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Summer is a great time to travel. With the kids out of school and the weather finally warmer, it’s the perfect time to take a break. No matter where you want to go, or how you want to get there, using the right credit card can help make your trip smoother and, in certain cases, help it cost less. Credit card rewards and points can be used to offset the cost of your travel and hotel stays, or can even be redeemed for cash back to help you afford a few extra souvenirs.
If you are planning to travel this summer, here are six cards that will help you make the most out of your trip.
The Best Travel Credit Cards of 2019
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Bank of America Travel Rewards
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express
- IHG Rewards Club Premier
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard
How we evaluated
I’m a travel writer who has been writing about credit cards for the last six years and studying card benefits for many years longer. Many credit card options help elevate your travel experience, and I’ll help you figure out which option is the best for you. To examine cards, I looked at major credit cards with flexible points, points with hotels and airlines, and cash back. The best cards were chosen based on the value of rewards (both points and perks), fees, and flexibility.
Things To Know About Credit Cards
- Many of the best cards come with an annual fee, but some cards offer perks each year that significantly defray (or even negate) the fee. The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card is a good example of this.
- APR rates and credit limits vary based on your individual credit. Credit limits and interest rates for each card are determined based on each cardholder’s personal situation, so we did not take that information into account when evaluating these cards. One thing to remember is that if you pay your card off in full every month, you will not be charged interest.
- Banks have the final say on who they accept for a credit card. These recommendations were put together with the assumption that applicants would have average credit or above. That being said, banks decide who they will issue credit cards to using criteria including, but not always limited to, an individual’s credit score when evaluating each applicant.
Best Overall: Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred has been a favorite travel credit card for its great benefits and flexible points since it was first introduced in 2009. And it’s still the number one credit card for many types of travelers. The Sapphire Preferred Card earns super flexible Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be used for nearly any type of travel redemption including hotel stays, cruises, car rentals, and flights. So if you don’t know what you’re planning to do yet this summer, or if your plans change each year, this card offers the kind of flexibility that meets your need, for a reasonable $95 annual fee.
Points: The Sapphire Preferred card earns 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on all travel and dining purchases and 1 Ultimate Reward point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Ultimate Rewards points can then be used to book hotels, cruises, car rentals, vacation rentals, and more directly through Chase’s travel portal with a value of 1.25 cents per point ($0.0125). For additional flexibility, points can also be transferred to Ultimate Rewards partners including programs like Hyatt and United Airlines. If you just want the cash back, Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed for cash at a rate of 1 point for $0.01. So, those 10,000 points could cover a $125 night in a partner hotel, or could put a cool $100 back in your bank account.
Perks: The Chase Sapphire Preferred has many great benefits in addition to how flexible the points are. It offers primary car rental insurance coverage, so you can avoid paying extra for insurance with the car rental company. Primary means that if something happens to your rental car you won’t have to make a claim to your own insurance policy first. It also doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees for any trips you make abroad, which is key to saving up to 3% on your purchases when you travel internationally.
Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred
Best Value: Bank of America Travel Rewards
The main selling point of the Bank of America Travel Rewards card is that it has no annual fee, yet it still offers decent rewards on a variety of travel purchases, including no foreign transaction fees while traveling abroad. That said, it does offer fewer benefits and lower rewards than the other cards on this list. If you spend more than $14,833 on your card each year ($1,236 each month), the Barclaycard Arrival Plus (our best pick for simplicity on this list), is a more rewarding pick for you. And if you have specific travel goals or plans, make sure you consider the other cards on this list as well.
Points: The Bank of America Travel Rewards Card earns 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases. In order to redeem your points, you have to pay for your travel purchase with your credit card and redeem the points as a statement credit against the cost of the purchase. Each point is worth one cent ($0.01), so if you have 10,000 points you’ll be able to cover $100 in travel purchases.
Perks: This card has only one travel perk, but it’s a valuable one: No foreign transaction fees. This is somewhat unusual for a card without an annual fee, so it’s a good option to consider if you want a card without a fee but you’re planning on traveling internationally in the future.
Learn more about the Bank of America Travel Rewards
Best for Air Travel: Chase Sapphire Reserve
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is the premium travel credit card with the most—and most valuable—travel benefits, making it easily our top pick if you’re flying this summer. Users earn flexible and valuable points and hugely useful perks. This card has a $450 annual fee, but its excellent returns quickly make it worthwhile for jetsetters.
Points: The Sapphire Reserve card offers 3 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit, 3 Ultimate Rewards points on dining at restaurants and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Ultimate Rewards points can then be used to book hotels, cruises, car rentals, vacation rentals, and tourist activities directly through Chase’s travel portal where they’re worth 1.5 cents each ($0.015). So, a cross country flight that would cost you $500 on an airline’s website would only cost 37,500 points (worth $375 if redeemed for cash) if you bought it through Chase’s travel portal. For additional flexibility, points can also be transferred to partners like United Airlines, if you want to combine it with your frequent flyer miles.
