In 2016 alone, almost 13 million Americans traveled abroad for either business or leisure. And for every trip abroad the average American took in 2016, more than six domestic trips were taken somewhere in the country.
Indeed, Americans like to travel so much, the US is actually second on the list of countries whose citizens travel the most, coming in behind the jet-setters of Finland overall, and first for domestic travel. With so much coming and going, the top priority often becomes finding ways to save on all that travel — or at least make it more comfortable.
For many, the solution to both problems is the travel rewards credit card. Offering rewards redeemable for flights, hotels, or even cash, travel rewards cards can not only make travel more affordable, but can often make it more enjoyable with other exclusive travel perks such as airport lounge access and personal travel concierges.
The Best “Airline Miles” Travel Rewards Cards
Started in the 1970s as a way to reward loyal travelers and lure new people into the air, modern frequent-flyer programs have grown beyond the airlines themselves and into the mainstream credit card space. Airlines have paired with traditional credit card issuers, such as Mastercard and American Express, to offer consumers credit cards good on more than just airfare, adding in lucrative rewards to sweeten the deal.
With the right credit card and miles rewards program, frequent flyers can easily earn their way to free flights simply by making their normal purchases — especially if they take advantage of sweet signup bonuses. If you haven’t given your heart to a single airline, don’t worry; our top picks also include an option for a miles program that doesn’t discriminate between brands.
- 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. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels, through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture
- Named ‘The Best Travel Card' by CNBC, 2018
- 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
17.99% - 25.24% (Variable)
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card credit card is one the most flexible miles card on our list, offering the ability to redeem miles on any airline without blackouts when used toward a statement credit. Or, transfer miles to a qualifying airline loyalty program to combine with your existing frequent flyers miles.
2. Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
With its first passenger flights starting in 1929, Delta Airlines is one of the oldest commercial airlines in the country, and has been offering rewards to loyal travelers for decades. With the Gold Delta SkyMiles® card from American Express, cardholders earn miles on every purchase, meaning you don’t have to be a frequent flyer to earn free flights.
- 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
The Gold Delta SkyMiles® card also offers a solid signup bonus with an attainable spend, putting you that much closer to your next vacation.
3. Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
American Airlines has been transporting passengers for over 90 years, and the AAdvantage program has been a part of that journey since 1981. Today, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® offers any qualified consumer 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
Cardholders can also earn up to 10,000 of their redeemed miles back each year simply by redeeming their points with the 10% redemption rebate. See an in-depth list of pros and cons for the Citi® Platinum Select® Mastercard here to help decide if this card is right for you!
The Best “Points” Travel Rewards Cards
The versatile cousins of the miles credit card, points-based programs offer many of the benefits of airline miles — including the ability to be redeemed for free flights — but typically have fewer brand limitations. Additionally, points can often be redeemed for non-travel rewards such as gift cards, unique experiences, and merchandise.
The key things to look for when comparing travel rewards cards that offer points are the rate at which you’ll earn points and if any particular categories apply. If you don’t spend a lot eating out, for instance, you may not need one that rewards restaurant purchase. Our favorite points cards for travel have flexible redemption options and quality signup bonuses.
- 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®
- Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- 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, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
18.24% - 25.24% Variable
- 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®
- Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
- $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
- 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
19.24% - 26.24% Variable
While points programs do offer more redemption options than the typical miles card, think about the value of your points when you redeem. In many cases, points are worth more when redeemed for travel, either through the bank’s specific travel portal or by transferring rewards points to an eligible airline or hotel partner.
The Best “Chip-and-Pin” Travel Rewards Cards
Ubiquitous throughout the US and EU, the EMV credit card, also known as a chip card, uses an integrated circuit to generate single-use codes for each purchase, making them more secure than traditional magnetic stripe cards. While American chip cards are chip-and-signature, meaning purchases are verified with the cardholder’s signature, credit cards in the UK and Europe are chip-and-pin, requiring a four-digit pin for verification.
