Travel credit cards reward you for your purchases and loyalty with a variety of benefits that will help get you on the next plane to Cabo.
Here’s an in-depth guide to travel credit cards in 2022 that will help you understand everything you need to turn your regular spending into a vacation.
Overview: best travel credit cards
With so much competition in the industry, it might be hard to figure out which card is right for you.
Here’s a list of Money Under 30’s favorite travel credit cards—we’re sure you’ll find the right one for you on this list.
|Credit Card||Best For|
|Citi Premier® Card||Air Travel, Restaurants and Supermarket rewards|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Generous Travel Rewards Sign-Up Bonus|
|Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card||Travel Rewards For Businesses|
Best for air travel, restaurants and supermarket rewards
What We Like:
Limited Time Offer: Earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. These points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards at thankyou.com
Three points per dollar spent at Gas Stations, Supermarkets, Restaurants, Hotels and on Air Travel
No foreign transaction fees
- For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
- Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
- Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
- Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
- Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
- 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
- No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
- No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Citi Premier® Card
While the Citi Premier® Card charges an annual fee of $95, it’s still a superb card for the frequent traveler who also spends a lot of money at home. It offers 3x points back on air travel-related expenses like restaurants, flights, and hotels, but also 3x points back on essentials like at gas stations and supermarkets. Plus, you’ll score 80,000 bonus points just for spending $4,000 within three months. That’s $800 when redeemed for gift cards at thankyou.com!
You can also enjoy $100 off a single hotel stay of $500 or more (excluding taxes and fees), through thankyou.com once per calendar year.
If you plan to redeem your credit card rewards points for travel or gift cards and not cash back, the Citi Premier® card will rapidly pay for itself.
- Regular APR: 17.49% - 25.49% (Variable)
- Annual Fee: $95
- Rewards: 3 points for every dollar spent across restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels, and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases without limitations
What We Like:
A monster of an up-front bonus; 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months.
5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining, 2X points on all other travel purchases, plus more.
Points are worth 25% more when you redeem travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
- 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.
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
- Get complimentary access to DashPass which unlocks $0 delivery fees and lower service fees for a minimum of one year when you activate by December 31, 2024.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers some great benefits with an annual fee of $95. It also has no foreign transaction fees either, saving you a bundle on foreign purchases.
The card offers a whopping 60,000 bonus points when you sign up and spend $4,000 within three months of opening the account. That’s $750 in travel rewards when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards® 0r $600 in cash.
You’ll also get a generous rewards program—2 points for every dollar spent on travel and dining and 1 point for all other purchases.
- Regular APR: 16.74% - 23.74% Variable
- Annual Fee: $95
- Rewards:5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining, 2X points on all other travel purchases, and one point per dollar spent for all other purchases.
What We Like:
100,000 bonus points after spending $15,000 in the first three months (Worth $1,250 in travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®)
3 points earned per $1 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year
No foreign transaction fees
- Earn 100k bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 cash back or $1,250 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year. Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
- With Fraud Protection your card transactions will be monitored for possible signs of fraudulent activity using real-time fraud monitoring
- With Zero Liability you won't be held responsible for unauthorized charges made with your card or account information
- Redeem points for cash back, gift cards, travel and more - your points don't expire as long as your account is open
- Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Purchase Protection covers your new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per account.
The Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card is a great option if you own a small business with a lot of travel expenses. With this card, you earn 3x points on all travel expenses, as well as on shipping, internet, and online advertising on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases. You also earn 1x points on all other spending, making this a flexible card with lots of earning potential.
Another perk of the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card is its generous welcome bonus. Cardholders who spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months are eligible for a 100,000 point welcome bonus, which amounts to $1,250 towards travel rewards when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
The card does have an annual fee, so it’s not the best fit for borrowers looking for a truly fee-free card. But for business owners with lots of travel expenses, the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card is a great option with flexible redemption methods and plenty of additional perks.
