Here’s an in-depth guide to travel credit cards in 2020 that will help you understand everything you need to turn your regular spending into a vacation.
Overview: best travel credit cards
With so much competition in the industry, it might be hard to figure out which card is right for you.
Here’s a list of Money Under 30’s favorite travel credit cards—we’re sure you’ll find the right one for you on this list.
|Credit Card||Best For|
|Discover it® Miles||First Year Bonus Points|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card||Bank Of America Customers|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||Everyday Travel Rewards|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Generous Travel Rewards Sign-Up Bonus|
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card||Low Regular APR|
|Bank of America® Business Advantage Travel Rewards World Mastercard® credit card||Travel Rewards For Businesses|
Best first year bonus credit card
Discover it® Miles
The Discover it® Miles has a lot going for it in terms of travel credit cards. For one thing, it comes with absolutely no annual fees or foreign transaction fees, making it ideal for travelers who want to spend but don’t want to commit.
The standard earn rate is 1.5 miles per every dollar spent on purchases without any categories or limitations.
This is a good amount, but the most exciting benefit you’ll receive from the Discover it® Miles is the end of year bonus. At the end of the first year owning the card, Discover will match whatever miles you’ve earned for the entire 12-month period.
- Regular APR: See Terms
- Annual Fee: $0
- Rewards: 1.5 miles per every dollar spent on purchases without any categories or limitations
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card is a similar offer to the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card, and it also caters to the casual credit card holder. If you don’t find yourself putting a lot on your card each month but still want the fringe benefits that come when you do, this could be the best card for you.
You’ll get you a neat 25,000 online bonus points, and you only have to spend $1,000 in the first 90 days of opening the account to qualify for them. The earn rate is 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases.
The biggest incentive to choosing the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card, though, is for Bank of America Preferred Rewards Clients. If you qualify, you could up your reward points earn rate by 25 percent, 50 percent, or even 75 percent depending on what type of account and how much money you have in the account on a consistent basis.
- Regular APR: See Terms
- Annual Fee: $0
- Rewards: 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is not your typical travel credit card. Aside from the first year annual fee waiver, members like this card because it has one of the best earn rates around. You can receive 2 miles for every dollar charged across all categories.
You’ll also earn 50,000 bonus miles when you use your card for $3,000 worth of purchases within three months of opening the card.
- Regular APR: 17.24% - 24.49% (Variable)
- Annual Fee: $0 intro for first year; $95 after that
- Rewards: 2 miles for every dollar charged across all categories
What we like:
A monster of an up-front bonus. 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months
2x points per dollar spent on all travel and dining at restaurants, worldwide
Points are worth 25% more when you redeem travel through Chase Unlimited Rewards
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers some great benefits with an annual fee of $95. It also has no foreign transaction fees either, saving you a bundle on foreign purchases.
The card offers a whopping 60,000 bonus points when you sign up and spend $4,000 within three months of opening the account. That’s $750 in travel rewards 0r $600 in cash.
You’ll also get a generous rewards program—2 points for every dollar spent on travel and dining and 1 point for all other purchases.
- Regular APR: 15.99%-22.99% Variable
- Annual Fee: $95
- Rewards: 2 points for every dollar spent on travel and dining and one point for all other purchases.
Best low regular APR credit card
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card is one of the best all around travel credit cards, especially for people who don’t necessarily spend a lot of money on their credit cards each month.
The card gives you a nice 20,000 miles welcome bonus as long as you spend $1,000 in the first three months of opening the account. The earn rate is 1.25X miles on every purchase. Plus now you can use your Venture miles on hotels and flights and even transfer miles to their 10+ travel partners.
You’ll also get some cushy perks like travel upgrades at hotels and spas and the Visa Signature® concierge service to make your trip more comfortable. Additionally, this card delivers more convenience and security while traveling with auto collision or theft insurance and travel insurance.
- Regular APR: 15.49% - 25.49% (Variable)
- Annual Fee: $0
- Rewards: 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day and pay no annual fee.
Bank of America® Business Advantage Travel Rewards World Mastercard® credit card
With the Bank of America® Business Advantage Travel Rewards World MasterCard® credit card, you earn points for travel that you can then use to book trips anywhere in the world – making it a great option for your business spending.
And there’s no annual fee so business travelers are going to appreciate the convenience of these immediate savings. You’ll also earn 1.5 points for every dollar you spend, which you can then use toward booking either personal or business travel through the Bank of America Travel Center, which is powered by Expedia®.
Best of all, you’ll earn 3 points for every dollar you spend when you book your trips through the Travel Center. Your rewards never expire, there are no international transaction fees, and there are no blackout dates when you’re redeeming your points.
- Regular APR: See Terms
- Annual Fee: $0.00
- Rewards: 3X points on travel-related purchases and 1.5 points on all purchases, all the time. Points don’t expire.
