Many of the first rewards cards were credit cards that offered “miles” for purchases, which could be saved and used for purchasing airline tickets. Nowadays, flight restrictions and requirements on travel rewards cards don’t always result in dream vacations.
As a result, many travel rewards cards now award purchases with not only miles, but opportunities for cash back. These options are especially important if you are not a frequent flyer, but still want to carry a travel rewards card. If you fit this description, here are some of the best travel rewards credit cards to meet your needs.
Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards
1. Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
25,000 Starpoints Bonus; Up to 5 Starpoints at Starwood Properties; 1 Point on Other Purchases; Bonus Starpoints When Transferred to Frequent Flyer Programs
The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express is an extremely popular travel card because of minimal fees and the rewards program which allows you to earn Starpoints. The program is also favorable because of the opportunity to earn, transfer, and redeem Starpoints for airline miles and frequent flyer programs – oftentimes faster than you would with specific airline credit cards, as well as hotel stays at Sheraton, W Hotels, and other popular properties.
- Sign-up Bonus. You earn a bonus of 10,000 Starpoints after you make your first purchase with the card (within the first year). When you spend $5,000 with your card within the first six months, you also receive an additional bonus of 15,000 Starpoints.
- Fees. The annual fee of $65 is waived the first year. Balance transfers are 3% or $5, whichever is greater, and the foreign transaction fee is 2.7%.
- APR. The APR is 15.24%, 17.24%, or 19.24% based on your credit worthiness and varies with the prime rate.
- Travel Rewards. Purchases are awarded with Starpoints. Each dollar spent earns one Starpoint, and each dollar spent with Starwood properties, Starwood retail establishments, and Starwood online stores earns four or five points – two from American Express, and two from Starwood Preferred Guest Program. If you are also a Gold or Platinum SPG elite, you earn an additional Starpoint from the SPG Program (totaling five). Starpoints can be redeemed for free nights at Starwood properties. Category 1 properties may be available as low as 2,000 Starpoints, and category 7 properties may require 35,000 Starpoints. There are no blackout dates on free nights in standard rooms. Starpoints are worth 1.25 cents per point up to over two cents per point, depending on redemption.
- Other Perks. You are able to earn elite statuses and membership levels with each Starwood stay, which also provides special benefits and perks for travelers. As a cardholder, you automatically earn credit for five nights and two stays each year toward these elite statuses. In addition to stays with Starwood properties, your points may also be redeemed for airline miles on SPG flights, which includes over 350 airlines. You also have the option to transfer Starpoints to frequent flyer programs such as Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus, often at a ratio of one-to-one. As an extra bonus, if you transfer 20,000 Starpoints to any of the 30 frequent flyer programs that are included, you earn a bonus of 5,000 Starpoints.
See our American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Card Review for more information.
40,000 Bonus Miles; 2 Miles per Dollar on All Purchases; 10% Redemption Bonus
There are two versions of the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard: one with no annual fee and fewer bonuses, and the annual fee version, which is a chip card for added convenience and security when making transactions abroad. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World MasterCard that carries an $89 annual fee provides one of the largest sign-up bonuses available on a travel card, as well as an opportunity to earn a bonus on miles after they are redeemed.
- Sign-up Bonus. The annual fee version of the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard awards a bonus of 40,000 miles when you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account. These miles can be redeemed for $400 off your next travel redemption.
- Fees. The annual fee of $89 is waived the first year. Balance transfers are $10 or 4%, whichever is greater. There is no foreign transaction fee.
- APR. The APR is based on your creditworthiness and will be either 14.99% or 18.99%, varying with the prime rate. The APR for balance transfers is also 14.99% or 18.99% – there is no introductory APR for balance transfers.
- Travel Rewards. You are able to earn two miles per dollar on all purchases with no limits or expiration date, as long as your account remains in good standing. Your miles can be redeemed starting at 2,500 miles as statement credits for travel-related purchases made within the previous 90 days, such as airlines, hotels and motels, and car rentals. You may also choose to redeem your miles for gift cards or merchandise, but you get the most value through travel redemption.
