15 Best Travel Credit Cards 2016 – (Rewards, Miles, & International)

15 Best Travel Credit Cards

credit card advice

Ashley Dull
By: Ashley Dull
Posted: July 16, 2016
Opinions expressed here are ours alone, and are not provided, endorsed, or approved by any issuer. Site may be compensated through the issuer affiliate programs.

Traveling is something most everyone loves to do – whether it’s hitting the open road, flying the friendly skies, or cruising the ocean blue – it’s always a welcome break in our normal day-to-day routines. The obvious problem, of course, is that vacationing can be expensive, so many of us don’t get to do it as often as we’d like to.

That’s why travel rewards credit cards are so popular among so many – simply use the card to make your everyday purchases, and you’ll simultaneously earn points and miles that can be redeemed for things like free or discounted hotel stays, plane tickets, rental cars and more, making the cost of your next vacation that much more affordable.

Different travel rewards cards serve different purposes, so there are definitely some considerations to think over, mostly dependent on what kind of travel you’re into. We’ve compiled all of our experts’ top picks, which you can skip ahead to using the links below:

International Travel | Air Miles | Hotel Stays | Car Rentals | Sign-Up Bonus
Travel Insurance | Prepaid/Debit | Travel Points

Best “International Travel” Credit Cards

When it comes to traveling abroad, there are a few things to be cognizant of when using credit for your purchases. For one, chip-n-pin technology has been used in Europe and other countries long before it made its way to the U.S., so if you’re carrying an older card around without chip-card technology, you may find yourself asking the cashier to enter the card manually (which can be tricky in a foreign language).

Another important factor — if not the most important — is foreign transaction fees. You’re definitely going to want a card without foreign transaction fees as these can quickly become an added expense to your trip you didn’t take into account. Below are some great options to use for international travel with no foreign transaction fees:

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 40,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months of approval, equal to $400 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
  • Travel when you want with no blackout dates
  • Miles don't expire and there’s no limit to how many you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
13.24% - 23.24% (Variable)
$0 intro for first year; $59 after that
Excellent, Good Credit
Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® Review

at Barclaycard'ssecure website

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★
4.4

OVERALL RATING

4.4/5.0
  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that's enough to redeem for a $500 travel statement credit
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • Redeem for travel or cash back statement credits, gift cards and merchandise. Redemption values vary
  • Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
  • Miles don't expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • No foreign transaction fees on anything you buy while in another country
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
0%
12 months (on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening)
16.24%, 20.24% or 23.24% Variable
$89 - Waived first year
Excellent/Good

These cards will ensure you don’t pay an additional fee every time you swipe your card in another country. Plus, the Visa and MasterCard branding offers wider acceptance internationally, as opposed to their American Express and Discover counterparts.

Best “Air Miles” Credit Cards

This is your Captain (obvious) speaking: Air miles cards give you the opportunity to earn and redeem air miles for free or discounted flights. There’s actually a community of people who churn through these cards as a hobby/lifestyle, earning enough miles to fly the globe, mostly in first class, for free! Most of us, however, would be thrilled with just a free pair of tickets to Anywhere, U.S.A., and these cards can certainly help you achieve that.

Discover it® Miles – Unlimited 1.5x Rewards Card Review

at Discover'ssecure website

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Our Take: "If you're looking for a card that gives you air miles, your search is over. This card helps you earn free flights with multiple airlines, awards very generous bonuses, and offers a low APR to boot.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5x Miles on every dollar spent
  • Cover travel costs by redeeming the miles in any amount for a statement credit
  • Fly any airline, any time
  • No blackout dates
  • At the end of your first year, the card automatically matches the miles you've earned (only for new cardmembers)"
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0%
14 months
10.99%
14 months
11.24% - 23.24% Variable
$0
Excellent/Good

EXPERT'S RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
16.24%-23.24% Variable
Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
Excellent Credit

With the ability to fly any airline, anytime, these cards won’t restrict you to a certain airline or certain times of the year, which many air miles cards are known to do. Imagine not being able to redeem your points for a summer vacation you’ve been planning for months, because, unbeknownst to you, it falls on a blackout date. The Discover card even gives you an in-flight WiFi credit and has no annual fee, a perk that’s quite rare in a travel rewards card.

Best “Hotel” Credit Cards

Hotel travel rewards, similar to air miles, allow you to earn and redeem points good for free or discounted hotel stays. While a card that won’t restrict you to a certain hotel chain is definitely nice, some hotel co-branded offers are tough to beat, and generally offer elite status perks for its hotels, including room upgrades and additional discounts on stays.

EXPERT'S RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
16.24%-23.24% Variable
Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
Excellent Credit
Hilton HHonors Card™ from American Express Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

AMERICAN EXPRESS® RATING

★★★★★
4.5

OVERALL RATING

0.0/5.0
  • Get 7X Hilton HHonors™ Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio.
  • Get 5X Hilton HHonors™ Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your Card at U.S. restaurants, at U.S. supermarkets, and at U.S. gas stations.
  • Get 3X Hilton HHonors™ Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.
  • Enjoy complimentary Silver status with your Hilton HHonors™ Card.
  • Spend $20,000 on eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year and you can earn HHonors™ Gold status through the end of the next calendar year.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
15.49% - 19.49% Variable
$0
Excellent Credit

If you have a favorite hotel where you prefer to stay when you travel, it goes without saying to check out that hotel’s co-branded card if they offer one (Marriott, Starwood, and Hilton do), as it makes sense to earn rewards toward your hotel of choice.

