Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards for January 2020

Lyle is a writer specializing in credit cards, travel rewards programs, and banking. His work has also appeared on MSN Money, USA Today, and Yahoo! Finance.

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Travel credit cards are a great way to gain rewards while you spend. With historically high rewards rates, it’s a great opportunity to consider how a travel rewards credit card could help you achieve your goals. There may be no better time for you to sign up for a new travel credit card than today. Travelers benefit when taking advantage of big sign-up bonuses, securing discounted cheap airfare, avoiding foreign and annual transaction fees, and gaining VIP access to airport lounges. See below for our top-rated cards, some of which are from our partners, and find the best choice for you.

Ratings Methodology
Popular pick
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

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On Chase's Secure Website.

Why Apply

One of the most popular travel cards for many reasons. This offer is practically a must-have for travelers seeking a big sign-up bonus and one of the best points programs available on the market.

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Top Perks:
  • 60,000 points sign-up bonus
  • 2 points per $1 for travel & dining
  • Flexible points transfer program
  • Annual Fee: $95
  • Regular APR: 17.49% - 24.49% Variable
  • Intro APR: Purchases: N/A Balance Transfers: N/A
Highlights
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • No delivery fees for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with a DashPass subscription from DoorDash -over a $100 value. Activate with your Chase Sapphire card by December 31, 2021.
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That's 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.
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Unlimited miles
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

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On Capital One's Secure Website.

Why Apply

Strikes a nice balance of high rewards and a big sign-up bonus with low fees. With a base travel rewards rate of 2 miles per $1 and TSA Pre✓® credits, this is a no-fuss travel rewards card that's hard to ignore

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Top Perks:
  • 50,000 miles sign-up bonus
  • 2 miles per $1
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual Fee: $0 intro for first year; $95 after that
  • Regular APR: 17.24% - 24.49% Variable
  • Intro APR: Purchases: N/A Balance Transfers: N/A
Highlights
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day.
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates. Plus transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Named ‘The Best Travel Card' by CNBC, 2018
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that
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No annual fee
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

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On Capital One's Secure Website.

Why Apply

Travel cards with no annual fee generally pull back on cardholder favorites, but this offer keeps those perks intact, making it a solid offer for cardholders not spending enough on credit to justify paying an annual fee.

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Top Perks:
  • 20,000 miles sign-up bonus
  • No annual fee
  • 0% intro APR offer
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Regular APR: 13.49% - 23.49% Variable
  • Intro APR: Purchases: 0%, for 12 months Balance Transfers: N/A
Highlights
  • $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
  • Earn 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Travel when you want with no blackout dates and fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
  • Enjoy 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months; 13.49% - 23.49% variable APR after that
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Apply Now
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On Bank of America's Secure Website.

Why Apply

No-annual-fee travel cards typically skimp on the sign-up bonus, but this card delivers with its market-leading intro bonus offer, unlimited rewards on spending, and other wallet-friendly perks.

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Top Perks:
  • Unlimited 1.5 points per $1
  • Big intro bonus offer
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Regular APR: 16.49% - 24.49% Variable
  • Intro APR: Purchases: 0%, 12 billing cycles Balance Transfers: N/A
Highlights
  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire
  • 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases
  • Use your card to book your trip how and where you want - you're not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions
  • Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees
  • 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases. After the intro APR ends, 16.49% - 24.49% Variable APR will apply
  • If you're a Preferred Rewards member, you can earn 25% - 75% more points on every purchase
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Apply Now
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On Bank of America's Secure Website.

Why Apply

The bonus offer, premium travel & dining rewards, and up to $200 in travel-related statement credits make this a compelling offer for travelers who can justify paying an annual fee.

