The best travel credit cards for 2020

Mar 18, 2020

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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 large 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.

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Without further ado, here are my top picks:

Best travel credit cards for 2020

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

In This Post

Compare travel credit cards

Credit Card Best For Travel Rewards Rate Bonus Value* Annual Fee
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card Starter travel credit card 2x on travel

2x on dining

$1,200 $95
Ink Business Preferred Credit Card Small business travel 3x on the first $150k in combined annual spending on:

Travel
Shipping purchases
Internet, cable and phone services
Advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines

 $2,000 $95
Capital One VentureOne No annual fee 1.25x on all purchases $280 $0
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Earning miles 2x on all purchases  $700 $95**
The Platinum Card from American Express Lounge access 5x on airfare booked directly

5x on airfare and prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel

Terms apply.

$1,200 $550
(see rates & fees)
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card Travel insurance 2x on travel purchases

2x on dining purchases

1.5x on all other purchases

$500 $95
Chase Sapphire Reserve Travel credits 3x on travel

3x on dining

$1,000 $550
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card Hotel rewards 12x on eligible Hilton purchases

6x at U.S. restaurants, at U.S. supermarkets and at U.S. gas stations

3x on all other purchases

Terms apply.

$750 $95
(see rates & fees)
Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card Airline rewards 3x on eligible Delta purchases

3x on hotel stays

2x at restaurants

2x at U.S. supermarkets

Terms apply.

$1,200 $250 (see rates & fees)
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card International travel 6x on eligible Marriott purchases

2x on all other purchases

$600 $95
American Express Gold Card Worldwide dining 4x at restaurants worldwide

4x at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25k per year; then 1x)

3x on airfare booked directly with airlines

Terms apply.

$700 $250
(see rates & fees)
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card Alaska Airlines miles 3x on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases $820 $75
Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard American Airlines flyers 2x on eligible American Airlines purchases

2x at restaurants

2x at gas stations

$840 $99

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

Best Travel Credit Cards

I’ve done a lot of the 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 starter travel credit card

(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

Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Best for small business travel

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

Why it’s the best travel credit card for small businesses: You’re earning a solid return (6%) across multiple business-focused categories, which can easily add up over the course of a year. Plus, the card gives you access to the Ultimate Rewards program and Chase’s valuable transfer partners. If you’re a small business owner looking for a way to rack up travel rewards on business expenses, this is a great option.

Current bonus: 100,000 bonus points when you spend $15,000 in purchases in the first 3 months.

Rewards rate: Earn 3x on the first $150,000 spent each cardmember year on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines.

Travel benefits: The Ink Business Preferred offers a solid array of travel protections, including trip cancellation/interruption insurance, roadside dispatch, primary rental car insurance, purchase protection and extended warranty protection.

Annual fee: $95

Why it’s worth it: You’re getting a lot of bang for your buck with this card. The bonus alone is worth $2,000 according to TPG valuations and that’s not including the rewards you’ll earn while hitting the spending requirement. You’ll also earn 3x points on a number of common business expenses. The Ink Business Preferred is an Ultimate Rewards credit card, which means you’ll be able to redeem your points by transferring to Chase partners or through the portal at 1.25 cents each.

Further reading: Ink Business Preferred Credit Card review 

APPLY HERE: Ink Business Preferred Credit Card 

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card: Best for no annual fee

Why it’s the best travel credit card for no annual fee: With the VentureOne, you’re earning 1.25x Capital One miles on every purchase, with no annual fee.

Current bonus: 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first three months.

Rewards rate: Earn 1.25x miles on every purchase

Travel benefits: Compared to the Venture, this card doesn’t have any perks such as travel credits. However, that’s to be expected with a no-annual-fee card. You do get valuable protections, including travel accident insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, purchase security and extended warranty.

Annual fee: $0

Why it’s worth it: If you are a beginner spending less than $12,667 a year, this is a great starter credit card for earning miles. You’ll earn Capital One miles, which TPG values at 1.4 cents each. You can redeem miles as a statement credit or you can transfer to one of Capital One’s airline and hotel transfer partners. If you decide that you would like the added earning capabilities and perks of the Capital One Venture Card, you can always request an upgrade down the line.