- Other Perks. In addition to the sign-up bonus and the miles awarded on purchases, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard awards a 10% bonus when you redeem for travel purchases. For instance, if you redeem 20,000 miles for a travel credit of $200, the travel redemption would also earn a 10% redemption bonus of $20 which you can use on your next redemption. Additionally, you receive complimentary access to your online FICO credit score.
40,000 Bonus Points; 3 Points on Airfare and Hotels Through Ultimate Rewards; 2 Points on Restaurants and Travel; 1 Point Everywhere Else
The Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card offers travelers an alternative to the standard miles credit cards. Instead of rewarding purchases with a specific airline or travel brand, Chase Sapphire Preferred awards restaurant and general travel purchases with points. Points can be redeemed for much more than just airline tickets. This option provides flexibility if you prefer to choose from various airlines or hotels when traveling, rather than one brand.
- Sign-up Bonus. You earn a bonus of 40,000 points when you spend $3,000 within the first three months of card membership, plus an additional 5,000 points when you add your first authorized user. If you redeem these points for travel through Chase’s online portal, Ultimate Rewards, they are worth $540.
- Fees. The annual fee for the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card is $95, which is waived the first year. Balance transfers are $5 or 3%, whichever is greater. There is no foreign transaction fee.
- APR. The APR on purchases and balance transfers is 15.99% and varies with the prime rate.
- Travel Rewards. You are awarded two points per dollar spent at restaurants and on travel, which includes airfare, hotels, cruises, and rental cars, and one point on all other purchases. You earn a total of three points per dollar spent on airfare and hotel purchases when you book through the Ultimate Rewards program provided by Chase. Points can be redeemed for airline tickets, gift cards, merchandise, and cash. If you redeem for cash, the minimum required is 2,000 points for $20. Points are unlimited and do not expire. You are also able to transfer your points at a ratio of one-to-one to many frequent flyer programs.
- Other Perks. As a cardholder of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you receive 20% off travel such as airfare, hotels, and cruises when you redeem through Ultimate Rewards. For example, if you are redeeming for a $540 flight through Ultimate Rewards, you only need 45,000 points. The bonus if redeemed for cash would be $450, but through the Ultimate Rewards program would be enough points for a $540 flight.
See our Chase Sapphire Preferred Card Review for more information.
Sign-up Bonus of 20,000 Miles; 2 Miles per Dollar Spent on All Purchases
Travel rewards credit cards often award purchases with points or miles that can be earned and redeemed with specific airlines or hotels. The Capital One Venture Rewards credit card allows you the opportunity to earn miles on all purchases and then redeem those miles for virtually any travel expense, regardless of the brand.
- Sign-up Bonus. When you spend $2,000 within the first three months of opening your account, you earn a bonus of 20,000 miles, which can be applied to $200 in travel purchases.
- Fees. The annual fee of $59 is waived the first year. There is no balance transfer fee, no over-limit fee, and no foreign transaction fee.
- APR. The APR for the Capital One Venture Rewards card is 13.9%, 16.9%, 0r 20.9% on balance transfers, and the APR for purchases varies with the prime rate.
- Travel Rewards. The Capital One Venture Rewards credit card awards two miles per dollar spent on purchases. Each mile is worth approximately one cent. Miles do not expire and are unlimited. You can redeem your miles for travel purchases made within the last 90 days using Purchase Eraser, which credits you for travel purchases that have already been made. Examples of qualifying purchases include airlines, car rentals, hotels, bus lines, and taxis. You may also redeem miles in the Rewards Center for travel as well, or for cash, gift cards, and merchandise through the Capital One website.
- Other Perks. There are no blackout dates or restrictions on flights – you are able to fly free at any time. The flexibility of the Capital One Venture Rewards card allows you to choose any airline and purchase your ticket and receive credit toward any elite statuses the airline offers, while receiving a credit for the purchase.
See our Capital One Venture Rewards Card Review for more information.
