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2018’s Best Travel Reward Credit Cards

Ben Luthi, Contributing Expert | Updated September 24, 2018
Ben Luthi is a personal finance and travel writer and a total credit card nerd. He's written about credit cards and other finance topics at NerdWallet, U.S. News & World Report, Experian, Credit Karma, and more.

What is a Travel Reward Credit Card?

A travel credit card is a rewards credit card that gives you points or miles every time you use it to make a purchase. You can then use those points or miles to purchase airline tickets, hotel stays or vacation packages. The best airline cards also give you perks when you fly, like free drinks or seat upgrades. If you use your card to make everyday purchases, it won’t take too long to rack up enough points for free travel.

Best Travel Credit Cards

What is the best travel rewards credit card? You’re looking for a mixture of a few things. First, you want a card that gives you a lot of points or miles. There’s no point in having a travel credit card if you never get to travel using the points you earn. Second, take a look at the perks the card offers, like free seat upgrades or airport lounge access.

Finally, look at the card’s annual fee. Are the benefits and rewards you’re getting worth the fee you have to pay? The best travel cards give you lots of points and miles, have useful perks and charge low fees.

Below we've picked our favorite cards based on the unique feature each is best for. We hope you find our guide helpful, if you have any questions, drop us a line!

Guide Contents
  1. Our picks for best cards by category
  2. Compare card features
  3. 7 things to know before applying
  4. Recap & summary
We maintain strict standards of editorial integrity when writing our guides to help you make decisions with confidence. To help support our site, some of the products we highlight below are from our partners and we may receive compensation when you visit their sites.
Best for
Exclusive Benefits and Premium Access
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The Platinum Card® from American Express

  • 60,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • Earn 5x Membership Rewards® Points on flights and prepaid hotels (flights booked directly with airlines and hotels booked on amextravel.com)
  • Up to $200 in Uber savings.
  • Up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for airline fees
  • Receive a statement credit for the application fees FOR GLOBAL ENTRY OR TSA PRE✓®
  • $550 Annual membership Fee
  • Access more than 1,200 airport lounges across 130 countries
  • Terms apply

Benefits

The Platinum Card from Amex is one of the few luxury cards which offers excellent travel benefits. The 60,000 bonus points is a huge plus, not found on many travel cards. The Platinum Card helps you maximize your travel experience by offering statement credits for various fees and provides access to some amazing lounges. The Uber benefits you get with the card are very good if you take a taxi frequently or use Uber Eats to get the food you love.

Drawbacks

The $550 Annual Fee is high for people who do not travel much or who doesn’t seek a luxury experience. The rewards points return good value when redeemed to airlines compared to hotels or other services.

Bottom Line

Despite a steep annual fee, The Platinum Card from American Express offers the best travel experience possible with access to Platinum Concierge and premium lounges. The Platinum card is ideal for people who fly a lot and spend a lot.

Best for
Lower Fees and Comparable Rewards
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Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Up to 50,000 bonus points (worth $625 in travel) after you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 2x points for every $1 spent on travel (airline tickets, hotels, trains or taxis)
  • Earn 2x points on dining worldwide and 1x points on all other purchases for every $1 spent
  • No travel restrictions or blackout dates
  • Offers $100/day (up to 5 days) baggage delay insurance, $500/ticket trip delay insurance and up to $10,000 trip cancellation insurance (check your card terms for restrictions and additional information)
  • $0 Introductory Annual Fee for the first year, $95 after that
  • 17.74% - 24.74% Variable APR
  • Rated 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY
  • Terms apply

Benefits

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of the most rated rewards cards with a low annual fee of $95. Offers a big bonus of 50,000 miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months and lets you earn miles on dining too. The travel related insurance offered by Chase Sapphire Preferred is a huge plus for frequent travellers. You also have the option to transfer your points to one of Chase's hotel or airline transfer partners and maximize the value.

