Whether you travel for business or pleasure, having the best travel rewards credit card can make your trips more, well, rewarding. But considering there are so many travel credit cards to choose from, finding the right plastic for your wallet is no easy task.
In its first annual Best Credit Cards ranking, GOBankingRates looked at thousands of data points, including fees, interest rates, promotional offers and rewards to determine the Best Travel Credit Cards of 2019. So before you book your next trip, check out these travel credit cards to see which one is best for you.
- Best Travel Credit Cards
- Learn More About Travel Rewards Cards
With the VentureOne from Capital One card, you can use your rewards as a statement credit, and there is no cap to the number of rewards you can earn.
Highlights: You can get unlimited rewards of 1.25 miles for every dollar you spend on anything. And now through January 2020, you can earn 10 miles per dollar on thousands of places to stay. Plus, you can get preferred access to must-see music events, culinary experiences and big-time sporting events.
You can redeem your miles for cash in the form of a check or account credit, gift cards and more. You can also transfer your rewards miles to one of more than 10 airline partners if you’d rather use them that way.
Annual Fee: $0
APR: 0% intro APR for the first 12 months; 14.24%, 20.24% or 24.24% afterwards
Bonus Value: Spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months and get 20,000 bonus miles.
The Fine Print: Keep in mind that although your points won’t expire, you will lose the rewards you have not redeemed if you close your account.
Frequent guests of the Hilton family of hotels will love the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card. You earn 12 times the Hilton Honors bonus points per dollar on purchases made at a Hilton Hotel or Resort property.
Highlights: Points, points, points! You get six times the Hilton Honors bonus points per dollar you spend at U.S. gas stations, supermarkets and restaurants. Plus, you’ll get three times the bonus points per dollar on everything else.
Annual Fee: $95
Bonus Value: When you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months you have the card, you get 150,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points — a $750 value.
The Fine Print: There is no low introductory APR so be mindful of the APR, which applies to both purchases and balance transfers.
The Navy Federal More Rewards American Express Credit Card has the lowest regular APR of any of these cards on this list at just 11.90%-18.00%. If you have to carry a balance, this card is the one to carry it on.
Highlights: Earn three times the points at supermarkets and gas stations and two times the points when dining at restaurants. You can redeem your rewards for cash, travel, gift cards or merchandise. Some of the travel benefits include 25% off car rentals, as well as car rental loss and damage insurance.
Annual Fee: $0
APR: 1.99% for six months, 11.90%-18.00% after that
Bonus Value: Earn 30,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 within 90 days of opening the account.
The Fine Print: To become a member of Navy Federal Credit Union, you or one of your family or household members must have ties to the armed forces, Department of Defense or National Guard.
If you’re a fan of IHG properties — which include Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, InterContinental and others — you’ll want to consider Chase’s IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card.
Highlights: Earn as much as 25 points for every dollar you spend at an IHG property if you are an IHG Rewards Club member. Here’s how it works: You can earn 10 points per dollar spent at any IHG property, plus an additional 15 points per dollar as an IHG Rewards Club member. Plus, you get a free night on every account anniversary and a free night on any stay of four or more nights.
You can also earn two points per $1 spent on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants, as well as one point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Annual Fee: $89
Bonus Value: Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months, then 10,000 bonus points after you spend $20,000 on purchases and make one additional purchase each account anniversary year.
The Fine Print: There’s no introductory APR, so you’ll pay 18.24%-25.24% interest on every purchase.
With the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, you could be eligible for airline and Hilton Resort credits that are worth hundreds of dollars.
Highlights: Earn 14 times Hilton Honors Bonus Points per dollar on eligible purchases at hotels and resorts within the Hilton portfolio. You can earn seven times the bonus points on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select companies and at U.S. restaurants. And, you’ll get three times the points for other purchases. There are also ways you can earn a $250 airline fee credit, a $250 Hilton Resort credit and a $100 property credit — visit the website for details.
Annual Fee: $450
Bonus Value: You earn 150,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months you have the card.
