Best Travel Credit Cards for 2021
Travel rewards credit cards are one of the best ways to save on your trip all throughout the year. There are a lot of great options out there, but choosing the best travel rewards credit card depends on what your specific travel goals are.
There are unique benefits for each card and the best option will be different for every type of traveler. Frequent flyers might put a high value on airport lounge access whereas budget conscious travelers will want ways to save money like no annual fees.
These reward programs constantly change so we’re updating this article periodically to reflect those changes. Most recent update: June 2021.
Unlike other websites, we are not getting paid for this; there are no affiliate links or motives here other than helping you choose the best travel credit card for your needs. Here are the 5 best travel rewards credit cards we’ve uncovered!
1. Capital One Venture Rewards
This card is one of the best travel rewards cards because it’s easy to use and you can earn rewards with every transaction. The annual fee is only $95 and there are no foreign transaction fees, so you can use it while traveling and day to day to earn travel points.
Rate and Bonus: Their reward program offers 2 miles per dollar on every purchase. Miles don’t expire either and there is no limit on how much you can earn.
You’re also not limited to which airlines/hotel chains you use, and there are no restrictions on travel or blackout dates. They also reimburse you up to $100 on the application fee for TSA Precheck or Global Entry.
You get an initial bonus of 100,000 miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Additional Features: You can transfer your miles to over 12 other travel loyalty programs. You can also get access to a variety of VIP food, music, sports events with the travel card.
Best For: This is a low-cost travel rewards card, best for the infrequent flyer who uses their card for everyday purchases. Since there’s no limit on how much you can earn, the more you utilize the card, the more you gain from it. There’s no complicated bonus structures here and you won’t be getting luxury flyer status with this travel rewards card, but it’s a good choice for anyone looking for something simple and easy-to-use. More details here.
2. Chase Sapphire Reserve
This Chase travel credit card is one of the best to help offset your overall travel expenses for almost everything including airfare, hotels, and transport. The annual fee is high at $550 but if you're a regular flyer the perks justify the fee. It is a good card to earn credit to be used on travel, and if you’re traveling regularly anyways it will automatically offset a portion of the annual fee.
Rate and Bonus: They have a great initial rewards system that can give you up to $900 in travel credit if you spend just $4000 in the first 3 months of opening an account, which is the equivalent of 60,000 points. Every card owner receives $300 in travel credit every 12 months when you spend that amount in travel purchases. So, when you spend $300 in the travel category (anything from food to hotels to parking) you get $300 back in credit.
You get 3x the points on travel after earning $300 in travel credit, 3x points on dining out worldwide, and 1 point per $1 spent on other purchases. There are no foreign transaction fees.
It has a standard 16.99%–23.99% variable APR.
Additional Features: One of the biggest perks on this card is complimentary access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide by enrolling in their Priority Pass Select. If you are a frequent traveler, this is a great added bonus. They also offer $100 towards Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check.
Points can be converted 1:1 to a number of other loyalty programs but you get a 50% bump when they’re redeemed through Chase.
Best For: The moderate to frequent traveler looking for a high-value travel rewards card. If you travel often enough and use your card for major purchases, the rewards from the Chase Sapphire Reserve are well worth the $550 annual fee. One of the big perks this card offers is lounge access, so if you’re someone who flies often and wants to enjoy the comfort and status of the VIP access, this card is for you. Also, the fact that you can pretty much earn back $300 of the $550 annual fee (if you were spending that money on travel anyway) makes it a super affordable option in comparison to other premium cards. More details here.
3. Bank of America Travel Rewards for Students
This no fee credit card is a perfect way to start earning travel rewards on everyday purchases for students. It's simple and straightforward to use - there is no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, points are earned on every purchase and never expire, and there are no restrictions or blackout dates on redeeming points for flights or hotels.
Rate and Bonus: Card members earn 1.5 points for every $1 spent on every purchase. 25,000 bonus points are being offered when $1000 is spent on the card in the first 90 days, enough to earn $250 towards travel.
