Earning free travel is incredibly attractive to most people, and many credit cards exist to help you kickstart your vacation funds.
However, choosing the best travel credit card is difficult, because everyone has different needs. For example, if you’re already earning airline miles from a particular airline, it makes sense to get a frequent flyer credit card from that same airline. Same with hotel credit cards. Piggyback on what you’re already earning based on your travels.
However, if you aren’t already earning miles or hotel points from business travel, it can be more difficult to decide on a travel card. In fact, it’s quite possible you’d be better off simply choosing a cash back credit card, especially if you do not use your credit card very often.
That said, below we list a variety of travel credit cards that you might choose, broken down into categories, beginning with general travel reward cards for those who don’t want to be tied to a particular airline, hotel chain, or cruise line.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card – Perhaps our favorite overall travel card, thanks in particular to the attractive travel partners that Chase has hooked up with. The points you earn with this card can be transferred on a 1-to-1 basis into frequent flyer and loyalty programs including United MileagePlus, Southwest Rapid Rewards, JetBlue, Marriott, Hyatt, and more. Earn 2 points per dollar on travel and dining purchases, 1 point everywhere else, plus 50,000 bonus points (worth $625 in travel when redeemed via Chase Ultimate Rewards) if you spend over $4000 in the first 3 months of having the card. Use points to pay or offset travel costs — at 1.25 cents per point when redeemed via Chase Ultimate Rewards. No annual fee first year, then you’ll pay $95 per year, so choose this only if you intend to use it often.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve – This one’s got a hefty $450 annual fee, but some enticing rewards to balance it out. First off, you get $300 in travel reimbursements per year, which effectively lowers the card’s annual fee to $150 as long as you do even a moderate amount of travel. In addition, you get 3 points per dollar on travel and dining purchases, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. There are other travel perks as well, such as airport lounge access. Also offers a 50,000-point bonus (worth $750 in travel when redeemed via Chase Ultimate rewards) if you make at least $4000 in purchases with the card within the first 90 days of having it. Use points to pay or offset travel costs — at 1.5 cents per point when redeemed via Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Discover It Miles Card – Offers a simple formula: you get 1.5 points per dollar charged to the card, with each point being worth a penny. You then use your points to offset or completely pay for travel purchases via a statement credit. For example, 15,000 points equals $150 in travel expenses. You also have the attractive option to simply take your earnings in cash back and forget about the travel aspect altogether, meaning you essentially get 1.5% cash back on all of your purchases. (For a nice bonus, all your earnings in the first year get doubled when those 12 months are over.) No annual fee.
- American Express Platinum Card – The high-end luxury travel charge card from American Express has the biggest annual fee of any major travel card at $550. Do the perks justify it? Maybe. You get 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar on airline and hotel purchases (1 point per dollar everywhere else), a $200 airline fee credit each year, $15 in free Uber rides each month ($20 in December), airport lounge access and more. You can also transfer points earned into certain frequent flyer/loyalty programs, most notably Delta Airlines.
- Bank of America Travel Rewards Visa – Earn 1.5 points per dollar, with each point being worth one cent in travel rewards: 10,000 points = $100 in travel rewards, etc. You can also earn 25,000 bonus points (worth $200.00) if you make at least $1000 in card purchases in the first 90 days. No annual fee.
- Capital One VentureOne Card – No-annual-fee travel card gives you 1.25 “miles” per dollar charged to the card. The miles are essentially points, equal to a penny per point. You use the points to pay for travel costs in part or in full. For example, 20,000 points could be used to pay for $200 in travel expenses. (So, you could really think of this card as being equivalent to a cash back card giving you a 1.25% rebate.) You can also transfer points to certain airline frequent flyer programs, though most of those are international airlines, not U.S. airlines. (See also the Capital One Venture Card that offers 2 “miles” per dollar but has an annual fee of $95 after the first year of carrying it.)
- The Barclaycard Arrival Plus credit cards offer “miles” equal to a penny per mile in airline/travel benefits. (For example, 10,000 miles equals $100 of travel benefits.) The card has an $89 annual fee (waived for the first year). It offers 2 miles per dollar on all purchases, plus you get a 5% point rebate when you actually redeem your points. For example, redeem 50,000 points and you’ll get 2500 points put back into your account to get you started toward your next redemption.)
- Priceline Rewards Visa – Earn 5 points per dollar on Priceline purchases and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. Redeem points for statement credit to pay for travel purchases made with the card. Points equal pennies; for example, 10,000 points equals $100 in travel purchases.
Airline Credit Cards:
- Alaska Airlines Visa – Earn 3 miles per dollar on Alaska Airlines flights, 1 mile per dollar everywhere else. Use miles for Alaska Airlines flights or flights on American Airlines, British Airways, and other partner airlines.
- American Airlines AAdvantage Credit Cards – American Airlines offers 4 different AAdvantage frequent flyer credit cards in partnership with Citi. Which one is right for you will largely depend on how often you fly and which extra perks you find most valuable.
