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March 2021 Best Travel Credit Cards – Seasoned travelers know that planning ahead is key to enjoying a successful vacation. You need to make sure your flight, hotel and transportation is all squared away before you put in for those vacation days. If the very idea of booking a flight has you reaching for your calendar, you definitely want to keep reading. There’s actually a way to start prepping for a trip before you even know where you want to go — a travel credit card.

Travel credit card membership has some pretty serious benefits. First, these cards come with some of the highest travel reward points out there — every time you use one, the points you earn can be used toward a future (or sometimes a past) travel purchase. And if you spend money on certain eligible purchases, you’ll earn even more bonus points and start working your way toward bonus miles and elite status. A travel rewards card also comes in handy for travel perks such as first-class upgrades for the frequent traveler, priority boarding, free TSA Precheck and Global Entry, airport lounge access and exclusive hotel or rental car benefits. We’ll add that they’re similar to an airline card, but offer more flexible benefits.

March 2021 Best Travel Credit Cards

How To Pick The Best Travel Credit Card

The points and travel benefits that you accrue through a travel rewards program are often redeemed through your credit card issuer’s website (or app) or appear as a statement credit that reimburses you for past travel-related and everyday purchases you made with your travel credit card. Points or miles can also be transferred to travel partners — mostly hotels and airlines — at a fluctuating conversion rate, where they can then be used to book a flight or hotel room. More on that later.

To choose the best travel credit card, there are a few key factors to consider:

  • Annual fees. Every single travel rewards program reviewed here has annual fees, with some climbing as high as $550, but those fees are usually mitigated by monthly or annual credits.
  • Exclusive perks. Some of these travel rewards card options also grant access to exclusive travel perks, like airline lounges, priority boarding or VIP welcomes at hotels. The value of those perks is subjective and something you’ll have to evaluate for your needs and wants.
  • Foreign transaction fees. None of the best travel cards makes users pay a foreign transaction fee, so a foreign transaction fee is not something you have to worry about with any of the credit cards recommended below.

The Best Travel Credit Card Overall For Most Travelers

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Reward rates: 3x points on travel and dining (begins after earning $300 credit), 1x point on all other purchases

Annual fee: $550

Welcome bonus: 50,000 points

Bonus redemption threshold: Spend $4,000 in first three months

APR: 16.99% to 23.99% variable

Foreign transaction fees: None

Credit requirement: Excellent

Chase Sapphire Reserve offers great value for those who spend around $12,000 or more annually on travel. The credit card company lets you accrue rewards card points for flights, hotels, rental cars, trains, buses and either travel or dining. Consider the Platinum Card (for the frequent flyer) or the Gold Card (for high food budgets). Otherwise, I’m a big fan of the wide range of expenses that fall under the Chase Sapphire Reserve card’s bonus points categories. And it’s even better for those who value its additional travel perks like travel insurance, hotel discounts and lounge access through Priority Pass Select.

The best travel credit card for foodies and big grocery shoppers

American Express The Gold Card

Reward rates: 4x points on dining and supermarkets, 3x points on flights (booked directly with airline or amextravel.com), 1x points on all other purchases

Annual fee: $250

Welcome bonus: 60,000 points 

Bonus redemption threshold: Spend $4,000 in first six months

APR: 15.99% to 22.99% variable

Foreign transaction fees: None

Credit requirement: Good to Excellent

As the only card on this list that offers a high rewards rate on both dining and US supermarket purchases, the Gold Card from American Express is a great option for those who don’t currently spend a ton on travel every year, but would like to travel at a discount with points earned spending money on food.

If you spend more than about $7,000 annually on dining and US supermarkets (including smaller grocery stores, but excluding big-box stores like Walmart or Target), the $250 annual fee is well worth it. Considering the average American household spent $7,923 on food in 2018, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, many households could benefit from the Gold card. (If you spend a high amount on both food and travel each year, I recommend the Chase Sapphire Reserve instead.)

The Best Travel Credit Card For First-Class Fliers

American Express The Platinum Card

Reward rates: 5x points on flights (booked directly with airline or Amex Travel) and prepaid hotels (*booked on Amex Travel)

Annual fee: $550

Welcome bonus: 100,000 points

Bonus redemption threshold: Spend $15,000 in first six months

APR: Not applicable (late fee up to $39 applies)

Foreign transaction fees: None

Credit requirement: Good to Excellent

The Platinum Card is Amex’s top-tier travel card, offering the highest potential reward rate of any we’ve reviewed, topping out at 10%, depending on how points are redeemed (details below). This card is ideal for anyone who already spends more than $10,000 annually on flights and hotels alone and for those who value premium travel perks such as lounge access and hotel upgrades. The narrow rewards structure — which doesn’t include food or dining — and high annual fee of $550 make this a valuable card for a particular spending profile, so do the math before signing up.

