Credit Cards

How To Choose A Rewards Credit Card

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 15 minute read

Credit cards that offer travel rewards aren’t one-size-fits-all. There are a few major groups they can be placed in. 

Credit cards can be broken down into several distinct types, such as those that offer bonuses for using the card to make purchases with a particular airline or network of airlines, those that offer bonuses for using the card to make hotel or other lodging purchases, and those that offer bonuses for spending in other travel-related categories, such as gas stations, restaurants, and hotels.

All of these cards have perks that frequent fliers can use. Moreover, if you own a small business, you may rest assured that many of the travel credit cards available to consumers also have small business credit card counterparts, typically with supplementary features and perks.

Top Credit Cards for Travel Rewards

A look at some of the top credit cards that offer travel benefits as of late. Examine each credit card’s annual cost, redemption possibilities and point or mile value for each, travel credits, and possibly important perks, such as free airport lounge memberships or hotel credits.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the best overall.

There is no better value among travel rewards credit cards than what the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card provides. The annual $50 credit applied to Chase Travel hotel bookings helps to reduce the $95 price by almost two-thirds. 

It’s supported by a fantastic loyalty program:

  • After your yearly $50 Ultimate Rewards hotel credit has been used up, you can earn 5x points on any eligible travel purchases made through Chase Travel.
  • Unlimited You can earn three times as many points at qualifying restaurants, on specific streaming service purchases, and at online grocery stores.
  • Unlimited Points earned on any other qualifying travel purchases are doubled.
  • The normal rate of accruing reward points is one point for each dollar spent.

Extra benefits only to Sapphire Preferred include:

  • Sign-up If you spend at least $4,000 on travel with Ultimate Rewards within three months, you will receive 60,000 extra points, which are equivalent to $750 in travel expenses.
  • Fees That Matter $95 yearly charge, no fees on foreign transactions

IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card has the best sign-up bonus.

There is currently a no better deal for new credit cardholders than the one provided by the IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card:

  • If you spend at least $3,000 on your new card within the first three months, you’ll get 140,000 bonus points. It’s equivalent to more than 10 free stays at moderate or lower-priced IHG hotels.
  • There is greater value here than 10 full award nights at intermediate or budget IHG resorts. Nearly 6,000 hotels and resorts are run by IHG in roughly 100 countries.

Included bonuses:

  • You can earn up to 26 times as many IHG points on eligible purchases made at IHG properties, depending on your membership tier.
  • Five times the points on all petrol stations, restaurants, and travel expenses, with no cap.
  • In addition to the base 1 point per dollar spent, you’ll get 3 points per dollar on the vast majority of your other transactions.
  • There is a $99 annual fee, but no additional charge for making foreign exchanges.
  • If you keep your account in good standing, you’ll be upgraded to the Platinum Elite level.
  • You’re entitled to one annual award night free at participating IHG properties.

Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card offers the best annual travel credit.

For qualified travel-related expenditures including hotels, flights, rental cars, and more, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card offers a $300 yearly travel credit. When used in full, it effectively lowers the yearly charge for Sapphire Reserve from $550 to $250.

Included bonuses:

  • Sign-up Earn 80,000 additional Ultimate Rewards points when you spend at least $4,000 within three months on qualifying products. When redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards website for the airline, lodging, and other travel-related expenditures, that can be worth up to $1,200.
  • Ten times as many points can be earned when booking certain hotels and rental vehicles with Chase Travel.
  • Earn five times as many total points when you book eligible flights with Chase Travel.
  • Unlimited 3x After using up the $300 travel credit, the majority of travel costs and permitted meals to result in a 3x total point reward.
  • Earn one point for each dollar spent on all other eligible items as your base reward.
  • A $550 yearly fee, a $75 annual cost per user and each card for approved users, and no international transaction fee are required.
  • To more than 10 travel loyalty partners, transfer Ultimate Rewards points 1:1.
  • Get free access to more than 1,000 airport lounges around the world with Priority Pass Select.
  • Obtain a free year of Lyft Pink (a $199 value).
  • Receive a $100 credit on your TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee.

The Citi Premier® Card has the best bonus categories.

When it comes to travel rewards credit cards, the Citi Premier® Card is one of the few that includes gas and gas station expenditures in its trip category, which earns 3x points for every $1 spent. That’s why it’s so convenient for visitors who want to drive themselves to and around their locations.

Furthermore, Citi Premier’s 3x points category now includes both dining establishments and grocery stores. Every person who consumes food will find that to be an excellent benefit.