Best “Car Rental” Credit Cards

When using a credit card to pay for a rental car, one of the biggest advantages is the included rental insurance that comes with some credit cards, which acts as secondary coverage to your own auto insurance policy. However – and this is a big however – some cards do not offer the rental insurance if you use your rewards to pay for the vehicle, requiring at least one day of your rental paid for on your card. But you’re in luck because Chase cardholders still qualify for the rental coverage when the vehicle is booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Here are two popular Chase cards for travel rewards, including rental cars:

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

5.0/5.0
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases — it's automatic
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 14.24-23.24%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • Enjoy new 5% categories every 3 months like gas stations, restaurants, and wholesale clubs
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0%
15 months
0%
15 months
14.24%-23.24% Variable
$0
Excellent/Good

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

5.0/5.0
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase — it's automatic
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 14.24-23.24%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • Redeem for cash — any amount, anytime
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
  • No annual fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0%
15 months
0%
15 months
14.24%-23.24% Variable
$0
Excellent/Good

Another benefit of using a Chase card for car rentals, according to CreditCards.com, is that they have no exclusions for rentals outside of the U.S., whereas some issuers limit coverage in other countries.

Best “Sign-Up Bonus” Credit Cards

Some people sign up for a travel rewards card just long enough to spend the minimum required to earn the bonus, redeem said bonus, and either stow the card away or cancel it altogether — that’s how powerful a sign-up bonus can be. In fact, the cards below offer such impressive bonuses that they can be redeemed for hundreds of dollars’ worth of travel right off the bat.

EXPERT'S RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
16.24%-23.24% Variable
Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
Excellent Credit
Discover it® Cashback Match™ Review

at Discover'ssecure website

CASH BACK RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

5.0/5.0
  • Our Take: "One of our favorite cards, with long 0% intro APRs, low ongoing APRs, awesome cash back rewards, and lots more.
  • 5% cash back in categories that rotate quarterly, up to $1,500 per quarter when you sign up for the quarterly bonus
  • 1% cash back on all your other purchases
  • Matches the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year (only for new cardmembers)
  • No limit to the amount of cash back that can be matched"
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0%
14 months
0%
14 months
11.24% - 23.24% Variable
$0
Excellent/Good

Travel credit cards are known for offering some of the best sign-up bonuses — but they’re always changing — so if you find a good deal you’re happy with, jump on it before it’s gone.

Best “Travel Insurance” Credit Cards

Chase Bank tops our list of cards offering the best travel insurance protection. While many issuers limit coverage to you and your immediate family (spouse and children), Chase includes the whole gang. According to Chase’s guide benefits, this includes your spouse or domestic partner and their children, including adopted children or step-children; legal guardians or wards; siblings or siblings-in-law; parents or parents-in-law; grandparents or grandchildren; aunts or uncles; nieces or nephews. The following Chase cards provide travel accident insurance, luggage protection, and trip cancellation insurance:

EXPERT'S RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
16.24%-23.24% Variable
Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
Excellent Credit

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

5.0/5.0
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases — it's automatic
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 14.24-23.24%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • Enjoy new 5% categories every 3 months like gas stations, restaurants, and wholesale clubs
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0%
15 months
0%
15 months
14.24%-23.24% Variable
$0
Excellent/Good

Be aware that issuers vary wildly in both their policies and deadlines for filing claims — you can refer to the Chase Sapphire guide to benefits here, and the Chase Freedom guide to benefits here.

Best “Prepaid” Travel Credit Cards

The benefits of using a prepaid card for travel are many. For one, some would argue that making purchases on a prepaid card is safer than using a debit or credit card because your bank account is not tied to the card. It also allows you to budget for your trip, being that you can only spend the amount loaded onto the card (though you can continue to load the card as needed), and you can still withdraw cash from an ATM as you would with a debit card — just be mindful of ATM fees. Additionally, the currency will automatically be converted in other countries, avoiding pesky foreign transaction fees. Below are some of our favorite prepaid travel cards:

AccountNow® Prepaid Visa® Card Review

at AccountNow'ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

2.5/5.0
  • No Credit Check. No Risk of Overdraft Fee.
  • $0 Monthly Fee Pay As You Go Plan (See Cardholder Agreement on site)
  • No minimum balance
  • Free† direct deposit and online bill payment
  • Use it everywhere Visa debit card accepted
  • Easy online/mobile account access
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
$0
No Credit Check

We suggest choosing a prepaid card you won’t have to worry about not being able to use, like a MasterCard or Visa branded card, as American Express and Discover are not as widely accepted.

Best Overall “Travel Points” Credit Card

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s one card, in particular, that’s appeared in many of these categories, and that’s the Sapphire Preferred, offered through Chase Bank. Between the awesome sign-up bonus, travel insurance, no foreign transaction fees, and being named MONEY Magazine’s “Best Credit Card” for travel rewards, it’s an all-around great card.

EXPERT'S RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
16.24%-23.24% Variable
Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
Excellent Credit

The card requires applicants have excellent credit scores to be approved, though some have claimed they were approved with a credit score in the high 600s. And it does carry an annual fee — as do most cards with awesome perks — but it is waived the first year for new cardholders.

Are Your Bags Packed Yet?

Wherever your next vacation may take you, having the right card in your wallet can make your trip that much more secure and affordable. By choosing a card that offers rewards and perks geared toward your preferred method of travel, you’ll know you’re acquiring valuable points, miles, and protections that are useful to you, without the restrictions.