15 Best Travel Credit Cards 2018 – (Rewards, Miles, & International)

By: Ashley Dull • 5/24/2018

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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:

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.

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 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.

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:

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.

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:

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:

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.

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.

Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

About the Author

Ashley Dull

Ashley is the Finance Vertical Manager at Digital Brands, Inc., where she oversees content published on CardRates.com and BadCredit.org. Ashley works closely with experts and industry leaders in every sector of finance to develop authoritative guides, news, and advice articles with regards to audience interest. Connect with Ashley on Twitter and LinkedIn.