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Best vacation credit cards of August 2021

The right credit card could greatly reduce the cost of your next vacation. CardRatings editors reveal the best hotel credit cards, airline cards, and more.
Jennifer Doss, CardRatings Editor Last Updated, July 30, 2021

Our credit card articles, reviews and ratings maintain strict editorial integrity; however we may be compensated when you click on or are approved for offers (terms apply) from our partners. How we make money.

best vacation credit cards

TOP CREDIT CARDS FOR VACATIONS

You probably don't plan your vacation around your credit cards, but you likely pay for it with them. After all, vacations aren't cheap, and if you don't have a card that offers much in the rewards department, you're paying more for your trip than you need to.

If you're a consistent credit card user you have might have already earned yourself enough points to help you book your next trip. Airline miles and free hotel stays really come in handy when planning a vacation. If this isn't the case though, when it comes to planning your next vacation, a rewards credit card from our partners could be your new best friend. Three points per dollar spent at the gas pump can really add up when you're taking a cross-country road trip. So could four points per dollar spent on flights. Especially if you're buying tickets for the whole family.

Knowing you're earning some money back while enjoying a much-deserved trip only makes vacation that much sweeter. And who knows, you might even earn enough rewards off that one vacation alone that you can start thinking about where you'll go next...

Or maybe you aren't going anywhere this season... If that's the case, you're still presumably going to go out and have some fun (hopefully). Maybe you'll dine out a lot, or drive out to the beach or to the swimming pool, or ski resort every chance you get. If your credit card is weak with its rewards, once again, you could be missing out.

Using a credit card on vacation is much safer than carrying around loads of cash, or even using a debit card. The security benefits credit card companies offer these days are top-notch, and purchases made with a credit card are much more secure. At the very least, even if it won't be the main way you make purchases, it's smart to have a credit card with you while on vacation (and arguably, at all times) just in case. If you lose your cash, it's gone. If someone gets a hold of your debit card information and makes purchases, well, chances are, most of that money will be gone as well. Debit and credit cards are treated differently by consumer protection laws, and under federal law, your personal liability for fraudulent charges on a credit card can't exceed $50 (or $0 depending on your credit card issuer). However, if a fraudster uses your debit card, you could be liable for $500 or more, depending on how quickly you report suspicious activity. And since many credit cards offer security and account alerts, automatically notifying you of any suspicious behavior, chances are, fraudsters won't get far if they do happen to come across your credit card account information.

If you're looking for the best credit cards for summer vacation, here are some ideas — and afterwards, we'll regroup with a few credit card money saving strategies you'll want to utilize, no matter which credit card you choose.

BEST VACATION CREDIT CARD FOR FLEXIBILITY

5
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
The great thing about the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is that it earns users unlimited two miles back on every purchase made, no matter the category. So whether you're using the card to pay for new luggage, plane tickets, dinner, gas, or road trip snacks, you can rest easy knowing you're being rewarded for every single vacation purchase you make. Another big reason to consider including this card in your vacation plans is because of its numerous travel benefits. Not only do Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card holders receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®, but they also have access to travel accident insurance, 24-hour travel assistance services, and auto rental collision damage coverage. Plus, this card has no foreign transaction fees, making it a great vacation companion whether you're traveling near or far.

The Bonus: Enjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within three months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel.

Annual Fee: $95

Foreign Transaction Fee: None

The Rewards: Earn an unlimited two miles on all purchases.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

PROS:

  • Miles earned with this card can be redeemed to cover almost any travel purchase, so whether you want your miles to cover a car rental, hotel or Airbnb stay, or plane tickets, the world is your oyster.
  • Venture Miles come with several flexible redemption options including the opportunity to transfer miles to the hotel and airline loyalty programs.
  • The card comes with additional perks such as 24-hour travel assistance services and travel accident insurance.

CONS:

  • If you spend a lot in specific categories, you might be able to earn more with a tiered or rotating-category rewards card.
  • The card comes with a $95 annual fee that is easily offset by its valuable benefits.

Read our full Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card review.

Current Scores Past Scores
Overall Score 81.6 84.4
Rewards Program Satisfaction 7.9 8.2
Customer Service 8.3 8.4
Website/App Usability 8.5 8.4
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 8.8 9.1
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 8.1 8.6

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

 

EDITOR'S NOTE

Like the sound of the Venture® card but not interested in paying an annual fee? Consider the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card instead. This no-annual-fee card still earns rewards on every purchase (1.25X miles per dollar spent) and those rewards can be redeemed towards almost any travel purchase. Plus, there's a decent welcome bonus for a card with no annual fee. New cardholders can earn 20,000 bonus miles once spending just $500 with the card in the first three months of membership.


BEST VACATION CREDIT CARD FOR THE POINT REDEMPTION VALUE

5
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
A welcome bonus can go a long way when it comes to planning a vacation, and with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, new cardholders can look forward to a whopping $1,250 bonus when opening an account. Thanks to Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card's highest ever bonus offer of 100,000 bonus points (worth $1,250 when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®), vacation planning just got a bit less expensive, and more fun. Alternatively, you could redeem for cash (worth $1,000), or transfer your points to popular hotel and airline partners at a 1:1 ratio, but we think having $1,250 to put toward your trip sounds like a whole lot more fun!

The Bonus: Earn 100,000 points once spending $4,000 within the first three months of opening an account. Points are worth $1,000 when redeemed for cash, or $1,250 when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Annual Fee: $95

Foreign Transaction Fee: $0

The Rewards: Earn an unlimited two points on travel and dining purchases, and one point on everything else. Plus earn five points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That's three points in addition to the two points you already earn on travel.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

PROS:

  • The 100,000 bonus points new cardholders can earn (worth $1,250 in travel rewards) can go a long way towards your next vacation.
  • There are flexible redemption options including the opportunity to boost point values by 25% by redeeming for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® program.
  • Travel and dining purchases earn double points, making it a great card to use on plane tickets, hotel stays, car rentals, etc., as well as on dining purchases all year long.

