Travel credit cards can help you score high-end travel — for way less.
Whether you’re a frequent traveler or planning your first-ever vacation on points, the key is having the right travel credit card for your needs. But with so many options on the market, you may have trouble choosing.
Well, have no fear! We’ve taken all the guesswork out of it and created this comprehensive guide to help you choose the best travel credit card for you.
Here’s everything you need to know.
Overview of the best travel cards
While there is no “best travel card” that fits everyone’s needs, there are many great options out there, depending on what you’re looking for. We’ve reviewed the top travel credit cards on the market, and broken down the best picks for different travel tastes:
- Best for transferrable rewards: Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
- Best for travel perks: Amex Platinum Card®
- Best mid-tier/value/starter card: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Best for everyday spending: Citi Premier® Card
- Best for airline miles: AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®
- Best for hotel points: Hilton Aspire Card
- Best no-annual-fee: Bilt Rewards Mastercard®
- Best for flexible travel statement credit: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Best for transferrable rewards at a low annual fee: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- Best for maximizing dining and groceries: American Express® Gold Card
What We Like:
10x miles on hotels and rental cars, and 5x on flights when booked via Capital One Travel, and 2x on all other purchases.
75,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel
- Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
- Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
- Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
- Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
- Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
- Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
- Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
- Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
- Elevate your stay at luxury hotels and resorts from the Premier Collection with a $100 experience credit, daily breakfast for 2 and complimentary WiFi on every booking, plus other premium benefits like room upgrades, early check-in and late checkout when available
What We Like:
A monster of an up-front bonus; 80,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months.
5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining, 2X points on all other travel purchases, plus more.
Points are worth 25% more when you redeem travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- Enjoy benefits such as 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining, and 2x on all other travel purchases, and $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, plus more.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
- Get complimentary access to DashPass which unlocks $0 delivery fees and lower service fees for a minimum of one year when you activate by December 31, 2024.
- Member FDIC
What We Like:
60,000 point sign-up bonus when you spend $4,000 in your first three months
$300 annual travel credit
Huge multipliers on points rewards for purchases including air travel, car rentals, dining, hotels, and more
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
- Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
- Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $900 toward travel
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
What We Like:
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
2X miles earned for $1 spent on all purchases
Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
- Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
- Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day
- Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
- Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
- Enjoy two complimentary visits per year to Capital One Lounges or to 100+ Plaza Premium Lounges through the Partner Lounge Network
- Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options
- Use your miles to get reimbursed for any travel purchase—or redeem by booking a trip through Capital One Travel
- Transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
In-depth reviews of the best travel rewards credit cards
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
- Elevated earn rate on everyday spending
- High welcome bonus for a reasonable spending requirement
- Excellent travel perks and recurring benefits
- Travel bonuses are limited to Capital One bookings
- High annual fee
- Capital One pulls your credit from all three credit bureaus
The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card is a relatively new travel credit card but has quickly distinguished itself as one of the best.
The card offers a substantial welcome bonus and elevated earn rate that makes racking up points fast and easy. Even if you don’t take advantage of the 5-10x travel bonus, you’ll earn 2x miles on all spending. This earning structure is ideal for people who don’t want to deal with tracking category bonuses. If you want a single credit card in your wallet that earns more than one mile per dollar spent, this is the card for you.
The card’s $395 annual fee is high but still lower than most premium credit cards. However, the recurring benefits offset it — think things like a $300 annual travel statement credit for Capital One Travel bookings and a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck® credit every four years. Best of all, the card offers a yearly 10,000-mile bonus worth $100 towards travel.
The card’s lounge benefits are also worth noting. Members get unlimited visits to Capital One Lounges. While the Capital One lounge network is still developing, members also get Priority Pass Select membership, valid at over 1,300 lounges worldwide.
The only downside about Capital One is that the bank pulls your credit from all three bureaus rather than just one, making for a sure hard hit on your credit score. However, if you keep this card long-term, it’s worth it.
