number of ways. You’ll earn rewards across spending categories that can help you score free flights and hotel stays, you’ll get access to certain travel and purchase protections, and they often also come with premium perks like lounge access, travel credits and more.

Are you new to the travel rewards card game? Check out our beginner’s guide to all things points and miles. You’ll learn about top loyalty programs, how to maximize your credit card strategy to reach your travel goals and so much more.

Different types of travel credit cards

While the overarching goal of all travel rewards credit cards are to help you earn rewards on and for travel purchases, there are multiple different types of travel credits out there.

Transferable rewards credit cards

These are cards that earn rewards that can be redeemed through a card’s rewards program or by transferring them to a travel partner. A lot of our best travel credit cards fall under this category because they are the most valuable type of points you can earn. Transferrable rewards give you the flexibility to redeem your rewards in a way that will be most beneficial to you. Examples of top transferable rewards cards are the Chase Sapphire Reserve and The Platinum Card® from American Express.

Airline credit cards

Airline cobranded cards earn a specific type of airline miles. These cards also generally come with perks specific to that airline. For example, an airline card may offer free checked bags for you and a companion, a certain number of elite-qualifying miles to help you reach status, priority boarding privileges, inflight discounts and more.

Hotel credit cards

Hotel cobranded cards work in a similar manner to airline cards. You’ll earn rewards that are redeemable for a certain hotel program, such as Hilton or Marriott. Hotel cards come with their own specific benefits, such as complimentary elite status or free award night stays. One of my favorite things about hotel cards is that you can stack your earnings on hotel stays with the hotel’s program. For example, if you have the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, you’ll earn 6x at participating Marriott properties on top of the 10x base points you get through the Bonvoy program. That means you’re really earning 16x on Marriott stays when you use your hotel card to pay for your booking. If you have Bonvoy elite status, you’ll also earn a bonus on those base points. You could earn up to 23.5x on eligible hotel stays, depending on what level of status you’re at.

Fixed-value credit cards

Fixed-value cards earn points or miles that are always redeemed for the same value. For example, the Bank of America Premium Rewards Card earns points that are always worth 1 cent each. These types of cards are great for beginners who haven’t quite gotten the hang of maximizing transferable points or for casual travelers who don’t want to worry with transfer partners or dynamic pricing. As more hotels and airlines move to a dynamic pricing model where award pricing shifts dramatically, fixed-value rewards programs are actually becoming a hot commodity.

Pros and cons of travel credit cards

Travel credit cards are a great way to earn rewards that allow you to travel the world for less money — or even practically for free — simply by using a credit card to buy the same daily items you’d otherwise buy with cash or a debit card. With certain travel credit cards, you can also get perks to use while traveling, which include everything from airport lounge access and hotel elite status to free airline companion certificates and discounts or credits on your travel purchases. Those who are well versed in award charts and redemption options available for travel rewards cards can also often get more value from points than from cash back.

However, there are a few drawbacks to travel rewards cards to consider. Because travel credit cards are focused on earning and redeeming for travel expenses, your redemption options are slightly limited when it comes to maximizing value. For example, while you can redeem your Amex Membership Rewards points as a statement credit, through Amazon, for gift cards and more, you’re generally only getting the best value when you transfer your points to partners. But when it comes to transfer partners, the value you’re getting can also change drastically depending on the partner and redemption you book. More airlines and hotels are switching to dynamic pricing models, which means the value you get from your points/miles can vary drastically.

Still the advantages of travel rewards cards almost always outweigh the drawbacks for frequent travelers. You can’t beat the potential redemptions, travel benefits and sign-up bonuses that top travel credit cards offer.

How to compare the best travel credit cards

With so many travel credit cards on the market, there are a ton of options and it’s important to ask yourself what credit card benefits would best meet your travel goals. Are you hoping to use your sign-up bonus for a specific redemption? Are you looking for a card that gives you luxury travel perks? Are you hoping to hit elite status with a certain hotel brand or airline? Are you a casual traveler or a frequent flyer? What spending categories will be most beneficial to you? These are all questions to consider before applying.

For example, if you’re wanting a card to help you hit elite status with Delta while giving you elite-like perks in the meantime, you should strongly consider getting a Delta credit card. Multiple Amex Delta cobranded cards give you perks like earning MQMs when you hit certain spending thresholds and offering free checked bags and priority boarding.

On the other hand, if you only fly occasionally and aren’t exclusive to one airline, you might be better off with a flexible travel credit card that doesn’t offer perks on any one airline, but that earns points or miles that can be redeemed across a variety of different airlines, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred. And if you’re a road warrior who flies every week, you’ll want to think about a premium travel credit card that offers lots of travel perks, such as the Amex Platinum with airport lounge access and hotel elite status.

Things to consider before applying:

As always, head to the all cards hub to see our best credit cards currently available.

Frequently asked questions about travel credit cards

How much is a point or mile worth on a travel credit card?

Every type of airline, hotel and flexible bank point and mile is worth a different amount, so you can’t assume that a 50,000-point bonus on one card is equivalent to a 50,000-point bonus on another. That’s why The Points Guy maintains a guide to point and mile valuations, which explains how much each type of points and miles are worth for all the major programs. You can use those valuations to determine how much a sign-up bonus is actually worth, or even a bonus category.

Is an annual fee worth it?

Many of the top travel rewards credit cards do come with hefty annual fees. But cardholders who maximize the perks and rewards structures on these cards will almost always come out net positive by the end of the year.

For example, while the Amex Platinum comes with a $550 annual fee (see rates and fees), you’re getting up to $500 in annual credits, unrivaled lounge access, a TSA PreCheck/Global Entry application fee credit, elite status with Hilton and Marriott and so much more in return. If you’re utilizing your credits every year and visiting lounges regularly, that annual fee is already paying for itself even before factoring in any rewards you earn with the card.

Even cards that don’t offer a lot in the way of travel credits are oftentimes worth the annual fee for cardholders. Take the Chase Sapphire Preferred, for example. There are no travel credits to offset the cost of the annual fee, but you only have to spend $2,375 on dining and travel each year in order to make the annual fee worth it ($2,375 x 2 points per dollar = 4750 points; 4750 points x 2 cents per point = $95). If you know you’ll use the benefits and perks offered by each card while also earning rewards through bonus category spending, annual fees are easily worth it.

Should I get a cash back or travel credit card?

Ideally, you should have a mix of both types of cards in your wallet. Travel credit cards are great when you want to redeem points and miles for travel purchases, but you aren’t getting a great redemption value when you redeem for pretty much anything else. Cash back cards, on the other hand, can be used to offset the cost of expenses your points and miles won’t cover.

If you are wondering which type of card would be best as your first travel credit card, consider what type of rewards you will find more valuable. Cardholders who only plan to travel every once and a while may be able to get more value out of a cash back card that they can use to offset the cost of other expenses. However, if you are hoping to use your new card rewards to book award flights and hotels for an international trip, a travel credit card is going to be the way to go.

Bottom line

Travel credit cards are an excellent tool to help you hit your travel goals. When used strategically, they can help you experience the world without costing you thousands of dollars in out of pocket expenses for airfare and hotel costs. Whether you’re a beginner who wants a card to offset the cost of your first big international trip or a road warrior looking to upgrade your travel experiences, there is a travel credit card out there for you. At the end of the day, it all comes down to choosing a card that will help you maximize your specific spending habits and hit your goals.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.

Related credit card guides

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.