Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards of 2023

Written by Chauncey Crail / January 17, 2023
Reviewed by Robin Saks Frankel

From generous sign-up bonuses to flexible redemption options to exclusive travel credits, the best travel rewards credit cards set themselves apart from other credit cards by offering an array of benefits that make it easier and more rewarding to explore the world. These high-end credit card offerings provide generous rewards and perks tailored to the needs of frequent travelers.

We analyzed a broad swath of credit cards in this category, from a variety of issuers, to curate a list of the very best travel rewards credit cards. Here are our selections.

Be sure to compare these cards to those on our lists of the best credit cards to view them outside of the context of this list. Though there are a wide range of cards, our list may not have the best card for your unique needs.

Inside this article

  1. Best travel rewards credit cards of 2023
  2. Best overall: Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
  3. Best for booking travel through the issuer: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
  4. Best for renters: Bilt World Elite Mastercard®
  5. Best travel card with a low annual fee: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  6. Best travel card for airline benefits at a value: United Explorer Card
  7. Best for Luxury Travel Perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
  8. Best low-cost hotel card: World of Hyatt Credit Card
  9. Best Premium Hotel Card: Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express
  10. Best travel card for road warriors: Wyndham Rewards Earner Plus Card
  11. Best for commuting: Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card
  12. Compare the best credit cards for travel rewards
  13. Should you apply for a travel reward credit card?
  14. Guide to travel rewards credit cards
  15. Methodology
  16. Frequently asked questions

Best travel rewards credit cards of 2023

  • Best overall: Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

  • Best travel card for booking travel through the issuer: Chase Sapphire Reserve®

  • Best travel card for renters: Bilt Card

  • Best travel card with a low annual fee: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Best travel card for the value for airline benefits: United Explorer Card

  • Best travel card for premium airline perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express

  • Best low-cost hotel card: World of Hyatt Credit Card

  • Best travel card for premium hotel perks: Hilton Honors Aspire

  • Best travel card for road warriors: Wyndham Rewards Earner Plus Card

  • Best travel card for commuters: Wells Fargo Autograph

Best overall: Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

What you should know

The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card offers premium benefits at a lower annual fee than competing premium cards. With over a dozen airline transfer partners and over $400 in annual recurring perks, it’s well worth the $395 annual fee.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Flexible redemption options, including multiple travel transfer partners or travel statement credits at 1 cent each.

  • $395 annual fee is largely offset by $300 annual travel credit and 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100).

  • Lounge access.

Cons:

  • Transfer partner list lacks hotels and domestic airlines.

  • Starting in January 2023, the Priority Pass membership excludes restaurants and spas.

More details

  • Annual fee: $395.

  • Rewards: Earn 2 miles per dollar on all eligible purchases, 5 miles per dollar on flights booked through Capital One Travel and 10 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars when booking via Capital One Travel.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening.

  • Perks and benefits: Priority Pass Select membership and Capital One Lounge access (includes access for up to two companions per visit), $300 annual statement credit through Capital One Travel, 10,000 bonus miles every cardmember anniversary, up to $100 Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit every four years.

  • Foreign transaction fees: None.

Best for booking travel through the issuer: Chase Sapphire Reserve®

What you should know

The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers rewards on everything from booking airfare to ordering takeout. The card can easily provide the right cardholder with enough value to cover the annual fee, but may not be as great a fit for anyone who doesn't plan to redeem rewards for travel using the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • High rewards potential on travel and dining purchases.

  • Increased redemption value for Chase Ultimate Rewards travel bookings, plus a list of popular travel partners you can transfer points 1:1 to.

  • $300 travel credit, elite travel protections and lounge access.

Cons:

  • High $550 annual fee and $75 per authorized user

  • Low reward potential for spending outside of bonus categories

  • Requires an excellent credit score

More details

  • Annual fee: $550, plus $75 per authorized user.

  • Rewards:  5 points per dollar spent on flights purchased through Chase, 10 points per dollar spent on hotels and car rentals purchased through Chase, 3 points per dollar on all other travel purchases after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually, 3 points per dollar spent on dining, 10 points per dollar on Chase dining, 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases and 10 points per dollar on Lyft purchases.