- Annual fee: $395
- Welcome bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
- Rewards: 10x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel; 5x miles on flights booked with Capital One Travel; 2x miles on all other purchases
- Travel benefits: $300 annual travel statement credit on Capital One Travel bookings; up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® credit every four years; 10,000 anniversary bonus miles (worth $100 towards travel); unlimited Capital One lounge access (plus two complimentary guests); Priority Pass™ membership; Hertz President’s Circle® status*, and; no foreign transaction fees
- Travel insurance: Travel accident insurance, auto rental coverage
The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Loaded with travel and dining credits that help offset the annual fee
- Automatic elite status with Hilton and Marriott
- Substantial welcome bonus that will cover at least one round-trip international business class fare
- Transfer your points to 20 airline and hotel partners
- High annual fee
- Lack of meaningful category bonuses
- Requires excellent credit
The Platinum Card® from American Express has one of the highest annual fees at $695, but it also comes packed with travel credits and benefits galore. Taking advantage of them would get you well over $1,500 in value every year. Between the elite status perks, travel credits, digital entertainment credits, and lounge membership, it offers the most comprehensive travel perks of any credit card.
The Amex Platinum also offers best-in-class travel insurance. All you have to do is charge your travel bookings to the Platinum card, and you’ll be protected in case of cancellations and delays.
With a 80,000-point welcome bonus, you can book an off-peak round-trip business class ticket to Europe with All Nippon Airways miles. Or you can opt for economy class and cover up to four round-trip tickets to Europe using Flying Blue rewards.
The Amex Platinum is an excellent travel rewards card if you want a large welcome bonus and tons of travel perks. But the annual fee is hefty, and the card lacks any meaningful category bonuses beyond direct travel bookings. If you don’t think you’ll be able to get your money’s worth through the various credits every year, you might want to consider a different card.
- Annual fee: $695
- Welcome bonus: Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after spending $6,000 within the first six months
- Rewards: 5x points on flights and prepaid hotels; 1x point on all other purchases
- Travel benefits: $300 annual Equinox credit (issued monthly); $200 annual credit on prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel; $200 in annual Uber Cash (distributed monthly); $200 annual airline fee credit; $155 Walmart+ credit; $20 monthly digital entertainment credit; access to the Amex Global Lounge Collection; $189 CLEAR credit; Global Entry/TSA PreCheck® credit every five years; $100 Saks credit issued semi-annually; Hilton and Marriott Gold status; access to Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts; premium car rental status; no foreign transaction fees
- Travel insurance: Primary rental car coverage; trip delay insurance (up to $500 per trip); trip cancellation & interruption insurance (up to $10,000 per trip)
Read more: Are Amex cards worth it?
Chase Sapphire Preferred®
- Generous earn rate on common spending categories
- Flexible loyalty program with good transfer partner selection and ability to redeem for direct bookings through Chase Ultimate Rewards® at a rate of 1.25 cents per point
- Generous travel benefits and protections for a mid-tier card
- Limitations on the highest spending categories
- Bookings made with the $50 hotel credit don’t earn 5x points
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has had the distinction of being one of the best travel credit cards for over a decade. The card is popular because it offers a generous welcome bonus, which is fairly simple to redeem. You can transfer points to one of 14 airlines or hotels. Or you can redeem points through Ultimate Rewards® Travel at just 1.25 cents each. This flexibility makes Ultimate Rewards® points (and the Sapphire Preferred® Card) incredibly valuable.
If one loyalty program devalues, you can transfer your points to a different partner. Just keep in mind that point transfers are not reversible, so don’t do it unless you’re ready to redeem the points.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a great starter travel card, and its $95 annual fee is typical for a mid-tier card. However, if you don’t use the $50 annual hotel credit or earn at least 9,500 points per year to justify the annual fee, then it’s not worth it.