Further reading: Capital One VentureOne review

APPLY HERE: Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit 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 (waived the first year)

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 recently 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.

The Platinum Card from American Express: Best for lounge access

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Why it’s the best travel credit card for lounge access: With the Amex Platinum, you’ll have access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection (which includes Centurion Lounges), Priority Pass, Airspace and Escapes lounges and Delta Sky Clubs (when flying Delta). No other card (other than the business version) offers this kind of access to lounges around the world.

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). However, be sure to check the CardMatch Tool to see if you’re targeted for a higher welcome bonus (offer subject to change at any time).

Rewards rate: Earn 5x points on airfare purchased directly with the airlines or through Amex Travel and 5x points on prepaid hotels booked through Amex.

Travel benefits: The Amex Platinum really is the king of luxury travel benefits. You’ll get up to $200 in annual airline fee credits, up to $200 in Uber credits, up to $100 in credit at Saks Fifth Avenue and up to $100 credit for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee once every four years. Plus, you’ll get unparalleled lounge access, automatic Gold elite status with Hilton and Marriott and extra perks with Avis Preferred and National Car Rental Emerald Club Executive.

Annual fee: $550 (see rates and fees)

Why it’s worth it: As you can see, 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 $500 in credits each year and various lounge access options, the Amex Platinum is a stellar premium travel credit card that can pave the way to some amazing 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 card highlights include an amazing 5 points per dollar on airfare purchased directly with the airline or through Amex Travel (equal to a 10% return on these purchases) and the ability to add three authorized users for a total of $175 (see rates and fees).

Further reading: American Express Platinum review

APPLY HERE: Platinum Card from American Express

Bank of America Premium Rewards: Best for travel insurance

Why it’s the best travel credit card for travel insurance: It’s not incredibly common for a mid-tier card to offer a perk like the TSA PreCheck application fee credit. This card not only offers that benefit but also a solid rewards rate and other travel benefits.

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).

Rewards rate: Earn 2x on travel and dining purchases, 1.5x on everything else

Travel benefits: In addition to the up to $100 TSA PreCheck/Global Entry application fee credit, you’ll also get an up to $100 airline incidental statement credit for qualifying purchases. Bank of America Preferred Rewards customers supercharge their earnings with an additional 25%-75% points on every purchase.

Annual fee: $95

Why it’s worth it: You might not think of the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card card as a typical travel credit card, since the points it earns can’t be transferred to travel partners but 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 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 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 3.5 points per dollar and the everyday earning rate on all other purchases to a market-leading 2.62 points per dollar.

Further reading: Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card review

APPLY HERE: Bank of America Premium Rewards

Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for travel credits

(Photo by The Points Guy)
(Photo by 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

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass: Best for hotel rewards

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

Why it’s the best travel credit card for hotel rewards: Hilton is one of the top hotel brands in the world and the Hilton Honors Surpass Amex will help you earn rewards while upgrading your hotel stay experiences.

Current bonus: Earn 125,000 bonus points after you use your new card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership.

Rewards rate: Earn 12x on eligible Hilton purchases, 6x at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations, 3x on everything else.

Travel benefits: With this card, you get complimentary Hilton Gold elite status and a free weekend night after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases in the calendar year.

Annual fee: $95 (see rates and fees)

Why it’s worth it: Hilton’s mid-tier card, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass, offers a terrific haul of points and an array of perks to make your stays more rewarding and enjoyable. In fact, the card is a solid offering even for travelers who stay at Hilton properties just a few times a year, since it offers an excellent 12x bonus category on spending at eligible Hilton properties — equivalent to a 7.2% return based on TPG’s point valuations — along with automatic Gold status, which will unlock perks like complimentary breakfast.

Further reading: Hilton Honors American Express Credit Card review

APPLY HERE: Hilton Honors American Express Surpass

Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card: Best for airline rewards

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

Why it’s the best travel credit card for airline rewards: When it comes to cobranded airline cards, it doesn’t get much better than Delta’s lineup of cards. The Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex is a great card for travelers hoping to hit Medallion elite status with the airline while racking up miles across a wide range of purchases.

