The Best Travel Credit Cards of 2021

Travel credit cards help you earn rewards and enjoy exclusive perks while you see the world. These are the ones MoneyGeek recommends you consider if you’re looking for a solid travel rewards credit card.

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Consumers typically need good or excellent credit to qualify for the best travel credit card offers, and those who are eligible have plenty of research to do. For example, most need to decide on the type of travel rewards credit card they want, including whether they want flexible travel points, rewards for hotels or airline miles. It's also crucial to compare cards based on their benefits, which could include elite status with hotels, airport lounge access, annual travel credits and more.

With the COVID-19 pandemic starting to move toward a resolution, now is an excellent time to start racking up rewards. Comparing the best travel credit cards side by side is the best way to find the right rewards credit card to get you started.

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MoneyGeek Quick Tip: You’ve started your search for a travel rewards card at the right time, as many points and miles cards are becoming increasingly flexible with how cardholders can earn and redeem rewards.

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MoneyGeek’s Take: Travel Credit Cards You Can’t Go Wrong With

MoneyGeek experts compared dozens of top travel credit cards to find options with exceptional value and plenty of perks. We compared cards based on their rewards schemes and initial bonus offers, and we looked for cards with superior travel benefits that align with their annual fees. The travel credit card offers that made our ranking provide the best value for 2021.

1

Best Credit Cards With Travel Perks

  • Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card: Earn 2x miles for every dollar you spend, then redeem your rewards for travel statement credits or transfers to airline and hotel programs.
  • Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Earn 3x points on up to $150,000 in combined spending in popular business categories each year (then 1x points). This card also offers a sign-up bonus worth $1,250 in travel.
2

Top Picks for Airline & Hotel Rewards Cards

  • World of Hyatt Credit Card: Earn valuable hotel points good for stays all over the globe. This card gives you a generous sign-up bonus worth up to 12 free nights and 9x points per dollar on Hyatt stays.
  • United Gateway Card: Earn miles in the United MileagePlus program with no annual fee, including bonus miles in several everyday spending categories. This card also grants a discount on in-flight purchases and no foreign transaction fees.

Best Travel, Airline and Hotel Cards as of September 2021

The best travel credit cards are vastly different from one another, with some offering flexible travel points and others letting you earn hotel loyalty points or airline miles. Consider the type of rewards you want to earn — and how you might use them — as you compare offers.

Best Credit Cards with Travel Rewards

Some travel rewards credit cards offer general travel points that can be used for flexible redemptions with airlines, hotels and other travel vendors. Credit cards in this niche may even let you transfer your points to frequent flyer or hotel loyalty programs.


  • creditApproved icon

    FEATURED

    Capital One VentureOne Rewards
    The best travel rewards card with no annual or foreign transaction fees

    • Good-ExcellentCredit Needed
    • 1.25 miles per $1Everyday Rewards Rate
    • 5 miles per $1Loyalty Program Rewards Rate
    • $0Annual Fee
    • 15.49%-25.49%Regular APR

  • Chase Ink Business Preferred
    A great business card with sign-up bonuses and no foreign transaction fees

    • Good-ExcellentCredit Needed
    • 1 point per $1Everyday Rewards Rate
    • Points worth 25% moreLoyalty Program Rewards Rate
    • $95Annual Fee
    • 15.99%-20.99%Regular APR

Best Airline & Hotel Credit Cards

Co-branded travel credit cards let you earn points that work within a specific airline or hotel loyalty program. The top travel credit cards in this category can be a good option if you are a frequent traveler who is loyal to a specific brand.


  • creditApproved icon

    FEATURED

    Chase World of Hyatt
    A great rewards card for travelers who like staying at Hyatt Hotels and Resorts

    • Good-ExcellentCredit Needed
    • 1 point per $1Everyday Rewards Rate
    • 9 Points* per $1 at HyattBonus Rewards
    • $95Annual Fee
    • 15.99%-22.99%APR

  • Chase United Gateway
    A great no-annual-fee rewards card for people who fly United

    • Good-ExcellentCredit Needed
    • 1 mile per $1Everyday Rewards Rate
    • 2 Miles per $1 on select categoriesBonus Rewards
    • $0Annual Fee
    • 16.49%-23.49%APR

How We Rank Travel Credit Cards

We compile and rank our lists of suggested credit cards based on publicly available data from card issuers and other reputable sources like the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. We analyze and compare over 55 data points — such as annual fees, interest rates, rewards, benefits, and more — for approximately 2,500 cards to assign a rating for each card feature.

