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Top Travel Credit Cards

Top Travel Credit Cards
Jason Steele

Jason Steele

Updated September 30, 2021
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Travel rewards cards have gained popularity in recent years, so if you decide to get a travel rewards credit card, there are several factors to consider as you’re deciding which card to get. Some travel rewards cards earn rewards that are transferable to multiple airline or hotel programs, while others offer points or miles that can be used only for travel reservations. You can also find travel rewards credit cards that offer bonuses for travel purchases in spending categories such as dining, gas, and groceries. When choosing the top travel credit cards, we looked at the value of the rewards earned from spending and the ease of redeeming those rewards. Next, we considered the initial new account bonus offered, followed by any unique benefits offered, especially travel-related benefits. We also looked at the annual fee, although many (but not all) travel rewards cards do have an annual fee.

How We Chose the Top Travel Rewards Credit Cards

To find the top travel reward credit cards, we first divided the market into the following six categories:
  • Top travel rewards cards for travel statement credits
  • Top travel rewards cards for flexible point transfers
  • Top premium travel rewards cards
  • Top no-fee travel rewards cards
  • Top small business travel rewards cards
  • Top travel rewards cards for restaurant spending
We then looked at the cards from more than a dozen major card issuers and credit unions that best fit each of these categories. However, we included only cards that anyone can apply for, which leaves out products from credit unions that not everyone can join.For each category, we looked at the factors that would be most important to someone choosing a card from that group. For example, the top travel rewards cards for flexible point transfers needed to have a wide range of travel transfer partners. Since travel reward credit cards are best suited to those who can avoid interest charges by paying their balance in full, we didn’t consider the card’s interest rates for these cards. Recommended: How to Find the Right Credit Card

Top Travel Rewards Cards for Travel Statement Credits

With a lot of travel rewards credit cards, you can use points only by transferring them to travel partners. However, if you want a simpler option, a card that lets you redeem points for travel statement credits can be helpful. To find the top travel rewards cards for travel statement credits, we looked for a card with easy earning and redeeming structures, and a reasonable annual fee.

If You Want a Top Travel Rewards Card for Travel Statement Credits: Capital One Venture

The Venture Rewards card from Capital One offers very flexible travel rewards with a simple earning and redeeming structure. The card earns an unlimited double miles per dollar spent on every purchase. New cardholders can also earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on new purchases within three months from account opening. Capital One Miles can be redeemed for one cent each as statement credits towards travel purchases, such as flights, hotels, or rental cas. You also have the option to transfer your rewards to any of the 15 airline and hotel loyalty programs, including British Airways and JetBlue, typically at a 2:1.5 ratio. So this card is a top choice for both travel statement credits and transfers to travel partners. The card also comes with up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, which offsets the annual fee for at least the first year. The Venture card also includes travel accident insurance, auto rental coverage for damage due to collision or theft, and extended warranty protection on eligible items. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees. Pros:
  • Double miles for all purchases
  • Miles can be transferred to airline and hotel partners
  • $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
Cons:
  • Miles don’t transfer at a 1:1 ratio
  • $95 annual fee
  • New account bonus is less than some competing cards

Top Travel Rewards Cards for Flexible Point Transfers

Flexibility in how you can redeem your travel rewards can be very important to people who may not be loyal to a particular airline or hotel brand. To choose the top travel rewards cards for flexible point transfers, we looked for cards that offered generous rewards and had many transfer partners to choose from.

If You Want a Top Travel Rewards Card for Flexible Point Transfers: Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a strong option for travelers who value flexible point transfer options. New cardholders can earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on new purchases within three months of account opening. This card also offers 5x points on all travel purchased through Chase, as well as 3x points on dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases. You also earn 2x points for travel purchases and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Chase Points can be transferred to airline and hotel partners, including Hyatt, Southwest, and British Airways, at a 1:1 ratio. Chase Ultimate Rewards points can also be redeemed through the Chase travel portal for things like hotel stays, airline tickets, or car rentals, at a rate of 1.25 cents per point. Other benefits of this card include a $50 annual credit toward hotels booked through Chase, and an anniversary bonus of 10% of the points earned each year through spending. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees. Pros:
  • 100,000 point new account bonus
  • Double points for travel and dining
  • Excellent airline and hotel partners
Cons:
  • The Chase travel portal could be more user friendly
  • No bonus on in-store grocery purchases
  • $95 annual fee

Top Premium Travel Rewards Cards

Premium travel rewards cards can have great appeal and value for the frequent traveler, especially if that traveler values quality in their travel experience. To find the top premium travel rewards cards, we looked at cards that offered many unique travel benefits that cardholders could take advantage of.

If You Want a Top Premium Travel Rewards Card: American Express Platinum

The American Express Platinum card offers an extremely valuable new account bonus, strong benefits, and a compelling rewards program. New cardholders can earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 on purchases within the first six months of opening the account. The card earns 5X on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and 5X on prepaid hotels booked with AmexTravel.com. During the first six months of card ownership, cardholders can also earn 10X on eligible purchases at participating restaurants worldwide and at Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases. Earn 1X on all other purchases. Points can be transferred to Amex hotel or airline partners, including Delta, JetBlue, Emirates, Air Canada, Hilton, and Marriott. The Platinum Card also comes with a long list of monthly and yearly statement credits, including $200 back yearly in statement credits on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts or The Hotel Collection bookings, up to $300 back yearly on an Equinox gym membership, $20 monthly statement credits for participating digital entertainment partners like The New York Times, $15 monthly statement credits (and $20 in December) for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., up to $200 in annual airline incidental fees such as checked bags and $100 in annual statement credits at Saks Fifth Avenue. Plus, get a $179 yearly statement credit for a CLEAR membership and up to a $100 statement credit once every four years for Global Entry or every 4.5 years for TSA PreCheck. Also included is a Priority Pass Select Airport Lounge membership and access to American Express Centurion Clubs. The card also comes with Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status, and Hilton Honors Gold status. Benefits include free shipping with ShopRunner, purchase protection, return protection, extended warranty, baggage insurance coverage, car rental loss and damage insurance, and travel accident insurance. With all of these benefits comes a hefty annual fee of $695 for this card, but it can easily be worth it if you can take advantage of many of these offers.Pros:
  • Great airport lounge access
  • Numerous statement credits
  • Valuable point transfer options 
Cons:
  • High annual fee
  • Few bonus rewards opportunities
  • Most benefits are for frequent travelers

