The first documented passport wasn’t quite a passport at all, but a letter from the Persian king Artaxerxes requesting safe passage for a court official around 450 BCE. Through the mid-1500s, the passe porte allowed European travelers passage through the city gates (called portes). The first US passe-port was written by Benjamin Franklin and printed on his own press. Here in the 21st century, the passport has evolved to not only act as the key to get through (airport) gates, but it has become a symbol of our ability to travel freely throughout much of the modern world.
Well, perhaps not quite freely. The average flight from the US to Europe ranges from $788 to $1,435 — per person — depending on where you fly out from, and that doesn’t touch meals and lodging. That’s where travel rewards credit cards come in; you can turn your rewards into free flights, hotel stays, and other key travel expenses, allowing you to put that passport to good use.
Best Credit Cards for “Flexible” Travel Rewards
Few things in life are quite as frustrating as saving and planning for the perfect trip — only to have everything go sideways when it’s time to book. Welcome to the roadblock that is travel rewards blackout dates. Add in airline or hotel brand restrictions, and successfully organizing your points or miles vacation can start to feel like wandering through a maze with nothing but dead ends.
Thankfully, a number of great travel rewards credit cards offer points or miles without the strings and limitations of blackout dates and brand restrictions. Instead of planning your trip around your points, the rewards you earn can be redeemed for travel expenses regardless of where or when — or with whom — you travel. Plus, pay no foreign transaction fees with many of our favorite flexible travel rewards cards.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
- Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
- Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
18.49% - 25.49% Variable
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- No delivery fees for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with a DashPass subscription from DoorDash -over a $100 value. Activate with your Chase Sapphire card by December 31, 2021.
- Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That's 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.
17.49% - 24.49% Variable
- Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
- Earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day.
- Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®
- Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates. Plus transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
- Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
- Named ‘The Best Travel Card' by CNBC, 2018
17.24% - 24.49% (Variable)
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
If you do have a specific travel brand you prefer, you can still win with flexible travel rewards credit cards. Besides redeeming your points or miles for travel credit, some programs also allow you to transfer your rewards to a partner airline or hotel loyalty program. This can turn your flexible rewards into branded points or miles that can be combined with your existing frequent flyer miles or hotel loyalty points.
Best Credit Cards for “No Annual Fee” Travel Rewards
Depending on how much you spend each year, it can be easy to earn enough rewards and rebates to more than offset any annual fee, even on cards with triple-digit annual fees. Likewise, if you place a lot of value on certain perks and benefits that often accompany high annual fees — particularly when it comes to travel cards — then those fees may be worth paying for you.
For others, however, annual fees are simply nuisance expenses that detract from the value of the rewards — and the card. Luckily for them, the rewards credit card marketplace is thick with no-annual-fee card options, including a wide variety offering solid travel rewards. What’s more, our top-rated picks for travel cards without annual fees also won’t charge you foreign transaction fees for purchases in another currency.
at Discover Card'ssecure website
- UNLIMITED BONUS: Discover will match ALL the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. That’s $700 towards travel! The more you earn, the more you get.
- Earn unlimited 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases - with no annual fee.
- No Blackout Dates. Simply pay for travel purchases like airlines, hotels, rental cars, and more with your Discover it® Miles card.
- Miles Pay You Back. Easily redeem Miles as a statement credit for travel purchases. Or get cash.
- Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
- Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
0% for 14 months
10.99% for 14 months
13.49% - 24.49% Variable
The Discover it® Miles card has a unique signup bonus that matches all the miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
- $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
- Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
- Earn 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day
- Travel when you want with no blackout dates and fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
- Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
- Transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
0% for 12 months
13.49% - 23.49% (Variable)
Capital One was one of the first issuers to offer blackout-free travel rewards, and its travel cards are still among the top flexible travel rewards options.
The Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card allows cardholders to earn unlimited rewards points that can be redeemed for blackout-free flights, hotels, vacation packages, rental cars, or baggage fees.
- Earn unlimited 1.5X points per $1 on all eligible card purchases with no expiration date
- Introductory 0% APR for your first 12 billing cycles for purchases
- Pay no annual fee
The Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card also offers bonus points for Bank of America customers who have an active checking or savings account, with Bank of America Preferred Rewards clients earning the most bonus points.