CONS:

  • Although the welcome offer is lucrative, cardholders need to spend $4,000 within three months to earn it which may be out of reach for some people. Before applying, consider whether or not reaching this threshold is a realistic goal.
  • This card charges a $95 annual fee, but it's numerous perks easily help to offset this.

Read our full Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card review.

Current Scores Past Scores
Overall Score 82.3 84.4
Rewards Program Satisfaction 8.3 8.3
Customer Service 8.4 8.7
Website/App Usability 8.2 8.1
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 8.7 9.0
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 7.8 8.4

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

BEST VACATION CREDIT CARD FOR PREMIUM TRAVEL PERKS

5
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
Chase Ultimate Rewards® points are valuable and flexible. This card takes what you love about the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and gives it a luxury polish. Sure, the annual fee is higher than typical, but your perks and features are tops and you have the chance to seriously offset that fee if you use your card regularly.

The Bonus: You'll earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points after spending $4,000 in the first three months; in this case, however, those points are worth up to $900 in travel since Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders receive 50% more value when redeeming points through Ultimate Rewards®.

Annual fee: $550

Foreign Transaction Fee: $0

The Rewards: Earn three times the points on dining at restaurants and on travel that isn't eligible for the annual travel reimbursement (more on that below) and one point on everything else. Remember that Chase Ultimate Rewards® points are transferable to multiple frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs, plus they're worth 50% more when redeemed through the Chase travel portal for cardholders.

Additional Features: Cardholders are eligible for up to $300 each account anniversary year in statement credit reimbursements to cover travel costs. Plus, you'll enjoy complimentary airport lounge access and a credit for your Global Entry application fee. Other perks include trip cancellation/interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement, emergency evacuation and transportation coverage, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, auto rental collision damage waiver, and more.

Credit Needed: Excellent

PROS:

  • This card has some of the best travel benefits on the market including up to $300 in statement credits to cover travel purchases made each account anniversary year.
  • The rewards earning rates with this card are quite good with three points earned per $1 spent on dining and on travel that isn't eligible for the annual $300 travel statement credit reimbursement and one point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • With no foreign transaction fees, this card will be a welcome companion on your next international trip.

CONS:

  • The annual fee is quite high.
  • Not everyone will be able to use travel benefits and statement credits, so if you are not a frequent traveler this may not be the right card for you.
  • The fee for authorized users is also a bit high at $75 per additional user.

Read our full Chase Sapphire Reserve® review.

Current Scores Past Scores
Overall Score 79.6 85.6
Rewards Program Satisfaction 7.9 8.5
Customer Service 7.9 8.7
Website/App Usability 7.9 8.6
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 8.3 8.8
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 8.0 8.4

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

 

SEE MORE

Want to know which other credit cards we think are best for travel rewards? See our full list of the best travel rewards credit cards to learn more.


BEST VACATION CARD FOR DINING OUT

5
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
Not only is this a great card for airline purchases, it's also great for dining out, and U.S. supermarket purchases too, with four points earned per dollar spent at restaurants, as well as at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 a year in purchases). American Express is a CardRatings advertiser.

The Bonus: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first six months.

Annual Fee: $250

Foreign Transaction Fee: None

The Rewards: Earn four points per dollar spent at restaurants including takeout and delivery; four points at U.S. supermarkets, up to $25,000 per year in purchases (then one point); three points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com; and one point on all other purchases.

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent

PROS:

  • This is a great card for vacation since it earns bonus rewards on both food and travel. So whether you're dining out on vacation or you're shopping at a U.S. supermarket to stock up your Airbnb, you'll earn rewards on it all.
  • Earn up to $10 total in statement credits monthly when you use this card to make purchases at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Boxed, Ruth's Chris Steak House and participating Shake Shack locations. That is an annual savings of up to $120 (enrollment required).
  • Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year. Plus, get up to 12 complimentary months of an Uber Eats Pass subscription when you enroll with your Gold Card by 12/31/21.
  • With The Hotel Collection, you get a $100 hotel credit on qualifying charges, plus a room upgrade upon arrival, when available, when you book a stay of at least two consecutive nights.
  • This is a good card for international travel as it does not charge fees on foreign transactions.

CONS:

  • This card has an annual fee of $250 which can be expensive if you aren’t earning enough rewards to offset it.
  • Unlike typical credit cards, this card allows you to carry a balance for certain charges, but not all.

Read our full review of the American Express® Gold Card.

Current Scores Past Scores
Overall Score 88.9 84.6
Rewards Program Satisfaction 8.8 8.3
Customer Service 9.1 8.7
Website/App Usability 8.9 8.2
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 9.2 8.8
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 8.7 8.4

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

 

EDITOR'S NOTE

If airline rewards don't mean much to you, you might consider the Savor Rewards from Capital One or the no-annual-fee Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card instead. Both of these cards offer bonus cash back on restaurant purchases, as well as entertainment and grocery store purchases, and have a much more manageable (or none at all for SavorOne) annual fee. Or, see our full list of the best credit cards for dining out for more great options.


BEST VACATION CREDIT CARD FOR GROCERY PURCHASES

5
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
Staying in a vacation house or booking an Airbnb for your next trip? If you need to stock the kitchen while at your home away from home, this is a great card to have thanks to 6% cash back earned at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%).

The Bonus: Earn 20% back on Amazon.com purchases made on the card within the first six months of card membership, up to $200 back. Plus, earn $150 back after you spend $3,000 within the same time frame. You will receive cash back in the form of statement credits.

Annual Fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.

Foreign Transaction Fee: 2.7% of each transaction after conversion to US dollars.

The Rewards: Earn 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%) and on select U.S. streaming subscriptions; 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit like parking, tolls, bus fares and more; and 1% on all other purchases.

