The best travel credit cards of 2019

Oct 1, 2019

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.

Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here –  IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit CardSouthwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit CardSouthwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit CardSouthwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

It’s October, a time for frights and things that go bump in the night. But there’s nothing more scary than missing out on great travel rewards because you don’t have the right travel credit cards in your purse or wallet. While there are lots of great credit cards for travel out there, the reality is that the best one for you is the one that suits your specific travel needs.

In this guide I’ll review all the details, including bonus offers and perks such as Global Entry fee credits and Priority Pass lounge access, to bring you a list of the very best cards. Remember that travel rewards can add up quickly, especially when a welcome bonus is involved, so it’s important to apply and start earning as soon as you can to start maximizing your points and miles.

Without further do, here are my top picks:

Best travel credit cards of October 2019

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 Current Bonus*** Bonus value** Annual fee Total value (including perks)
The Platinum Card from American Express 60,000 Points. Terms apply $1,200 $550
(see rates and fees)
$1,575
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card 60,000 Points. Terms apply $1,200 $95 $1,105
Chase Sapphire Reserve 50,000 Points. Terms apply $1,000 $450 $1,049
Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard 60,000 Miles. Terms apply $900 $90 $810
Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express Up to 75,000 Miles. Terms apply Up to $1,000 $195 ($250 if application is received on or after 1/30/2020)
(see rates and fees)
Up to $805
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card 50,000 Miles. Terms apply $700 $95* $800
Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express Up to 60,000 Miles. Terms apply Up to $770 $95*
(see rates and fees)
Up to $770
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card 125,000 Points. Terms apply $750 $95
(see rates and fees)
$730
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card 100,000 Points. Terms apply $800 $95 $705
American Express Gold Card 35,000 Miles. Terms apply $700 $250
(see rates and fees)
$670
Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card 40,000 Points. Terms apply $600 $149 $646
United Explorer Card 40,000 Miles. Terms apply $520 $95* $620
Bank of America Premium Rewards 50,000 Points. Terms apply $500 $95 $605
Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express 75,000 Miles. Terms apply $900 $450 ($550 if application is received on or after 1/30/2020)
(see rates and fees)
$550
IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card 125,000 Points. Terms apply $625 $89 $536
Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card 40,000 Points. Terms apply $600 $69 $531
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card 40,000 Points. Terms apply $600 $99 $501
Hilton Honors American Express Card 75,000 Points. Terms apply $450 $0
(see rates and fees)
$450

*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.

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.)

Best Travel Credit Cards

The Platinum Card from American Express

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Best travel credit card for total value

Current bonus: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months (valued by TPG at $1,200).

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 credit card to a total of 20 airline and hotel partners.
  • $200 annual airline rebate for incidental fees
  • Up to $200 in annual Uber credits
  • Up to $100 in credit at Saks Fifth Avenue
  • Up to $100 rebate for the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee once every four years
  • Centurion Lounge access, plus Delta Sky Club access when you’re flying Delta (valued by TPG at $250 annually)
  • Priority Pass lounge membership without restaurant access (valued by TPG at $75 annually)
  • Terms Apply

Annual fee: $550 (see rates and fees)

Why it’s worth it: As you can see, a ton of factors contribute to this credit 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 travel 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 10% return on these purchases), complimentary Hilton Honors Gold and the ability to add three authorized users for a total of $175 (see rates and fees).

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Platinum Card from American Express

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Best travel card for beginner travelers

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).

Standout benefits:

  • Earn 2 points per dollar on travel
  • Earn 2 points per dollar on dining
  • Transfer points to 12 travel partners
  • Redeem points for 1.25 cents apiece through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal
  • No foreign transaction fees

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. This travel credit card just increased its sign-up bonus from 50,000 points to 60,000 points, so if you’ve been holding out, you’ve been rewarded for waiting. The $95 annual fee is no longer waived the first year, but based on TPG’s valuations the additional 10,000 points are worth $200, so it’s still an improvement.

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Chase Sapphire Reserve

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Best travel credit card for travel purchases and perks

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).

Standout benefits: 

  • Earn 3 points per dollar on travel (excluding $300 travel credit) and dining at restaurants and 1 point per dollar on everything else
  • 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 (valued by TPG at $99 annually)
  • Up to $100 Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Trip cancellation coverage
  • Primary car rental insurance

Annual fee: $450

Why it’s worth it: The Chase 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 Credit Cards can also be redeemed at the 1.5-cent rate. 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. This credit card is a prime example of benefits more than making up for a steep annual fee.