One thing to keep in mind is that “no annual fees” doesn’t mean “no fees at all.” Unless you have an introductory 0% APR offer active on your card, you’ll be charged interest fees on any credit card balances you carry from month to month. These fees can easily overwhelm any purchase rewards you earn, as well as eliminating the savings from not paying an annual fee.
Best Credit Cards for “Air Miles” Travel Rewards
While having the flexibility to redeem your travel rewards can make planning your next trip significantly easier, credit cards co-branded with specific airlines can frequently offer exclusive perks and benefits that may offset the limitations for some applicants. These benefits can include cost-saving perks, such as free checked bags, as well as luxuries like airport lounge access.
And co-branded credit cards can be especially appealing to cardholders who have a particular affinity for a specific airline and want a faster way to accrue frequent flyers miles, as these cards typically reward you with miles for every purchase. The cards on our list also offer bonus frequent flyer miles — at least 2X per $1 — for qualifying airline purchases.
Earn unlimited frequent flyer miles with the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, plus enjoy special cardholder perks like priority boarding and a free checked bag.
- Earn 2X miles per dollar spent with Delta, 1X miles per dollar on all other purchases
- Get your first checked bag free on every Delta flight
- Pay $0 annual fee the first year, $95 each year after
As an added perk, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, freeing you up to purchase like a local when you travel.
With domestic trips starting at just 7,500 miles, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® offers cardholders an easy way to earn free travel.
- Earn 2X AAdvantage® miles per $1 on American Airlines, restaurant, and gas station purchases
- Earn 1X AAdvantage® miles per $1 on all other purchases
- Pay $0 annual fee the first year, $99 each year after
Additionally, redeeming your points can earn you more points, as you’ll receive bonus miles equal to 10% of your redeemed miles.
Servicing more than 180 destinations globally, the British Airways Visa Signature® Card can get you to many of the most popular travel spots around the world.
- Earn 3X Avios per $1 on British Airways purchases and 1X Avios on other eligible purchases
- Receive a Travel Together Ticket for spending $30,000 in a year
- Pay a $95 annual fee
The cost of rewards flights are based on the distance you fly, with short-distance trips (650 miles or less) starting at 4,000 Avios miles for off-peak travel dates.
Even if you choose to go with a co-branded airline travel rewards credit card, you likely won’t be limited to a single airline. Most major airlines are part of an airline alliance that partners them with other airlines, some alliances holding up to 27 members. Many frequent flyer programs allow you to transfer rewards between alliance airlines and/or redeem your rewards for flights on other airlines in the alliance.
Best Credit Cards for “Hotel” Travel Rewards
Similar to co-branded airline credit cards, travel rewards cards co-branded with a hotel loyalty program typically offer cardholders a quick way to earn hotel loyalty program points. Most co-branded hotel cards not only provide at least one point per dollar for all of your card purchases, but most also allow you to earn bonus points — at least 2X per $1 — for hotel stays and on-property purchases.
Additionally, hotel-branded travel rewards credit cards frequently provide a range of freebies and perks, including complimentary elite status, free internet access, and no-cost room upgrades that can make your stay more comfortable and more affordable. The hotel brands on our list include global options with thousands of properties from which to choose.
The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card is the new mid-tier card that resulted from the rebranding of the Marriott and Starwood programs after their merger. The card offers six points per dollar on Marriott purchase and two points on everything else.
- Earn 6X Marriott Bonvoy points per dollar spent at eligible Marriott Bonvoy properties
- Earn 2X on all other purchases
- Pay $95 annual fee
Cardholders receive automatic Silver Elite Status with Marriott Bonvoy and can earn Gold Status by spending $35,000 on purchases each account year. Users can also enjoy free premium in-room wifi and an annual free night award after the account anniversary.
The Hilton Honors Ascend Card is not only a quick route to free stays with its double-digit rewards rate for Hilton purchases, but also provides you with complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status.
