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Best travel rewards credit cards of December 2019

Last Updated, December 5, 2019

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 travel rewards credit cards of 2019With the help of the top travel rewards cards from our partners, you can travel better and less expensively and to not have to jump through dozens of hoops to make it happen. Whether you're looking for the best travel rewards credit card, airline rewards card or are more focused on the best hotel rewards cards, there are options out there that will reward you for your everyday purchases...

Think about it, if you use your American Express® Gold Card, your mundane walk through the grocery store aisles could be the first step toward a stunning walk along a beach very, very far away from your local supermarket. Or, if you're more interested in making your business travel less expensive, your everyday business purchases with your Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card could help you rack up points toward a future business trip.

The key to all of this is understanding how travel credit cards work, what you should think about when comparing the many options on the market and, at last, looking at the best travel rewards credit cards on the market to determine which will best fit into your lifestyle. CardRatings experts consider the rewards, the fees, the perks/features, the ease of use and more to come up with our list of top travel rewards credit cards. This list is dynamic; credit card issuers change their terms, so we keep an eye on those terms and update our recommendations accordingly. 

Whatever your wanderlust is dreaming of, we have a suggestion that will help you get there. Bon voyage!

BEST TRAVEL REWARDS CREDIT CARDS

TRANSFERABLE REWARDS | FIXED VALUE REWARDS | NO-ANNUAL-FEE CARDS  | TRAVEL REWARDS FOR BUSINESS | 
PREMIUM CARDS | AIRLINE REWARDS | HOTEL REWARDS

TRANSFERABLE REWARDS

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Why It's Among the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards: Chase Ultimate Rewards® points are transferable to many frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs, so you aren't tied down to a single brand with this card. Furthermore, your points are worth 25% more when you redeem them for travel, making them even more valuable than they are at face value.

The Bonus: Earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. That's worth $750 in travel.  

The Annual Fee: $95

The Rewards: Earn two times the points on travel and dining at restaurants and one point on everything else. Chase Ultimate Rewards® points are transferable to numerous frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs. Read our full Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card review..

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

PRO TIP

Combine this card with Chase Freedom® and/or Chase Freedom Unlimited® to earn top rewards in categories beyond travel and dining. Use Chase Freedom® strategically to earn 5% back on up to $1,500 spent in quarterly rotating categories when you activate (check out the current bonus categories) and use Chase Freedom Unlimited® to earn 1.5% back on everything that doesn't earn more with Chase Freedom® or the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. Finally, transfer all your points to your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card where your points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

One more thing to note: Both Chase Freedom® and Chase Freedom Unlimited® are no-annual-fee cards that feature 15 months of no interest on purchases and balance transfers for new cardholders (then, 16.49% - 25.24% Variable for Chase Freedom® and 16.49% - 25.24% Variable for Chase Freedom Unlimited®).

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Why It's Among the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards: There's a ton of flexibility with this card when it comes to redeeming those miles; plus, the annual fee is less than what you might expect to pay for a card with this kind of earning and redemption power. For example, you can fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime and not have to worry about blackout dates. Plus, you can transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs. Lastly, cardholders are eligible for a reimbursement of their Global Entry or TSA Pre✔® application fee, a perk worth up to $100 and not common among cards with this low of an annual fee.

The Bonus: Snag 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.

The Annual Fee: $0 intro for first year; $95 after that

The Rewards: This is a card with which you earn two miles for every $1 you spend. Plus, thanks to a partnership, cardholders who book a stay through Hotels.com/Venture will earn 10 miles per $1 spent on the booking through Jan. 31, 2020. That's in addition to the regular Hotels.com rewards program through which you earn a free night stay for every 10 nights booked on the site.

Redeem miles for any flight or hotel stay, as well as car rentals, cruises and more. Read our full Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card review.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Why It's Among the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards: A card with a $550 annual fee as a top pick for a travel rewards credit card?! Astounding, but we believe for the right frequent traveler who enjoys comfort and enjoys the exclusive perks that come with this card, it’s worth it. Let’s dig in. American Express is a CardRatings advertiser. 

