Best Travel Credit Cards This Month
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Why this is one of the best travel credit cards: Chase Freedom Unlimited earns 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase. You’ll also receive 3% back on drugstore and dining purchases, including takeout and delivery, and 1.5% on all other purchases year-round. INTRO OFFER: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) – worth up to $300 cash back. See our full review.
Discover it® Miles
Why this is one of the best travel credit cards: Most travel credit cards charge an annual fee, but the Discover it Miles card doesn’t. It has a straightforward rewards structure: Earn unlimited 1.5 miles for every dollar you spend. Discover has a unique bonus and will match all the miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year. See our full review.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Why this is one of the best travel credit cards: This card is a good all-around travel credit card for earning unlimited miles. Every dollar you spend earns 2 miles, which you can redeem on travel-including flights, vacation rentals, car rentals and more. Plus, receive up to a $100 statement credit toward Global Entry or TSA Precheck. Cardholders pay a $95 annual fee. See our full review.
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
Why this is one of the best travel credit cards: With the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card, earn unlimited 1.25 miles per dollar spent on every purchase. Earn 20,000 bonus miles after spending $500 on your card within the first three months. Transfer your miles to more than 15 travel loyalty programs, and fly with any airline or stay at any hotel with no blackout dates. This card also charges no annual fee or foreign transaction fee and offers a 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months; 16.49% – 26.49% variable APR after that; 3% fee on the amounts transferred within the first 15 months. See our full review.
U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card
Why this is one of the best travel credit cards: With the U.S. Bank Altitude Connect Visa Signature Card, earn five points per dollar when you book hotels and car rentals directly through the Altitude Rewards Center. This card offers four points per dollar on travel purchases and at gas and electric vehicle stations; two points per dollar on streaming services, plus dining and grocery store and delivery purchases; and one point per dollar on all other purchases. Receive 50,000 bonus points when you spend $2,000 on the card in the first 120 days. See our full review.
Chase Freedom Flex℠
Why this is one of the best travel credit cards: Chase Freedom Flex offers 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase, plus 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. You’ll also receive 3% back at drugstores and restaurants, including takeout and delivery, and 1% on other purchases year-round. See our full review.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Why this is one of the best travel credit cards: The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is good for squeezing more value from your reward points. Earn 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more, and you can get 25% more point value when you redeem points for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. A $95 annual fee applies. See our full review.
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
Why this is one of the best travel credit cards: If Delta is your preferred airline, this card can help you earn free award flights faster. Purchases from Delta and at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets earn 2 miles per dollar, and you’ll earn 1 mile per dollar on all other eligible purchases. You’ll also get your first checked bag free on Delta flights, priority boarding on Delta flights and 20% savings as a statement credit when you charge Delta in-flight purchases. See our full review.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Why this is one of the best travel credit cards: The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers a unique take on travel rewards. You can earn a $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases, and once you do that, you get three points on travel purchases. You also earn three points on dining and travel, and earn one point on all other purchases. When you redeem your points for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, you get 50% more point value. Points also transfer to travel partners on a 1-to-1 basis. See our full review.
Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card
Why this is one of the best travel credit cards: With the Delta SkyMiles Blue American Express Card, you earn two miles per dollar on all Delta purchases and two miles per dollar at restaurants worldwide. All other eligible purchases earn one mile per dollar. Get a 20% discount on Delta in-flight purchases of food, beverages and headsets that you make with your card. This card also has no foreign transaction fees and no annual fee, and you’ll earn 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months of opening your account. See our full review.
U.S. News Survey
U.S. News Survey: More Than Two-Thirds of Respondents Say Recent Financial Events Have Affected Their Summer Plans
According to a May U.S. News survey, inflation and recent stock market drops have put a crimp in many people’s summer travel plans. Almost 21% of respondents are cutting the number of trips they plan to take, while another 21.7% are reducing their travel budgets. Only 28.8% of respondents say they aren’t changing their plans at all.
While the past two years of summer travel have been seriously disrupted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, most respondents say they aren’t planning to make up for lost time and splurge. Though 30.1% say they plan to spend more on travel compared with pre-pandemic vacations, 43% say they plan to spend less, and 26.9% plan to spend about the same amount.
Respondents are also fairly split on how much COVID-19 will affect their plans. For 31.9% of respondents, it’s a moderate consideration, but 28.2% of respondents say they aren’t thinking about COVID-19 at all. A smaller percentage, 15.9% of respondents, say the coronavirus is a major consideration, and it has dictated their destination or transportation plans.