Drawbacks

The card doesn’t offer as many perks as it’s sibling Chase Sapphire Reserve. Lack of access to premier concierge and airport lounges does not appeal to high end travellers. No TSA PreCheck or Global Entry benefits.

Bottom Line

Chase Sapphire Preferred is a good starter card for to collecting travel rewards with a low annual fee.

Best for Business
Delta Loyalists
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Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express

  • Earn upto 60,000 miles (50,000 bonus miles plus 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles) when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months
  • Collect 2 miles for every dollar spent directly with Delta and 1 mile for every dollar spent on all other purchases
  • 0% promotional APR on all purchases for the first 6 months
  • Receive $100 in statement credit when you make a Delta purchase in the first 3 months of receiving your new card
  • Variable APR from 17.74% to 26.74% after the 6 month promotional APR
  • Benefits of priority boarding and your first checked baggage flies free on Delta flights
  • $195 Annual fee
  • Terms and limitations apply. Please check card specific Benefit Terms, Rates & Fees for more information

Benefits

This card offers a great sign-up bonus of 60,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months you have the card (50,000 miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification miles). You’ll also get priority boarding and a free checked bag. Possibly the best benefit is the companion fare. Once per year, you can get a second ticket on any domestic flight you purchase a ticket for without paying the fare. You’ll only have to pay taxes and fees.

Drawbacks

Like all cards that are co-branded with an airline, the biggest drawback of the card is that you can only use the rewards with Delta. The card also carries a hefty $195 annual fee. Finally, you’ll only earn one mile per dollar spent on most purchases, giving the card poor long-term earning potential.

Bottom Line

This is a good card for people who frequently fly Delta and who will be able to use the companion fare each year. Otherwise, it’s underwhelming.

Best for Business
Using Any Airline
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Capital One Spark Miles Select for Business

  • No annual fee
  • Earn 1.5 miles for every $1 spent on purchases for your business
  • Up to 20,000 bonus miles (worth $200 in travel) after you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Miles never expire and have no restrictions (use with any airline, hotel or vacation package)
  • 0% Intro APR for 9 months on all purchases. APR varies from 14.74% to 22.74% after the promotional period
  • Automatic alerts on any card related fraud activity and zero fraud liability if card gets stolen or lost
  • See card rates and disclosures for additional information

Benefits

Capital One offers very flexible miles that you can redeem towards any travel-related purchase, from flight tickets to subway tickets. You can earn an unlimited number of miles per year at a rate of 1.5 miles per dollar spent. Miles are worth one penny each, making this the equivalent of earning 1.5 percent cash back. Plus, the card has no annual fee.

Drawbacks

The card’s biggest drawback is its low sign-up bonus. You’ll earn 20,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months you have the card. That’s worth just $200, much less than many other cards offer. Also, the card is not affiliated with any specific airline, so you don’t get any airline perks like free upgrades.

Bottom Line

This card is good for people who don’t want to be tied to a specific airline and who don’t need the perks that a co-branded card offers.

Best for Business
Using Any Airline & More Rewards
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Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business

  • $0 Annual fee for the first year, $95 from second year onwards
  • Earn 2 miles for every $1 on every purchase for your business
  • Up to 50,000 bonus miles (worth $500 in travel) after you spend $4,500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Miles have no expiration, redeem your miles without any restrictions
  • 18.74% Variable APR on all purchases
  • Comes with zero fraud liability and automatic fraud alerts
  • Refer to card terms and conditions for more details

Benefits

Like the Spark Miles Select for Business card, the Spark Miles for Business offers flexible miles that can be redeemed for anything. This card offers an elevated earning rate of two miles per dollar spent. The sign-up bonus is 50,000 points after $4,500 in spending in your first three months with the card, giving it more upfront value.

Drawbacks

This card shares the same drawbacks as its sister card, with the addition of an annual fee. There’s no fee for the first year, but you’ll pay a $95 fee in all following years.

Bottom Line

This card is for people who can expect to get more value out of the increased miles earning rate than they will pay in annual fees.