Is  The Platinum Card® from American Express worth the annual fee? In addition to the opportunity to earn 60,000 welcome bonus you get 5x membership rewards points on a) flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express travel and b) prepaid hotels that you book through amextravel.com. The card comes with an annual $200 airline fee credit, annual $200 in Uber credits, annual $100 in statement credits at Saks Fifth Avenue or Saks.com; and a Global Entry ($100) or TSA Pre✔® ($85) application fee waiver every four years. It's well known for access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection, including Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass, and Delta Sky Clubs when flying with Delta. Plus complimentary Marriott Bonvoy™ Gold Elite status and Hilton Honors Gold status.  

The Bonus: New cardholders can earn 60,000 bonus Membership Rewards® points after spending $5,000 on the card in the first three months of membership. This is worth $600 toward airfare booked through Amex partners. 

The Annual Fee: $550. If you happen to be active duty military or a spouse of one, American Express will waive the annual fee.

The Rewards: Earn five points per $1 on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com and on prepaid hotels booked through American Express travel. You earn one point per $1 spent on all your other purchases. Read our full review of The Platinum Card® from American Express.  

Added Perks: Cardholders will save money with up to $200 annually in Uber savings via a $15 per month Uber credit ($20 in December) and up to $200 each year in airline fee credit with your pre-selected airline. You can also take advantage of complimentary access to airport lounges around the globe and a reimbursement for your Global Entry or TSA Pre✔® application fee.  

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Why It's Among the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards: As we've already discussed, Chase Ultimate Rewards® points are the solid transferable rewards that offer a ton of flexibility. This card functions on that system plus throws in a luxury polish to go along with it. Furthermore, Reserve cardholders enjoy 50% more value when redeeming points for travel through Ultimate Rewards®. In fact, this would be another good option for combining with no-annual-fee cards that also function on the Ultimate Rewards® platform.

The Bonus: Earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. Thanks to that 50% more value situation, those points are worth as much as $750 when redeemed through Ultimate Rewards® and could be worth even more if you transfer them to hotel and airline loyalty partners.

The Annual Fee: $450

The Rewards: Earn three points per $1 spent on travel (after earning your annual $300 travel credit) and on dining and one point per $1 on everything else. Read our full Chase Sapphire Reserve® review.

Added Perks: As we said, this is a luxury card and it boasts the luxury perks you'd expect, such as airport lounge access at more than 1,000 lounges around the globe, concierge services, special hotel benefits and upgrades and more. It can also save you money with up to a $100 credit every four years to cover your TSA Pre✓® or Global Entry application fee plus up to $300 in statement credit each year to cover travel charges.

Credit Needed: Excellent

American Express® Gold Card

Why It's Among the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards: This card offers a number of luxury perks without the through-the-roof annual fee of other luxury cards. Consider, for instance, that taking full advantage of the $100 per year airline fee credit (with a pre-selected airline) essentially reduces your annual fee to $150. And there are plenty of perks with this card that certainly make that worthwhile.

The Bonus: Receive 35,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within your first three months as a cardholder.

The Annual Fee: $250

The Rewards: You'll earn four times the Membership Rewards® points at restaurants worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases at supermarkets, then one point per $1). Earn three times the Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com; and one point per $1 on your other purchases. Read our full American Express® Gold Card review. 

Added Perks: Receive up to $100 in statement credits annually to cover incidental airline charges, like baggage fees, with a pre-selected airline. You can also take advantage of up to $10 total monthly in statement credits when you use your card to pay for purchases at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed and participating Shake Shack locations. 

Credit Needed:  Good, Excellent

American Express® Green Card

Why We Like It: In addition to no foreign transaction fees, the American Express® Green Card offers a lot of great travel benefits that we like, including: an annual $100 CLEAR®, an expedited airport security program, credit; an annual $100 LoungeBuddy, an airport lounge access program, credit; and for a limited time (10/24-1/15), up to $100 in statement credits towards any eligible purchase made directly with Away, a travel products company, in your first three months. Plus, you'll earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on travel and transit, and 3X Membership Rewards® points at restaurants worldwide, meaning you can earn rewards whether traveling near or far.

