The best travel reward credit cards

There are few things as alluring as the promise of free travel to exotic destinations. The banks know this, and have long offered travel rewards to customers for using their credit cards. In turn, savvy credit card users maximize their rewards to travel in comfort and style well beyond their means. (See also: How Travel Rewards Credit Cards Really Work)

Recently, I was explaining this to an European executive sitting next to me in Lufthansa’s Airbus A380 business class while returning home from a vacation in Italy. I told him that my family and I could not possibly have paid for our three $7,000 tickets for this flight. But thanks to my travel rewards credit cards, my journey was all but free after some taxes and fees. Through careful selection and use of rewards, these kinds of trips have become an annual occurrence for my family.


While there are innumerable ideas, tips, and tricks to be gleaned from endless hours of research, my mission is to do the work for you and deliver only the most valuable advice to busy people who lack the time and patience to discover and decipher these deals. (See also: Cash Back vs Travel Rewards: Pick the Right Card for you) Choosing The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards

It would be nice to pick the best travel reward cards in a purely empirical manner, the way one would choose a card with the lowest interest rate. Unfortunately, each travel rewards card offers a unique mix of benefits and drawbacks, and rarely is one card ideally suited for everyone’s travel aspirations. I have read thousands of blog and forum posts, written hundreds of credit card reviews, and personally held dozens of different travel rewards cards over the last twenty years. In the end, I judge these cards based on three criteria:

Cardholders of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card are able to transfer their points to Chase travel partners at full value — 1,000 Chase points equal 1,000 partner miles/points. For most cards, some value gets lost during the transfer. Or get 25% off travel booked through Chase’s site. Earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide. There are no foreign transaction fees. The intro annual fee is $0 the first year, then $95.

The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card offers 1.5 points per $1 spent on every purchase, with no limit to the points you can earn and no expiration date on the points. If you’re a Bank of America® customer, you get an additional 10% customer points bonus on every purchase when you have an active checking or savings account with Bank of America. Points can be redeemed as a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, and more with no blackout dates and restrictions. This card has no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is a simple travel rewards card that offers two miles per dollar spent on all purchases and unlimited 10x miles on hotels when you pay with your card at hotels.com/Venture. Earn unlimited miles and redeem them for statement credit on travel purchases, allowing you to choose any airline or hotel, and earn miles on your travel rewards. Plus, receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®. There is no annual fee for the first year. It’s $95 thereafter.

The Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard® offers a straightforward 2x miles per dollar spent on all purchases. You can redeem your miles for travel or cash back statement credits, gift cards, and merchandise. Miles never expire, and when you redeem, you always receive 5 percent of your miles back toward your next redemption. There is an $89 annual fee for this card. You’ll pay no foreign transaction fees when using the card overseas.

The Platinum Card® from American Express is best for the frequent flyer who can appreciate free access to over 1,000 airport lounges in the American Express Global Lounge Collection SM. Other benefits of this premium card include up to $200 airline fee credit annually, $75 hotel credit, fee credit towards an application for the Global Entry program or TSA PreCheck, complimentary Hilton Honors and SPG Gold Status upon enrollment, and up to $200 savings on Uber annually. This card also offers up to $100 in statement credits annually (that’s up to $50 in statement credits semi-annually) for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue upon enrollment. Cardholders earn points in the American Express Membership Rewards program with their purchases — 5X points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, 5X points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com, and 1X point on other eligible purchases. There are no foreign transaction fees. There is a $550 annual fee for this charge card. Terms apply. See rates and fees.

No discussion of rewards credit cards is complete without the warning that these products are only best for those who always pay their balances in full and never incur interest. Everyone else should use the card with the lowest APR. That said, if you do pay your balance off every month, and you love to travel, then you have much to gain by applying for and using one of these top travel rewards cards. Join me in the exciting world of those who regularly travel for free.

I checked this out, and Starpoints may be great if you’re based in the U.S. The card is also available to those of us in the U.K., but instead of earning one point per dollar spent, you’re only getting one point per POUND spent, which is 1.8 to 1.9 dollars. So basically you’re only getting roughly half the benefit. To purchase a ticket this summer on StarPoints London-Vancouver, it will cost 155,000 points if I purchased today. That requires 155,000 GBP of spending, or CAD$285,000 to earn. On my existing Air Canada Aeroplan card from Canada (I recently emigrated to the UK) that spending would have earned me 285,000 Aeroplan points, enough for 4.5 round trip tickets to Europe!! The only caveat being that those tickets are almost never available unless I book them 10-11 months in advance as soon as the seats are released. So my choices are suffer endlessly through lack of seat availability, or pay through the nose for them. There is, unfortunately, no great answer from where I sit. But thank you for the well-written article. Certainly provides a good jumping off point for individual research based on personal preferences (as you mentioned).