Best Travel Credit Cards for February 2021

The best travel credit cards can help you see the country or the world at a deep discount.
By Maryalene LaPonsie
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Whether you prefer to travel by car or by plane, a rewards credit card can save you money.

Travel credit cards are best known for providing points or miles that can be redeemed for free flights, hotel stays and more - but they also come with a host of added benefits such as baggage-delay insurance, global-assistance hotlines and statement credits for travel services.

Having a travel credit card can make sense for people from all walks of life. Regardless of whether you go on vacation sporadically or plan to travel full time in retirement, you'll likely find a card that helps you cut costs with the rewards you earn.

This guide not only highlights the best travel credit cards for categories such as airlines, hotels and international travel, it also provides tips on how to make the most of a card once you're approved.

Keep reading for expert insight and how to find the best travel card for your needs.

Best Overall Travel Rewards Credit Card - Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

To find the best overall travel rewards credit card, we looked for options that provide both flexibility and value. We wanted to find the cards that would work for everyone from Gen Z travelers to retirees.

The following cards all have:

  • multiple travel partners
  • valuable welcome offers
  • unlimited earning potential
  • either no fee or a low annual fee

While all are great choices, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card rose to the top of the list.

Not only can you redeem miles without blackout dates or brand-loyalty with this card, but you can also get a $100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔® (a perk typically only found on more expensive cards).

Here's a closer look at the best overall travel rewards credit card as well as the two runners-up in the category.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

The Basics: The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a versatile card that comes with a bevy of benefits at a relatively low annual fee.

Miles won't expire for as long as you have your account, and there's no limit as to how many miles you can earn. Your miles can be redeemed for flights and hotel stays, car rentals - or you can transfer your miles to more than 10 different loyalty programs run by partners such as Jet Blue and Qantas.

Capital One allows cardholders to use their miles for gift cards too. So you can shop at Amazon, Sephora, and plenty of other places. You can even redeem miles for premium experiences such as VIP tickets to shows.

In addition to its numerous travel benefits, the Venture Rewards Credit Card comes with extended warranty protection, online shopping tools to save money, and no foreign transaction fees. Together, all these rewards and benefits make the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card one of the most comprehensive, low-cost travel cards available.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Bonus: You can get a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. (That equals $600 in travel.)

Annual Fee: $95

Rewards: The rewards you can earn are unlimited. They're two miles per $1 spent on every purchase, everyday

Additional Perks: You're eligible to get a $100 statement credit that reimburses you for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®. Plus it offers 24-hour travel assistance services, auto rental collision damage waiver, and travel accident insurance

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

The Basics: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a close second to the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. While it doesn't waive its annual fee the first year, the cost is relatively low for the benefits you'll reap.

Sapphire Preferred cardholders receive a long list of travel perks that can help smooth any bumps in the road you may encounter while traveling. Plus, the card has a generous welcome offer that is currently valued at $750.

You won't have to worry about paying foreign transaction fees with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card either.

Points can be redeemed directly through Chase or transferred to loyalty programs offered by more than a dozen partners including Marriott, Hyatt, British Airways and United Airlines.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Bonus: You can get 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee: $95

Rewards: The rewards are two points per $1 on travel and dining, as well as one point per $1 on other purchases.

Additional Perks: Trip cancellation/interruption insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, baggage-delay insurance, trip-delay reimbursement, travel and emergency assistance services, 25% more value when points are redeemed for travel

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

The Basics: For those who can't stomach the thought of paying an annual fee, the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card is a top choice for travel rewards.

It provides similar perks and redemption options as the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and doesn't charge foreign transaction fees either. Although its welcome bonus and earning potential are lower, that seems to be a fair trade-off for the fact that there is no annual fee.

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Bonus: Earn 20,000 bonus miles after spending $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee: $0

Rewards: You get 1.25 miles per dollar spent on every purchase

Additional Perks: 24-hour travel-assistance services, auto rental collision damage waiver, travel accident insurance

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

Pro Tip: While you can redeem points and miles directly through a credit card issuer's portal, you might get more value by transferring them to a partnering loyalty program instead. Compare redemption rates before booking travel.


Best Airline Travel Rewards Credit Card - Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Not only can airfare be expensive, but travelers may encounter fees for everything from checking a bag to selecting their seat in advance. However, a good co-branded airline credit card can help eliminate or minimize those costs.

A co-branded credit card has valuable benefits for a specific airline. Plus, they earn miles for that brand's loyalty program, and these can be redeemed for free flights.

