The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards of 2018
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Looking for the best travel credit cards? You’ve come to the right place. There are many credit cards out there that claim to be “the best travel credit card,” so I’ve gone through all the hundreds of credit cards on the market today and narrowed the list down to the very best travel credit cards of 2018. 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. But 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 of 2018 based on my valuations:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best Total Value
- Chase Sapphire Preferred: Best Starter Credit Card
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for Travel Perks & Points:
- Citi ThankYou Premier Card: Best for Gas Purchases
- Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard: Best for American flyers
- United Explorer Card: Best for United flyers
- British Airways Visa Signature: Best for British Airways Flyers
- Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express: Best for Hotel Elite Status
- Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card & Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express: Best for Marriott
- IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card: Best for IHG Stays
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best for Flat-Rate Rewards
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card: Best Card with No Annual Fee
A star (⭐) indicates a limited time offer with the highest ever publicly available welcome bonus.
How to chose the best travel credit 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.
Before diving into the list, make sure to check out these posts for information on how applying for new cards affects your credit score, what to know about credit scores, mistakes to avoid and more. Keep in mind that applying for multiple cards and using them responsibly can actually boost your credit score in the long run, but you definitely need to know what you’re doing before just signing up for every appealing offer that comes your way.
- 5 Things To Understand About Credit Before Applying For Cards
- 3 Key Considerations for Improving Your Credit Score
- Debunking Credit Card Myths: Does Applying For A Card Permanently Impact My Credit Score
- Avoiding Late Payments and Other Silly Credit Card Mistakes
Best Travel Credit Card Comparisons:
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.
|Credit Card||Bonus Offer||Bonus Value**||Perks Value||Annual Fee||Total Value|
|The Platinum Card from American Express||60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. Terms Apply.||$1,140||$200 airline fee credit to cover incidental fees, up to $200 annual Uber credits, up to $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit, $250 lounge access ($750 total). Terms Apply.||$550||$1,340|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months||$1,050||N/A||$95*||$1,050|
|Citi ThankYou Premier Card||60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first four months||$1,020||N/A||$95*||$1,020|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months||$1,050||$300 annual travel credit||$450||$900|
|Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard||50,000 miles after you spend $2,500 in the first three months||$700||N/A||$99*||$700|
|Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express||75,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months||$675||N/A||$95*||$675|
|United Explorer Card||40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months||$560||N/A||$95*||$560|
|British Airways Visa Signature||50,000 Avios after you spend $3,000 in the first three months (Earn an additional 25,000 Avios after you spend $10,000 in the first year. Plus, an extra 25,000 Avios after you spend $20,000 total in the first year.)||$750||N/A||$95||$655|
|Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express||100,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months||$600||$250 in statement credits for Hilton purchases each cardmember year, $250 in airline incidental fee credits per calendar year ($500 total). Terms Apply.||$450||$650|
|Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card||75,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months||$675||N/A||$95||$580|
|IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card||100,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months||$600||N/A||$89||$511|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months||$500||N/A||$95*||$500|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card||30,000 points after you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months||$300***||N/A||$0||$300***|
*Annual fee waived the first year.
**Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer.
***The bonus value on the Wells Fargo Propel Amex increases to $450 if you pair it with the Wells Fargo Visa Signature Card
Full details on our top travel credit cards
Now, let’s take a look at the details of each of these cards and offers, including their bonus values and some of the ways I’ve been able to put the cards’ benefits to use.
Current Bonus: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first three months.
Current Bonus Value: $1,340
Standout Benefits: Earn 5x points on airfare booked directly with the airline or Amex Travel and prepaid hotels purchased through Amex Travel. You can transfer the Membership Rewards points you earn with this card to a total of 20 airline and hotel partners.You also get a $200 annual airline rebate for incidental fees, up to $200 in annual Uber credits, up to $100 in credit at Saks Fifth Avenue and a rebate for the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee. Additionally, the card offers Centurion Lounge and Priority Pass lounge access, plus Delta Sky Club access when you’re flying Delta. Read the full card review here.