- Annual fee: $95
- Welcome bonus:80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- Rewards: 5x points on travel booked with Chase Ultimate Rewards®; 3x points on dining (including eligible delivery services), select streaming services, and online grocery store purchases; 2x on other travel purchases; 1x on all other spending
- Travel benefits: Up to $50 in annual credits towards Ultimate Rewards® hotel bookings; no foreign transaction fees
- Travel insurance: Primary rental car collision waiver; up to $10,000 in trip cancellation/interruption coverage; purchase protection for 120 days; extended warranty protection
Citi Premier® Card
- High welcome bonus that transfers to 16 airline and hotel programs
- $100 hotel credit on Citi ThankYou® Travel bookings of $500 or more
- Reasonable annual fee
- No travel protections
- $100 hotel credit excludes taxes and fees
At first sight, the Citi Premier® Card shouldn’t be on this list. The card has no travel protections, which is not ideal when booking thousands of dollars in travel. However, if you buy travel insurance anyway, then the Citi Premier® isn’t so bad. It’s a great card for maximizing spending on everyday purchases.
The card earns 3x points on select travel and common spending categories like dining, gas, and groceries. Cardmembers also get a $100 annual hotel credit valid on Citi Travel bookings of $500 or more. Considering the $95 annual fee, this perk is pretty generous.
The Citi ThankYou® program is also one of the best, allowing you to transfer the card’s substantial bonus to 16 airline and hotel programs.
If you want a travel rewards card that really rewards you in your everyday life, this is a great card. Just think twice about charging expensive travel bookings to it, since they won’t be protected.
- Annual fee: $95
- Welcome bonus:Earn 60,000 bonus ThankYou(R) Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. Plus, for a limited time, earn a total of 10 ThankYou(R) Points per $1 spent on hotel, car rentals, and attractions (excluding air travel) booked on the Citi Travel(SM) portal through June 30, 2024.
- Rewards: 3x points at restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel, and hotels; 1x on all other purchases
- Benefits: Annual $100 hotel savings on a booking of $500 or more (excluding taxes and fees); no foreign transaction fees
- Travel insurance: None
AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®
- Easy welcome bonus
- Free checked bags and priority boarding when flying American Airlines
- Ability to earn a Companion Certificate every year
- $99 annual fee
- Airline miles are more limited in use than transferable rewards
The best airline credit card is a tough one because it really comes down to your airline loyalty and whether you live near a hub city. But there’s a good reason we’ve chosen the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® for this category. The card offers one of the easiest spending requirements to complete and includes several ongoing perks that provide value beyond the $99 annual fee.
The Aviator Red card’s 50,000-mile welcome bonus is easy to earn. You only need to use the card once (for any purchase), and you’ll earn 50,000 bonus miles.
The card also offers a free checked bag on American Airlines flights, discounts on in-flight purchases and Wi-Fi credits, and a $99 Companion Certificate when you spend $20,000 in a year. Best of all: every dollar spent on this card counts towards elite status with American Airlines.
- Annual fee: $99
- Welcome bonus: 50,000 bonus miles after the first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee
- Rewards: 2x miles on all American Airlines purchases; 1x mile on everything else
- Travel benefits: $25 in statement credits towards in-flight Wi-Fi purchases; 25% discount on inflight food and beverage purchases; free first checked bag; preferred boarding; $99 Companion Certificate every year you spend $20,000 on the card; no foreign transaction fees
- Travel Insurance: Travel accident insurance; trip cancellation & interruption coverage; baggage delay insurance; auto rental collision coverage
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
- Automatic top-tier Hilton Honors elite status
- Annual free weekend night and resort credits help offset the annual fee
- Generous category bonuses, with an additional spending incentive
- $450 annual fee
- Priority Pass membership from American Express cards does not include access to airport restaurants
- Hilton points have limited use
The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is arguably the best hotel credit card. If you’re looking to earn Hilton points and make your next stay more rewarding, look no further.
