The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards of 2018

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Looking to add a new travel rewards credit card? I’ve ranked all the offers out there by their sign-up bonus and perks using my latest valuations. (I’ve started separating best offers between personal and business cards. You can see the top 10 business travel rewards cards here.)

Jump to our list of the best travel rewards credit cards.

As you can see in the table below, the bulk of the value comes from the sign-up 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 sign-up 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 75,000, which you could earn if you spent $10,000 on the card in your first account year.

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.

With that out of the way, here’s my list of the best travel card offers available right now. As always, head to the All Cards Hub to see every credit card currently available.

The Points Guy’s best travel credit cards of 2018:

Here’s how each of our top picks stack up against each other.

Best Travel Credit Cards: Full Details

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, $250 lounge access ($650 total). Terms Apply.  $550 $1,240
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
Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express 30,000 miles after you spend $1,000 in the first three months. Terms Apply. $360 N/A $95* $265
United MileagePlus Explorer Card 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months $560 N/A $95* $560
Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express $100 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in the first three months. Plus, an additional $100 statement credit after your first purchase at participating SPG or Marriott Rewards hotels in the first six months. Terms Apply. $200 N/A $95* $200
Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card 75,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months $675 N/A $85* $675
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.) $750 N/A $95 $655

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

The Details on Our Top Picks

Now, let’s take a look at the details of each of these cards and offers, including their sign-up bonus values and some of the ways I’ve been able to put the cards’ benefits to use.

The Platinum Card from American Express

american express platinum
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

Current Bonus: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first three months.

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 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.

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 sign-up bonus that lands it near the top of this list. But even apart from the $200 annual airline fee credit, the recently added $200 in Uber credits awarded each year 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.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Ultimate Rewards saved the day, letting me book a last-minute flight home in Lufthansa first class through United.
Ultimate Rewards saved the day, letting me book a last-minute flight home in Lufthansa first class through United.

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.

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.

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.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Chase Sapphire Reserve
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

Current Bonus: Earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months.

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.

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.

Citi ThankYou Premier Card

Current Bonus: Earn 50,000 ThankYou points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months.

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.

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.

Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

Current Bonus: Earn 30,000 SkyMiles after you spend $1,000 in the first three months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase in the first three months.

Standout Benefits: Earn 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. Enjoy some elite-style perks with the airline, including priority boarding and a first bag checked free. This card has no foreign transaction fees.

Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)

Why it’s worth it: If you missed the elevated sign-up offer on this card that ended in November 2017, you have another chance to earn extra SkyMiles. The total minimum spending requirement of $3,000 is pretty low, too. This card could definitely be worth a look if you want to enjoy some freebies like a checked bag when you travel on Delta.

United MileagePlus Explorer Card

united 77w polaris brian featured
Redeem your United miles for a seat in the carrier’s new Polaris cabin.

Current Bonus: Earn 40,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first three months.

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.

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

 St. Regis Osaka
I’ve redeemed Starpoints at great properties like the St. Regis Osaka. (Photo courtesy Starwood Hotels & Resorts)

Current Bonus: Earn up to $200 in statement credits; earn a $100 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in the first three months. Plus, an additional $100 statement credit after your first purchase at participating SPG or Marriott Rewards hotels in the first six months.

Standout Benefits: Earn 2 points per dollar at Starwood and Marriott properties, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Get 2 stay and 5 night credits toward elite status each year, and earn Gold status when you spend $30,000 on the card in a calendar year. Free in-room premium internet access. No foreign transaction fees.

Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)

Why it’s worth it: While the personal Starwood Amex isn’t currently offering an elevated bonus, it’s still a great card, especially since Starpoints are my highest-rated loyalty currency and there are so many ways to redeem them, from transferring to airline partners to SPG Moments to Starwood and Marriott award stays. If you’re working toward Starwood Preferred Guest elite status, the 2 stay and 5 night credits (on each card, each year) can also come in handy.

Marriott Rewards Premier Card

JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa - Italy
Redeem Marriott points at luxe properties like the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa. (Photo courtesy JW Marriott)

Current Bonus: Earn 75,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months from account opening.

Standout Benefits: Earn 5 points per dollar at Marriott and SPG hotels, 2 points per dollar on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline, and at car rental agencies and restaurants and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Get a free night at a Category 1-5 hotel each year after your account anniversary. Automatically earn 15 credits toward elite status, and the ability to earn an additional credit for every $3,000 you spend on the card each calendar year. No foreign transaction fees.

Annual Fee: $85 (currently waived the first year)

Why it’s worth it: There are plenty of great uses for Marriott points, especially now that you can transfer them to Starwood at a 3:1 ratio. But even within the Marriott Rewards program you have some great options, such as Hotel + Air packages, which I’ve booked for my parents. This card also stands out for the free night at a Category 1-5 property, which you get after your account anniversary. And the 15 elite credits you get as a cardholder are enough to enjoy Marriott Silver status.

British Airways Visa Signature Card

British Airways A380 First class London to Washington DC
You could use the Travel Together Ticket to fly BA’s A380 first class to London.

Current Bonus: You can earn up to 75,000 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.

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 $10,000 in the first year to earn 75,000 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.

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

The best beginner points and miles card out there.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

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.

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More Things to Know
  • 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
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
17.49% - 24.49% Variable
Annual Fee
$0 Intro for the First Year, then $95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are 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.