Additional Survey Insights
Most respondents plan to take either one (36.6%) or two (36.7%) vacations this summer.
Only 14.6% of respondents say they plan to travel internationally this summer, while 25.7% of respondents plan to stay in the same state.
Roughly two-thirds of respondents plan to travel by car, and about one-third plan to travel by air. A limited number of people are traveling by rail, boat or bus.
A large majority of respondents, 61.2%, plan to pay for their trips with savings. In contrast, 13% of respondents plan to add the costs to their credit card balances, and 5.6% plan to use a buy now, pay later plan.
Over half of the respondents (54.2%) plan to spend $1,000 or less per person per trip.
There are two summer travel trends that are especially popular: 30.6% of respondents are taking a multigenerational trip with their families, and 31.1% of respondents are taking a vacation focused on self-care and wellness.
The most popular type of credit card for traveling is none at all – 28.7% of respondents say they don’t plan on using one.
People aren’t earning that much in rewards with their credit cards. The largest group of respondents, 28.2%, say they’ve earned $350 or less in rewards in the past 12 months.
If respondents did get a travel credit card, 40.8% say the most important secondary benefit would be free checked bags.
- U.S. News ran a nationwide survey of 1,211 respondents through PureSpectrum between May 19 and May 23, 2022. Only people who planned to travel this summer answered questions.
- The survey sample drew from the general American population, and the survey was configured to be representative of this sample.
- The survey asked 12 questions relating to summer travel and spending.
What Should You Expect From Travel Credit Cards?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of choices, we’ve made it easy for you to decide. Everything you need to know about travel credit cards is right here.
Rewards earning: Most travel credit cards earn at least two points or miles per dollar on travel purchases. Some programs offer a variety of categories that have different rewards values. Because each travel rewards card has its own rewards program, you will need to read disclosure statements carefully.
Rewards redemption: Your options will differ based on the card you have, but many travel rewards credit cards have flexible redemption options. Some cards offer cash back rewards or statement credits.
Other programs offer multiple redemption or transfer options. Nearly all others earn rewards that can be redeemed with multiple partners, such as within an airline alliance or a hotel group.
Sign-up bonus value: Many travel cards have a sign-up bonus worth $500 or more. For example, you might have to spend $3,000 within three months of opening your account to earn 60,000 miles.
Annual fee: Most travel rewards credit cards charge an annual fee, some greater than $100. But about 30% don’t have one, and some waive it the first year, so you have options if you’d prefer to avoid this fee.
Benefits: Finding a travel credit card with valuable benefits should be relatively easy, as many of these cards offer top-level benefits. You can expect benefits such as travel credits, free hotel nights, priority boarding, free checked bags, airport lounge access and hotel status.
How Do Travel Credit Cards Work?
You can use travel rewards cards to save money on travel expenses such as airfare, hotel stays, restaurants and car rentals. By using travel rewards credit cards to pay for your trip, you’re earning rewards you can redeem for future travel savings.
Or you can even use the rewards to pay for the trip you just took. The earnings add up.
Travel credit cards fall into one of three types: airline cards, hotel cards and general travel cards.
A co-branded airline or hotel credit card enters you into a specific brand’s loyalty membership club and rewards all types of spending. For example, Delta has several co-branded credit cards. If you use a Delta credit card, you earn SkyMiles for future travel expenses. Some co-branded cards offer membership tiers that give you a variety of perks when you attain certain levels.
But the points you earn can only be redeemed toward that brand and its partners. General travel cards also reward all types of spending, but they have more redemption options. You can even cash in your rewards for a statement credit. Some of the issuers of these cards also offer travel rewards portals or access to an issuer’s airline or hotel loyalty program partners.
What Are Different Types of Travel Credit Cards?
Let’s take a closer look at each of the three basic types of travel credit cards: airline, hotel and general travel.
Airlines partner with credit card companies to offer co-branded travel rewards credit cards. Usually, these cards earn the most miles when used for flights with the airline or partner airlines, typically at least 2 miles per dollar.
Cardholders still earn miles for other purchases, but often at a lower rate, generally 1 mile per dollar. You can redeem earned miles with the airline or its partners.
Airline cards can deliver a more economical, comfortable flying experience. Benefits often include free checked bags, priority boarding, complimentary or discounted access to airport lounges, and discounts on in-flight purchases. Two examples:
- United Explorer Card. It earns 2 miles per dollar spent on purchases from United Airlines, at restaurants and on hotel stays. All other purchases earn 1 mile per dollar.
- Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card. It earns 2 miles per dollar on Delta Air Lines purchases, at restaurants worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets and 1 mile per dollar on all other eligible purchases.
Hotel credit cards are most valuable when used to book accommodations with participating hotel chains. As with airline cards, hotel cards earn bonus rewards for loyalty spending and offer a lower rewards-earning rate for other purchases.
One-time sign-up bonuses are common, providing bonus rewards if you spend a minimum amount within the first few months. Points are redeemed through the hotel brand or its partners.
Hotel credit cards work best for loyal guests of a hotel group. If you regularly stay at properties within a hotel group, your card can earn more rewards that can be redeemed for free nights at participating hotels.
Some hotel credit cards offer an annual free night’s stay or automatic hotel status. Hotel status may unlock perks such as complimentary upgrades, late checkout or free Wi-Fi. Many hotel cards provide various forms of travel insurance, including lost baggage protection, trip delay reimbursement, emergency assistance and car rental insurance coverage.
- Wyndham Rewards Earner Card: The card earns five points per dollar spent on eligible Wyndham purchases and gas, two points per dollar on groceries and dining and one point per dollar on other purchases.
- IHG Rewards Traveler Credit Card: It earns up to 17 points total per $1 spent when you stay at an IHG hotel. It offers 3 points per $1 spent on purchases on monthly bills, gas stations and restaurants. Earn 2 points per $1 spent on all other purchases.
General travel credit cards
With general travel credit cards, your rewards aren’t tied to a particular travel brand. You can redeem rewards for many things, including taking statement credits, booking trips via the issuer’s travel portal, transferring rewards to partners or buying gift cards. With some general travel cards, you can use your rewards to pay for Amazon purchases.
General travel cards are more flexible than airline or hotel credit cards, which is a big plus for travelers who aren’t loyal to a particular brand or who travel to destinations with fewer options for hotels or airports. Cardholders can worry less about blackout dates or travel restrictions because they’re not tied to a sole provider.
Points can sometimes be transferred to partner loyalty programs. However, the value of your points may change, and, in some cases, you get the best redemption value by transferring points to partners.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Travel Rewards Credit Cards?
For the right consumer, travel credit cards can make a lot of financial sense, but make sure you know the pros and cons.
Research the rewards program for the credit cards you’re considering. That way, you can truly take advantage of the benefits and rewards that are offered.
- Better point valuations and redemptions. Travel-related spending with travel credit cards accrues points and miles faster than general rewards credit cards. When those rewards are redeemed for travel, they could deliver better redemption values than other rewards, such as cash back, statement credits, highly discounted or even free flights and hotel stays, or other discounted travel expenses.
- No foreign transaction fees. A foreign transaction fee is a surcharge on every purchase made using a credit card in a foreign country or foreign currency. The fees are typically 3% of every purchase. So if you have an international trip planned, a travel rewards credit card that waives foreign transaction fees can save you a lot of money.
- Sign-up bonuses. Lucrative sign-up bonuses are common among travel credit cards, with some cards offering 100,000 points or more to new members who hit a minimum spending amount within the first few months.
- High annual fees. Most travel rewards credit cards have an annual fee. According to analysis by U.S. News, the average travel rewards card annual fee is $139. That’s higher than the overall annual fee average of $110 across all cards that charge annual fees. Premium cards provide premium benefits, but their annual fees are much higher, too. Fees greater than $500 are common.
- High interest rates. Travel card annual percentage rates also tend to be above average. Pay close attention to the APRs of the cards you are considering, and never carry a balance with a travel rewards card.
- Restrictions. Travel credit cards can also cost you time. Some cards require lots of planning or working with customer service to navigate blackout dates or limited seat availability, or decipher confusing terms and conditions. Depending on the card, there can also be restrictions on earning miles, including caps and expiration dates. And, of course, bonus points from airline and hotel cards are restricted to redemption with certain brands or qualifying partners.
- Low value for infrequent travelers. If you don’t travel regularly, then you’ll want to make sure that the benefits you’re getting from the card are outweighing the annual fee.
Do You Need a Travel Credit Card?
Before signing up for a travel rewards credit card, make sure to assess whether you:
- Travel frequently. If you don’t consistently spend on airfare, hotels or other travel expenses, consider a cash back credit card instead. These cards have easy redemption options, and some of them don’t even have annual fees.