Annual Fee: $550
Why it’s worth it: As you can see in the chart above, a ton of factors contribute to this card’s overall value; it’s not just the 60k bonus that lands it near the top of this list. But even apart from the $200 annual airline fee credit, the $200 in Uber credits awarded each year, the recently added $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit and the various lounge access options, the Amex Platinum is a stellar premium card that can pave the way to some amazing award flights and other redemptions. Among the Membership Rewards program’s 20 travel partners is Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, which is your only option if you want to book the ultra-premium Singapore Suites using miles. Other highlights include an amazing 5 points per dollar on airfare (equal to a 9.5% return on these purchases), complimentary Hilton Honors Gold and SPG Gold status and the ability to add three authorized users for a total of $175.
Current Bonus: 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That’s $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards. You can also earn another 5,000 bonus points by adding an authorized user and making a purchase within the first three months.
Current Bonus Value: $1,050
Standout Benefits: Earn 2 points per dollar on all travel purchases and on dining at restaurants and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Transfer points to 13 different travel partners. Primary auto rental insurance, trip cancellation coverage and no foreign transaction fees. Read the full card review here.
Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)
Why it’s worth it: It doesn’t offer the bells and the whistles of the much more expensive Chase Sapphire Reserve card, but the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a great pick for earning bonus points on travel and dining, and for enjoying some solid travel protections in the process. I’ve utilized Ultimate Rewards points with partners such as United, which I used to book an emergency ticket home in Lufthansa first class, but you can also redeem the points directly through the Chase travel portal for 1.25 cents apiece. Whether you simply don’t want to spend $450 a year to get the Sapphire Reserve or if your credit score currently isn’t high enough to qualify for that premium card, the Sapphire Preferred remains a very solid option — and the $95 annual fee is even waived for the first year.
Current Bonus: Earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months.
Current Bonus Value: $900
Standout Benefits: Earn 3 points per dollar on travel and dining at restaurants and 1 point per dollar on everything else. You can redeem points directly through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal at a rate of 1.5 cents apiece. $300 annual travel credit, Priority Pass Select lounge access, a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit, no foreign transaction fees, trip cancellation coverage and primary car rental insurance. Read the full card review here.
Annual Fee: $450
Why it’s worth it: The Sapphire Reserve won our battle of the premium credit cards for a reason: It offers a stellar selection of perks, from a $300 annual travel credit that can be used toward a wide variety of purchases, to the ability to redeem points for 1.5 cents apiece through the Chase travel portal. Best of all, if you have this card, the Ultimate Rewards points you earn on other Chase cards can also be redeemed at the 1.5-cent rate. You also get an impressive 3x points on travel and dining purchases, which equates to a 6.3% return based on my valuations. This card is a prime example of benefits more than making up for a steep annual fee.
Current Bonus: Earn 60,000 ThankYou points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months.
Current Bonus Value: $1,020
Standout Benefits: Earn 3 points per dollar on travel including gas stations, 2 points per dollar on dining out and entertainment and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. Transfer your points to 15 airline programs, or book flights through the Citi travel portal at a rate of 1.25 cents per point. There are no foreign transaction fees. Read the full card review here.
Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)
Why it’s worth it: Citi ThankYou Rewards isn’t the most impressive loyalty program when it comes to transfer partners, especially since it no longer has a hotel partner after Hilton moved to an exclusive relationship with Amex. Still, programs like Avianca LifeMiles and Flying Blue can be great destinations for your points when you’re looking to book flight awards. The ThankYou Premier offers a solid return on travel — and unlike other cards with bonus rewards for travel purchases, it includes gas stations in its 3x category. Plus, you get a full year to test out the card before you have to pay the annual fee.
Current Bonus: Earn 50,000 miles after you spend $2,500 in the first three months.
Current Bonus Value: $700
Standout Benefits: Earn 2 miles per dollar on American Airlines purchases and at restaurants and gas stations and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. Earn a $100 flight discount after spending $20,000 in a cardmember year and then renewing. Get a free checked bag on domestic AA itineraries and enjoy preferred boarding. Read the full card review here.
Annual Fee: $99 (waived the first year)
Why it’s worth it: The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select is the latest airline co-branded personal credit card to start offering bonus miles on purchases beyond airfare. Now, in addition to earning 2x miles on spending with American Airlines, with this card you’ll get 2x miles at restaurants and gas stations. It’s not the most rewarding card for these spending categories, but if earning American miles is your top priority and you use this card for most spending, this is welcome news, as is the just-added ability to earn a $100 flight discount after you spend $20,000 on the card in a membership year. Another reason to sign up now: The card’s offering an elevated sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles — 10,000 miles more than the previous offer. The card’s annual fee did increase from $95 to $99, but that’s easy to swallow especially given the favorable changes and elevated sign-up offer.
