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Originally Published: May 03, 2021
Originally Published: May 03, 2021 Last Updated: Feb 12, 2024 14 min read
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With more than half of American adults now having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, many of us have turned to planning our next vacation. And if you'd rather pay for your next trip with points and miles instead of dollars, then April may be the right time for you to take a look at the best travel rewards cards.

  • Best Flexible Points Card: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • Best Airline Card: FRONTIER Airlines World Mastercard®
  • Best Hotel Card: World of Hyatt Credit Card
  • Best Premium Card: The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • Best No-fee Card: Capital One VentureOne Rewards Card
  • Best Small Business Card: Chase Ink Business Preferred®

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This card offers Chase Ultimate Rewards® points, which can be transferred to a participating airline or hotel partner that best meet your needs, such as United, Southwest, JetBlue and Hyatt hotels. Or, your rewards can be redeemed directly for travel reservations made through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Pros:

  • bonus_miles_full
  • Earn 3x points on dining
  • Earn 5x points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Transfer points to airline and hotel partners

Cons:

  • annual_fees annual fee

This card sets the standard for flexible points as the Chase Ultimate Rewards® program allows you to transfer your rewards to several high-value travel partners. Plus, you'll also receive up to $50 in statement credits each account anniversary year for hotel stays purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. You'll earn 5x points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards® and 2x on other travel purchases. The card also earns 3x points on dining, online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs) and select streaming services.

What if you could fly with a discount carrier, but enjoy more perks and benefits than you'd receive from a legacy airline? That's the benefit of the FRONTIER Airlines World Mastercard®.

Pros:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles and a $100 flight voucher after paying the annual fee and spending $500 on purchases within 90 days of account opening
  • Every dollar you spend earns one mile towards elite status
  • Earn a $100 flight voucher every account anniversary after spending $2,500 or more on purchases during your cardmembership year
  • Earn 5x miles on eligible Frontier purchases and 3x miles at restaurants

Cons:

  • Until you reach elite status, expect numerous fees when you fly Frontier for things that other airlines include
  • $89 annual fee

Frontier is a discount carrier based in Denver, but they are one of the fastest growing airlines in the U.S. with service to over 100 destinations in the U.S., the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. The Frontier Airlines Mastercard® is unique among airline credit cards in that it counts every dollar spent as a mile that can be used towards elite status. The first tier status is reached after earning 20,000 flying miles, after spending $20,000 on your card, or after 25 flight segments annually. Benefits of this first tier of elite status include advanced seat assignment, free carry-on bag and priority boarding at participating airports, saving you plenty of money on the extra fees normally charged.

This card does have a $89 annual fee, but that's more than justified by the $100 flight voucher you earn every year that you spend at least $2,500 with the card.

The World of Hyatt loyalty program is way of ahead of its competitors and this card is the best way to enjoy premium card benefits.

Pros:

  • Earn 30,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening
  • Receive a free-night-stay certificate each year, and a second after spending $15,000 in a calendar year
  • Receive entry level status and earn night stay credits towards higher status
  • 4x bonus points at Hyatt plus 2x bonus points on transit, restaurants, flights, fitness clubs and gyms

Cons:

  • $95 annual fee
  • Hyatt is moving to a more dynamic award pricing system which will charge more points for the most desirable properties during peak travel

The World of Hyatt card really let's you unlock more value from the popular loyalty program, as it offers plenty of bonus points, free-night-stay certificates and credits towards elite status. To start, you can earn up to 60,000 bonus points; earn the first 30,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 within three months of account opening and another 30,000 points more by earning 2x points per dollar spent on purchases (up to $15,000) within first six months of account opening.

You also get a free-night-stay certificate each year, and a second certificate after spending $15,000 in a calendar year (on Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel or resorts). Other benefits include entry-level Discoverist status plus an annual five tier qualifying credits towards each year, and two additional qualifying night credits when you spend $5,000 on your card. Award nights start at 5,000 points, but I find that most mid-tier properties in small and medium sized cities require 8,000 - 15,000 points per night, which is still reasonable. That said, Hyatt is moving to a more dynamic pricing system later this year, which will charge more points during peak seasons and fewer points during periods of low-occupancy. There's a $95 annual fee for this card.

The American Express Platinum Card® offers numerous features and benefits, plus plenty of statement credits to help offset its substantial annual fee.

Pros:

  • New applicants earn 125,000 bonus points after spending $6,000 on the card in the first six months of card membership
  • Enjoy elite status with Marriott and Hilton
  • $200 annual airline fee credits, $200 in annual Uber credits and more
  • Enjoy lots of benefits including airport business lounge access

Cons:

  • $695 annual fee
  • Airline and hotel partners aren't as strong as those in competing rewards programs

The American Express Platinum Card® was the original premium rewards card, but even now with several competitors, it still rises to the top. Yes, you'll have to pay a $695 annual fee to carry this beautiful metal card, but the generous statement credits make it worth the fee.

You'll receive $200 in annual airline fee credits, $200 in annual Uber credits ($15 per month) and more. You'll even receive a $100 credit towards a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application every four years.

This card also offers upgraded status with Marriott (Bonvoy Gold Elite Status), