Best Travel Credit Cards of 2021

Last updated Mar 3, 2021 | By FinanceBuzz Editors

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To help you reach your travel goals in 2021, we’ve chosen credit cards that offer a high rewards rate on travel purchases, a generous welcome offer to give you a head start on earning, and flexible redemption options so you won’t be restricted.

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Best travel credit cards of 2021

Special Offer

Earn 80,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months (plus earn up to $50 in statement credits on grocery store purchases in the first year)

Why We Like It

If you love to travel, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card may be an excellent match for you. It’s one of the most popular travel credit cards available, offering a generous sign-up bonus for new cardmembers, premium travel benefits, and a strong rewards program.

With the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you’ll earn 2X points per $1 spent on dining and travel and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

If you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, your points are worth 25% more, helping you get more value for your points. You can book hotel stays, airfare, and even cruises with your points.

Credit Needed: Good - Excellent

Special Offer

Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first 6 months, plus 10X points on purchases at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets for first 6 months (on up to $15,000 combined)

Why We Like It

If you want a premium rewards card with deluxe travel perks, consider the Platinum Card from American Express. With a generous welcome offer, high rewards rate on eligible purchases, and upscale travel experiences, this card can enhance and streamline your next trip.

The Platinum Card from American Express allows you to earn 5X points per $1 spent on flights booked directly with airlines or American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 per calendar year) and prepaid hotels booked through AmexTravel.com.

The card offers a number of perks to justify its annual fee including up to $200 per year in statement credits for Uber.

You'll also gain access to more than 1,200 airport lounges in over 130 countries through the American Express Global Lounge Collection. You'll also automatically earn Gold Status with the Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors programs.

Credit Needed: Good - Excellent

Special Offer

Earn 100,000 bonus miles after spending $20,000 in the first 12 months (or earn 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months)

Why We Like It

The Capital One Venture Rewards card is best for frequent travelers who aren’t loyal to one particular airline or hotel. It’s a travel rewards card with a generous welcome offer.

You’ll earn 2X miles per $1 spent on every purchase you make and you'll get up to $100 as a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees, helping you breeze through airport security.

Credit Needed: Good - Excellent

Special Offer

Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

Why We Like It

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a top-rated credit card for frequent travelers who can take advantage of its generous travel benefits and high point-earning potential. 

Card benefits include a $300 annual travel credit, primary rental car insurance, Priority Pass lounge access, reimbursement for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, and more. 

Earn 3X points on travel and at restaurants, and 1 point per $1 spent on everything else. Cardmembers receive 50% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.

Credit Needed: Excellent

Special Offer

Earn 100,000 points after spending $15,000 in the first 3 months

Why We Like It

For business owners looking for a rewards card with premium benefits, the Ink Business Preferred card is a standout option. It has a lucrative sign-up bonus, valuable rewards program, and flexible redemption options.

With this card, you’ll earn 3X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable, and phone services, and advertising purchases made on social media sites and search engines — up to $150,000 in combined spending each year.

It also has comprehensive travel benefits, including trip cancellation and interruption insurance, primary car rental insurance, and cell phone protection.

Credit Needed: Good - Excellent

Special Offer

Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you make $4,000 in purchases within the first 6 months

Why We Like It

The American Express Gold Card is a great rewards card option if you have good to excellent credit and love dining out.

You’ll earn 4X points per $1 spent at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000) and at restaurants worldwide. You can even enjoy monthly dining credits at GrubHub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations, giving you an annual savings up to $120. For foodies, that’s a nice way to enjoy free food.

Cardmembers can also enjoy up to $120 per year in Uber Cash by adding the Gold Card to their Uber account. Each month, you'll receive $10 good toward Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S.

Travelers can earn 3X points per $1 spent on flights booked directly with airlines or on Amextravel.com. Terms apply.

Credit Needed: Good - Excellent

Special Offer

Earn up to 60,000 points: 30,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months, plus an additional 30,000 points by earning 2 bonus points per $1 spent on purchases that earn 1 bonus point, up to $15,000 spent in the first 6 months

Why We Like It

If you travel and stay at Hyatt a few times a year, the World of Hyatt credit card could be a good match for you. It has a generous sign-up bonus, a high rewards rate on Hyatt hotel stays, and you can earn free nights.

This card offers serious rewards. You’ll get 9X points per $1 spent on Hyatt purchases. You’ll earn 2X points per $1 spent on transportation, dining out, airline tickets purchases directly from airlines, and fitness club and gym memberships.

Free nights at Hyatt hotels start at just 5,000 points, so you can quickly earn enough points to get a free night.

In addition, you’ll get a free night at a Hyatt Category 1-4 resort each year you’re a World of Hyatt cardmember. If you spend at least $15,000 per year with your credit card, you’ll get another free night certificate.

Credit Needed: Good - Excellent

Special Offer

Earn 125,000 points plus a Reward Night after spending $3,000 in the first three months

Why We Like It

The IHG Rewards Club Premier card is best for travelers who stay at IHG-branded hotels, including Regent, Kimpton, Crowne Plaza, and Holiday Inn hotels. The card boasts a large welcome offer for new cardmembers, high rewards on IHG hotel stays, free rewards nights, and premium travel perks.

With this card, you’ll earn up to 25X points per $1 spent at IHG hotels when combined with existing IHG Rewards Club Member benefits. You’ll also earn 2X points per $1 spent at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants.

As an IHG Rewards Club Premier cardmember, you are automatically upgraded to Platinum Elite status. You’ll get benefits like no blackout dates for rewards nights, complimentary room upgrades, and a 50% bonus on base points.

Credit Needed: Good - Excellent

Special Offer

Earn 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months

Why We Like It

The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless is a good travel credit card for rewards card beginners. It offers a valuable sign-up bonus, higher rewards on Marriott Bonvoy hotel stays, and you can earn free night stays.

When you use the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Visa Signature card, you’ll earn 6X points per $1 spent at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels and 2X points per $1 spent on all other purchases. You can redeem your points for hotel stays at Marriott resorts, including Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, Gaylord Hotels, Le Meridien, Aloft, and Four Points hotels.

Every year after your account anniversary, you’ll enjoy a free night award at an eligible Marriott resort.

Credit Needed: Good - Excellent

Special Offer

Earn 30,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months

Why We Like It

The Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card is a great option for travelers who are loyal to the Marriott Bonvoy brand and want to avoid paying an annual fee.

Cardholders receive 15 Elite Night Credits each calendar year and earn unlimited Bonvoy points.

Earn 3X Bonvoy points at over 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy, 2X Bonvoy points on eligible travel purchases, and 1 point per $1 on everything else.



Credit Needed: Good - Excellent

Special Offer

Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

Why We Like It

If you’re a devotee of Hilton-branded hotels, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass card can be a good travel rewards card for you. It has a large welcome bonus for new cardmembers and you can earn free stays.

If you haven’t yet attained Hilton Honors Gold status, this card gives you immediate Gold status access, which includes free breakfast at all Hilton hotels.

When you stay at an eligible Hilton hotel or resort, you’ll earn 12X points per $1 spent. You’ll also earn 6X points per $1 spent at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations; and 3X points per $1 spent on all other purchases. Terms apply.

Credit Needed: Good - Excellent

Special Offer

Earn 80,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months

Why We Like It

The Hilton Honors Card from American Express is an advantageous travel credit card for travelers who prefer staying at Hilton properties.

Cardmembers receive complimentary Silver status, baggage insurance, and use of Roadside Assistance and Global Assist hotlines.

Earn 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points per $1 spent on participating hotels in the Hilton Honors portfolio, 5X points at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations, and 3X points on other purchases. Terms apply.

Credit Needed: Good - Excellent

Special Offer

Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months

Why We Like It

If you like to travel often and prefer to fly on Southwest Airlines, the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card may be a good travel rewards credit card for you. It has a generous sign-up bonus for new cardmembers and there are no blackout dates for reward flights.

Until March 31, 2021, you'll earn 2X points per $1 spent on Southwest Airlines purchases and participating Rapid Rewards partner purchases, and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. Every year after your cardmember anniversary, you’ll get 6,000 points.

Points earned from your sign-up bonus, anniversary bonus, and on purchases count toward a Companion Pass. Once you reach 125,000 points, you can bring a friend or relative along with you for free for a year — you just pay taxes and fees.

Credit Needed: Good - Excellent

Special Offer

Earn 20,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months

Why We Like It

The new United Gateway Card replaces the United TravelBank Card as the entry-level choice for United Airlines credit cards. This card could be an ideal stepping stone for newcomers to travel cards that want to experience more about how they work and what their benefits are.

With this card, you'll earn 3X miles on grocery store purchases (up to $1,500 per month through Sep. 30, 2021); 2X miles on United purchases, at gas stations, and on transit and commuting; plus 1X on all other purchases.

Cardholders also get 25% back in statement credits on in-flight purchases made with this card, and they will also enjoy travel benefits like an auto rental collision damage waiver and trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance.

Credit Needed: Good - Excellent

Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card

Special Offer

Earn 20,000 points when you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months

Why We Like It

The Wells Fargo Propel American Express card is best for frequent travelers looking for a rewards card with no annual fee.

You’ll earn 3X points per $1 spent on dining out and take out, gas stations, rideshare and transit, flights, hotels, car rentals, homestays, and popular streaming services. 

The card has an introductory 0% APR offer on purchases and balance transfers, giving you a full year before you have to pay interest charges on eligible transactions.

The Wells Fargo Propel offers cell phone protection, as well. Use the card to pay for your cell phone bill and you’ll get up to $600 in protection against theft or damage, subject to a $25 deductible. Terms apply.

