Last Updated: 9/7/2023 | September 7th, 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?
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 Preferred
This card is like the “starter” version of the Chase Sapphire Reserve (one of my favorite premium travel credit cards). 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:
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in 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 the only credit 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 100,000 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
- 5x points on Lyft
- 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
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 (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1x)
- 3x points on flights (when booked directly or on amextravel.com)
- $120 in Uber credit (distributed as $10 in Uber Cash each month when you add your Gold Card to the Uber app)
- $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!
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 collectors of points and miles, 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 and offer value worth much more than that.
Here are my favorite cards for various airlines and hotels as well as their main perks:
card_name – Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases in your first 6 months, 2x points on Delta purchases, restaurants worldwide, and U.S. supermarkets, takeout, and delivery. Terms apply. Rates & fees.
card_name – Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases in your first 6 months, 3x on Delta purchases, 3x on purchases made directly with 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. Rates & fees.
card_name – Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. 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 – 60,000 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 – Earn 80,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in eligible purchases in the first 3 months, 7x points on when booking directly with hotels and resorts within the Hilton portfolio, 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. Rates & fees.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card – Earn 3 Free Night Awards (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from your account opening, up to 17x points on Marriott purchases, 3X points for every $1 on the first $6,000 spent in combined purchases each year on grocery stores, gas stations, and dining, 2x points for all other purchases, annual free night award (up to a redemption value of 35,000 points). Terms apply.
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 140,000 Bonus Points plus up to $100 in IHG® statement credits after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months, up to 26x points on IHG purchases, 5x points on travel, hotels, dining, and at gas stations, 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 I 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 — all without any extra spending. 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.
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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. This page does not include all card companies or all available card offers.”