Best for Business
American Airline Loyalists
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CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®

  • Earn upto 70,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $4,000 in purchases within the first 4 months of account opening (limited time offer)
  • 2 AAdvantage® miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • 2 AAdvantage® miles per $1 spent on purchases at telecommunications merchants, cable and satellite providers, car rental merchants and at gas stations and 1 AAdvantage® mile per $1 spent on other purchases
  • Preferred boarding on American Airlines flights and save 25% on American Airlines inflight Wi-Fi when you use your card
  • Free first checked bag on domestic flights
  • Annual fee waived for the first year, $99 after that
  • Terms apply

Benefits

This card is co-branded with American Airlines, offering free checked bags, priority boarding and a 25 percent discount on in-flight WiFi for all American Airlines flights. You can earn 70,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $4,000 in the first three months. You’ll also earn two miles per dollar spent on American Airlines and select other categories, like gas, plus one mile per dollar spent elsewhere.

Drawbacks

Like all co-branded cards, you’re locked in to flying with American Airlines with this card. You can’t use your points on another airline. The card also carries a $99 annual fee, which is waived the first year.

Bottom Line

This is the card for people who are loyal to American Airlines and who can get at least $100 in value out of the priority boarding and checked bag perks.

Best for
American Airline Loyalists
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Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

  • Earn upto 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles - 40,000 miles after making $2,000 in purchases in first 3 months and 10,000 miles after making a total of $6,000 in purchases in first 12 months of opening account
  • 2X AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, at gas stations and at restaurants
  • $100 American Airlines Flight Discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during your card membership year and renew your card
  • Free first checked bag on domestic flights for you and up to four companions
  • Preferred boarding on American Airlines flights
  • 25% savings on inflight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights
  • $0 annual fee for the first 12 months, $99 after that
  • Terms apply

Benefits

This card gives you a 50,000-mile bonus after you spend $2,500 in the first three months, giving you a quick way to earn some free travel. You can save even more each year by earning a $100 discount on an American Airlines flight after spending $20,000 in a calendar year. The card also offers free checked bags and priority boarding on all American Airlines flights, as well as 25 percent off in-flight purchases.

Drawbacks

Like all co-branded credit cards, this card ties you to using a single airline. It also does not provide a good way to earn miles in the long-term, offering just one mile per dollar spent on most purchases and two miles per dollar spent on flights, gas and restaurants. The card has a $99 annual fee, which is waived in the first year.

Bottom Line

This card is best for American Airlines loyalists who will spend enough to earn the $100 discount each year and who will get a lot of value out of the priority boarding and free checked bags.

Best for
No Annual Fee & Easy-to-Earn Sign-up Bonus
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American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card

  • Earn 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles and receive a $50 statement credit after making $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for each $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and at grocery stores, including grocery delivery services
  • Earn 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases
  • 25% savings on inflight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights
  • No mileage cap on how many AAdvantage® miles you can earn
  • No annual fee
  • Terms apply

Benefits

The American Airline AAdvantage MileUp Card gives you an easy-to-earn 10,000 miles plus a $50 statement credit when you spend $500 in the first three months you have the card. Earn two miles per dollar spent on groceries and American Airlines fights and one mile per dollar spent elsewhere. You also get 25 percent off in-flight purchases. All these perks come with no annual fee.

Drawbacks

The biggest drawback of the card is its low sign-up bonus. You’re unlikely to get even one free flight from the bonus. It also lacks perks like priority boarding and seat upgrades.

Bottom Line

This is a good card for a traveler on a budget who doesn’t want to carry a card that charges an annual fee or who cannot meet minimum spends of thousands of dollars.

Best for
Redeeming Miles on any Airline
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Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®

  • Earn upto 60,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days
  • Collect unlimited 2X miles on every purchase
  • Miles have no airline, seat or hotel restrictions and redeem your miles for travel statement credits
  • 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 fee
  • $89 annual fee, waived for the first year
  • Terms apply

Benefits

This card offers 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 in the first 90 days you have the card. You’ll also earn two miles per dollar you spend, regardless of where you do the spending. Points can be redeemed at a value of one penny each, and you get a five percent rebate when you redeem your miles, putting you closer to your next redemption.

