Looking over the sheer number of travel credit cards available is enough to overwhelm anyone. With so many cards offering points, miles or cash back, what should you look for in a new travel rewards credit card?
While having options is a good thing, trying to decide on the best travel rewards credit cards available can give you a difficult decision. When considering a new card, there are four factors you should consider before you hit the “apply now” button:
- No foreign transaction feesWhile up to 3% in foreign transaction fees may not sound like much, it can add over a quarter to every $10 you spend abroad. The best travel credit cards may not have foreign transaction fees.
- Good rewards for spendingFor every dollar you spend, you should earn rewards you can apply directly to your next trip: either flights, hotel rooms or other experiences.
- Sign-up bonusesMost cards offer a sign-up bonus after a required minimum spend to encourage people to apply for their card. The sign-up bonus should offer a substantial award that justifies the spending.
- Annual feeAlthough most cards come with an annual fee, the points or cash back you could earn should outweigh the cost.
Instead of getting lost looking for the perfect travel rewards card, start with this guide. We found the best travel cards for every lifestyle, each of which offer you some of the best rewards now and over time. If you want good travel rewards for the money you spend, consider adding these credit cards to your wallet.
Best travel cards for simple rewards
While earning points and miles can be rewarding, some of the best programs are simple and straightforward. When we looked for the best simple rewards credit cards, we looked for those that not only offered cash back, but also bonuses for spending and redeeming, along with a low annual fee. After considering all our options, these are the best travel rewards cards for simple rewards.
Best cashback travel rewards card
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®
Why we like it: If you don’t want to chase rotating categories or juggle which card is best for whatever spending you do, The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®
offers simple travel rewards. You will earn two miles per dollar spent on all purchases, with full chip and PIN capability outside the United States. Choose the flights, hotels and rental cars that work for you and pay for the charges to your card by redeeming miles. And when you redeem, you automatically get 5% back to use toward your next redemption.
Fees and terms
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® comes with an $89 annual fee, waived in the first year. Your variable APR for purchases will be 16.99%, 20.99% or 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
Instead of earning traditional airline miles, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® earns miles that can be applied as cash back to your travel expenses. Qualifying travel purchases include those made at airlines, hotels, campgrounds, car rental companies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites and more. Miles are worth one cent each.
- Easy to use rewardsThe Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® has one of the most easy-to-understand rewards programs available, with every point counting for one cent each. Instead of trying to figure out how many points you need for a flight, your available cash balance is always available and easy to understand.
- 5% miles back every time you redeemThe best part about using miles on this card is that you’ll always get 5% back. For example: if you were to redeem 50,000 points for a $500 airline ticket, you would get 2,500 points back (worth $25).
- Partial payment with miles allowedWhile some programs force you to either pay for your entire award with miles (or purchase more miles to cover your award), this card allows you to use your miles to pay off a portion of your travel expenses. How many miles you want to use is up to you.
- Annual fee for a cashback cardThe card is rather expensive for earning two miles per dollar toward travel. If you don’t travel abroad often, there are other cards that offer the same cash back with no annual fee.
- High redemption thresholds and miles won’t transfer to other programsIf you would rather travel in first class using airline loyalty program miles, you will be out of luck with this card. While most rewards programs offer transfers after 1,000 points and cash-equivalent rewards at 2,500 points, you have to have at least 10,000 miles to use them for a $100 reward. Furthermore, miles can only be used to pay for travel expenses on the card, and can’t be transferred to other airline partners.
- Poor value for everything not travel relatedWhile the earning two miles per dollar on all purchases is good when redeeming for travel, you shouldn’t use them to get gift cards or cash back. When using your miles for those options, you will lose 50% of your value in translation.
Best travel card for millennials
Uber Visa Card
Why we like it: The Uber Visa Card offers high cash back rewards at the places millennials spend the most — all restaurants (including UberEATS), travel, online shopping and streaming services — along with no foreign transaction fees and up to $600 in mobile phone protection with no annual fee. Plus, some of the bonus categories are the biggest in their category: no other credit card offers 4% cash back on all dining purchases. Conditions apply.
Fees and terms
This card has no annual fee, and your APR for purchases would be 15.99%, 21.74% or 24.74%, variable based on your creditworthiness.
The card offers cash back rewards for spending in four different categories:
- 4% cash back on restaurants, takeout, and bars, including UberEATS
- 3% cash back on airfare, hotels and vacation home rentals
- 2% cash back on online purchases including Uber, online shopping, video and music streaming services
- 1% cash back on all other purchases
Cash back can be used as statement credits, credits towards Uber rides, redeemed for gift cards or transferred to a bank account with a limit of $500 in transfers per day. Conditions apply.
- Big cash back categoriesOf all the cash back cards we have reviewed, the Uber Visa Card has the biggest rewards for both dining and online purchases. Using this card as your primary option for restaurants and digital shopping could help your rewards add up quickly.
- Up to $600 in mobile phone protectionWhile many cards offer travel insurance, not many offer cellphone insurance. If you pay your cellphone bill with your Uber Visa Card, you could qualify for $600 in protection for accidental damage or theft. Conditions apply.
- $50 online subscription service creditWho doesn’t have at least one online subscription service anymore? If you spend at least $5,000 in your cardmembership year, you automatically get a $50 credit for an online subscription you pay with your card.
