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What Is the Best Credit Card for Travel?

Getting the best travel rewards credit card depends on understanding your personal travel goals and spending habits so you can match them to different cards’ benefits. 

By Megan Doyle | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor

6 Min Read | August 4, 2021 in Cards

 

At-A-Glance

There’s no such thing as the “best” travel rewards credit card – only the best card for your travel needs.

There are plenty of travel rewards credit cards to choose from, but to get the most bang for your buck, it’s important to understand what to look for.

Some of the most important factors to consider include how you travel, where you travel, and what perks fit your travel style.

Whether you’re a road warrior, a travel enthusiast, or you simply enjoy a nice getaway from time to time, choosing the best travel rewards credit card can lead to big savings on your next trip. The thing is, there isn’t just one travel credit card that can be considered the best. In fact, there are plenty of rewarding cards to choose from, and the best card is the one that matches your lifestyle and travel needs – as long as you know what to look for.


Here’s a breakdown of different types of travel cards and some key considerations to help you choose the best travel rewards credit card for your needs.

 

To Pick the Best Travel Rewards Credit Card, Understand Your Travel Goals

Before you choose a travel credit card, it’s important to figure out your travel goals and spending habits. Later I’ll explain how understanding your needs will help you get the most bang for your buck. For now, here are some questions to help guide you on your quest for the best travel rewards card:

  • How often do you travel?
  • Where in the world do you like to – or want to – travel?
  • Do you fly often? If so, are you loyal to a particular airline?
  • Do you spend a lot of nights in hotels? Are you loyal to a particular hotel chain?
  • Do you spend a lot on dining and entertainment?

Your answers will make it easier to narrow your choices down between general-purpose travel rewards credit cards, airline credit cards, and hotel credit cards.

 

When General-Purpose Travel Rewards Credit Cards Are Best

General-purpose travel credit cards tend to offer the most flexibility in terms of how you redeem your points for travel since they’re not typically linked with specific airline or hotel loyalty programs. Instead, you’ll accrue points in your card issuer’s rewards program. This means you can redeem points for flights, hotels, and other travel expenses through a variety of travel providers.

 
In addition to more flexibility, general-purpose travel credit cards tend to offer more lucrative rewards for non-travel purchases, like dining or groceries. 


Overall, general-purpose travel cards might be most valuable for people who want a lot of flexibility in their travels. For example, a general-purpose travel credit card might be best for you if:

  • You’re an avid traveler with no loyalty to a specific airline or hotel chain.
  • You like to shop for deals on hotels and airfare, regardless of brand.
  • You’d like to accumulate points in return for general purchases, like dining or groceries, and use them towards travel. 

 

When Airline Credit Cards Are Best

Airline credit cards let you accumulate air miles. Your mile rewards will depend on the card, but you’ll usually earn at least two air miles for every dollar spent directly with the airline and one mile per dollar for all other purchases. Miles will accrue in your airline’s loyalty program and can be redeemed towards flights, seat upgrades, and other travel benefits. Some airline credit cards even offer the ability to book vacation packages and other travel-related expenses with miles.

 
It’s common for airline credit cards to offer benefits like priority boarding, a free checked bag, airport lounge access, and more, but specifics will vary according to the credit card’s terms.


If you’re trying to find the best travel rewards credit card, a co-branded airline card might be right for you if:

  • You’re a frequent flyer.
  • You typically fly with a particular airline or its partners.
  • You want perks like airport lounge access and priority boarding.
  • You often check bags when you fly.
  • You want to earn free flights (though government taxes and fees must always be paid).

But take note: Before choosing an airline credit card, make sure that particular airline has plenty of flights to your destination(s) of choice. Not all airlines will offer extensive routes to all corners of the globe, so finding an airline that suits your travel goals is key to getting the most out of your airline credit card. For more on selecting the right airline card, read “How to Choose the Best Airline Miles Credit Card.”

 

When Hotel Credit Cards Are Best

Another type of travel rewards credit card is the co-branded hotel credit card. Like other credit cards, hotel cards will let you accumulate points based on everyday purchases, but most cards will reward you with more points per dollar when you spend directly at the hotel chain or its partners. Points usually accrue in the hotel’s loyalty program and can be redeemed for nights, room upgrades, and other hotel expenses.

 

You might find a hotel credit card will give you the most travel rewards if:

  • You stay in hotels often.
  • You tend to stay at the same hotel chain or its partners.
  • You want perks like late checkout, included breakfast, and room upgrades.
  • You want to earn free nights (again, you’ll likely still pay resort fees and taxes).

If you think a hotel card is the best travel rewards credit card for you, be sure your hotel choice has locations where you intend to travel. Like airlines, not all hotel chains are everywhere. You’ll get the most savings if you choose a travel card co-branded with a hotel chain you’ll frequent. For more on hotel credit cards, read “Comparing the Best Travel and Hotel Credit Cards.”

 

Overall Features to Look for in a Travel Credit Card

Whether you’re in the market for a general-purpose credit card, an airline card, or a hotel card, be on the lookout for a card’s extra perks, privileges, and protections. For example:

  • No foreign transaction fees can save you money on international travel.
  • Rental car insurance can offer peace of mind if you rent cars often.
  • Sign-up bonuses can translate into as much as a round-trip flight or a few nights’ stay.
  • Statement credits for travel expenses can save you money on incidentals.

It’s usually the case that travel rewards credit cards with the most luxurious benefits have high annual fees, but there are plenty of no annual fee credit cards that can help you build rewards and redeem them for travel. The important thing is to understand your spending habits and travel needs. That way you’ll be more likely to choose a travel rewards credit card that will help you get the most rewards and save the most money.

 

The Takeaway

If you spend a lot of time on the road or in the air, you probably will want to find a travel credit card that will reward you for your many hotel stays, flights, and more. Choosing the best travel rewards credit card will depend on factors like where you travel, how you travel, and which benefits are most important to you.

Megan Doyle

Megan Doyle is a business technology writer and researcher whose work focuses on financial services and cross-cultural diversity and inclusion.

 

All Credit Intel content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

The material made available for you on this website, Credit Intel, is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax or financial advice. If you have questions, please consult your own professional legal, tax and financial advisors.