- Earn 12X Hilton Honors™ Bonus Points per dollar for Hilton purchases
- Earn 6X Hilton Honors™ Bonus Points for purchases at US restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations
- Earn 3X Hilton Honors™ Bonus Points for all other purchases
The Hilton Honors Ascend Card is also great for big buyers, as you can earn a free Weekend Night Reward when you spend at least $15,000 on your card in a single calendar year.
The IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card offers all the usual perks of a mid-tier co-branded hotel card, including a high rewards rate for branded purchases and complimentary Platinum Elite status.
- Earn 10X points per $1 on IHG® hotel purchases made directly with IHG®
- Earn 2X points per $1 on gas, groceries, and dining
- Pay a $89 annual fee
This card also offers a number of other money-saving perks, like a free anniversary night each cardmember year and your fourth reward night free on rewards point stays of four nights or more.
The same way other travel rewards programs often allow you to transfer points and miles, so, too, will many hotel loyalty programs allow you to transfer points to partnering hotels and airlines.
Best Credit Cards for “Business” Travel Rewards
In some ways, the always-on-the-go businessperson who practically lives in the air or on the road has become a cultural cliche — but that doesn’t make it any less a reality for many people. For these frequent travelers, a quality travel rewards business credit card is nearly a necessity, offering not only a way to save on trips but also providing a host of perks that can make those trips much more pleasant.
But even if your business requires a little less roaming, you can still use a travel rewards business card to earn points or miles on your business purchases — rewards that can reward you with free travel when the work is done. Business travel cards, including our picks below, offer most (if not all) of the benefits of their consumer counterparts, as well as providing extended benefits for business customers.
- Earn unlimited 1% cash back for your business on every purchase, everywhere, no limits or category restrictions
- No annual fee
- Build and strengthen credit for your business by using this credit card responsibly
- $0 Fraud Liability if your card is lost or stolen
- Free employee cards, which also earn unlimited 1% cash back on all purchases
- Rewards won't expire for the life of the account, and you can redeem your cash back for any amount
Average, Fair, Limited
Beyond being a solid travel rewards option for small business owners, the Capital One® Spark® Classic for Business is one of the few business cards available to those with average credit.
With a CitiBusiness American Airlines credit card, you can experience all the perks of the consumer card, plus earn extra rewards on card purchases in common business categories.
- Earn 2X miles per $1 spent in select business categories that include gas stations & communication services
- Earn 2X miles per $1 spent on American Airlines purchases
- Pay no annual fee the first year, then $95
Spend at least $30,000 on your CitiBusiness American Airlines in a single calendar year and you’ll unlock an American Airlines Companion Certificate that allows a friend or coworker to travel with you for only $99 (plus fees).
The Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express® Card is the business credit card for the newly rebranded Marriott Bonvoy program. The card offers 6X Marriott Bonvoy points per dollar at participating properties, plus four points per dollar at U.S. restaurants and gas stations, and on wireless services purchased from U.S. providers.
- Earn 6X Marriott Bonvoy points per $1 you spend at eligible Marriott Bonvoy properties
- Earn 4X in select business & travel categories
- Pay no annual fee the first year, then $125
Other perks of the card include complimentary Silver Elite status with Marriott Bonvoy, a free annual award night after your account anniversary, and premium in-room wifi service. Plus, receive 15 elite night credits each year and pay no foreign transaction fees.
Your new business credit card can also have another benefit that has nothing to do with hotels or airlines: building business credit. Your business can — and should — build its own credit history separate from your personal credit. As you responsibly use your card to earn rewards, you’ll also be building a credit history that can help unlock other types of business financing in the future.
Make the Most of Your Travel with a Great Rewards Card
The US passport started from humble origins, hot from Ben Franklin’s printing press and hand-delivered to its recipient. Today, more than 136 million US passports are in circulation, meaning 1 in every 2.4 Americans has a valid US passport.
Sadly, those passports do many of us little good sitting in a desk drawer or safety deposit box, waiting for the day we can afford that trip of our dreams. Travel rewards credit cards can be a simple, convenient way to make the purchases you were going to make anyway, all while earning points or miles you can redeem to cover a wide variety of travel expenses — and a reason to pull that passport out of hibernation.