The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards of 2018

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The best travel credit card is the one that suits your specific travel needs. Of course, every traveler is different, so this set of travel credit card reviews will help you weigh the pros and cons and find the best card for your individual needs. I review all the details including bonus offers and perks such as Global Entry fee credit &  select Priority Pass Access. Travel rewards can add up quickly, so it’s important to apply and start earning as soon as you can while maximizing your points and miles! Now, without further ado, here are my expert reviews of the best travel credit cards.

Best Travel Credit Cards 

A star (⭐)  indicates a limited time offer with the highest ever publicly available welcome bonus.

How to choose the best travel credit card

I reviewed numerous travel credit card offers and spent countless hours studying the pros and cons of each offer.  My method to assigning value to these cards relied upon 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 the individual point will always be a very important factor when rating travel credit cards and their promotional offers.

Things to consider before applying:

Travel Credit Card Comparison Table

As always, head to the All Cards Hub to see every credit card currently available. With that out of the way, here are more details about the best travel credit card offers available right now.

The Platinum Card from American Express

Bonus Offer Bonus Value** Perks Value Annual Fee Total Value
60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. Terms Apply. $1,140 $200 airline fee credit to cover incidental fees, up to $200 annual Uber credits, up to $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit, $250 lounge access ($750 total). Terms Apply. $550 $1,340

 

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Bonus Offer Bonus Value** Perks Value Annual Fee Total Value
50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months $1,000 N/A $95* $1,000

Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express

Bonus Offer Bonus Value** Perks Value Annual Fee Total Value
150,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months $900 $250 in statement credits for Hilton purchases each cardmember year, $250 in airline incidental fee credits per calendar year ($500 total). Terms Apply. $450 $950

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Bonus Offer Bonus Value** Perks Value Annual Fee Total Value
50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months $1,000 $300 annual travel credit $450 $850

Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card 

Bonus Offer Bonus Value** Perks Value Annual Fee Total Value
100,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. Bonus expires October 31, 2018. $900 Up to $300 in statement credits each account year for eligible purchases at Marriott or SPG hotels $450 $750

British Airways Visa Signature

Bonus Offer Bonus Value** Perks Value Annual Fee Total Value
50,000 Avios after you spend $3,000 in the first three months (Earn an additional 25,000 Avios after you spend $10,000 in the first year. Plus, an extra 25,000 Avios after you spend $20,000 total in the first year.) $750 N/A $95 $655

Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card

Bonus Offer Bonus Value** Perks Value Annual Fee Total Value
50,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days $500 $100 airline incidental statement credit each calendar year $95 $505

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Bonus Offer Bonus Value** Perks Value Annual Fee Total Value
50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months $500 N/A $95* $500

American Express Gold Card

Bonus Offer Bonus Value** Perks Value Annual Fee Total Value
25,000 miles after you spend $2,000 within the first 3 months. Plus, 20% back as a statement credit at US Restaurants within the first 3 months, up to $100 back (offer ends January 9, 2019) $475 Up to $120 in statement credits each year when you pay with the Gold card at participating dining partners. $100 airline fee credit ($200 total). $250 $425

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

Detailed Reviews

Now, let’s take a look at the details of each of these cards and offers, including their bonus values and some of the ways I’ve been able to put the cards’ benefits to use. Here are the individual assessments for each travel credit card.

The Platinum Card from American Express

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

Best For: Purchasing airfare, total value

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

Current Bonus Value: $1,340

Standout Benefits:

  • Earn 5x points on airfare booked directly with the airline or Amex Travel and prepaid hotels purchased through Amex Travel. You can transfer the Membership Rewards points you earn with this card to a total of 20 airline and hotel partners.
  • $200 annual airline rebate for incidental fees
  • Up to $200 in annual Uber credits
  • Up to $100 in credit at Saks Fifth Avenue
  • Rebate for the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee
  • Centurion Lounge and Priority Pass lounge access, plus Delta Sky Club access when you’re flying Delta.
  • Terms Apply
  • Read the full card review here.

Annual Fee: $550

Why it’s worth it: As you can see in the chart above, a ton of factors contribute to this card’s overall value; it’s not just the 60k bonus that lands it near the top of this list. But even apart from the $200 annual airline fee credit, the $200 in Uber credits awarded each year, the recently added $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit and the various lounge access options, the Amex Platinum is a stellar premium card that can pave the way to some amazing award flights and other redemptions. Among the Membership Rewards program’s 20 travel partners is Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, which is your only option if you want to book the ultra-premium Singapore Suites using miles. Other highlights include an amazing 5 points per dollar on airfare (equal to a 9.5% return on these purchases), complimentary Hilton Honors Gold and SPG Gold status and the ability to add three authorized users for a total of $175.

APPLY HERE: Platinum Card from American Express

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.

Best For: Beginners

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.