Cardmembers get automatic top-tier Diamond status, which normally requires 42 nights, 21 stays, or 84,000 base points. Diamond members get free complimentary breakfast (or a dining credit at U.S. properties), club lounge access, space-available room upgrades, and 100% bonus points on paid stays.
Cardmembers also receive an annual free weekend night award, plus the ability to earn a second free night after spending $60,000 in a calendar year.
A $250 airline fee credit makes the $450 annual fee more palatable, along with the Priority Pass membership.
The only downside? American Express cards don’t get restaurant access with their Priority Pass membership, and some airports have restaurants that are part of the Priority Pass network. Members receive a credit of $28-$35 per person at these restaurants, which is handy when airline lounges are full or closed.
The Hilton Aspire Card offers a ton of value beyond the welcome bonus. Even if you just stay at one Hilton hotel a year, you can get your money’s worth. The card’s category bonuses make it easy to earn Hilton points. The only negative side to this is that you’re earning Hilton points rather than a transferable currency with more flexible use.
- Annual fee: $450
- Welcome bonus: 150,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after spending $4,000 within your first three months of card membership
- Rewards: 14x points on hotels and resorts; 7x points on travel (flights booked directly with airlines or Amex Travel, cars booked with select companies); 7x points at U.S. restaurants; 3x points on all other purchases
- Travel benefits: Annual free weekend night reward; $250 annual Hilton resort credit; annual $250 airline fee credit; $100 property credit at select hotels booked for two nights minimum; top-tier Hilton Diamond elite status; Priority Pass Select membership; no foreign transaction fees
- Travel insurance: Secondary rental car collision coverage; up to $3,000 baggage insurance plan
Read more: The best hotel credit cards
Bilt Rewards Mastercard®
- Earn fee-free points on rent
- Transfer points to 14 airline and hotel partners, most of which overlap with Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- No annual fee
- Must make five transactions per billing period to earn points
- Limited category bonuses
- No welcome bonus
The Bilt Rewards Mastercard® is a relative newcomer to the travel credit card scene but has already shaken things up. The card has no welcome bonus, but it has one very lucrative feature: cardmembers can earn points on rent payments without paying fees. Services like Plastiq charge a 2.8% fee when you use a credit card for rent payments. Bilt lets you earn points without a fee if you make at least five transactions per billing period.
Bilt makes other purchases rewarding too. Cardmembers earn 3x points on dining, 2x on travel, and 1x everywhere else. In addition, cardmembers earn double points on the first of every month (except on rent payments). But what can you do with the rewards?
Bilt has 14 airline and hotel transfer partners, including Hyatt – which only partners with one other program (Chase Ultimate Rewards®). Bilt Rewards has 10 transfer partners in common with Chase, making this an excellent option if you want a no-annual-fee rewards card.
- Annual fee: $0
- Welcome bonus: None
- Rewards: 3x points on dining; 2x on travel; 1x on rent payments without the transaction fee
- Benefits: $5 Lyft credit when you take three rides per month; 3-month DashPass membership; travel perks on Rent Day (i.e., two-for-one Virgin Voyages sailings); no foreign transaction fees
- Travel insurance: Trip cancellation and interruption coverage (up to $5,000); trip delay reimbursement (up to $1,800 per trip); auto rental collision coverage
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- The current welcome bonus is valid for up to $900 in direct travel bookings through Chase Ultimate Rewards® or can be transferred to 14 airline and hotel partners
- The $300 annual travel credit offsets most of the annual fee
- Excellent travel protections and benefits
- High annual fee
- $75 fee per authorized user
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card is a great choice if you want a premium credit card that earns Ultimate Rewards®. The card currently has an elevated welcome bonus of 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of account opening. It also offers plenty of category bonuses to help you keep earning points beyond the initial bonus.
The $300 annual travel credit partially offsets the $550 fee. Cardmembers also get Priority Pass membership, up to $100 towards TSA PreCheck®, Global Entry or NEXUS application fees. The card also has plenty of travel protections, so you can charge your travel expenses with peace of mind.