The Bonus: Earn 30,000 Membership Rewards® points when you spend at least $2,000 in the first three months of opening an account.

Annual Fee: $150

The Rewards: Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on travel and transit and on restaurant purchases worldwide, and 1X Membership Rewards® point on all other purchases. See our full American Express® Green Card review to learn more.

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent


FIXED-VALUE TRAVEL REWARDS CREDIT CARDS

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card

Why We Like It: The GoFar Rewards program offers you a lot of value and flexibility, and this card offers access to that program, plus a lot of other perks, all for no annual fee.

Bonus: Earn 30,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months as a cardholder. That is worth $300 cash redemption value. Additionally, if a balance transfer is what you need, you can take advantage of 0% intro APR for 12 months on purchases and qualifying balance transfers (fees apply), then a 15.49%-27.49% Variable APR; balance transfers made within 120 days qualify for the intro rate and fee.

Annual Fee: $0

Rewards Rate: Earn three points per $1 on eating out and ordering in; your gas station, rideshare and transit purchases; on travel purchases, including flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals; and on popular streaming services. Earn one point per $1 on everything else.

Added Perks: Pay your cellular bill with your card and the primary phone as well as up to three other phones on the same bill will be protected against covered damage and theft (terms and deductibles apply.) It's a nice added benefit that won't cost you a thing and will save you money if you're used to paying for cell phone insurance. Read our full Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card review.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

Discover it® Miles

Why It's Among the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards: In a word, the match. Earning what amounts to three miles per $1 spent during your first year makes this card even more lucrative than cards with sky-high annual fees. Make sure you rack up those miles during your first year.

The Bonus: Discover will MATCH all the miles new cardholders earn during their first year, effectively meaning that 35,000 miles earned is actually 70,000 miles earned.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: Because of the match bonus, you effectively earn three miles per $1 spent during your first year. The ongoing rewards rate is a respectable 1.5 miles per $1. Read our full Discover it® Miles review.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

Mastercard® Black Card™

Why It's Among the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards:  This card offers you a simple, straightforward path to earning rewards and, perhaps more importantly, a TON of value when it comes to redeeming those rewards whether you choose to redeem for airfare or for cash back. Those things together with luxury perks and money-saving features offer a nice path toward offsetting the annual fee.

The Bonus: There isn't a traditional bonus offer with this card, but you could consider the regular redemption value to be a bonus of sorts. That's because each point you redeem for airfare is worth $.02 and each point you redeem for cash back into a U.S. bank account or for statement credit is worth 1.5 cents. That means that 25,000 points is worth $500 if redeemed for airfare or $375 if redeemed for cash back. That's a solid step above the typical redemption values of 1% for cash back and even the 1.5% cash back some cards offer for airfare.

The Annual Fee: $495

The Rewards: Earn one point per $1 spent on every purchase. While that earning alone isn't super high, you make up for that with the solid redemption value of 2% when redeemed for airfare with any airline and 1.5% when redeemed for cash back. Read our full Mastercard® Black Card™ review

Added Perks: This credit card offers impressive perks and one of them is that the card itself is impressive. It's made of stainless steel and carbon, making it a strong, heavy card the pretty much guarantees you'll get a second look when you pull it out of your wallet. As for the other perks: save money with a $100 annual airline credit to cover flight-related purchases like baggage fees, upgrades and more; receive up to a $100 statement credit every five years to cover your Global Entry application fee (TSA Pre✓® status is included with Global Entry); and enjoy complimentary access to more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world with Priority Pass Select. Lastly, the 24/7 luxury concierge is available to help cardholders with reservations, travel bookings, personal requests, conducting research, securing you tickets and more, saving you precious time.

Credit Needed: Excellent

Bank of America® Travel Rewards Visa® credit card

Why It's Among the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards: Easy to earn rewards plus the opportunity to boost your earning as a part of the Preferred Rewards program make this no-annual-fee card a solid choice.