  • Welcome bonus:  60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening, which equates to $900 when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

  • Perks and benefits: $300 annual travel credit, 50% more value per point on travel redemptions using Chase’s portal, exclusive reservations & Hit List dinner series, VIP access to events, Priority Pass Select membership, Global Entry or TSA Precheck or NEXUS fee credit, Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, DoorDash DashPass Subscription, one year of no-extra-charge Instacart+ membership, GoPuff monthly statement credit.

  • Foreign transaction fees: None.

Best for renters: Bilt World Elite Mastercard®

What you should know

With flexible points and no annual fee, the Bilt Mastercard offers the unique ability to earn and redeem rewards on rent, as well as transferring rewards 1:1 to valuable travel partners.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Pay rent with no transaction fees, even to facilities that only accept checks.

  • No annual fee.

  • Includes cell phone insurance and purchase protection.

Cons:

  • Requires five card transactions per month to earn rewards.

  • No welcome bonus.

  • High APR.

More details

  • Annual fee: $0.

  • Rewards: 3 points per dollar spent on dining purchases, 2 points per dollar spent on travel and 1 point per dollar spent on rent (up to a maximum of 50,000 points per year on rent). 1 point per dollar on other purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: None.

  • Perks and benefits: Trip cancellation and interruption protection, trip delay reimbursement, primary auto rental collision damage waiver, earn double points on the first of the month (except on rent), credit benefits for partner vendors (Lyft, DoorDash), World Elite Mastercard Concierge, BiltProtect rent protection (terms apply).

  • Foreign transaction fees: None.

Best travel card with a low annual fee: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

What you should know

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers generous rewards on everyday spending categories and a substantial welcome bonus. With 11 airline transfer partners, this card offers more redemption flexibility than any travel credit card when it comes to flights.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Flexible points that can be transferred to 14 travel partners or redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards for travel at 1.25 cents each.

  • $50 annual statement credit toward Ultimate Rewards hotel bookings.

  • Valuable travel protections.

Cons:

  • $95 annual fee.

  • Category bonuses are limited and not competitive against other travel cards.

  • Transfer partner list is limited compared to programs like Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou.

More details

  • Annual fee: $95.

  • Rewards: Earn 5 points per dollar on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3 points per dollar on dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases (excluding Walmart, Target and wholesale clubs), 2 points per dollar on all other travel purchases and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening.

  • Perks and benefits: $50 annual Ultimate Rewards hotel credit, trip cancellation/interruption coverage of up to $10,000 per person/$20,000 per trip, primary auto rental collision damage waiver, baggage delay insurance of up to $100 per day for five days, trip delay reimbursement of $500 per ticket for lodging and meals on delays over 12 hours, travel and emergency assistance services, purchase protection and extended warranty protection.

  • Foreign transaction fees: None.

Best travel card for airline benefits at a value: United Explorer Card

What you should know

The United Explorer Card is hard to beat if you want an airline card tied to a domestic legacy carrier. Whether you’re looking to travel abroad or domestically, United miles can get you there, while the card’s various perks can improve your journey, like a free checked bag for you and one companion on your reservation.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Reasonable annual fee of $95, waived the first year.

  • Ability to earn elite status via credit card spending.

  • Access to United Saver awards.

Cons:

  • United miles are more limited in use than transferable rewards like Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

  • Benefits are not useful for those who don’t often fly United.

  • Very limited airport lounge access.

More details

  • Annual fee: $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95.

  • Rewards: Earn 2 miles per dollar on dining including eligible delivery services, hotel stays and United® purchases and 1 mile per dollar on all other eligible purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 within three months of account opening.

  • Perks and benefits: Free first checked bag for the primary cardmember and one travel companion, priority boarding for the primary cardmember and travel companions on the same reservation, two annual United Club passes, complimentary Premier Upgrades on award tickets for MileagePlus Premier members and one companion on the same reservation, earn 500 Premier Qualifying Points (PQP) for every $12,000 spent, up to a maximum of 1,000 PQP per calendar year, 25% back on United in-flight purchases, up to $100 as a statement credit for Global Entry, TSA Precheck or NEXUS every four years.

  • Foreign transaction fees: None.

Best for Luxury Travel Perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express

What you should know

The Platinum Card® from American Express is packed with unparalleled luxury travel perks. Cardmembers have access to a wide range of airport lounges, mid-tier hotel elite status and a comprehensive set of travel protections.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Over $1,500 in travel and entertainment credits can offset the annual fee.

  • Comprehensive lounge access benefit.

  • Generous travel and purchase protections.

Cons:

  • High annual fee and spending requirements.

  • Amex’s once-per-lifetime rule limits welcome bonus eligibility.

  • Annual statement credits have limited use.

More details

  • Annual fee: $695 plus $175 for up to three additional cards, then $175 per card.

  • Rewards: Earn 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel on up to $500,000 per calendar year, 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel and 1 point per dollar on other eligible purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 80,000 points after spending $6,000 within the first six months of card membership.

  • Perks and benefits: $300 yearly statement credit toward a digital or club membership at Equinox, $240 yearly digital entertainment credit valid on Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, Sirius, and The New York Times, $200 annual airline fee credit valid on select carriers, $200 annual hotel credit valid on prepaid bookings through  Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection, $200 Uber Cash in monthly increments, $155 annual Walmart+ credit, $100 credit towards Saks Fifth Avenue purchases ($50 semiannually), $189 annual credit towards CLEAR membership, up to $100 application fee credit towards Global Entry or TSA PreCheck every four years, complimentary Hilton and Marriott Gold elite status, rental car elite status with Avis, Hertz, National, extensive travel and purchase protections, secondary rental car coverage.

  • Foreign transaction fees: None.

Best low-cost hotel card: World of Hyatt Credit Card

What you should know

The World of Hyatt Credit Card is a great option for Hyatt loyalists. It provides an annual free night perk, a strong rewards program and the opportunity to redeem points for valuable award stays. Plus, it comes with complimentary Discoverist status and solid travel and purchase protections—all for a reasonable annual fee.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • High rewards potential on hotel bookings through Hyatt.

  • Points don't expire.

  • Free night certificate each year.

Cons:

  • There’s a $95 annual fee.

  • Hyatt doesn’t have as expansive a footprint as Marriott and Hilton.

  • High APR.

More details

  • Annual fee: $95.

  • Rewards: 9 points total on each dollar spent per each dollar of qualifying purchases with World of Hyatt, 2 points per dollar spent on restaurants, direct airfare purchases, local transit/commuting and fitness club/gym memberships and 1 point per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: 30,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in your first three months from account opening. Up to 30,000 more bonus points by earning 2 points per $1 spent on purchases that usually garner 1 point per $1 in the first six months from account opening, on up to $15,000 spent.

  • Perks and benefits: One free night at any category 1-4 Hyatt hotel or resort every year after your card opening anniversary, plus an extra free night if you spend $15,000 on the card throughout the year, one year of no-extra-charge DashPass, automatic Discoverist status and credits toward the next level of World of Hyatt elite status, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, Visa Signature Concierge and purchase protection.

  • Foreign transaction fees: None.

Best Premium Hotel Card: Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express

What you should know

The Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express offers many perks and benefits for travelers seeking a premium hotel card and luxury travel experience. Though the annual fee is fairly steep, the benefits and rewards from this card are stellar for those who frequent hotels within the Hilton portfolio, fly regularly and spend heavily on dining out.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • High rewards rates on Hilton bookings, flights and dining

  • Lounge access, annual credits and complimentary Diamond status

  • A free night each year with the potential to earn a second

Cons:

  • High $450 annual fee

  • Hilton points often have a lower redemption value than competing programs

  • May require significant effort to take advantage of the annual credits

More details

  • Annual fee: $450.

  • Rewards: 14 points per dollar spent on hotels and resorts in the Hilton network, 7 points per dollar spent on travel including airfare purchased directly through the airline or on amextravel.com and car rentals purchased through approved vendors, 7 points per dollar spent on dining including takeout and delivery, 3 points per dollar spent on other eligible purchases

  • Welcome bonus: 150,000 Hilton Honors bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases within your first three months of card membership

  • Perks and benefits: Complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status, annual free night reward with the opportunity to earn a second free night after spending $60,000 on the card in a calendar year, up to $250 in statement credit for eligible purchases through participating Hilton resorts, $250 airline fee credit for incidental charges on your selected airline, $100 in property credit when you book a two-night minimum stay at Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts or Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Priority Pass Select membership, baggage protections, secondary auto rental collision damage waiver, premium Global Assist Hotline, return protection.

