Best Travel Credit Card 2021
You always want to make the most out of your travel experiences—but if you don’t have a travel rewards credit card, you could be missing out. Specifically, the right travel rewards card can help you enjoy additional perks, save money, and even give you added peace of mind with features such as rental car insurance coverage.
If you’re thinking about opening up a travel credit card, however, you may quickly find yourself overwhelmed by the number of options available to you. From Chase and American Express to Capital One and every bank in between, it seems as though everyone has their own travel-specific card available. To make matters even more complicated, some credit card companies offer multiple travel card options—and some partner with specific airlines and hotel chains.
The good news is that the right travel credit card for you is out there; it’s just a matter of finding it. Take some time to review our picks for the top five travel credit cards, as well as some other important considerations to keep in mind as you decide.
Top 5 Travel Credit Cards
Below are the top five picks for best travel credit cards based on factors such as perks, rewards rates, annual fees, sign-up bonuses, and more.
1. Chase Sapphire Preferred
With a relatively low annual fee of $95, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is a popular option among travelers. It has a simple point structure that allows you to earn two points for every dollar spent on dining and travel, as well as one point for each dollar spent on anything else. When you sign up, you’ll also earn 60,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 within the first three months. That’s the equivalent of about $750 in rewards.
Some other perks of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card include:
- no foreign transaction fees
- no blackout dates or travel restrictions
- 1:1 point-transfer ratio to most airline and hotel loyalty programs
2. Capital One Venture Rewards
The Capital One Venture Rewards card offers similar perks and the same annual fee of $95, though this fee is waived for the first year as an added bonus. And through January of 2020, all cardholders actually earn two miles per dollar spent on everything, regardless of category. Furthermore, each dollar spent at Hotels.com earns 10 miles, making this card a great option among those who use the Hotels.com service.
Many travelers also enjoy the Capital One Venture Rewards card for these other features:
- a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles when you spend $3,000 within three months
- no blackout dates or restrictions
- miles don’t expire and there is no limit on earnings
- no foreign transaction fees
3. Bank of America Travel Rewards
If you’re looking for a travel credit card that doesn’t carry an annual fee, then the Bank of America Travel Rewards card may be right for you. With this card, you earn 1.5 points for every dollar spent, with each point carrying a value of one cent. You’ll also enjoy added perks if you’re a Bank of America customer, such as point bonuses of up to 75%. Some other great features offered with this card include:
- a 25,000 point bonus if you make $1,000 in purchases within the first three months
- points redeemable for flights, rental cars, hotels, baggage fees, and more
- no foreign transaction fees
- points never expire and there are no blackout dates
4. Chase Sapphire Reserve
If you’re looking for a travel credit card that offers more luxurious perks—and if you’re not put off by a higher annual fee—then the Chase Sapphire Reserve card may be right for you. This card’s annual fee is $450, which may seem steep, but you’ll enjoy some top-notch perks as a result. This includes three points per dollar spent on travel and dining, as well as one point for every other dollar spent. You’ll also enjoy application fee reimbursement for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, as well as a $300 annual credit for your travel expenses.
Other perks of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card include:
- a 50,000-point bonus when you spend $4,000 in the first three months
- access to more than 1,000 airport lounges worldwide through Priority Pass
- a 1:1 transfer ratio for points on most airline and hotel loyalty programs
5. American Express Platinum Card
Another travel credit card to consider if you’re looking for luxury perks and don’t mind a higher annual fee is the American Express Platinum Card. This card comes with a $550 annual fee, but offers all kinds of high-end perks, such as five points per dollar on all hotel and airfare spending. Additional perks that frequent travelers will love (and that can quickly offset that high annual fee) include a $200 annual credit for airline fees and up to $200 annually in Uber credits.
Some other perks that might make this card worthwhile include:
- reimbursement for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry every five years
- access to global airport lounges
- 24/7 concierge service at hotels
- 60,000 rewards points for spending $5,000 in the first three months
Advantages Of Using A Travel Credit Card
Still not 100% sold on the idea of opening up a travel credit card? There are some important perks to consider that may help you make your decision, especially if you do a fair amount of traveling. Keep in mind that not all travel credit cards will offer the exact same perks, so some of these benefits may not apply to the specific card you choose. Always be sure to carefully read your card’s terms and conditions before opening an account.
Baggage Fee Reimbursement
One potential travel credit card perk that can save you a lot of money is that of baggage fee reimbursement, which is being offered by more and more credit card companies these days. Depending on the airline you fly, checked luggage and even carry-on bags may not always be included for free with your fare. These fees can easily add up to hundreds of dollars.