The Fine Print: You’d have to earn a lot of points to cover the $450 annual fee. Some of the credits will offset this, but only if you use them.
|Best Travel Credit Cards of 2019|
|Credit Card||Annual Fee||Intro & Regular APR for Purchases||Rewards Rates||Foreign Transaction Fee|
|VentureOne from Capital One||$0||0% intro APR for 12 months; 14.24%, 20.24% or 24.24% regular APR||$0|
|Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card||$95||17.99%-26.99% regular APR||$0|
|Navy Federal More Rewards American Express Credit Card||$0||1.99% intro APR for 6 months; 11.90%-18.00% regular APR||$0|
|IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card||$89||18.24%-25.24% regular APR||$0|
|Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card||$450||17.99%-26.99% regular APR||$0|
The key to getting the most out of your travel rewards is understanding how they work.
“A travel rewards credit card gives you the opportunity to redeem your rewards for what I would call something with ‘outsized’ value,” said Jason Steele, a credit card and travel expert. “Let’s say you get a cash-back card. It’s pretty clear you’ll only get the value that’s stated on that card — be it 1.5% cash back on all purchases, maybe 2% or 3% on some purchases — and you’ll never get more value than that. But, let’s say you get a travel rewards credit card that offers you airline miles, hotel points or points that can be transferred to airline miles … then you really get an amazing value when you redeem those rewards.”
When you use a travel rewards credit card, you earn points or miles for each dollar that you spend on the card. Then, you can ‘spend’ those points or miles on flights, hotels and other purchases, depending on the credit card. You might even be able to redeem your miles for cash in the form of a check, account credit or gift card.
For example, you may get 1 mile for every dollar you charge on your travel rewards card. Some cards will offer multiple miles or points per dollar in certain spending categories, like flights or restaurants. For example, a card might offer three times the rewards at supermarkets. This means that for every dollar you spend at a supermarket, you earn three points instead of one. Hotel and airline cards often award multiple points per dollar spent at their properties or on their airlines.
Other Types of Rewards Cards for Travel
Here’s a quick look at other types of rewards cards that can be used for travel purposes:
- Rewards credit cards that are not branded as travel rewards cards usually accrue points or cash back as opposed to miles. However, many rewards cards do offer points or cash back on travel-related purchases.
- Airline credit cards may give more miles for flights than they do for everything else. And, they may only let you redeem your miles for flights.
- Hotel credit cards are similar in that you may earn multiple points for hotel stays, and you may be limited to redeeming those points for hotel stays.
When you make a purchase on your travel credit card, the card issuer awards points or miles to your account. Typically, rewards or bonuses are paid out after your statement closes or within one or two billing cycles. You should see your rewards balance when you access your account online, and it should also appear on your billing statement. This varies by credit card, so check with your card issuer.
Also, check with your card issuer for details on how to redeem your rewards. Generally, there are two ways you can redeem your credit card rewards: You can redeem them as a statement credit, or you can pay for travel with your points or miles. In some cases, you may be able to transfer your points to another eligible rewards program.
To redeem your rewards as a statement credit, charge your travel purchases on your credit card, then contact your card issuer to redeem the points against that charge. There may be a time period by which you have to do this. To pay for travel with points or miles, go online or contact your card issuer to purchase travel using points.
Determining the Value of Your Rewards
To understand how much your rewards are worth, you’ll need to check the fine print on your agreement or contact the card issuer.
You can typically calculate how many miles or points you need for a flight by multiplying the cost of your travel by the multiplier used by the card issuer. Suppose that multiplier is 100 for your airline credit card. In that case, a flight that costs $300 would cost 30,000 miles or points.
With the Capital One VentureOne Card, for example, 100 miles are worth $1. And 20,000 miles can buy you a $200 flight or can be used against $200 of travel on your credit card statement.
How To Qualify for a Travel Rewards Card
You can qualify for a travel rewards card as you would any other card: by having a strong credit history. If your credit is not good, or if you are still trying to build your credit, you might still qualify for a travel rewards card — but you might not enjoy the same perks and rewards as those with a better credit score.
“You do have to have excellent credit, or at least very good credit,” said Steele. “If you are looking for the most competitive travel rewards card, you do need a FICO score of about 740 or above.”
To qualify for the best travel rewards cards, take the necessary steps to build your credit. Check your credit report for errors, lower your debt and pay all of your bills on time — including your credit card payments. If you have a low credit score or poor credit, you might want to consider getting a secured credit card first.
More Perks Offered by Travel Rewards Card
Travel rewards credit cards provide many perks that are geared toward travelers. These may include:
- No foreign transaction fees, so you won’t pay extra when you’re charging purchases in a different currency.
- Travel assistance, including services that can help if you lose your credit card or travel documents.