50,000 Bonus Avios; 2.5 Avios With British Airways; 1.25 Avios on Other Purchases; Companion Ticket
If you fly British Airways or any of the OneWorld Airline Partners, the Chase British Airways Visa provides one of the best opportunities to earn miles (Avios) available. The sign-up bonus of a total of 50,000 Avios, which is worth many flights or two round-trip tickets (depending on where you choose to travel), and the flexibility of airlines to choose from qualifies the Chase British Airways Visa credit card as one of the best travel rewards cards available.
- Sign-up Bonus. When you spend $2,000 within the first 90 days of opening your account, you earn a bonus of 50,000 Avios.
- Fees. There is an annual fee of $95. Balance transfers are 3% or $5, whichever is greater. There is no foreign transaction fee.
- APR. The APR for purchases and balance transfers is 15.24% and varies with the prime rate.
- Travel Rewards. The Chase British Airways Visa card awards purchases with Avios. You earn 2.5 Avios per dollar spent with British Airways, and 1.25 Avios per dollar spent on all other purchases. The value of your Avios is dependent on the flight you redeem them for. As an example, a one-way economy class ticket from Los Angeles to New York City is only 12,500 Avios. You can also earn and redeem Avios with OneWorld Airline Partners such as American Airlines and Japan Airlines, and airlines outside of the alliance such as Alaska Airlines.
- Other Perks. During each year that you spend at least $30,000 with your card, the Chase British Airways Visa also provides a companion ticket referred to as a Travel Together Ticket. The Travel Together Ticket is subject to taxes, fees, and carrier charges which may range from $682 to $12,50 per adult in economy class.
See our Chase British Airways Card Review for more information.
30,000 AAdvantage Bonus Miles; 2 Miles With American Airlines; 1 Mile On Other Purchases; 10% Mileage Redemption Bonus
The Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage World MasterCard provides the benefits of World MasterCard, along with a travel rewards program for those who fly American Airlines and its partners regularly. It also offers a sign-up bonus and annual bonuses, which are often sufficient to cover an average annual fee, along with an opportunity to earn free flights quickly and easily.
- Sign-up Bonus. You receive a bonus of 30,000 AAdvantage bonus miles (good for at least one round-trip domestic MileSAAver flight with American Airlines) when you make $1,000 in purchases within the first three months of membership.
- Fees. The Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage World Mastercard has an annual fee of $95 which is waived the first year. Balance transfers are $5 or 3%, whichever is greater. The foreign transaction fee is 3%.
- APR. The APR for purchases and balance transfers is 13.99%, 17.99%, or 21.99% based on your creditworthiness. It varies with the prime rate.
- Travel Rewards. You earn two AAdvantage miles for each dollar spent on American Airline purchases, and one mile for each dollar spent on all other purchases. Miles are unlimited and do not expire. Miles can be redeemed for upgrades, car and hotel awards, and flights with American Airlines or OneWorld airlines. Domestic MileSAAver flights with American Airlines start as low as 12,500.
- Other Perks. As a cardmember, you receive a $100 American Airlines flight discount each year that you spend $30,000 on purchases with your card, as well as a 10% mileage bonus of the miles that you redeem each year, up to 10,000. Flight benefits include free checked bags for yourself and four companions, and Group 1 privileges when boarding the plane.
See our Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage World MasterCard Review for more information.
7. The Platinum Card® from American Express
Flexible Spending Limit; 40,000 Bonus Points; $200 Airline Credit; Airport Lounge Access
This offer is no longer available. If you are a frequent traveler who values comfort and extra perks more than just points for free flights, you may find the American Express Platinum card to be well worth the annual fee of $450. While you are able to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights, the value of the American Express Platinum card lies in airline fee credits, access to airport lounges and clubs, and Platinum travel services to help make travel arrangements and create custom itineraries. The American Express Platinum card is a charge card that requires payment in full each month in exchange for a flexible spending limit, rather than the option to carry a balance as you would with a credit card.
- Sign-up Bonus. If you spend $3,000 within the first three months of opening the account, you receive 40,000 Membership Rewards points (equal to $400 in gift cards).
