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$200 hotel credit offered with The Platinum Card® from American Express applies to prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings made via Amex Travel. The Hotel Collection requires a minimum two-night stay.
Redeeming points and miles for travel is the goal for all award travelers. However, sometimes even the most seasoned point collectors have to cough up some hard-earned cash. Using the right card in these situations can earn you thousands of extra points per year. But even beyond points, the right card can provide valuable perks, like travel insurance and lounge access.
Determining the ‘best’ travel card is tricky because it is extremely subjective. You need to factor in your circumstances to decide which card works best for you. You need to take into account your current travel goals and upcoming holiday plans. Moreover, you need to ask questions like:
- Which flexible rewards currency can you transfer to your chosen airline?
- Do you need a card that provides ancillary benefits, like free checked bags or discounted in-flight purchases?
- Which card offers the most comprehensive travel insurance?
The answers to these questions will help you nail down the perfect travel card for every purchase—bringing you ever closer to reaching your travel goals.
- Our Pick: The Best Credit Cards for Travel Purchases
- Other Top Picks
- Where is Citi?
- Top 13 Best Travel Credit Cards
- What Purchases are Included in the Travel Category?
- Final Thoughts
Our Pick: The Best Credit Cards for Travel Purchases
Let's cut to the chase (pun intended). In terms of travel purchases, no card comes close to the comprehensive benefits package offered by the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. For starters, it earns 3X Ultimate Rewards points on a broad range of travel purchases—including some unexpected candidates, like taxis, campgrounds, and ferries. That earning rate goes up to 5X-10X on travel booked through Chase's Ultimate Rewards portal, depending on what you're booking.
Moreover, it provides a best-in-class $300 travel credit, offers terrific lounge access, and covers your trip with industry-leading travel protection. Finally, all the points you earn can be redeemed for a whopping 1.5¢ each through the Chase travel portal or transferred to numerous airline/hotel loyalty programs.
The card comes with a $550 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 (review) sports many of the same travel protection benefits as the Sapphire Reserve — but with a lower annual fee and slightly fewer perks.
Other Top Picks
The travel bonus category is crowded, to say the least. While this can make picking one “best travel card” tricky, it also means we're not left wanting for options among great cards. Let's go through our favorite cards for each sector of the travel bonus category.
Best Benefit-Oriented Travel Card
- Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
- Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
- Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®. And if you fly, you can receive up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year after you select a qualifying airline and incidental fees are charged by the airline to your Platinum Card®.
- $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
- $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
- American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
- $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
- $300 Equinox Credit: Get up to $25 back each month on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
- $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at select airports and stadiums.
- $695 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- Rates & Fees
- Earn 5X points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (up to $500,000 in purchases per calendar year).
- Earn 5X points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
It's impossible to discuss travel cards without bringing up the The Platinum Card® from American Express. It's an icon in the category — and for good reason. Cardmembers earn 5X Membership Rewards points on airfare and hotel bookings, provided the purchase is made through AmexTravel.com or directly with an airline. But that's not the highlight of this card. Where this card shines is in the portfolio of perks and benefits afforded to cardholders.
Some of the top benefits include:
- The most comprehensive airport lounge access provided by any card
- Complimentary elite status with Marriott, Hilton, National, and Avis
- Up to $200 in annual Uber credits
- Up to $200 in annual airline incidental statement credits
- Get $200 in statement credits on select prepaid hotel bookings with Amex Travel
- $100 application fee statement credit for Global Entry membership
- $189 statement credit for annual CLEAR membership
- $100 in annual statement credits against Saks purchases
- Enrollment is required for select Amex benefits.
The Amex Platinum card is the poster child of premium travel rewards cards, and its $695 annual reflects this (Rates & Fees). The card typically comes with a big welcome offer also: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. However, targeted offers worth 125,000 to 150,000 points are known to circulate from time to time.
Best Mid-Tier Travel Cards
- 3x Membership Rewards® on travel
- 3x Membership Rewards® at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery in the U.S.
- 3x Membership Rewards® on transit including trains, buses, ferries, subway, and more
- 1x Membership Rewards® on other purchases
Mid-tier cards are the bread and butter of the travel rewards category. These cards strike the perfect balance of point-earning potential and travel benefits while only charging a modest annual fee.
Award travel veterans might expect the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to take the top spot here, and that's undoubtedly a great choice. Its ability to earn 2X Ultimate Rewards points on all travel and dining purchases while charging a $95 annual fee makes it our favorite travel rewards card for beginners, hands down. However, American Express has turned this sector on its head with its refreshed card benefits.
When the refreshed American Express® Green Card came out, it came with a strikingly-similar earning scheme to that of the Sapphire Reserve. It earns 3X Membership Rewards points on travel purchases and dining worldwide. Sounds familiar, right? While it practically mirrors the Sapphire Reserve for bonus categories, the Green from Amex only charges a $150 annual fee .
It currently sports a welcome offer of 45,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $2,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months.
Best Travel Card for Small Businesses
- Earn 100k bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 cash back or $1,250 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year. Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
- With Fraud Protection your card transactions will be monitored for possible signs of fraudulent activity using real-time fraud monitoring
- With Zero Liability you won't be held responsible for unauthorized charges made with your card or account information
- Redeem points for cash back, gift cards, travel and more - your points don't expire as long as your account is open
- Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Purchase Protection covers your new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per account.