Current Bonus Value: $1,050

Standout Benefits: 

  • Earn 2 points per dollar on all travel purchases and on dining at restaurants and 1 point per dollar on everything else
  • Transfer points to 13 different travel partners
  • Primary auto rental insurance
  • Trip cancellation coverage
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Read the full card review here.

Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)

Why it’s worth it: It doesn’t offer the bells and the whistles of the much more expensive Chase Sapphire Reserve card, but the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a great pick for earning bonus points on travel and dining, and for enjoying some solid travel protections in the process. I’ve utilized Ultimate Rewards points with partners such as United, which I used to book an emergency ticket home in Lufthansa first class, but you can also redeem the points directly through the Chase travel portal for 1.25 cents apiece. Whether you simply don’t want to spend $450 a year to get the Sapphire Reserve or if your credit score currently isn’t high enough to qualify for that premium card, the Sapphire Preferred remains a very solid option — and the $95 annual fee is even waived for the first year.

APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

 

Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express

Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Credit Card

Best For: Hotel elite status

Current Bonus: 150,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $4,000 in the first three months.

Current Bonus Value: $950

Standout Benefits:

  • Earn 14 points per dollar on Hilton purchases
  • Earn 7 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, on car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at US restaurants
  • Earn 3 points per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Complimentary Hilton Diamond status
  • Enjoy one weekend night each year, plus earn an additional night after you spend $60,000 on the card in a calendar year.
  • $250 Hilton resort statement credit each year of card membership
  • Up to $250 per calendar year in credits for airline incidental fees
  • $100 Hilton on-property credit when you book a two-night minimum stay with the card at HiltonHonors.com/aspirecard
  • Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Terms Apply

Annual Fee: $450

Why it’s worth it: As far as hotel co-branded cards go, this one’s pretty impressive. In exchange for the steep $450 fee, you get generous earning rates at Hilton hotels and a variety of annual travel credits (up to $500 between the airline incidental fee credit and the Hilton resort statement credit, and more if you can utilize the $100 on-property credit for Hilton stays). Beyond that you get a Priority Pass airport lounge membership, giving you and up to guests free access.

APPLY HERE: Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express

 

Chase Sapphire Reserve

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

Best For: Travel perks and points earning on travel and dining

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

Current Bonus Value: $900

Standout Benefits: 

  • Earn 3 points per dollar on travel (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
  • Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Trip cancellation coverage
  • Primary car rental insurance
  • Read the full card review here

Annual Fee: $450

Why it’s worth it: The Sapphire Reserve won our battle of the premium credit cards for a reason: It offers a stellar selection of perks, from a $300 annual travel credit that can be used toward a wide variety of purchases, to the ability to redeem points for 1.5 cents apiece through the Chase travel portal. Best of all, if you have this card, the Ultimate Rewards points you earn on other Chase cards can also be redeemed at the 1.5-cent rate. You also get an impressive 3x points on travel (after $300 travel credit exhausted) 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.

APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Reserve

 

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card 

Best For: Marriott and SPG stays

Current Bonus: Earn 100,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. This bonus is available until October 31, 2018.

Current Bonus Value: $900

Standout Benefits: 

  • Earn 6 points per dollar at Marriott and SPG hotels
  • Earn 3 points per dollar at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines
  • Earn 2 points per dollar on everything else
  • Up to $300 in statement credits each cardmember year for eligible purchases at Marriott and SPG hotels
  • Receive a free night award every year after your cardmember anniversary, good for one night at a property that costs up to 50,000 points.
  • Complimentary Gold elite status
  • Earn Platinum status by spending $75,000 on the card in a calendar year
  • Terms Apply

Annual Fee: $450

Why it’s worth it: This recently launched card is the most premium co-branded option available for Marriott and SPG stays. Now that the merger of the two brands is complete, you use this car to earn Marriott points that can be redeemed at more than 6,000 properties across the combined Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and SPG portfolios. The $300 in annual statement credits can be used for room rates as well as incidentals at eligible hotels, and the complimentary Gold status you get as a cardholder entitles you to a 25% point bonus, priority late checkout and space-available upgrades to enhanced rooms. If you’re interested in applying, make sure you do so before the end of October to get the 100,000-point welcome bonus.

APPLY HERE: Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card

 

British Airways Visa Signature Card

Travel credit cards 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.

Best For: British Airways flyers

Current Bonus: You can earn up to 100,000 Avios — 50,000 Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months, an additional 25,000 Avios after you spend $10,000 total on purchases in the first year. Plus, an extra 25,000 Avios after you spend $20,000 total in the first year.

Current Bonus Value: $655

Standout Benefits: 

  • Earn 3 Avios per dollar on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios per dollar on everything else
  • If you spend $30,000 on the card in a calendar year, you’ll get a Travel Together Ticket for a companion to use.
  • No foreign transaction fees

Annual Fee: $95

Why it’s worth it: Even if you don’t spend a total of $20,000 in the first year to earn 100,000 Avios, earning 50,000 Avios can open the door to some great redemptions, such as domestic business-class awards on American and off-peak Aer Lingus flights to Europe. And if you can put a lot of spending on this card, you might be able to unlock the Travel Together Ticket, which gets a companion a free flight but doesn’t include taxes and fees, which can be substantial.

