Best Travel Credit Cards for 2020

The best travel credit cards can help you earn elite status with airlines and hotels, free flights and other perks. If you’re an adventurer with a savvy financial side, you can wield these cards to unlock a variety of special travel deals. Below, we’ve compiled a list of our top picks and tips for choosing the best travel credit card for you.

Travel credit cards are rewards cards that allow cardholders to earn points or miles redeemable for flights, statement credit or the ability to earn elite status on different airlines. If you regularly travel, this type of credit card makes an excellent carry-on. With that said, travel cards aren’t the most popular kind of card out there. Of all credit cards with rewards structures, most Americans prefer cash back over travel. Only 17.15% of respondents in a consumer survey reported they would choose travel cards over cash back.

But if a travel card is right for you, there are extensive offerings that appeal to a variety of users.

In this article

    Best Travel Credit Cards of 2020

    Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Learn more

    Who should get it

    The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the perfect choice for travelers who want a great, all-around travel card who can make the most of a generous sign up bonus. Paired with a consistent rewards rate, this travel card delivers near-instant gratification for cardholders who just don’t want to wait.

    Consider this

    • Good to excellent credit needed for approval.
    • No intro $0 annual fee, users pay $95 off the bat.
    • Points offer the most value when used through the Chase Ultimate Rewards site.

    Why you’ll love it

    Wine, dine and traipse across the globe while earning at a great rewards rate: 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card members also receive 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

    Learn More

    Pro tip: Make the most of the 1:1 point transfer rate by taking advantage of the extensive list of Chase transfer partners which includes a bevy of international airlines. Paired with no foreign transaction fees, checking off that next bucket list destination has never been more accessible.

    The Platinum Card® from American Express
    Partner offer
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    Who should get it

    The Platinum Card® from American Express is for travelers who enjoy the finer things in life. With glamorous perks like airport lounge access, elite status at hotel accommodations and up to a $200 airline fee credits, this card offers benefits as shiny and alluring as its physical exterior.

    Consider this

    • Steep annual fee of $550 ( See Rates & Fees ) that adds to overall debt.
    • Can’t earn the welcome bonus if you’ve ever earned one in the past with the The Platinum Card® from American Express.
    • American Express network isn’t as large as Visa or Mastercard.

    Why you’ll love it

    The Platinum Card® from American Express card members receive a welcome bonus of 75,000 points after spending $5,000 during the first 6 months of account activation. Users also benefit from a high earning rate, so rewards roll in at a furious pace: 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through the American Express travel site. Starting January 1, 2021, earn 5X points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year. Earn 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with amextravel.com and 1x point for everything else. Plus, you can elevate your airport experience with access to 1,200 lounges in more than 500 airports in 130 countries.

    Start your application now

    Pro tip: If you can hit the welcome bonus spending target, you can easily neutralize that hefty annual fee.

    Chase Sapphire Reserve® Learn more

    Who should get it

    If you regularly eat out and travel, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® transforms those spending habits into lucrative perks. For high-spenders, this travel credit card offers excellent value to upgrade your airport, hotel and travel experience.

    Consider this

    • High annual fee adds to overall debt.
    • Excellent credit required for approval.
    • Not worth it for budget travelers.

    Why you’ll love it

    Triple points for travel and dining, a great sign-on bonus and a $300 annual travel credit means you can easily make a dent in your vacation expenses. The Chase Sapphire Reserve® lets cardholders earn at a high rate across the board: 3x points on travel, 3x points on restaurants and 1x point for all other purchases.

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    Pro tip: The 50,000-point bonus you’ll receive after spending $4,000 during the first three months is worth $750 if you book through Chase’s reward site, Chase Ultimate Rewards.

    Best Travel Credit Cards of 2020: Summed Up

    Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
    The Platinum Card® from American Express
    Partner offer
    Chase Sapphire Reserve®
    Best for premium travel rewards
    Chase Sapphire Reserve®

    Compare the best travel credit cards of 2020

    CardTravel Rewards RateAnnual FeeWelcome Bonus
    Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card – Best for sign up bonusEarn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. $95Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within the first three months
    The Platinum Card® from American Express – Best for luxury travelEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel. Starting January 1, 2021, earn 5X points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year. Terms Apply.
    $550
    Earn 75,000 points after spending $5,000 within the first 6 months. Terms Apply.
    Chase Sapphire Reserve® – Best for premium travel rewardsEarn 3x points on travel and dining, 1x per dollar for all other purchases $550Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within the first three months

    Additional travel credit cards

    Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

    Who should get it: The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card provides frequent fliers a high rewards rate and a solid bonus miles intro offer. For travelers looking for a simple answer to rewards, this card is a practical solution.