Current Bonus: Earn 40,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first three months
Current Bonus Value: $560
Standout Benefits: You’ll get 2 miles per dollar spent on tickets purchased from United, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. As a cardholder you’ll have access to enhanced award availability and will enjoy priority boarding and a free checked bag for you and one companion on the same reservation. Plus, get two United Club passes each year. No foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: $95 (currently waived the first year)
Why it’s worth it: Just as the Citi / AAdvantage cards make sense if you frequently travel on American, this co-branded option can make your life easier if you often fly with United. This United card is currently waiving the annual fee for the first year, so now could be an ideal time to add it to your wallet (though we have seen higher sign-up offers, without a waived fee). One of the most appealing benefits is the extra United award seat availability you get access to, letting you book seats that non-cardholders can’t. Another solid perk is the ability to waive the Premier-Qualifying Dollar (PQD) requirement for United elite status (excluding Premier 1K) when you spend $25,000 on the card (or across multiple United cards) in a calendar year.
Current Bonus: You can earn up to 100,000 Avios — 50,000 Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months, an additional 25,000 Avios after you spend $10,000 total on purchases in the first year. Plus, an extra 25,000 Avios after you spend $20,000 total in the first year.
Current Bonus Value: $655
Standout Benefits: Earn 3 Avios per dollar on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios per dollar on everything else. If you spend $30,000 on the card in a calendar year, you’ll get a Travel Together Ticket for a companion to use. No foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: $95
Why it’s worth it: Even if you don’t spend a total of $20,000 in the first year to earn 100,000 Avios, earning 50,000 Avios can open the door to some great redemptions, such as domestic business-class awards on American and off-peak Aer Lingus flights to Europe. And if you can put a lot of spending on this card, you might be able to unlock the Travel Together Ticket, which gets a companion a free flight but doesn’t include taxes and fees, which can be substantial.
Current Bonus: 100,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $4,000 in the first three months.
Current Bonus Value: $650
Standout Benefits: Earn 14 points per dollar on Hilton purchases; 7 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, on car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at US restaurants; and 3 points per dollar on all other purchases. Get complimentary Hilton Diamond status. Enjoy one weekend night each year, plus earn an additional night after you spend $60,000 on the card in a calendar year. Plus, get a variety of annual credits: a $250 Hilton resort statement credit each year of card membership and up to $250 per calendar year in credits for airline incidental fees. You also get a $100 Hilton on-property credit when you book a two-night minimum stay with the card at HiltonHonors.com/aspirecard, and a Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership. No foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: $450
Why it’s worth it: As far as hotel co-branded cards go, this one’s pretty impressive. In exchange for the steep $450 fee, you get generous earning rates at Hilton hotels and a variety of annual travel credits (up to $500 between the airline incidental fee credit and the Hilton resort statement credit, and more if you can utilize the $100 on-property credit for Hilton stays). Beyond that you get a Priority Pass airport lounge membership, giving you and up to guests free access.
Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card and the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
Current Bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months from account opening. This bonus is available on both the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Card and the Starwood Amex.
Current Bonus Value: $580 on the Marriott card, $675 on the SPG Amex (because its annual fee is waived the first year)
Standout Benefits: Earn 6x points at Marriott and SPG hotels and 2x points on everything else. Get a free night award every year after your account anniversary, valid for a one-night hotel stay at property with a redemption level of up to 35,000 points. You also get automatic Silver elite status, plus 15 elite night credits each calendar year (starting in 2019).
Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year on the SPG Amex)
Why it’s worth it: The Premier Plus card replaces the Marriott Rewards Premier Card, and was announced alongside plenty of other updates about the combined Marriott and SPG program. Though the annual fee is $10 higher, this new card is a step up in several ways. For one, you now earn 6 rather than 5 points per dollar on Marriott and SPG stays, plus the free night award is now effectively more generous since previously it was only good for properties that cost up to 25,000 points per night (Category 5 hotels). The card also offers you the option to spend your way to Gold elite status, after making $35,000 in purchases each account year, starting in 2019. The SPG Amex, meanwhile, is no longer the best card for everyday spending since its earning rate effectively decreased by 33%, but if you’re looking to earn rewards to use for stays in the combined portfolio of Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and Starwood hotels, this current offer is a strong one. 75,000 points are worth $675 based on my valuations, and factoring in the Marriott card’s annual fee (not waived the first year), you’re getting $580 in value on that card.
