Some of the first reward credit cards were the ones that offered frequent flyer miles. People just loved the idea of saving up points for an exciting vacation destination.
But recently, severe restrictions on award seat availability have destroyed the dreams of so many who have saved their miles for a luxury vacation. While redeeming your credit card miles for an international flight in business or first class can still represent a greater return on your credit card spending than almost any other type of award, your best travel reward credit cards will offer more than just frequent flyer miles that can be hard to redeem.
Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards
Of all the travel reward cards on the market, here are the eight that offer the greatest mileage and cash back benefits:
Whether the Capital One Venture Rewards card is a travel rewards card or a cash back card is a matter of debate. Either way you look at it, each dollar you spend will earn you two “miles” in Capital One’s program, and each mile can be redeemed as a statement credit of one cent against any travel related expense.
Unlike traditional frequent flyer mile awards, Capital One reward miles – because they essentially act just like cash - still allow you to earn miles with the airline that you choose to buy a ticket on, receive credit towards elite status, and even become eligible for upgrades.
Capital One’s cards are also a favorite with travelers because they do not charge those nasty foreign exchange fees. It does have a $59 annual fee, but it is waived your first year.
See our Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Review for more information.
The American Express Starwood Preferred card is extremely popular among people who like to travel the world for free using frequent flyer miles.
This card earns points in Starwood Hotel’s program, which can then be transferred to miles in dozens of different airline programs. When you transfer 20,000 StarPoints, you receive another 5,000 point bonus. That means that you can earn miles on all of your purchases at 1.25 per dollar spent, faster than the airline’s own cards! Of course you can also use your points for free stays in their hotels, which include Sheraton, Westin, and other brands.
The redemption rates are reasonable and they have no blackouts or capacity restrictions. Also, when you redeem an award for four nights, your fifth night is free. There is a $65 annual fee, but like most cards, they waive it your first year.
See our Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card Review for more information.
The American Express Platinum card is the super travel card that is geared towards people who spend a lot on travel. It offers pages and pages of travel benefits highlighted by the $200 annual airline fee credit, $100 Global entry membership, and membership in several airline lounge and car rental programs.
Each dollar you spend earns you a point in their Membership Rewards program. This program is second only to Starwood in its ability to transfer points to airline miles at will. This card has a $450 annual fee, so it only makes sense for people who really need all the perks that it offers. This is also a card that charges no foreign transaction fees.
See our American Express Platinum Credit Card Review for more information.
The Delta SkyMiles Reserve card is the airline card that is leading the way in offering perks other than just miles. You get a membership in Delta’s Sky Club lounges, free checked bags, and the opportunity to earn elite qualifying miles in their Medallion program. As any Delta flyer knows, moving your way up through the Medallion program is the only way to score free upgrades to first class.
Finally, holders of this card receive upgrade priority over equally ranked passengers who don’t have the Reserve card. These are innovative benefits that really help them justify their $450 annual fee.
See our Delta SkyMiles Reserve Credit Card Review for more information.
I have never flown on British Airways, and perhaps I never will. Nevertheless, my wife and I still have the British Airways Executive Club card from Chase, because you can redeem their miles with their OneWorld Alliance partners such as American Airlines. We both took advantage of their offer of 100,000 bonus miles. Although that promotion has expired, their standard offer of 50,000 bonus miles is still generous.
With this card, you earn 1.25 miles per dollar spent. Cardholders can earn a companion award certificate by spending $30,000 in a calendar year. With it, you can redeem two for one awards on British Airways flights, doubling the value of miles.
Don’t be afraid to use this card overseas, as it does not have charge a foreign transaction fee. This card does have a $79 annual fee, but that is only a small fraction of the value of the bonus miles or the companion certificate.
See our British Airways Chase Credit Card Review for more information.
The Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage card features some great perks including an attractive sign-up bonus, free checked bag and priority boarding, 10% back on redeemed miles, an yearly $100 flight discount, and 25% off in-flight purchases. However, the biggest reason this card makes it on the list is the value of the American Airlines AAdvantage program. They still offer plenty of award seats at the low award levels.
I have had great luck finding my family three standard rate award seats together on several occasions, a feat that is almost impossible on most other airlines. Additionally, AAdvantage offers one way awards so that you can maximize your flexibility, and cardholders are even eligible to redeem miles for reduced price awards for as little as 17,500 miles round trip.
See our Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® Visa Signature® Credit Card Review for more information.
The PenFed Premium Travel Rewards card is great for people who spend a lot of money on airlines, especially those who are reimbursed by their company for business travel. This card offers an outstanding 5% cash back on all airfare, while delivering the standard 1% back on all other purchases.
Because this is an American Express, you can expect exemplary travel insurance and purchase protection benefits as well. There is no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees, but you must meet the Pentagon Federal Credit Union’s eligibility requirements. The requirements are so broad as to already include much of the country, otherwise you can easily purchase a lifetime membership in an eligible charity for as little as $15.
The worst part about the airlines can be their whole class system of benefits for their “elites” and poor service for the rest of us. Even if you spend a tremendous amount on a last-minute ticket or an international flight, you are still treated as second class until you put in your time to earn status.
The exception is at Continental, where all you have to do is get the Continental Presidential Plus card. This card offers lounge access, priority check in, priority security line access, and priority boarding. They will also give you two free checked bags and they even claim that your baggage will be handled more quickly.
In short, you will receive nearly all of the benefits of being one of their elites before you ever set foot on one of their aircraft (you will have to become an actual elite to earn first class upgrades). They also throw in status with Hyatt hotels and Avis car rentals.
The catch is that there is a $395 annual fee, although they will give you a $95 statement credit your first year. For those of you who will be traveling a lot soon, but are not yet “elite,” this card will make you feel like one.
Travelers have specific needs and they demand very valuable rewards from their credit cards. Travel rewards can come in the form of cash, mileage, or in perks such as priority access and fee waivers. If you take the time to research the best travel cards out there, you can be sure of earning the maximum rewards for your loyalty.
What is your travel rewards credit card of choice, and why?