The Bonus: Earn 25,000 online bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days as a cardholder. Those points can be redeemed for $250-worth of statement credit to cover travel purchases.

The Annual Fee: $0

The Rewards: Receive 1.5 miles per $1 spent on all purchases with no caps or categories. If you're a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member, you can boost your earning by 25-75% on every purchase depending upon your Preferred Rewards tier. Read our full Bank of America® Travel Rewards Visa® credit card review.

Credit Needed: Excellent/Good

PRO TIP

No one could blame you if you came to the "fixed value" section looking for the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card; for a long time, this card has been a favorite fixed-value travel rewards card, but Capital One improved an already excellent card when it recently introduced the ability to transfer your rewards to more than a dozen travel partners making this, technically, a transferable rewards card (and you can read more about it in that section above). We're always a fan of more flexibility, so this card only got better. Still, the original ability to redeem your rewards as statement credit to erase your travel purchases gives you a solid travel rewards option even without the transferable rewards opportunity.

BEST NO-ANNUAL-FEE TRAVEL REWARDS CREDIT CARDS

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

Why We Like It: If simple travel rewards and avoiding an annual fee are your goal, this could be your card. You can transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs. There is a nice bonus for a no-annual-fee card as well as some solid features sure to make the periodic traveler glad to have the card in their wallet.

Bonus: Receive 20,000 bonus miles after spending just $1,000 on purchases in the first three months; that's worth $200 in completely flexible travel rewards.

Annual Fee: $0

Rewards Rate: Earn a simple-to-remember 1.25 miles for every $1 you spend, with no caps or categories to worry about. Your miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to what you can earn. Read our full Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card review.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card

Why We Like It: This card offers a broad range of categories that earn three times the points per $1 spent and there's no annual fee to worry about. That means this is a good card for a lot of different types of spenders/credit card users. And, as we mentioned above in the "fixed value" section, this one is great for flexible travel.

Bonus: Earn 30,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months which amounts to a $300 cash redemption value. Additionally, if you are considering a balance transfer, you can take advantage of 0% intro APR for 12 months on purchases and qualifying balance transfers (fees apply), then a 15.49%-27.49% Variable APR; balance transfers made within 120 days qualify for the intro rate and fee.

Annual Fee: $0

Rewards Rate: Earn three points per $1 spent on your eating out and ordering in purchases; your gas station, rideshare and transit purchases; and your travel purchases, including flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals. Earn one point per $1 on everything else.

Added Perks: If you pay your cellular phone bill on your card, the primary phone and up to three other phones on the same bill will be protected against covered damage and theft (terms and deductibles apply.) It's a nice added benefit that won't cost you a thing and will save you money if you're used to paying for cell phone insurance. Read our full Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card review.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

BEST TRAVEL REWARDS CREDIT CARDS FOR BUSINESS

Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card

Why It's Among the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards for Business: Chase Ultimate Rewards® points are extremely flexible and valuable; it's nice to be able to earn them easily with a card designed for your small business needs. Plus, there's the added perk of cellular phone protection with this card.

The Bonus: Earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months as a cardholder.

The Annual Fee: $95

The Rewards: Earn three points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent each year on travel; shipping costs; Internet, cable, and phone services; and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines. After reaching the spending cap, and on all your other purchases, you'll earn one point per $1 spent. Read our full Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card review.

Additional Perks: Pay your cellular bill on your card and you'll be protected against covered damage and theft to the phone (subject to a deductible and terms). The protection applies to the primary phone as well as the other phones listed on the account.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business

Why It's Among the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards for Business: A simple rewards-earning and redemption structure as well as a manageable annual fee make this the kind of small business credit card that busy business owners can truly embrace. Plus, with this card you'll receive up to a $100 credit for one Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® application fee, plus a number of other travel benefits. 

The Bonus: For a limited time, earn up to 200,000 bonus miles. Earn 50,000 miles when you spend $5,000 in the first three months and earn another 150,000 miles when you spend $50,000 in the first six months.

The Annual Fee: $0 intro for first year; $95 after that

The Rewards: Earn two miles for every $1 spent on all your purchases and five miles per $1 on hotels and car rentals through Capital One TravelSM. Rewards won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit on the miles you can earn. Read our full Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business review.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

The Business Platinum® Card from American Express

Why It's Among the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards for Business: Road-weary business travelers deserve to be taken care of as much as possible while they crisscross the country (or world). This card does that for you. It also offers healthy rewards, which means you can put a little something back toward your business' bottom line by way of a reward flight here and there.

The Bonus: Earn up to 75,000 bonus points. Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards® points after your spend $10,000 and earn another 25,000 points after you spend another $10,000 all in the first three months

The Annual Fee: $595.

The Rewards: Earn five points per $1 spent on flights and prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com. You'll also earn an extra half-point (so, 1.5 points) per $1 spent on purchases of $5,000 or more (up to 1 million points per year) and one point per $1 on all your other purchases. Additionally, when you Pay with Points for a first or business class flight with any airline through amextravel.com, or book any class ticket through the portal on your pre-selected airline, you'll receive 35% of your points back to use on a future redemption (up to 500,000 points back each year).  

Additional Perks: Save money with up to $200 in statement credit each year to cover incidental charges with your pre-selected airline. You'll also be able to wait for your flights in comfort thanks to complimentary airport lounge access. And, once every four years, you'll be eligible to have your Global Entry or TSA Pre✔® application fee reimbursed via statement credit. Read our full review of The Business Platinum® Card from American Express..

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent

COMPARE MORE

For even more options, check out our full list of Best business credit cards

TOP PREMIUM TRAVEL REWARDS CREDIT CARDS

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Why It's Among the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards: Take what you loved about the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and up it a notch. This is the luxury sibling of that card and, while the annual fee could come as a bit of a shock, when you consider what you get for the fee, we think it's worth it. Well, not only us: MONEY® Magazine named this card the "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018.

The Bonus: You can earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. With this card, however, your points are worth 50% more when you redeem them for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, so that bonus alone could be worth as much as $750 in travel.

The Annual Fee: $450

The Rewards: Earn three times the points on dining at restaurants and on travel charges after earning your annual travel reimbursement statement credit and one point on everything else. Once again, those Chase Ultimate Rewards® points are transferable to numerous frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs and, as mentioned earlier, they're worth 50% more when you redeem them for travel through the Ultimate Rewards® portal. And, yes, this is another option if you're considering following the advice in the Pro Tip box above and opening a couple of cards that work on the Ultimate Rewards® system. Remember, though, that you can't hold this card and the Preferred version. Furthermore, you won't be able to collect a signup bonus on any Sapphire card if you've gotten one with another Sapphire card within the past 48 months. Read our full Chase Sapphire Reserve® review.

Added Perks: Cardholders are eligible for up to $300 each account anniversary year in travel reimbursement – that alone significantly helps to offset the annual fee. Additionally, you'll be eligible for a reimbursement of your Global Entry or TSA Pre✔® application fee every four years and you'll enjoy a complimentary Priority Pass™ Select membership that allows access to more than 1,000 airport lounges around the world.

Credit Needed: Excellent

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Why It's Among the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards:  Another option for people who like to travel in comfort and luxury, this card also offers transferable points and plenty of money-saving perks that will help offset that annual fee. It also offers the Instant Card Number feature so eligible cardholders can get started racking up rewards immediately upon approval rather than waiting for your new card to arrive in the mail three to five days later.

The Bonus: New cardholders can earn 60,000 bonus Membership Rewards® points after spending $5,000 on the card in the first three months of membership. 

The Annual Fee: $550.

The Rewards: Earn five points per $1 on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com and on prepaid hotels booked through American Express travel. You earn one point per $1 spent on all your other purchases. Read our full review of The Platinum Card® from American Express.

Added Perks: Cardholders will save money with up to $200 annually in Uber savings via a $15 per month Uber credit ($20 in December) and up to $200 each year in airline fee credit with your pre-selected airline. You can also take advantage of complimentary access to airport lounges around the globe and a reimbursement for your Global Entry or TSA Pre✔ application fee. 

