Last Updated: 3/22/23 |March 22nd, 2023
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?
Do you want to milk the rewards and bonus system to get free flights, or do you just want a card that won’t charge you a fee for using it at that restaurant in Brazil?
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, the card_name 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
- 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 for prepaid restaurant reservations or takeout)
- 10x points on car rentals and hotels booked via the Chase travel portal
- The ability to transfer points to over 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
- 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
- American Airlines as a transfer partner (it’s the only card that does)
- Rent Day benefits: monthly giveaways and challenges as well as 6x points on dining, 4x points on travel, and 2x on all other spend on the 1st of the month
It’s a simple no-fee card that’s a must-have for anyone paying rent. Click here for a full breakdown of Rewards and Benefits and Rates and Fees.
American Express® Gold Card
This card is a great choice for travelers who enjoy dining out, as it offers 4x points on restaurants and groceries, 3x points on flights, and $120 Uber Cash (which you can use on rides or UberEats). You’ll earn Membership Rewards® points, which you can transfer to any of their 16 travel partners, some of which overlap with Chase’s transfer partners and some which Chase does not have (like Delta). When you sign up for this card, you get:
- Earn 60,000 points (after spending $4,000 in eligible purchases in the first 6 months)
- 4x points on restaurants worldwide (plus takeout/delivery in the US)
- 4x points on US supermarkets
- 3x points on flights (when booked directly)
- $120 in Uber credit (distributed as $10 in UberCash each month)
- $120 in dining credit (at select companies/restaurants like GrubHub or The Cheesecake Factory, enrollment required)
- No foreign transaction fees
If you are a foodie and/or Delta loyalist, this is a great card to have in your wallet. It does come with a $250 fee, but if you make use of the credits and other perks, it’s more than worth it. Terms apply. Rates and fees.
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®
- Unlimited complimentary access to Capital One, Priority Pass, and Plaza Premium lounges
- 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 (and if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve, you can transfer these points to one of Chases’s many travel partners for an even better value). When you sign up for this card, you’ll get:
- No annual fee
- Earn an additional 1.5% on all purchases in the first year (up to $20,000)
- 1.5% cash back on all purchases
- 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!
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:
card_name – Earn 70,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first 6 months, 2x points on Delta purchases, restaurants worldwide, and U.S. supermarkets. Terms apply.
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card – Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,000 in purchases on your new Card 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, Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your card. Terms apply.
card_name – Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, 3x points on Southwest purchases, 2x points on local transit and commuting (including ridesharing), 2x points on internet, cable, phone and select streaming services, and 6,000 anniversary points each year. Terms apply.
card_name – 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.
card_name – 100,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 in the first 6 months (ends 4/5/23), 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 other eligible purchases. Terms apply.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card – 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. Terms apply.
The World of Hyatt – Earn 30,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months (plus up to an additional 30,000 points by earning 2x points on purchases that normally would be 1x points, in your first 6 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.
card_name – Earn 175,000 points 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.
Want to learn all about points and miles?
Stop paying full price for airfare! Download our free guide to travel hacking and learn:
- How To Pick a Credit Card
- How To Earn Miles for Free Flights & Hotels
- Is Travel Hacking Really a Scam?
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.”