- Fees. The annual membership fee for the American Express Platinum card is $450 per year. There is no foreign transaction fee.
- APR. None.
- Travel Rewards. You are able to earn 1 point per dollar spent on purchases made with your card. Your points can be redeemed for gift cards, merchandise, or travel. Points that are redeemed for gift cards or travel are worth approximately one cent per point, but if you redeem for merchandise or travel, your points are worth less – sometimes as low as half a cent per point. You earn double points per dollar spent on air, prepaid hotel, vacation packages, and American Express Vacations packages made with your card from American Express Travel. Your points are worth the most if redeemed for gift cards or transferred to airline or hotel loyalty programs, at one cent per point. If you redeem for merchandise, your points may be worth less than one cent each.
- Other Perks. The American Express Platinum card provides many perks outside of the rewards program that are beneficial for frequent travelers, such as the $200 airline fee credit for airline expenses, and the global entry fee credit of $100. You also receive access to airport clubs and lounges, exclusive access to concerts and theaters through Preferred Seating, and an International Companion Ticket when you purchase a business or first-class ticket with the International Airline Program. You are responsible for taxes, fees, and surcharges on the companion ticket, however.
See our American Express Platinum Card Review for more information.
This offer is no longer available.
20,000 Bonus FlexPoints; 3 FlexPoints on Charitable Donations; 2 FlexPoints in the Highest Spending Category; 1 FlexPoint on Other Purchases
If you would rather earn rewards on everyday purchases that can be redeemed for travel or other options, the U.S. Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature provides an opportunity to do so for a low annual fee that is waived the first year. It is also one of the only rewards cards that caps as high as $120,000 per year for the spending categories, which allows you to earn more points than you might with a card that caps bonus spending categories at $1,500. This card allows many different options with its rewards program, as well as many of the travel benefits found on airline and hotel credit cards.
- Sign-up Bonus. As a new cardholder, you are awarded 20,000 FlexPoints after spending $3,500 with the card within the first four months of opening your account. This has a $400 ticket value with more than 150 airlines.
- Fees. The annual fee of $49 is waived for the first 12 months. The balance transfer fee for transfers made at the time of application is 3% or $5, whichever is greater. After that, the balance transfer fee is 4% or $5, whichever is greater. The foreign transaction fee is 3%.
- APR. The APR is 13.99% to 23.99% on balance transfers and purchases, based on your creditworthiness. The APR varies with the prime rate.
- Travel Rewards. The U.S. Bank FlexPerks Travel card awards three FlexPoints per dollar spent on charitable donations, two FlexPoints on the category you spend the most in each month (whether it is gas, groceries, or airline travel – and also on most cell phone expenses), and one FlexPoint for each dollar spent on all other purchases up to $120,000 yearly (for all categories). After that, those purchases earn one point per every two dollars that is spent. There are no categories to sign up for. Points expire five years after the quarter in which they were earned. FlexPoints can also be redeemed for gift cards, merchandise, statement credits, travel with more than 150 airlines (with no blackout dates or redemption fees), hotel stays, car rentals, or cruises.
- Other Perks. Each year that you spend $24,000, you are awarded an anniversary bonus of 3,500 FlexPoints, as well as an airline allowance of $25 for airline expenses each time you redeem an award ticket.
9. Platinum Delta SkyMiles From American Express
35,000 Bonus SkyMiles; 2 SkyMiles With Delta; 1 SkyMile on Other Purchases; Companion Certificate
American Express offers three different Delta SkyMiles cards, from Gold to Platinum to Reserve. Each card provides a valuable rewards program if you fly Delta frequently. The Platinum Delta SkyMiles card from American Express offers fewer benefits than Reserve, but more than Gold, providing a card with great perks such as free checked baggage and discounts on purchases made on Delta flights, as well as an opportunity to easily earn and redeem SkyMiles.