Chase Ultimate Rewards® is a great program, whether you want to maximize its transfer partners or use it for direct travel bookings. Sapphire Reserve® cardholders can redeem their points for 1.5 cents each towards Ultimate Rewards® travel bookings. This flexibility is great for folks looking for simple redemption options.
- Annual fee: $550 and $75 per authorized user
- Welcome bonus:60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- Rewards: 10x points on Chase Dining and hotel and car rental bookings through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; 5x points on Chase Ultimate Rewards® flight bookings; 3x points on travel worldwide; 3x points on other dining purchases (including eligible delivery services; 1x points on all other purchases
- Travel benefits: $300 annual travel credit; Priority Pass Select membership; up to $100 Global Entry, TSA Precheck or NEXUS fee credit every four years; Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection perks
- Travel Insurance: Trip cancellation and interruption insurance (up to $20,000 per trip); trip delay reimbursement (up to $500 per ticket); primary rental car coverage (up to $75,000); lost luggage reimbursement (up to $3,000 per passenger); emergency evacuation and transportation coverage (up to $100,000)
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- High welcome bonus and simple rewards structure for maximizing mileage earnings
- Excellent transfer partners
- Generous travel perks for a low-annual-fee card
- Capital One pulls your credit from all three credit bureaus
- Limited lounge network
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card has it all: an excellent welcome bonus, a top-notch rewards program, and generous travel perks for a low annual fee. Cardmembers get up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® credit and two complimentary annual visits to Capital One Lounges. These perks are highly unusual for a mid-tier card, making Capital One Venture Reward’s $95 annual fee an excellent value.
The welcome bonus is the same as the Venture X Rewards Card. So if you don’t want to shell out the $395 annual fee, the Venture Rewards card is a cheaper alternative. The 2x earn rate on all purchases is especially significant if you want to elevate the rewards you earn on everyday spending without tracking category bonuses across multiple cards. This can be your one-and-done rewards card.
- Annual fee: $95
- Welcome bonus: Earn 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
- Rewards: 5x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel; 2x miles on all other purchases
- Travel benefits: Two free Capital One Lounge visits per year; Hertz Five Star status*; up to $100 Global Entry/TSA PreCheck® credit; no foreign transaction fees
- Travel insurance: Travel & Emergency Assistance Services and Auto Rental Insurance.
American Express® Gold Card
- Category bonuses are great for maximizing everyday spending
- Amex has 17 airline and hotel partners, with periodic transfer bonuses
- Statement credits can offset the annual fee
- Car rental coverage is secondary — upgrade to primary coverage costs $12.25-$24.95 per rental through Premium Car Rental Protection
- $250 annual fee is high
- Statement credits are limited to select merchants
The Amex Gold Card is an excellent travel card for everyday use. It offers generous category bonuses to help you maximize everyday purchases. Plus, the card provides monthly statement credits at select restaurants and Uber Cash that can make dining out (and transportation) easier. The Uber credits are valid on both UberEats and Uber rides, making them great for travelers and homebodies alike.
The 4x bonus on dining applies to restaurants worldwide, so you can continue maximizing this bonus even while out of the country. The card also has several travel protections, so you have peace of mind when booking your trips.
The downside? The $250 annual fee is steep; not everyone will find value in the statement credits. Amex’s once-per-lifetime rule can also make the welcome bonus less attainable. My advice? Wait for a higher offer. Not too long ago, the card was offering 90,000 bonus points. Since you’re limited to one bonus, you might as well hold out for the highest one possible.
- Annual fee: $250
- Welcome bonus: 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within the first six months of card membership.
- Rewards: 4x points at restaurants worldwide; 4x points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year); 3x on flights; 1x on all other purchases
- Travel benefits: $10 monthly credit valid at Cheesecake Factory, Gold Belly, GrubHub, Milk Bar, Wine.com, and select Shake Shack locations; $10 monthly Uber cash; no foreign transaction fees
- Travel Insurance: Baggage insurance plan (up to $1,250); secondary car rental coverage
How do travel credit cards work?