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent

PROS:

  • If you're road tripping, well, naturally you'll be frequenting the gas pump, which makes the 3% cash back feature great, but what really stands out about this card is the fact that you can pair that with 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6k spent each year, then 1%) and on select U.S. streaming subscriptions. Eating out three times a day while on vacation can quickly add up, especially if you're traveling with your whole family. Food shopping while on vacation might not always be quite as fun, but it's practical, and oftentimes, a necessity. You might as well earn yourself some cash back in the process to help offset the cost of your trip.
  • If you find yourself parking your car for a bit to explore  a city, you're sure to appreciate the 6% back on transit like taxis, bus fares, parking and more.
  • This card offers 0% intro APR on purchases for the first 12 months after opening an account (then 13.99% - 23.99% Variable).

CONS:

  • American Express doesn't consider Walmart or Target to be a supermarket so you won't get 6% cash back on grocery purchases there, or on gas purchases at Walmart.
  • There is a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95. annual fee to take into consideration.
  • There is a 2.7% foreign transaction fee for any purchase made in a foreign currency so it's not the best card for international travel.

Read our full Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express review.

Current Scores Past Scores
Overall Score 87.0 86.0
Rewards Program Satisfaction 8.6 8.3
Customer Service 8.7 8.9
Website/App Usability 8.8 8.7
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 8.9 9.0
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 8.8 8.6

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

BEST VACATION CREDIT CARD FOR GAS PURCHASES

5
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
The Citi Premier® Card rewards you for it all - airfare, gas purchases, restaurants and more. It's an all around good companion to have during your vacation, as well as any other time of the year. The welcome bonus is great too. New cardholders can earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® points, worth $800 in gift cards when redeemed through thankyou.com, after spending $4,000 in the first three months of account opening. If you open an account soon enough, that $800 bonus could really come in handy for your vacation. Citi is a CardRatings advertiser.

The Bonus: Earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. Points are worth $800 in gift cards when redeemed through thankyou.com.

Annual Fee: $95

Foreign Transaction Fee: 0%

The Rewards: Earn an unlimited three points per $1 spent on hotels, air travel and gas purchases, as well as restaurants and supermarkets, and one point per $1 spent on everything else.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

PROS:

  • The welcome bonus alone can go a long ways towards your next vacation.
  • There is no foreign transaction fees, making this a great card for international travel.
  • This card earns bonus rewards on popular everyday categories, making it a good go-to card option.

CONS:

  • There is an annual fee to consider when applying for this card.
  • As this isn't strictly an airline card, the benefits are somewhat limited when it comes to flying.

See our full Citi Premier® Card review.

We have not polled this card yet, but would love to hear your thoughts on it if you are a cardholder. Comment below or email us at editor@cardratings.com to share more about your experience.

 

SEE MORE

See our full list of the best gas credit cards to explore more great options.


BEST CREDIT CARD FOR ROAD TRIP SNACKS

5
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
If you're a Costco member and you travel a lot, especially by car, then this might be a good fit for you and your vacation plans. This card earns users 4% cash back on gas purchases made at Costco up to $7,000, then 1%. Otherwise, earn 3% back on restaurant and eligible travel purchases, 2% back on all other purchases from Costco, and 1% on everything else. So not only is it a great card to use to fill up at the pump, but also for travel expenses and dining out, and for road trip snacks and maybe a handful of new DVDs to keep the kids entertained on the road as well. Plus, with many families choosing to rent an apartment or house while on vacation instead of going the traditional hotel route, grocery purchases are going to have to be made, even though it's vacation. You might as well earn money on the groceries you'll buy that week - and all year long as the rewards don't stop once vacation is over.

The Bonus: NA

Annual Fee: $0

Foreign Transaction Fee: 0%

The Rewards: Earn 4% cash back on gas purchases made at Costco on the first $7,000 in purchases a year, 3% back on restaurant and eligible travel purchases, 2% back on all other purchases from Costco, and 1% on everything else.

Credit Needed: Excellent

PROS:

  • This card is free to hold for Costco members, so if you regularly shop at Costco, there's really no reason not to have this card in your wallet if your credit qualifies.
  • Even if you don't regularly shop at Costco, this card can be an excellent choice for gas rewards. Cardholders receive 4% cash back on up to $7,000 of eligible gas purchases each year, including those made at Costco.
  • This card doesn't charge foreign transaction fees, so it's great for international travel.

CONS:

  • Cardholders forfeit rewards if they close their account prior to a rewards certificate being issued or if they fail to redeem a certificate by December 31 of the year it was issued.
  • Gas purchases made at other supermarkets, superstores, convenience stores or other warehouse clubs will only earn 1% cash back instead of 4% cash back.
  • Rewards are issued only once a year and sent in the form of a certificate that can be redeemed for cash or merchandise at Costco.

Read our full Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi review.

Current Scores Past Scores
Overall Score 85.7 85.3
Rewards Program Satisfaction 8.6 8.5
Customer Service 8.4 8.7
Website/App Usability 8.3 8.3
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 9.2 9.0
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 8.6 8.6

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

BEST VACATION CREDIT CARD FOR CARDHOLDER CHOICE REWARDS

5
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
Since you get to choose a category in which you earn 3% cash back, and gas happens to be one of the options, this card could be the perfect companion for your summer (or anytime!) road trip.

The Bonus: Earn $200 in online cash rewards after making at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days from opening an account. 

Annual Fee: $0

Foreign Transaction Fee: 3%

The Rewards: Earn 3% back in a category of your choosing from this list: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings. Also earn 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases), and unlimited 1% on all other purchases.

Credit Needed: Excellent/Good

PROS:

  • Bank of America® Cash Rewards has a three-tiered cash back system which allows you to choose a category each quarter to earn 3% cash back. These include gas, home furnishings, drug stores, online shopping and dining, making this a great option for more than just gas purchases.
  • There is no annual fee, which is great considering the value of rewards this card offers.
  • if you’re a Bank of America Premier Rewards member you could earn up to 25%-75% more cash back on every purchase made. That means the 3% choice category rewards could be worth as much as 5.25% and the 2% categories could be worth as much as 3.5% back!