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Reserve

Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard

Best travel credit card for Virgin Atlantic flyers

Current bonus: Earn 60,000 Virgin Atlantic miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening, 5,000 bonus miles when you add additional authorized users, and 15,000 bonus miles at your card anniversary after you spend $25,000 in purchases in 12 months  (valued by TPG at $900).

Standout benefits:

  • Earn 3 miles per dollar on direct Virgin Atlantic purchases
  • Earn 1.5 miles per dollar on all other purchases
  • Spend $25,000 in purchases annually to qualify for a companion award in the same cabin class when you redeem Flying Club miles for a Virgin Atlantic award ticket
  • Earn 25 tier points toward Virgin Atlantic elite status for every $2,500 in purchases (maximum 50 tier points per month)
  • No foreign transaction fees

Annual fee: $90

Why it’s worth it: Most people get frustrated when they try to use Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles to fly to the United Kingdom on Virgin Atlantic, and rightly so, since Virgin adds significant carrier surcharges to its transatlantic awards. But the real value in Virgin miles is using them to book on partners, especially for Delta flights. The current 80,000-point bonus is slightly lower than the 90,000 points we’ve seen before on this credit card, but the current offer comes with a much lower and more manageable spending requirement, which should make it a better choice for a lot of folks. And if you’re aiming to earn Virgin Atlantic elite status, the tier points earned from this card can speed you along.

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard

Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

Best travel credit card for regular Delta flyers

Current bonus: For a limited-time, earn 75,000 Delta SkyMiles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new credit card in your first three months (valued by TPG up to $1,000). Plus, earn a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new credit card within your first three months. Offer expires 10/30/2019. Terms apply.

Standout benefits: 

  • Earn 2 miles per dollar on eligible Delta airlines purchases (3 miles per dollar starting on 1/30/2020).
  • Starting on 1/30/2020, earn 3 miles per dollar on purchases at hotels
  • Starting on 1/30/2020, earn 2 miles per dollar at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets
  • Earn 1 mile per dollar on everything else
  • First bag checked free
  • Priority boarding
  • Get a companion certificate for a domestic round-trip flight in the main cabin each year upon renewal of your credit card
  • Earn 10,000 MQMs toward status and 10,000 redeemable miles when you spend $25,000 on the credit card in a calendar year, and an additional 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 redeemable miles when you spend $50,000 in a calendar year. (Starting on 1/30/2020, you will only receive the MQMs at each threshold and not the redeemable bonus miles.)
  • Starting on 1/30/2020, cardmembers will receive a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credit (every 4 years for Global Entry, every 4.5 years for TSA PreCheck)

Annual fee: $195 ($250 for renewals or new cardmembers applying on or after 1/30/2020; see rates and fees)

Why it’s worth it: Aside from a higher welcome offer than the entry-level Gold Delta Amex, the Platinum Delta Amex also comes with a companion certificate each year (you only need to pay taxes and fees) and the ability to earn additional MQMs toward Delta elite status by meeting spending thresholds. Plus, starting on January 30, 2020, the card will have new bonus categories for hotels (3x), restaurants (2x) and U.S. supermarkets (2x), as well as a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee rebate every 4 to 4 1/2 years. The icing on the cake is that if you apply now, you’ll only have to pay the old $195 annual fee for the first year you have the card — you won’t be charged the increased $250 fee until the start of your second year — but you’ll still get all the new benefits beginning at the end of January.

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Best travel credit card for Hotels.com

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).

Standout benefits:

  • Earn 10x miles on Hotels.com purchases at Hotels.com/Venture
  • Earn 2x miles on all other purchases
  • Get up to a $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit every four years
  • Transfer your miles to a selection of airline partners at a 2:1 or 2:1.5 ratio

Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)

Why it’s worth it: The Capital One Venture was already a very strong value proposition with 10x miles at Hotels.com and a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee, but now you can also transfer the miles you earn with this credit card (as well as the VentureOne credit card and Capital One’s two Spark Miles cards) to 15 airline transfer partners including Avianca, Etihad and Singapore Airlines. The transfer ratio is 2:1.5 for 12 partners and 2:1 for two, meaning for every dollar you spend on this card you’re 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.

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Best travel credit card for occasional Delta flyers

Current bonus: For a limited-time, earn 60,000 Delta SkyMiles after you make $2,000 in purchases within the first three months, and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new credit card within the first three months (valued by TPG up to $770). Offer expires 10/30/2019. Terms apply.