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Top Perks:
  • 2 points per $1 for travel & dining
  • Big bonus offer
  • Up to $200 in travel credits
  • Annual Fee: $95
  • Regular APR: 17.49% - 24.49% Variable
  • Intro APR: Purchases: N/A Balance Transfers: N/A
Highlights
  • Receive 50,000 bonus points - a $500 value - after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • Earn unlimited 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases and unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • If you're a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member, you can earn 25%-75% more points on every purchase
  • No limit to the points you can earn and your points don't expire
  • Redeem for cash back as a statement credit, deposit into eligible Bank of America® accounts, credit to eligible Merrill accounts, or gift cards or purchases at the Bank of America Travel Center
  • Get up to $200 in combined airline incidental and airport expedited screening statement credits + valuable travel insurance protections
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees
  • Low $95 annual fee
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Apply Now
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On Discover's Secure Website.

Why Apply

A fit for occasional travelers, this card's most valuable perks are unlimited 1.5 miles per $1, no foreign transaction fees, and double miles earned in the first year

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Top Perks:
  • 1.5 Miles per $1
  • Double Miles in the first year
  • No annual fee
  • FICO® Score for free
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Regular APR: 13.49% - 24.49% Variable
  • Intro APR: Purchases: 0%, 14 months Balance Transfers: 10.99%, 14 months
Highlights
  • UNLIMITED BONUS: Discover will match ALL the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. That’s $700 towards travel! The more you earn, the more you get.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases - with no annual fee.
  • No Blackout Dates. Simply pay for travel purchases like airlines, hotels, rental cars, and more with your Discover it® Miles card.
  • Miles Pay You Back. Easily redeem Miles as a statement credit for travel purchases. Or get cash.
  • Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
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Rates & Fees
Apply Now
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On Chase's Secure Website.

Why Apply

With a huge sign up bonus and massive on going rewards rate of 3x points per $1 on business essentials this card is a home run for businesses that spend a lot and want to maximize their rewards.

Top Perks:
  • 80,000 points bonus
  • Up to 3x points per dollar
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual Fee: $95
  • Regular APR: 17.74% - 22.74% Variable
  • Intro APR: Purchases: N/A Balance Transfers: N/A
Highlights
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Redeem points for travel, cash back, gift cards and more - your points don't expire as long as your account is open
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • $95 Annual Fee
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Apply Now
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On Capital One's Secure Website.

Why Apply

One of the best cards for businesses looking to capitalize on a travel reward for their everyday purchases. With a big sign up bonus, 2x miles, and low fees, it is a great choice for jet-setting small businesses.

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Top Perks:
  • Big bonus
  • Unlimited 2x miles
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual Fee: $0 intro for first year; $95 after that
  • Regular APR: 18.49% Variable
  • Intro APR: Purchases: N/A Balance Transfers: N/A
Highlights
  • Earn a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles – equal to $500 in travel – once you spend $4,500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, everywhere, no limits or category restrictions, and miles won't expire for the life of the account
  • Earn 5X miles on hotel and rental car bookings through Capital One Travel℠ using a Spark Miles card
  • Transfer your miles to 10+ leading travel loyalty programs like JetBlue™, Air Canada, and Emirates™
  • Redeem your miles instantly for any travel-related purchases, from flights and hotels to ride-sharing services
  • Fly through security with one statement credit for either the $85 TSA Pre✓® application fee or the $100 Global Entry application fee
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that
  • Free employee cards which also earn unlimited 2X miles from their purchases
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Apply Now
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On American Express' Secure Website.

Why Apply

The high annual fee is justifiable for frequent travelers who can take full advantage of a deep bench of valuable perks, including the big welcome bonus and lucrative annual travel credits.

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Top Perks:
  • 60,000 points welcome offer
  • 5x points per $1 on qualifying travel
  • $200 airline fee credit
  • Annual Fee: $550
  • Regular APR: N/A
  • Intro APR: Purchases: N/A Balance Transfers: N/A
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: None
Highlights
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
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Rates & Fees
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They say travel is good for the soul, but it's not always good for your bank account -- unless, that is, you're traveling for free. And with all the excellent travel rewards credit cards on the market, it's easier than ever to get free airfare and hotel stays.

Although travel cards can be complicated, we have a crash course on them here. You'll learn how travel cards and the points they earn work, how to pick the right travel card for you, and how you can earn the most possible points once you've gotten a card.

What should I look for in a travel rewards card?

