Travel Credit Cards

Brendan Harkness

Brendan Harkness

Updated Nov 17, 2016

The cards on this page have been chosen from the widest possible selection of cards that we could find when the page was last updated on November 17, 2016. Although Credit Card Insider does receive compensation from some card issuers as advertisers, this does not in any way influence our choice of cards or the order that cards appear on the page. We have attempted to determine the best cards in this category, regardless of our advertising relationship with the issuers.

Learn more about how we rate credit and charge cards.

The Best Travel Credit Cards for 2016

Here are our picks for the best general travel credit cards in three categories: best sign-up bonus on a travel card, best travel card with Chip-and-PIN technology, and best travel credit card without an annual fee.

We’ve picked these cards based primarily on their travel-specific rewards and benefits, and to a lesser extent their other features and perks.

Best Sign-up Bonus

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

For People with
Good Credit

  • Annual Fee: $95 - Waived first year
  • Interest Rate: 16.24% - 23.24% *Variable
Quick Card Facts
  • Earn 40,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $500 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees, plus chip-enabled for enhanced security and wider acceptance
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading frequent travel programs at full value - that means 1,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points equal 1,000 partner miles/points
  • Premium Travel and Purchase Protection Benefits, including Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Purchase Protection and more
  • 24/7 direct access to dedicated customer service specialists
  • Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95

The information for Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has been collected independently by Credit Card Insider. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

This card is very popular among travelers for the points and incentives it offers, but also in large part because of the great way that you can redeem your rewards. This card is also known for being made out of metal.

You’ll get:

  • 2 points per dollar on travel expenses and dining at restaurants
  • 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
  • 50,000 bonus points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
  • 5,000 bonus points for adding an authorized user and making a purchase in the first 3 months
  • 20% discount on travel when redeeming points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® program

Use this card when you pay for travel or dining, but consider pairing it with a general rewards credit card to use for groceries and gas to maximize your rewards.

Travelers love this card for its versatility – if you don’t think the Chase Ultimate Rewards marketplace will give you the best value for a particular trip, you can redeem your points at a 1:1 rate with a number of popular frequent flyer programs:

Participating frequent flyer programs include:
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® United Mileage Plus® Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
British Airways Executive Club Korean Air SKYPASS Hyatt Gold Passport® Marriott Rewards®
Priority Club® Rewards The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Amtrak Guest Rewards® IHG® Rewards Club
The Ritz-Carlton Rewards®

Other terms and features:

  • An annual fee of $95 - Waived first year
  • A purchase and balance transfer APR of 16.24% - 23.24% *Variable
  • No foreign transaction fees, making it a good pick to use out of the country
  • Direct access to customer service representatives, rather than an automated response
  • Protections like Travel Accident Insurance, Lost Luggage Reimbursement, Price Protection, and more

Best Chip-and-PIN Card

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®
Apply Now

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

For People with
Excellent Credit

  • Annual Fee: $89 - Waived first year
  • Interest Rate: 16.24%, 20.24% or 23.24% Variable
Quick Card Facts
  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that's enough to redeem for a $500 travel statement credit
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • Redeem for travel or cash back statement credits, gift cards and merchandise. Redemption values vary
  • Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
  • Miles don't expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • No foreign transaction fees on anything you buy while in another country
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months on Balance Transfers made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR will apply, 16.24%, 20.24% or 23.24%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Please note, there is a fee for balance transfers.

Another long-running popular card, this offer from Barclaycard is a great way to rack up a lot of miles quickly, no matter what you’re buying.

  • 2 miles per dollar on every purchase you make
  • 50,000 bonus miles for spending $3,000 in the first 90 days
  • 5% of redeemed miles are added back to your account (so if you redeem 10,000 miles for a trip, you’ll get 500 miles back for your next trip)
  • MasterCard World Elite Concierge and Luxury Travel Benefits, which include a 24/7 personal assistant, a travel advisor, VIP access to programs around the world, and invitations to exclusive events

This card has an annual fee, so be sure to dig into the benefits to make sure you get the most out of this card. There’s quite a bit to find, so take a moment to check before traveling.

You probably remember when all your credit cards got replaced with new ones that have chips on them. Unfortunately, chip technology can be different depending on where you are in the world. In Europe, credit cards generally use Chip-and-PIN, which means instead of signing you’ll need to enter a PIN (like at the ATM) when you pay for something. Most credit cards issued in the United States use only Chip-and-Signature technology instead of Chip-and-PIN, so they’re not as compatible in Europe, but there are a few exceptions that will work with both Chip-and-Signature and Chip-and-PIN terminals, like this card.