- Auto rental insurance protection, which lets you decline the insurance when you rent a car, saving you money.
- Extended warranty on items you purchase using your credit card.
- Credit for airline baggage and other fees. If you tend to take long trips and carry multiple bags, consider a travel card or an airline credit card that offers free checked bags.
- Access to VIP airport lounges, which are offered by numerous travel and airline credit cards.
Drawbacks to Travel Credit Cards
Travel credit cards can be great, but they have some drawbacks. Be sure you know what the downsides are to any cards you’re considering.
One disadvantage to some travel cards is their high annual fee. While some cards have no annual fee, there are others whose fees are hundreds of dollars. Compare the travel card’s rewards and benefits against the annual fee to make sure the high fee is worth the perks.
Some cards also have a limitation on how your miles or points can be redeemed. Some hotel cards, for example, will only let you redeem your points at their properties. And airline credit cards may restrict the flights on which you can use your points.
And lastly, watch out for blackout dates and seat restrictions. For some cards that offer special seating on airlines, the seats you want might not be available during blackout dates. The same might be true when it comes to hotels and booking rooms. Before applying for a travel credit card, ask the issuer about blackout dates as well as airline seat and hotel room availability.
Advantages to Travel Rewards Credit Cards
Travel credit cards can pay big dividends if you travel a lot and take advantage of the sign-up bonuses. In some cases, you can earn 50,000 or more bonus points if you spend a certain amount of money in the first couple of months of getting the card. Depending on your travel plans, those bonus points coupled with any other rewards you earn on purchases can pay for your entire your trip — or at least a good portion of it.
But make no mistake — careful planning is required to get a deeply discounted trip with your travel credit card. “I book awards very far in advance,” said Steele, who aims to plan his trips nine to 11 months in advance. “When I do that, I find the best selection of those really great awards.”
Steele deliberately tries to to earn transferable awards so he can transfer them to whichever program is offering the most value. He does the same thing with hotels, which he also likes to book at peak travel times. “An example of that would be going to Costa Rica this Christmas with my family — my wife and three kids,” he said. “We have two rooms at a very nice resort in Costa Rica that might cost $700 or $800 a room, per night at that time of year. But we only spent 15,000 points per room, per night.”
Travel rewards points and miles can help Americans save money on their travel costs, but it seems that many aren’t using these rewards to offset the cost of their trip. In a recent GOBankingRates survey, we asked 1,001 respondents if they used rewards, points or miles accrued with a rewards card to pay for their most recent vacation — and only roughly 15% said yes.
There could be many reasons why Americans aren’t using points or miles to pay for their vacations, but a big one could be because they prefer to use a cash-back card instead.
The survey found that travel cards aren’t the most popular cards for booking trips. When we asked respondents to identify the type of cards they used to purchase their most recent trip, the most popular cards were:
- Cash-back credit cards
- Traditional credit cards (with no rewards)
- Travel rewards credit cards
A large percentage also chose “Other,” indicating they perhaps used cash or another type of credit card not listed in the survey.
The most surprising takeaway from the survey is the 23% of Americans who said they used a non-rewards card to book their most recent vacation. Considering the average amount spent on their vacation was $2,038.29, these non-rewards credit card users could be missing out on benefits that could help them save money on their next trip.
However, some of the survey results aren’t too surprising, especially when you consider the spending habits and goals the survey respondents might possess. For example, perhaps the 24% of Americans who used a cash-back card to book their most recent trip prefer these cards so they can use the cash rewards to cover living expenses, such as rent or clothing. To these people, a cash-back card could be more appealing — even more so if they’re not frequent travelers.
Additionally, sometimes cash-back rewards can be worth more money than points or miles, although it does depend on the credit card. Contact the credit card issuer to find out exactly how much the rewards are worth for each of their cards you’re considering.
And lastly, there are some cash-back cards that let you redeem your cash rewards for flights, hotels, car rentals and more. For some travelers, this type of cash-back card might be more than valuable than other travel rewards cards.
So before you decide to get a travel rewards card, it’s important to ask yourself these two questions:
- What do I value more: points or miles that I can use toward travel — or cash that I can use on other expenses?
- Which card offers the most value per point: a cash-back or travel rewards card?
Depending on the answers to those questions, you might decide to get a cash-back card — or a travel rewards card.
When choosing a travel rewards credit card, ask yourself these important questions:
Do I have a favorite airline or hotel that I prefer over any other?