CONS:

  • Attention to detail pays off with this card. If you don't like to think about which categories you're spending in, or how, where, or when you're earning rewards, this might not be the best option for you.
  • The added perk of earning an extra 25-75% cash back on each purchase is a great offer, but this is only available to Preferred Rewards Members.
  • This card charges foreign transaction fees which could really add up if you do a lot of traveling abroad.

Read our full Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card review.

Current Scores Past Scores
Overall Score 88.1 84.1
Rewards Program Satisfaction 8.9 8.5
Customer Service 8.9 8.4
Website/App Usability 8.8 8.4
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 9.2 8.8
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 8.5 8.2

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

BEST VACATION CREDIT CARD WITH INTRO 0% APR

5
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
The great thing about this card is that you'll earn miles on every purchase made, with no caps. Earn 1.5 miles on flights, hotel stays, restaurant purchases, etc. This is a solid offer for a card with no annual fee. Plus, Discover will match all of the miles you earn at the end of your first year, so if you accumulate 35,000 miles, you'll actually walk away with 70,000 at the end of the year. That's $700 towards travel! What's more, there's a 14 month introductory period of 0% APR on purchases (then 11.99% - 22.99% Variable APR), giving you some extra time to pay off flights or other vacation expenses. Redeeming miles is a breeze as well. Just redeem them as a statement credit towards your travel purchases. It'll almost be as if those expenses never happened - except you know that they did, because you have awesome vacation memories because of them. 
  • UNLIMITED BONUS: Only Discover will automatically match all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. There's no signing up, no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a Miles-for-Miles match.
  • Automatically earn unlimited 1.5x Miles on every dollar of every purchase - with no annual fee.
  • Redeem Miles to pay any part of your monthly bill, including your minimum payment.
  • Turn Miles into cash in any amount, any time. Or redeem as a statement credit for travel purchases like airfare, hotels, rideshares, gas stations, restaurants and more with no blackout dates. However you redeem, Miles keep the same value. And Miles never expire.
  • No Blackout Dates. Simply pay for travel purchases like airlines, hotels, rental cars, and more with your Discover it® Miles card.
  • Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards.
  • Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Discover Match® details & other information.
See More

PROS:

  • Because this card matches all of the miles earned the first year for new cardholders, you essentially earn three miles per $1 spent on all your purchases your first year.
  • Depending on how often you use the card in the first year, you have the potential to earn a ton of bonus miles. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. That's $700 towards travel!
  • There’s no annual fee, which is rare with airline rewards cards. The benefit of this is you won’t have to make sure you meet certain requirements to cover the annual fee often charged by other cards.

CONS:

  • The flat rewards rate of 1.5 miles per $1 spent on all purchases is convenient, but it’s also a fairly low rate. If you spend a lot in specific categories you may be better off with a tiered or rotaing category rewards card.
  • Because of the non-traditional offer to match your spending the first year, you won’t earn your bonus until the end of the year. This might not matter much for some, but if you want the rewards immediately for upcoming travel, this card may not be the best option.

Read our full Discover it® Miles review.

Current Scores Past Scores
Overall Score 82.5 82.0
Rewards Program Satisfaction 8.2 8.2
Customer Service 8.4 8.1
Website/App Usability 8.2 8.2
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 8.6 8.7
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 8.1 8.0

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

 

SEE MORE

See our full list of the best intro 0% APR credit cards for more options.


BEST HOTEL CREDIT CARD FOR FREE NIGHT REWARDS

5
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
New cardholders can earn three free nights (up to 50,000 points each) after spending $3,000 in the first three months from account opening. That bonus alone kicks vacation off on the right foot. If you're loyal to the Marriott brand (or really, even if you're not and you just like to travel), you might want to give this card some serious thought. Plus, cardholders earn an additional Free Night Award (valued up to 35,000 points) every year after their account anniversary.

The Bonus: Earn three free nights (up to 50,000 points each) after you spend $3,000 in the first three months from account opening. Plus, earn 10X total points per $1 spent on up to $2,500 in combined purchases at gas stations, restaurants and grocery stores within your first six months from account opening.

Annual Fee: $95

Foreign Transaction Fee: $0

The Rewards: Earn up to 17 Bonvoy points per $1 spent at over 7,000 participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, and two Bonvoy points on all other purchases.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

PROS:

  • The welcome bonus alone offers you enough nights for a solid getaway.
  • Automatic Silver Elite Status means you'll get perks such as priority late checkout and free Wi-Fi at Marriott brand hotels.
  • You'll receive a free award night every year after your account's anniversary. Plus, cardholders receive 15 elite night credits each year.

CONS:

  • Though it's easily offset by the card's many benefits, there is a $95 annual fee to consider.
  • While the free nights welcome bonus is great, you have to spend $3,000 within three months of opening an account to receive it which may not be realistic for everyone.

Read our full Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card review.

Current Scores Past Scores
Overall Score 77.2 82.8
Rewards Program Satisfaction 7.7 8.2
Customer Service 7.8 8.5
Website/App Usability 7.5 8.5
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 8.2 8.3
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 7.5 8.2

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

BEST VACATION CREDIT CARD FOR AFFORDABLE HOTEL STAYS

5
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
With popular brands such as Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza, IHG® hotels are often associated with more affordable options, making it a practical choice for families.

The Bonus: Earn 150,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening

Annual Fee: $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $89

Foreign Transaction Fee: $0

The Rewards: Earn up to 25 points per $1 spent at IHG® hotels; two points per $1 spent at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants; and one point per $1 on everything else.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

PROS:

  • This card has a great welcome offer. New cardholders can earn 150,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within three months of opening an account.
  • An earn rate of up to 25 points per dollar spent at IHG® hotels and resorts is hard to beat. Plus, purchases at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants earn two points per dollar while all other spending earning one point per dollar.
  • The card comes with valuable perks such as Platinum Elite status, a free reward night on your account anniversary and a free reward night when you redeem points for a stay of four or more nights.

