This article was updated on June 22, 2018.
Travel credit card sign-up bonuses have become a viral phenomenon recently with some garnering so much popularity that issuers couldn't churn out enough premium credit cards to meet demand. But premium rewards come with premium fees, and meeting long-term financial goals can come down to managing out-of-pocket costs well.
With this in mind, we ran through some of the most popular travel credit card offers on the market and hand-picked a select few that meet our criteria for a solid travel credit card: namely, flexible solutions that balance rewards and perks with fees.
Chase Sapphire Preferred®
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® is carried top of wallet for many travelers, because of its large sign-up bonus, premier perks, and laundry list of points transfer partners. New cardholders can qualify for 50,000 bonus points after spending at least $4,000 on new purchases in the first three months. Chase's Ultimate Rewards® program is where the real value may be as points can be stretched by 25% for travel redemptions, leaving you with a bonus worth $625 for travel. Travel and restaurant purchases also earn premium rewards at a rate of 2 points per dollar, while other purchases earn 1 point per dollar. Chase smartly kept the annual fee to a minimum at $95, which is waived for the first year. (Read our full review of Chase Sapphire Preferred®.)
BankAmericard Travel Rewards®
On the complete other side of the annual fee spectrum is BankAmericard Travel Rewards®, which offers cardholders what we think is one of the best travel credit card sign-up bonuses for a no annual fee card. Cardholders can qualify for an offer of 20,000 bonus points – redeemable for $200 in travel-related statement credits – after spending just $1,000 on new purchases in the first 90 days. It's worth noting that some cardholders may prefer redeeming rewards for statement credits, rather than through an issuer's portal, which allows you to search for cheap travel deals online then pay for them later with statement credits.
All new purchases earn 1.5 points per dollar, which can be increased to an overall yield of 2.62%. Current Bank of America clients qualify to earn up to 75% more rewards on purchases through the bank's Preferred Rewards program. This fully baked earnings rate at the premium tier is among the highest we've come across for no-annual-fee credit cards. (Read our full review of BankAmericard Travel Rewards®).
Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® flies under the radar of some cardholders but its new cardholder $500 bonus is among the best out there. Qualifying new cardholders spending at least $3,000 on new purchases in the first 90 days will earn the bonus, which can be redeemed for travel statement credits. All regular purchases earn 2 travel miles per dollar and, as expected for any traveler, doesn't charge pesky foreign transaction fees. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® also offers up an uncommon travel credit card perk – a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers. The price for these perks is $89, which is waived for the first year. (Read our full review of The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®).
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® credit card amps up cardholders' rewards, along with the annual fee. We include the card on our March list as it may be a fit for cardholders spending enough on credit to justify the fee each year. Notably Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers qualifying new cardholders 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on new purchases in the first three months. Sound similar? Chase Sapphire Preferred® includes the same point's bonus, but Chase Sapphire Reserve® brings a number of different perks. Points are worth 50% more when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, which works out to a $750 sign-up bonus for travel. Chase additionally offers a $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases on the card, plus 3 points per dollar for travel and restaurants, and 1 point per dollar on everything else, among other travel-centric features. These rewards come at a price of a $450 annual fee, which is not waived for the first year. We give the slight edge to Chase Sapphire Preferred® for most people, due to lower out-of-pocket costs, but recognize choosing between both may come down to your personal budget numbers. (Read our full review of Chase Sapphire Preferred®).