If you always fly the same airline or stay at the same hotel chain, consider the travel cards offered by your preferred vendors. For other cards, check to see if they have preferred partners that you typically use.
Do I often travel internationally?
If so, make sure the card you choose does not charge foreign transaction fees.
Find Out: The Best Time To Travel in 2019
Do I frequently take long trips with a lot of baggage?
If you tend to have a lot of bags, look for a card that offers additional free checked bags.
Do I spend a lot of time at the airport?
Perhaps you like to arrive early or you often have to make connections. If so, you may prefer a card that offers access to the airline’s VIP lounge.
Will I be able to make payments on time?
As you would when choosing any type of credit card, think about whether you’ll be able to pay it off in full each month or carry a balance. If you carry a balance, look for a card with a low interest rate. If you pay it off, the annual fee or sign-up bonus may be your deciding factors.
Once you’ve devised a short list of cards based on your answers to the questions above, it’s time to compare the ones that meet your criteria. Here are the main factors you’ll want to consider:
If there is any possibility that you will carry over a balance from one month to the next, you need to consider the APR of any card you’re thinking about. APR stands for annual percentage rate, and it’s the amount of interest you’ll pay on any balance you don’t pay off by the payment due date.
Some cards offer a 0% APR for the first year you have the card. This is a good feature if you have a balance on another card that you’re going to transfer to the new card, but remember this: You must pay off the balance completely within the 0% intro APR period, and then not carry a balance after that. If you don’t do this, the 0% APR for the first year won’t make a big difference.
To encourage consumers to apply for and use their credit cards, card issuers may offer bonus points or miles for using the card right away. You may get 60,000 extra points if, for example, you charge $4,000 during the first three months you have the card.
If you’re going to use the card for everyday purchases, or you have a trip coming up and you always pay off your balance in full, you might choose a card based on the sign-up bonus. Just remember that paying interest by carrying a balance can quickly negate any sign-up bonus you may get.
Rewards fall into two basic categories: miles and points. They work generally the same way. You earn rewards when you charge purchases on your card, and you can redeem those rewards for cash, gift cards, travel or other benefits. The number of points or miles you receive for each purchase is based on how much you spend and sometimes on what type of purchase it is (e.g., airfare, a restaurant meal, etc.).
Rewards are calculated based on the amount you charge. So you may get one point or one mile for each dollar you spend, or you may get two or three points or miles per dollar. If you have a rewards card that offers three times the points on flights, two times the points on hotel purchases and one times the points on everything else, you’ll earn 1,500 points on your $500 flight, 400 points on your $200 hotel room and 100 points on your $100 dinner.
When comparing travel rewards cards, look for the card that offers the most points on the things you typically spend the most money on. But don’t overspend and risk falling into debt just to rack up rewards points.
Benefits and Perks
Travel rewards cards often offer additional benefits that frequent travelers enjoy. If you typically rent a car when you travel, look for a travel card that has roadside assistance and supplemental insurance coverage. Or if you often check luggage when you fly, some cards offer rebates on baggage fees. And you may be able to get discounted membership to the VIP lounge of one or more airlines, or a credit toward your TSA Pre-Check fee.
When you compare cards, look for the ones that have these benefits that most closely match the way you travel.
When comparing travel rewards cards, make sure you understand all the fees. Here are some to look out for:
- Annual fees. This is a fee you are charged each year just for having the card. Even if you don’t use it, you’ll still be charged the annual fee. Some cards waive this fee for the first year.
- Foreign transaction fees. This is a surcharge on each purchase you make outside the country, charged as a percentage of the amount of the purchase.
- Balance transfer fees. If you transfer a balance from another card, you may get charged this fee. If a balance transfer is in your plans, watch out for this one.
- Cash advance fees. If you use your credit card to get cash at a bank or ATM, you may be charged a cash advance fee, which can be a flat fee or a percentage of the advance amount.
- Late payment fees. If you don’t pay at least your minimum balance on time, you can get charged a late payment fee. Some cards will waive this the first time a payment is late.
Hotel and Airline Partners
Some travel cards, even those that are not co-branded by a specific hotel chain or airline, will offer increased rewards with certain companies.
Check the card issuer’s website to see who they partner with, and compare the list with those vendors you prefer. If you don’t have a preference, look for airlines that fly out of your city, or for cards that have a number of different partners.
Are you still not sure if a travel credit card is right for you and have lingering questions? Here are the answers to common questions you might have:
What credit score do I need to get a travel rewards credit card?
When you apply for a travel credit card, the lender will consider your credit score when deciding whether to approve you for the card. To qualify for the cards with the most attractive features, you’ll want an excellent, exceptional or very good credit score.
Here’s a breakdown of credit score ranges, according to credit reporting agency Experian:
- Exceptional: 800-850
- Very Good: 740-799
- Good: 670-739
- Fair: 580-669
- Very Poor: 300-579
Check your credit score to see where you fall. If you’re interested in a travel rewards card, reach out to the card issuer to see if your score is high enough to qualify.
Which travel card is the easiest to get approved for?
It’s impossible to pinpoint which travel card is the easiest to get. However, the cards with the best benefits are usually harder to qualify for. But here’s a rule of thumb: The better your credit score, the easier it is for you to get approved for a top-notch travel card. You might be able to get approved for a card that offers travel rewards if you’re score isn’t excellent or exceptional, though.
To find travel cards you most likely qualify for, browse all of the options on the card issuers’ websites. Sometimes, these companies will explain if their travel cards are best suited for people with excellent credit levels. For example, Capital One provides credit level guidelines for its cards. For its travel cards — Venture Rewards, VentureOne Rewards, Spark Miles and Spark Miles Select — it’s recommended that you have an excellent credit level in order to qualify.
Can you earn cash back with a travel credit card?
Some airline programs will let you redeem your miles for cash. Others will only let you redeem your points for stays at their properties.
Can you earn extra travel points by adding an authorized user to the card?
You earn points for all purchases charged to your account, and that includes charges made by an authorized user. In addition, some cards offer bonus points for adding an authorized user to your account. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card, for example, has been known to offer a 5,000-point bonus when you add an authorized user and they make a purchase within the first three months of opening your account.
Can you earn extra travel points by referring a friend or family member?
Some cards will give you extra points when you refer someone who opens an account. Again, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card awards members 15,000 points for every person they refer who opens an account, up to 75,000 points per year.
Can you earn extra travel points if you transfer your balance to a travel card?
Most credit cards do not award points or miles on a balance you transfer from another card. If you find a card that lets you earn points on balance transfers, keep in mind this is very rare.
Can you earn points for travel and non-travel purchases with a travel credit card?
Yes. All the travel rewards cards on this list offer points or miles for every purchase — whether it is travel-related or not.
Keep reading to see the best travel credit cards if you want cash back.
Learn More About the Best Credit Cards of 2019
Methodology: GOBankingRates identified the best travel credit cards by analyzing the following factors among dozens of credit cards that offer travel benefits: (1) annual fees; (2) regular APR for purchases, (3) promotional APR for purchases; (4) length of promotional APR; (5) sign-up bonuses; (6) foreign transaction fees; (7) rewards and features. All fees and rates are subject to change at the credit card issuers’ discretion. All fees and rates are subject to change at the credit card issuers’ discretion. Some bonus offers might no longer be available on the credit card issuers’ websites, depending on how you access the web page. All data was sourced from each financial institution’s website or promotional material and are accurate as of June 12, 2019. Please verify terms and conditions — especially sign-up bonuses and other bonus offers — before opening an account.
Editorial Disclosure: GOBankingRates is a personal finance and consumer interest rate website owned by ConsumerTrack, Inc., an online marketing company serving top-tier banks, credit unions, and other financial services organizations. Some companies mentioned in this article might be clients of ConsumerTrack, Inc., which serves more than 100 national, local and online financial institutions. Rankings and roundups are completely objective, and no institution, client or otherwise, paid for inclusion or specific placement. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of GOBankingRates alone and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the companies included in the article. All fees and rates are subject to change at the issuers’ discretion. Some interest rates might be short-term or promotional offers only, and it is possible additional terms and conditions must be met in order to obtain the interest rates listed. Rates and availability might vary by region. Verify terms and conditions before opening an account.
GOBankingRates bases its assessment of “best” and “top” products on the above-stated parameters to create a baseline for comparison. This assessment is an approximation of “best” and “top” designed to help consumers find products that might be appropriate for them. There could be other options available as well. Consumers should consider various options appropriate for their personal circumstances.
Editorial Note: This content is not provided by American Express. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone and have not been endorsed by American Express.
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