As a traveler, you’ll want to make sure you have a credit card in your wallet that will earn rewards for free travel and give you perks while you’re on the road. Choosing the right card for you will depend on several factors such as the annual fee, sign-up bonus, earning rates, and card benefits. While there are many travel credit cards on the market, these five cards are our top picks for the best credit cards for travelers.
Whether you’re looking for a beginner card or want luxury travel perks, you’ll be able to earn excellent travel rewards by holding one of these cards. The best card for you will require doing a little math to make sure you’ll be able to fulfill the spending requirement for any sign-up bonus and that you’ll be able to off-set any annual fees through normal spending habits.
I’ve decided to focus on cards that earn flexible rewards points rather than airline branded cards as I believe the travel points earned with these cards are far more valuable than miles tied only to a specific airline. If you’re loyal to a certain airline, an airline-branded card may have better perks, but these cards provide flexible benefits to a broad range of travelers. And none of these cards have any foreign transaction fees.
All of the products featured in this story were hand-selected by our travel editors. Some of the links featured in this story are affiliate links, and SmarterTravel may collect a commission (at no cost to you) if you shop through them.
Best Overall: Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Annual Fee: $95
- Sign-up Bonus: 60,000 points
- Rewards Rate: 1x-5x
The sign-up bonus is decent for a card with such a low annual fee. After you spend $4,000 in the first three months, you’ll earn 60,000 bonus points, which equates to $750 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Better yet, Sapphire Preferred cardholders can transfer points to 14 travel partners where you can get an even better value.
It will be easy to earn more points beyond the intro bonus as well thanks to 5x points earned on travel booked through Chase, 3x points on dining, delivery, and streaming services, and 2x earning on other travel. And the fact that you can earn up to $50 in statement credits each year for hotel stays booked through Chase means that the annual fee is effectively reduced to $45 for most travelers.
- Reasonable annual fee with remarkable travel benefits
- Excellent travel protections for delays and car rental insurance
- Great earning rates for typical purchases
- Doesn’t include credit for Global Entry/TSA Precheck
- No lounge access included
Best Premium Card: Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Annual Fee: $550
- Sign-up Bonus: 50,000 points
- Rewards Rate: 1x-10x
If you’re looking for a premium card with multiple perks such as reimbursements for expedited screening, access to lounges, and high bonuses both for earning and redeeming points, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is an excellent choice. Its high annual fee is one of the easiest to off-set compared to other premium credit cards thanks to a blanket $300 annual travel credit which will effectively reduce the annual fee to $250 for most travelers.
And you can reduce that even further by taking advantage of its up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck fees along with complimentary lounge access at airports around the world with Priority Pass. If you’re a fairly frequent traveler, you can easily get the remaining value of the annual fee with free drinks and food at the lounge. It also comes with other perks from companies such as DoorDash, Lyft, and the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection.
Plus, the 50,000 points earned as a sign-up bonus are worth at least $750 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards — even more when transferred to airline and hotel partners. You’ll earn 10x points on hotels and car rentals purchased through the Chase portal and 3x points on all other travel. You can earn 10x points on limited-option Chase Dining purchases and you’ll still get 3x points at other bars and restaurants, including takeout and delivery.
- 50% more value when redeeming points for travel through Chase
- Priority Pass membership for lounge access
- Global Entry/TSA Precheck covered
- Points are easy to earn; easy to use
- High annual fee
- Lower sign-up bonus than Preferred
Best Card for Lounge Access: American Express Platinum
- Annual Fee: $695
- Sign-up Bonus: 100,000 points
- Rewards Rate: 1x-10x
The luxury life is within reach simply by owning the Platinum Card from American Express. Not only does it give you Priority Pass lounge membership, but you’ll also have access to special Amex lounges and Delta SkyClub (when flying Delta). Platinum cardholders also receive automatic status with both Marriott and Hilton in addition to a plethora of other premium travel perks.