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent

Mastercard® Black Card™

Why It's Among the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards:  If a heavy, metal credit card doesn't say "premium," we don't know what does. This card offers you the status of an impressive card design as well as enough perks and features to make that annual fee worth it. In fact, if you're a regular traveler and you use this card regularly, you should have any trouble at all offsetting the fee.

The Bonus: The bonus comes into play when you redeem your points. Instead of being worth the typical $.01 or even 1.5 cents each, your points are worth $.02 each when redeemed for airfare and 1.5 cents each when redeemed for cash back into a U.S. bank account or for statement credit.

The Annual Fee: $495

The Rewards: Earn at an easy-to-understand rate of one point for every $1 your spend. Then, redeem those points for up to $.02 each if you're redeeming for airfare. Read our full Mastercard® Black Card™ review

Added Perks: When it comes to luxury travel, it all starts with the airport lounge. With this card you'll enjoy complimentary access to the Priority Pass Select network of more than 1,200 lounges around the globe, a perk that on its own could completely offset the annual fee if you're someone who would normally purchase an annual pass to the lounge network. Furthermore, you'll enjoy a $100 travel credit annual to offset flight-related charges such as baggage fees and upgrades. You can also take advantage of a $100 reimbursement every five years to cover your Global Entry application fee (TSA Pre✓® status is included in Global Entry). And don't forget the value of the luxury concierge, available to cardholders 24/7 to assist with things like reservations, securing tickets, travel bookings, personal requests, conducting research and more.

Credit Needed: Excellent


BEST AIRLINE REWARDS CREDIT CARDS

United℠ Explorer Card

Why It's Among the Best Airline Rewards Credit Cards: Airline rewards cards are certainly a niche travel product, but this card offers bonus earning beyond your purchases with United Airlines, which makes this a decent choice for an everyday card. Plus, there are a number of extra features that you don't usually find in a card with this low an annual fee.

The Bonus: For a limited time, earn up to 65,000 bonus miles. Earn 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months and earn another 25,000 miles after spending a total of $10,000 in the first six months.

The Annual Fee: $95

The Rewards: Earn two miles per $1 spent with United Airlines and at restaurant and on hotel stays. Earn one mile per $1 on everything else. Read our full review of the United℠ Explorer Card

Added Perks:  Enjoy up to a $100 credit to cover your Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ application fee. Check your first bag for free when you use your card to purchase your ticket, a perk that alone could more than offset your annual fee.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®

(This card is not currently available on CardRatings)

(Citi is a CardRatings.com advertiser)

Why It's Among the Best Airline Rewards Credit Cards: Shopping for an airline rewards card doesn't have to mean you only earn top rewards when you shop with that particular airline. This card offers you bonus rewards on some everyday purchases as well.

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

The Annual Fee: $99, waived for first 12 months*

The Rewards: Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations, restaurants and on eligible American Airlines purchases. Also 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. Read our full Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® review.

Added Perks: You and four companions traveling with you can check your first bags for free on domestic American Airlines itineraries. You'll also enjoy 25% off in-flight food and drink purchases on American Airlines flights when you use your card. Plus, earn a $125 American Airlines flight discount after your spend $20,000 or more on your card in an anniversary year and renew your card.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Why It's Among the Best Airline Rewards Credit Cards: If you're brand-loyal, it pays to pick up a card that supports that. In this case, the welcome offer helps you take a giant step toward the coveted Southwest Companion Pass, which is a nice jump start on your earning.

The Bonus: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. 

The Annual Fee: $149

The Rewards: Rack up two points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and on purchases with Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partners. Read our full Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card review.

Additional Perks: Card members will have their loyalty rewarded with 7,500 bonus points each year after the cardholder anniversary. Additionally, you'll receive a $75 Southwest® travel credit each year and four upgraded boardings per year as available.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

COMPARE MORE

For even more options, check out our full list of best airline rewards credit cards

BEST HOTEL REWARDS CREDIT CARDS

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

Why It's Among the Best Hotel Rewards Credit Cards: This one rewards you even if you don't stay in hotels all the time, so it's a good everyday card. Plus – and this is unusual – there are airport lounge visits included with this card. 