Vetting and comparing credit cards before you apply is very important to ensure you're getting the best card for your lifestyle. Travel credit cards typically offer perks such as bonus miles on travel, discounts on global entry and TSA Pre-Check, and more. Although we used a range of factors to decide on the best travel cards, there are a few that played the biggest role:

Rewards rates and sign-up bonuses

A card that earns a lot of points will open up more travel opportunities for you. The best credit cards will have high rewards rates on your spending, big sign-up bonuses, or ideally, both of the above.

Reward redemption options

We looked for cards that make it easy to redeem your points for the travel that you want, while still getting a good value from those points in the process.

Travel benefits

These may include credits for certain types of travel purchases, access to airport lounges, or complimentary hotel perks, to name just a few.

How do travel credit cards work?

Travel rewards credit cards earn points when you spend money, and you can then redeem those points for travel. There are two ways you’ll earn points:

Get points for everyday spending

Each time you buy something using your credit card, you’ll earn a certain number of points. Some travel cards earn a flat rate regardless of what the spending category is. Others earn different amounts based on the spending category of the purchase, such as travel and dining.

Receive big sign-up bonuses

Most popular travel cards include a sign-up bonus that you get if you meet a spending minimum. Sign-up bonuses are a popular incentive banks use to get new customers, and they’re the fastest way you can earn points.

Is a travel card right for you?

If you’re on the fence about getting a travel card, there are three signs that this would be the right type of credit card for you.

You travel at least once per year

You’ll need to travel to make use of your rewards and any travel perks your credit card has. Otherwise, you won’t be able to use your card to its full potential and you’d be better off looking at cash-back cards.

Your credit score is good or excellent

For the most part, travel credit cards are only available to applicants who have at least a good credit score. It’s possible to get approved if you’re not quite there, but you may want to look at credit cards for fair credit or wait and build your credit score instead.

You pay your credit card bill in full

Interest on credit card balances will almost always cost you more than the travel rewards you earn. A credit card isn’t really a good choice for carrying a balance, but if you need to do that, low-interest credit cards are a much better option than travel cards.

How do I choose a travel rewards card?

The first thing to figure out when selecting a travel card is how much of an annual fee you’re willing to pay. Here’s an idea of what the typical annual fee ranges are for travel cards:

  • No annual fee -- Most travel cards charge an annual fee, but there are exceptions.
  • $50 to $100 -- This is the most popular price range for travel cards, and you can find plenty of quality options here that balance benefits with affordability.
  • $200 and above -- At this price range, you have the premium credit cards with the longest lists of features. Despite the higher costs of these cards, they can be worth it for frequent travelers.

After that, you can check out the cards in that price range and see which ones have benefits that will work best for you. In particular, you’ll want to consider the following features:

  • Rewards rates -- You may want a card that earns either a high flat-rate back on all your spending or has bonus categories that earn more rewards. If you’re interested in cards with bonus categories, then you’ll need to find one that earns bonus points in categories where you frequently spend money.
  • Sign-up bonuses -- You’ll obviously want the most possible bonus points, but you should also check that you can meet the spending minimum on a card’s sign-up bonus.
  • Point redemption options -- Whether you want to use your points for fixed-rate redemptions or award bookings, make sure that you can do so with the card you choose. If you want to make award bookings with a specific airline or hotel, then you’ll either want to get that company’s credit card or a card with points you can transfer to that company.

How to maximize your travel rewards

Once you’ve received your travel rewards credit card, you can get the most out of it in a few steps.

Spend enough to earn the sign-up bonus

One of the biggest mistakes with travel cards is failing to get a sign-up bonus and seeing tens of thousands of points go down the drain. Keep track of how much time you have left and how close you are to getting your bonus. You can always contact your card issuer to ask about this if you’re unsure.

Make sure to pay the statement balance every month

All that money you’re saving with travel rewards will be wiped out if you carry a balance and need to pay interest charges. You won’t incur any interest if you pay your statement balance every month.

Know and use your card’s travel perks

You can miss out on a lot of value if you don’t know what benefits your card offers. For example, many cards now offer a credit for a Global Entry membership that can save you all kinds of time at the airport, but you can only take advantage if you’re aware of that perk.