- Delta Airlines SkyMiles Credit Cards – Delta offers 4 different American Express frequent flyer cards, with varying perks depending on how much of an annual fee you are willing to pay. (Though one of the cards can be had without an annual fee.)
- Frontier Airlines World Mastercard – Frequent flyer card offers 5 miles per dollar on Frontier Airlines purchases, 3 miles per dollar on restaurant purchases, and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases. $79 annual fee.
- Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard – Earn 3 miles per dollar on Hawaiian Airlines purchases, 2 miles per dollar on gas, grocery and dining purchases, and 1 mile per dollar everywhere else, plus other bonus opportunities and travel perks.
- JetBlue Credit Card – Get 3 points per dollar on JetBlue purchases made directly with the airline, 2 points per dollar at restaurants and grocery stores, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. These points are on top of the points you already earn on JetBlue flights with the TrueBlue frequent flier program. No annual fee. (There is also the JetBlue Plus Card, which has a $99 annual fee, but greater rewards and perks that may be worth the extra cost.)
- Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Cards – Southwest Airlines offers 3 consumer credit cards and a business credit card. All cards offer 2 points per dollar on Southwest flights and 2 points per dollar on Rapid Rewards hotel & car rental partner purchases, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. The difference between the cards? The higher the annual fee you are willing to pay, the more bonus points and perks you will earn.
- Spirit Airlines Mastercard – You earn 2 miles for every dollar charged on this card, plus a potential 30,000-point bonus, which could get you multiple flights right off the bat on this no-frills airline. No annual fee for the card in the first year, then $59 per year after that.
- United Airlines MileagePlus Credit Cards – In partnership with Chase, United offers 3 consumer cards and 2 business credit cards that allow you to add to your Mileage Plus frequent flyer point total. The base United Explorer Card will probably be the right fit for most potential cardholders, but the Club Card may work for particularly frequent United travelers.
Hotel Credit Cards:
- Choice Privileges Visa – Hotel credit card of multiple chains including Comfort Inn, EconoLodge, Clarion and more. Earn 15 points per dollar on Choice Privileges hotel stays, 2 points per dollar on all other card purchases. Earn a free night for as little as 8,000 points. You can earn bonuses of up to 4 free nights when you use the card for your first hotel stay with the card. Unlike many travel cards, this one has no annual fee.
- Hilton Honors Credit Cards – There are 3 different Hilton credit card options from American Express, with or without an annual fee. If you stay at Hilton hotels regularly, the cards with an annual fee might actually be worth the extra cost, especially if you spend a lot with your credit card.
- Hyatt Credit Card – World of Hyatt Visa has a $95 annual fee but offers a good array of points and perks that could make it very worth it if Hyatt fits in with your travel/vacation plans.
- IHG Rewards Club Credit Card – Earn points within the International Hotels Group family of hotels, including InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Candlewood Suites, Hotel Indigo and more.
- Marriott Credit Cards and Starwood SPG Credit Cards – Since buying up Starwood, Marriott now has a bevy of credit cards issued by Chase and American Express — some branded as Marriott cards, some branded as Starwood cards. However, they don’t seem to plan on combining the two, meaning you should look at all of your options on both the Marriott and SPG end if you’re thinking about a Marriott rewards card. The good news is that ultimately all of the points and perks you earn from these cards are good at both Marriott and Starwood properties.
- Wyndham Credit Cards – Wyndham hotels offer a nice easy redemption for your loyalty points: 15,000 points equals a free night at any Wyndham hotel, anytime there is availability. Wyndham credit cards can help you get there faster.
Cruise Line Credit Cards:
- Carnival World MasterCard – Earn “FunPoints” that can be used toward future cruises or toward your onboard charges while cruising on a Carnival ship and sister cruise lines including Princess Cruises and Holland America. You get 2 points per dollar on purchases you make with the card on Carnival cruise purchases, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases, plus 10,000 free points when you use the card for the first time. For reference, 1000 points is equivalent to $10. This card has no annual fee.
- Holland America Visa – Earn points toward future Holland America cruises or special rewards once on board Holland America ships, including a 5,000 point bonus (worth $50 in onboard purchases) just for getting and using the card for the first time. There is no annual fee with this card.
- Norwegian Cruise Line MasterCard – Earn points toward future cruises, onboard purchases, other travel purchases, and more, including 10,000 points just for getting and using the card the first time, which equals $100 off your next Norwegian cruise. This card has no annual fee.
- Princess Cruises Visa – Earn points toward future Princess cruises or special rewards once on board Princess ships, including a 10,000 point bonus (worth $100 in onboard purchases) just for getting and using the card for the first time. There is no annual fee with this card.
- Royal Caribbean Visa – Earn points toward Royal Caribbean cruise onboard purchases, other travel purchases, and more, including 10,000 points just for getting and using the card the first time, which equals $100 in onboard purchases. This card has no annual fee.