By having a travel credit card that offers baggage fee reimbursement, you can simply charge all of your eligible fees to your credit card and receive an account credit—usually after the next billing cycle. This perk could easily save you hundreds of dollars per year. Just be sure that if you select a travel credit card with baggage fee reimbursement that you’re familiar with their specific policies and procedures. Some credit cards, for example, will not offer reimbursement for overweight, oversized, or excess baggage fees.
Earn Points or Miles for What You Spend
No matter which travel credit card you end up choosing, one of the biggest perks you’ll enjoy is that of earning points or miles for every dollar you spend. The specific point structures can vary from one credit card to the next, but at the very least, you should be earning a point or mile for every dollar spent. Some credit cards will offer more points or miles for spending in certain categories, such as when you book a hotel, buy airline tickets, or make other travel-related purchases.
As you accumulate points or miles, these can then be redeemed for things such as discounted or free airfare, upgrades to your existing airfare, free hotel stays, and more. Some travel credit cards are even flexible enough to allow cash-back redemption, meaning you don’t necessarily have to use your points or miles for travel. Instead, you can turn them into account credit.
Access to Airport Lounges
Not all travel credit cards offer this perk, but many of the premium cards with higher annual fees do. Simply carrying these eligible travel credit cards can get you access to over a thousand airport lounges across the globe. These lounges can be a great place to hang out before your flight and will provide you with many of the comforts of home.
Potential Sign-Up Bonuses
Most travel credit cards also offer sign-up bonuses to sweeten the deal, such as gas discounts through GasBuddy, though specific bonuses can vary quite a bit depending on the card you’ve chosen. Still, the basic structure of a sign-up bonus is typically consistent from one card to the next. Simply charge a certain dollar amount to your new travel credit card within the first few months of opening your account and you’ll receive the points or mile bonus. The amount you need to spend and the number of days or months you have to spend it can vary from one card to the next, as can the bonus itself. However, it is not uncommon to receive 50,000 or more bonus points for meeting the requirements, which can easily translate to hundreds of dollars in bonuses.
Just make sure that before you sign up for any travel credit card, you’re familiar with the terms of the sign-up bonus and comfortable with your ability to spend (and pay off) your charges.
Disadvantages Of Using A Travel Credit Card
As with any type of credit card, there are some potential drawbacks to opening up a travel credit card. There are also some unique challenges to having a travel credit card that you’ll want to take into consideration before you apply for one. From there, you can confidently weigh both the pros and cons to decide whether this type of credit card is right for you.
One of the biggest drawbacks to most travel credit cards is the annual fee requirement. Annual fees for travel credit cards can vary widely depending on the specific card you wish to carry, but you can generally expect to pay at least $95 to continue using your card. Some credit card companies will waive this fee for the first year, and a select few do not charge an annual fee at all. Either way, this is something you’ll want to take into consideration as you decide whether a travel credit card is right for you. Depending on how often you travel and the perks associated with the card, the annual fee could easily pay off or it could not. Keep in mind that some credit card companies may be flexible on waiving annual fees if you call their customer service line each year, but this is never a guarantee.
Another potential drawback of carrying a travel credit card is that there are sometimes restrictions and other challenges when it comes time to redeem the points or miles you have earned. You might find, for example, that there are blackout dates in-place that prevent you from redeeming your airline miles during certain times of the year or for certain flights. The same applies to situations where you wish to redeem points for a hotel stay or other travel bookings. This tends to be more of a common issue on co-branded credit cards than traditional travel credit cards, but it’s still worth keeping mind.
These blackout dates and restrictions can be very frustrating, so be sure to find out exactly what restrictions you could face when opening a card. Ideally, you’ll want to find a card that does not have any restrictions or blackout dates on redeeming your points/miles at all.
Possible Debt Accumulation
As with any credit card, there is always the risk of getting yourself into debt with a travel credit card. This is especially common when people open up travel credit cards and want to meet their sign-up bonus requirements, resulting in them charging purchases to their cards that they really cannot afford. If you’re thinking about opening a travel credit card, make sure you’re confident in your ability to use it responsibly. This includes paying off the balance in full each month to avoid accumulating interest and other penalties, as well as making timely payments on your card.