- Have a good credit score. You have the best chances of being approved for a travel credit card if you have a FICO score of at least 670, which is at the bottom of the good FICO score range. The higher your score, the better your chances to get approved for the elite travel cards.
- Pay off your balance each month. Because travel credit cards have higher-than-average APRs, you should only get a travel card if you can pay off your balance each month.
How Do You Choose the Best Travel Credit Card?
To find a travel card that meets your needs, evaluate each card using the following criteria:
1. Pick the right rewards program for you.
Your travel credit card will work either in conjunction with the loyalty program of an airline or hotel chain or with the issuer’s rewards program. Each program has unique terms and conditions for earning, redeeming and transferring points.
Loyalty airline programs: For some travelers, loyalty to any particular airline lasts only as long as that airline offers the cheapest flights. But frequent flyers might be willing to forgo initial cost savings in exchange for benefits later. Which airline program works best for you depends on how frequently you fly with the airline and how much value you can get from your rewards. Popular airline programs include:
Loyalty hotel programs: As with airline cards, choosing a credit card from a hotel group you regularly patronize is likely to offer the best value for earning and redeeming rewards. Popular hotel rewards programs include:
General travel rewards programs: Using a general travel credit card earns rewards that can be redeemed for a statement credit or through the issuer’s travel portal, or transferred to partners. Many of these programs also have redemption options for gift cards, experiences and more. Examples:
Which is the right choice?
If you’re loyal to a particular travel brand and want to earn rewards and take advantage of benefits with the brand, an airline or hotel card is the way to go.
But if you travel infrequently or with many different brands, or simply want more flexibility, a general travel card may be a better choice.
2. Calculate earning potential.
Travel cards earn rewards at different rates for spending in different categories, so you have to analyze your spending habits to determine which card will help you maximize your rewards value. A good travel card will have a range of purchases that qualify as travel spending, which may include flights, hotels and car rentals.
Depending on the type of card, these purchases can earn two points per dollar or more. Other purchases may earn one point per dollar or more.
3. Factor in sign-up bonuses.
The most lucrative travel cards offer consumers bonus points for meeting a spending threshold within a few months of opening an account. These bonuses can be worth hundreds of dollars.
4. Calculate redemption value.
Every travel card has a rate at which points or miles are awarded. However, what those points are worth to you depends on redemption value as well as your preferences and priorities.
For general travel cards, point valuation may be as simple as the number of points multiplied by the redemption rate, often 1 cent per point.
Awards travel with airlines or hotels is more complicated. The number of points or miles needed to book a flight or hotel room may fluctuate from card to card.
But airlines and hotels frequently adjust the price of award travel based on award level, award availability, time, destination, fare or hotel class, demand, and other factors. And rewards values aren’t consistent across all programs: You might be able to redeem a point or mile for a value of 3 cents with one program or less than 1 cent with another.
5. Subtract annual fees.
The average annual fee for travel credit cards is about $139, according to U.S. News research. Credit card companies sometimes entice new users by waiving the annual fee for the first year.
Once the fee kicks in, be sure you’re earning enough rewards or enjoying the other card benefits to compensate for it. Also, about a third of travel cards don’t carry an annual fee.
6. Understand travel benefits.
Travel benefits can be practical tools, discounted pricing or luxe perks. Common benefits include no foreign transaction fees, access to 24/7 concierge or customer service assistance, a free checked bag – and sometimes a free checked bag for a travel companion – and travel insurance.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, for example, comes with trip cancellation and interruption insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, baggage delay insurance, trip delay reimbursement, 24/7 customer service and more.
7. Avoid foreign transaction fees.
Many travel cards don’t charge a foreign transaction fee, which is typically 3% on every purchase in a foreign currency or country. Because these fees can be greater than any rewards you earn, frequent international travelers will want to make this card feature a top priority.
What Are the Best Strategies to Maximize Travel Rewards?
- Pick the right travel card. When you’re starting out with travel cards, select one with a general miles program that gives you the flexibility to earn rewards for all spending and redeem with the largest variety of brands. Unless you spend large amounts on travel expenses with a particular brand, airline and hotel cards offer less flexibility and savings.
- Combine a general travel card with a co-branded or loyalty card. Used in tandem with a general travel card, an airline card or a hotel card makes sense for frequent travelers who are comfortable committing to one particular travel brand. This combination allows you to use the co-branded card to earn bonus points on purchases with your preferred brand and to use the general travel card to earn bonus points in other categories.
