5 Best Travel Reward Credit Cards
There are few things as alluring as the promise of free travel to exotic destinations. The banks know this, and have long offered travel rewards to their customers for receiving and using their credit cards. In turn, savvy credit card users have learned how to exploit these offers to travel in comfort and style well beyond their means. (See also: 6 Ways My Family Scores Free Travel With Credit Cards)
Recently, I was explaining this to an European executive sitting next to me in Lufthansa’s Airbus A380 business class while returning home from a vacation in Italy. I told him that my family and I could not possibly have paid for our three, $7,000 tickets for this flight. But thanks to my travel rewards credit cards, my journey was all but free after some taxes and fees. Through careful selection and use of these product, these kinds of trips have become an annual occurrence for our family. While there are innumerable ideas, tips, and tricks to be gleaned from endless hours research, my mission is to do the work for you and deliver only the most valuable advice to busy people who lack the time and patience to discover and decipher these deals.
Choosing The Five Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards
It would be nice to pick the best travel reward cards in a purely empirical manner, the way one would choose a card with the lowest interest rate. Unfortunately, each travel rewards card offers a unique mix of benefits and drawbacks, and rarely is one card ideally suited for everyone's travel aspirations. I have read thousands of blog and forum posts, written hundreds of credit card reviews, and personally held dozens of different travel rewards cards over the last twenty years. In the end, I judge these cards based on three criteria:
- Value –What is the most return you can expect from a credit card, in cents per dollar spent.
- Flexibility – Since everyone hates earning miles that they can’t redeem, how can cardholders redeem awards for travel services from multiple providers.
- Costs And Fees – A top travel rewards card should have reasonable fees that are more than justified by its rewards and benefits.
Of all the travel rewards cards currently offered, these are the five I find most rewarding:
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from
If I had to choose only one travel rewards card, I would pick this one without hesitation (review here). Hardcore travel hackers and newbies alike love this card as it combines exceptional hotel rewards with unparalleled options to transferring points to airline miles with 30 different carriers.
Here are the updated offer details:
- Starpoints® bonus: earn up to 25,000 bonus points: 10,000 after your first purchase and another 15,000 after you spend $5,000 within the first 6 months of Cardmembership
- That's enough for a weekend getaway to a Category 4 Hotel.
- Free Hotel Nights: redeem Starpoints at over 1,100 hotels in nearly 100 countries worldwide - with no blackout dates. Some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges.
- Free Flights: redeem Starpoints on over 350 airlines with SPG Flights - with no blackout dates
- No limits on the number of Starpoints you can earn
- $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $65
- Terms and Restrictions apply.
The Platinum Card® from American
This card is a must if you are one of the lucky few who enjoy frequent international travel. The Platinum card (review here) offers a list of features as long as the options on a high end luxury car. Perhaps that is why Mercedes-Benz just announced a co-branded version of this popular card.
Here are the latest offer details:
- Earn 40,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
- With the Platinum Card, you can receive up to $200 a year in statement credits for airline incidental fees like checked bags fees, flight-change fees, and snacks.
- To receive the statement credit, you need to enroll and select a qualifying airline.
- There are no foreign transaction fees with purchases made on your Platinum Card.
- Platinum Card Concierge is your personal resource to help secure a last minute restaurant reservation, or shop for a hard-to-find gift.
- Terms and restrictions apply.
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit
This innovative card offers two “miles” per dollar spent on all purchases. Capital One’s miles can then be redeemed for one cent each as statement credits against any travel related expense such as airfare, hotel, and rental car charges.
- Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day
- Enjoy a one-time bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months, equal to $200 in travel
- Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
- Travel when you want - no blackout dates
- No limit on the miles you can earn and miles don’t expire
- No foreign transaction fees
- $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $59 after that
Chase Sapphire Preferred®
Cardholders earn on point for most purchases, with double points for all dining and airfare transactions, and triple points for travel booked through Chase’s site. Points are then worth one cent each, or 1.25 cents for travel booked at their site.
- 40,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months- that's $500 toward travel rewards!
- 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
- Get 20% off airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises when you redeem through Ultimate RewardsSM
- No foreign transaction fees
- Receive a 7% Annual Points Dividend on all new points earned on purchases - even on points already redeemed
- 1:1 point transfer to leading frequent travel programs - that means 1,000 Ultimate Rewards points equal 1,000 partner miles/points
- Direct access to expert service advisors anytime
- Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard®
This card from Citi comes with great perks for travelers (review here).
- Get the first eligible bag checked free for you and up to 4 travel companions.
- Enjoy Group 1 Boarding and use the extra time to prepare for your flight.
- Earn a $100 American Airlines Flight Discount each year of cardmembership in which you spend $30,000 or more in purchases and renew your cardmembership.
- Earn AAdvantage® miles for using AAdvantage® miles. Earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage® miles back — up to 10,000 AAdvantage® miles each calendar year.
- No annual fee for the first 12 months, and then $95. fees.
No discussion of rewards credit cards is complete without the warning that these products are only best for those who always pay their balances in full and never incur interest. Everyone else should use the card with the lowest APR. That said, if you do pay your balance off every month, and you love to travel, then you have much to gain by applying for and using one of these top travel rewards cards. Join me in the exciting world of those who regularly travel for free.
My wife and daughter on one of our trips earned through travel rewards cards:
Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.