Updated February 27, 2018 – Earning free travel is incredibly attractive to most people, and many credit cards exist to help you kickstart your vacation funds.
However, choosing the best travel credit card is difficult, because everyone has different needs. For example, if you’re already earning airline miles from a particular airline, it makes sense to get a frequent flyer credit card from that same airline. Same with hotel credit cards. Piggyback on what you’re already earning based on your travels.
However, if you aren’t already earning miles or hotel points from business travel, it can be more difficult to decide on a travel card. In fact, it’s quite possible you’d be better off simply choosing a cash back credit card, especially if you do not use your credit card very often.
That said, below we list a variety of travel credit cards that you might choose, broken down into categories, beginning with general travel reward cards for those who don’t want to be tied to a particular airline, hotel chain, or cruise line.
- Discover It Miles Card – Offers a simple formula: you get 1.5 points per dollar charged to the card, with each point being worth a penny. You then use your points to offset or completely pay for travel purchases via a statement credit. For example, 15,000 points equals $150 in travel expenses. You also have the attractive option to simply take your earnings in cash back and forget about the travel aspect altogether, meaning you essentially get 1.5% cash back on all of your purchases. (For a nice bonus, all your earnings in the first year get doubled when those 12 months are over.)
- Bank of America Travel Rewards Visa – Earn 1.5 points per dollar, with each point being worth one cent in travel rewards: 10,000 points = $100 in travel rewards, etc. You can also earn 20,000 bonus points (worth $200.00) if you make at least $1000 in card purchases in the first 90 days.
- Capital One VentureOne Card – No-annual-fee travel card gives you 1.25 “miles” per dollar charged to the card. The miles are essentially points, equal to a penny per point. You use the points to pay for travel costs in part or in full. For example, 20,000 points could be used to pay for $200 in travel expenses. (So, you could really think of this card as being equivalent to a cash back card giving you a 1.25% rebate.)
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card – Though not marketed as an airline card, this one’s got plenty of air and travel benefits — including 1-to-1 point transfers to United MileagePlus, Southwest Rapid Rewards, and other frequent flyer programs. Earn 2 points per dollar on travel and dining purchases, 1 point everywhere else, plus 50,000 bonus points (worth $625 in travel when redeemed via Chase Ultimate Rewards) if you spend over $4000 in the first 3 months of having the card. Use points to pay or offset travel costs — at 1.25 cents per point when redeemed via Chase Ultimate Rewards. No annual fee first year, then you’ll pay $95 per year, so choose this only if you intend to use it often.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve – This one’s got a hefty $450 annual fee, but some enticing rewards to balance it out. First off, you get $300 in travel reimbursements per year, which effectively lowers the card’s annual fee to $150 as long as you do even a moderate amount of travel. In addition, you get 3 points per dollar on travel and dining purchases, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. There are other travel perks as well, such as airport lounge access. Also offers a 50,000-point bonus (worth $750 in travel when redeemed via Chase Ultimate rewards) if you make at least $4000 in purchases with the card within the first 90 days of having it. Use points to pay or offset travel costs — at 1.5 cents per point when redeemed via Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Priceline Rewards Visa – Earn 5 points per dollar on Priceline purchases and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. Redeem points for statement credit to pay for travel purchases made with the card. Points equal pennies; for example, 10,000 points equals $100 in travel purchases.
- The Barclaycard Arrival Plus credit cards offer “miles” equal to a penny per mile in airline/travel benefits. (For example, 10,000 miles equals $100 of travel benefits.) The card has an $89 annual fee (waived for the first year). It offers 2 miles per dollar on all purchases, plus a 40,000-mile bonus if you use it for at least $3000 in spending in the first 90 days.
- American Express Platinum Card – The high-end luxury travel charge card from American Express has the biggest annual fee of any major travel card at $550. Do the perks justify it? Maybe. You get 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar on airline and hotel purchases (1 point per dollar everywhere else), a $200 airline fee credit each year, $15 in free Uber rides each month ($20 in December), airport lounge access and more.