Drawbacks

Because the card isn’t partnered with a particular airline, you pass up on perks like discounts and seat upgrades. You also have to pay an $89 annual fee to keep the card open.

Bottom Line

This card offers a great sign-up bonus and has good ongoing earning potential. It’s a good choice for people who can meet the minimum spend requirement and who don’t mind a reasonable annual fee.

Best for
No Fee & Flexible Rewards
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Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

  • No annual fee
  • Earn 1.25X miles on every purchase and 10X miles on hotels (more details at hotels.com/venture)
  • 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $1000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Reward miles have no restrictions and will never expire. You can redeem your miles as statement credit after you make a travel purchase
  • 0% Intro APR for 12 months on all purchases. APR varies from 13.74% to 23.74% after the promotional period
  • Free credit monitoring with CreditWise® from Capital One and $0 Fraud Liability if your card is ever lost or stolen
  • Terms and Conditions may apply

Benefits

The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card gives cardholders 20,000 miles after they spend $1,000 within three months of opening the card. You’ll also earn 1.25 miles per dollar you spend. These miles can be redeemed towards any kind of travel purchase. As a bonus, there’s no annual fee.

Drawbacks

The card’s sign-up bonus and long-term earning potential falls far short of cards with annual fees. It also doesn’t offer the perks of premium travel cards or cards that are co-branded with an airline.

Bottom Line

This is a good card for travelers on a budget who don’t have any loyalty to a particular airline.

Best for
Better Flexible Rewards With Annual Fee
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Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

  • $0 Annual fee for the first year, $95 after that
  • Earn 2x miles on every purchase and 10x miles on hotels (more details at hotels.com/venture)
  • Up to 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Miles never expire and have no restrictions, book with any airline, hotel or rental car
  • 14.74% - 24.74% variable APR
  • Up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre®
  • Rated 'The Best Travel Card' of 2018 by CNBC
  • Terms and exclusions apply

Benefits

The Capital One Venture Rewards Card is Capital One’s premium travel card, offering a 50,000-mile bonus after you spend $3,000 in three months from account opening. You also get two miles per dollar you spend, and as many as ten miles per dollar spent at certain hotels.

If you’re a frequent international traveler, the card includes a $100 credit for Global Entry.

Drawbacks

The card’s biggest drawback is that it doesn’t offer the perks of cards that are co-branded with specific airlines. It also charges a $95 annual fee, which is waived in the first year.

Bottom Line

This is a great card for someone who wants to earn a large sign-up bonus and who doesn’t mind paying a reasonable annual fee.