  • Foreign transaction fees: None.

Best travel card for road warriors: Wyndham Rewards Earner Plus Card

What you should know

The Wyndham Rewards Earner Plus Card earns points on hotels, gas and groceries at a reasonable annual fee, making it an excellent choice for road warriors. And, you automatically get Wyndham Rewards Platinum status for holding this card. However, Wyndham is not known for its luxury hotel offerings, so be sure to check that the company’s properties are in line with your expectations before committing to this rewards program and a card with an annual fee.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • High rewards rates on Wyndham hotel stays, gas, dining and groceries

  • Valuable welcome bonus and account anniversary bonus points

  • Automatic Wyndham Rewards Platinum status

Cons:

  • $75 annual fee

  • Redemptions other than Wyndham bookings likely to offer subpar value

  • Lacking in travel and purchase protections

More details

  • Annual fee: $75

  • Rewards: 6 points per dollar on hotels by Wyndham and gas, 4 points per dollar on dining and at grocery stores and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus: 45,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days, which can equate to up to 6 free nights through Wyndham.

  • Perks and benefits: Wyndham Rewards Platinum status, annual bonus of 7,500 points, 10% discount when redeeming for go free® awards.

  • Foreign transaction fees: None.

Best for commuting: Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card

What you should know

The Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card comes with a generous rewards program likely to entice commuters—particularly those who use transit services—as well as foodies. It’s somewhat light on benefits, but for no annual fee, there’s a lot to love about the Autograph.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Generous rewards rate across a wide range of categories

  • No annual fee

  • 0% APR introductory period on purchases

Cons:

  • Minimal cardholder perks compared to other cards

  • Potentially high purchase APR after the introductory period

  • Lacks an intro APR period on balance transfers

More details

  • Annual fee: $0 

  • Rewards: 3 points per dollar on restaurants, travel, gas, transit, streaming services and phone plans, and 1 point per dollar on all other eligible purchases

  • Welcome bonus: 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in the first three months.

  • Perks and benefits: Cell phone protection, My Wells Fargo Deals eligibility, zero liability protection, travel and emergency services assistance, roadside dispatch, secondary auto rental collision damage waiver, emergency cash disbursement and card replacement service

