The best travel credit cards of 2021: Reviewed

Shante Abdo

Table of Contents Things to know about travel credit cardsHow we evaluatedBest overall: Chase Sapphire Preferred CardCapital One VentureOneAmerican Express Gold CardChase Sapphire ReserveCapital One VentureThe Platinum Card from American ExpressIHG Rewards Club PremierCiti PremierChase Freedom UnlimitedHow many credit cards should you have?What is a good APR for a credit card?How […]

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Got a getaway on the brain? As vaccination rates climb and international borders open, some of us are looking to safely get out there. And you might want to do it with one of the best travel credit cards in hand, too.

Whether you’re looking for airline miles, a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit or a flexible rewards program that doesn’t box you in, there’s something for every type of traveler. Even the ones who only cash in on their vacation days every once in a blue moon.

Reviewed’s experts poured through dozens of credit card terms to find the best travel rewards credit cards. Start packing your bags.

Things to know about travel credit cards

  • Big-time rewards can mean big-time annual fees. If you’re paying to keep a card in your wallet, its benefits should outweigh the cost. With travel rewards credit cards, the annual fees are often wiped out by annual travel credits—as an example, see the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card—but take a look to make sure you find them relevant.
     
  • Credit cards often carry foreign transaction fees. They’re usually around 3% and can add a significant cost to international trips. All but one of the cards on this list—our pick for infrequent travelers—skip this charge to save you money.
     
  • Travel cards are marketed to those with good-to-excellent credit scores because of the high rewards potential. We put together these recommendations with that in mind. Banks have final say on who they accept for a credit card and APR rates and credit limits vary based on your creditworthiness.
     
  • As with any credit card, we recommend paying your balance on time and in full each month. This avoids interest charges and late payment fees and maintains a healthy credit history. As always, read a card card’s full terms and conditions before applying.

How we evaluated

We looked at dozens of cards’ earning potential and redemption options, prioritizing flexibility and the ability to transfer rewards to partner airlines and hotels at valuable rates.

We also considered other perks that make sense while you’re traveling, from travel accident insurance to coverage for delayed, damaged or lost baggage. Dining benefits also scored big in our book, for those who enjoy exploring the restaurant scene when away from home.

Lastly, we looked into foreign transaction fees, as they can add 3% to purchases made abroad.

Best overall: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred has been a favorite travel credit card for its top-notch benefits and flexible points since it was introduced more than a decade ago. And today it’s still the No. 1 credit card for many types of travelers.

Cardholders earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be redeemed for nearly any type of excursion: flights, hotel stays, car rentals, cruises and more. It can meet your travel whims for a reasonable $95 annual fee. Plus, Chase currently offers a MEGA sign-up bonus that’s worth more than $1,000 in its travel portal.

Points: The Sapphire Preferred Card earns 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining purchases and those categories have broad definitions. Think airfare, hotels, motels, car rentals, cruise vacations, camping excursions and help from travel agents. It also covers transportation such as trains, buses, taxis and even tolls and parking. Dining purchases extend to fast food joints, fine restaurants, coffee shops, takeout and eligible delivery services. For everything between, purchases earn 1 point per dollar.

If you just want cash back, Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed at a rate of 1 point for $0.01. But take note: You’ll get your most bang for your buck using Ultimate Rewards through Chase’s travel portal where you can book hotels, cruises, car rentals, vacation rentals and more with a value of 1.25 cents per point ($0.0125). So, 10,000 points could put a cool $100 back in your bank account or cover a $125 night in an eligible hotel.

If you want to transfer points to another loyalty program, you have that option, too. And the good news is that points have the same value at a wide range of Ultimate Rewards partners such as JetBlue, Southwest and United, and hotels include popular chains like Hyatt, IHG and Marriott..

Perks: At the moment Chase offers a major sign-up bonus—its best ever—for new cardholders: Spend $4,000 within the first three months of account opening, and you’ll earn 100,000 points. Yes, 100,000. That’s a $1,000 statement credit or a whopping $1,250 if you book travel through the issuer’s portal—potentially one, two or three (!) round trips depending on your destination.

