Last Updated: 7/19/21 | July 19th, 2021
With so many choices out there, can be difficult to choose the best travel credit card. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds options out there — and so many of them seem to be the same! How do you know which one is right for you? Or which one gives you the best rewards? Are the fees worth it? Which gives you the best perks?
For someone who isn’t deep into the credit card industry, it can be very confusing — and a bit nerve-wracking — to figure out which card to get.
But let me say this: there is no “best card.” The best travel credit card is the one that aligns with your travel goals.
Are you interested in loyalty to a brand, free rewards, or avoiding fees?
Is elite status the most important perk for you? Do you want points you can use like cash for anything?
You get the cards that match your goal.
Obviously, the airline and hotel cards you’ll pick are going to be based on those you use a lot. For example, I have a Marriott card and a Delta card because those are my brands of choice.
I have an entire post on how to pick the best branded travel credit card.
But, for those general points credit cards, some are way better than others. If you don’t have any specific goals in mind and are just looking for some you can use in your day-to-day life, here’s a list of what I think the best travel credit cards are, their features, and why and when you should have them.
MY TOP PICK: Chase Sapphire Reserve
For me, this is the gold standard of travel cards. Yes, there’s a high fee ($550) but you get so many perks that I think this card is worth the fee. I use this card the most. When you sign-up for the card, you get:
- 60,000 welcome offer after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months
- $300 in annual travel credit
- 5x points on travel
- 3x points on dining (10x when you used the Chase portal)
- 10x points on car rentals and hotels booked via Chase Ultimate Rewards
- 1 point per $1 on everything else
- The ability to transfer to points to a dozen travel brands (I use this feature the most)
- A statement credit of up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application
- Free Priority Pass lounge access (a super awesome perk)
- No foreign transaction fees
- 10x points on Lyft, free deliveries from DoorDash, and $120 Peloton credit
When you factor in that $300 travel credit, you’re really paying $250 a year. For that, you get 3x on restaurants and travel (which is most of my spending) and, when combined with the other perks, you really make out on the card. Plus lounge access and the DoorDash savings? This is a great card and is my all-around favorite card.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
This card is like the “starter” version of the previous card. You don’t get as many perks, but if you’re dead-set on not paying a high yearly fee (this card only $95 a year), you can’t go wrong with this card. It’s great for the more infrequent traveler (this is the card I got my mother). When you sign for this card, you’ll get:
- Welcome offer of 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 within the first 3 months
- 3x points on travel, groceries, restaurants, and streaming services
- 1 point per $1 spent on everything else
- 5x points on travel redeemed via Chase Ultimate Rewards
- 5x points on Lyft
- Free DoorDash subscription
- No foreign transaction fees
It’s a simple, easy-to-use credit card.
I’m personally not a huge fan of this card since I don’t have many uses for it BUT, that said, this card is great for people who stay in a lot of hotels because the fourth-night-free option (even though it’s capped) will cover the cost of this card’s fee right away.
Moreover, you get a $250 travel credit with this card too so you have a great savings there too. When used right, you can actually make some money on this card! This card comes with a $495 yearly fee and the following perks:
- 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within the first three months
- 5x points on airfare and restaurants
- 3x points on hotels and cruises
- 1x points on everything else
- Complimentary fourth night at a hotel when booking through ThankYou.com (capped at twice per year)
- Free Priority Pass
- $250 travel credit every year
- Points transfer to their 15+ partners
- No foreign transaction fees
I don’t love this card because I don’t use a lot of their transfer partners but if you stay in a lot of hotels, this is a must-get card because it pays for itself.
American Express EveryDay Preferred
I love this low-fee Amex card for the bonus points and the 3x points at supermarkets. I use it when I’m buying groceries because it’s a great way to rack up Amex points. When you sign up for this card, you’ll get:
- 15,000 welcome points after you spend $1,000 within the forst 3 months
- 50% extra points when you use your card 30 or more times each billing cycle
- 3x points at supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year)
- 2x points at US gas stations
- 1 point for every other dollar spent
It’s simple, it’s only $95 annually, it’s a quick way to get points.
Capital One Venture
I used to really dislike this card but, with the recent changes they made and the addition of transfer partners, this is now one of my favorite credit cards. I absolutely think you should get this card, especially if you’re looking for an easy to use card with the first year fee waived. When you sign up for this card, you get:
- 50,000 bonus miles once you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months or 100,000 points once you spend $20,000 in the first 12 months.