Travel credit cards offer rewards that you can redeem for nearly-free flights and hotel nights. There are generally three types of travel credit cards: ones that earn transferable points, that earn hotel points, or that earn airline miles.
A diverse points portfolio is part of a good travel hacking strategy, so you should aim for at least one credit card that earns transferrable rewards. This way, you’re not stuck with one currency and have flexibility in redeeming points. If one loyalty program devalues, you can transfer your points to another one. If one program limits award space, you can transfer points to one with the seats or rooms you need.
Travel credit cards go beyond points. Many offer recurring travel perks like free hotel nights, airline credits, lounge membership, elite status perks, and more. If you play your cards right, travel credit cards can improve your travel experience substantially and help you save money.
The only downside is that most travel cards carry annual fees. Some of these fees go as high as $695. You’ll want to evaluate the card’s features and recurring perks before choosing one. The last thing you want is to shell out thousands of dollars in credit card annual fees and not get your money’s worth.
What’s the difference between points and miles?
Points and miles are two different types of currencies that can be used for travel. Points are generally issued by hotel loyalty programs or banks, while airlines issue miles. Of course, there are exceptions. For example, JetBlue, Southwest and Air Canada all call their rewards currencies “points” rather than miles.
Most banks have transferrable rewards they call points — these rewards can be used towards travel or cash back at a fixed cost. Their best use is transferring them to participating airline or hotel loyalty programs. Most transfers are 1:1 and nearly instant.
Airline miles are ideal for flights, while hotel points are best for free nights. Some hotel chains let you convert your points to airline miles, though the transfer ratio isn’t ideal. For example, Marriott points transfer to most airlines 3:1, with a 5,000-point bonus for every 60,000 points transferred.
For the best points strategy, you should have credit cards that earn points and miles. However, consider getting a transferrable rewards card like the Capital One Venture if you want to narrow it down to one card. You’ll earn 2x miles on every dollar spent and have access to 15+ airline and hotel transfer partners.
And if you don’t want to figure out where to transfer your points, you can redeem them towards travel purchases at one cent each.
How to choose a travel card
With so many great options, choosing a travel credit card can seem overwhelming. Everyone has different goals and spending habits, so there is no “best credit card” that meets every need. But if you’re in the market for a travel card, there are a few factors to consider that will help you make the best choice:
1. Know the (credit card application) rules
Most banks require good credit for travel cards, but did you know they also have various rules that impact approvals? Before you apply for a credit card, you should familiarize yourself with these rules to avoid unnecessary rejection. Here are some credit card application rules from different banks:
- Once-per-lifetime rule
- Five card limit
- No more than two cards within 90 days
American Express has three credit card application rules you should be aware of. The first is the once-per-lifetime rule, which applies to most credit cards. If you’ve received a welcome bonus for an Amex card, you generally will not receive it again. There are, of course, exceptions, especially on targeted offers sent via mail and email. Be sure to read the terms and conditions of any such offers you receive.
The five-card limit restricts you to no more than five Amex charge cards open at a time. This rule does not apply to business cards. You also won’t be approved for more than two Amex cards in 90 days.
- Welcome bonuses are restricted for existing cardholders
Many Capital One cards have language on the marketing page prohibiting the welcome bonus for anyone who has had the card before. The Capital One Venture X, Venture, and VentureOne have this restrictive language.
The Spark Cards are vaguer, stating, “The bonus may not be available for existing or previous Spark cardholders.”
Keep this in mind if you’re applying for a Capital One credit card you’ve had before.
- 5/24 rule
- 24 and 48-month rule
- No more than two cards within 30 days
Chase’s 5/24 rule is perhaps the most well-known credit card application rule. If you’ve applied for five or more credit cards from any bank in the last 24 months, you won’t be approved for a Chase card.
