To help you reach your travel goals in 2023, 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.
Best travel credit cards of 2023
Great for Flexible Travel Rewards
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; 3X points on dining, select streaming services, and eligible online grocery purchases; 2X points on all other travel purchases, and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases
Easy-to-Earn Unlimited Rewards
Premium Travel Rewards & Perks
Earn 75,000 miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
2 miles per dollar on every purchase, every day; 10 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, and 5 miles per dollar on flights booked through Capital One Travel
Awesome Rewards Rates + Intro APR
Earn 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months (that’s a $200 cash redemption value)
Earn unlimited 3X points on restaurants, travel, gas stations, transit, popular streaming services, and phone plans; plus earn 1X points on other purchases
Incredibly Flexible Rewards
Earn a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
2 miles per dollar on every purchase, every day and 5 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
Cell Phone Protection + Annual Streaming Credit
U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card
Earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 120 days of account opening
$95 (waived first year)
5X points on prepaid hotels and car rentals booked directly in the Altitude Rewards Center; 4X points on travel, gas stations, and EV charging stations; 2X points on grocery stores, grocery delivery, dining, and streaming services; and 1X points on all other eligible purchases
Earn Valuable Travel Points Even Faster
Earn 60,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening; Plus, for a limited time, earn a total of 10 ThankYou® Points per $1 spent on hotel, car rentals, and attractions (excluding air travel) booked on the Citi Travel℠ portal through June 30, 2024
3X points at restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels; and 1X points on all other purchases
Hot Welcome Bonus
Earn 100k bonus points after you spend $8,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
3X points on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, Internet, cable and phone services, advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines each account anniversary year; and 1X points per $1 on all other purchases
Premium Travel Benefits
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
5X points on flights and 10X points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually; 3X points on other travel and dining & 1X points per dollar on all other purchases
Most of these travel cards come with basics such as travel insurance1 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 and not just focus on the potential bonus for new cardholders. This analysis could mean the difference between getting an airline credit card versus 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 its annual fee, if there is one. Some luxury travel cards tend to have high annual fees.
- What will I spend on most? Do you 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.
- Is there a welcome offer? Travel rewards credit cards typically provide an opportunity to earn a welcome bonus by meeting a certain spending requirement as a new cardmember. It could make sense to time applying for a new card if you know you have upcoming expenses.
- What's your credit score? In general, travel credit cards require at least a good credit score. Card issuers tend to consider other creditworthiness factors as well, but checking your credit score is an easy way to help determine your eligibility.
- How frequently will I take advantage of travel perks? Some cards come with perks such as airport lounge access, statement credits for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, and/or statement credits for Clear Plus. 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. That could depend on the types of travel you typically enjoy. 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 Cash.
- 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? (Note that travel credit cards don't generally make good cash back cards.) What airlines and hotels do you frequent? Some cards line up well with certain airlines and hotel brands better than others. It's also helpful to consider whether a credit card rewards portal (amextravel.com, Chase Ultimate Rewards, etc.) has blackout dates for redeeming points or miles toward travel bookings.
- What else do I want from this card? Some cards may provide non-travel benefits like a 0% introductory APR offer on balance transfers or purchases for a certain amount of time after account opening. For example, the first 12 months or billing cycles of card membership. If you have big purchases planned, this might make one card more desirable as long as you can pay off your balance before the regular variable APR kicks in. These sorts of offers are more common on cash back credit cards than on travel cards, though. There's also typically a balance transfer fee if you want to do a balance transfer with a credit card.
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 many premium cards become more valuable when redeemed for travel. Many Capital One credit cards offer cardholders the ability to redeem miles to cover past travel expenses if those expenses were paid using their Capital One card. And American Express credit 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.
How to compare travel credit cards
There’s no travel credit card that’s going to be right for everyone, as it depends on your travel preferences and spending habits. But you can find the right credit card for you by considering different factors and aligning them with your goals.
Travel credit cards tend to have an annual fee, and sometimes the fee can range into the hundreds of dollars. To justify paying an annual fee, you have to consider all the rewards and benefits of a card and whether you would receive value from those rewards.
If you're a frequent traveler, you might pay a high annual fee to have airport lounge access or elite status with an airline or hotel chain. But if you don’t travel a lot or are a beginner to points and miles, a card with a lower annual fee or no fee might make more sense.
You can’t ignore the value you can receive from a generous sign-up or welcome bonus. In some cases, the points or miles you earn from a bonus offer could easily offset an annual fee for a few years. And that’s without considering how much additional value you might receive from card benefits and earning rewards on everyday spending.
Consider how different cards earn rewards if you want to use them for everyday purchases. For example, it could make sense to go for a card that earns bonus points or bonus miles on dining if you eat out a lot. Or you might want a card that earns elevated rates on groceries, including U.S. supermarkets, or U.S. gas stations.
Additionally, you could have a preferred airline or hotel, such as JetBlue or Hyatt, and want to earn more rewards on applicable purchases with those companies.
If you don't want to worry about earning in specific categories, consider a card with a simple rewards rate. That could look like a basic flat rate of 2X miles or something similar on all eligible purchases, making it easy to earn elevated rewards no matter the category.
Foreign transaction fees
We don’t typically consider any credit card that charges a foreign transaction fee to be a “travel credit card.” This is because you shouldn’t have to worry about paying around 3% of a purchase on any transactions you make abroad.
Most travel credit cards have no foreign transaction fees, but it’s something to keep in mind. This isn’t a big deal if you only travel within the U.S., though international travelers should read over the terms and fees of their card agreements to check for foreign transaction fees.