- Citi Prestige Card – A big $450 annual fee, but some nice benefits for frequent travelers. The immediate benefits include up to $250 in credit for air travel purchases made with the card, including tickets, baggage fees, in-flight purchases, etc., plus a 4th night free when you book 3 nights at a hotel with the card. You can also get a $100 Global Entry application fee credit. In terms of points toward rewards, you get 3 points per dollar on air and hotel purchases made with the card, 2 points on dining and entertainment, and 1 point on everything else.
Airline Credit Cards:
- Alaska Airlines Visa – Earn 3 miles per dollar on Alaska Airlines flights, 1 mile per dollar everywhere else. Use miles for Alaska Airlines flights or flights on Delta, American, British Airways, and other partner airlines.
- American Airlines AAdvantage Credit Cards – American Airlines offers 3 different AAdvantage frequent flyer credit cards in partnership with Citi, including the Platinum Select Card, the Citi Executive MasterCard, and the CitiBusiness Platinum Select MasterCard. For most people, the Platinum Select or the CitiBusiness AAdvantage card will be the right choice, but frequent travelers may enjoy the perks of the Executive card even with its $450 annual fee.
- Delta Airlines SkyMiles Credit Cards – Delta offers 4 different American Express frequent flyer cards. The base Delta SkyMiles Gold credit card offers 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta flights and 1 point per dollar on other purchases. It has an annual fee of $95. If you are a frequent Delta flier, you might also be interested in the other Delta credit cards with higher rewards but also higher fees — the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Card or the Delta Reserve Card. (There is also a no-annual-fee Blue SkyMiles credit card with lesser benefits.)
- Frontier Airlines World MasterCard – Straightforward frequent flyer card offers 2 miles per dollar on Frontier Airlines purchases and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases. $69 annual fee. There is also a no-annual-fee version that offers essentially half the miles of the standard card. (Our full review.)
- Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard – Earn 2 miles per dollar on Hawaiian Airlines purchases, 1 mile per dollar everywhere else, plus other mile opportunities with various partners. 35,000 bonus miles if you spend $1000 with the card in 90 days. $89 annual fee. Also offers a business credit card. (Our full review.)
- JetBlue Credit Card – Get 3 points per dollar on JetBlue purchases made directly with the airline, 2 points per dollar at restaurants and grocery stores, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. These points are on top of the points you already earn on JetBlue flights with the TrueBlue frequent flier program. No annual fee. (You may also choose the $99-annual-fee JetBlue Plus MasterCard for greater rewards. See our review of all JetBlue cards here.)
- Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Cards – Southwest Airlines offers 2 consumer credit cards and a business credit card. All cards offer 2 points per dollar on Southwest flights and 2 points per dollar on Rapid Rewards hotel & car rental partner purchases, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. (See the Southwest site to understand how points are redeemed.) The difference is annual fees and bonus offers. The consumer and business Rapid Rewards Premier Cards have a $99 annual fee and offer a 6,000-point bonus on your card anniversary each year. The consumer Plus Card has a lower $69 annual fee but only offers a 3,000-point bonus on each card anniversary. In most cases, the difference is probably a wash in terms of value, assuming you redeem your points.
- Spirit Airlines MasterCard – You earn miles for every dollar charged on this card, plus a 15,000-point bonus when you use the card for the first time — enough for 3 off-peak round-trip flights, although we are not sure what constitutes off-peak. $59 annual fee, but none for the first year.
- United Airlines MileagePlus Credit Cards – In partnership with Chase, United offers 3 consumer cards and 2 business credit cards that allow you to add to your Mileage Plus frequent flyer point total. The base United MileagePlus Explorer Card offers 2 miles per dollar on United purchases, 1 mile per dollar on other card purchases. You also get your first checked bag free on United flights, and 2 passes per year to airport United Clubs. There is an annual fee of $95. The United MileagePlus Club Card offers greater rewards but a much larger annual fee of $450. (United business credit cards offer similar rewards to the consumer cards.)