The ratings are then stack ranked and weighted based on the most relevant features for each card category (cash back, business, etc.). These determine the top suggestions for each type of user or card category. Because card details and welcome offers change regularly, we revisit this list at least once a month to update our ratings and recommendations as needed. Learn more about our data collection and ranking process.

Top Rating Criteria for Travel Cards

signupBonus
Signup Bonus
wallet
Annual Earnings
noFee
Annual Fee

5 Tips for Comparing Travel Rewards Cards

Comparing the best travel credit cards can be a chore when annual fees are all over the place, and cards earn different types of rewards. Even so, you can narrow down your options by thinking about how you normally spend, your preferred type of travel and the cardholder benefits you want the most.

1

Take a close look at the annual fees

Some of the best travel credit cards have annual fees over $500, yet they offer benefits that are worth significantly more — if you use them. There are also plenty of travel rewards credit cards with annual fees under $100, as well as card options with no annual fee. There's nothing wrong with paying an annual fee for a rewards credit card, but you should make sure the value of any perks you receive is worth it.

2

Check for lucrative sign-up bonuses

Several travel rewards credit cards offer sign-up bonuses worth $1,000 or more, although you'll need to make sure you can meet the minimum spending threshold requirement. Make sure any card you're considering offers an initial bonus you can earn — and that it is realistic for your regular spending habits.

3

Consider ongoing rewards rates

Also compare the best travel credit cards based on the rewards they offer on everyday spending. Ideally, you'll wind up with a card that offers more points or miles in categories you spend a lot in.

4

Look for generous travel perks

If you're willing to pay an annual fee, you can look at cards that offer travel benefits like airport lounge access, annual travel credits or elite status with hotels.

5

Decide if you need travel insurance

Finally, decide if you are interested in cards with travel insurance benefits, then compare options accordingly. Some of the top travel credit cards offer protective perks like trip interruption and cancellation insurance, baggage insurance, primary or secondary auto rental coverage and more.

Compare Top Travel Rewards Cards at a Glance

Quickly compare the travel cards in our list by annual fees and reward rate. More information can be found in the sections above or by visiting our partner site’s list of best travel cards.

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  • Card Name
    Card Type
    Everyday Reward Rate
    Annual Fee
  • World of Hyatt Credit Card
    Hotel
    1 point per $1
    $95
  • United Gateway Card
    Miles/Airlines
    1 mile per $1
    $0
  • Capital One VentureOne Rewards
    Travel Rewards
    1.25 miles per $1
    $0
  • Chase Ink Business Preferred
    Travel Rewards
    1 point per $1
    $95

MoneyGeek’s Guide to Getting the Most Out of Your Travel Card

Getting the most out of your travel rewards credit card works best when you start with the right card from the start. With that in mind, you'll need to take a closer look at different types of credit cards as well as their respective rewards programs.

Take the time to compare points and miles cards, general travel credit cards, co-branded hotel cards and co-branded airline cards.

>> MORE: How to Travel Hack Responsibly: Using Credit Cards & Other Methods

Understanding How Travel Credit Cards Work

The best travel rewards credit cards let you earn points that can be redeemed for nearly any kind of trip, although the rewards you earn don't all work the same way. Some cards let you earn points that only work within a specific hotel loyalty program, whereas others offer airline miles that only work with one airline or within an airline alliance. However, there are also flexible travel credit cards that let you redeem your points for any travel you charge to your card. Some even let you transfer your points to airline and hotel loyalty programs, which can open the door to better redemptions and help you get more bang for your buck.