    Why you’ll love it: First-year cardholders enjoy a one-time bonus of 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3000 on purchases in the first 3 months. The regular rewards rate is nothing to scoff at either; Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card users receive 2x miles per dollar on eligible purchases, and you can redeem miles for any travel expense without any blackout dates to hold you back.

    Things to consider:  

    • Cash redemption is half the rate of travel redemption.
    • Annual fee is $95
    • Applicants need good to excellent credit for approval.

    Pro tip: If you apply for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry with your card, you can receive up to $100 application fee credit.

    Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

    Who should get it: For the fee-averse adventurers, the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card is here to save the day — and your trip. Travelers can enjoy a great rewards rate and transfer miles to a variety of travel partners for maximum flexibility.

    Why you’ll love it:

    Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card cardholders receive 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase and can earn 20,000 bonus miles after spending $500 within the first three months of account activation. You can rack up miles redeemable for statement credit toward travel and more.

    Things to consider:  

    • Cash back redemption is lower value than travel redemption.
    • Higher earning rewards cards available.
    • Good to excellent credit required for approval.

    Pro tip: Take advantage of the protective travel coverage like travel accident insurance, extended warranty options for certain items and rental car coverage.

    FAQs

    Whether you’d like to gain access to airport lounges, make a dent in your travel expenses for an upcoming trip or reach a frequent flier elite status faster — the best credit cards for travel can help you get there (literally). There is a broad range of choices that can benefit a variety of travelers from business day-trippers to budget explorers to high spending jet setters.

    How to choose the best travel card for you

    Would you scoff at a card that charges hundreds in annual fees? Prefer fuss-free rewards structures? Traveling internationally? The answers to these questions all factor into which card is right for you. Below are the steps for choosing an ideal card that fits into your lifestyle.

    Step 1: Know your spending habits

    If you know you won’t reach a spending target based on your current financial habits, don’t be tempted into debt you can’t repay to get that sign-on bonus. Pick a card with perks that match your financial goals.

    Step 2: Choose general or co-branded

    Choose between a co-branded airline or hotel card or a general travel rewards card. Airline and hotel co-branded cards are best for brand loyalists who want to build up to elite status. General travel credit cards, on the other hand, offer more flexible rewards and redemption options.

    Step 3: Look for a good sign up bonus

    To get the most bang for your buck, search for a good sign up bonus. They can be worth hundreds of dollars if you play your cards right.

    Step 4: Find a card offering travel protections

    Many credit card companies offer certain protections for travelers, such as baggage insurance, car rental coverage, 24/7 travel assistance and $0 liability on unauthorized charges for fraud.

    Step 5: Consider the network

    American Express and Discover Cards are not accepted as widely compared to Visa and Mastercard. This is an important consideration to make if your travel card is the only one you’re planning on carrying. If you opt for Amex or Discover cards, you’ll likely need to carry a backup.

    Step 6: Do the math for annual fees

    Although an annual fee is never ideal, you can typically offset the cost by taking advantage of your card’s perks like statement credits for certain travel expenses. You’ll need to weigh the annual fee with the card’s perks to determine if the fee is neutralized.

    Step 7: Know your travel plans

    If you plan on limiting your travel within the U.S., foreign transaction fees aren’t an issue. But if you’re planning on international travel, foreign transaction fees can really add up. For international travelers, it makes sense to invest in a travel card with no foreign transaction fees.

    Using these steps as a guide, you’ll find a great travel credit card that lets you explore while earning points while saving money on what matters most to you.

    How do travel credit cards work?

    To gain miles, just use your credit card on your eligible purchases and redeem them through your card’s online shopping portal, through transfer partners or statement credit. Some card companies, like Chase or AmEx for example, offer shopping portals where you can extract the most value from your rewards. Make sure you know where your points are worth the most so you can optimize your rewards and strategize your spending.