Where do you typically travel? If it’s outside the country and around the world, you need a credit card that’s accepted internationally. Most countries worldwide accept Visa and Mastercard credit cards. You might discover American Express or other payment networks also work in some other countries, but their global acceptance levels are often much lower.
Perks and benefits
Perks and benefits are a huge reason to apply for a travel credit card. Having elite status or accessing airport lounges, such as Priority Pass, for nearly free (you still have to pay the annual fee on cards that offer this benefit) can greatly enhance your travel experiences.
Want free breakfast or a room upgrade at a hotel? Elite status can get you that.
What about annual travel credits to help discount your flights or hotel stays? Or an application fee reimbursement for popular travel programs, including TSA PreCheck or Global Entry?
From calendar-year credits to concierge services, there are loads of available perks and benefits to choose from across a variety of travel credit cards. Note that annual-fee travel credit cards tend to have more benefits than no-annual-fee cards. But the best travel card for you is the one that has perks that align with your spending habits and lifestyle.
Many travel credit cards provide different types of travel insurance or protections. This could include car rental insurance, travel accident insurance, or trip cancellation or interruption insurance. In some cases, you might also receive access to trip delay reimbursement and lost luggage reimbursement.
These are the types of card benefits that you hope you don’t have to use, but could be very handy if you find yourself in an applicable situation.
A note about transfer partners
Many travel rewards card issuers offer the option to transfer your miles or points to a variety of travel partners in the airline and hotel industries. This gives you the opportunity to potentially gain more value from your rewards than you would be able to otherwise.
For instance, 10,000 Membership Rewards points on the Amex Platinum Card would normally be worth $100 toward airfare in the American Express travel portal. That’s a 1 cent valuation ($100 / 10,000 = $.01) per point.
However, as a cardmember, you can also transfer your points to one of many Amex transfer partners, including airline partners Singapore Airlines. I recently found one-way flights from New York City to Frankfurt for $385.10 or 22,500 KrisFlyer miles via the Singapore Airlines website. Because Amex points transfer to KrisFlyer at a 1:1 ratio, this type of redemption would increase your points valuation to 1.7 cents ($385.10 / 22,500 = $.017) per Membership Rewards point.
You can also take advantage of Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners or Capital One transfer partners depending on which credit card you’re using.
For hotels, Amex transfer partners include the popular Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors hotel loyalty programs. Chase hotel partners include Marriott Bonvoy, IHG Rewards Club, and World of Hyatt. Capital One transfer partners include Accor Live Limitless.
Transferring credit card points or miles to travel partners won’t always present the best deal for your rewards. Make sure you do the math beforehand — comparing the points it takes to book a flight or hotel stay compared to the dollar value — to see whether a transfer is a good deal. You can’t transfer points back to your credit card after, so it’s always best to check the number first.
Note: always do the math on the redemption value of your points and miles when it comes to gift cards and cash back as well. While almost every card offers these types of redemptions, that doesn't mean they're always the best way to use your rewards.
Types of travel credit cards
As you dig deeper into the details of credit cards, you might discover that there are many different types of travel credit cards. It could get confusing as you compare travel protections, interest rates, and spending categories. Or if you’re wondering whether to use a Mastercard, Visa, or American Express credit card.
But while these are all important considerations, we’ve simplified travel credit cards into three easy categories: airline cards, hotel cards, and flexible currency cards.
Airline miles credit cards
Airline miles credit cards make sense if you frequently use the same airline for your travels.
These types of credit cards earn miles with a specific frequent flyer program. For example, a Southwest credit card would earn Rapid Rewards points, while a Delta credit card would earn Delta SkyMiles.
The miles you earn with these cards can typically be redeemed for flights with the applicable airline and potentially partner airlines as well. You might also be able to use miles for other redemptions, but it varies by loyalty program.
Many airline credit cards also provide additional benefits, such as free checked baggage, priority boarding, and airport lounge access. Check out our list of the best airline credit cards.
Hotel points credit cards
Hotel points credit cards make sense if you frequently stay at the same hotel chain on your travels.
These types of credit cards earn points with specific hotel loyalty programs. For example, a Hilton Honors card would earn Hilton points, while a Marriott Bonvoy credit card would earn Marriott Bonvoy points.
The points you earn with these cards can typically be redeemed for hotel stays with the applicable hotel chain. You might also have other redemption options available, including experiences, flights, and car rentals.
Many hotel credit cards provide additional benefits, such as elite status, free night awards, and airport lounge access. Learn more with our list of the best hotel credit cards.
Flexible points credit cards
Flexible points credit cards make sense if you want flexibility with how you can use your rewards.
These types of credit cards earn flexible points, which can typically be redeemed for flights, hotel stays, car rentals, cruises, and more. Some flexible rewards currencies include Chase Ultimate Rewards points, American Express Membership Rewards points, and Capital One miles.
All three of these rewards programs have online travel portals where you can make a number of travel-related bookings, similar to Expedia or Priceline. These programs also allow you to transfer your rewards to travel partners, which opens up more redemption options. Examples of travel partners include United, Southwest, Hyatt, Hilton, British Airways, and more.
The benefits on these cards can vary a great deal, but some of the popular options might provide travel credit, elite status with different loyalty programs, and airport lounge access. You also might find some unique benefits on certain cards. As an example, the American Express® Gold Card provides up to $120 annual dining credit (up to $10 credit per month). Enrollment is required for select benefits.
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 or airline miles 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 if you're redeeming for cash back.
How many miles do you need for a free flight?
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.