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As a frequent traveler, this guide will help you apply for the best travel credit cards and maximize your travel as well as earn awesome rewards. There are so many best travel credit cards on the market that choosing the best travel credit cards is more important than ever. Travel rewards can add up quickly and the travel benefits are getting more useful every year. Don’t worry, I can help you take your travel to the next level. Here is my expert review of the best travel rewards credit cards.
Best Travel Credit Cards:
Here are the Best Travel Credit Cards of 2018 based on my valuations:
|Best Category||Credit Card||Total Value|
|Best Total Value||The Platinum Card from American Express||$1,240|
|Best Starter Credit Card||Chase Sapphire Preferred||$1,050|
|Best for Travel Perks & Points||Chase Sapphire Reserve||$900|
|Best for Gas Purchases||Citi ThankYou Premier Card||$850|
|Best for United flyers||United Explorer Card||$660|
|Best for British Airways Flyers||British Airways Visa Signature||$655|
|Best for Hotel Elite Status||Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express||$650|
|Best for Marriott Stays||Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card||$580|
|Best for Flat-Rate Rewards||Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||$500|
Best Travel Credit Cards: Full Details
Before diving into the list, make sure to check out these posts for information on how applying for new cards affects your credit score, what to know about credit scores, mistakes to avoid and more. Keep in mind that applying for multiple cards and using them responsibly can actually boost your credit score in the long run, but you definitely need to know what you’re doing before just signing up for every appealing offer that comes your way.
- 5 Things To Understand About Credit Before Applying For Cards
- 3 Key Considerations for Improving Your Credit Score
- Debunking Credit Card Myths: Does Applying For A Card Permanently Impact My Credit Score
- Avoiding Late Payments and Other Silly Credit Card Mistakes
With that out of the way, here’s my detailed list of the best travel credit card offers available right now. As always, head to the All Cards Hub to see every credit card currently available.
Here are the full details of the Best Travel Credit Cards:
|Card||Bonus Offer||Bonus Value**||Perks Value||Annual Fee||Total Value|
|The Platinum Card from American Express||60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. Terms Apply.||$1,140||$200 airline fee credit to cover incidental fees, up to $200 annual Uber credits, up to $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit, $250 lounge access ($750 total). Terms Apply.||$550||$1,340|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months||$1,050||N/A||$95*||$1,050|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months||$1,050||$300 annual travel credit||$450||$900|
|Citi ThankYou Premier Card||50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first four months||$850||N/A||$95*||$850|
|United Explorer Card||40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months, plus $100 statement credit after first purchase||$660||N/A||$95*||$660|
|British Airways Visa Signature||50,000 Avios after you spend $3,000 in the first three months (Earn an additional 25,000 Avios after you spend $10,000 in the first year. Plus, an extra 25,000 Avios after you spend $20,000 total in the first year.)||$750||N/A||$95||$655|
|Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express||100,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months||$600||$250 in statement credits for Hilton purchases each cardmember year, $250 in airline incidental fee credits per calendar year ($500 total). Terms Apply.||$450||$650|
|Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card||75,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months||$675||N/A||$95||$580|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months||$500||N/A||$95*||$500|
*Annual fee waived the first year.
**Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer.
Best Travel Credit Cards Individual Overview
Now, let’s take a look at the details of each of these cards and offers, including their bonus values and some of the ways I’ve been able to put the cards’ benefits to use.
Current Bonus: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first three months.
Current Bonus Value: $1,340
Standout Benefits: Earn 5x points on airfare booked directly with the airline or Amex Travel and prepaid hotels purchased through Amex Travel. You can transfer the Membership Rewards points you earn with this card to a total of 20 airline and hotel partners. You also get a $200 annual airline rebate for incidental fees, up to $200 in annual Uber credits, up to $100 in credit at Saks Fifth Avenue and a rebate for the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee. Additionally, the card offers Centurion Lounge and Priority Pass lounge access, plus Delta Sky Club access when you’re flying Delta. Read the full card review here.
Annual Fee: $550
Why it’s worth it: As you can see in the chart above, a ton of factors contribute to this card’s overall value; it’s not just the 60k bonus that lands it near the top of this list. But even apart from the $200 annual airline fee credit, the $200 in Uber credits awarded each year, the recently added $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit and the various lounge access options, the Amex Platinum is a stellar premium card that can pave the way to some amazing award flights and other redemptions. Among the Membership Rewards program’s 20 travel partners is Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, which is your only option if you want to book the ultra-premium Singapore Suites using miles. Other highlights include an amazing 5 points per dollar on airfare (equal to a 9.5% return on these purchases), complimentary Hilton Honors Gold and SPG Gold status and the ability to add three authorized users for a total of $175.
Current Bonus: 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That’s $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards. You can also earn another 5,000 bonus points by adding an authorized user and making a purchase within the first three months.
Current Bonus Value: $1,050
Standout Benefits: Earn 2 points per dollar on all travel purchases and on dining at restaurants and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Transfer points to 13 different travel partners. Primary auto rental insurance, trip cancellation coverage and no foreign transaction fees. Read the full card review here.
Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)
Why it’s worth it: It doesn’t offer the bells and the whistles of the much more expensive Chase Sapphire Reserve card, but the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a great pick for earning bonus points on travel and dining, and for enjoying some solid travel protections in the process. I’ve utilized Ultimate Rewards points with partners such as United, which I used to book an emergency ticket home in Lufthansa first class, but you can also redeem the points directly through the Chase travel portal for 1.25 cents apiece. Whether you simply don’t want to spend $450 a year to get the Sapphire Reserve or if your credit score currently isn’t high enough to qualify for that premium card, the Sapphire Preferred remains a very solid option — and the $95 annual fee is even waived for the first year.
Current Bonus: Earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months.
Current Bonus Value: $900
Standout Benefits: Earn 3 points per dollar on travel and dining at restaurants and 1 point per dollar on everything else. You can redeem points directly through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal at a rate of 1.5 cents apiece. $300 annual travel credit, Priority Pass Select lounge access, a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit, no foreign transaction fees, trip cancellation coverage and primary car rental insurance. Read the full card review here.
Annual Fee: $450
Why it’s worth it: The Sapphire Reserve won our battle of the premium credit cards for a reason: It offers a stellar selection of perks, from a $300 annual travel credit that can be used toward a wide variety of purchases, to the ability to redeem points for 1.5 cents apiece through the Chase travel portal. Best of all, if you have this card, the Ultimate Rewards points you earn on other Chase cards can also be redeemed at the 1.5-cent rate. You also get an impressive 3x points on travel and dining purchases, which equates to a 6.3% return based on my valuations. This card is a prime example of benefits more than making up for a steep annual fee.
Current Bonus: Earn 50,000 ThankYou points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months.
Current Bonus Value: $850
Standout Benefits: Earn 3 points per dollar on travel including gas stations, 2 points per dollar on dining out and entertainment and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. Transfer your points to 15 airline programs, or book flights through the Citi travel portal at a rate of 1.25 cents per point. There are no foreign transaction fees. Read the full card review here.
Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)
Why it’s worth it: Citi ThankYou Rewards isn’t the most impressive loyalty program when it comes to transfer partners, especially since it no longer has a hotel partner after Hilton moved to an exclusive relationship with Amex. Still, programs like Avianca LifeMiles and Flying Blue can be great destinations for your points when you’re looking to book flight awards. The ThankYou Premier offers a solid return on travel — and unlike other cards with bonus rewards for travel purchases, it includes gas stations in its 3x category. Plus, you get a full year to test out the card before you have to pay the annual fee.
Current Bonus: Earn 40,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first three months, plus a $100 statement credit after your first purchase.
Current Bonus Value: $660
Standout Benefits: You’ll get 2 miles per dollar spent on tickets purchased from United, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. As a cardholder you’ll have access to enhanced award availability and will enjoy priority boarding and a free checked bag for you and one companion on the same reservation. Plus, get two United Club passes each year. No foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: $95 (currently waived the first year)
Why it’s worth it: Just as the Citi / AAdvantage cards make sense if you frequently travel on American, this co-branded option can make your life easier if you often fly with United. This United card is currently waiving the annual fee for the first year, so now could be an ideal time to add it to your wallet (though we have seen higher sign-up offers, without a waived fee). One of the most appealing benefits is the extra United award seat availability you get access to, letting you book seats that non-cardholders can’t. Another solid perk is the ability to waive the Premier-Qualifying Dollar (PQD) requirement for United elite status (excluding Premier 1K) when you spend $25,000 on the card (or across multiple United cards) in a calendar year.
Current Bonus: You can earn up to 100,000 Avios — 50,000 Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months, an additional 25,000 Avios after you spend $10,000 total on purchases in the first year. Plus, an extra 25,000 Avios after you spend $20,000 total in the first year.
Current Bonus Value: $655
Standout Benefits: Earn 3 Avios per dollar on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios per dollar on everything else. If you spend $30,000 on the card in a calendar year, you’ll get a Travel Together Ticket for a companion to use. No foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: $95
Why it’s worth it: Even if you don’t spend a total of $20,000 in the first year to earn 100,000 Avios, earning 50,000 Avios can open the door to some great redemptions, such as domestic business-class awards on American and off-peak Aer Lingus flights to Europe. And if you can put a lot of spending on this card, you might be able to unlock the Travel Together Ticket, which gets a companion a free flight but doesn’t include taxes and fees, which can be substantial.