While many EU merchants will accept and be able to process your American chip-and-signature credit card, US cardholders may run into problems at unmanned terminals and kiosks, such as those that dispense train tickets, which may only accept cards with pins. Frequent travelers may prefer to obtain a chip-and-pin credit card to avoid any potential hassles. Our top picks come without any foreign transaction fees, increasing their travel value.
at Bank Of America'ssecure website
- Earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere, every time and no expiration on points
- 25,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days — that can be a $200 statement credit toward travel purchases
- Use your card to book your trip how and where you want — you're not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions
- Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees
- Comes with chip technology for enhanced security and protection at chip-enabled terminals
- Get an additional 10% customer points bonus on every purchase when you have an active Bank of America® checking or savings account
0% Intro APR for 12 billing cycles
17.24% - 25.24% (Variable)
In many cases, pin-capable credit cards issued to US cardholders will still default to chip-and-signature verification whenever possible. This means you may be required to provide a signature at some merchants, but should be able to use your pin at automated kiosks and other locations that only accept chip-and-pin verification.
The Best “No Annual Fee” Travel Rewards Cards
High on the list of features that are no-brainers for a sweet travel rewards card are cards that don’t charge an annual fee. Ranging from $30 to well over $500, annual fees not only cut into your potential rewards, including potentially eliminating your signup bonus, but they are often charged right away, immediately eating into your available credit limit.
Although annual fees are often associated with the best rewards and perks, you don’t have to sacrifice travel benefits to avoid an annual fee. In addition to providing unlimited rewards on everything you buy, our top picks for this category won’t charge you foreign transaction fees, either, saving you a pretty penny on your overseas purchases.
at Discover Card'ssecure website
- INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 30,000 Miles, you get 60,000 Miles. That's $600 towards travel!
- Earn unlimited 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases all with no annual fee.
- No Blackout Dates - fly any airline, stay at any hotel.
- Redeem your Miles as a statement credit towards travel purchases.
- 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
14.24% - 25.24% Variable
- Enjoy a one-time 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 and pay no annual fee. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels, through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture
- Transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
- Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
- Enjoy a low intro APR on purchases for 12 months; 14.24%-24.24% variable APR after that
- Travel when you want with no blackout dates
0% for 12 months
14.24% - 24.24% (Variable)
As you compare no-annual-fee cards, be sure to carefully consider the signup bonuses; because there’s no annual fee to bite into your bonus, you’ll really get the full bang for your buck. If you’ll want to avoid interest fees on top of everything else, look for a quality introductory 0% APR offer to round out your travel card.
The Best “Hotel” Travel Rewards Cards
When considering upcoming travel, one of the first things many people think about is the cost of the flight, especially when traveling abroad. However, with the average hotel room going for around $120 a night, your flight may not be the biggest bite to your budget — it might actually be your hotel.
For the frequent traveler, brand loyalist, or even casual vacationer, a hotel rewards credit card can offer a lot of tempting perks, including benefits like free in-room wifi. Our favorite hotel cards all come with healthy signup bonuses that will put you well on the path to free stays in no time.
11. Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express
Going back almost 100 years, Hilton has served millions of guests and today has more than 540 properties around the world. The Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express allows cardholders to enjoy Hilton Honors Gold status when they open an account.
- Earn 12X points per dollar for Hilton purchases
- Earn points for purchases at US restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations
- Earn 3X points for all other purchases
Hilton Honors cardholders who spend $40,000 or more in a calendar year can earn Hilton Honors Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year.
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 IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card offers all the usual perks of a midtier 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.
Find Out How Rewarding Travel Can Be
Every year in America, the US Department of State issues literally millions of passports to its citizens for travel abroad. In fact, 2016 alone saw 18,676,547 passports issued, adding to the more than 131 million US passports currently in circulation.
To top that, the average American takes more than six domestic trips a year, nearly 80% of which are for leisure purposes. With so many people traveling each year, it’s little wonder cardholders around the country are turning to travel rewards credit cards to make travel easier, cheaper, and more comfortable.