Current Bonus: Earn 100,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months.
Current Bonus Value: $511
Standout Benefits: Earn 10 points per dollar on IHG stays; 2 points per dollar at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants; and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Get an anniversary free night each account anniversary year, good at IHG properties that charge 40,000 points or less per night. Get a fourth night free on award stays. Enjoy complimentary Platinum Elite status as a cardholder.
Annual Fee: $89
Why it’s worth it: When this card launched earlier in 2018, it came with a sign-up bonus of 80,000 IHG points. Now, that offer’s been boosted to 100,000 points — worth $600 based on our valuations. The annual fee isn’t waived the first year, but you’re still looking at $511 in value in the first year with that $89 fee factored in. This card is an excellent option for IHG stays, since you’ll earn 10 points per dollar on that spending, and it also includes an annual free award night (that kicks in after your first account anniversary year) and complimentary Platinum Elite status in the IHG Rewards program.
Current Bonus: Earn 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months.
Current Bonus Value: $500
Standout Benefits: Earn 2 miles per dollar on all purchases, and 10 miles per dollar on hotel rooms when booked at Hotels.com through the dedicated link and paid for with the card. Get a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit every four years. The card also has no foreign transaction fees. Read the full card review here.
Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)
Why it’s worth it: The Capital One Venture Rewards card has always been a popular choice for folks who prefer to keep things simple and don’t want to chase award availability. The card’s “Purchase Eraser” feature allows customers to use their Venture Rewards miles to offset the cost of any travel purchases made on their card in the previous 90 days at a rate of 1 cent per mile. But the addition of Capital One’s partnership with Hotels.com has made this card a true standout when it comes to hotels, since you can effectively earn 20% back on all your hotel stays by stacking the Hotels.com Rewards program with the 10x miles earned on those stays with the Venture Rewards when booked and paid through Hotels.com/venture.
Current Bonus: Earn 30,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months.
Current Bonus Value: $300 ($450 when paired with the Wells Fargo Visa Signature)
Standout Benefits: Earn 3 points per dollar on a broad array of categories, including travel, transit, eating out and ordering in, gas stations and select streaming services. The card also comes with cell phone protection, which covers the cost of replacing your phone up to $600 if it’s stolen or damaged when you pay your cell phone bill with the Propel Amex. The card has no foreign transaction fees. Read the full card review here.
Annual Fee: $0
Why it’s worth it: The Propel Amex was recently revamped by Wells Fargo, and the issuer has added enough new features to make this no-annual-fee card worth a good long look. The Go Far Rewards points you earn with this card can easily be redeemed for cash back at a flat rate of 1 cent per point, which puts the Propel Amex at the top of the list when it comes to welcome bonus value on cards with no annual fee. Also included in the card’s 3x bonus categories is select streaming services, a category you simply won’t find on many other credit cards. But the real secret of the Propel Amex is the one-two punch it delivers when you pair it with the Wells Fargo Visa Signature Card. Combining the points from both cards increases their value to 1.5 cents apiece when redeemed for airfare. That pushes the 3x categories to a return of 4.5 cents per dollar, making the Propel Amex one of the best cards on the market in its bonus categories. (The information related to the Wells Fargo Visa Signature has been collected by The Points Guy and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.)
Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer.
Ranking criteria & valuation authority:
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.
Read More About Popular Points Programs:
General Points Programs:
Airline Points Programs
- American Airlines AAdvantage
- British Airways Executive Club
- Southwest Rapid Rewards
- United MileagePlus
- Virgin America Elevate
Hotel Points Programs:
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.
This cash back card has a focus on dining and entertainment where you can earn unlimited 4% cash back in those spending categories. You can also earn 2% cash back at grocery stores and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
- Earn a one-time $500 cash bonus after you spend $3000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
- Earn unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases
- No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
- No foreign transaction fees
- Access to premium experiences in dining, entertainment and more
- $0 intro annual fee for the first year, $95 after that