- Unlimited 2x miles on every dollar spent
- Transfer miles to any of their 15+ travel partners
- Up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
- No foreign transaction fees
- No fees for the first year, $95 after that
Factor in the free first year and this a card that should be in your wallet. When they relaunched it, I liked it so much I got one myself!
Chase Freedom Unlimited
If you’re looking for something more in the ways of cashback and/or want to stick with Chase points over Amex points, this is the best card for it. It’s simple and easy to use and the cashback points give you more flexibility than points. For a traveler like myself, I prefer points but, for some people, like my dad who doesn’t fly a lot, he’d rather get cashback. So he actually has this card. When you sign up for this card, you’ll get:
- No annual fee
- $200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 three months
- 5% cash back on grocery store purchases/li>
- 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- 3% cash back on dining
- 1.5% cash back on everything else
If you’re like my dad and want a no-fee card that gives you cashback, then this card is for you! (P.S. – The cashback is accrued as Chase points, which, if you want, can be used for travel rewards instead.
Note: Chase also has the Freedom Flex card, which offers $200 cashback after spending $500 in the first three months, 5% cashback for certain rotating categories, 5% cashback on travel, 3% on restaurants, and no annual fee. Click here to learn more!
Airline and Hotel Cards
What about airline and hotel cards? Well, you should get the card for the airline and/or hotel you’re loyal to because they come with free checked bags and preferred boarding and a few other perks. I tend not to use them for my everyday spending since you get better value per dollar spent with Chase or American Express.
I always get the cards for the bonus offer and then keep the cards for the perks. Most fees are only $95 a year so it’s an easy business expense.
Here are my favorite business cards for various airlines and hotels as well as their main perks:
Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card – 50,000-point welcome offer after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months, 3x on Delta purchases, free checked bag, credit for TSA Precheck or Global Entry.
Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card – 70,000-point welcome offer after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months, 2x points on Delta purchases, 2x points on dining, free checked bag.
Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card – 80,000-point welcome offer after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months, 3x points on Delta purchases, lounge access, free checked bag.
Delta SkyMiles Gold Business American Express Card – 50,000-point welcome offer after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months, 2x points on Delta purchases, free checked bag, priority boarding.
CitiBusiness/AAdvantage Platinum Select – 65,000-point welcome offer after you spend $,000 in the first 4 months, free checked bag, 25% off in-flight AA purchases, priority boarding.
Southwest Rapid Rewards – 40,000-point welcome offer after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months, 2x points on Southwest purchases, no blackout dates, 3x points on dining.
Hilton Honors American Express – 80,000-point welcome offer after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months (and an additional 50,000 Points after you spend $5,000 in the first 6 months), 7x points on Hilton purchases, complimentary Silver status, 5x points at restaurants and supermarkets. Terms apply.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless – 125,000 points and 1 free night after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months, up to 17x points on Marriott purchases, Silver Elite status, 2x points for all other purchases.
United Explorer – 40,000-point welcome offer after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months, 2x points on United purchases, 2x points on dining, free checked bag and priority boarding.
The World of Hyatt – 30,000-point welcome offer after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months, up to 9x points on Hyatt purchases, 1 free stay per year, 2x points at restaurants.
IHG Rewards Club Premier – 150,000-point welcome offer after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months, up to 25x points on IHG purchases, 2x points on gas, credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck.
One thing to remember is that there’s not one card to use for all occasions. Each card has its perks, so you want to maximize your point earning by sticking and matching your spending. I use three or four cards for all my spending. Chase for travel and restaurants, American Express for groceries, Delta for travel perks on the airline, and Marriott for my hotel stays. That way I always get the most points possible for every dollar you spend without spreading my points around too much.
So, if you’re looking for a travel credit card, pick one of the above. They are the best in my opinion.
How to Travel the World on $50 a Day
My New York Times best-selling paperback guide to world travel will teach you how to master the art of travel so that you’ll get off the beaten path, save money, and have a deeper travel experience. It’s your A to Z planning guide that the BBC called the “bible for budget travelers.”
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- SafetyWing (best for nomads)
- World Nomads (most comprehensive)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.
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Editorial Disclosure: “Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.”