  • Foreign transaction fees: None

Compare the best credit cards for travel rewards

Card NameAnnual FeeRewards Rate Welcome BonusOngoing APRForeign Transaction Fee
Capital One Venture X Rewards $395 10 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. 5 miles per dollar on flights booked through Capital One Travel. 2 miles per dollar on all other eligible purchases75,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. 21.24% - 28.24% variableNone.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®$550 plus $75 per authorized user 5 points per dollar spent on flights purchased through Chase. 10 points per dollar spent on hotels and car rentals purchased through Chase. 3 points per dollar on all other travel purchases after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. 3 points per dollar spent on dining. 10 points per dollar on Chase dining. 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases and 10 points per dollar on Lyft purchases 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening, which equates to $900 when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. 21.24% - 28.24% variable None.
Bilt Card$0 3 points per dollar spent on dining purchase. 2 points per dollar spent on travel. 1 point per dollar spent on rent up to a maximum of 50,000 points earned on rent per year. 1 point per dollar on other purchases. None20.49%, 23.49%, or 28.49% variable None.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card $95 5 points per dollar spent on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards. 3 points per dollar on dining. 3 points per dollar on online grocery order. 3 points per dollar on select streaming service. 2 points per dollar on other travel purchases. 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.20.24% - 27.24% variable None.
United Explorer Card$0 for the first year, then $95 a year.2 miles per dollar spent on purchases from United. 2 miles per dollar spent on dining and delivery. 2 miles per dollar spent on hotels booked directly. 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else.60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. 20.24% - 27.24% variable None.
The Platinum Card® from American Express$695 plus $175 for up to three additional cards, then $175 per card.5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with the airlines or through American Express Travel. 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com. 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.150,000 membership rewards points after spending $6,000 in your first 6 months of card membership.20.24% - 27.24% variableNone.
World of Hyatt Credit Card$95Up to 9 points total on each dollar spent per each dollar of qualifying purchases with World of Hyatt. 2 points per dollar spent on restaurants, direct airfare purchases, local transit/commuting and fitness club/gym membership. 1 point per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.30,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in your first three months from account opening. Up to 30,000 more bonus points by earning 2 points per $1 spent on purchases that usually garner 1 point per $1 in the first six months from account opening, on up to $15,000 spent.20.24% - 27.24% variable None.
Hilton Honors Aspire$45014 points per dollar spent on hotels and resorts in the Hilton network, 7 points per dollar spent on travel including airfare purchased directly through the airline or on amextravel.com and car rentals purchased through approved vendors, 7 points per dollar spent on dining including takeout and delivery, 3 points per dollar spent on other eligible purchases.150,000 Hilton Honors bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases within your first 3 months of card membership.19.99% - 28.99% variableNone.
Wyndham Rewards Earner Plus Card$756 points per dollar on hotels by Wyndham and gas, 4 points per dollar on dining and at grocery stores and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.45,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days, which cover up to six free nights through Wyndham.0% intro APR on Wyndham Timeshare purchases for the first six billing cycles and 0% intro APR for 15 months on balance transfers that post to your account in the 45 days following account opening, then 19.99%, 24.24% or 29.24% ongoing variable APR None.
Wells Fargo Autograph$03 points per dollar on restaurants, travel, gas, transit, streaming services and phone plans. 1 point per dollar on all other eligible purchases.20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in the first three months. 0% APR on purchases for 12 months after account opening, then a 19.24%, 24.24% or 29.24% ongoing variable APRNone.

Capital One Venture X Rewards

  • Annual fee: $395. 

  • Rewards: Earn 10 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, 5 miles per dollar on flights booked through Capital One Travel and 2 miles per dollar on all other eligible purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.

  • Foreign transaction fee: None.

  • Other benefits and drawbacks: The Capital One Venture X offers great value with its lineup of travel credits, including a $300 annual statement credit reimbursement for travel bookings made through Capital One Travel, Capital One's online travel agency. Among its many other benefits, the card offers airport lounge access, a cell phone protection benefit, the ability to transfer miles to airline and hotel partners and more. The card's miles don't expire and bookings made with Capital One aren't subject to blackout dates. Card ownership also comes with Hertz President's Circle status and through May 16, 2023 cardholders can earn 10 miles per dollar spent on rentals with Turo.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

  • Annual fee: $550 plus $75 per authorized user.

  • Rewards: Earn 5 points per dollar spent on flights purchased through Chase, 10 points per dollar spent on hotels and car rentals purchased through Chase, 3 points per dollar on all other travel purchases after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually, 3 points per dollar spent on dining, 10 points per dollar on Chase dining, 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases and 10 points per dollar on Lyft purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening, which equates to $900 when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

  • Foreign transaction fee: None.

  • Other benefits and drawbacks: The Chase Sapphire Reserve's high $550 annual fee may be well worth paying for some cardholders, considering its appeal includes a $300 annual travel credit, luxurious access to airport lounges via both soon-to-be-opened Chase Sapphire Lounges and the Priority Pass Select network, food delivery service memberships, 1:1 points transfer to a long list of airline and hotel loyalty program partners and protections for travel, car rentals and purchases.

Bilt Card

  • Annual fee: $0. 

  • Rewards: Earn 3 points per dollar spent on dining purchases, 2 points per dollar spent on travel and 1 point per dollar spent on rent up to a maximum of 50,000 points earned on rent per year. 1 point per dollar spent on other purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: None.

  • Foreign transaction fee: None. 

  • Other benefits and drawbacks: The Bilt Mastercard offers novelty in its rent rewards and redeem-rewards-to-pay-rent ability. Plus, points can be transferred 1:1 to numerous airline and hotel partners. Finally, the card offers primary rental car coverage and other perks such as trip delay reimbursement and trip cancellation and interruption protection.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Annual fee: $95.