CONS:

  • This card charges an $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $89 annual fee so it's worth considering whether you'll utilize the perks offered with the card enough to offset this.
  • You won't be eligible for the current bonus point offer if you've received a new cardmember bonus from this card in the past 24 months.

Read our full IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card review.

Current Scores Past Scores
Overall Score 79.7 80.4
Rewards Program Satisfaction 8.1 8.0
Customer Service 8.0 8.2
Website/App Usability 7.7 7.9
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 8.0 8.6
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 7.9 7.9

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

 

SEE MORE

See more great hotel credit card options.


BEST VACATION CREDIT CARD FOR FLIGHT DISCOUNTS

5
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
This is a great option for frequent American Airlines travelers thanks to free checked bags on domestic flights, preferred boarding, in-flight savings, and more.

The Bonus: Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after you spend $2,500 on your card in the first three months of account opening.

Annual Fee: $99, waived for first 12 months

Foreign Transaction Fee: 0%

The Rewards: Earn two AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations, restaurants and on eligible American Airlines purchases.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

PROS:

  • Earn a $125 American Airlines flight discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during your card membership year and renew your card.
  • There are no foreign transaction fees and your first checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation.
  • Enjoy preferred boarding on American Airlines flights and receive 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights.

CONS:

  • Although the annual fee is waived the first 12 months, you’ll still want to be sure you get enough from the rewards and card benefits to cover it afterward.
  • Double miles earned on purchases at gas stations, restaurants and American Airlines is nice, but if most of your spending is in other categories or you frequently travel with other airlines, you’ll likely want to consider a more general travel rewards card.

Read our full Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® review.

Current Scores Past Scores
Overall Score 82.3 84.2
Rewards Program Satisfaction 8.2 8.5
Customer Service 8.6 8.4
Website/App Usability 8.3 8.3
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 8.6 8.8
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 7.9 8.3

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

BEST AIRLINE CREDIT CARD FOR FREE COMPANION TRAVEL

5
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
Not only does Southwest Airlines allow each passenger to check two bags for free, but with a Southwest Airlines credit card, you can also work toward bringing a friend along on your flights for free (except for taxes and fees). That's a hard offer to beat.

The Bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in the first three months; additionally, earn 3x points on dining, including takout and eligible delivery services, for the first year.

Annual Fee: $149

Foreign Transaction Fee: $0

The Rewards: Receive two points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases and those with Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners. Earn one point per $1 on your other purchases.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

PROS:

  • Companion Pass is the gold standard of rewards air travel. This card can help you on your way to earning a pass with that healthy bonus offer.
  • Enjoy a $75 Southwest travel credit each year as well as up to four upgrade boardings, when available.
  • Receive 7,500 bonus points each year after your account anniversary.

CONS:

  • The $149 annual fee is slightly higher than other airline rewards credit cards that offer similar benefits.
  • Of airline travel cards, this one offers pretty standard rewards and benefits, especially for the annual fee. Plus, you only earn rewards on Southwest flights and purchases with partners. If your spending varies or you often fly with other airlines, you might find a general travel rewards credit card to be more valuable.

Read our full Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card review.

Current Scores Past Scores
Overall Score 83.4 83.6
Rewards Program Satisfaction 8.4 8.3
Customer Service 8.3 8.5
Website/App Usability 8.2 8.2
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 8.8 8.7
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 8.3 8.3

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

BEST AIRLINE CREDIT CARD WITH GLOBAL ENTRY AND TSA PRECHECK REIMBURSEMENT

4
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
This card offers a lot of benefits for the price (especially considering the fact that the annual fee is waived the first year.) Receive up to a $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® statement fee credit every four years as reimbursement for the application fee for either program when charged to your card. Also, get 25% back as a statement credit on purchases of food, beverages and WiFi on-board United-operated flights when you pay with your Explorer Card, and check your first bag for free (a savings of up to $140 per round-trip) when you use your card to purchase your ticket.

The Bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open and receive another 10,000 miles when you spend $6,000 in the first six months.

Annual Fee: $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95

Foreign Transaction Fee: $0

The Rewards: Earn two miles per $1 spent at restaurants (and eligible delivery services), on hotel accommodations, and on purchases from United, and one mile per $1 spent on everything else.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

PROS:

  • Not many cards at this annual fee price point offer a Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® statement fee reimbursement, which really makes this card stand out.
  • This card doesn't charge foreign transaction fees so it's great for international travel.
  • Other travel benefits include 25% back as a statement credit on purchases of food, beverages and WiFi onboard United-operated flights, first bag free and many others, which are all worth way more than the annual fee.

CONS:

  • There are a lot of perks to help offset it, but an annual fee is always something to consider.
  • You'll benefit most if United Airlines is actually a preference of yours. If you don't use United Airlines often, you'll likely miss out on the numerous perks this card has to offer.

Read our full United℠ Explorer Card review.

Current Scores Past Scores
Overall Score 74.9 79.3
Rewards Program Satisfaction 7.5 7.9
Customer Service 7.9 8.1
Website/App Usability 7.6 8.2
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 7.6 8.3
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 6.9 7.7

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

 

SEE MORE

Check out our full list of the best airline credit cards to compare more great options.