Summary of the best travel rewards credit cards
|Credit Card||Credit Needed||Cash Rewards||Unique Features|
|Discover it® Miles||700+||Unlimited 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases||Discover will match ALL the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card||700+||Unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases||Get an additional 25% - 75% points bonus if you're a Preferred Rewards client.|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||700+||2X miles per dollar spent on every purchase||Receive up to a $100 credit on Global TSA Pre✓
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
|750+||2X points per $1 spent on travel and dining|
1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
|Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards|
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card||700+||1.25X miles on all purchases||Travel upgrades at hotels and spas and the Visa Signature® concierge service|
|Bank of America® Business Advantage Travel Rewards World Mastercard® credit card||750+||Earn 3 points per every dollar spent on travel purchases (car, hotel, airline) booked through the Bank of America® Travel Center|
1.5 points for every $1 spent on all purchases everywhere
|Your points can be enhanced by between 25% and 75% if you are also a Bank of America Premium Platinum Honors member|
How we came up with our list of the top travel credit cards
Choosing the best travel credit cards can be tricky, and that’s why we wanted to be as particular as possible so you wouldn’t have to do any of the legwork.
We’ve scoured the internet, spoken with card issuers, and conducted in-depth research to find all of the most promising travel offers available.
We then weighed each of them in a thorough side-by-side comparison, and came up with a list of the most beneficial cards to travel with in 2018.
We considered the most important factors including introductory offers, rewards points earn rates, redemption structure and policies, annual fees, and additional benefits that you receive with the card.
A card got higher rankings if it offered less fees, high earn rates, extra perks, and an easy redemption policy.
Travel rewards credit cards vs. airline credit cards
If you’ve ever traveled or looked into travel credit cards, you’ve heard the terms airline credit cards and travel rewards credit cards. Chances are that you assumed these two terms are interchangeable. In fact, they are not. Here’s the important difference:
Airline credit cards
These are credit cards that are issued directly by an airline, for example, the British Airways Visa Signature® card. In these cases, the airline teams up with a credit card company to offer members a new deal, usually discounts on flights or flight-related items such as free checked baggage, etc.
These deals are airline-specific, and you cannot use the miles for any other airline or travel expenses.
Travel rewards credit cards
Travel rewards credit cards come from a different angle. These miles can be used with any hotel chain, airline, or even travel agent. In fact, often these bonus points can be used on purchases other than airline tickets and other travel-related purchases.
You’ll earn valuable rewards points by purchasing with your travel credit card such as priority check-in, VIP passes, and upgrades. What’s more, travel rewards credit cards come with additional perks such as 0 percent APR on purchase and purchase protection or extended warranty.
Additionally, you’ll enjoy multiplied or accelerated points accumulation when you use your card to make regular purchases (not just travel-related ones).
All in all, travel rewards cards deliver more for your money, making them our preferred choice.
Most important features of travel credit cards
As mentioned, there are some features that are more important for a travel credit card than others. Since they’re the most significant things to look for when searching for the best travel credit card, we thought it would be a good idea to explain each one. Here’s a brief description of what to look for when comparing cards:
The APR or annual percentage rate is the total amount that the card will cost you each year if you carry a balance. A higher APR means you’ll be shelling out more cash, while a lower APR reflects greater savings. A card with a 0 percent APR introductory rate or an everyday lower APR scored higher in our rankings.
Annual fees are a big deal among travel cardholders with so much variation from card to card. Cards range from no annual fees to hundreds of dollars, so there is a lot of discussion around the topic.
Credit card companies need to make money somehow, but cardholders need to be incentivized in order to sign up for their cards. Some companies compensate the bigger benefits they offer by charging a higher annual fee, while others prefer to offer smaller benefits and lower or no annual fees. Which is better is the big debate.
So, which is it? That depends mostly on your spending and travel habits. The more you travel, the more advantageous a travel credit card with good rewards and earn rates becomes.
Another factor to consider, however, is how much you spend on your credit card each year.
While it seems obvious that a no annual fee credit card is better than one that charges you yearly, this is not always the case. In some instances, you’re better off paying the annual fee because of the benefits that come with the card. It depends on how much you spend with your card, for the most part. If you aren’t spending a lot annually on your card, then a high annual fee won’t be worthwhile for you to pay, even if it offers great rewards.
Credit score required
How good a credit score you need is a major factor to consider when applying for a credit card. Many premium travel cards require good credit, meaning 700 or higher.
If you don’t have this level of credit rating, then you probably won’t be eligible for the card. Fortunately, there are some solid credit card options available to people with fair or poor credit scores.
How hard or easy rewards points are to redeem and what you can redeem them for are also big decision makers. It doesn’t help to accrue thousands of points if you can’t redeem them for any of the things you want to buy.
When credit cards tie your hands with blackout dates, purchase restrictions, amount limitations, and caps, they lose credibility and desirability in our eyes. Travel cards ranked higher for a wider range of redemption options and redemption flexibility.