Included bonuses:

  • Sign-up Spend $4,000 within the first three months and receive 60,000 bonus ThankYou points.
  • On top of the base rewards, you can earn 1 point for every dollar spent on anything else.
  • Fees That Matter $95 yearly charge, no fees on foreign transactions
  • If you stay at a qualifying hotel and spend $500 or more during your stay, you will receive a $100 hotel credit once every calendar year.
  • You can exchange your ThankYou points for travel with more than a dozen different reward programs, generally at a 1:1 ratio.

The Best for Frequent Travelers; The American Express Card for the Reserve Delta SkyMiles

For Delta devotees, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card provides a more compelling combination of perks than any other airline credit card. 

A few examples are as follows:

  • Admission to the Delta Sky Club is on the house (free airport lounge access).
  • Annually, you’ll receive a certificate for a free companion flight (minus taxes and fees) when you fly with us at a paid rate.
  • Increased speed on the path to Delta Medallion status, which can result in perks like free first-class and Comfort+ upgrades, free upgrades for traveling companions who purchase their own tickets, and reduced CLEAR® membership fees (terms apply and enrollment is required for all these benefits).
  • Standard perks for frequent fliers include shorter wait times, free checked bags, and faster boarding.

Included bonuses:

  • Multiply your SkyMiles by 3. Save three times as many SkyMiles on qualifying Delta purchases.
  • Standard Rewards: 1x SkyMiles on all other qualified purchases. 
  • After spending $30,000 on your card, you are eligible to receive 15,000 bonus Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost, and you can do so up to four times each year. 
  • The usual caveats apply.
  • There is no currency conversion fee and an annual fee of $550. (see rates and fees).

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express® Card is the best for elite status.

As long as your account is in good standing, the Marriott Bonvoy BrilliantTM American Express® Card will grant you Platinum Elite Status in the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program. Due to this, it is our go-to recommendation as the best credit card to receive free hotel elite status.

Included in the privileges of Platinum Elite Status are:

  • 50% more Bonvoy point earnings on stays at participating properties
  • A welcome gift of your choice at check-in
  • Complimentary on-site lounge access where available
  • Enhanced room upgrades where available
  • Late checkout (4 pm)

Included bonuses:

  • You can get 150,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after spending $5,000 in the first three months of card enrollment. However, there are certain exceptions.
  • The 6x Rewards Category provides six times the usual number of points for qualifying stays at certain Marriott hotels.
  • In addition to booking flights directly with airlines, you may earn three times as many points at any restaurant in the globe.
  • All other purchases earn double rewards points.
  • It’s important to note that there is a $650 annual cost, but no additional fee for making purchases from outside the country (see rates and fees).
  • The credit, which can be applied to your statement monthly at a maximum of $25 increments and annually at $300, is available at select eateries. Exceptions exist.
  • Free annual night’s stay at a participating Bonvoy hotel.
  • Free use of more than a thousand airport lounges worldwide (enrollment required).
  • Each year, Marriott will add $100 to your account if you stay at least two nights at a participating Marriott Bonvoy hotel.

The American Express Platinum Card® is the best option for luxurious benefits.

If you’re looking for a credit card with the best travel rewards, go no further than the American Express Platinum Card®. 

Included among the highlights are:

  • Every year, you get a $200 credit to use on the airline of your choice (enrollment required)
  • Ride credits for up to $200 per year on Uber (enrollment required).
  • Gold with Hilton Honors and Gold Elite with Marriott Bonvoy is provided free of charge (enrollment required).
  • Lounge access at over 1,300 airports around the world (via the American Express Global Lounge Collection) at no additional cost to you (enrollment required).
  • Benefit from complimentary accommodation upgrades and daily breakfast for two at participating Fine Hotels & Resorts Collection hotels, worth up to $550 per stay on average.
  • You can save up to $100 on the cost of applying for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck (enrollment required).

Included bonuses:

  • Promotional Bonus of $200,000 Bonus Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 in the first six months after account opening.
  • You can earn five times as many Membership Rewards points on airfare booked directly with an airline, flights booked through American Express Travel, and prepaid hotel stays booked through American Express Travel. The maximum amount of points you can earn per year to use toward airfare is 500,000.
  • Payments received after the due date will incur a $40 cost, and there is a $695 annual charge (with no AUP or fees for foreign transactions) (see rates and fees).

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express is the best option for business travelers.