Standout benefits: 

  • Get a first bag checked for free on Delta flights
  • Priority boarding
  • 20% off inflight purchases
  • Earn 2x miles on Delta purchases, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else
  • Starting 1/30/2020, earn 2x miles at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets
  • Starting 1/30/2020, earn a $100 Delta flight credit after spending $10,000 in a calendar year
  • Terms apply

Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year, increasing to $99 in 2020; see rates and fees)

Why it’s worth it: The Gold Delta SkyMiles Amex could definitely be worth a look if you want to enjoy some freebies like a checked bag and a discount on inflight purchases when you travel on Delta. Plus, American Express recently announced that the card will be getting some new benefits in January 2020, including 2x points on both restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets, plus a $100 Delta flight credit when you spend $10,000 on the card in a calendar year. Add those perks together with the current limited-time increased welcome bonus and a waived annual fee for the first year, and it’s a good time to consider this card.

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card

Best travel credit card for Hilton loyalists

Current bonus: Earn 125,000 Hilton Honors points after you make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership (valued by TPG at $750).

Standout benefits:

  • Earn 12 points per dollar on Hilton purchases
  • Earn 6 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations
  • Earn 3 points per dollar on all other purchases
  • Complimentary Hilton Gold status (get Diamond status after spending $40,000 a year on the card)
  • Enjoy one free weekend night each year after you spend $15,000 on the card in a calendar year.
  • Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership that comes with 10 free passes a year (valued by TPG at $75 annually)
  • No foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees)
  • Terms apply

Annual fee: $95 (see rates and fees)

Why it’s worth it: This is the credit card to have if you don’t travel enough to earn elite status through hotel stays. Formerly the Hilton Ascend card, it’s now been renamed the Hilton Surpass. Cardholders earn a generous 12 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties, and that’s on top of the points you already earn as a Hilton Honors member.

The automatic Hilton Gold elite status that comes with the card gets you an 80% points bonus, no resort fees and a fifth night free during reward stays, space-available upgrades, free in-room and lobby Wi-Fi, late check-out, free breakfast and two free bottles of water. The Priority Pass lounge access is just enough for the occasional traveler who needs an oasis away from the masses at the airport.

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Best travel credit card for Marriott loyalists

Current bonus: For a limited time, earn 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy points after you spend $5,000 in purchases within the first three months (valued by TPG at $800).

Standout benefits: 

  • 6 Marriott Rewards points per dollar at participating Marriott properties
  • 2 points per dollar on all other purchases
  • Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Silver elite status
  • Earn Marriott Gold elite status if you spend $35,000 on the card in a calendar year
  • Get 15 elite credits toward the next level of status
  • Receive a free award night good for stays costing up to 35,000 points every year after your account anniversary
  • No foreign transaction fees

Annual fee: $95

Why it’s worth it: If you stay at Marriott properties on a regular basis, this is a great time to get this card and score its current welcome bonus of 100,000 Marriott points. Those bonus points alone are enough for a four-night stay at the Courtyard Isla Verde Beach Resort in Carolina, Puerto Rico. Just make sure you’re aware of the card’s complicated application restrictions, which could prevent you from earning the sign-up bonus depending on what Marriott cards you have had in the past or currently have across both the Chase and American Express Marriott card portfolios.

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card

American Express Gold Card

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Best travel credit card for worldwide dining

Current bonus: Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months (valued by TPG at $700).

Standout benefits:

  • Earn 4x points at restaurants
  • Earn 4x points at U.S. supermarkets, on the first $25,000 spent each year; then 1x
  • Earn 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com
  • Up to $120 in statement credits each year when you pay with the Gold card at participating dining partners
  • Up to $100 annual airline fee credit
  • Terms Apply

Annual fee: $250 (see rates and fees)

Why it’s worth it: Amex revamped its Premier Rewards Gold Card and reintroduced it as the Amex Gold Card, with new bonus categories and a strong focus on dining. With 4x points at restaurants, the card now offers the second-most competitive return on dining spending (8% based on our valuations, compared to 8.5% with the Citi Prestige® Card), and the category has now been expanded to restaurants worldwide. The card also earns 4x points on the first $25,000 spent per year at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000, then 1x), and 3x points on select flights. With this credit card, Amex finally has a strong option for dining purchases. The annual fee is now $250 and not waived the first year, but thanks to the new earning rates and benefits, it could be worth it for you.