- Apply for a card before a planned large purchase to reach your sign-up bonus. The best way to guarantee that you’ll get your sign-up bonus is to activate a new travel rewards card before you’ll be making a lot of purchases (a family vacation, for instance). That way you’ll get the bonus and spend money on things that give higher rewards on your card.
- Use your travel credit card to pick up the tab as much as possible. Does your card give you extra points for dining? Then you better be offering to pick up the tab the next time you go out with friends. They can pay you back, and you can get those sweet, sweet rewards points.
Do Travel Rewards Cards Work the Same With International Travel?
Yes, travel rewards cards work the same with international travel, but there are some things you’ll want to keep in mind. Knowing how your travel credit card works and what benefits and protections it offers can help you solve some of the problems that may arise when you’re abroad. It’s always best to be prepared.
Avoid foreign transaction fees.
If you’re not sure whether your card has foreign transaction fees, check with your issuer when you notify it of your upcoming trip. You most likely have a card that has EMV smart chip technology, which is the most compatible with foreign merchants and provides the best security.
Avoid dynamic currency conversion.
Many foreign merchants let you choose to be charged in local currency or to pay with dollars through dynamic currency conversion. You should always opt for local currency. The exchange rate with dynamic currency conversion might be unfavorable or even have a fee tacked on top. It’s always good to have cash on hand in case a store or restaurant won’t accept your card.
Know whom to contact in an emergency.
Some travel credit cards offer free access to a 24/7 benefits administrator – also called a concierge service – that can provide medical referrals, contact loved ones and arrange for payments. Likewise, as a cardholder, you may be able to receive round-the-clock referrals and other help with medical and legal emergencies.
Take advantage of travel insurance.
Many cards offer trip cancellation or interruption insurance or travel accident insurance. Life is unpredictable, so these benefits can provide protection if you need to make changes to your trip or experience an accident. You may even want to opt for third-party travel insurance for fuller coverage.
Your personal car insurance policy may not cover foreign travel, so you might need to purchase auto insurance in your destination country. Cards that offer an auto rental collision damage waiver can handle some of your rental car insurance needs, covering theft or damage to the car, up to the full cash value of most rental vehicles booked using that card.
Before your trip, find out which of your credit cards will give you the best coverage. If you feel unsure about the details, call your issuer and ask for an explanation of the rental car coverage that comes with your card.
Get help with your lost luggage.
Many travel rewards credit cards offer benefits to help you deal with lost or delayed baggage. With this coverage, you can get reimbursed for some or all of your expenses related to the claim, such as toiletries or clothes purchased while waiting for your bags. But note that maximum amounts and restrictions might apply, depending on the travel rewards credit card.
Is It Worth Getting a Travel Rewards Credit Card in 2022?
If you know you’ll be traveling later this year or next and want to start earning points or miles now, carefully evaluate and compare bonus categories across different travel credit cards so you can maximize your spending.
Keep in mind that travel guidelines continue to shift due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, so check your destination’s official tourism website periodically before your trip to keep apprised of any restrictions that might apply.
What Are Some Alternatives to Getting a Travel Credit Card?
- Use a cash back rewards credit card. Many cash back rewards cards offer significant cash back for everyday purchases, and some offer similar travel benefits such as rental car protection and travel insurance.
- Join a frequent flyer program. Many major airlines offer reward points for booking its flights, spending through its travel partners and shopping with select retailers. These points may have no caps and can be redeemed for flights, exclusive vacations, premium drinks and cabin upgrades.
- Sign up for a hotel loyalty program. Hotel loyalty programs offer various incentives, such as exclusive rates, late checkout and bonus points, for keeping your overnight stays within its family of properties. Be sure to book your stays directly with the hotel and not a third-party service to rack up bonus points, then redeem for perks such as free drinks, spa packages and free nights.
U.S. News has been helping consumers make money decisions for decades. The Best Travel Credit Cards are selected based on ease and flexibility of rewards redemption, travel rewards earning rate, rewards redemption value, annual fee, APR, sign-up bonus value, cardholder benefits, foreign transaction fee and balance transfer fee. Cards are also scored on U.S. News’ overall issuer satisfaction rating.
To qualify as one of the best travel credit cards, a card must earn bonus travel rewards, including general travel, airline or hotel. Remember to consider your spending and travel habits as you compare travel cards so you can find the best credit card for you.