If you always fly on a certain carrier, you'll want to see if there is a co-branded card available for that airline. If not, look for a good all-purpose card to use for air travel - or consider whether it might be time to branch out and try a new airline.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card is a great example of the type of perks and value we expect from the best airline travel rewards credit cards. However, if you don't fly Southwest Airlines, we have two other suggestions for you as well.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

The Basics: Southwest offers three co-branded credit cards through Chase, and it is well worth the extra fee to select the premier card if you're a regular on the airline. 

The welcome bonus right now even offers you a path to earning a Companion Pass® quickly. This allows you to choose someone to fly with you for free for a time.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card also features a variety of redemption options, including travel and gift cards, as well as non-travel benefits such as purchase protection. What's more, there are no foreign transaction fees with this card.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Bonus: Earn a Companion Pass® good through Feb. 28, 2022, as well as 30,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months.

Annual Fee: $99

Rewards: There's 2 points per dollar spent at Southwest Airlines and through Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners and 1 point per $1 on other purchases. Plus you get 6,000 points on your cardholder anniversary

Credit needed: Excellent, Good


Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

The Basics: Frequent fliers on Delta Airlines should consider picking up the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card. It provides priority boarding, a free checked bag and savings on in-flight purchases, among other benefits.

Plus, the card has a generous welcome bonus offer that comes with a reasonable spending requirement. You won't pay any foreign transaction fees with this card either.

Non-travel card benefits include extended warranty, purchase protection and free 2-day shipping at more than 100 online stores that participate with ShopRunner.

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

Bonus: There's 35,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening.

Annual Fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99.

Rewards: It's 2 miles per dollar spent at restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and on Delta purchases. Earn one mile per $1 on your other eligible purchases.

Additional Perks: Get your first bag checked free on Delta flights, $100 Delta flight credit after spending $10,000 in a calendar year, priority boarding, 20% savings on in-flight purchases, car rental loss and damage insurance, global-assist hotline

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent


Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card

The Basics: The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card isn't specifically designed for airline travel, but its flexible rewards program makes it a good choice for those who aren't loyal to a specific carrier.

You can redeem your points for airfare, hotels and more through the Go Far Rewards portal, or you can turn in your points for gift cards. There is no annual fee for the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card, and it doesn't charge foreign transaction fees.

This card is also notable for offering cell phone protection coverage, one of several non-travel benefits cardholders receive.

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card

Bonus: 20,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee: $0

Rewards: 3 points per dollar spent dining, gas, transit, travel and popular streaming services; 1 points per $1 on everything else.

Additional Perks: Lost-luggage reimbursement, car rental loss and damage insurance, roadside assistance and 24/7 travel and emergency assistance

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

Pro Tip: Many airlines participate with Star Alliance, OneWorld or SkyTeam. These alliances may allow you to redeem miles for flights on other carriers.


Best Hotel Travel Rewards Credit Card - IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

As with airline rewards credit cards, co-branded hotel cards are usually best for those who frequent a specific brand of properties.

The best hotel travel rewards credit cards are those that offer automatic elite status and brand-specific perks as well as more general travel benefits.

All three of the following credit cards are good options to earn points for free hotel stays. However, the current welcome offer for the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card can't be beat. It's a limited-time offer; so if you want this card, jump on it fast.

IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

The Basics: Offering a whopping 140,000 welcome bonus points right now, the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card gets our nod for the best card in this category.

The company owns hotel chains that range from the upscale Regent Hotels and Resorts to the family-friendly Holiday Inn. Plus, it doesn't charge foreign transaction fees, comes with complimentary elite status and offers purchase protection in addition to a number of travel perks.

IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

Bonus: You can earn 140,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee: $89

Rewards: It's up to 25 points per dollar spent at IHG hotels and resorts, 2 points per dollar spent at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants and one point per $1 spent on other purchases

Additional Perks: Platinum elite status, free reward night when you redeem points for four or more nights, free reward night after account anniversary year, baggage-delay insurance, lost-luggage insurance, trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance, $100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

The Basics: Hilton Honors has several co-branded credit cards with American Express, but the Surpass Card is our favorite.

In exchange for a reasonable annual fee, you get access to a lucrative welcome offer, strong earning potential in popular spending categories such as gas and groceries and automatic elite status.

The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card doesn't charge foreign transaction fees and offers cardholders free shipping through ShopRunner in addition to its many travel perks.

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

Bonus: Get 150,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. Plus, earn a $150 statement credit after making your first purchase on the card in the first three months.

Annual Fee: $95

Rewards: It's 12 points per dollar spent on Hilton purchases, 6 points per dollar spent at U.S. gas stations, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. restaurants; and 3x points on other eligible purchases.

Additional Perks: Automatic Gold status, free weekend night reward after spending $15,000, complimentary Priority Pass Select membership and 10 free visits to airport lounges, car rental loss and damage insurance, global-assist hotline

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent


Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card

The Basics: For fans of Marriott properties, the Boundless card offers plenty of valuable perks.

You'll receive automatic elite status, free elite nights and the opportunity to earn 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months. This card doesn't charge foreign transaction fees, and its non-travel perks include purchase protection and extended warranty protection.

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card

Bonus: There's 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee: $95

Rewards: You can get 6 points per dollar spent at Marriott Bonvoy properties and 2x points per $1 on your other purchases.

Additional Perks: Automatic Silver Elite status, 15 elite night credits per calendar year, free-night award after account anniversary, free premium in-room wifi, lost-luggage reimbursement, auto rental collision damage waiver, trip-delay reimbursement, travel and emergency services reimbursement

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good

Pro Tip: If you already have a lower tier co-branded credit card, you may be eligible for bonus points if you upgrade to a higher tiered card.


Best Rewards Credit Card for International Travel - The Platinum Card® from American Express

Whether you're a regular international traveler already or getting ready to retire and want to see the world, you should carefully consider which card to take with you.

At the very least, you'll want one that is widely accepted worldwide and that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees. It's even better if your card provides money-saving perks like statement credits and convenience benefits such as airport lounge access. A good rewards credit card for international travel will also extend its bonus categories to worldwide purchases instead of limiting additional rewards to U.S. spending.

All the cards below meet that criteria although you should be prepared for some above-average annual fees.

Don't let the cost discourage you, though. If you maximize your card benefits, you should easily offset the price. In fact, when comparing cost to value, we think your best option is also one of the priciest cards on the market - the The Platinum Card® from American Express.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Basics: The annual fee on the The Platinum Card® from American Express may have you doing a double-take; but if you use this card to its fullest potential, you should have no trouble recouping the cost. The Fine Hotels & Resorts program alone gives most cardholders an average of $550 in benefits.

The The Platinum Card® from American Express also provides members with airport lounge access which can make travel more comfortable and charges no foreign transaction fees. Plus, it provides complimentary elite status to not one, but two, hotel loyalty programs.

Be aware that this is a charge card which must be paid off each month.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 on purchases within 6 months from account opening

Annual Fee: $550

Rewards: Earn 10x points on up to $15,000 spent at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets during your first six months as a cardholder. Earn 5X points on flights booked directly with airlines or through American Express Travel (up to $500,000 spent in a calendar year). Earn 5x points on prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com

Additional Perks: You can get $200 airline fee credit per year with a pre-selected airline, up to $200 in Uber savings per year, complimentary benefits through the Fine Hotels & Resorts program, and access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent


Chase Sapphire Reserve®

The Basics: You'll need excellent credit to receive the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, and it doesn't come cheap. However, the bonus points from the welcome offer gives approximately $750 in travel right off the bat and covers the first year's cost.

With an annual travel credit, access to the versatile Chase Ultimate Rewards program, no foreign transaction fees and complimentary lounge access, we think the Chase Sapphire Reserve® provides enough savings and convenience to be a top choice for international travelers.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Bonus: Get 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee: $550

Rewards: There's 3 points per dollar spent on worldwide travel and dining expenses, and one point per $1 spent on other purchases

Additional Perks: $300 annual travel credit, 50% more value when redeeming points for travel, statement credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®, complimentary airport lounge access through Priority Pass Select, benefits such as room upgrades through The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, lost-luggage reimbursement, trip-delay reimbursement, emergency evacuation and transportation

Credit Needed: Excellent


The Key to Understanding How Travel Cards Work

To make the most of your travel rewards credit cards, you need to understand the benefits each type of card offers:

  • General purpose travel rewards credit cards offer flexible redemption options that don't lock you into a specific brand and can be used for all types of travel.
  • Hotel and airline travel rewards credit cards provide perks such as free checked bags and complimentary elite status for a particular carrier or hotel brand.
  • International travel rewards credit cards are often luxury cards that may have higher annual fess but also provide more valuable rewards that can be used worldwide.