Perks: The Chase Sapphire Reserve doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees for purchases made abroad. This perk is an absolute must if you plan to travel internationally because foreign transaction fees can be as much as 3% on cards that charge them! That adds a significant amount to the cost of a trip. The Sapphire Reserve also offers primary car rental insurance coverage up to $75,000 in physical damages or theft, meaning you don’t have to pay extra for the car rental company’s insurance and if something happens to your rental car, you won’t have to make a claim to your own insurance policy first. You’ll also benefit from trip delay coverage, trip cancellation coverage, and lost and damaged baggage coverage which means that you may be able to get away without purchasing additional travel insurance. What’s more, the Sapphire Reserve offers a $300 travel credit each year, where the first $300 in travel purchases (from taxi fares to hotels to flights) made on your card will be refunded via a statement credit, effectively reducing the annual fee to $150. You’ll also receive a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee credit (an $85 or $100 value) every four years, and a Priority Pass Select Membership, giving you access to over 1,000 airport lounges around the world. These travel benefits can save you time and hassle, and maybe keep you a little saner, when you’re dealing with the madness of an airport.
Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve
Best for Road Trips: Wells Fargo Propel
The Wells Fargo Propel is our pick for the best gas card, so it’s a great pick if you plan to go on a road trip this summer. But it’s not just a great card for gas purchases. You’ll also earn more rewards for other purchases you’ll be making while you travel, like at restaurants and hotels. And, the best part is that this card has no annual fee, so everything you earn back is extra money.
Points: You’ll earn 3 points per dollar spent on gas, car rentals, eating out and ordering in, ride shares like Uber and Lyft, transit, flights, hotels, and popular online streaming services. You’ll earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. This card essentially earns 3% back on all of the bonus categories and 1% back on other purchases because each point is worth one cent ($0.01).
Perks: The Wells Fargo Propel card comes with some awesome perks. When in North America, you’ll benefit from secondary car rental loss and damage insurance, which is a nice bonus if you plan to rent a car for your road trip because you don’t have to pay extra for the rental company’s collision or damage-waiver insurance. But, if you need to make a claim, you’ll have to go through your personal car insurance first. If you plan to road trip to Canada, rest assured that you won’t be charged extra for making purchases abroad because the Propel card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees (though American Express isn’t always accepted in other countries). Finally, if you pay your monthly cell phone bill with your Propel card, you will benefit from up to $600 per claim in cell phone protection to protect your phone from both damage and theft, subject to a $25 deductible.
Learn more about the Wells Fargo Propel American Express
Best for Staycations: IHG Rewards Club Premier
If going away for a vacation isn’t in the books for you this summer, but you really need to get out of the house for a night or two, consider a staycation instead. The IHG Rewards Club Premier is a great card for a staycation because of one benefit alone—the free night certificate, which can easily cover the $89 annual fee of the card.
Points: You’ll earn 10 IHG points per dollar spent at IHG hotels, 2 IHG points per dollar at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants, and 1 IHG point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
Perks: The most valuable benefit of the IHG Rewards Club Premier Card is the annual free night certificate valid at hotels that cost up to 40,000 points. At some hotels, you might be able to get over $200 in value with your certificate, but even if you use it at an inexpensive hotel close to home, there’s a good chance that you’ll get at least $89 (the annual fee of the card) in value from the certificate alone. If you want to do a staycation (or hotel stay while traveling) that’s longer than a night, you’ll also be able to get your fourth night free when you redeem points, which is effectively a 25% discount on your stay. With this card, you’ll also automatically have high-level Platinum Elite status with InterContinental Hotels Group which gets you benefits like late checkout and room upgrades. The card also offers a TSA PreCheck/Global Entry fee credit of up to $100 every four years when you charge your application fee to your card.
Learn more about the IHG Rewards Club Premier
Best for Simplicity: Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard
If you don’t want to have to keep track of a bunch of different bonus categories and crazy benefits, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard is a great pick for you. This card offers great rewards on all purchases and has a reasonable $89 annual fee that is waived the first year.
Points: The Barclaycard Arrival Plus offers 2 Arrival Plus miles per dollar spent on all purchases, making it the most straightforward card in terms of earning on this list. The miles can be redeemed as a statement credit for all kinds of travel purchases including hotels, cruises, car rentals, and flights at a value of 1 cent per point. That’s equivalent to getting 2% back on all of your purchases, with no bonus categories or restrictions to worry about. Every time you redeem your miles, you’ll get 5% of the miles back as a bonus to use toward your next redemption. In other words, if you accrue 10,000 miles, you can apply them as payment to cover $100 of travel spending and you’ll get 500 miles back to use toward your next redemption.
Perks: The Arrival Plus card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, which is a must if you plan to travel abroad. The Arrival Plus also comes with Chip + PIN functionality—a common payment method in Europe—which can make international purchases more secure and easier (for example, some European train kiosks only accept cards with Chip + PIN functionality).