Similarly, if you’ve had a Chase Sapphire Reserve® in the previous 48 months, you’re not eligible for another one.
Lastly, Chase won’t approve you for more than two cards within 30 days. Keep these rules in mind and time your applications accordingly.
- 24 and 48-month rule
- No more than one card every eight days
- No more than two cards every 65 days
Citi won’t approve you for a Citi Premier® Card or Citi Rewards+® Card if you’ve had it in the last 24 months. Meanwhile, the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard is off-limits if you earned the welcome bonus or closed the card within the previous 48 months.
Lastly, Citi will only approve you for one card every eight days or more than two every 65 days.
2. Get a card that suits your goals
When choosing a travel credit card, you should consider your spending habits and redemption goals.
Are you primarily a budget traveler looking to get the family to Disney World next summer? Or perhaps you want to experience the thrill of flying international first class with your significant other.
Your travel goals matter because they determine the rewards you should be earning and card perks that will suit your needs.
3. Decide on co-brand vs. transferrable rewards
As we’ve established, there are three types of cards: co-branded airline cards, co-branded hotel cards, and transferrable rewards. Think about which type of card will meet your travel goals. Generally, you’re better off with a transferrable rewards card because of the flexibility you have in using the points.
However, a hotel credit card might be handy if you’re planning a trip with hotel stays. You’ll get elite status and maybe even annual free nights. Meanwhile, you might consider getting an airline credit card for elite-type perks like free checked bags and priority boarding.
4. Go for a big welcome bonus
When it comes to welcome bonuses, you should aim for at least 50,000 points or higher. That’s pretty standard nowadays and enough to cover at least two round-trip domestic flights.
When you apply for a credit card, you incur a 2-5 point credit score hit, so make it count by getting a substantial bonus in exchange.
Read more: Best credit card sign-up bonuses
5. Evaluate your spending habits
Think about which categories you spend the most on and find a card that offers bonus points on that spending.
Similarly, if you’re not a big spender, you might want to steer clear of credit cards with large spending requirements. There’s no sense in applying for a card if you can’t meet the spend to secure the welcome bonus. Or even worse, if you have to go into debt to meet the requirement.
6. Pick a card with purchase and travel protections
Most people ignore this, but it’s crucial. Purchase protection can cover expensive items in case of damage or loss. The same goes for travel protection — if your trip is canceled for unforeseeable reasons, your credit card’s travel insurance can save you a lot of money.
So take travel and purchase protection into account when choosing a credit card. You’ll be glad if you ever have to use it.
7. Check the fees
Most travel credit cards have annual fees, ranging from $95 to $695. When choosing a card, be sure to take credit card annual fees into account. If you can’t afford the premium version of a card, downgrade to the mid-tier version.
Another type of fee that can add up is foreign transaction fees. Most travel credit cards waive these fees, but no-annual-fee cards like the Chase Freedom Unlimited® still carry them. You’ll pay an extra 3% just to use your card abroad. If you plan on traveling internationally, get a card with no foreign transaction fees.
Travel credit cards are great if you want to earn or redeem points for cheaper travel. They can also save you money with perks like airline fee credits, free hotel nights, elite status, and waived foreign transaction fees. A travel credit card can be an excellent tool in your travel hacking arsenal.
However, it can also be costly if you don’t take advantage of their various perks and add more cards to your wallet without a strategy. Think through the steps we’ve outlined above and make your decision wisely.
For Capital One products listed on this page, some of the above benefits are provided by Visa® or Mastercard® and may vary by product. See the respective Guide to Benefits for details, as terms and exclusions apply.
*Upon enrollment, accessible through the Capital One website or mobile app, eligible cardholders will remain at upgraded status level through December 31, 2024. Please note, enrolling through the normal Hertz Gold Plus Rewards enrollment process (e.g. at Hertz.com) will not automatically detect a cardholder as being eligible for the program and cardholders will not be automatically upgraded to the applicable status tier. Additional terms apply.