- 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
- 1X point per $1 on all other purchases
The Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card is the flagship card of Chase's small business credit card portfolio. It easily secures the top spot here, thanks to a combination of fantastic attributes.
First, it offers powerful point-earning ability: 3X Ultimate Rewards points on up to $150K spent each year on travel, shipping purchases, internet/cable/phone services, and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines. Second, it provides fantastic travel protections, including trip cancellation/interruption insurance and primary rental car insurance.
The knock-out punch, however, is its colossal sign-up bonus. New applicants can currently earn 100,000 after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. For only a $95 annual fee, this card can't be beaten.
Where is Citi?
You may have noticed the lack of Citibank card mentions thus far. That's because, in mid-2019, Citi famously ditched most of the high-value travel protections it previously provided to cardholders. Consequently, the Citi Prestige® Card and Citi Premier® Card are only worth mentioning for anyone specifically hoping to collect Citi ThankYou Points for their travel purchases. Otherwise, you're better off putting your travel purchases on a card that offers more substantial protections.
Top 13 Best Travel Credit Cards
The cards we've discussed already are the top dogs of the travel category. But that doesn't mean there aren't other cards you may want to consider.
Credit Card Points Earned on Travel Purchases Other Bonus Categories Annual Fee
Chase Sapphire Reserve® • 10X points on hotels and car rentals purchased through Chase
• 5X points on airfare purchased through Chase
• 3X points on other travel worldwide
• 10X points on Chase Dining (including prepaid reservations and takeout purchased through Ultimate Rewards)
• 3X points on all other dining
Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card • 3X 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® Card • 5X points on airfare
• 3X points on cruise lines & hotels
• 5x points on dining $495
American Express® Green Card • 3X points on travel • 3X points on restaurants worldwide $150
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card • 5X points on travel purchased through Chase
• 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022
• 2X points on all other travel
• 3X points on dining at restaurants worldwide
• 3X points on eligible streaming services
• 3X points on online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart, and wholesale clubs)
Citi Premier® Card • 3X points on airfare and hotels • 3X points on gas, dining, and supermarkets $95
The Platinum Card® from American Express • 5X points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (capped at $500,000 per calendar year)
• 5X points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
N/A $695 - Rates & Fees
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases. Earn 1.5X points on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year. • 1.5X points per dollar on eligible purchases of $5,000 or more, up to a cap of $2 million spent on these purchases in a calendar year. $695 - Rates & Fees
U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card • 3X points on travel purchases • 3X points on mobile wallet spending
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card • 2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day. 5 Miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. 5 Miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world’s largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023. N/A $95
Capital One Spark Miles for Business • Earn unlimited 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, everywhere, no limits or category restrictions, and miles won't expire for the life of the account N/A $0 intro for first year; $95 after that
What Purchases are Included in the Travel Category?
Whenever you find yourself wondering how a transaction codes, your first step should always be to consult the AwardWallet Merchant Category Lookup Tool. It allows you to look up the name of a merchant to see how previous purchases coded. Keep in mind, however, that the tool crowdsources its data from AwardWallet users. Consequently, it's not always 100% accurate or all-inclusive.
Further complicating things is the fact that each bank has different notions of what constitutes a ‘travel' purchase. Chase, Barclays, and Wells Fargo all offer relatively similar definitions in the travel category. Amex and U.S. Bank, on the other hand, add more restrictions to qualifying purchases. They both exclude the majority of purchases not made directly with the hotel, airline, car rental agency, or (in the case of Amex) via Amex Travel.
Below are some specific examples pulled from the T&C’s of popular rewards cards. However, the inclusions differ by provider — and sometimes even by card within the same provider. This makes it important to clarify what purchases code as travel for bonus points on your particular card.
“…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.”
“…airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, campgrounds, car rental agencies, cruise lines, purchase and travel agencies, discount travel sites, trains, buses, taxis, limousines, and ferries.”
“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. “
“…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.”
“…purchases made directly with airlines, hotels, car rentals, taxicabs, limousines, passenger trains and cruise line companies.”
Overall, the Sapphire Reserve still sets the standard as the best card to swipe for general travel purchases. It offers incredible perks, excellent insurance benefits, and a solid 3X points on all travel purchases.
Not to be too overshadowed, Amex also offers several exceptional travel card options itself. The benefit-loaded Amex Platinum card continues to be a staple of the category, providing the most perks per capita of any card. Moreover, the refreshed Green from Amex now serves as a competitive alternative to the Sapphire Reserve at a fraction of the cost.
Citi, on the other hand, has a lot of catching up to do with its nuked travel protections. The Prestige Card‘s ability to earn 5X on airfare and its annual $250 travel credit are both great, as is the Citi Premier‘s slew of 3X categories. Unfortunately, great points-earning potential just doesn't cut it when compared to other card issuers' more well-rounded products.
Have we missed a card on the list that you think deserves a spot among the best travel cards? Let us know in the comments below.
For rates and fees of the cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: The Platinum Card® from American Express (Rates & Fees), and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express (Rates & Fees)
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