Other terms and features:

  • $89 - Waived first year
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months for each Balance Transfer made within 45 days of account opening. After that, your APR will be 16.24%, 20.24% or 23.24% Variable, depending on your creditworthiness.
  • No foreign transaction fees, so you can use this card outside of the country for free
  • Protections like Travel Accident & Trip Cancellation Insurance, Baggage Delay Insurance, an Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, and more
  • Free FICO® score (not travel-related, but quite handy)

Hate annual fees?

There’s another version of this card with no annual fee, the Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard.

This card only offers 2 miles per dollar on travel and dining purchases, like the Chase Sapphire above, and you’ll only get 20,000 bonus miles for the signup offer.

Still, this is a pretty nice deal for a free card (as long as you avoid paying interest).

Best with No Annual Fee

Discover it® Miles

For People with
Good Credit

  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Interest Rate: 10.99% – 22.99%* Variable
Quick Card Facts
  • Exclusive Double Miles Offer: At the end of your first year-when other Miles cards charge an annual fee-Discover doubles all the Miles you’ve earned.*
  • No annual fee & unlimited 1.5x Miles on every dollar you spend on purchases. 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months-then a variable purchase APR applies, currently 10.99% - 22.99%.
  • 100 Miles = $1 value. Redeem Miles in any amount toward travel purchases on your statement. Or get cash as a direct deposit to your bank account.*
  • Discover pays you back for your in-flight Wi-Fi fees-up to $30 a year-with an automatic statement credit.*
  • New Freeze ItSM on/off switch lets you prevent new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers on misplaced cards in seconds by mobile app & online.*
  • Free FICO® Credit Score on statements, online & by mobile app.* And 100% U.S.-based service any time.
  • Free overnight shipping of replacement cards to any U.S. street address at your request. And you’re never responsible for unauthorized purchases on your Discover card.*
  • *See rates, rewards, free FICO® Credit Score terms and other info by clicking “Apply Now.” See complete Discover it® Miles details.

This travel card from Discover is relatively new to the market but it’s still a strong contender, especially because of the incredible promotional offer currently available.

  • DOUBLE all of the miles you earn in your first year (new cardholders only)
  • 1.5 miles for every dollar you spend, with no limit (which will come to equal 3 miles per dollar at the end of the year)
  • Up to $30 credit for in-flight WiFi per year
  • Access to the Discover Deals marketplace, where you’ll find dozens of substantial discounts with popular retailers (this is a great place to check before making big purchases)

This card isn’t as flashy as some others, and it doesn’t have a million bells and whistles, but it does offer some serious rewards (when you count the doubling) and several other nice perks, all potentially for free.

Note that Discover may not be as widely accepted outside the United States as cards with other networks. If you’re traveling abroad you may want to take another card as a backup.

Other terms and features:

  • No annual fee
  • 0% intro purchase APR for 12 Months, then 10.99% – 22.99%* Variable
  • 10.99% intro balance transfer APR for 12 Months, then 10.99% – 22.99%* Variable
  • No foreign transaction fees, so you can use this card freely outside the country
  • No penalty APR
  • Protections like Flight Accident Insurance, Purchase Protection, Price Protection, and more
  • Free FICO® score (not travel-related, but quite handy)

Is A Travel Card Right For You?

As long as you use credit responsibly, a credit card with travel rewards can save you tons of money. But what’s the best travel credit card? Well, that depends on your preferences and lifestyle. It may even make sense for you to get multiple cards, for example both an airline card and a hotel card, to maximize your points and benefits.

Travel credit cards come in several types:

If you travel often, one or more travel card may be a good fit for you.

Consider A General Travel Credit Card If You:

  • Have experience using a normal rewards (points or cash back) credit card so you understand how credit card rewards work
  • Travel often, at least 4 – 5 times per year
  • Don’t tend to fly with a particular airline or stay with a particular hotel brand
  • Know how to take advantage of the extra benefits, like airport lounge access or hotel room upgrades
  • Plan to use the card enough to make any annual fees worthwhile

If you can say yes to these 5 points, a travel credit card will probably make your trips cheaper and more enjoyable.

Selection Criteria: What Makes a Great Travel Card?

To find the right card that will suit your spending and traveling habits well, you’ll need to examine these two main aspects of any card:

  • How rewards are earned: how many points or miles you’ll get, and for what kinds of purchases
  • How rewards are redeemed: how you can use your rewards to pay for travel expenses

Here are the most important things to consider in any general travel, airline, or hotel card:

  • Point Value – Travel, airline, and hotel cards earn points. These are usually called “miles” on airline cards. The value of your points can vary a lot depending on how you redeem them. Learn about the terms of point redemption before you apply for a card so you can figure out how to make the most of your points.
  • Sign-up Bonus – Most travel cards will award a sign-up bonus if you spend a certain amount within a specified amount of time after opening the card. For example, you might get 50,000 extra points if you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months of opening a card. These sign-up bonuses can quickly earn you enough for multiple free flights or hotel stays. But make sure you’re not getting yourself into credit card debt just to earn a bonus, or you can end up paying more in interest than you’re getting from the bonus.
  • Point Earnings – Some cards will earn more points when you make purchases in specific categories, like restaurants or travel purchases. If you spend a lot of money at restaurants, for example, you might want a card that earns 2x points at restaurants so you can maximize your points earned.
  • Annual Fee – Many travel cards have an annual fee, which could range anywhere from $50 to $500 or more. Generally, cards with an annual fee will earn you more points and offer more benefits. To make sure you come out ahead, consider the point value and benefits compared to the annual fee to get more value from the card than you’ll pay in fees. It’s common for the annual fee on travel cards to waive the annual fee the first year to entice you to sign up and try it.
  • Foreign Transaction Fees – A foreign transaction fee is charged by credit card companies when you make a purchase in a foreign currency. Since many travel credit cards are designed for use while you’re traveling, they usually don’t charge a foreign transaction fees. But some do, so check the terms of the card before you apply. If you plan to use the card abroad it’s best to find one without this fee.
  • Benefits – Many travel cards will offer travel-related benefits. General travel cards might give you trip cancellation insurance (which can pay for a hotel if you’re stranded due to a flight cancellation, for example). Airline cards might give you priority boarding or free checked bags. Hotel cards might give you free room upgrades. Understanding the benefits of a card and weighing them against the annual fee is an important part of finding a card that’s a good fit for you.
  • Restrictions & blackout dates – Some rewards programs will have restrictions on how or when rewards can be used. For example, you may not be able to book flights with points on peak travel days. Make sure you understand any restrictions on a card’s rewards program before you apply so you know how you’ll be able to make the most of it.
  • EMV technology – There are two major kinds of EMV technology: Chip-and-PIN and Chip-and-Signature. Most credit cards issued in the U.S. only support Chip-and-Signature, but some places outside the US only accept Chip-and-PIN cards. If you’re going to be using your card abroad, pick a card that supports Chip-and-PIN to maximize your chances of the card working.

Picking The Right Travel Card For You

The right travel card for you is the one that fits easily into your life, providing the most value with the least hassle.

Many people use travel cards to pay for big purchases right before a trip, racking up a lot of points quickly to pay for flights and hotels.

Or, you can find a card with a great signup bonus, use it to pay for your travel expenses and earn regular points, and then earn the signup bonus to get a great overall discount on your trip.

Here’s a simple but solid strategy for pairing a regular rewards card with a travel card:

Use a general rewards card that will give you points on common purchases you can expect to make frequently. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for example, provides 6% cash back at grocery stores and 3% cash back at gas stations.

Pair that card with a general travel credit card, like the ones on this page, and use your travel card on every purchase that doesn’t fit into your reward card’s categories.

With this strategy you’ll be earning the maximum cash back on your typical purchases, and you can put points from your other spending to good use on travel expenses.

Was this helpful?

The Insider

John Ganotis
Two free rides from 11 US airports from Uber and American Express
John Ganotis | Nov 16, 2016

Read More
Brendan Harkness
Review of the Best Western® Rewards MasterCard®
Brendan Harkness | Oct 21, 2016

The Best Western Rewards MasterCard provides 13 points for every dollar you spend with Best Western, along with a variety of extra perks and benefits.

Read More
Brendan Harkness
Review of the Upromise® World MasterCard®
Brendan Harkness | Sep 28, 2016

The Upromise World MasterCard offers up to 10% cash back at select retailers, and you can redeem your rewards directly to your college fund or student loan.

Read More