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: American Express Gold Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card

Best travel credit card for Southwest road warriors

Current bonus: Earn 40,000 Southwest points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months, plus 20,000 additional points after you spend $12,000 in the 12 months of account opening (valued by TPG at $600).

Standout benefits:

  • Earn 2 points for every dollar spent on Southwest Airlines and hotel and car rental partner purchases
  • Earn 1 point on everything else
  • Bonus points and points earned with the credit card count toward the Southwest Companion Pass
  • $75 annual Southwest travel credit
  • Four upgraded boardings per year (valued by TPG at $120 annually)
  • 20% back on inflight drinks and Wi-Fi
  • Earn Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs) toward A-List elite status.
  • 7,500 bonus points at each card anniversary
  • No foreign transaction fees

Annual fee: $149

Why it’s worth it: The top Southwest credit card is designed for fans of the airline, and it delivers with a slew of perks that will make your life in the air easier and more comfortable. The annual fee of $149 is slightly higher than the average credit card, but you’ll easily find that much in value from this card, starting with the $75 in annual travel credits that can be applied toward Southwest airfare. That one benefit alone will cover more than half the annual fee. Add in four upgraded boardings each year, 20% back on in flight purchases and the ability to earn Tier Qualifying Points through spend on the card, and you’ll find that the Southwest Priority Credit Card is a worthwhile investment for the traveler who spends plenty of time each year in a Southwest seat.

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card

United Explorer Card

Best travel credit card for United flyers

Current bonus: Earn 40,000 United miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months (valued by TPG at $520).

Standout benefits:

  • Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on tickets purchased from United, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else.
  • Access to enhanced award availability
  • Priority boarding and a free checked bag for you and one companion on the same reservation
  • 2 one-time United Club passes each year
  • Up to $100 Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit
  • 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 cobranded option can make your life easier if you often fly with United. The United Explorer card is currently waiving the annual fee for the first year, so now could be an ideal time to add it to your wallet. 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 a waive the Premier-Qualifying Dollar (PQD) requirement for United elite status (excluding Premier 1K) when you spend $25,000 on the credit card (or across multiple United Cards) in a calendar year.

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: United Explorer Card

Bank of America Premium Rewards

Best travel credit card for everyday spending

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).

Standout benefits:

  • Earn 2 points for every dollar spent on travel and dining purchases
  • Earn 1.5 points on everything else
  • Bank of America Preferred Rewards elites earn an additional 25%-75% points on every purchase
  • $100 Airline Incidental statement credit annually for qualifying purchases
  • Up to $100 Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit

Annual fee: $95

Why it’s worth it: You might not think of the Bank of America Premium Rewards card as a typical travel credit card, since the points it earns can’t be transferred to travel partners but rather are redeemable at 1 cent apiece for cash, gift cards or by booking travel at the Bank of America travel portal. But it can potentially be a valuable option for your purse or wallet as an everyday spending card. Its basic earning rates are reasonable, but where the card really shines is if you’re able to participate in Bank of America’s separate Preferred Rewards program. Reach the top Platinum Honors tier in Preferred Rewards and you’ll earn a 75% bonus on each purchase you make with this card, bringing the earning rate on travel and dining expenses to an impressive 3.5x points per dollar and the everyday earning rate on all other purchases to a market-leading 2.625x points per dollar.

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Bank of America Premium Rewards

Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express

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

Best travel credit card for Delta road warriors

Current bonus: For a limited-time, earn 75,000 Delta SkyMiles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new credit card in your first three months (valued by TPG at  $900). Offer expires 10/30/2019. Terms apply.

Standout benefits: 

  • Earn 2 miles per dollar on eligible Delta airlines purchases (3 miles per dollar starting on 1/30/2020).
  • Earn 1 mile per dollar on everything else
  • Complimentary Delta Sky Club access when you fly Delta (valued by TPG at $100 annually), plus discounted rates of $29 per person for up to 2 people
  • First bag checked free
  • Priority boarding
  • Get a companion certificate each year upon card renewal for first-class, Comfort+ or main cabin round-trip travel
  • Earn 15,000 MQMs toward status and 15,000 redeemable miles when you spend $30,000 on the card in a calendar year, and an additional 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 redeemable miles when you spend $60,000 in a calendar year. (Starting on 1/30/2020, you will only receive the MQMs at each threshold and not the redeemable bonus miles.)
  • Starting on 1/30/2020, cardmembers will also receive:
    • An additional 15,000 bonus MQMs after spending $90,000 on the card in a calendar year, and an additional 15,000 bonus MQMs after spending $120,000 in a calendar year
    • Complimentary access to American Express Centurion Lounges when flying Delta with a ticket purchased on the card (up to two guests may also enter for a fee of $50 each)
    • Two, one-time guest passes for the Delta Sky Club (to complement the existing individual Sky Club membership)
    • A Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credit (every 4 years for Global Entry, every 4.5 years for TSA PreCheck)
    • Access to complimentary upgrades for non-Medallions