BEST VACATION CREDIT CARD FOR STUDENTS

5
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
If you're a college student, you know just how valuable gas rewards can be, especially when it comes to summer vacation plans. Be it a cross country road trip with friends, weekend drives to the beach or lake, visits home to see family, or just drives around town for things like movies, or dining out, the Discover it® Student chrome can help. This card earns users 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, an unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases, automatically.
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match - only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There's no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • Earn rewards while building your credit history that can help you after graduation. And, get your free Credit Scorecard that includes your FICO® Credit Score and important details that help make up your score.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Refer-a-Friend: Once you become a Discover it® Student cardmember, you can earn a statement credit each time you refer a friend and they're approved. Over half a million students got Discover Cards from their friends' recommendations.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 12.99% - 21.99% applies.
See More

PROS:

  • There's a "good grades reward" which offers students a $20 statement credit each school year their GPA is a 3.0 or higher, for up to the next five years
  • Matching cash back for new cardholders is what sets Discover cards apart. The card will match, dollar for dollar, all the cash back you've earned during the first year you have the card. This is a great way to earn some serious rewards.
  • This card doesn't charge an annual fee, or a foreign transaction fee, making it a great option for international travel.

CONS:

  • The $1,000 combined quarterly spending cap on the 2% cash back category of dining and gas could be limiting.
  • While their reach is growing, Discover cards are still not as widely accepted as Visa and Mastercard cards. This is especially true outside of the United States.

Read our full Discover it® Student chrome review.

Current Scores Past Scores
Overall Score 86.3 81.1
Rewards Program Satisfaction 8.7 8.2
Customer Service 8.6 8.0
Website/App Usability 8.5 8.3
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 8.8 8.6
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 8.6 7.8

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

 

SEE MORE

See our full list of student credit cards for more.


BEST VACATION CREDIT CARD FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURCHASES

5
About Our Ratings
Why We Like It:
Who doesn't like to be treated like a VIP? Especially while on vacation. This card offers access to Citi Entertainment®, which provides cardholders special access to purchase tickets to thousands of events annually, including presale tickets and exclusive experiences for the year's most anticipated concerts, sporting events, and more.

The Bonus: Enjoy 0% Intro APR for 18 months on purchases from date of account opening and 0% Intro APR for 18 months on balance transfers from date of first transfer (then 13.74% - 23.74% Variable).

Annual Fee: $0

Foreign Transaction Fee: 3%

The Rewards: This isn't a traditional rewards card, but the intro 0% APR periods are a huge reward in and of themselves.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

PROS:

  • While a credit card can be helpful in planning a vacation, it can also be dangerous if you aren't careful. It won't be much fun to take a nice vacation, only to spend months after trying to recover from it. This is where a 0% intro APR period could come in handy. This card gives you some extra time to pay off balances interest free. Just be sure to pay them off before the intro period ends as regular 13.74% - 23.74% Variable APR will then apply.
  • This card doesn't charge an annual fee which is always a nice perk.
  • Citi Entertainment® can help you feel like you're on vacation even if you can't go anywhere. Staycation anyone?

CONS:

  • This card doesn't come with any traditional rewards.
  • If you choose to take advantage of the balance transfer offer, be aware that there is a 3% fee (minimum $5) on transfers.
  • You'll also want to be aware of the 3% foreign transaction fee if plan to travel overseas.

Read our full Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card review.

Current Scores Past Scores
Overall Score 80.5 Did not survey
Features Satisfaction 7.9 n/a
Customer Service 8.4 n/a
Website/App Usability 8.4 n/a
Likelihood of Continuing to Use 8.8 n/a
Recommend to a Friend/Colleague 7.5 n/a

*Scores above reflect the results of surveys with actual cardholders. Full methodology below.

WHAT IS THE BEST VACATION CREDIT CARD?

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card are two cards that are hard to beat when it comes to planning a vacation. Here's why:

The Capital One Venture card earns two miles on every purchase made, so whether you're paying for groceries or plane tickets, you're earning rewards. Plus, these rewards can be redeemed for almost any travel purchase. Whether you're staying in a hotel or an Airbnb your miles are good for this. They can even be used for more unique options such as campsite reservations or guided tours. This card offers so much flexibility in how you redeem your rewards. Simply make a travel purchase, and then use your miles to "erase" that purchase from your statement. It's a simple as that. Plus, there's even an option to transfer miles to a number of hotel and airline loyalty programs.

With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, travel and dining purchases earn two points, while all other purchases earn one point. So you'll earn most on your vacation purchases, but what's great about this card is that points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal. Plus, if you have other Chase-Ultimate-Rewards®-earning cards, such as Chase Freedom Unlimited® or Chase Freedom Flex℠, you can pool those points under your Chase Sapphire Preferred® account so that they are worth 25% more in travel as well. This is a great strategy as it allows you to quickly rack up points with ease, making your next vacation that much closer. There's an opportunity to transfer points to leading travel partners with this card as well.

When it comes to vacations though, everyone's plans will look different. That's why what's best for one traveler might not be best for another. If you strictly stay in Hilton hotels when you travel, the flexibility of the Venture card might not mean much to you. You'd likely be better off with a Hilton-loyalty card such as the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card (This card is not currently available on CardRatings) instead. Say you never fly... well, then an airline-loyalty card probably won't be the best fit. Or possibly you only travel once a year and only plan to use your card on your trip. You probably don't want a card with an annual fee then. You get the idea. When it comes to shopping for the best vacation credit card, consider your spending and lifestyle habits to help you determine which card will truly be best for your unique needs.

infographic describing the best vacation credit cards

AIRLINE CREDIT CARDS

Family vacationers and solo wanderlusters alike can benefit from the numerous rewards that airline credit cards offer. If you're loyal to a particular airline, there's no faster way to rack up points with that airline than to use a co-branded credit card to pay for your flights, and then to fly on that airline, of course. What's great about these cards though is that the rewards earning doesn't stop there. The best airline credit cards earn points on all purchases, so you aren't limited to just earning when you travel. By using an airline credit card for your vacation purchases, as well as everyday purchases, you're sure to rack up points in a hurry to use towards your upcoming, or even a future, vacation.

These travel credit cards are also a great way to make the most out of your flight experience. Co-branded airline cards offer cardholders things like free checked bags and in-flight discounts–saving you money; priority boarding–saving you time; and seat upgrades and complimentary lounge access–saving you from discomfort. All invaluable perks for frequent flyers.