Current bonus: Earn up to 100,000 bonus miles — 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in your first 3 months and an additional 20,000 bonus miles after your first anniversary of card membership. (Offer expires April 1, 2020).

Rewards rate: Earn 3x on eligible Delta purchases and hotel stays, 2x on restaurants and U.S. supermarkets, 1x on everything else.

Travel benefits: The revamped Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card offers a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit (up to $100), an annual companion certificate for a domestic Main Cabin round-trip ticket each year, elite-like perks like a free checked bag and priority boarding and a way to hit Medallion status faster: Earn 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after $25,000 in eligible purchases and another 10,000 MQMs after spending $50,000 in a calendar year. You’ll also get a Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) waiver after spending $25,000 in a calendar year.

Annual fee: $250 (see rates and fees)

Why it’s worth it: Delta and Amex recently relaunched all seven of their cobranded cards with a new suite of benefits and limited-time welcome offers. The Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex added enhanced bonus categories (including increased 3x earning on Delta) and a host of new travel benefits. The card’s annual fee did increase to $250, so make sure you will get at least that much in value from the card each year. This card is best suited for regular travelers who are loyal to Delta and want a little help earning Medallion status with the airline.

Further reading: Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex Card review

APPLY HERE: Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: Best for international travel

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

Why it’s the best travel credit card for international travel: Marriott properties can be found all over the world, which means this card can help you fund your trip no matter where you’re going. You’ll also pay no foreign transaction fees when you swipe the card outside the U.S.

Current bonus: Earn 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Rewards rate: Earn 6x at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels and 2x on all other purchases

Travel benefits: You’ll earn 15 elite night credits every year, good enough for Marriott Bonvoy Silver elite status and just 10 nights away from Gold. Plus, you’ll receive a free award night good for stays costing up to 35,000 points every year after your account anniversary.

Annual fee: $95

Why it’s worth it: The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless is a TPG reader favorite — it even won Best Cobranded Hotel Credit Card at the 2019 TPG Awards. If you stay at Marriott properties on a regular basis, this is a great time to get this card and score its 75,000 welcome bonus. 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: Marriott Bonvoy Boundless credit card review

APPLY HERE: Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card

American Express Gold Card: Best for worldwide dining

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

Why it’s the best travel credit card for worldwide dining: The Amex Gold earns 4x on dining worldwide, with no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees), meaning you’ll get an 8% return on purchases (based on TPG valuation). This makes it one of the best personal cards to use when you eat out, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Current bonus: Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months (valued by TPG at $700). However, be sure to check the CardMatch Tool to see if you’re targeted for a higher welcome bonus (offer subject to change at any time).

Rewards rate: Earn 4x at restaurants worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 spent each year; then 1x), 3x on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

Travel benefits: You’re getting an up to $100 annual airline fee credit with this card that can be used on things like checked baggage, inflight food and beverages, seat assignments and more. Plus, you’ll get up to $120 in dining credits each year when you pay with the Amex Gold card at participating dining partners.

Annual fee: $250 (see rates and fees)

Why it’s worth it: Amex revamped its Premier Rewards Gold Card in 2018 and reintroduced it as the Amex Gold Card, with new bonus categories and a strong focus on dining. 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: American Express Gold review

APPLY HERE: American Express Gold Card

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card: Best for Alaska Airlines miles

Why it’s the best travel credit card for Alaska Airlines miles: Alaska Airlines miles are among the most valuable airline miles you can earn today, in part due to Alaska’s mix of airline partners and its distance-based award chart (as opposed to revenue-based)

Current bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus miles, plus a $100 statement credit and Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare from $121 ($99 fare, plus taxes and fees from $22) after you spend $2,000 or more on purchases in the first 90 days your account is open.

Rewards rate: Earn 3x miles on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases

Travel benefits: Get a free checked bag on Alaska flights for you and up to six guests on your reservation, receive an annual Companion Fare (starting at $121) on your account anniversary, enjoy 50% off Alaska Lounge and 20% back on all inflight purchases.

Annual fee: $75

Why it’s worth it: Whether you live on the West Coast or not, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature is a good cobranded airline card to consider adding to your wallet. Right now, the card is offering a limited time welcome bonus worth $820 according to TPG valuations.