  • Rewards: Earn 5 points per dollar spent on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3 points per dollar on dining, 3 points per dollar on online grocery orders, 3 points per dollar on select streaming services, 2 points per dollar on other travel purchases and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

  • Foreign transaction fee: None.

  • Other benefits and drawbacks: The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is the mid-tier, more affordable peer to the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card. The Sapphire Preferred offers many rewards in the same vein, such as travel and purchase protections. While the Reserve offers 50% more value to points redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, the Sapphire only offers 25% more value. The card's annual bonus point award equal to 10% of total purchases made in the past year and the ability to transfer points 1:1 to loyalty partners makes the card an excellent choice for those who don't want to pay too steep an annual fee but want benefits that can compete with more luxurious travel rewards cards.

United Explorer Card

  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95 a year. 

  • Rewards: Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on purchases from United, 2 miles per dollar spent on dining and delivery, 2 miles per dollar spent on hotels booked directly and 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

  • Foreign transaction fee: None.

  • Other benefits and drawbacks: The United Explorer provides cardholders what seems like a loaded 777 full of United Airlines-related benefits: a free checked bag, priority boarding on United flights, and 25% back as statement credits on in-flight purchases. The card also reimburses application fees for either Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or NEXUS every four years and offers a year of complementary DoorDash DashPass membership.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

  • Annual fee: $695 plus $175 for up to three additional cards, then $175 per card.

  • Rewards: Earn 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or through American Express Travel, 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 150,000 membership rewards points after spending $6,000 in your first six months of card membership.

  • Foreign transaction fee: None.

  • Other benefits and drawbacks:The American Express Platinum card is a luxurious addition to any wallet, granting access to a plethora of exclusive perks and benefits. While the high price point may be prohibitive for some, those who can afford this card can make their money back on the credits alone. Among its most notable are a $200 Uber Cash credit, a $200 airline incidentals credit, a $300 Equinox credit, a $200 hotel credit and a $240 digital entertainment credit that can be used toward certain streaming services. The high reward for travel purchases and exclusive access to Amex Centurion Lounges might make this card well worth it for those who travel frequently, but ensure you'll receive the value of your annual fee before applying for this high-end travel rewards card.

World of Hyatt Credit Card

  • Annual fee: $95.

  • Rewards: Earn up to 9 points total on each dollar spent per each dollar of qualifying purchases with World of Hyatt, 2 points per dollar spent on restaurants, direct airfare purchases, local transit/commuting and fitness club/gym memberships and 1 point per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 30,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in your first three months from account opening. And earn up to 30,000 more bonus points by earning 2 points per $1 spent on purchases that usually garner 1 point per $1 in the first six months from account opening, on up to $15,000 spent.

  • Foreign transaction fee: None.

  • Other benefits and drawbacks: The World of Hyatt Credit Card's free night at any category 1-4 Hyatt hotel or resort after the card anniversary and the opportunity to earn additional nights makes this card a great option for those loyal to Hyatt. With travel and purchase protections and a year of free DashPass membership included, the card is perfect for travelers who frequently require hotel stays—but should be avoided for those who frequent locations where Hyatt doesn’t have properties.

Hilton Honors Aspire

  • Annual fee: $450

  • Rewards: Earn 14 points per dollar spent on hotels and resorts in the Hilton network, 7 points per dollar spent on travel including airfare purchased directly through the airline or on amextravel.com and car rentals purchased through approved vendors, 7 points per dollar spent on dining including takeout and delivery, 3 points per dollar spent on other eligible purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 150,000 Hilton Honors bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases within your first three months of card membership.

  • Foreign transaction fee: None.

  • Other benefits and drawbacks: If you frequently stay at Hilton hotels or resorts and would like to enjoy the additional perks of being an American Express customer, this card might be for you. Though the high annual fee may be prohibitive for some, the Hilton Honors Aspire card offers a variety of credits that can make it easy for frequent travelers to recoup the cost. Along with Priority Pass Select and complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status, the card also offers an annual free night award (and an opportunity to earn a second) and a range of protections including return protection, baggage insurance and auto rental collision damage waiver.

Wyndham Rewards Earner Plus Card

  • Annual fee: $75.

  • Rewards: Earn 6 points per dollar on hotels by Wyndham and gas, 4 points per dollar on dining and at grocery stores and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 45,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days, which can cover up to six free nights at participating properties.

  • Foreign transaction fee: None.

  • Other benefits and drawbacks: For the highway-bound, the Wyndham Rewards Earner Plus Card offers limited extra benefits to complement its heavy-roller rewards. Among the benefits the card does deliver are complimentary Wyndham Rewards Platinum membership, anniversary bonuses and a cardmember booking discount.

Wells Fargo Autograph

  • Annual fee: $0.

  • Rewards: Earn 3 points per dollar on restaurants, travel, gas, transit, streaming services and phone plans, and 1 point per dollar on all other eligible purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in the first three months.

  • Foreign transaction fee: None.

  • Other benefits and drawbacks: The Wells Fargo Autograph Card has a stellar range of rewards categories, but its benefits are somewhat limited. It does offer roadside dispatch service and travel and emergency services assistance, as well as cell phone protection and auto rental collision damage waiver.

Should you apply for a travel reward credit card?

"Travel rewards cards are a great way to leverage personal and business card use and turn it into free airline tickets and hotel rooms. Be sure to choose a card that has rewards that are applicable to your preferred airline and hotel brands"—John Ulzheimer, owner, The Ulzheimer Group and nationally recognized credit expert

Whether you’re a frequent traveler or are just looking for an occasional getaway, there’s likely a travel rewards credit card out there that can help you maximize your savings.

With many travel rewards credit cards, you can often earn bonus category rewards on airfare, hotels, car rentals and even dining. These cards typically also offer bonus points or miles when you spend a certain amount within the first few months of opening the account—known as a welcome bonus or welcome offer. Some will also offer perks such as travel protections, elite status in airline or hotel loyalty programs, priority boarding and airport lounge access.

However, travel cards aren’t ideal in every situation. These cards often have high APRs, and if you ever carry a balance, interest charges can add up quickly. A 0% intro APR card would be better in that case. Also, know that travel cards tend to be aimed at applicants with good or better credit. If your credit is poor or fair, you might have better luck applying for a secured card, which can help you improve your credit score over time through responsible behavior.

Flexible Rewards vs Airline or Hotel Credit Cards

For those who travel often, the best option is likely a card that will earn flexible points or miles on each purchase. Flexible points or miles are not tied to a specific airline or hotel loyalty program but rather a card issuer’s travel agency redemption program. Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards are two examples, but Capital One and other major issuers have similar programs.

Airline- and hotel-specific cards offer rewards tied to a loyalty program with the airline or hotel, and typically offer better value with that carrier or brand, but not as much flexibility with redemption options. Only apply for a card like these if you’re sure the brand is the one you want.

If you only take an occasional trip, then a different type of reward card may be a better choice. Cash-back cards offer simpler reward redemptions and the rewards earned can still be used toward future trips or redeemed for gift cards or other rewards if travel remains a priority.

No matter which type of traveler you are, there’s likely a travel rewards credit card that can help you get more value from your travel. Before applying for any credit card, it’s important to compare all of the available options to find one that best fits your needs and budget

Evaluating Reward Potential

We evaluate the reward potential of travel rewards credit cards based on what we'd expect a household in the 50th percentile of wage earners to spend each year on a credit card. We gather these figures from the government and other publicly available data. 

In a year, we expect a household might make about $84,352 and spend about $25,087 of this on a credit card. Of this credit card spending, we’d expect about $2,941 to be spent on overall travel—which breaks down as $1,188 spent on airfare, $868 spent on hotels and $885 spent on all other travel. For frequent travelers carrying high-annual-fee travel rewards cards—like the Capital One Venture X Rewards Card, which charges a $395 annual fee—we expect about twice this much spending in the travel categories. 

Since the Venture X earns 10 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, 5 miles per dollar on flights booked through Capital One Travel and 2 miles per dollar on all other eligible purchases, our hypothetical household could earn about 85,350 miles per year, assuming the spending lumped under other travel was on car rentals.

In short, the right travel card can net you lucrative rewards. But make sure to select a card based on your spending and travel habits—the best card will differ from person to person.