Many travel credit cards have low introductory interest rates for the first year or so. Sometimes, these rates are as low as 0%. While this can be a nice bonus, it’s important to be aware of what your travel credit card’s interest rate/APR will be after the introductory period. It is not uncommon, for example, for credit card interest rates to exceed 20% APR. This can quickly get you into financial trouble if you carry a balance on your credit card for even a couple of months. The best way to avoid falling into debt due to high-interest rates on a credit card is to make sure you’re only charging what you can comfortably afford to pay off in full with each billing cycle.
Considerations For Choosing The Best Travel Credit Card
Now that you’ve weighed the pros and cons of opening a travel card, there are a few last considerations to keep in mind as you prepare to apply for one.
Is a Travel Card Really Your Best Option?
If you do a lot of traveling, you might assume that a travel credit card is naturally your best option. However, it’s important to understand that there are other potential options available to you that might make more sense, depending on how often you travel and your method of travel. If you always fly a specific airline or stay at a specific hotel chain, for example, you may want to look at a co-branded travel credit card, which will often offer added perks and points/miles with that specific chain.
On the other hand, if you travel a fair amount but not at least once every month or two, then a regular credit card with a cash-back rewards system may be something you get better use out of.
If you’re set on a travel credit card, one of the most important things you’ll want to look at is the list of perks that you’ll receive just for being a card-holder. Some examples of common perks offered specifically by travel credit cards include:
- free insurance coverage on rental cars
- 24/7 concierge service while traveling
- access to exclusive airport lounges
- reimbursement for airline baggage fees
- free goods such as a travel money belt or passport holder
As you explore your options for a travel credit card, take into consideration the specific types of perks that you’ll get the most use out of. For example, a travel credit card that offers baggage fee reimbursement, such as Delta baggage fees, probably won’t come in handy much if you don’t fly often or if you tend to fly with an airline that has a generous allowance for checked baggage.
Annual Fees and Interest
Another important factor to consider when choosing a travel credit card is the annual fees and interest rates offered. Most travel credit cards charge an annual fee to members, and this fee can vary greatly from about $95 to $500 or more. Generally, the higher your annual fee, the more perks and benefits you’ll receive just by being a card-holder. For example, American Express has a travel card with a whopping $550 annual fee, but that fee also gets you hundreds of dollars in airline credits and other potential credits. With this in mind, it may be easy to justify that annual fee.
There are a handful of travel credit cards that waive the annual fee for the first year or come with no annual fee at all. Take some time to consider what you would be comfortable spending on your annual fee and what kinds of perks would help to make it worthwhile.
Also, be sure not to overlook your credit card’s interest rate. Rates for travel credit cards can be quite high, though many will offer lower introductory fees (some as low as 0%) for the first year. Either way, if you’ll ever be carrying an account balance on your travel credit card from one month to the next, you’ll need to make sure you’re aware of (and comfortable with) your interest rate so there aren’t any surprises.
While most travel credit cards these days advertise no restrictions or blackout dates on travel, this is something you’ll always want to confirm before you open an account. Otherwise, you could end up running into difficulties when trying to redeem your points for travel, especially around busier travel seasons throughout the year. Ideally, you’ll want to find a card that comes with zero restrictions so you can use your points or miles at any time without issue.
International Acceptance and Fees
Most travel credit card companies ensure international acceptance with zero transaction fees so you won’t run into any problems when trying to use your card in another country. Still, this is something you’ll want to confirm before opening your account. Also be sure to let your credit card company know ahead of time when you plan on traveling outside the country, as this will prevent you from ending up with a fraud alert and hold potentially placed on your account. Make sure you get an international size carry-on if you are going abroad as the cabin space is smaller and standard size carry-on from most luggage brands will not fit.
Specific Rewards Rate
All cards have what’s known as a rewards rate, which is essentially the number of points or miles you’ll receive on each dollar you spend. These can vary greatly from one credit card to the next, but most travel credit cards will offer the best rewards rates on travel-related spending (such as hotel bookings and airfare). Take some time to become familiar with the rewards rates of the card you’re considering, and be sure to look at all the categories of spending to make sure you’ll actually get use out of the points system. For example, one card may offer 10x points/miles on some categories of spending, but if that category is something you rarely spend money on (such as dining), then you’re probably not going to get much benefit from it.
The Bottom Line
Overall, opening a travel rewards credit card can be a great option for those who want to make the most of the money they spend and earn/redeem points or miles or flights, hotel stays, and other travel costs. And of course, many travel credit cards come with some nice perks that can make traveling even more enjoyable. Be sure to check out our picks for the best travel credit cards and take some important considerations in mind before you submit your card application!