Last Updated: 11/9/2022 | November 9th, 2022
With so many choices out there, it 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:
- 80,000 welcome offer after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months
- $300 in annual travel credit
- 3x points on travel purchases
- 5x points on flights purchased through the Chase travel portal
- 3x points on dining (10x when you use the Chase travel portal)
- 10x points on car rentals and hotels booked via the Chase travel portal
- 1 point per $1 on everything else
- The ability to transfer points to a dozen travel brands (I use this feature the most)
- A statement credit of up to $100 for Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, or NEXUS application
- Free Priority Pass lounge access (a super awesome perk)
- No foreign transaction fees
- 10x points on Lyft, free DoorDash DashPass subscription and credits, free Instacart+ and credits
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 is 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
- 2x points on travel purchases
- 3x points on restaurants, online grocery purchases, and select streaming services
- 5x points on travel purchased through the Chase travel portal
- 1 point per $1 spent on everything else
- 25% more value on travel redeemed via Chase Ultimate Rewards
- 5x points on Lyft
- 10% anniversary points boost (earn bonus points equal to 10% of your total purchases made the previous year)
- Free DoorDash DashPass subscription
- $50 Annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit
- No foreign transaction fees
It’s a simple, easy-to-use credit card.
Bilt Rewards Mastercard
The Bilt Mastercard is an underrated card that allows you to earn points by paying your rent. It’s what I use to pay my rent each month as you can earn up to 50,000 points each year just by your regular rental payments. It’s also the only card that transfers to American Airlines. And there are no annual fees either! When you sign for this card, you’ll get:
- 1x points on rental payments
- 2x points on travel
- 3x points on dining
- Has American Airlines as a transfer partner (it’s the only card that does)
It’s a simple no-fee card that’s a must-have for anyone paying rent.
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:
- 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 within the first 3 months.
- 2x miles on every dollar spent
- 5x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
- Transfer miles to any of their 15+ travel partners
- Up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
- No foreign transaction fees
- 2 airport lounge visits per year
- $95 annual fee
With 2x points on all purchases (a rarity in a travel card) this is a card that should be in your wallet. When they relaunched it, I liked it so much I got one myself!
Capital One Venture X
This is Capital One’s first top-tier travel credit card. It has all the perks you’d expect of a top-notch credit card — including a welcome bonus worth $1,000! When you sign up for this card, you get:
- 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
- 10x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
- 5x miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
- 2x miles on all other purchases
- $300 travel credit when booking through the Capital One portal
- $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
- Capital One, Priority Pass, and Plaza Premium lounge access
- 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
At $395, it’s not a cheap card, but if you’re an avid traveler the perks make it more than worthwhile!
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 for some people, like my dad who doesn’t fly a lot, he’d rather get cashback. So he actually has this card. And for more avid travel hackers, the cashback is accrued as Chase points, which can be used for travel rewards instead (but only if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve, giving you access to the Chase travel portal). When you sign up for this card, you’ll get:
- No annual fee
- $200 welcome bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
- 1.5% cash back on everything you buy
- 5% cash back on grocery store purchases in the first year (up to $12,000)
- 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- 3% cash back on restaurants and drugstores
If you’re like my dad and want a no-fee card that gives you cashback, then this card is for you!
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. You can also convert rewards earned with the Flex to Chase Ultimate Rewards points if you have either of the Chase Sapphire cards. 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 cards for various airlines and hotels as well as their main perks:
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express© Card – 65,000-point welcome offer after you spend $2,000 in the first 6 months, 2x points on Delta purchases, restaurants worldwide, and U.S. supermarkets. Terms apply.
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card – 80,000-point welcome offer after you spend $4,000 in purchases in your first 6 months, 3x on Delta purchases, 3x on hotels, 2x on restaurants and U.S. supermarkets, free checked bag, credit for TSA Precheck or Global Entry. Terms apply.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless – Earn 3 free nights (each night up to 50,000 points) after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, up to 17x points on Marriott purchases, Silver Elite status, 2x points for all other purchases.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus – 75,000-point welcome offer after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months, 2x points on Southwest purchases, 2x points on local transit and communting (including ridesharing), 2x points on internet and select streaming services, and 3,000 anniversary points each year.
Hilton Honors American Express – 80,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months, 7x points on Hilton hotels and resorts, 5x points at U.S. restaurants (including takeout and delivery), U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations, and 3x points on everything else. Terms apply.
United Explorer – 50,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, 2x points on United purchases, 2x points on dining, 2x points on direct hotel bookings, free checked bag and priority boarding. Terms apply.
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, 2x points on restaurants, gym memberships, flights when booked directly, local transit (including ridesharing), and 1 free stay per year. Terms apply.
IHG Rewards Club Premier – 140,000-point welcome offer after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months, up to 26x points on IHG purchases, 5x points on travel, hotels, dining, and gas, 3x points on all other purchases, credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, 1 free night per year. Terms apply.
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.
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being 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 it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and 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. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- SafetyWing (best for everyone)
- Insure My Trip (for those 70 and over)
- Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)
Want to travel for free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation. They are what keep me traveling so much for so little. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.
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.
Advertiser Disclosure: “Nomadic Matt has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Nomadic Matt and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.”
Editorial Disclosure: “Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.”