Year-round, there’s a laundry list of perks, including travel accident insurance and trip cancellation/interruption insurance. You can be reimbursed for toiletries, clothing and other essentials if your baggage is delayed more than six hours. And if your suitcase arrives damaged or is lost, there’s coverage for that, too.

The Sapphire Preferred also offers primary car rental insurance coverage so you can avoid paying extra for insurance with the rental company. If something happens to your rental car, you won’t have to first make a claim with your own insurance policy.

Last but not least, it lacks foreign transaction fees, which is key to saving up to 3% when traveling internationally.

Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred

Capital One VentureOne

The VentureOne has an uncomplicated program that rewards you with miles for every purchase, and there’s even an introductory bonus that can offer a windfall for your next trip. Best of all, it’s one of the few no-annual-fee cards that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.

Depending on your credit score, you’ll qualify for a Visa Platinum or Visa Signature card (which comes with a handful of additional benefits like travel accident insurance and lost luggage reimbursement).

Points: Cardholders earn 1.25 miles per dollar spent across the board and 5 miles per dollar on hotels and car rentals through Capital One’s portal.

There’s three ways to redeem rewards:

  • Within 90 days of making travel reservations, you can apply Capital One’s Purchase Eraser to receive an account credit for airfare, hotel nights, train tickets, cruises, travel agents and more.
     
  • You can arrange for flights, hotels and car rentals through Capital One’s Rewards Center.
     
  • Transfer your miles to more than a dozen loyalty programs such as Air Canada, British Airways and JetBlue. Capital One recently introduced new 1:1 partners, including Wyndham Rewards.

Perks: There’s 0% introductory APR for 12 months on new purchases—after which a variable rate (15.49% to 25.49%) applies—and you can also rack up 20,000 miles if you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months.

If you like what you’re reading, you may also want to consider the Capital One Venture. It does carry a $95 annual fee, but it comes with a higher rewards rate and even credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck applications.

Learn more about the Capital One VentureOne

American Express Gold Card

Are you willing to pay a little more than the $95 per year but don’t want to go all in on a card with a $500 annual fee? Enter the AmEx Gold. It comes with a $250 price tag, but you can virtually knock out the annual fee if you take advantage of various credits. Plus, you’ll have access to sweet travel perks, including professionals who can help square away hotel reservations and transportation. See rates and fees.

Points: The AmEx Gold earns 4X points on restaurants anywhere in the world and 4X points at U.S. supermarkets—a great rate any day of the year, whether you’re at home or stocking a vacation rental’s fridge. (Be mindful of the spending cap, but it’s fairly high at $25,000 per year. You can spend nearly $500 on the weekly errand and fit under it.)

You’ll also earn 3X points on travel booked directly with an airline as well as airfare purchased through the issuer’s rewards portal. For everything between, you’re looking at 1X points.

When it comes to redemption options, travelers can transfer to airline or hotel partners such as Aer Lingus, Etihad Guest and Hawaiian Airlines or as a statement credit or gift card. There’s always the option to book through AmEx Travel, too.

Perks: If you run into any trouble, there’s coverage for lost or damaged baggage, credits for meals and lodging if your trip is delayed more than 12 hours and car rental damage insurance. Plus, when you’re more than 100 miles away from home, the Global Assist hotline is a phone call away to help with replacing passports and medical or legal emergencies.

There are no foreign transaction fees, though of course, American Express cards are not accepted everywhere overseas. See rates and fees.

Learn more about the American Express Gold Card

Chase Sapphire Reserve

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a premium travel credit card with incredibly valuable benefits. No surprise: It has a steep $550 annual fee. But its excellent returns quickly make it worthwhile for those who like to travel in style.