The Bonus: Earn 125,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on the card in the first three months. Additionally, on an ongoing basis you can earn a weekend night reward stay each calendar year you spend at least $15,000 on the card, an opportunity that could more than offset your annual fee.  

The Annual Fee: $95.

The Rewards: Earn 12 points per $1 spent directly with participating Hilton properties. Enjoy everyday earnings with six points per $1 spent at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations and three points per $1 on all your other purchases. Read our full Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card review.  

Added Perks: Cardholders receive 10 airport lounge visits each calendar year after a one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select. Visits beyond your 10th will incur a $27 fee, but those 10 complimentary visits are basically unheard of for a card with just a $95 annual fee. 

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card

Why It's Among the Best Hotel Rewards Credit Cards: With the combining of the Marriott, SPG and Ritz-Carlton hotel rewards program, guests have more options than ever when it comes to using those points. This new card gets you started on the right foot with a good sized bonus opportunity.

The Bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Cardholders will also enjoy an additional free night award (up to a 35,000-point value) after each account anniversary.

The Annual Fee: $95

The Rewards: This card allows you to rack up six points per $1 spent at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels. Beyond that, earn two points per $1 spent on everything else.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

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For even more hotel rewards credit card options, check out our full list of best hotel rewards credit cards

WHAT CAN A TRAVEL REWARDS CREDIT CARD DO FOR YOU?

HOW DO TRAVEL CREDIT CARDS WORK?

TYPES OF TRAVEL REWARDS CREDIT CARDS

"Travel rewards credit card" is a broad term that actually takes in a far ranging variety of credit cards. In fact, cards you wouldn't necessarily think of as travel rewards cards can actually function that way if you use your rewards a particular way (see the Pro Tip above about Chase Freedom® and Chase Freedom Unlimited® for a good example).

In a pure sense, though, travel rewards credit cards generally fall into a few specific boxes:

TRANSFERABLE POINTS

These are cards that allow you to rack up rewards, often they're called something proprietary like Ultimate Rewards® or Membership Rewards®, and either use your rewards within that proprietary system or transfer them to other travel loyalty programs such as airline frequent flyer accounts or hotel frequent stay programs.

- PRO: You can often get even better value for your rewards when you transfer them to branded loyalty programs.
- CON: It can be complicated to figure out how to get the most value out of your rewards.

FIXED VALUE

 These cards allow you to earn rewards that are then redeemable only within the program from which you earned them; you can't move them into another loyalty program. Often, these types of travel rewards can be redeemed for statement credit to cover the cost of travel you purchased on the card.

- PRO: These cards allow you to "double-dip" when it comes earning rewards. Since you purchase your flight or hotel stays on a credit card, you can still earn rewards within that airline's or hotel's loyalty program, but then you can redeem credit card rewards to cover the cost. If you redeem rewards directly with a hotel or airline, you won't earn rewards for that flight or stay.
- CON: These rewards are worth what they're worth; you can't transfer them to other loyalty programs to take advantage of discount loyalty reward fares or prices.

AIRLINE REWARDS

Airline rewards credit cards are attached to a specific airline frequent flyer program. Your credit card rewards are frequent flyer miles/points for that specific airline. 

- PRO: Your credit card purchases can help you work toward status tiers within your airline of choice. Additionally, should you close the credit card, you generally get to keep any rewards you've earned because they are housed within your frequent flyer account and not within your credit card account.
- CON:These rewards are fairly limited in terms of how you can redeem them; furthermore, you often have to have a fairly large chunk of points/rewards accumulated before you can redeem them for much travel.

HOTEL REWARDS

Again, the rewards you earn accumulate within your hotel loyalty account and not on your card.

- PRO: Like with airline rewards cards, your purchase can help you earn status with your hotel brand of choice, and you can generally hold onto your points/rewards if you close your credit card account. Additionally, many hotel-branded credit cards offer cardholders a free night stay each year after you renew your card.
- CON: As with airline cards, redeeming your rewards – particularly if you're interested in top value – is limited to stays with your hotel brand.

HOW TO COMPARE TRAVEL REWARDS CREDIT CARDS

Travel rewards credit cards sound amazing, but you have to understand how to make them work for you in order to maximize their benefits. Here are some things to keep in mind when you're comparing travel rewards cards and looking for the one that's right for you.

Know your credit score and history. We always have to start with this recommendation regardless of the type of credit card you're looking for. The first step when comparing credit cards is to narrow down your options based on your credit score and history. If you have excellent credit, this probably won't narrow down your options much since most cards will be available to you. If, however, you have fair or average credit, this step will probably narrow your options considerably, especially when it comes to rewards cards. Don't grow discouraged! Just work with the credit score you have, use responsibly  the credit cards for which your eligible and you may soon qualify for a card designed for those with good or excellent credit. DON'T apply for cards that require excellent credit if you simply don't have excellent credit as that could very well damage your score.

Assess your travel goals. Are you someone who takes a mega-trip once a year? Or are you a person who escapes for weekend getaways whenever possible? Do you care about things like airport lounge access and VIP perks, or are you primarily concerned with top rewards for the lowest possible annual fee? Be honest about how you travel and don't convince yourself you will change your travel habits to fit a new credit card. Instead, find the card that fits the travel patterns you've already established.

Be honest about your spending habits. As with any rewards credit card, you want to find the one where the top rewards-earning most closely aligns with your regular spending habits. If, for instance, you rarely dine out than you aren't going to reap the full benefit of a travel rewards card that offers top rewards at restaurants. Likewise, if you prefer road trips to transatlantic flights, an airline rewards card probably isn't for you. Now, that sounds pretty basic, but it can be more nuanced. Let's say, for instance, that you are a bargain shopper who will fly any airline that offers you the cheapest airfare to your destination; conversely, maybe you are an airline loyalist who is prepared to pay a little bit more to fly the airline you've come to know and love.

Consider the fees. Many of the top travel rewards credit cards do charge an annual fee, but that's not necessarily a deal-breaker. Often, redeeming your travel rewards for just one flight or one hotel night or one car rental can completely offset that fee and than some. The trick is to make sure you're going to spend enough on the card and then use the rewards effectively enough to fully offset any fee you may owe. Additionally, we are talking about travel rewards cards here, so make sure you know whether the card you're considering charges foreign transaction fees. If you are someone who plans to use your card while abroad, you'll definitely want to apply for a card that doesn't charge those fees.

Look at the extra perks and features. The top travel rewards credit cards offer cardholders more than just rewards and the conveniences and security of paying with plastic. instead, they feature "fine print" benefits like included car rental insurance, lost luggage insurance or even trip cancellation/interruption insurance. Some cards reimburse you for some travel expenses or offer statement credit to cover Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® application fees. And, of course, there are cards that offer complimentary checked bags on flights and/or airport lounge access or free room upgrades. Decide which of these features is important to you and search for a card that meets those needs.

To see the rates and fees for the American Express cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: The Business Platinum® Card from American Express (See Rates and Fees); The Platinum Card® from American Express (See Rates and Fees); American Express® Gold Card (See Rates and Fees); Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card (See Rates and Fees); American Express® Green 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.

Comments
2 Comments

  1. Jean
    August 28, 2019 - 9:00 pm
    So I took your recommendation and applied for the Chase Sapphire preferred and got instant approval. I would really like to combine this with the Chase Freedom card. I have excellent credit. Do you think it would be unwise to immediately apply for the Chase Freedom card? Or should I wait for several months? Thanks.
      Reply »  
    1. Brooklyn Lowery
      August 29, 2019 - 7:06 pm
      Thanks so much for your comment and congrats on the Sapphire Preferred card. It's great thinking to combine it with Chase Freedom. Assuming your credit truly is excellent, you should be fine to apply for Chase Freedom right away. I've actually seen accounts of people being approved for 2 (or even 3!) Chase cards in the same day, so you're probably safe with a couple of days in between applications. Of course, there are no guarantees, but I think it's worth a shot. Good luck!
        Reply »