Pros & Cons

Pros of Getting a Travel Credit Card

  • Travel rewards credit cards let you earn points for airfare, hotels and other types of travel, which can lead to travel savings.
  • Travel rewards points make it possible to redeem for aspirational travel redemptions that are too expensive to book with cash.
  • Get the chance to earn a big sign-up bonus, which could be worth $1,000 or more.
  • You can access travel benefits for free, including airport lounge membership, travel insurance, annual travel credits, elite status and more.
  • Some travel rewards credit cards give you elite status benefits like preferred boarding, free checked bags, room upgrades or early/late check-out.

Cons of Travel Credit Cards

  • The best travel credit cards require very good or excellent credit, so not everyone is eligible.
  • Several top travel credit cards charge annual fees that are over $500, and most have an annual fee of around $100. There are travel rewards credit cards with no annual fee, but they offer fewer benefits.
  • Like all types of credit cards, travel credit cards can charge high variable APRs that make carrying a balance an expensive proposition.
  • Hotel and airline programs tend to have extensive loyalty program rules that can make redeeming your points complicated or difficult.

How Points and Miles Work

When you sign up for a travel rewards credit card, you'll get the chance to earn a sign-up bonus as well as points or miles for each dollar you spend. Some types of points can be converted to cash back, whereas others are only good for airfare or hotel stays. Points values also vary, although you'll typically get a minimum of one cent per point or mile in value when you go to redeem.

Make sure to research different types of travel credit cards and their respective programs so that you know what you're getting into before you sign up.

General Travel Credit Cards

General travel credit cards are not affiliated with a specific airline or hotel, making them a lot more flexible than other options you'll find. Cards in this niche tend to work best for people who aren't committed to specific travel plans or loyal to a travel brand. Flexible travel credit cards are also perfect for consumers who want the option to redeem rewards for cash back or statement credits if they prefer.

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GENERAL ATTRIBUTES OF GENERAL TRAVEL CREDIT CARDS
  • Typically let you redeem your rewards for travel charged to your credit card or for travel booked through a specific portal.
  • May let you transfer points to airline and hotel partners (like with Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards).
  • Can offer travel benefits including airport lounge access or flexible travel credits.
  • Tend to have annual fees

Airline Credit Cards

Co-branded airline cards let you earn airline miles that work with a specific airline or airline alliance. For example, you could get the chance to earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points good for flights on Southwest Airlines, but you could also earn miles within the American AAdvantage program and redeem them for flights with American and other airlines in the oneworld Alliance.

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GENERAL ATTRIBUTES OF CO-BRANDED AIRLINE CARDS:
  • Earn airline miles for flights or seat upgrades
  • Can come with frequent flyer benefits like early boarding or free checked bags
  • Rewards tend to be inflexible
  • Tend to have annual fees, but not always
  • Can offer elite qualifying miles toward elite status

Hotel Credit Cards

Co-branded hotel cards offer consumers the chance to earn hotel points in a specific loyalty program like Hilton Honors, Marriott Bonvoy or World of Hyatt. Some cards in this niche grant cardholders automatic elite hotel status, while others offer free nights or annual travel credits good for their portfolio of properties.

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GENERAL ATTRIBUTES OF CO-BRANDED HOTEL CARDS:
  • Earn rewards for free hotel stays or room upgrades
  • Can come with automatic elite status
  • Rewards tend to be inflexible
  • Tend to have annual fees, but not always
  • Can offer elite qualifying nights toward the next level of elite status

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Travel Credit Card

There are important questions to ask before applying for a credit card, including ones that could significantly impact your finances.

What to Ask When Comparing Cards

1. Do you want to pay an annual fee? If you're averse to paying a high annual fee for a travel rewards credit card, this will help you narrow your options considerably. We suggest paying an annual fee only when you know the benefits are worth it. 3. Do you travel outside the United States? If so, you'll want to look for a travel rewards credit card with no foreign transaction fees. That way, you can avoid paying an extra 1% to 3% (on average) toward overseas purchases.

4. Are you loyal to an airline or hotel brand? If you love a specific airline or hotel brand, then it's possible a co-branded travel credit card could be right for you. If you don't care where you stay or how you get there, a general travel rewards credit card will likely leave you better off.
5. Which travel benefits do you care the most about? Make sure to check cards for perks you'd like to have, whether that includes airport lounge access, annual travel credits, elite status, free checked bags on certain flights or something else.