Annual fee: $450 ($550 for renewals or new cardmembers applying on or after 1/30/2020; see rates and fees)

Why it’s worth it: If you’re a Delta fanatic, this is probably the best chance you’ll ever get to grab the personal Delta Reserve credit card. That’s because right now for a limited-time, you can get not only a 75,000-mile welcome bonus on this card after spending $5,000 in the first three months, plus 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles, but you’ll also pay the lower current annual fee of $450 for the first year you have the card before it goes up to $550 in 2020. But even though you’re paying less, you’ll still get the benefit of all the new perks when they’re added to this card at the end of January 2020, including access to the exclusive Amex Centurion Lounges when you’re flying Delta, additional opportunities to earn bonus MQMs from spending and access to complimentary upgrades on Delta if you don’t already have Delta elite status.

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express

IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

Best travel credit card for IHG loyalists

Current bonus: Earn 125,000 IHG Rewards Club points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months (valued by TPG at $625).

Standout benefits:

  • Earn 25x points per dollar spent at IHG Hotels for the first 12 months after signing up (10x points after 12 months)
  • Earn 4x on all other purchases for the first 12 months after signing up; then 2x points at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants and 1x point on all other purchases
  • Complimentary IHG Rewards Platinum Elite status
  • 4th Night Free on award redemptions
  • Free night certificate worth up to 40,000 points after each card holder anniversary
  • No foreign transaction fees

Annual fee: $89

Why it’s worth it: At first glance, 125,000 bonus points looks like the headline number here, but the real value might be in the increased bonus categories for the first 12 months you have the credit card. You’ll earn an insane 25x points for every dollar spent at IHG properties during that initial year, and that 25x stacks with another 15x you get for your stays since you get automatic IHG Platinum status with this card. Put it together and it’s a ridiculous 40x points on all your IHG spend. Then add in another 4x for all other purchases on the credit card in the first 12 months, and the IHG Premier becomes a card you might actually consider keeping in your purse or wallet long-term, especially if you’re an IHG fan.

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card

Best travel credit card for occasional Southwest flyers

Current bonus: Earn 40,000 Southwest points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months, plus 20,000 additional points after you spend $12,000 in the first 12 months of account opening (valued by TPG at $600).

Standout benefits:

  • Earn 2 points for every dollar spent on Southwest and hotel and car rental partner purchases
  • Earn 1 point on everything else
  • Bonus points and points earned with the credit card count toward the Companion Pass
  • 3,000 bonus points at each card anniversary

Annual fee: $69

Why it’s worth it: The Southwest Plus Credit Card doesn’t have many fancy bells or whistles, but it earns Southwest points that count — along with the current up to 60,000-point sign-up bonus — toward earning the airline’s coveted Companion Pass. You’ll also earn 3,000 bonus points at each card anniversary, which are worth $45 based on TPG’s valuations, which offsets 65% of the $69 annual fee. If you’re looking for a low-cost Southwest credit card, you won’t find a better choice.

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Best travel credit card for regular Southwest flyers

Current bonus: Earn 40,000 Southwest points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months, plus 20,000 additional points after you spend $12,000 in the first 12 months of account opening (valued by TPG at $600).

Standout benefits:

  • Earn 2 points for every dollar spent on Southwest and hotel and car rental partner purchases
  • Earn 1 point on everything else
  • Bonus points and points earned with the credit card count toward the Companion Pass
  • Earn Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs) toward A-List elite status.
  • 6,000 bonus points at each card anniversary
  • No foreign transaction fees

Annual fee: $99

Why it’s worth it: In the middle of the trio of Southwest’s credit cards is the Southwest Premier, which might be a perfect sweet spot for the regular Southwest flyer. It combines the basic features of the Southwest Plus with a few of the more advanced features of the Southwest Priority, including the ability to earn Tier Qualifying Points toward A-List elite status on the airline, plus 6,000 bonus points at each card anniversary, worth $90 based on TPG’s valuations, which practically covers the entire cost of the annual fee each year. You can also safely use this credit card when you’re traveling overseas, since it doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees on international purchases. If your focus is on finding a mix of Southwest Airlines points and Southwest perks, this could be the right credit card for you.