APPLY HERE: British Airways Visa Signature Card

 

Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card

bank of america premium rewards
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

Best For: BofA Preferred Rewards members

Current Bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. That’s $500 worth of rewards.

Standout Benefits: 

  • Earn 2 points per dollar on travel and dining purchases and 1.5 points per dollar on everything else.
  • $100 airline incidental statement credit toward seat upgrades, baggage fees and more
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit
  • Earn up to a 75% points bonus if you’re a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member

Annual Fee: $95

Why it’s worth it: This credit card stands out in a few interesting ways. For one, it acts more like a cash-back card, with points worth 1 cent apiece as a statement credit or as a deposit into eligible Bank of America or Merrill Lynch accounts. So even though this card’s value of $505 is lower than many others on this list, those other values are based on our valuations and assume you’ll be redeeming points for lucrative award travel, such as a premium-cabin flight. With the Bank of America Premium Rewards card, on the other hand, you’re getting straight cash, arguably making it even more valuable. This card can be even more lucrative if, like me, you’re a Preferred Rewards member. As a Platinum Honors member with $100,000+ in BoFA/Merrill Lynch accounts, I earn a 75% bonus on top of the card’s 2x and 1.5x categories — netting me 3.5x on travel and dining and 2.625x on everyday spend.

APPLY HERE: Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card

 

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy Travel credit cards
Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy

Best For: Flat-rate rewards

Current Bonus: Earn 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months.

Current Bonus Value: $500

Standout Benefits:

Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)

Why it’s worth it: The Capital One Venture Rewards card has always been a popular choice for folks who prefer to keep things simple and don’t want to chase award availability. The card’s “Purchase Eraser” feature allows customers to use their Venture Rewards miles to offset the cost of any travel purchases made on their card in the previous 90 days at a rate of 1 cent per mile. But the addition of Capital One’s partnership with Hotels.com has made this card a true standout when it comes to hotels, since you can effectively earn 20% back on all your hotel stays by stacking the Hotels.com Rewards program with the 10x miles earned on those stays with the Venture Rewards when booked and paid through Hotels.com/venture.

APPLY HERE: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

 

American Express Gold Card

Best For: Dining

Current Bonus: Earn 25,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months. Plus, new cardholders who apply by Jan. 9, 2019 can also receive 20% back as a statement credit, up to $100, on dining purchases at US restaurants in the first three months of cardmembership.

Current Bonus Value: $475

Standout Benefits:

  • Earn 4x points at US restaurants
  • Earn 4x points at US 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 $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold card at participating dining partners
  • $100 annual airline fee credit
  • Terms Apply

Annual Fee: $250

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 US restaurants, the card now offers the most competitive return on dining spending (7.6% based on our valuations), though you’ll want to use another card to earn bonus points when you eat abroad. The card also earns 4x points on the first $25,000 spent per year at US supermarkets, and 3x points on flights. With this card, Amex finally has a strong option for dining purchases. The annual fee is now $55 and not waived the first year, but thanks to the new earning rates and benefits it could be worth it for you.

APPLY HERE: American Express Gold Card

 

Ranking Criteria: How We Chose The Best Travel Card

As you can see,  the bulk of the value comes from the bonus itself — I used my latest valuations to calculate a dollar amount for each offer. From there, I added in the value of perks such as annual travel credits and lounge access. For the Platinum Card from American Express, which offers Centurion Lounge access plus Delta Sky Club access when you’re flying Delta, I assigned a value of $250 for these perks. Yes, the cards do offer Priority Pass lounge access as well, but this benefit is available through many cards so I opted to leave this — along with Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credits — out of my calculations.

Also, a few of these cards offer tiered bonuses. For these cards, if the total spending requirement across multiple tiers is higher than $5,000, I focused on the value you’d get by meeting the lowest spending requirement. As an example, with the British Airways Visa Signature Card, I calculated the value of 50,000 Avios rather than 100,000, which you could earn if you spent $20,000 on the card in your first account year.

 

Here is a recap of the best travel credit cards. Remember, the best travel card is the one that meets your specific travel needs!

Best Travel Credit Cards of Fall 2018:

  1. The Platinum Card® from American Express
  2. Chase Sapphire Preferred
  3. Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express
  4. Chase Sapphire Reserve
  5. Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card
  6. British Airways Visa Signature
  7. Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card
  8. Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
  9. American Express Gold Card

 


This is The Points Guy’s permanent page for the best travel rewards cards, so you can bookmark it and check back regularly for updates. Keep in mind you may see some reader comments referring to older offers below.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.

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.