Put all your purchases on your credit card

Here’s a simple one -- when you have a travel card, stop paying with your debit card or cash. Those won’t earn you a thing back. It makes much more sense to pay with your credit card, earn your points, and then pay off your credit card when the bill is due.

Only use your points for travel redemptions

With some travel cards, you’ll have a plethora of options regarding how you use your points. The most important thing to remember about redemptions is that you should use your points exclusively for travel. Other types of redemptions, such as cash back or merchandise purchases in points, just don’t offer nearly as much bang for your buck (or in this case, your point).

FAQs

  • Travel rewards credit cards are better for people who either travel regularly or want to be able to travel more or save money on travel by redeeming rewards for flights, hotels, cruises, activities, and more.

    Cash back credit cards are better for people who aren't interested in traveling or prefer to earn rewards they can spend on a wide range of purchases.

    In general, the best travel credit cards tend to offer slightly more valuable rewards than the best cash back credit cards, but travel rewards are more limited when it comes to redemption. Travel rewards can also be harder to earn for some people, as travel rewards credit cards usually offer bonuses on travel spending and sometimes dining.

    If you don't spend in those categories, a cash back credit card might be the best option, as those can offer bonuses on a wider variety of spending categories, including gas, supermarkets, and office supplies.

  • It's hard to qualify for a travel credit card with no credit as the best travel credit cards usually require a credit score of 670 or higher. If you want a travel credit card and have no credit, it's best to get a secured credit card to build up a history of on-time payments before applying for a travel rewards credit card.

    You may also be able to qualify for a cash back credit card with no credit, as there are several rewards credit cards offering cash back that are geared toward students and consumers with no credit.

  • Redeeming your travel rewards depends on the card company and the type of card you have.

    Here are the ways that you can cash in your rewards:

    Fixed-rate redemptions

    You get a set value for your points and can apply them towards any travel purchase. If you have a card that gets you $0.01 per point on travel redemptions, then 30,000 points could pay for $300 in travel expenses. These redemptions are fast and easy, and you can always count on getting a consistent value for your points.

    Booking award airline tickets and hotel stays with points

    You book airfare or a hotel stay and pay the points price instead of the cash price. In some cases, points prices can offer a much better value than cash prices, like when a $1,000 business-class ticket only costs 30,000 points, getting you well over $0.03 per point.

    You can book travel with points when you have a credit card with a specific airline or hotel. These are also an option when you have a card that lets you transfer your points to multiple airline and hotel transfer partners.

    Both

    It's getting more common for banks to offer points you can either redeem at a fixed rate or transfer to travel partners for award bookings. In fact, American Express, Capital One, Chase, and Citi all offer travel cards that include both redemption options.

    Having multiple ways to redeem your points can help you book the travel you want and get the most value in the process, so several of our top travel cards are the ones that offer this.

The Ascent's picks for the best travel rewards credit cards:
Card Travel Reward Great For…
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Graphic of Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Travel Reward:

60,000 points bonus

Great For:

Sign-up bonus and points transfers

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card Graphic of Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card Travel Reward:

$500 travel bonus, 2 miles per $1

Great For:

Sign-up bonus

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card Graphic of Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card Travel Reward:

$200 bonus + No annual fee

Great For:

No annual fee

Bank of America® Travel Rewards Visa® credit card Graphic of Bank of America® Travel Rewards Visa® credit card Travel Reward:

25,000 bonus points + No annual fee

Great For:

No annual fee

Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Visa® credit card Graphic of Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Visa® credit card Travel Reward:

50,000 bonus points

Great For:

Premium travel

Discover it® Miles Graphic of Discover it® Miles Travel Reward:

Matching miles

Great For:

No annual fee and bonus

Ink Business Preferred Credit Card Graphic of Ink Business Preferred Credit Card Travel Reward:

80,000 bonus points

Great For:

Business travel

Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business Graphic of Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business Travel Reward:

Up to 200,000 miles

Great For:

Business travel

The Platinum Card® from American Express Graphic of The Platinum Card® from American Express Travel Reward:

60,000 points

Great For:

Airport lounges

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