HOTEL CREDIT CARDS

Whether you're looking for a swanky Manhattan hotel room for a romantic getaway or a tropical resort with a massive pool to let the kids burn off energy, hotel credit cards are a smart way to make the most of your vacation budget. These co-branded travel cards offer cardholders access to things like free night stays, room upgrades, resort credits to be used on experiences such as resort dining or visits to the spa, complimentary breakfast and more.

If you're loyal to a particular hotel brand, these travel credit cards can save you a ton of money for future travel. That's because branded hotel credit cards often earn really competitive rates per dollar spent at that particular hotel chain. For example, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card earns up to 17 Bonvoy points per dollar spent at over 7,000 participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels. Beyond that, each dollar spent on the card earns two points. That means the more you use your card to pay for your hotel stays and everyday purchases, the more points you have to help offset the cost of your trip.

Hotel credit cards are also a great way to gain access to elite status programs, which are usually reserved for the most loyal hotel guests. Access to these programs can gain you even more hotel benefits such as additional bonus points earned on stays, executive lounge access, priority late checkout, 48-hour guaranteed room availability, and welcome gifts.

GAS CREDIT CARDS

Own a RV or just prefer to drive to get to your vacation destination? Don't leave home without your gas credit card. Gas cards are a great travel credit card to have on hand for road-trip vacations as they earn rewards on every dollar spent at the gas pump. If you're spending a lot on gas, the rewards can really add up and help to offset the cost of your trip. Plus, these cards often earn on other purchases too, so the rewards don't stop there.

Take the Citi Premier® Card for example. Not only does it earn unlimited three points on gas purchases, but it earns unlimited three points on hotels and air travel, and at restaurants and supermarkets as well. So say if for your next vacation you fly to San Francisco, stay a few nights in a hotel, dine out on Fisherman's Wharf, and then rent a campervan, stock up on groceries at the supermarket, and road trip to Yosemite, you'll earn rewards on it all!

NO FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEE CREDIT CARDS

If you regularly vacation abroad a no foreign transaction fee credit card can really save you a bundle. Travel credit cards with no foreign transaction fees can save you, on average, 3% of the total cost of your trip– that is, the total cost you spend in a foreign currency.

People oftentimes misunderstand how this works, thinking that if they are using a U.S. credit card, they are paying in U.S. currency. When you use a credit card abroad though, each time you swipe your card, that amount is automatically converted into the local currency. To cover the costs associated with this, many credit card issuers charge a foreign transaction fee. If you're only spending a couple hundred dollars here and there in a foreign currency, you might not mind this much; however, if you're taking a big vacation in another country this can really add up.

For example, let's say you take a two-week vacation to Spain. You most likely won't have to worry about your plane tickets facing a foreign transaction fee (unless you're taking a local airline to travel around Europe once you get there), but your hotel, meals, entertainment, and everything else purchased in Spain is subject to a foreign transaction fee charge. So say while abroad you spend $6,000 on your credit card. If that card charges a 3% foreign transaction fee, you're looking at $180 extra in fees. You could eat a lot of tapas for that amount.

Instead, if you use a no foreign transaction fee credit card, that's money in your pocket. That may sound too good to be true, but these cards really aren't difficult to come by. Many of the best travel credit cards offer this as a perk, so if this is an area that's important to you, just be sure to check the fine print before you apply. You'll be glad that you did next international vacation you take!

FLEXIBLE TRAVEL CREDIT CARDS

Perhaps each vacation you take is unique. You fly one trip staying in a hotel; drive the next staying in an Airbnb. Flexible travel credit cards are the perfect option for those travelers who, well, want to remain flexible. If you aren't loyal to a particular hotel or airline, these travel credit cards are great because they'll earn you rewards on all travel purchases; not just on travel purchases made with a particular brand. Rewards earned with these cards can also often be transferred to a number of travel partners, adding to their flexibility.

As stated above, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a favorite for flexibility as it earns rewards on all purchases– not just on travel purchases. And those rewards can be redeemed on all travel expenses– not just on travel expenses with a certain hotel or airline. Train tickets, campsite bookings, guided excursions, cruises, and more can all be redeemed with Capital One miles.

Another favorite is the aforementioned Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, particularly because points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel. That's a perk that can really help to stretch your vacation budget. Take the sign up bonus alone, for example. New cardholders who spend $4,000 within the first three months of opening an account can earn 100,000 bonus points– that's worth a whopping $1,250 when redeemed for travel! On an ongoing basis, cardholders earn two points on dining and travel purchases – and yes, those rewards are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel, too.

HOW CAN A CREDIT CARD BENEFIT YOUR VACATION?

SECURITY BENEFITS

For starters, as we already mentioned above, the peace and mind that credit card use while on vacation can bring is huge. Of course there is always the risk of losing your credit card while on vacation, but at least if this happens, it can be replaced, oftentimes within 24-48 hours, even if you're traveling internationally. And if someone steals your card and makes fraudulent charges, you've covered. On the other hand though, if you lose cash, that money is gone. You could always withdraw more from an ATM or at the bank, but still, you're spending more money on your vacation than you planned to, and that's never any fun.

Credit card issuers these days make credit card security a huge priority. Oftentimes you can set up account alerts so you'll get automatic security updates - via text, email, or phone - and you can choose to sign up for personalized emails or texts to stay on top of account information. You'll oftentimes see issuers offering $0 fraud liability as well if your card is ever lost or stolen. No one wants to pay for a purchase they didn't make, and thanks to top-notch credit card security, with most credit cards, you won't have to.