Current Bonus: 100,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $4,000 in the first three months.
Current Bonus Value: $650
Standout Benefits: Earn 14 points per dollar on Hilton purchases; 7 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, on car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at US restaurants; and 3 points per dollar on all other purchases. Get complimentary Hilton Diamond status. Enjoy one weekend night each year, plus earn an additional night after you spend $60,000 on the card in a calendar year. Plus, get a variety of annual credits: a $250 Hilton resort statement credit each year of card membership and up to $250 per calendar year in credits for airline incidental fees. You also get a $100 Hilton on-property credit when you book a two-night minimum stay with the card at HiltonHonors.com/aspirecard, and a Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership. No foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: $450
Why it’s worth it: As far as hotel co-branded cards go, this one’s pretty impressive. In exchange for the steep $450 fee, you get generous earning rates at Hilton hotels and a variety of annual travel credits (up to $500 between the airline incidental fee credit and the Hilton resort statement credit, and more if you can utilize the $100 on-property credit for Hilton stays). Beyond that you get a Priority Pass airport lounge membership, giving you and up to guests free access.
Current Bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months from account opening.
Current Bonus Value: $580
Standout Benefits: Earn 6x points at Marriott and SPG hotels and 2x points on everything else. Get a free night award every year after your account anniversary, valid for a one-night hotel stay at property with a redemption level of up to 35,000 points. You also get automatic Silver elite status, plus 15 elite night credits each calendar year (starting in 2019).
Annual Fee: $95
Why it’s worth it: This card replaces the Marriott Rewards Premier Card, and was announced alongside plenty of other updates about the combined Marriott and SPG program. Though the annual fee is $10 higher, this new card is a step up in several ways. For one, you now earn 6 rather than 5 points per dollar on Marriott and SPG stays, plus the free night award is now effectively more generous since previously it was only good for properties that cost up to 25,000 points per night (Category 5 hotels). The card also offers you the option to spend your way to Gold elite status, after making $35,000 in purchases each account year, starting in 2019. The sign-up offer of 75,000 points, worth $580 based on my valuations, is a good reason to consider this card as well.
Current Bonus: Earn 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months.
Current Bonus Value: $500
Standout Benefits: Earn 2 miles per dollar on all purchases, and 10 miles per dollar on hotel rooms when booked at Hotels.com through the dedicated link and paid for with the card. Get a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit every four years. The card also has no foreign transaction fees. Read the full card review here.
Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)
Why it’s worth it: The Capital One Venture Rewards card has always been a popular choice for folks who prefer to keep things simple and don’t want to chase award availability. The card’s “Purchase Eraser” feature allows customers to use their Venture Rewards miles to offset the cost of any travel purchases made on their card in the previous 90 days at a rate of 1 cent per mile. But the addition of Capital One’s partnership with Hotels.com has made this card a true standout when it comes to hotels, since you can effectively earn 20% back on all your hotel stays by stacking the Hotels.com Rewards program with the 10x miles earned on those stays with the Venture Rewards when booked and paid through Hotels.com/venture.
Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer.
How I Calculated My Valuations
As you can see, the bulk of the value comes from the bonus itself — I used my latest valuations to calculate a dollar amount for each offer. From there, I added in the value of perks such as annual travel credits and lounge access. For the Platinum Card from American Express, which offers Centurion Lounge access plus Delta Sky Club access when you’re flying Delta, I assigned a value of $250 for these perks. Yes, the cards do offer Priority Pass lounge access as well, but this benefit is available through many cards so I opted to leave this — along with Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credits — out of my calculations.
Also, a few of these cards offer tiered bonuses. For these cards, if the total spending requirement across multiple tiers is higher than $5,000, I focused on the value you’d get by meeting the lowest spending requirement. As an example, with the British Airways Visa Signature Card, I calculated the value of 50,000 Avios rather than 100,000, which you could earn if you spent $20,000 on the card in your first account year.
Here is a recap of the Best Travel Credit cards
- Best Total Value Travel Credit Card : The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Best Starters Travel Credit Card: Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Best Travel Perks and Points: Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Best Gas Purchases Travel Credit Card: Citi ThankYou Premier Card
- Best United Flyers Travel Credit Card: United Explorer Card
- Best British Airways Flyers: British Airways Visa Signature Card
- Best Hotel Elite Status Travel Credit Card: Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express
- Best Marriott Stays Travel Credit Card: Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card
- Best Flat-Rate Rewards Travel Credit Card: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
A star (⭐) indicates a limited time offer with the highest ever publicly available welcome bonus.
This is The Points Guy’s permanent page for the best travel rewards cards, 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.
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®
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
- 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 travel 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