1. Check Your Credit Score Before You Apply
The best travel credit cards overall require good or excellent credit for approval, which means you generally need a 700+ credit score for good approval odds. You can check your latest credit score for free on WalletHub.
If you have less-than-good credit, you’ll still be able to find a good card. You’ll just need to consider offers with lower credit score requirements. .
2. Choose Your Credit Card(s) Wisely
If you’re interested in a new credit card mainly for a quick rewards score, focus on the best initial bonuses. If you’d prefer to keep the same card for a long time, place more emphasis on ongoing rewards and fees. If you’re worried about finance charges, a 0% offer has the potential to save you more than even the best travel rewards card.
The bottom line is that you need a plan for how you’ll use any card you apply for. That way, you can focus on comparing the card terms that will affect you the most, making it easy to pinpoint the best card for your particular needs.
For a personalized credit card recommendation based on your latest credit score and spending/payment habits, sign up for a free WalletHub account.
3. Don’t Rule Out Cards With Annual Fees
Finding the best travel rewards credit card for your needs is all about figuring out how much you stand to save once annual fees are taken into account. Many of the best cards have fees because their rewards are more than worth the cost.
4. Pick the Most Valuable Redemption Method
A credit card offer with eye-catching travel rewards might not be all that useful if it includes points or miles that either aren’t worth very much or are very difficult to redeem. Credit card companies often make it clear how much their rewards are worth with common redemption methods, but you may have to dive into the card’s rewards program terms and conditions. Reading reviews can also help enlighten you to common cardholder issues.
If you won’t easily be able to redeem for a card’s most valuable option on a regular basis, the card probably isn’t for you. You don’t want to let a bunch of points or miles expire just because you were overly optimistic about how much you’d travel in the future.
5. Pay with Your Credit Card Whenever Possible
The best credit cards for travel provide a lot of value through initial rewards bonuses and points or miles for every dollar you spend. They also give you a $0 liability guarantee for fraud and often provide benefits such as complimentary rental car insurance coverage. So it’s a good idea to use one for the majority of your travel expenses.
6. Pay the Bill in Full Monthly
The best travel rewards credit cards typically have high interest rates, so carrying a balance from month to month will quickly erase what you earn in rewards. Fortunately, you can avoid interest charges by paying the full balance listed on your statement by the due date each month.
If your credit card has both travel rewards and a 0% APR, you only need to pay the minimum amount due each month while the 0% rate is in effect. Just remember that the 0% rate doesn’t last forever. A high regular APR will apply to any balance remaining when the 0% promotion ends.
7. Take Advantage of Uniquely Valuable Initial Bonus Offers
You don’t want to go overboard and apply for a bunch of cards at once or accumulate more cards than you can comfortably handle, but you should keep your eyes out for uniquely valuable bonus offers and apply when you find a great deal. For example, you could save hundreds of dollars more per year by earning an initial bonus every 12 months.
8. Be Realistic When Considering Co-branded Cards
If you can’t commit to flying exclusively with one airline or always staying at the same chain of hotels, a co-branded credit card might not be for you. You need to regularly make purchases with the hotel or airline in question for a co-branded card to make sense.
9. Tell Card Issuers You’re Leaving
Credit and debit card companies may suspend your account if a bunch of transactions suddenly pop up from outside your normal spending area. You can avoid the hassle by simply telling your issuer where and when you’ll be traveling. This is especially important if you’re headed out of the country, but it could come into play for long domestic trips as well.
10. Don’t Pay Foreign Fees
Nearly 90% of credit cards charge a premium to process transactions outside of the United States. It’s called a foreign-transaction fee, and it ’s usually equal to 3% of any international purchase.
You don’t actually have to be abroad to incur such a surcharge, either. Foreign fees apply whenever you make a purchase through an internationally based merchant. But as long as you have a credit card with no foreign transaction fee, which describes most of the best credit cards for travel, you won’t have to worry.
