Choose the Best Travel Rewards Credit Card with this Guide

By Jason Steele. Last updated 7 December 2017. 0 comments

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So you’ve heard tales of people getting free travel through travel rewards from their credit cards, and you want in. But with hundreds of credit cards offered by dozens of card issuers, how do you get started with travel rewards? It can be quite a challenge to find the right travel rewards card for you needs. To narrow down your selection, it helps to divide all of the reward cards on the market into four groups:

  • Cards that offer statement credit for travel purchases
  • Cards that offer travel discounts or points transfer to loyalty programs
  • Co-branded cards that offer travel perks and miles redemption through specific airlines or hotels
  • Cards that offer premium benefits for travelers who want comfort and convenience

See also: Cash Back vs Travel Rewards: Pick the Right Credit Card for You

Cards That Offer Travel Purchase Credit

These are the most flexible travel rewards credit cards -- these cards offer points or miles that can be redeemed for most travel purchases. They offer the most flexibility because you don’t need to deal with award flights (booking flights with points/miles) or airline loyalty programs. You just use your card to book through whatever online booking site you want, or directly with the travel vendors, and redeem your points for statement credit at a 1 cent per mile/point rate toward those travel purchases. For those who want simple and flexible redemption, these are the best travel rewards credit cards.

Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card

The Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card allows you to earn unlimited 1.5 points for every purchase, which you can redeem as statement credit toward flights, hotels, vacation packages, rental cars, and more. There are no blackout dates or restrictions, and your points don’t expire. New cardmembers earn 20,000 bonus points, worth $200 in statement credit, if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. And if you have an active Bank of America® checking or savings account, you can get a 10%-25% customer points bonus on every purchase! This card has no annual fee.

Click here to learn more and apply for the Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card today!

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is another card that gives you a lot of flexibility with your rewards. You earn unlimited 2x miles per dollar on every purchase, every day. Redeem your miles as statement credit towards travel purchases made with this card. Book any airline, any hotel, rental cars and more -- you aren’t tied to specific travel programs or companies. Plus, new cardmembers get a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles (equal to $500 in travel) once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. There is an annual fee of $95 that is waived the first year.

Click here to learn more and apply for the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card today!

Cards That Offer Travel Discount or Points Transfer

These credit cards offer two ways to redeem your travel rewards: booking travel through their branded travel portal, or transferring your points to loyalty programs. The catch is that you can only get flights and stays with the card partners. For example, Chase has 11 partners, including Southwest, United, British AIrways, Hyatt, and IHG. American Express cardholders can access Air Canada, Cathay Pacific, JetBlue, Virgin America, Starwood Preferred, Hilton, and more. Redeeming your points through their travel portal can get you more value for your points, or you can transfer your points to their partner programs, and book award flights through that. It takes a little more expertise and research to get the best deal and find what you’re looking for. But you’re likely to get more than 1 cent per point, which can be worth the extra work.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a popular option among frequent travelers. Earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide. What sets this card apart from the rest is the 1:1 point transfer rate to participating travel programs and the opportunity to get 25% off travel when you redeem points through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. There is an introductory annual fee of $0 the first year, then $95.

Click here to learn more and apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card today!

Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

The Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express is a good bet for frequent travelers. This card offers 3X points for airfare booked directly from airlines, 2X points at US gas stations, US restaurants, and US supermarkets, and 1X point on other purchases. Earn 25,000 points once you spend $2,000 on purchases within your first 3 months of card membership. Other travel perks include up to a $100 airline fee credit each calendar year and a $75 hotel credit on qualifying charges. There are no foreign transaction fees. There is a $0 Intro Annual Fee for the 1st year, then $195. Terms apply. See rates and fees.

Click here to learn more and apply for the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express today!

Co-branded Travel Credit Cards

If you're a frequent traveler with one particular airline or hotel, you will probably be best off using a co-branded card. By adding your credit card rewards to the miles you earn from flying, you will be able to earn free travel even faster. In addition, credit cards that are co-branded with either an airline or a hotel loyalty program can offer valuable benefits. For example, an airline credit card will frequently offer free checked bags, priority boarding and discounts on in-flight food and entertainment. Hotel cards frequently offer elite status in the hotel's loyalty program which can feature room upgrades, late checkouts and even free breakfasts.

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

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® from our partner Citi offers double miles on eligible American Airlines purchases and one mile for each dollar spent everywhere else. For a limited time, earn 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. Miles can be redeemed for award flights with American Airlines and other OneWorld airline partners. You also receive a 10% rebate on your redemptions, up to 10,000 miles each calendar year. Other perks include priority boarding, inflight discounts, first checked bag free, and other travel benefits. There is a $95 annual fee, waived for the first 12 months.

Click here to learn more and apply for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® today!

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express offers 2x miles on purchases made directly with Delta and 1x mile on other eligible purchases. New cardholders earn 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases with your new card in the first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new card in your first 3 months. This card also offers first checked bag free, priority boarding, and 20% savings on in-flight food, alcoholic beverages, and audio headsets. (Savings do not apply to any other in-flight purchases, such as in-flight wireless internet access and associated services, and charitable contributions.) You and two travel companions may enjoy Delta Sky Club airport lounges at a reduced rate. There is a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95. There are no foreign transaction fees. Terms apply. See rates and fees.

Click here to learn more and apply for the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express today!

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express allows you to earn up to 5 points for each dollar you spend at participating SPG and Marriott Rewards hotels and 1 point on other purchases. If you spend $3,000 with your card within the first 3 months of opening the account, you can earn 25,000 bonus points. Points can be used for hotel stays or transferred to miles. You earn a 5,000 point bonus if you transfer 20,000 Starpoints to a participating frequent flyer program at once. Terms apply. There is no foreign transaction fee. The annual fee of $95 is waived the first year. See rates and fees.

Click here to learn more and apply for the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express today!

Cards with Premium Benefits

The final type of travel reward credit card offers premium benefits for people who are looking for comfort and convenience when they travel. These cards offer airport lounge access, elite status with hotel programs, as well as a statement credit towards the application fee for the Global Entry program or TSA precheck. Typically, these type of premium travel reward cards have an annual fee of $400 - $450.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

While the Platinum Card® from American Express is a charge card rather than a credit card, it still offers a number of valuable travel benefits for cardholders, such as Hilton Honors Gold status, an airline fee credit of up to $200 per year, fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck every five years for the application fee, access to more than 1,000 airport lounges, and Uber savings up to $200 annually. This card also awards 5X points in American Express Membership Rewards for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, plus 1X point for other eligible purchases. New cardholders earn a bonus of 60,000 points after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Terms apply. There is no foreign transaction fee. The annual fee is $550. See rates and fees.

Click here to learn more and apply for The Platinum Card® from American Express today!

Which type is best for you?

For those who don’t travel often but want to rack up points for a cheap or free vacation, a card that offers a statement credit on travel purchases or discounts through its travel portal will be ideal. In addition, the programs that offer transfers to airline miles and hotel points can be great for award travel enthusiasts who really know how to get the most value from different frequent flyer programs.

But for loyal customers of a particular airline or hotel program that travel at least a few times a year, a co-branded travel rewards card will be the fastest way to earn free travel while enjoying benefits that make travel more convenient and comfortable.

The premium travel reward cards are for those who consider their benefits invaluable and are willing to pay a high annual fee for the advantages. And while these cardholders also earn flexible travel reward points that can be transferred to airline miles, the main reason to consider a card is for its perks like airport lounge access, personal concierge assistance, and more.

By understanding how different types of travel rewards credit cards work and examining how you will use a particular travel rewards card, you can choose type of card that will offer you the most rewards and benefits.

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