- Regular APR: 16.74% - 21.74% Variable
- Annual fee: $95
- Rewards: 3x points on travel, shipping, internet, cable, phone, and online advertising on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases, 1x points on everything else
Summary of the best travel rewards credit cards
|Credit Card||Credit Needed⁺||Cash Rewards||Unique Features|
|Citi Premier® Card||700+||3 points per dollar spent on air travel, at hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and supermarkets, plus 1 point per dollar spent on everything else||Save $100 booking a hotel stay $500+, transfer ThankYou® Points to participating airline loyalty programs|
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
|750+||5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining, 2X points on all other travel purchases||Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®|
|Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card||750+||3x points on travel, shipping, internet, cable, phone, and online advertising on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases, 1x points on everything else|
1.5 points for every $1 spent on all purchases everywhere
|Flexible redemption option, no foreign transaction fee|
How we came up with our list of the top travel credit cards
Choosing the best travel credit cards can be tricky, and that’s why we wanted to be as particular as possible so you wouldn’t have to do any of the legwork.
We’ve scoured the internet, spoken with card issuers, and conducted in-depth research to find all of the most promising travel offers available.
We then weighed each of them in a thorough side-by-side comparison, and came up with a list of the most beneficial cards to travel with in 2018.
We considered the most important factors including introductory offers, rewards points earn rates, redemption structure and policies, annual fees, and additional benefits that you receive with the card.
A card got higher rankings if it offered less fees, high earn rates, extra perks, and an easy redemption policy.
Travel rewards credit cards vs. airline credit cards
If you’ve ever traveled or looked into travel credit cards, you’ve heard the terms airline credit cards and travel rewards credit cards. Chances are that you assumed these two terms are interchangeable. In fact, they are not. Here’s the important difference:
Airline credit cards
These are credit cards that are issued directly by an airline, for example, the British Airways Visa Signature® card. In these cases, the airline teams up with a credit card company to offer members a new deal, usually discounts on flights or flight-related items such as free checked baggage, etc.
These deals are airline-specific, and you cannot use the miles for any other airline or travel expenses.
Travel rewards credit cards
Travel rewards credit cards come from a different angle. These miles can be used with any hotel chain, airline, or even travel agent. In fact, often these bonus points can be used on purchases other than airline tickets and other travel-related purchases.
You’ll earn valuable rewards points by purchasing with your travel credit card such as priority check-in, VIP passes, and upgrades. What’s more, travel rewards credit cards come with additional perks such as 0% APR on purchase and purchase protection or extended warranty.
Additionally, you’ll enjoy multiplied or accelerated points accumulation when you use your card to make regular purchases (not just travel-related ones).
All in all, travel rewards cards deliver more for your money, making them our preferred choice.
Most important features of travel credit cards
As mentioned, there are some features that are more important for a travel credit card than others. Since they’re the most significant things to look for when searching for the best travel credit card, we thought it would be a good idea to explain each one. Here’s a brief description of what to look for when comparing cards:
The APR or annual percentage rate is the total amount that the card will cost you each year if you carry a balance. A higher APR means you’ll be shelling out more cash, while a lower APR reflects greater savings. A card with a 0% APR introductory rate or an everyday lower APR scored higher in our rankings.
Annual fees are a big deal among travel cardholders with so much variation from card to card. Cards range from no annual fees to hundreds of dollars, so there is a lot of discussion around the topic.
Credit card companies need to make money somehow, but cardholders need to be incentivized in order to sign up for their cards. Some companies compensate the bigger benefits they offer by charging a higher annual fee, while others prefer to offer smaller benefits and lower or no annual fees. Which is better is the big debate.
So, which is it? That depends mostly on your spending and travel habits. The more you travel, the more advantageous a travel credit card with good rewards and earn rates becomes.
Another factor to consider, however, is how much you spend on your credit card each year.