Hotel Credit Cards:
- Choice Privileges Visa – Hotel credit card of multiple chains including Comfort Inn, EconoLodge, Clarion and more. Earn 15 points per dollar on Choice Privileges hotel stays, 2 points per dollar on all other card purchases. Earn a free night for as little as 8,000 points. You can earn bonuses of up to 4 free nights when you use the card for your first hotel stay with the card. Unlike many travel cards, this one has no annual fee.
- Hilton HHonors Credit Cards – There are 3 different Hilton credit card options from American Express, with or without an annual fee. If you stay at Hilton hotels regularly, the cards with an annual fee might actually be worth the extra cost, especially if you spend a lot with your credit card.
- Hyatt Credit Card – Hyatt Visa offers 3 points per dollar on Hyatt stays, 2 points per dollar at restaurants and on airline & car rental purchases, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Free Hyatt stays begin at 5,000 points, though most hotels will be significantly more. Offers other Hyatt perks as well. $75 annual fee.
- IHG Rewards Club Credit Card – Earn points within the International Hotels Group family of hotels, including InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Candlewood Suites, Hotel Indigo and more. Get 5 points per dollar a IHG hotels, 2 points per dollar on gas, grocery and restaurant purchases, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. Most hotel stays require at least 20,000 points for a free night, more for the higher-end hotels.
- Marriott Credit Cards – Earn 5 Marriott points per dollar on Marriott stays (and on Ritz-Carlton stays), 2 points per dollar on restaurants, car rental agencies, airline tickets purchased direct from airlines (not through any agent), office supply store purchases, Internet services, cable services, and phone services, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. $85 annual fee.
- Starwood Hotels American Express Card – The credit card of Starwood Hotels (W Hotels, Westin, Sheraton, St. Regis, Aloft, more) offers 2 points per dollar on Starwood purchases (on top of the 2 or 3 points per dollar you get in the Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program), 2 points per dollar on Marriott hotel stays, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. Various bonuses and perks possible as well. Points can be used at Starwood hotels or transferred to many airlines’ frequent flyer programs. No annual fee first year, then $95 per year.
- Wyndham Credit Cards – Wyndham hotels offer a nice easy redemption for your loyalty points: 15,000 points equals a free night at any Wyndham hotel, anytime there is availability. Wyndham credit cards can help you get there faster. Choose from the $69 annual fee card that gives 5 points per dollar on Wyndham purchases and 2 points per dollar on everything else plus 30,000 bonus points upfront, or the no-annual-fee card that offers 3 points per dollar on Wyndham purchases, 2 points per dollar on other purchases, and a 15,000-point upfront bonus.
Cruise Line Credit Cards:
- Carnival World MasterCard – Earn “FunPoints” that can be used toward future cruises or toward your onboard charges while cruising on a Carnival ship and sister cruise lines including Princess Cruises and Holland America. You get 2 points per dollar on purchases you make with the card on Carnival cruise purchases, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases, plus 10,000 free points when you use the card for the first time. For reference, 1000 points is equivalent to $10. This card has no annual fee.
- Holland America Visa – Earn points toward future Holland America cruises or special rewards once on board Holland America ships, including a 5,000 point bonus (worth $50 in onboard purchases) just for getting and using the card for the first time. There is no annual fee with this card.
- Norwegian Cruise Line MasterCard – Earn points toward future cruises, onboard purchases, other travel purchases, and more, including 10,000 points just for getting and using the card the first time, which equals $100 off your next Norwegian cruise. This card has no annual fee.
- Princess Cruises Visa – Earn points toward future Princess cruises or special rewards once on board Princess ships, including a 10,000 point bonus (worth $100 in onboard purchases) just for getting and using the card for the first time. There is no annual fee with this card.
- Royal Caribbean Visa – Earn points toward Royal Caribbean cruise onboard purchases, other travel purchases, and more, including 10,000 points just for getting and using the card the first time, which equals $100 in onboard purchases. This card has no annual fee.