Best Rewards Cards for Travel Purchases in 2019

AwardWallet receives compensation from advertising partners for links on the blog. The opinions expressed here are our own and have not been reviewed, provided, or approved by any bank advertiser. Here's our complete list of Advertisers.

Offers for the Wells Fargo Visa Signature® Card are not available through this site. All information has been independently collected by AwardWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer. Please see our card marketplace for available offers.

Looking for the best rewards card to swipe when making travel purchases?

Redeeming points and miles for travel is the endgame for award travel fans, but there comes the point where even the most seasoned award traveler has to front up hard earned dollars to pay for travel. Paying for flights, hotels, and other travel expenses with the right credit card can earn you thousands of extra points every year, in addition to providing added perks such as travel insurance and lounge access.

Bear in mind, the ‘best’ card is subjective. You need to factor in your circumstances to decide what card works best for you. Take into account your current travel goals and upcoming holiday plans. Which flexible currency transfers to your chosen airline? Is there a card with ancillary benefits that provide additional value like free checked bags or a particular insurance benefit? The answers to these questions will help you nail down an earn and burn strategy to reach your travel goals.

Passengers in airport

Our Pick – The Best Credit Card for Travel Purchases

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

In short, the Sapphire Reserve earns 3X Ultimate Rewards points on a broad range of travel purchases, provides a best in class $300 travel credit, offers terrific lounge access, covers your trip end-to-end with industry-leading travel protections, and you can redeem points for 1.5¢ a piece through the Chase travel portal. Chase includes a wide array of purchases in the travel category, including:

“…airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, campgrounds and operators of passenger trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries, toll bridges and highways, and parking lots and garages.”

Not only do the travel credit and 3X points qualify for purchases with major hotels, airlines, and trains, but also for online travel agencies and less likely accommodation suppliers such as campgrounds; talk about versatility. The card comes with a $450 annual fee, so if you can't leverage maximum value from the Sapphire Reserve’s benefits, you may be better off with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. The Sapphire Preferred sports many of the same travel protection benefits as the Sapphire Reserve, but with a lower annual fee and fewer travel perks.

Best Rewards Credit Cards for Travel

Credit CardPoints Earned on Travel PurchasesOther Bonus CategoriesAnnual Fee
Chase Sapphire Reserve®3X points on travel purchases3X points on dining$450
Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card3X points on travel purchases (up to $150K combined with other categories)3x points per $1 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$95
Citi Prestige® Card5x points on airfare
3X points on cruise lines & hotels
5x points on dining
2X points on entertainment (through 8/31/19)
$495
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card2X points on travel purchases2X points on dining$95
Citi Premier Card3X points on travel, including gas stations2X points dining & entertainment$95, waived for first 12 months
The Platinum Card® from American Express5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel. 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.N/A$550 - Rates & Fees
The Business Platinum® Card from American ExpressGet 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com. Get 50% more Membership Rewards® points. That's 1.5 points per dollar, on each eligible purchase of $5,000 or more. You can get up to 1 million additional points per year.1.5X points
per dollar on eligible purchases of $5,000 or more
$595 -Rates & Fees
U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card3X points on travel purchases3X points on mobile wallet spending
$400
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card3X points on travel purchases3X points on dining, streaming services, and at gas stations$0
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day. Plus, earn 10x miles on purchases from Hotels.com/VentureN/A$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business2 Miles per $1 on every purchase, everywhere.N/A$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® (See Terms)Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchaseN/A$89 (waived first year)

While Chase takes the top spot, a special mention goes out here to the two Citi cards on the table. Not only do the Prestige Card and the ThankYou Premier both earn lots of points on travel purchases (although the ThankYou Premier covers a much broader array of purchases), the travel protection benefits on these two cards are right up there with the best on offer from Chase, and better than that supplied by Amex. The Travel Credit offered on the Prestige Card is also a lot more versatile than the Airline Incidentals Credit provided by the Amex Platinum, covering $250 of travel purchases as opposed to Amex's $200 of airline fees and incidentals.

Amex shares the top spot for airfare with Citi at 5X points, and the 4th-night free benefit offered on the Prestige Card is also worth a mention as the value it provides more than outstrips the points earned on other cards for the same purchase.

Another alternative to the traditional cards mentioned on the list is the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card. The card features multiple 3x bonus categories including travel and gas station purchases. As a standalone card, Go Far Rewards points earned with the Wells Fargo Propel Amex can be redeemed for 1¢ per point, but if you also hold the Wells Fargo Visa Signature® Card, you can combine points into a single account and redeem for flights through the Go Far Rewards travel portal at 1.5¢ per point.

What Purchases are Included in the Travel Category?

Chase, Citi, and Barclaycard all offer relatively similar definitions in the travel category, with purchases from online travel agencies, cruise lines, timeshares, and tour operators included for category bonus and travel credit purposes. Amex on the other hand, adds more restrictions to qualifying purchases and excludes the majority of purchases not made directly with the hotel, airline, car rental agency, or via Amex Travel. U.S. Bank states that purchases must be made directly with the travel provider, whereas

Below are some specific examples pulled from the T&C’s of popular rewards cards. The inclusions differ by provider, and sometimes between different cards from the same provider, so it’s important to clarify what purchases code as travel for bonus points on your particular card.

Chase

“…airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, campgrounds and operators of passenger trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries, toll bridges and highways, and parking lots and garages.”

Citi (ThankYou Premier)

“…airlines, hotels, car rental agencies, travel agencies/travel aggregators/tour operators, gas stations, commuter transportation, ferries, commuter railways, subways, taxis/limousines/car services, passenger railways, cruise lines, bridge and road tolls, parking lots/garages, campgrounds and trailer parks, timeshares, bus lines, motorhome/recreational vehicle rentals and boat leases and rentals.”

A surprising inclusion in Citi’s definitions is gas stations, making the ThankYou Premier card an excellent option for award travelers who like to explore the world on wheels:

Barclaycard

“…airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, campgrounds, car rental agencies, cruise lines, purchase and travel agencies, discount travel sites, trains, buses, taxis, limousines, and ferries.”

American Express

“…airfare must be for a scheduled flight on a passenger carrier and purchased directly from the airline.”

“To earn additional rewards on hotels, the purchase must be for a hotel stay and must be made directly with the hotel. You will NOT earn additional rewards if you prepay for your hotel with a third party, such as an online travel agent, or prepay the hotel as part of a vacation package.”

Amex is very categorical in its travel definitions, with specific exclusions listed for purchases like timeshares and vacation packages. You’ll earn bonus points only on airfare, hotels, and car rentals paid directly to the vendor or Amex, not through a third party such as a travel agent or as part of a package. The terms do state that hotel reservations booked through a third party, but paid for directly to the hotel, qualify for bonus points.

U.S. Bank

“…purchases made directly with airlines, hotels, car rentals, taxicabs, limousines, passenger trains and cruise line companies.”

Wells Fargo

“Airline, hotel/motel, timeshares, or vehicle/auto rental, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, campgrounds.”

“Gas stations and automated fuel dispensers, passenger railway, taxis, limousines, ferries, toll bridges and highways, parking lots and garages. (Gas purchases at warehouse/membership clubs, grocery stores, car washes, auto repair stores and superstores that sell gasoline may not be coded as gas stations or automated fuel dispensers.) “

Are Any Purchases Excluded from the Travel Category?

Like the included definitions above, exclusions differ between cards and providers so be sure to check your card T&C's for what purchases aren't included in the travel category. Examples from some of the cards listed include:

Chase

“…real estate agents, educational merchants arranging travel, in-flight goods and services, onboard cruise line goods and services, sightseeing activities, excursions, tourist attractions, merchants within hotels and airports, and merchants that rent vehicles for the purpose of hauling. In addition, the purchasing of gift cards, points or miles does not qualify in this category unless the merchant has set up such purchases to be classified in the travel category.”

Citi (ThankYou Premier)

“…recreational camps, insurance companies, auto clubs, fuel used for non-automobile purposes, and real estate agencies. Gas purchases made at warehouse clubs, discount stores, department stores and convenience stores do not qualify for 3X Points.”

Barclaycard

“…real estate agents, websites or owners that rent properties, in-flight goods and services, merchants within airports, and merchants that rent trailers, trucks, and other vehicles for the purpose of hauling.”

American Express

“You will NOT earn additional rewards on airfare purchased as part of a vacation package.

You may not earn additional rewards if you purchase airfare with a third party.”

“Timeshares, banquets, events, and vacation packages are NOT included. Hotel rooms paid in advance to a travel agent or travel website are NOT included.”

Final Thoughts

Overall, the Sapphire Reserve still sets the standard as the best card to swipe for general travel purchases, offering awesome perks, excellent insurance benefits, and a solid 3X points on all travel. Citi and Amex still have some catching up to do if they want to knock the Sapphire Reserve off its perch as the top all-around travel rewards card, although the ThankYou Premier from Citi comes pretty close when you factor in the smaller annual fee and broad travel category definitions.

If we’ve missed a card off the list that you think deserves a spot in the top rewards cards for travel purchases, please get in touch via the comments below, and we’ll get it added to the table.

For rates and fees of the cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® (See Terms), The Business Platinum® Card from American Express (Rates & Fees), and The Platinum Card® from American Express (Rates & Fees)

Best Rewards Cards for Travel Purchases in 2019
5 (99%) 20 votes
AwardWallet Tip of The Day
Did you know you can filter the accounts in your AwardWallet profile by program? If you want to view only a subset of your loyalty accounts tracked by AwardWallet, use the Accounts Filter to display only the accounts you're interested in at the moment.
Show me how

The comments on this page are not provided, reviewed, or otherwise approved by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

**You may receive 5 bonus AAdvantage miles for leaving a comment (Details/FAQ)