Compare Card Features

Card Best For Sign Up Bonus Earning Points Perks Annual Fee
The Platinum Card from American Express Exclusive benefits and premium access 60,000 miles after $5,000 spent in first three months 5x points on flights and hotels (flights booked directly from airline websites and hotels booked at amextravel.com) Statement credit for GlobalEntry and TSA PreCheck application fees $550
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card Lower fees and comparable rewards 50,000 miles after you spend $4,000 in first 3 months 2x points for every dollar spent on travel, 2x points on dining and 1 point on all other purchases Baggage delay insurance, Trip delay insurance and Trip cancellation insurance $0 First year, $95 after that
Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card from American Express Delta loyalists who don’t mind a fee 60,000 miles after $3,000 spent in first three months 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta flights; 1 mile per dollar spent elsewhere Free checked bag, Priority boarding, Companion fare once per year $195
Capital One Spark Miles Select for Business People who don’t want to stick to one airline 20,000 points after spending $3,000 in three months 1.5 miles per dollar None $0
Capital One Spark Miles for Business People who don’t want to stick to one airline and don’t mind an annual fee 50,000 points after spending $4,500 in three months 2 miles per dollar None $95 (waived first year)
CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard American Airlines loyalists willing to pay an annual fee 70,000 miles after spending $4,000 in three months 2 miles per dollar on American Airlines and gas;1 mile per dollar elsewhere Free checked bag; Priority boarding; 25% off in-flight purchases $99 (waived first year)
Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard American Airlines loyalists who don’t mind a fee 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 in the first three months 2 miles per dollar spent on American Airlines flights; 1 mile per dollar elsewhere $100 discount on an American Airlines purchase after spending $20,000 in a calendar year; 25% off in-flight purchases $99 (waived first year)
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card People who want a cheaper card and an easy to meet sign-up bonus 10,000 miles and a $50 statement credit after spending $500 in the first three months 2 miles per dollar spent on groceries and American Airlines flights; 1 mile per dollar on other purchases 25% off in-flight purchases $0
Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard People who want miles that can be redeemed on any airline 60,000 miles after spending $5,000 in the first 90 days 2 miles per dollar spent 5% rebate on mile redemptions $89
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card People looking for a no-fee card with flexible rewards 20,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months 1.25 miles per dollar spent None $0
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card People who want flexible rewards with a reasonable fee 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months 2 miles per dollar spent Global Entry fee credit $95 (waived first year)

7 Important Things to Know Before You Get a Travel Credit Card

  1. What are travel points?

    Credit cards with travel rewards tend to offer those rewards in the form of points. These points can be transferred to the card issuer’s travel partners, such as airlines or hotel chains, or redeemed directly with the card issuer to purchase travel packages.

  2. Do travel rewards points expire?

    Travel credit cards give you points or miles as rewards. Like all travel miles and hotel points systems, how those points are treated varies from issuer to issuer. With some card issuers, your points never expire. Others require regular purchases to avoid expiration. Check with your card issuer for exact details.

  3. How many miles do you need to get a free flight?

    The number of miles that you need to acquire to get a free flight varies depending on the airline and what route you’re flying. The best flyer miles credit cards can get you free short-range flights for as little as 10,000 miles. Many airline credit card offers have sign-up bonuses large enough to be worth multiple free flights.

  4. How much is 40,000 miles worth?

    How much 40,000 miles is worth depends on the airline that issued those miles. You can rack up miles quickly with a bonus miles credit card, but you have to find the best redemption option. With the best airline points cards on the market, 40,000 miles should be enough for a roundtrip flight nearly anywhere within the continental US.

  5. How can I fly for free?

    The best way to fly for free is by signing up for a no-fee travel credit card. You can use this card to make your everyday purchases to earn frequent flyer miles. You can then use those miles towards airline tickets. If you use your card often enough, you’ll be able to take a trip in no time.

  6. Do travel credit cards offer travel protection?

    Top airline credit cards offer various travel protections. Free travel insurance or rental car insurance is just the tip of the iceberg. Some premium credit cards with travel benefits provide protection in the event of airline delays, reimbursing you for some of the cost of your trip if your flights are delayed for an extended period of time

  7. How much is a travel reward point worth?

    The value of credit card rewards points, airline miles and hotel points can vary widely from system to system. Even within the same system, the redemption options could result in variable values for the same miles. As a rule of thumb, rewards points or miles tend to be worth between .5 and 2 cents per point.

Let's Recap Our Selections:

Methodology:

MyThreeCents’ personal finance team carefully evaluates each credit card and ranks them based on their merit. The process involves analyzing various factors, including but not limited to, Annual Percentage Rate (APR), fees, cash back offers, airline miles and other rewards. Our team independently collects the information and carefully assesses each credit card, looking for maximum consumer value. As always, we strive to help consumers to become better educated before making a purchase.

Advertiser Disclosure:

The information we provide and the analysis we share is always free. So, how do we survive? We get compensated by our partners, which may sometimes influence the products or services we review and the order in which they appear. Our suggestions and guidance are unbiased and are based only on our thorough research.