To help recoup the high annual fee, Amex offers several, yet somewhat complicated, credits. You’ll get $200 in Uber cash ($15/month plus an extra $20 in December) to use for rides or UberEats orders in the U.S. The card also gives you up to $240 ($20/month) in digital entertainment credits and $100 in statement credits for Saks Fifth Avenue purchases (up to $50 semi-annually). And in addition to covering Global Entry/TSA Precheck, you’ll also get up to $179 to cover a Clear membership.
Some of the most useful credits for travelers are its $200 hotel credit and $200 airline fee credit, though these are for select prepaid hotel bookings through Amex travel and you can only choose one airline for which you’ll receive credits on incidental fees such as baggage and seat selection. Basically, there are many ways to recover the annual fee, but you’ll have to make an effort to do so (enrollment is required for each benefit) and you may find yourself buying things you never would have otherwise.
The current sign-up bonus is enough reason to get this card for the first year. 100,000 points are worth at least $1,000 through Amex travel, but the real value comes with the ability to transfer Membership Rewards points to 20 different travel partners and redeem points or miles at a higher value. You’ll earn 5x points on airfare booked directly with airlines or for flights and prepaid hotels booked on AmexTravel.com. And you’ll earn 10x points at restaurants worldwide and eligible small business purchases within the U.S. during the first six months of membership.
- Access to more than 1,300 airport lounges worldwide
- Points transfer 1:1 to several high-value travel partners
- Premium travel assistance and perks
- Very high annual fee
- American Express isn’t as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard
- Credits can be complicated to use
Best Card for Beginners: Capital One Venture Rewards Card
- Annual Fee: $95
- Sign-up Bonus: 60,000 miles
- Rewards Rate: 2x
If you’re just starting out with a travel rewards card and want to keep it simple, the Capital One Venture Rewards card offers a flat earning rate of 2x miles per dollar spent on any purchase. And miles can be redeemed for any travel expense so you can book wherever you like and then just erase the purchase from your statement using your miles.
For added flexibility, you can also transfer miles to 15+ travel loyalty programs which may give you an even better value. The moderate annual fee can be recuperated in the first year by signing up for Global Entry or TSA Precheck and receiving up to a $100 credit. Plus, after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, you’ll receive 60,000 bonus miles, which will cover $600 in travel expenses.
- Simple 2x earning rate for all purchases
- Easy to redeem miles
- Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit
- Annual fee
- Other cards can earn more points on travel/dining purchases
Best No Annual Fee Card: Amex EveryDay Credit Card
- Annual Fee: $0
- Sign-up Bonus: 10,000 points
- Rewards Rate: 1x-2x
If you can’t fathom paying an annual fee for the privilege of having a credit card, then you may want to try the Amex EveryDay Credit Card. It’s one of the few no annual fee credit cards that earns transferrable rewards points on its own. This means the points you earn can be transferred to Amex’s excellent travel partners where they can be redeemed for an incredible value.
The 2x points earned on groceries at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year is a great way to rack up some travel rewards by simply paying for a basic expense with your Amex EveryDay card. You’ll also earn double membership rewards for eligible travel bookings at AmexTravel.com and an extra 20% bonus on purchases if you use your card 20 or more times during a billing cycle. The modest 10,000 bonus points will be earned after spending just $1,000 in your first 3 months.
- No annual fee
- Excellent redemption opportunities through partners
- 2x points on groceries
- No credits or premium perks
- Amex is not as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard
Note: Sign-up bonuses and annual fees listed are current at the time of publication and are always subject to change.
You Might Also Like:• 9 Affordable Travel Gift Ideas for Under $25
• The Best Black Friday and Cyber Monday Travel Deals
• The One Seat You Need To Avoid on a Plane
• The 9 Best Sites to Book a Cruise
• 10 Underseat Carry-On Bags You Can Take on Any Flight
We hand-pick everything we recommend and select items through testing and reviews. Some products are sent to us free of charge with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not accept compensation to review products. All items are in stock and prices are accurate at the time of publication. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.