11. Use Credit for Currency Conversion
Visa and Mastercard offer exchange rates that are roughly 7% lower than what banks and credit unions charge to convert hard currency, according to WalletHub’s Currency Exchange Study. Simply using your card for international spending will also save you about 9% compared to converting money at Travelex.
12. Pay in the Local Currency
Foreign merchants sometimes offer to convert prices into U.S. dollars in order to charge a high conversion rate and line their pockets. You can avoid this by making sure your transaction is expressed in the local currency.
All in all, the best travel rewards credit cards can save you a boatload on everything from cruises to airfare to taxi rides. The trick is to find the right card for your particular needs. For your convenience, we’ll recap our editors’ picks for the best travel credit cards by category below.
Best Travel Credit Cards Comparison
|Credit Card||Category||Annual Fee|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||Winner||$95|
|Discover it® Miles||No Annual Fee||$0|
|U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card||Excellent Credit||$0 intro 1st yr, $95 after|
|Citi Premier® Card||Travel & Dining||$95|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Sign-Up Bonus||$95|
|Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card||Bonus Rewards||$395|
The right travel rewards card is a very powerful tool capable of saving you a lot of money. You just need to find the right card for your needs, and knowing what types of cards are out there can be helpful in that quest.
Types of Travel Credit Cards
Airline Credit Cards
Credit cards affiliated with airlines help frequent flyers earn free flights and enjoy seat upgrades, priority boarding, free checked bags, in-flight savings and other perks. Most major airlines have affiliated credit cards, and most airline credit cards require good credit or better for approval.
Hotel Credit Cards
Hotel credit cards have rewards tailored to specific hotel chains, which help frequent guests earn free nights and provide perks such as elite status, early check-in and late check-out. Major hotel chains from Hilton and Marriott to IHG and Hyatt have their own credit cards, and most require good credit or better for approval.
General Travel Rewards Cards
General-purpose travel rewards cards aren’t affiliated with a particular travel provider, and they allow you to earn rewards points or miles at a competitive rate on all travel purchases and then redeem them to pay for any flight, hotel reservation or other travel expense you want. The best travel rewards cards require good-to-excellent credit, but you can often find good offers for people with lower scores, too.
International Credit Cards
International credit cards have no foreign transaction fee, tend to be on the Visa or Mastercard network, and may have chip-and-PIN functionality. International credit cards usually have good travel rewards, too.
Other Credit Cards with Rewards
Any credit card with rewards can help you save on travel. For example, a cash back credit card still rewards you for travel purchases, and you can redeem what you earn for a statement credit to help offset the cost of travel accommodations.
Other Credit Cards
Any major credit card can be a travel asset, even if it doesn’t offer rewards. Credit cards provide great currency conversion rates, for example, and often have perks such as travel insurance. Besides, simply having a credit card for emergencies can come in handy.
Methodology for Selecting the Best Travel Credit Cards
To identify the best travel credit card offers, WalletHub’s editors regularly compare more than 1,500 credit cards based on their miles, points or cash back earning rates as well as their annual fees, foreign transaction fees, approval requirements and, to a lesser extent, their APRs. We calculate how much different types of travelers would earn over either one year or two years of use, depending on the type of travel rewards card and the manner in which it is likely to be used.
More specifically, we calculate net rewards to estimate earnings after annual fees, and we use consumer spending data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to construct our user profiles. These calculations, combined with analysis of the types of travel rewards cards people search for most often, lead us to the best travel credit cards in the most popular usage categories.
For cards that offer initial rewards bonuses, we include the bonus if a cardholder would earn it by spending an average of $700 per month for up to four months. And for our heavy-spender category, we double the expected spending. Any other bonuses past the four-month mark that require spending to earn are included in calculations if the spending requirement can be met based on the standard spending assumptions we used. We do not consider bonus rewards rates or redemption bonuses that require the cardholder to use the credit card issuer’s travel booking portal. These portals often have relatively high prices and limit customers’ options.
Finally, we repeat this exercise on a regular basis, updating our picks whenever offers change enough to warrant it.