Credit Needed: Good - Excellent

>> See more travel credit cards

Most of these travel cards come with basics such as travel insurance and other protections, and some also come with premium perks that will make your next trip more luxurious. We’ve narrowed down the options to the best cards out there, so you can rest assured you’re making a good choice when you pick from our favorites.

How to pick the right card for you

When selecting from this list of credit card offers, it’s important to do some analysis of your spending habits. It could mean the difference between getting an airline card vs. a hotel credit card. Or you may want a more general travel card that lets you transfer your points to your favorite hotel chain.

So before you pick your new card, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much will I spend? You’ll want to make sure that you’ll spend enough with the card you choose to offset the annual fee, if there is one.
  • What will I spend on most? Do make a lot of dining purchases? Do you spend more money on flights or hotels? Do you subscribe to a lot of streaming services? Make sure the bonus categories on the card you choose line up with the categories in which you do the most spending.
  • How frequently will I take advantage of travel perks? Some cards come with perks such as airport lounge access and statement credits for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. If you’re just trying to save for one annual vacation, you might not be able to take advantage of these perks. On the other hand, if you travel frequently, they might be a necessity.
  • What travel perks do I value the most? In addition to how frequently you can take advantage of perks, you also need to think about which ones are most valuable to you overall. For instance, if you're a frequent flyer, you may value the airline fee credits, no foreign transaction fees, priority boarding, or free checked bags that you get with certain cards. But if you travel less frequently, you might get more value from a free Doordash Dashpass membership, bonus points on takeout, or Uber credits.
  • How will I use my rewards? Will you be using your rewards only to book travel, or do you want the option for cash back as well? What airlines and hotels do you frequent? Some cards line up well with certain airlines and hotel brands better than others. Determine how flexible you need your rewards to be.
  • What else do I want from this card? Some cards may offer non-travel benefits like a 0% intro APR on balance transfers or purchases for a certain amount of time after account opening. For example, the first 12 months of card membership. If you have big purchases planned, this might make one card more desirable. 

How do these issuers compare?

Although all of these cards are different, cards from the same issuer have a few things in common. For example, Chase cardholders have access to the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, in which points on premium cards become more valuable when redeemed for travel. Many Capital One cards offer a purchase eraser that applies to travel costs, so you can use your rewards flexibly and after you’ve already booked your trip. And American Express cards are known for their luxury perks and access to the greatest number of airport lounges.

All three of these credit card issuers offer a travel portal that makes it easy to use your rewards points to book travel purchases. And with most cards, you can use a combination of points and cash to complete your booking.

One area you might want to dig into the details is a card issuer's travel partners. If you want to be able to transfer your rewards to a specific hotel or airline loyalty program, then that may be the clincher when it comes to deciding on a Chase vs. Amex card.

FAQs

How does a travel card work?

A travel credit card allows you to earn points or miles you can use for travel costs. Essentially, you’ll get a percentage of all your qualifying purchases back in rewards, which you can then use to fund more travel. Use your points for things like free nights at hotels or a free flight to your dream destination.

How can I fly for free?

To fly for free, you’ll need to rack up enough points to cover the cost. The number of points you’ll need for a free flight depends on the airline you choose and your itinerary. Most credit card issuers have a travel portal you can use to purchase flights with your rewards points. Some cards even let you transfer points directly to airlines or hotels. 

How much is a point or mile worth on travel credit cards?

The value of a point typically depends on how you redeem it. For example, points on travel credit cards are usually worth more when used toward travel than for gift cards or merchandise. As a general rule, a point is worth roughly 1 cent when redeemed for cash back.

How many miles do you need for a free flight?

That depends on your itinerary, your choice of cabin class, and the airline. As an example, you’ll need at least 5,000 miles for a free flight on Alaska Airlines and at least 7,500 miles for a free flight on American Airlines. An international trip could require hundreds of thousands of miles, depending on where and when you’re flying. Check out the number of points you’ll need to get a free flight with the top U.S.-based airlines.

What credit score do you need to get approved for a travel rewards credit card?

While credit score requirements will vary across different card issuers and travel cards, in most cases, you'll likely need a good to excellent credit score to get approved for a travel rewards credit card.

Methodology: How we picked these cards

To select the best travel rewards credit cards, we looked for cards from our partners that offer great ongoing travel perks, bonus rewards for travel expenses, and substantial welcome bonuses. We looked at these benefits in relation to each card's annual fee to determine which cards to include on our list. We did not include all cards available.

Learn insider secrets from the experts so you can travel for next to nothing with credit card points and miles.

#1 Travel Rewards Card

Benefits

  • 80,000 point sign-up bonus
  • Up to $50 statement credit for grocery store purchases
  • 2X points on eligible dining and travel purchases
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Premium travel protection benefits