Points: The Sapphire Reserve offers 3 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on travel after you spend $300 in the category (which is reimbursed with an annual credit). It also earns 3 Ultimate Rewards points on dining (restaurants, casual eateries and coffee shops) and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

Ultimate Rewards points can be used to book hotels, cruises, car rentals, vacation rentals and tourist activities directly through Chase’s travel portal where they’re worth 1.5 cents each ($0.015).

So, a cross country flight that would cost you $500 on an airline’s website would only cost 37,500 points (worth $375 if redeemed for cash) if you bought it through Chase’s travel portal. For additional flexibility, you can combine points with your frequent flyer miles at certain programs, including Emirates, Singapore Airlines, JetBlue and more. There’s three hotel partners: Hyatt, IHG and Marriott.

Perks: The Sapphire Reserve offers a $300 travel credit each year, where the first $300 in travel purchases (from taxi fares to hotels and flights) made on your card will be refunded via a statement credit, effectively reducing the annual fee to $250.

You’ll benefit from trip delay coverage, trip cancellation coverage and lost and damaged baggage coverage. In other words, you get away without purchasing additional travel insurance, including when renting a car. Primary car rental insurance covers up to $75,000 in physical damages or theft, meaning you don’t have to make a claim to your own insurance policy first.

You’ll also receive credit for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application every four years and a Priority Pass Select Membership that gives you access to more than 1,200 airport lounges across the world. These travel benefits can save you time and hassle, and maybe keep you a little saner, when you’re dealing with the madness of an airport.

Finally, the Chase Sapphire Reserve doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees for purchases made abroad, an absolute must if you plan to travel internationally.

Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve

Capital One Venture

Is your head spinning from calculating points, tracking categories and doing the math on transfer values? The Capital One Venture is a straightforward travel rewards credit card, and it should serve you well whether you’re on the go or stuck at home.

We’re especially encouraged by recent developments, as the issuer has announced new hotel and airline partners, introduced a 1:1 transfer tier, and it’s slated to open its own airport lounges in Dallas Fort Worth and Dulles.

Points: You’ll earn an unlimited 2X miles for every purchase you make. Those miles can be redeemed on airfare, hotel stays or transferred to more than a dozen loyalty programs. Some partners—such as JetBlue—are at a lower rate, but others carry the same value.

Perks: Capital One is offering 50,000 bonus miles if you spend $3,000 within the first three months. Better yet: If new cardholders spend $20,000 in the first 12 months, they can earn an additional 50,000 miles, for a total of 1000,000 bonus miles.

You can take this card overseas with no foreign transaction fees and rest easy with travel accident insurance. Plus every four years you can be reimbursed for up to $100 on Global Entry or TSA Pre Check fees to breeze through the airport. Renting a car? There’s an auto damage waiver that covers collision and theft.

Learn more about the Capital One Venture

The Platinum Card from American Express

The Platinum Card plugs you into AmEx’s excellent travel concierge service, which is like having a personal travel agent a phone call away, no matter where you are in the world. Likewise, this card is a good option for frequent flyers who’d like to make use of American Express’s best-in-class Centurion Lounges, with a dozen U.S. locations and more opening across the globe.

The high-end perks unsurprisingly come with a high price tag: a $550 annual fee. You’ll definitely want to use it often to make it worthwhile. Luckily, there are plenty of credits that can help soften the blow.

American Express cards aren’t widely accepted outside of the U.S.—typically only at international locations of U.S.-based hotel and restaurant chains and sometimes high-end stores. That said, wherever you can use it, the Platinum avoids foreign transaction fees. See rates and fees as terms apply.

Points: The Platinum Card offers 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar on airfare purchased directly from airlines or through AmEx Travel. (There’s a $500,000 spending cap for this category.) Cardholders also earn 5 points per dollar when booking prepaid hotel stays through amextravel.com, and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

Additionally, during the first six months of a new account, the Platinum Card offers 10 points per dollar on up to $15,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations.

These points can be redeemed through AmEx Travel with a value of 1 cent each ($0.01) or they can be transferred to American Express partners like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Marriott Bonvoy.