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

Hilton Honors American Express Card

Best travel credit card for Hilton beginners

Current bonus: Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months (valued by TPG at $450).

Standout benefits:

  • Earn 7 points per dollar on Hilton purchases
  • Earn 5 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations
  • Earn 3 points per dollar on all other purchases
  • Complimentary Hilton Silver status
  • No foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees)
  • Terms apply

Annual fee: None (see rates and fees)

Why it’s worth it: If you’re new to the hotel status game and have chosen Hilton as your hotel brand, this $0 annual fee credit card is a great way to get started. It comes with solid bonus categories for spending at Hilton, along with U.S.-based restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations. You can also earn Hilton Gold status by spending $20,000 a year on the card. Perks include travel accident and car rental loss and damage insurance, purchase protection, entertainment access and free two-day shipping at 100+ online stores via ShopRunner.

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Hilton Honors Card from American Express

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 the real value of the sign-up bonus, travel perks, APR, annual fees, redemption difficulty and more. 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.

Things to consider before applying:

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

What are the advantages of a travel credit card?

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.

What types of travel credit cards are out there?

There are two main types of travel credit cards. The first are travel credit cards that earn a specific type of airline miles or hotel points. These are sometimes known as cobranded credit cards because they usually have the name of the airline or hotel on the card. Examples of cobranded travel credit cards include the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card, among many others.

The second type of travel credit card are the ones that earn flexible travel points. Generally these points can then be redeemed either directly for purchases you make through a travel portal like Amex Travel, or they can be transferred to many different airline or hotel programs. Examples of these types of cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Capital One Venture Rewards card, among others.

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.

For instance, Amex Membership Rewards are worth 2 cents each based on TPG’s valuations, which means the 60,000-point bonus on the Amex Platinum is worth $1,200. That’s because 60,000 x 2 cents = $1,200. And since that card earns 5 points per dollar on airfare, you can also determine that each dollar you spend on airfare will get you 10 cents back in points, because 5 points x 2 cents = 10 cents.

How do I choose a travel credit card?

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. If you fly multiple times a year on Delta and pay to check a bag every time you fly, you should strongly consider getting a Delta credit card that waives the fee for your first checked bag every time you fly on the airline. That perk would save you from paying the $30 fee every time you fly, and would quickly make up for the annual fee on the card.

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.

Final notes on ranking travel credit cards

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 instance, 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, not including the value of Priority Pass access. But for the Delta Reserve card, which won’t provide Centurion Lounge access until the end of January 2020, I only assigned a value of $100 for the current Sky Club access when flying Delta. I also didn’t include a value of any of the other new benefits of the revamped Delta cards, since they aren’t in effect until January.

While I haven’t added in the value of Priority Pass lounge access and a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit in the past, we now factor these into a card’s total value, as not everyone has multiple cards that confer these benefits. We peg the value of the Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit at its face value of $100. That’s the application fee for Global Entry; PreCheck costs $85, but applying for Global Entry is the way to go since it includes PreCheck as well. And don’t forget: If you already have Global Entry and PreCheck, you can use your credit card’s application fee credit to gift it to someone else.

The value of Priority Pass lounge access is a bit more complicated, especially now that American Express-issued cards with this benefit no longer get access to the lounge’s networks restaurants, where you can get $28-$30 worth of food and drink per visit. I’m pegging Priority Pass Select membership with restaurant access at the purchase price of $99, and Priority Pass Select membership without restaurant access at $75.

Finally, in the case of cards offering tiered bonuses, if the total spending requirement across multiple tiers is higher than $5,000, I’ve focused on the value you’d get by meeting the lowest spending requirement.

Related Credit Card Guides

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Amex card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve Amex, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Gold Delta Amex, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Platinum Delta Amex, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold Card, please click here.


This is The Points Guy’s permanent page for the best travel credit 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.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points Terms Apply.

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: Delta Sky Club and Centurion lounge access, $200 annual airline fee credit and up to $200 in Uber credits annually

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
N/A
Annual Fee
$550
Balance Transfer Fee
See Terms
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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.