Retail loyalty programs date back to the late 18th century, when copper tokens were given out to customers to be redeemed on future purchases. In later years these tokens evolved into stamps and this then paved the way for one of the biggest and most well known loyalty programs of all: Frequent Flyers.
This program gives customers air miles every time they spend money on a credit card, and if they get enough of these then they can enjoy free flights and vacations courtesy of the institution operating the scheme. Cards that offer these programs are known as “travel credit cards” and they are a niche part of the reward card program.
In this guide we’ll pick out the very best travel credit cards to help you find something suited to your needs as a traveller and your preferences as a credit card user.
Best Credit Cards for Travel
1. Platinum Card from American Express
There are so many benefits to this travel credit card that it’s hard to see how any other card could beat it to the top of this list. You can earn a huge 5x more points every time you book a stay in an eligible hotel or a flight with an eligible airline. What’s more, when you signup for the card you can choose a favoured airline (from their list) and get $200 in credit every year when you have flown with that airline.
There are also a number of perks that Platinum Card holders can secure, including VIP service at hotels, VIP status with Uber, and much more. You truly get to feel like a VIP traveller whether you’re hopping in an Uber to take a trip to your favorite restaurant or you are flying halfway around the world.
And if that sounds too good to be true, then it might be. Because this card is as exclusive as it sounds. You will struggle to get this card if your credit score drops below “Good”. And if you’re not a high earner who flies a lot and is constantly on the move, you probably won’t benefit from its services either. There is also a good chance that you’ll have a heart attack when you see the annual fee.
- Annual fee of $550.
- Card is made out of metal (but not platinum, unfortunately).
- Geared towards high-income individuals who travel a lot.
- No points for dining, despite many competitors offering these.
- One of the world’s most sought-after premium travel credit cards.
- Great rewards scheme.
- Benefits for Hilton and Starwood customers.
- You can earn 5x as many points on eligible hotels and flights.
- An array of car rental services available.
- Additional InCircle and AMEX Gold cards available.
2. Capital One Venture Card
This travel credit card offers an impressive signup bonus and a great return on your miles. Your miles are valued at $0.01 each, and while that may not sound like a great deal, they add up very quickly, especially with the bonuses that Capital One throw at you.
If you spend $3,000 in the first three months of acquiring the card then you will get an additional 50,000 miles, as well as the ones you accumulate from the $3,000 spend. This means that your account gets a boost of $500 in free miles and travel rewards. You can also get an additional 5,000 miles (valued at $50) by adding an authorised user to the account.
The only real drawback to this card is that you really need to use your miles to travel, as the cashback incentives aren’t great. But that’s what travel credit cards are for.
- There is an annual fee of $95, but this is waived for the first year.
- 14.49% to 24.49% APR on purchases and on balance transfers.
- It uses a miles based system as opposed to a points based one.
- Will need a good or excellent credit score to get this card.
- No foreign transaction fees.
- Get miles with every single purchase that you make.
- You can redeem your miles for cash if preferred, but only at a reduced rate (200 points = $1).
- Rewards will not expire over the lifetime of the account.
3. Citi ThankYou Premier Card
There are a few different Citi rewards cards available, including the Prestige VIP option, the Preferred card, which comes without an annual fee, and the Premier card, which is our pick for the third best travel credit card on this list.
It does have an annual fee and it’s not quite as exclusive as the Prestige, but it fits nicely in the middle of those two and will be ideal for the majority of customers. There is a big points bonus paid out when you spend $4,000 in the first three months and there are additional points to be earned when you spend money on gas, dining and entertainment. In other words, they reward you for getting out and about and having a little fun.
You can’t argue with that.
- Free for 12 months; $95 annual fee after that. Price is per cardholder.
- 15.99% to 24.99% APR.
- Penalty APR of 29.99%.
- 3% balance transfer fee.
- Good credit score needed.
- 3x points on gas; 2x on dining and shows; 1x on all other purchases.
- 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in first three months.
- Points can be redeemed on airfare or gift cards, with the former offering the best value for money.
Other Great Travel Credit Cards
There are some other worthwhile travel credit cards that deserve a spot on this list. These include:
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
The only reason this card isn’t getting a higher place on this list of the best travel cards is because we gave it pride of place at the top of our Rewards Credit Cards Guide. It’s a great travel rewards card, but it also has many options for redeeming and earning on non-travel related purchases such as dining-out.
British Airways Cards
For many years the Avios points system was one of the best of any travel reward card, but at the time of writing Avios is coming to an end and all members are being moved to a new system. Avios still exists as a currency (but not a program) and it remains to be seen whether this will remain. In any case, it’s always worth looking into BA rewards cards because they have been doing this for years and the airline flies worldwide with great First Class options. It has also been very generous in the past.
United MileagePlus Explorer Card
You can get 40,000 points after three months if you spend $2,000 on this card, a target that many customers will hit. It has a $95 annual fee, but some good rewards and great ways to redeem them. United fly across the US and this is a good option for domestic travellers looking for easily redeemable air miles on domestic flights.
Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card
You can get 75,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. It’s a big total and an easy target, which will entice many. It doesn’t quite compare to the best travel cards listed above, but it’s deserving of a place nonetheless.