Perks: As you’d expect, a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee is covered when it’s paid for with the card and you can enroll in a Priority Pass Select membership to gain entry to more than 1,300 airport lounges worldwide. You’ll also have access to American Express’ Centurion Lounges (currently 12 within the U.S., plus several international lounges, with more opening every year) and Delta’s lounges when you fly with the airline.

Travel concierges can assist Platinum cardholders with restaurant reservations, concert tickets and more anywhere in the world. And with the Fine Hotels + Resorts programs, cardholders receive an average of $550 worth of complimentary perks such as late check-out and room upgrades. The Amex Platinum also offers $200 annually in Uber credits ($15 per month, $20 in December) but only for use in the U.S.

Learn more about the Platinum Card from American Express

IHG Rewards Club Premier

If you hop from hotel to hotel, there are plenty of cards that will accommodate your needs. IHG loyalists have their pick of more than 5,000 properties at a range of price points. The brand includes chains like the luxe Kimpton and InterContinental hotels and more budget-friendly options like Holiday Inns.

If these are your go-to hotels, the IHG Rewards Club Premier credit card stands out for its perks. It has an $89 annual fee, though one benefit alone—the free night certificate—can easily cover the cost. Not to mention, it includes a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck reimbursement.

Points: You’ll get up to 25 points per dollar spent at IHG hotels and 2 points at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants. All other purchases earn 1 point per dollar.

When you redeem your IHG points for a stay that’s four consecutive nights or longer, you’ll get your fourth night free (in effect, a 25% discount). This can be applied to an unlimited number of trips in one year.

Perks: This Chase card automatically gives you high-level Platinum Elite status with InterContinental Hotels Group. That means you get benefits like late checkout, 50% more points when you stay at IHG hotels and room upgrades. While this isn’t the chain’s highest tier, we’re not ones to complain about a few more hours to lounge in a hotel bed.

The IHG Premier Card also offers a TSA PreCheck–Global Entry fee credit of up to $100 every four years. Simply charge your application fee to your card and you’ll be reimbursed with a statement credit. And you don’t need to worry about foreign transaction fees either.

Finally, every year you’ll be given an anniversary credit for a free night. It can be used for rooms that cost up to 40,000 points, which can easily be worth $200 per night. Just by using this certificate each year, this card could pay for itself.

Learn more about the IHG Rewards Club Premier

Citi Premier

Experts and consumers regularly mention the Citi Premier as a worthy travel credit card, but it also is valuable when you’re filling up at the pump. Plus, it earns flexible rewards that can be redeemed for cash back, used to book travel directly through Citi or transferred to Citi’s airline partners, including JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic. All this is yours for a $95 annual fee.

Points: The Citi Premier earns 3 ThankYou points per dollar spent on airline travel, hotel stays and at gas stations. You’ll get that top rate at restaurants and supermarkets, too, and 1 ThankYou point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

If you redeem your ThankYou points for cash back, they are worth one cent each ($0.01). Transfer your points to Citi’s partners and the value can be significantly more or less, depending on the current dollar cost of the flight. The mile cost for flights booked with travel partners is generally static, so if the dollar cost is up, you could save with transferred miles.

Perks: For one, you’ll never be charged foreign transaction fees when you travel abroad. And once a year, you can receive $100 off an eligible hotel stay that’s booked through Citi. Cardholders can also earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within three months of opening their account.

Learn more about the Citi Premier

Chase Freedom Unlimited

Perhaps now that you’ve dug deeper into the world of travel credit cards, you’ve realized you don’t spend enough on airfare or hotel nights to rack up rewards. In that case, we think the Freedom Flex is a worthy option.

It pays to use for everyday shopping and adds a boost when booking travel through Chase. And because there’s no annual fee, you won’t have to pay for adding it to your wallet—as long as you pay your bill on time and in full, that is.

Points: When cardholders book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, they earn 5% on those flights, hotel stays, car rentals and more.