Foreign transaction fees
Foreign transaction fees eat away a large chunk of the savings we hope to gain from a reward-based travel credit card. Instead of racking up one to three percent of our purchases in rewards points, a foreign transaction fee actually deducts three percent from your savings. For this reason, only credit cards with no foreign transaction fees are included in our list. You won’t be hit with this colossal charge using any of these cards.
Travel rewards structure
How you earn points is important as well. If you earn one point for every dollar you spend or if you earn three points, that’s a big difference. How many points earned is something we take heavily into consideration when comparing travel cards. Additionally, what purchases earn you rewards points, also weighs in.
Alternatively, some cards will offer you a lower earn rate that is equal across all categories. This is the case with the Discover it® Miles. You’ll earn 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases, regardless of category. This is more beneficial for people who only travel infrequently, and wouldn’t make as many purchases on travel expenses.
Other rewards structure factors include any caps on how many points can be earned, expiration dates, and other rules regulating your rewards.
Airline companion tickets
Airline companion tickets are basically a free or discounted ride for someone you are traveling with. This is a benefit that is generally reserved by the airlines themselves, and most travel credit cards do not offer this perk. If a card does, it is ranked higher for this advantage.
A good introductory offer can be an enticing proposal. Most travel cards have some sort of introductory offer, but this can vary from one card to the next. Some cards offer bonus points while others will give you 0 percent APR for a limited amount of time. One of the most lucrative welcome bonuses is the Discover it® Miles that actually matches your reward miles at the end of the first year. That’s huge!
There’s one thing to note about introductory offers, though. While a nice welcome bonus can give you tremendous gains for the first year, be sure to choose a travel card that will be beneficial to you in the long run as well. If a card loses its value after the first year and leaves you holding a large annual fee, you haven’t really gained much.
While travel miles are the crux of your search with travel credit cards, most cards will also come with additional benefits. Think of it as the cherry on top of an already sweet sundae; additional benefits can include shopping perks, travel insurance, and bonuses. Here are some of the bonus perks you’ll get from each of our recommended travel cards:
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||Receive up to $100 credit for global entry or TSA pre✓®||Autopay so you never miss a payment ||Extended warranty
|Discover it® Miles||Discover will match your reward miles at the end of the first year||Free FICO score||No penalty APR
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Dedicated customer service hotline||1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs ||25% more value for Chase Ultimate Rewards redemptions
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card||See Terms|
for first 12 billing cycles
|Earn 25% - 75% more on purchases if you're a Preferred Rewards Client ||No blackout dates
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card||Lowest regular APR around||0% fraud liability ||Auto rental collision insurance
|Bank of America® Business Advantage Travel Rewards World Mastercard||Earn 30,000 bonus points when you make at least $3,000 in net purchases within 90 days of your account opening. This can be redeemed for a $300 statement credit towards travel purchases||Travel services including $1 million in travel accident insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, trip cancellation coverage, and trip delay reimbursement||No annual fee and no international transaction fees|
FAQs on travel credit cards
Will I be charged any added fees if I use my card overseas?
All of the cards on our list of the best travel credit cards do not charge any foreign transaction fees on purchases made overseas.
How can I redeem travel rewards points I’ve already earned?
Redeem your travel rewards points in one of two ways:
- Statement Credit
You charge something to your credit card and then select that item on your statement via the credit card’s website. Choose the item you wish to pay for using your miles, and that amount will automatically be deducted from your bill.
- Direct Purchase
You can use the credit card’s partner website or reservation portal to book flights and other reservations directly using your miles.
Can I redeem only a portion of my rewards and if so, is there a minimum amount I can redeem at once?
Depending on the card you use, you may be required to use a minimum number of points if you wish to redeem for only partial purchases. Meaning, if you want to pay for half of your airline ticket using miles, you’ll need to use at least 2,5000 miles to cover the cost. See specific card details for more information.
Do my rewards points expire after a certain amount of time?
The vast majority of travel cards will keep your rewards points for the entire duration of your account life. If you deactivate your card, the points will be deactivated as well. Otherwise, you can keep accruing points without worrying about expirations.
What can I redeem my rewards points for?
What you can use your rewards points on varies based on the card you sign up for. Generally speaking, most travel cards will allow you to redeem rewards points for airline tickets and hotel reservations, and many will include car rentals, cruises, and other travel-related expenses. A few cards will even let you trade in rewards points for statement credits for anything you want.
Travel credit cards offer a world of benefit to anyone who currently travels or someone who wants to travel but can’t afford the ticket.
A travel credit card is a good idea for you if you spend a minimum of $1,000 on your credit card each month. Even if you don’t, though, the cards with no annual fees can help you rack up valuable points for any purchases that you are making already.
If you are interested in flying or staying in hotels for free, this type of credit card can make it happen.
Not sure you want a travel credit card? Finding the right credit card for you is much simpler if you know your credit score, and can narrow your search to only the cards you know you’ll get approved for. We’ve made it easy for you. If you don’t already know your score, use our quick and free Credit Score Estimator tool – then find the perfect card for you!