While the Seattle-based airline is mostly limited to North America routes (with some international destinations through partners), that will change in 2021 when the airline joins the Oneworld alliance. The announcement came alongside the news that American Airlines and Alaska Airlines are renewing (and strengthening) their partnership. Both new developments for Alaska Airlines will help them add new ways for customers to utilize the Mileage Plan program while establishing a global footprint for the airline.

Further reading: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature review

APPLY HERE: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®: Best for American Airlines flyers

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Why it’s the best travel credit card for American Airlines flyers: If you fly American Airlines often, it can be handy to have a cobranded credit card from the airline in your wallet. The Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select offers a nice mix of benefits and earning opportunities for a very manageable $99 annual fee, which makes it great for AA flyers who aren’t looking for lounge access or an abundance of luxury perks.

Current bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,500 in the first three months of account opening.

Rewards rate: Earn 2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, restaurants and gas stations.

Travel benefits: You’ll get preferred boarding, a free checked bag on domestic itineraries, inflight discounts on eligible inflight purchases, access to reduced mileage awards and a $125 American Airlines flight discount when you spend more than $20,000 in a calendar year and renew your card.

Annual fee: $99

Why it’s worth it: For a low annual fee, American Airlines customers can enjoy elite-like benefits without breaking the bank or needing to hit an elite status tier. You’ll earn 2x (a 2.8% return) on three different bonus categories and a few nice benefits to help make the flight experience more enjoyable. Plus, the card is currently offering a welcome bonus that TPG values at $840. If you know how to maximize your AA redemptions, that bonus could potentially be worth even more.

Further reading: Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select card review

APPLY HERE: Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

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 directly 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 Amex Platinum.

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.

Related reading: Best airline credit cards

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 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.

Related reading: Best hotel credit cards

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.

Compare 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.

Related reading: Up to 100,000 bonus miles on select Delta credit cards

On the other hand, if you only fly occasionally and aren’t exclusively loyal 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 — like 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.

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.

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 Card, 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.

Let’s say you are taking a trip to London in the spring. With the points earned through your Amex Platinum, you’ve transferred points to partners for your award flights and hotel stays. However, those aren’t the only expenses that go into a trip. Points and miles won’t cover expenses like ground transportation, eating out or tourist attractions while you’re there. But you can use cash back rewards as a statement credit to offset those costs. For example, if you use a cash back card like the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card for your dining and entertainment spending while abroad, you can use cash back you’ve saved up previously to cover those purchases while still earning 4% back. The information for the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

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.

Are there different considerations for choosing a card for international travel?

Not all travel credit cards are the best choice for spending outside of the U.S. Some tack on fees for expenses not made within the U.S. or on a U.S. site. Others may not be as broadly accepted oversees. Plus, some cards do a better job of offering benefits that help you on your international adventures.

Here are a few of the things to look out for when choosing a card for international travel:

  • Foreign transaction fees — Some cards charge a flat fee (typically 3% to 5% for each transaction) when you use your card outside of the U.S. (including sites that are considered international and not U.S.-based). That fee will wipe out any rewards you may earn, so you want to make sure you have a card that charges no foreign transaction fees.
  • TSA PreCheck/Global Entry — TSA PreCheck and Global Entry can make security lines go faster and reentry into the U.S. a smoother process. Luckily, plenty of top travel credit cards come with a TSA PreCheck/Global Entry application fee credit that is typically worth $100.
  • Insurance benefits — 2019 saw the decline of travel insurance benefits across many credit cards, but it remains an important factor to consider. No one wants to think about the worst-case scenario happening while on vacation, but it’s better to be prepared with a card that offers some form of travel protections.
  • Earning abroad — Some cards limit your bonus categories to U.S. merchants. If you plan on using your credit card abroad, make sure you’re choosing a card that will earn rewards on purchases no matter where you are traveling to.

Bottom line

Travel credit cards are great credit cards to help meet your vacation 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. Adding one of these cards to your wallet now could help you save up rewards for an amazing redemption in the future.

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

Featured photo by The Points Guy


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