5 Tips for Maximizing Miles & Travel Rewards

1

Make sure you can earn the bonus offer.

If the travel rewards credit card you're considering offers a sign-up or welcome bonus, make sure you can meet the minimum spending threshold within the prescribed timeline. Remember that credit card sign-up bonuses are offered in addition to the points and miles you can earn on regular spending.

2

Pair more than one card to maximize rewards potential.

If you're having trouble deciding on a specific travel credit card, consider pairing a few different cards that work well together. For example, you could pick up a co-branded hotel card or airline card and a flexible travel credit card that lets you transfer points to that program. An example would be pairing the World of Hyatt Credit Card with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which lets you transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to the World of Hyatt program at a 1:1 ratio.

You could also pair cards within the same flexible program, such as a cash back credit card from Chase and one of their premium travel credit cards. An example would be the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Freedom Unlimited. Having both cards would let you earn optimal rewards in several categories like travel, dining and drugstores, as well as a minimum of 1.5x points on all non-bonus spending.

3

Use your credit card for all your spending and bills.

Make sure you use your credit card for all your regular spending and bills since doing so will let you earn more points or miles over time. You can even set up automatic payments toward your recurring bills with your rewards credit card.

4

Keep an eye out for extra promotions.

Check for additional promotions that can help you earn more rewards or cash back for each dollar you spend. Examples include travel program shopping portals, airline dining programs and add-on promotions like Amex Offers and Chase Offers.

5

Never carry a balance.

The average credit card APR is currently over 16%, and travel rewards credit cards can charge rates much higher than that. Make sure to pay your credit card balance in full each month, or the rewards you earn won't be worth it.

FAQs About Travel Rewards Cards

The best travel credit cards can be confusing at first, but they start to make sense once you compare the best options and their respective programs. With some research and digging, you can learn all there is to know about the top travel credit card offers, how they work and who they're best for.

Final Thoughts: Should You Get a Travel Credit Card?

Travel rewards credit cards make sense for people who like to redeem rewards for flights, hotels, rental cars and even Airbnb stays. Even so, you'll be better off if you take the time to compare the different types of card options available based on their rewards programs, fees and cardholder benefits.

You don't have to be a frequent flyer or jetsetter to benefit from a travel rewards credit card, but you will get more value from your card if you make an informed decision before you sign up.

Tips From the Pros: Finding and Using the Right Travel Credit Card

  1. Who is best suited for a travel rewards credit card and how can consumers determine if a travel card is right for them?
  2. What factors should consumers consider when searching for and comparing travel credit cards?
  3. What common mistakes do people make when it comes to choosing and using a travel credit card?
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Sean Tossi

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Gage Kemsley

VP of Sales & Investment Advisor Representative at Oxford Wealth Advisors

Michael B. Keeler
Michael B. Keeler

Certified Financial Planner and Chief Executive Officer of Peak Financial Solutions

Brian Walkup, Ph.D.
Brian Walkup, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Finance, Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College

Haley Tolitsky, CFP®
Haley Tolitsky, CFP®

Financial Planner at Cooke Capital

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Adriana Arismendi, MBA

Business Instructor

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Lecturer at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

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Michael Dixon

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Dr. James J. Carroll, CPA
Dr. James J. Carroll, CPA

Professor Emeritus

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Tufan Ekici

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About the Author


expert-profile

Holly Johnson is the co-founder of Club Thrifty, co-author of the book Zero Down Your Debt, and is recognized as one of the top credit card experts in the field. She is also a financial expert and award-winning writer who has traveled to over 40 countries and counting.

Holly's work has been featured in publications like The Wall Street Journal, CNN, and Fox Business. She is also a regular contributor to publications that include Business Insider, Bankrate, Money.com, LendingTree, U.S. News and World Report Travel, CreditCards.com, and more.


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*Rates or fees may vary or include specific stipulations. We recommend visiting the card issuer’s website for the most up-to-date information available.
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