Guide to travel rewards credit cards

Travel rewards credit cards can be a great way to earn more value on your next vacation or business trip. They often provide a wide range of benefits, from travel and purchase protections to airfare and hotel stay redemptions.

Understanding the types of travel rewards cards available is the first step to finding the right card for you. There are several major classifications:

  • Airline-Specific Cards: These cards offer exclusive discounts and rewards when you use them with a specific airline. Many also offer free companion tickets or priority boarding benefits.

  • Hotel-Specific Cards: These cards may give you access to exclusive discounts at certain hotel chains and resorts, as well as points to be redeemed for free nights or upgrades. Hotel loyalty status is a common benefit among these cards.

  • Flexible or Point-Reward Cards: These cards allow you to earn points for every dollar spent that can be redeemed for flights, hotel stays, car rentals and other travel bookings. Often issued by major issuers with online travel booking portals, these cards may also allow you to transfer points to airline or hotel partners, providing the most flexibility when it comes to redemptions.

  • Cash-Back Cards: These cards allow you to earn cash back on all your purchases. Once you’ve redeemed cash back into your bank account, there’s nothing preventing you from using it toward travel expenses like airfare, hotels, car rentals and more.

When it comes to choosing the right card for your needs, there are several factors to consider. First, evaluate what type of reward you want to earn. Do you want points that can be redeemed for flights, hotels, and other travel expenses? Or do you prefer cash back on all your purchases? Different cards offer different types of rewards, so it’s important to pick one that best suits your needs.

Next, look at the welcome bonus (sometimes called a sign-up bonus) offered by the card. Many cards offer a generous sign-up bonus when you make a certain amount of purchases in the first few months of receiving the card. This can be an easy way to get an infusion of rewards when you first open your account.

Then, consider the annual fee and any additional fees associated with the card. Some cards have no annual fee, while others have a high annual fee but offer more generous rewards or benefits. Make sure you understand all the fees associated with each card before making a decision so that you don’t end up paying more than you’d like.

Finally, check out any additional benefits offered by the card such as travel insurance or access to exclusive discounts and offers. Many cards offer perks like these which can help make your travel smoother and your card more cost effective.

With so many different types available, it’s important to do your research and choose the one that best fits your needs. Ensure you don’t pay a high annual fee only to receive benefits you’d never actually use. And ensure the points you earn are points you’ll spend—points do not earn interest and may expire (depending on the issuer and the specific card), so unless you’re saving for a specific redemption, it’s generally best practice to use your points whenever you can.

Methodology

Sound Dollar’s credit cards team has spent hours analyzing hundreds of credit cards. We took a deep dive into the details of each product and that analysis, combined with our years of experience covering credit cards, informed us as we developed these credit card rankings.

Frequently asked questions

How do travel reward credit cards work?

Travel reward credit cards earn points or miles for every dollar spent. These points can typically be redeemed for award travel including flights, hotels, car rentals and other travel bookings. 

Some cards offer bonus points for purchases made in certain categories, such as purchases made with airlines or at grocery stores. Many cards also offer welcome bonuses for meeting certain spending requirements, and provide a wide variety of travel-related protections and other benefits.

What kinds of travel reward credit cards are there?
What credit score is needed for a travel rewards credit card?
What is the easiest travel rewards credit card to get?
Should I get a cash-back or travel rewards credit card?

About the Authors

Chauncey Crail

Chauncey Crail

Chauncey grew up on a farm in rural northern California. At 18 he ran away and saw the world with a backpack and a credit card, discovering that the true value of any point or mile is the experience it facilitates. He remains most at home on a tractor, but has learned that opportunity is where he finds it and discomfort is more interesting than complacency.

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Robin Saks Frankel

Robin Saks Frankel

Robin Saks Frankel is a credit cards and personal finance writer and editor for Sound Dollar. Previously, she covered credit cards and related content at other national web publications including Forbes Advisor, NerdWallet, Bankrate and HerMoney. She's been featured as a personal finance expert in outlets including CNBC, Business Insider, CBS Marketplace, and has appeared on or contributed to The New York Times, Fox News, CBS Radio, ABC Radio, NPR, International Business Times and NBC, ABC and CBS TV affiliates nationwide.

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