REWARDS AND BONUSES

Welcome bonuses are an easy way to make your credit card work to your advantage. If you want to cash in on travel rewards credit card perks, it'll help to follow these tips:

  • If you apply for a credit card with a large welcome bonus, be sure to meet the qualifying spend threshold before the promotional deadline. A large bonus can go a long way when it comes to planning a vacation. Depending on the size of the bonus, your travel location, and your travel dates, you may even be able to cash in on free hotel stays or airfare. Just be sure to plan your application date accordingly and don't expect to book plane tickets for your trip in July with your bonus if you don't apply for the card until June.
  • Funnel all the personal expenses you can on your rewards credit card leading up to your trip (and all year long if feasible). As long as you're paying your credit card bill off each month, this can be a great way to seriously rack up some rewards points which you can use towards your next vacation. If you can't pay off your bill every month though, ease up. Rewards points will only technically benefit you if you didn't go into debt to earn them.
  • Build loyalty with travel industry brands that offer generous redemption options, elite status upgrades, and comprehensive destination lists. The more you travel within these brands, the more rewards you'll earn to use towards future trips.
  • Research all the benefits your credit card offers. Did you know that some credit cards offer car rental insurance? How about insurance for lost baggage, or reimbursement for delayed or canceled trips? Some credit cards even offer travel accident insurance and roadside assistance services, as well as statement credits for things like Global Entry or TSAPre✓® Approved. Knowing these details could save you a lot of money when it comes to your vacation.

If you've got excellent credit, you can usually find significant welcome bonus offers for new credit card customers. The biggest deals usually come from airline credit cards issued by major national banks. Many of these partnerships offer enough frequent flier miles or rewards points to cover one or two round trip domestic tickets.

On the other hand, if you've got enough time to play a longer game, you can turn your everyday purchases or reimbursed business expenses into discounted airfares and hotel nights. Hotel chain credit cards multiply rewards points for purchases at participating properties, speeding you toward exclusive status along the way. With many hotels adopting flexible, market-based redemption programs, picking an off-season date or a less central property for your vacation can stretch your rewards balance even further.

When searching for the best credit card that fits your needs for your vacation, remember that credit card companies don't set up rewards points programs just to be generous. Annual fees and finance charges on travel rewards cards tend to come in significantly higher than similar "no frills" credit cards. Squeezing maximum value from your rewards card means redeeming far more in value than the cost of your annual fee. Likewise, paying your bill in full at the close of each statement cycle can prevent high APRs from diminishing your card's rebate credits. Map out a sample reward itinerary to see just how much you'll need to spend if you want to fly, dine or lodge using your rewards.

In other words, getting the most of out of the best credit cards for vacation takes about as much work as you're doing to plan your vacation itself. That's the bad news. The good news is that by planning both, and really looking over the details, it should pay off. Your memories may be priceless, but that doesn't mean you have to pay a fortune for them.

SHOULD YOU PAY FOR A VACATION WITH A CREDIT CARD?

The short answer: it depends. There's a not-so advised way to pay for a vacation with a credit card. There is also a very strategic smart way to pay for a vacation with a credit card.

The not-so advised approach: You know that you don't have the money for a vacation, but you throw caution to the wind, anyway, and you max out your credit card and go on a vacation in the summe. By the end of the year, you're still struggling to pay off the vacation.

The strategic smart way: You do have money for your vacation, and what's more, you've put some savings aside because you have a cash-back rewards credit card - and every time you saved money on purchases earlier in the year, you made sure some of that savings went into a bank account. What's more, you bought your airline tickets or hotel rooms or what have you through your credit card's travel portal, and because of that, you saved even more money.

Now, we don't begrudge the vacationers who maxed out their credit cards to go on a vacation. The memories are priceless, and if you needed a vacation, well, you needed one. This is where intro 0% APR offers could come in handy. If you need some extra time to pay off vacation expenses, or need to transfer a balance, be sure to utilize these offers as they'll give you some extra time to pay off balances interest fee.

Obviously though, it's better if you can use your credit cards to help you save money on the vacation, rather than utilizing credit cards to make a vacation more expensive, due to interest charges.

For instance, if you have a travel rewards credit card that offers you airline miles for the money you spend, you could collect enough in airfare to fly somewhere for "free." We say "free" since, as we know, nothing is free, and you had to spend a lot to get those tickets. But, still, it is very possible to use your credit cards so that paying for a vacation is strategically worked into your budget and cash flow - so that paying for it isn't too crazy of an undertaking.

Another thing to remember - you're more safeguarded when you pay for things like flights and hotels with a credit card than a debit card. If you have a dispute later with a merchant you did business with in some far-flung land or maybe on a cross country road trip, it's generally easier to get your money back when you pay for the item with a credit card.

Also, many credit cards offer perks such as lost luggage reimbursement, travel accident insurance and travel emergency assistance services, and so using your credit card to pay for your vacation could pay off for you in ways you haven't considered.


Survey Methodology: CardRatings commissioned Op4G in September and October 2020 to conduct surveys among 1,746 cardholders nationwide. CardRatings website analytics from Jan. 1, 2020-Aug. 31, 2020 were used to determine a selection of the most popular cards and additional cards were added to add survey breadth. Responses to each of nine questions were given on a scale of 1-10 and respondents' scores were then averaged under broad topics. To determine the overall score, responses from questions 1-8 were summed and the answer to "How likely are you to recommend this card to a friend, coworker or family member?" was double weighted.

Ranking Methodology: CardRatings experts review the fine print, details, perks, rewards and features of hundreds of cards and compare them side-by-side with similar cards. A card that makes an excellent balance transfer card may not make a great cash-back rewards card even though it offers those rewards. While the Best of the Year list is announced annually, that list – and all other “best of” lists on CardRatings – are regularly reviewed and updated as issuers change the terms and features of each card often.

To see the rates and fees for the American Express cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: See Rates and Fees; Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: See Rates and Fees; American Express® Gold Card: See Rates and Fees.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is believed to be accurate as of the date it was written. Please keep in mind that credit card offers change frequently. Therefore, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information in this article. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information. See the online credit card application for full terms and conditions on offers and rewards. Please verify all terms and conditions of any credit card prior to applying.

This content is not provided by any company mentioned in this article. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any such company. CardRatings.com does not review every company or every offer available on the market.

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