- Sign-up Bonus. As a new cardholder, you receive 35,000 bonus miles. 5,000 of those miles also qualify as Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs), which is the Delta SkyMiles program that allows you to earn statuses for exclusive benefits. In order to qualify for the bonus miles, you must make $1,000 in purchases with your card within the first three months of opening the account. You also receive a statement credit of $100 when you charge your first Delta purchase to your card within the first three months.
- Fees. The Platinum Delta SkyMiles card from American Express has an annual fee of $150. The balance transfer fee is $5 or 3%, whichever is greater, and the foreign transaction fee is 2.7%.
- APR. The APR on purchases and balance transfers is based on your creditworthiness: 15.24%, 17.24%, or 19.24%. The APR varies with the prime rate.
- Travel Rewards. The Platinum Delta SkyMiles card awards SkyMiles at two miles per dollar spent on Delta Purchases, and one mile per dollar spent on all other purchases. There is no limit to the number of miles that can be earned. A one-way economy class Saver ticket within the U.S. starts as low as 12,500 SkyMiles. You are also able to earn MQMs which count toward Medallion status and provide extra perks such as priority security, boarding, baggage delivery, and upgrades. Each year that you spend $25,000 with your card, you also earn 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs. When you spend at least $50,000 per year with the card, you earn an additional 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs.
- Other Perks. In addition to the travel rewards program, the Platinum Delta SkyMiles card from American Express offers a companion certificate each year you renew your card membership. The companion certificate requires payment of taxes and fees which range from $22 to $68, but is good for a domestic round-trip ticket for a companion. You also receive a free checked bag (worth approximately $50 round trip), and 20% savings in-flight on purchases made with the card including food, beverages, games, and headsets.
See our American Express Platinum Delta SkyMiles Card Review for more information.
10. PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express Card
20,000 Point Sign-up Bonus; 5 Points on Airfare Purchases; 1 Point Everywhere Else; Complimentary Lounge Club Visits
The PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express Card offers a travel awards program that allows you to earn five points per dollar spent on travel purchases – one of the highest rates available for travel cards. The PenFed Premium Travel card is the only travel rewards card that offers an introductory APR of 0% on balance transfers for 18 months along with the lowest APR available, a great sign-up bonus, and no annual fee or foreign transaction fee.
- Sign-up Bonus. You receive a bonus of 20,000 points if you spend $2,500 within the first three months of opening the account. These points are worth approximately $200 in gift cards or airline travel.
- Fees. There is no annual fee or foreign transaction fee for the PenFed Premium Rewards American Express card. The balance transfer fee is 3%, with a minimum of $10 and maximum of $250 per transaction. There are requirements for eligibility, but you can also purchase a lifetime membership at Pentagon Federal Credit Union by donating as little as $15 to an eligible charity.
- APR. The APR on purchases is 9.99% and varies with the prime rate. There is an introductory APR of 0% on balance transfers for 18 months. After that the APR is 9.99%.
- Travel Rewards. You earn five points per dollar spent on airfare purchases and one point per dollar spent everywhere else. You can redeem your points for airline travel, gift cards, merchandise, and other travel rewards such as hotels, car rentals, and cruises. Points are generally worth a cent each, depending on what you redeem them for. There is no limit to the number of points that can be earned, but they do expire five years after you earn them.
- Other Perks. The PenFed Premium Travel Rewards card also includes two complimentary lounge club visits at airports when you spend $15,000 with the card in a calendar year. You also receive complimentary 24-hour concierge services and access to travel offers and discounts through the American Express Travel Privileges program.
There are many travel rewards programs that reward in different ways for different types of purchases. The ones that award you the most and provide the best return depend on your travel needs and spending habits. You can reap the biggest rewards if you plan ahead, pay your balance in full each month to avoid paying the high interest rates often found on travel rewards cards, and consider which fees can be balanced out with bonuses, perks, and rewards. If you travel frequently outside of the United States, you should be sure to avoid cards that charge foreign transaction fees.
Which travel rewards credit cards do you carry and use on a regular basis?
Editorial Disclosure: This content is not provided or commissioned by any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, or airline. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.