The American Express Platinum Card® for Business is very similar to its Platinum Card® for Consumer Relatives. It was created especially for business travelers seeking the ideal balance of luxury and ease, and offers the following advantages:

  • When you book travel using Membership Rewards® points with your chosen qualified airline, you’ll receive a 35% bonus (up to 1 million additional Membership Rewards® points per calendar year).
  • A $200 yearly statement credit that can be applied to any purchases made with any airline of your choosing (enrollment required)
  • Access to more than 1,400 airport lounges for free globally (enrollment required)
    reimbursement for the application expenses for either Global Entry ($100) or TSA Precheck ($85), but not both, programs

Included bonuses:

  • Earn 120,000 Membership Rewards® points when you spend at least $15,000 on eligible purchases within three months of opening your account, as part of the welcome offer. The rules apply.
  • Booking flights directly with the airlines, flights through American Express Travel, and pre-paid hotel rooms made through American Express Travel all qualify as 5x Rewards Categories, meaning that you’ll earn 5x Membership Rewards points on these purchases.
  • Points earned in the 1.5x Rewards Areas are doubled for all purchases over $5,000 (with a $2 million annual cap) and all purchases made in the major business spending categories.
  • Your Pay Over Time purchase interest rate (APR) will be between 17.24% and 25.24% APR, depending on your creditworthiness and other factors considered at account opening. You have to play by the book.
  • There are no additional fees for making an overseas transaction and the $695 key charge covers it.
  • U.S. customers can receive annual refunds of $400 on Dell purchases (terms apply; enrollment required)

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is the best flat-rate card.

The rewards system for the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card couldn’t be easier to use. All eligible purchases earn limitless 2 miles for every $1 spent, with the exception of hotel and auto rental purchases made through Capital One Travel. That equates to a return of 2% per year on all investments.

  • Spend $4,000 on the card during the first three months of account opening and receive 75,000 bonus miles. When redeemed, it can be used to cover up to $750 in transportation costs.
  • When you book a hotel or vehicle rental via Capital One Travel, you’ll earn 5x the miles.
  • Unlimited All other purchases qualify for double miles, up to a maximum of two times the normal rate.
  • You can get a good exchange rate when you transfer your points to one of our travel loyalty partners.
  • The application price for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry is waived (up to $100) for a limited time.

The U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card is the best option for road trips.

With the U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card, qualified transactions at gas stations, EV charging stations, and auto rentals earn 4x the points of regular purchases. It qualifies as the best travel card for road trips with only that. (View fees & rates.)

Included bonuses:

  • Earn four times as many points on eligible travel-related purchases, such as accommodation and rental vehicles in addition to airfare.
  • Compared to other reward categories, streaming, eating out, grocery store, and grocery delivery purchases all yield two times as many points.
  • All other purchases earn an additional point at a rate of one point per dollar.
  • Sign-up Spend $2,000 on qualifying purchases within the first 120 days after account activation to receive 50,000 bonus points.
  • Key Fees There is no international transaction cost after the first year, which is free.
  • The annual fee is $95.
  • Per incident, coverage for cell phone damage is up to $600 (minus a $25 deductible).
  • For qualified streaming services like Netflix and Spotify®, you can receive up to $30 in annual statement credits.
  • You can get a cost reduction of up to $100 when applying for TSA PreCheck® or Global Entry®.

Rates and prices are subject to change. Terms and restrictions apply.

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card from Chase is the best for hotel stays.

If you frequently stay at Marriott hotels, you should definitely consider applying for the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card from Chase. 

Examples of advantages include:

  • At some Marriott hotels, you can earn as much as 17 Bonvoy points for every dollar you spend.
  • Spend the first $6,000 you spend annually on groceries, petrol, and eating, and you’ll get three Bonvoy points for every dollar.
  • You can get one free night at a partner hotel with as few as 35,000 points.
  • Instant Silver Elite status, which grants a 10% points bonus on qualifying Marriott purchases, among other perks.
  • Spend $35,000 a year on your Marriott Rewards credit card and receive Gold Elite status, which entitles you to a 25% points bonus on eligible Marriott purchases, among other perks.

Included bonuses:

  • Sign-up Three Free Night Awards can be earned for qualified purchases (each night is worth up to 50,000 points).
  • The base reward is a multiplier of 2 points per dollar spent.
  • Fees That Matter $95 yearly charge, no fees on foreign transactions

The Selection Process for the Best Travel Credit Cards

Credit cards for frequent flyers are ranked based on their performance across the 10 most significant criteria. Some are inherent to the card itself, such as the size and nature of any introductory offer for new cardholders and any bonuses that may be available (cash back, points, miles).

Some are directly tied to the card’s intended user base, such as regular flyers or road trippers, or hotel chain loyalists. Let me explain why they’re so crucial.

Sign-up Bonuses

These may be referred to as welcome offers, early spend bonuses, or new card member offers/bonuses, however, these terms vary by issuer.

Whatever you choose to name them, one thing is certain new cardholders in the travel credit card category might receive absurdly lucrative offers if they are able to meet often-heavy expenditure requirements. 

The IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card is our top selection for travel rewards cards since it offers enough of a bonus to cover more than a week’s worth of stays at participating hotels in the InterContinental Hotel Group.

Travel Credit

In what circumstances does a yearly charge not apply? When a yearly vacation credit offsets the cost one for one. In order to reduce your effective annual fee, you must spend at least the entire value of the annual travel credit on qualifying purchases made with your Cardmember Anniversary Year.

If you have a $500 yearly fee, for example, a $200 travel credit reduces that to $300, a $300 travel credit reduces that to $250, and so on.

Bonus Categories for Non-Travel

In addition to the standard rewards rate, many travel credit cards provide bonuses for spending on things other than travel. But not all playing cards are created equal in this regard. 

The Citi Premier® Card is our top selection because it offers 3x points in the following five spending categories:

  • Air travel
  • Hotels
  • Restaurants
  • Supermarkets
  • Gas stations

Two of these, restaurants and grocery stores, are plainly not travel-related, while the third is ambiguous (gas stations). The three distinct fields outside of travel and its peripheral industries are each sizable and widespread.

Benefits and Reward Programs for Frequent Flyers

Few frequent fliers rely solely on the ground for their transportation. It’s too slow, and the risks involved make it worse than flying. Therefore, we prioritize cards that provide frequent flyer privileges like elite status with co-branded airlines, priority boarding, and other in-flight and pre-flight bonuses.

Rewards and Advantages for Regular Hotel Visitors

You should get a travel credit card that gives you points for staying in hotels unless you plan to spend a lot of time in Airbnbs or have lots of friends and family in every place you visit.

The best travel credit cards typically provide one or more of the following perks:

  1. Progression to or maintenance of the elite level is expedited automatically
  2. Hotel stays with bonus points for qualifying purchases
  3. After your cardmember anniversary and/or after you’ve made your required annual purchases, you’ll receive one or more award nights (a free night’s stay).
  4. A free night is added to the conclusion of a qualifying stay (often four or five nights).

Road-Warrior Rewards and Advantages

You should look for a travel card that provides good value on gas purchases and has driver-friendly perks like free rental car insurance and 24/7 roadside help, regardless of whether you plan on doing any driving at all during your trip or not.

Elite Status 

Since elite status may have such a significant impact on the purchasing decisions of brand-loyal frequent flyers, it deserves special attention. Most premium travel credit cards with elite status have annual fees north of $400; but, if you travel more than you do at home, the card will more than pay for itself.

Luxury Advantages and Disadvantages

Travel cards that don’t fit neatly into the categories of airline cards or hotel cards can yet offer valuable incentives to frequent flyers and hotel guests. Pay close attention to the below-the-fold benefits of these cards, as they can be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars yearly if used to their maximum potential.

Advantages and Rewards for Business Travelers

A lot of the finest credit cards for business travelers have close relatives in the consumer market. The Business Platinum Card® from American Express immediately comes to mind as our top option in this category because of its similarity to our current favorite, The Platinum Card® from American Express.

Different Rewards

Points or miles earned on travel-related purchases can be exchanged for a variety of perks with many credit cards. Expenditure in certain categories or at certain spending tiers often those related to travel will result in increased rewards for cardholders.

However, several travel credit cards deviate from this norm. There are two main types of travel credit cards: those that offer a flat rewards rate on all spending and those that offer cash back, with the former being more common. There are two types of alternative cards that should be included on this list because of their popularity among casual vacationers.

How to Select the Most Effective Travel Credit Card

Air Travel Card was the first well-known travel rewards card. Elegant passengers have been able to purchase cheap tickets from participating airlines using the Air Travel Card since the 1930s on the condition that they will pay for it later.

Since then, we have advanced considerably. After accounting for inflation, air travel is significantly less expensive. But there are more potential decision points when there are more options. Because of this, it’s critical now more than ever to select the best travel rewards credit card.

Lacking a starting point? after looking at the cards here, think about:

  • Regardless of whether you’re ready to pay a yearly price
  • What your budget is for yearly fees, if you’re prepared to pay one, and whether you want to use an annual travel credit to offset it are all important details.
  • Whichever currency you pick for rewards: brand- or general-purpose
  • If you want to be able to transfer your miles or points to affiliated travel partners, you can do so.
  • What kinds of purchases qualify for additional awards
  • Any welcome bonuses offered by the cards to new cardholders
  • Any benefits you may use, such as hotel credits or access to an airport lounge

You’ll be much closer to determining which travel credit card suits your needs if you can answer these questions. There is only one thing left to do after making your choice: submit your application and hope for the best.

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