- Limited transfer optionsWhile the cash back is good, The Uber Visa only has one transfer partner for their points right now: Uber. You can’t turn over your points into any other loyalty program, limiting their overall usage.
- Limited definition of “online purchases”The Uber Visa Card also comes with a very narrow definition of “online purchase” that qualifies for 2% cash back. If you make an online purchase through a mobile service (like Apple Pay or Samsung Pay) or a third party (like PayPal), it won’t count for bonus rewards.
- No travel insuranceAlthough you may get up to $600 in mobile phone protection, you won’t get any travel insurance benefits when paying for your next trip with this card. If your flight gets delayed or your luggage gets lost, your card won’t reimburse any of your expenses.
Best travel card with no annual fee
Discover it® Miles Travel Credit Card
Why we like it: While the Discover it® Miles Travel Credit Card compares closely to other cards with no annual fee, the details make this card a real winner. At the end of your first year, Discover automatically matches all of your earned miles, giving you double the travel purchasing power. The card also comes with strong back-end features, including free Social Security number alerts and FICO score checks.
Fees and terms
If you qualify for the promotion, your introductory purchase APR would be 0% for 14 months. Afterwards, your APR would range between 11.99% to 23.99% variable, based on your creditworthiness. There is no annual fee with this card.
The Discover it® Miles Travel Credit Card offers miles that can be used as cash back to pay for travel experiences. When you book trips using the Discover it® Miles card, you can redeem your miles towards statement credits on the trips, with no blackout dates. Your miles never expire as long as your card is active.
- Good credit security tools and customer serviceIn addition to having call centers based in the United States, this card also comes with solid credit security tools. These include free FICO credit scores, Social Security number alerts, Experian® credit report monitoring and the ability to freeze your credit card from the Discover mobile app or website.
- Wide acceptance in China and JapanIf you travel to Asia often, the Discover it® Miles Travel Credit Card may be your best bet for secure spending. Discover is accepted by China’s largest credit card network, UnionPay, and one of Japan’s largest payment processors, JCB.
- Matched miles in the first yearCurrently, no other company offers matched points or miles for your first cardholding year, effectively doubling your rewards. If you use this as your primary spending card, you could earn a lot of cash back towards travel.
- No transfer partnersAlthough doubled miles in the first cardholding year and unlimited rewards are great, you may not get to fly first class with them. Miles do not transfer to any airline partners – they can only be applied as cash back for travel expenses.
- No bonus categories for earning milesWhile other Discover cards offer rotating 5% cashback bonus categories quarterly, the Discover it® Miles Travel Credit Card offers no bonus categories. This means no matter where you use your card, you will always earn 1.5 points per dollar.
- Low miles earning after first yearWith no bonus categories, this means you may not earn very many miles after the first year. If you don’t travel to Asia often or don’t want to use your cash back for travel only, you could find more value out of other credit cards.
Best credit union travel card
Why we like it: We searched over 50 credit unions with few membership restrictions for the best travel rewards credit cards, and found it at First Tech Federal Credit Union. The Odyssey™ Rewards World Elite MasterCard® offers competitive bonus categories (three Rewards Points for every dollar spent on travel; two Rewards Points for every dollar spent on dining; one Reward Point for every dollar spent on all other purchases), but comes with a lower annual fee and interest rate than its competitors.
Fees and terms
The card comes with a $75 annual fee, which is waived in the first year. Your APR will be between 11.99% and 18.00% variable when you open your account, based on your creditworthiness. There are no international transaction fees, cash advance fees or balance transfer fees.
To apply for the card, you must be a member of First Tech Federal Credit Union, which requires you to work for a sponsor company, live in Lane County, Ore., or become a member of the Financial Fitness Association or the Computer History Museum. A membership share in the credit union is $5 (held in a membership savings account), a membership in the Financial Fitness Association is $8, and a membership to the Computer History Museum is $15.
Points earned with the card go towards the Scorecard Rewards program, which fulfills rewards. Your points can be used towards travel experiences including cruises, hotels, or car rental certificates, merchandise available in their catalog, or can be redeemed for cash back. While your points value may vary for awards, cash back rewards are valued at one cent per point.
- Strong bonus categoriesThe bonus categories offered by the Odyssey™ Rewards World Elite MasterCard® are comparable to other major rewards cards, because it offers three points per dollar spent on travel and two points pers dollar spent on dining. This gives it strong value with better terms for the cardholder.
- Flexible rewards optionsLike other programs, points earned on the Odyssey™ Rewards card can be used toward several different awards. Airfare, cruises, hotel certificates and car rental certificates are all available when you use your points and miles.
- Lower annual fee and APR than other cardsCredit unions often offer better terms to cardholders than banks, and this card is no exception. The APR may be lower on balances held on the card, and the annual fee is at least $20 less than other comparable cards.
- Points vary in valueThe two downsides about Odyssey™ Rewards points are that points vary in value, and they can’t be transferred to other airline partners. Because of this, using them for non-travel rewards may value them under one cent per point.
- Credit union membership requiredWhile the card is a good deal, you must be a member of the credit union to get the card. If you decide to take your money out of the credit union, your card could be canceled as well.
- Upfront membership feesThis card is subject to membership in the credit union and an associated organization. Before you can apply for this card, you have to pay $13 in fees.