    What are the advantages of a travel credit card?

    Travel credit cards offer a variety of perks like access to airport lounges, discounts on travel and even access to special events. Your terms and conditions will determine your exact benefits but they should mirror your priorities: no annual fees, no foreign transaction fees and statement credit toward things you actually use like Global Entry, for instance.

    What types of travel credit cards are there?

    There are two main types of travel credit cards: general and co-branded. General travel cards offer more flexible rewards that can be exchanged for flights, car rentals or hotel accommodations. Airline or hotel-specific credit cards (aka co-branded) may have more limited redemption options, but they’re a good choice for travelers who consider themselves brand loyalists looking for ways to get to elite status.

    Best use of Southwest points

    Southwest Rapid Rewards offers travelers points that never expire, no blackout dates and a fast-track to Preferred status that opens the doors to even more perks — the most important of which is the Southwest Companion Pass.

    The Southwest Companion Pass allows you to bring a travel companion on every flight for no cost. You’re still on the hook for taxes and fees, but they tend to be fairly low.

    If you sometimes fly Southwest but not always, you can still build miles by using Southwest’s travel partners to keep earning and building up to your desired elite status. In order to receive the Companion Pass, you are required to fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 110,000 points over a calendar year.

    Best use of Capital One miles

    Capital One gives consumers practical travel card choices whether you pick the Capital One Venture Rewards card for a high earning flat rate, the Capital One VentureOne Rewards card for no annual fee or the Capital One Spark Miles for Business for company travel expenses.

    You can maximize your rewards by taking advantage of the Capital One Travel Center or using the Purchase Eraser for statement credit on outside travel purchases which delivers the same value as if you booked through Capital One. Miles can also be redeemed for gift cards, statement credit or checks but they are worth less for those redemption options. Thanks to a 2:1.5 transfer rate, your points still hold impressive value with many international transfer partners, as well.

    CardWelcome BonusRewards rateNumber of transfer partnersForeign transaction feesAnnual fee
    Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card60,000 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®Earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.13No
    N/A
    Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travelEarn 2x miles per $1 on all purchases15+No
    $95

    Is an annual fee worth it?

    An annual fee is only worth it if you can max out the card’s other benefits to neutralize the cost. A lower fee of $95 is going to be easier to overcome than cards with fees upwards of $450. Depending on your spending habits and ability to strategize, you can easily make up the difference by taking advantage of the card’s special features like annual statement credits, bonus offers and other perks.

    Do travel credit cards have foreign transaction fees?

    If a card does have a foreign transaction fee, it will usually be around 3%. At the outset, this isn’t an astronomical number, but if you’re planning on country-hopping, that small percentage can snowball your balance depending on how much you’re spending.

    Should business owners have a travel credit card?

    For business owners looking to make the most of frequent business trips, a travel credit card is a smart option to make the most of those miles. Cards like the Capital One Spark Miles for Business deliver benefits that can help you save on travel through points or miles redeemable in the form of a statement credit or travel rewards. In addition, many travel cards boast partnership networks so you transfer points for what you need, but not always at a 1:1 ratio.

    5 tips on making the most of your travel credit card

    Want to make the most of your new travel credit card? Utilize the following tips.

    1. Opt into your bonus categories: While some cards offer a set earning rate like one point per dollar you spend, there are several travel cards that offer opportunities for bonus categories where you can earn even more.
    2. Use your card for ordinary expenses: Typically, your reward card will go the furthest when you use it for travel costs. But earning points on those small purchases like gas or groceries does add up, so use your card over cash when you can.
    3. Leverage your card’s reward program: For many cards, you can get the most value from your rewards if you redeem them through the card’s online shopping portal.
    4. Think about loyalty: When planning a vacation, many travelers’ first instinct is to go to discount travel sites. While you might find cheaper car rentals or flights, you should weigh that against the miles and rewards you’d earn by booking through a travel partner or the card’s reward portal.
    5. Pay off your balance: Carrying a balance on any credit card is never a great idea, but it’s especially important to avoid this habit with a travel rewards card because they normally carry fairly high interest rates.

    For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here .

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