Best Travel Credit Cards of 2021

Last updated Oct 21, 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.

In this article

Best travel credit cards of 2021

Intro Offer

60,000 points

Annual Fee

$95

Rewards Rate

up to 5X points

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, you earn 5X points on Lyft rides (through March 2022) and travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on eligible dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases; 2X points on travel; and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases.

Each year on your card anniversary, you will also earn bonus points equal to 10% of the total purchases you made in the previous year.

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.

Card Details
  • Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 5X points on Lyft rides (through March 2022) and travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on eligible dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases; 2X points on travel; and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases

Intro Offer

60,000 Membership Rewards points

Annual Fee

$250

Rewards Rate

up to 4X points per dollar

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, after that 1X) and at restaurants. 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. Select benefits require enrollment.

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. Select benefits require enrollment.

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

Card Details
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you make $4,000 in purchases within the first 6 months
  • 4X Membership Rewards points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year, after that 1X) and at restaurants, 3X on flights booked directly with airlines or on Amextravel.com, and 1X on all other eligible purchases
  • Terms apply

Intro Offer

50,000 points

Annual Fee

$550

Rewards Rate

up to 10X points per dollar

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. 

With this card, you earn 10X points on Lyft rides, Chase Dining purchases, and hotels and cars booked through Ultimate Rewards; 5X points on air travel booked through Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on other travel and dining; and 1X points 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.

Card Details
  • Earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 10X points on Lyft rides, Chase Dining purchases, and hotels and cars booked through Ultimate Rewards; 5X points on air travel booked through Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on travel and dining, and 1X points per $1 spent on everything else

Intro Offer

100,000 Membership Rewards points

Annual Fee

$695

Rewards Rate

up to 5X points

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 statement credits for hotels, airline fees, digital entertainment, Equinox, and CLEAR membership. Select benefits require enrollment.

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. Select benefits require enrollment.

Card Details
  • Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 in the first 6 months, plus 10x points on eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S. (up to $25,000 in combined purchases during your first 6 months)
  • 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare (on up to $500,000 per calendar year, after that 1X) and eligible hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases
  • Terms apply

Intro Offer

100,000 miles

Annual Fee

$395

Rewards Rate

up 10X miles

Why We Like It

This premium travel card from Capital One earns 10X miles per dollar on hotels and car rentals booked through Capital One Travel, 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel, and an unlimited 2X miles per dollar spent on everything else.

Cardholders receive up to $300 in annual travel credits for bookings made through Capital One Travel. They will also receive 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 through Capital One Travel) on each account anniversary.

The Venture X provides complimentary and unlimited access to Priority Pass lounges, as well as access to Capital One Lounges. You also receive up to a $100 statement credit for the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck programs.

Card Details
  • Earn 100,000 bonus miles after spending $10,000 on purchases in the first 6 months (plus, earn up to $200 in statement credit for vacation rentals like Airbnb and Vrbo in the first year)
  • 10X miles per dollar on hotels and car rentals booked through Capital One Travel, 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel, and 2X miles per dollar spent on everything else

Intro Offer

60,000 miles

Annual Fee

$95

Rewards Rate

up to 5X miles

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.

Card Details
  • Earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 2X miles on all other purchases

Intro Offer

100,000 points

Annual Fee

$95

Rewards Rate

up to 5X points

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.

Card Details
  • Earn 100,000 points after spending $15,000 in the first 3 months
  • 5X points on Lyft rides; 3X points on the first $150,000 spent each year on travel, shipping, internet, cable, or phone services, and advertising purchases with social media and search engines; and 1X points per $1 on everything else

Intro Offer

30,000 points

Annual Fee

$95

Rewards Rate

up to 9X points

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.

Card Details
  • 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
  • 9X points per $1 spent at Hyatt hotels; 2X points per $1 spent on eligible travel, dining, and health purchases; and 1 point per $1 spent on everything else

Intro Offer

125,000 points

Annual Fee

$89

Rewards Rate

Up to 25X points

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.

Card Details
  • Earn 125,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months
  • 25X points per $1 spent on stays at IHG hotels and resorts; 2X points at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants; and 1X points on other purchases

Intro Offer

3 Free Nights

Annual Fee

$95

Rewards Rate

up to 17X points

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 up to 17X 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.

Card Details
  • Earn 3 Free Nights (worth up to 50,000 points each) after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, plus earn 10X points on up to $2,500 in combined spending at gas stations, restaurants, and grocery stores in the first 6 months
  • 17X points at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy (when coupled with your complimentary Marriott Bonvoy membership and Silver Elite status) and 2X points per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases

Intro Offer

30,000 points

Annual Fee

$0

Rewards Rate

up to 14X Bonvoy points

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 up to 14X 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.



Card Details
  • Earn 30,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 14X Bonvoy points at over 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy (when coupled with your complimentary Marriott Bonvoy membership and Silver Elite status); 2X Bonvoy points on eligible travel purchases; and 1X points per $1 on everything else

Intro Offer

50,000 points

Annual Fee

$99

Rewards Rate

up to 3X points

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.

You'll earn 3X points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases; 2X points on local transit, commuting, and rideshare, as well as internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming; plus 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.

Card Details
  • Earn up to 100,000 bonus points: 50,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months, plus 50,000 more bonus points after your spend $12,000 total in the first 12 months
  • 3X points for Southwest purchases; 2X on local transit, commuting, and rideshare, as well as internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming; and 1X points on all other purchases

Intro Offer

20,000 miles

Annual Fee

$0

Rewards Rate

up to 2X miles

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 who want to experience more about how they work and what their benefits are.

With this card, you'll earn 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.

Card Details
  • Earn 20,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
  • 2X miles on United purchases, at gas stations, and on transit and commuting; plus 1X on all other purchases

Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card

Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card

Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card

Intro Offer

20,000 points

Annual Fee

$0

Rewards Rate

up to 3X points

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.

Card Details
  • Earn 20,000 points when you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months
  • 3X points on eligible dining, transportation, travel, and streaming service purchases; and 1X points on other purchases
  • Intro purchase 0% offer: 0% for 12 months then 14.49% to 24.99% (variable)
  • Intro balance transfer 0% offer: 0% for 12 months then 14.49% to 24.99% (variable)

>> 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.

Our #1 Travel Card

Intro Offer

60,000 points

Annual Fee

$95

Rewards Rate

up to 5X points

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • 60,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 5X points on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 10% anniversary point bonus each year
  • $50 annual credit on hotel stays booked through Ultimate Rewards
  • Premium travel protection benefits

Drawbacks

  • Has annual fee
  • Typically need to spend thousands to reap rewards
Card Details
  • Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 5X points on Lyft rides (through March 2022) and travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on eligible dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases; 2X points on travel; and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases

Author Details

FinanceBuzz Editors The editors at FinanceBuzz are a team of personal finance professionals dedicated to providing readers with accurate, helpful advice.