It has a standard APR of 13.99% - 23.99%.
Additional Features: There are no other significant perks on this no frills card. It’s meant to be a simple, low cost way for students and younger travelers to start earning travel reward points. No foreign transaction fees means you can use it when you’re abroad. And the unrestricted redemptions and no blackout dates means you can book flights or hotels that suit your schedule.
Best For: As the name implies, this card is made for students but you do not have to be a fulltime student to be eligible. Part time students and those in continuing education can earn travel reward points with this card. It can easily be your one and only card because it earns points on everyday purchases and can be used abroad. The no annual fee offers a low barrier to start earning points. More details here.
4. Chase Sapphire Preferred
This Chase travel card is one of the best credit cards for travel miles and it's a great middle ground for regular travelers who aren’t ready to commit to a top tier card. The rewards are similar to the Chase Reserve card, just not quite as luxurious. But with a much lower $95 annual fee it's much more accessible and easier to get your money’s worth.
Rate and Bonus: This travel credit card has an awesome 80,000 bonus points offer after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That can equal $1,000 towards travel redeemed through Chase Rewards. You can also earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year after account opening.
You get 2x the points on travel and dining and 1 point per $1 spent on other purchases. And there are no foreign transaction fees.
Additional Features: This card is best for the sign-on bonus, but in addition to that you'll earn 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through the Chase rewards system, so there are a lot of opportunities to earn rewards when you use your card for travel purposes. It doesn’t have the premium travel perks on the Reserve card but you can still transfer points at a 1 to 1 ratio to your favorite rewards program.
Best For: Anyone looking for a beginner travel rewards card, not yet ready to take the plunge on the high annual rate of other premium cards. It’s a great high-value rewards card that offers a lot of flexibility for redeeming points and has a great sign-on bonus. If you’re a moderate to frequent flyer and are looking to start earning miles and want to get a taste of the benefits of a rewards card, this is a great option. More details here.
Amex has some of the best features as a travel rewards card, but it’s important to note that it’s becoming even more difficult to use outside of North America. It’s no secret that Amex is not accepted in many places in Europe, but from our personal experience, it’s becoming even less accepted worldwide. But if you use it for domestic spending you can really rack up the points to get free trips and enjoy the perks that come with it when you’re on the road.
The American Express Platinum Card is best for travel rewards. It is designed for frequent travelers who enjoy luxury benefits. Like the Chase Reserve, it also has a pricey annual fee of $550, but if used correctly, it is well worth it.
Rate and Bonus: There is a welcome bonus of 75,000 Membership Rewards Points after making $5,000 in purchases in your first 6 months with the card. These are a lot of points and comparatively long period to earn them. You earn 5x points on airfare and 1 point for all other purchases.
Additional Features: The Platinum Card is best known for its additional features such as:
- Complimentary gold elite status with Hilton and Marriott.
- Access to the Global Lounge, more than 1,200 airport lounges worldwide.
- Access to complimentary upgrades, late check-in, and free WiFi (worth a total of about $550).
- $15 in Uber cash each month and $20 in December (about $200 in annual Uber savings).
- TSA Precheck or Global Entry fee credit.
Best For: If you spend enough on your card to outweigh the annual fee and travel enough to take advantage of the additional features and benefits, this is hands down the best rewards and perks card. Remember that you’ll want to have an additional card to use when you’re traveling outside of North America because Amex is not as widely accepted. But the Flight, hotel, and additional travel perks more than make up for this trouble. More details here.
The Best Travel Rewards Card for You
Before you sign up for a travel rewards credit card, figure out what’s most important to you. Weigh the benefits and perks against annual fees, and consider how much spending and travel you would actually need to do to take full advantage of them. Consider doing a budget to see how much you realistically spend on travel expenses and whether those additional bonus features would help you save in the long run.
The best part of a travel rewards credit card is that it’s there to help you save money while making the most of your travel experience. So picking the best travel credit card can really take your travels to the next level, starting from your everyday spending throughout the year to your purchases made while traveling.
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