The Best Travel Credit Card For Earning Miles On Everyday Spending

Capital One Venture Card

Reward rates: 2x miles on everyday purchases

Annual fee: $95

Welcome bonus: 60,000 miles

Bonus redemption threshold: Spend $3,000 in the first three months

APR: 17.24% to 24.49% variable

Foreign transaction fees: None

Credit requirement: Excellent

The Capital One Venture travel rewards credit card is a straightforward, easy-to-use option for those who would like to book travel with travel reward miles generated from general spending and would rather not worry about eligible purchase spending categories.

Rewards details

With unlimited 2x miles on every purchase, the Venture card is the broadest-earning travel card available. You can earn 60,000 Capital One Rewards miles when you spend $3,000 in the first three months (compare that with $4,000 for most other cards). That’s significant — especially given the relatively low $95 annual fee. The Capital One Venture also gives cardholders a TSA Precheck or Global Entry credit, which is worth about $15 to $20 a year, as well as travel accident insurance and rental collision insurance (more on that later).

The Best Travel Credit Card For Low-Risk, No-Fee Use

Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card

Reward rates: Unlimited 3% cash back (3x points) on dining, travel, gas stations, transit and select streaming services, 1% (1x points) on everything else

Annual fee: $0

Welcome bonus: $200 (20,000 points)

Bonus redemption threshold: $1,000 in first 3 months

APR: 15.49% to 27.49% variable

Credit requirement: Good to Excellent

The Wells Fargo Propel card is not technically a travel rewards credit card — its rewards come in the form of cash back rather than travel points or miles. Despite this, the Propel card is an easy solution for those who want to earn money back on their travel and dining spending but don’t necessarily want to use those rewards to book more travel through a credit card miles portal.

Though the card has a lower return rate than the other travel cards, its $0 annual fee and lower risk make it ideal for those spending less than $10,000 a year in the qualifying categories. It’s also a good option for anyone who prefers to earn cash back directly instead of booking rewards travel.

How do travel credit cards work?

Travel credit cards turn purchases into points or miles that can be redeemed for travel purchases, like flights and hotel stays. Sometimes you can redeem those points for cash or a gift card, but you get the best rate when using them to book travel. The top cards have their own travel booking portals through which you can find flights, hotels and rental cars; sometimes, points are worth more when used in those credit card company portals.

Airline and hotel credit cards — which we didn’t include in this list — operate like loyalty programs in that you stay in a closed loop rewards system. You earn rewards when you purchase flights or hotels through your chosen airline or hotel company, and you can use those points for perks or future bookings through the same airline or hotel group.

Other Travel Credit Card Benefits

Most travel credit cards — which carry hefty annual fees — include benefits that further add value to those cards. Benefits like rental car collision insurance and even lost luggage reimbursement have become standard. Here’s what’s offered for the cards chosen:

  • Travel accident insurance: Reserve, CapOne Venture
  • Trip cancellation insurance: Reserve, Platinum
  • Trip delay reimbursement or protection: Reserve, Platinum
  • Lost luggage reimbursement: Reserve, Platinum, Gold, Propel
  • Rental car collision insurance: Reserve, Platinum, Gold, Venture, Propel

How We Picked The Best Travel Credit Cards

To determine our recommendations for the best travel credit card, we researched 19 of the most popular travel rewards credit cards (listed below) and selected based on the best monetary value for certain customer profiles, such as frequent travelers, those who spend a lot on dining and groceries or those who are looking for an easy way to travel at a discount with miles earned on everyday spending. We always hold overall net value as paramount, since choosing the right rewards credit card is about saving money and being financially responsible, not being lured by perks or offers that are flashy or irrelevant.

To determine when a card makes financial sense, these cards were compared with the top no-fee cash-back card for dining and travel, the Wells Fargo Propel. Since the Propel card gives cardholders 3% back on travel, transit and dining with no fee, it was used as a baseline for judging the below cards.

Cards researched

  • Platinum Card from AmEx
  • Gold Card from AmEx
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • Capital One Venture
  • Capital One VentureOne
  • Bank of America Premium Rewards
  • PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Card
  • Uber Visa Card
  • BofA Travel Rewards
  • Discover It Miles
  • Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard
  • Hilton Honors American Express Surpass
  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless
  • JetBlue Plus
  • Alaska Airlines Visa Signature
  • United Explorer Card
  • Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express
  • Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express
  • Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

By Sunrise

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