Beyond that, you earn 3% at restaurants whether you’re trying a hot spot around the corner from your hotel or headed to your local haunt. The rate also applies to takeout and eligible delivery services as well as drugstore purchases. That’s money in your pocket when you’re stocking up on TSA-compliant toiletries on the eve of a flight, buying SPF once you’ve touched down at a resort or even a weeknight run for toilet paper.

Any other purchases will earn an unlimited 1.5%.

Perks: Despite not being a travel card, the Freedom Flex does come with a few benefits for when you’re on the road. Take advantage of an auto rental collision damage waiver, trip cancellation/interruption insurance and travel emergency services for legal and medical assistance.

Keep in mind: This is the only card on the list with a foreign transaction fee. But the Freedom Unlimited is a low maintenance, straightforward option that may work for infrequent travelers who stick to exploring the U.S.

Learn more about the Chase Freedom Unlimited

Please note: The offers mentioned above are subject to change at any time and some may no longer be available.

Reviewed has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Reviewed and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

See rates and fees for the American Express Gold Card. See rates and fees for The Platinum Card from American Express.

How many credit cards should you have?

  • We hate to break it to you, but there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. The right number of credit cards for you depends on what you can responsibly manage.
     
  • Does having a piece of shiny plastic an arm’s length away often encourage you to spend money you don’t have? You may want to think twice before applying for more credit. Carrying a balance you can’t afford contributes to interest charges, and in the long run costs you more money.
     
  • If you’re financially responsible and stick to making purchases that you can pay off, there may be some upsides to adding another card to your arsenal. For instance, if you’re a jet-setter without a card that rewards you for hitting the road, a travel card may make sense for you.
     
  • There are a few other things to consider before opening a new account, like adding a different payment processing network or taking note of any annual fees.

What is a good APR for a credit card?

  • Credit card annual percentage rates range from 13% to 25%, with the national average in January 2021 around 16%. Credit cards marketed for applicants with bad credit tend to be on the higher side, as do credit cards with rewards programs.
     
  • Before you submit an application, you can see this range in the cardmember agreement. You won’t know the rate until you’re approved, as it’s determined by the issuer based on your creditworthiness. The higher your credit score, the lower the rate you can expect. Remember that with a variable rate, an issuer can change the interest it charges at any time—and, per your cardmember agreement, it may not have to notify you.
     
  • An issuer may charge a different APR for purchases, balance transfers and cash advances. It may even offer an introductory rate that includes zero interest for a period of 12 to 18 months. Lastly, a penalty APR may kick in if you’re late for a payment, exceed your credit limit or break other terms and conditions laid out by the issuer.
     
  • We’ll say it till we’re blue in the face: Pay off your balance each month and you won’t have to think about interest.

How does credit card interest work?

  • Despite the term “annual percentage rate,” credit card issuers calculate interest daily. The daily periodic rate is determined by dividing your APR by 365 days, which is then applied to your average daily balance. Crunch this number by adding up the total you carry each and every day of the billing cycle and then dividing that by the number of days in the billing cycle.
     
  • Let’s say your APR is 16% and this month you carried an average daily balance of $2,000. The issuer first calculates the daily periodic rate (0.16 divided by 365). That rate (0.00043) is applied to your average balance (0.00043 x $2,000), which brings us to 0.87. Over the course of the 30-day billing cycle (0.87 x 30), you’ll pay $26.30 in interest.
     
  • If crunching numbers isn’t really your thing, some issuers include tools that calculate how much interest you’ll owe based on your monthly payment. Petal, for example, shares this information in a mobile app for its two credit cards, and it’s one of the best first credit cards that we recommend.
     
  • Remember: You won’t be charged interest if you pay off your balance in full and on time each billing cycle. We get that life happens. So if on occasion that’s not possible, consider paying more than the minimum amount to lessen the interest you’ll pay over time, or make more than one payment during the billing cycle to lower your average balance.

The product experts at Reviewed have all your shopping needs covered. Follow Reviewed on FacebookTwitter and Instagram for the latest, deals, product reviews and more.

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