Top No-Fee Travel Rewards Cards

Although most top travel rewards credit cards have annual fees, there are some options that provide strong value without charging an annual fee. To find the top no-fee travel rewards cards, we decided the card needed to feature valuable travel rewards and benefits, despite the absence of any annual fee.

If You Want a Top No-Fee Travel Rewards Card: American Express Everyday

The American Express Everyday card is one of the few no annual fee travel cards with transferable points. New cardholders can earn 10,000 bonus Membership Rewards points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months after opening an account. The card earns 2x at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year), unlimited 2x on purchases from AmexTravel.com, and 1x on all other purchases. However, if you use your card 20 or more times in one billing period, you will earn 20% more points per dollar spent. Points can be transferred to Amex hotel or airline partners, including Delta, JetBlue, Air Canada, Emirates, Hilton, and Marriott. This card also features benefits like car rental loss and damage insurance, which can really come in handy for frequent travelers. Pros:
  • Collect valuable Membership Rewards points
  • Earn a 20% points bonus each statement period
  • No annual fee
Cons:
  • Relatively small new account bonus
  • Bonus at U.S. supermarkets limited to $6,000 spent per year
  • 2.7% foreign transaction fee

Top Small Business Travel Rewards Cards

There are many small businesses for which travel is a major expense. For small businesses with employees who travel frequently, the right small business travel rewards card can provide tremendous value. To find the top small business travel rewards cards, we looked for cards with flexible point transfers so that small businesses could choose the best option for each business trip.

If You Want a Top Small Business Travel Rewards: Capital One Spark Miles

The Capital One Spark 2X Miles card is a great travel rewards card for small businesses that want flexible earning and redeeming options for travel. New cardholders can earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $4,500 in the first three months after account opening. Cardholders always earn an unlimited 2X miles on every purchase. Miles can be redeemed as statement credits towards travel purchases, such as flights, hotels, or rental cas. Or miles can be transferred to any of the 15 airline and hotel loyalty programs, including British Airways and JetBlue. Small businesses can add additional employee cards, and they will also earn an unlimited 2X miles on their purchases. The card also comes with a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck for the frequent business traveler. The card has a $95 annual fee, which is waived for the first year, and no foreign transaction fees. Pros:
  • Earn double miles on all purchases
  • Miles can be transferred to airline partners
  • $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
Cons:
  • Relatively small new account bonus
  • Points transfer at less than 1:1 ratio
  • $95 annual fee

Top Travel Rewards Cards for Restaurant Spending

Travel and dining often go hand-in-hand, and for many people, eating at new restaurants is an important part of the travel experience. If this sounds like you, a travel rewards card that offers extra earning on restaurant spending may be a good fit. To find the top travel rewards cards for restaurant spending, we obviously looked for a card that earns a lot of bonus rewards on dining purchases, but it also needed to provide other food-related benefits that someone who enjoys dining might take advantage of.

If You Want a Top Travel Rewards Card for Restaurant Spending: American Express Gold

The American Express Gold card offers excellent earning potential on restaurant and grocery spending. In keeping with its name, the card comes in Rose Gold and Gold colors. New cardholders can earn 60,000 Membership Rewards Points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first six months of account opening. The card earns 4X on groceries at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 in purchases per year). It also earns 4X on dining, 3X on flights booked directly with airlines or on AmexTravel.com, and 1X on all other eligible purchases. Membership Rewards Points can be transferred to Amex hotel or airline partners, including Delta, Hilton, or Marriott.The card also comes with several travel- and food-related perks, like free Uber Eats Pass for up to one year and $10 in Uber Cash each month, which can be used on Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S. Plus, earn up to $10 in monthly statement credits for dining such as Grubhub, Seamless, and the Cheesecake Factory. Book at least two consecutive nights at a participating hotel in The Hotel Collection and get a $100 hotel credit. The card also comes with rental car insurance, baggage insurance, return protection, and complimentary two-day shipping with ShopRunner. The card has a $250 annual fee, and no foreign transaction fees.Pros:
  • Earn 4x points at supermarkets
  • Earn 4x points on dining
  • Valuable restaurant rewards
Cons:
  • Relatively small new account bonus
  • Limits on bonus at supermarkets
  • $250 annual fee

The Takeaway

Although the top travel rewards credit cards often come with annual fees, they can provide great value to frequent travelers. By taking a look at these top cards, you can choose the one that will earn you the most travel rewards possible. Still working on building your credit? There’s a credit card for that, too. Lantern by SoFi can help you find the credit building credit card that’s right for you.
Photos credit: istock/Wiphop Sathawirawong
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About the Author

Jason Steele

Jason Steele

Jason Steele has been writing about credit cards and award travel since 2008. One of the nation's leading experts in this field, he has contributed to dozens of personal finance and travel outlets and has been widely quoted in the mainstream media.
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