While it seems obvious that a no annual fee credit card is better than one that charges you yearly, this is not always the case. In some instances, you’re better off paying the annual fee because of the benefits that come with the card. It depends on how much you spend with your card, for the most part. If you aren’t spending a lot annually on your card, then a high annual fee won’t be worthwhile for you to pay, even if it offers great rewards.
Credit score required
How good a credit score you need is a major factor to consider when applying for a credit card. Many premium travel cards require good credit, meaning 700 or higher.
If you don’t have this level of credit rating, then you probably won’t be eligible for the card. Fortunately, there are some solid credit card options available to people with fair or poor credit scores.
How hard or easy rewards points are to redeem and what you can redeem them for are also big decision makers. It doesn’t help to accrue thousands of points if you can’t redeem them for any of the things you want to buy.
When credit cards tie your hands with blackout dates, purchase restrictions, amount limitations, and caps, they lose credibility and desirability in our eyes. Travel cards ranked higher for a wider range of redemption options and redemption flexibility.
Foreign transaction fees
Foreign transaction fees eat away a large chunk of the savings we hope to gain from a reward-based travel credit card. Instead of racking up 1% to 3% of our purchases in rewards points, a foreign transaction fee actually deducts 3% from your savings. For this reason, only credit cards with no foreign transaction fees are included in our list. You won’t be hit with this colossal charge using any of these cards.
Travel rewards structure
How you earn points is important as well. If you earn one point for every dollar you spend or if you earn three points, that’s a big difference. How many points earned is something we take heavily into consideration when comparing travel cards. Additionally, what purchases earn you rewards points, also weighs in.
Alternatively, some cards will offer you a generous return rate on everyday spending categories that aren’t travel-related. This is the case with the Citi Premier® Card. You’ll earn 3 points per dollar spent on air travel, sure, but also gas station purchases and at supermarkets! This is more beneficial for people who only travel sometimes, and would like to maximize point accumulation between trips.
Other rewards structure factors include any caps on how many points can be earned, expiration dates, and other rules regulating your rewards.
Airline companion tickets
Airline companion tickets are basically a free or discounted ride for someone you are traveling with. This is a benefit that is generally reserved by the airlines themselves, and most travel credit cards do not offer this perk. If a card does, it is ranked higher for this advantage.
A good introductory offer can be an enticing proposal. Most travel cards have some sort of introductory offer, but this can vary from one card to the next. Some cards offer bonus points while others will give you 0% APR for a limited amount of time. One of the most lucrative welcome bonuses is the Citi Premier® Card’s 80,000 bonus ThankYou® points for spending $4,000 within the first 3 months, worth $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com!
There’s one thing to note about introductory offers, though. While a nice welcome bonus can give you tremendous gains for the first year, be sure to choose a travel card that will be beneficial to you in the long run as well. If a card loses its value after the first year and leaves you holding a large annual fee, you haven’t really gained much.
While travel miles are the crux of your search with travel credit cards, most cards will also come with additional benefits. Think of it as the cherry on top of an already sweet sundae; additional benefits can include shopping perks, travel insurance, and bonuses. Here are some of the bonus perks you’ll get from each of our recommended travel cards:
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Dedicated customer service hotline 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
25% more value for Chase Ultimate Rewards redemptions
Travel credit cards offer a world of benefit to anyone who currently travels or someone who wants to travel but can’t afford the ticket.
A travel credit card is a good idea for you if you spend a minimum of $1,000 on your credit card each month. Even if you don’t, though, the cards with no annual fees can help you rack up valuable points for any purchases that you are making already.
If you are interested in flying or staying in hotels for free, this type of credit card can make it happen.
Not sure you want a travel credit card? Finding the right credit card for you is much simpler if you know your credit score, and can narrow your search to only the cards you know you’ll get approved for. We’ve made it easy for you. If you don’t already know your score, use our quick and free Credit Score Estimator tool – then find the perfect card for you!