Ideally, you might want to have travel credit cards from multiple categories. For instance, you could have one card for your favorite hotel brand and one for your preferred airline along with a general purpose card.

However, annual fees can make that cost-prohibitive. In that case, you should select a card that best meets your specific needs. Here are some different scenarios to consider:

Gen Z and Millennial Travelers

Rather than being brand loyal, younger travelers may be looking for the best deal to stretch their dollars. In that case, a good all-purpose card such as the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a great way to earn rewards regardless of where and how you travel. If you don't want to pay an annual fee to earn travel rewards, try the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card.

Business Travelers

Professionals who travel for business may get the most value out of co-branded hotel or airline credit cards for the brands they use most often. These cards often come with complimentary elite status which may offer benefits such as room upgrades and early check-in or late check-out. Even if an employer makes travel reservations on your behalf, you may be able to add your loyalty number to the reservation upon check-in to receive these perks.

Retired Travelers

Travel is a popular pursuit for retirees, and the credit cards they use will depend on their plans. Those who enjoy cruises or want to take their RV across the country may find the most value in a general purpose card. However, someone with disposable income and a desire to see the world should consider a card like the The Platinum Card® from American Express which can make travel more comfortable thanks to lounge access and credits at luxury hotels worldwide.


Strategy: The Fastest Route to Rewards

Once you understand your particular travel style, it's time to select your cards and maximize them. Here's how you do that:

1. Be realistic, not aspirational, when selecting cards

Most travel rewards credit cards come with an annual fee, so be sure you are selecting cards that match your travel preferences.

Yes, the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card has an amazing welcome bonus offer right now; but if you always stay at Hilton properties, you're better off getting the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card. Otherwise, you could end up with a lot of bonus points you may never use.

2. Meet the spending requirement without going into debt

New customer sign-on bonuses are the fastest way to earn travel rewards points and miles.

You earn bonus points after you spend a certain amount of money within a specific period of time, and balance transfers won't apply to this amount. Before applying, be sure you can comfortably spend that amount and pay it off. Carrying a balance could incur interest charges that will quickly outweigh any benefit you receive from the rewards.

3. Pace your applications

To ensure you are able to comfortably meet spending requirements, be strategic about your applications.

Don't apply for multiple cards at once if they all have high spending limits. For luxury cards such as the The Platinum Card® from American Express and Chase Sapphire Reserve®, wait until you have a major bill looming before submitting your application.

4. Have a plan for each card

It's a mistake to apply for multiple travel rewards credit cards and then use them randomly. Instead, have clearly defined rules for when each card will be used. For instance, you may decide to use the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card only for airfare, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card for hotels and your Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card for all other purchases.

Alternatively, you could forego the co-branded cards and decide to focus all spending on one all-purpose card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. Then, you can transfer points or book travel through multiple companies. The strategy that makes sense for you will depend largely on your travel habits.

5. Understand your card benefits

There is tremendous value to be found in the various perks offered by travel rewards cards. Get to know what they are so you aren't wasting money on duplicate services.

For example, if your cell phone is protected by your Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card, there may be no need to buy insurance coverage through your wireless carrier. Likewise, don't buy supplemental coverage through a rental car company if your travel credit card already has you insured.

6. Be smart about redemptions

When it comes time to redeem points, compare all your options. Using points or miles for gift cards or online shopping is often not the best use of rewards. Also, see if your points or miles might go further if transferred to a partnering loyalty program rather than redeemed through a credit card company's travel portal.


What Credit Score Do You Need for a Travel Card?

You'll need good credit for most travel rewards credit cards, and some issuers only approve applicants with excellent scores. According to credit reporting company Experian, good credit scores are those greater than 700 while excellent credit scores will be higher than 800.

If your score isn't that high yet, check out our article on how to boost your credit score.


Methodology

We reviewed more than 30 credit cards for this guide and selected our top choices based on the following factors:

  • Annual fee
  • Value of benefits compared to fee
  • Current welcome offer
  • Earning options
  • Card perks and benefits

In addition to scoring cards for these factors, we looked for those that could be used by a broad segment of the population. For instance, we ruled out some co-branded cards for foreign airlines because of their limited geographic service area. Other cards didn't make the cut because they were only available to business owners.

No travel credit card will be perfect for all people, and this is certainly not an exhaustive list. However, we feel confident that these cards provide good value and are deserving of your consideration.

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