Best Credit Cards for Travel | CardJoy

Travel cards offer some of the best rewards and benefits in the industry. With sign-up bonuses ranging up to 50,000 points, rewards as high as 2.2x miles per dollar spent and 0% intro APR and balance transfers for up to 15 months, the right travel card can help you defer the cost of your trip and offset some related expenses at the same time. Several of our recommendations also have no transaction fees for foreign currency transactions (the industry often charges 3%).

Travel cards fall into two broad categories: branded rewards cards and flexible rewards cards. Branded cards are affiliated with a single company and generally offer fantastic rewards rates for purchases made with that company. Flexible travel cards earn at a steadier rate and the rewards can be used on a broader array of purchases. The basic rule of thumb is that if you travel often and prefer a particular brand (hotel, airline etc) it's worth investigating branded cards but generally it's a safer bet to select one of the flexible travel cards.

Best Overall Travel Card


Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

An excellent rewards card. This fee version of the card ($89 annual fee - waived the first year) is packed with perks including 2 miles per dollar on all purchases, a 40,000 mile bonus if you charge $3,000 or more to the card during the first 90 days (worth $400+ in mile rewards) and 12 months of 0% APR on balance transfers made within 45 days of opening your account (a transaction fee applies). Arrival Plus™ card "miles" are a flexible reward currency and can be redeemed for statement credits against any charged purchase; cardholders simply visit their accounts online and click the charge they want to redeem points against. Miles redeemed against travel expenses (hotels, air travel or car rentals) earn a 5% bonus back in the form of more miles. Travelers will be happy to know that the card has no foreign currency transaction fees and cardholders enjoy World Elite Mastercard® benefits* on card purchases: extended warranty, travel accident insurance, purchase protection, auto rental collision damage waiver and concierge services. If you're still on the fence, check out our extended review of the Arrival Plus™ World Elite Mastercard® and see why it's the card we most often recommend to family and friends.

Best Overall Travel Card: No Annual Fee


Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard®

An excellent rewards card. This no annual fee version of the card is loaded with perks: 2 miles per dollar on dining and travel purchases and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases, a 20,000 mile bonus if you make $1,000 or more in purchases during the first 90 days the account is open (worth $200+ in mile rewards), 12 months of 0% intro APR on balance transfers made during the first 45 days your account is open (a transaction fees applies) and no foreign transaction fees. Arrival™ card "miles" are a flexible reward currency and can be redeemed for statement credits against any charged purchase; cardholders simply visit their accounts online and click the charge they want to redeem points against. Miles redeemed against travel expenses (hotels, air travel or car rentals) earn a 5% bonus back in the form of more miles. Cardholders also enjoy World Mastercard benefits on card purchases*: travel accident insurance, purchase protection, auto rental collision damage waiver, extended warranty and concierge services. The Arrival card is a great, no annual fee option for travelers.

If you're still on the fence, check out our extended review of the Arrival World Mastercard.

Best Hotel Branded Card


Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Earn 5 Starwood points per dollar charged at Starwood Resorts and 1 Starwood point per dollar on all other purchases. The card's $65 annual fee is waived for the first year and new cardholders have the opportunity to earn 10,000 bonus points after their first purchase with the card and an additional 15,000 bonus points after charging $5,000 in the first 6 months of ownership. Points redemptions for Starwoods stays can earn rewards rates as high as 3-4% and are typically the most efficient use of points. Additionally, the program allows members to transfer points to a wide range of frequent flyer programs, often at even exchange rates. Beyond hotel rewards the card carries many of the perks associated with American Express: extended warranty protection, travel insurance, car rental (CDW) insurance and purchase and return protection*. Getting the maximum benefit out of the Starwoods card takes a little bit of work but if you're willing to put in the effort it is without question one of the best rewards cards on the market. Terms and limitations apply - see the application page for full details.

Best Airline Branded Card


Southwest® Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card

A good card if you plan to fly Southwest. As a new card holder you will earn 50,000 bonus points after charging $2,000 within your first 3 months of ownership. 50,000 points is a strong rewards offering and good for up to two roundtrips (see details; point redemptions vary) though, as is always the case, you'll have to pay government ticket fees on any redemptions ($23 average according to Chase). Beyond the sign up bonus, You'll earn 1 point for each dollar charged to the card and 2 points total for purchases made with Southwest or on car and hotel reservations made on your card through the Rapid Rewards program. You will have to pay a $99 annual fee on your first account statement but given that the signing bonus is worth in the vicinity of $700 (we assume Rapid Rewards points are worth roughly 1.4 cents - your experience may vary) you should consider that money well spent. The card pays an anniversary bonus each year of 6,000 points and allows you to earn 1,500 Qualifying Tier Miles (up to 15,000/year) for each $10,000 you charge. Lastly the card carries a solid (but standard at this credit level) set of insurance and purchase benefits as well as a very nice 0% transaction fee on foreign purchases. Overall, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card offers an excellent sign up bonus and average rewards on purchases. If you want to max out your purchase rewards rate you may want to consider the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, the Fidelity Cash Rewards or the Citi Double Cash but in you're after an awesome sign-up bonus and Rapid Rewards are convenient for you this is a solid all around card.

Best Sign-Up Bonus Travel Card


Chase Sapphire Preferred®

A high performing rewards card offering 40,000 point bonus (worth $400-500) to new customers who charge at least $3,000 to the card within their first three months. Cardholders receive 2 points per dollar on all travel and dining purchases and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. Additionally, a bonus equal to 7% of all points earned during the prior 12 months is awarded each year on the cardholder's anniversary date. Points can be used for a wide array of rewards and transfer to many frequent flyer programs on a 1:1 ratio. Travel booked directly through Chase using points is discounted by 20%. The card carries no intro APR or balance transfer promotions and carries a 15.24% (V) APR. The annual fee is waived for the first year but, at $95 going forward, needs to be considered in your decision to choose this card. All in all this is a good travel rewards card with an excellent sign up bonus.

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* Terms and limitations apply. See the online credit card applications for details about terms and conditions of reward programs and offers. APR rates are generally variable. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information, however all credit card information is presented without warranty. When you click on the "Applyā€¯ button you can review the credit card terms and conditions on the credit card issuer's web site.

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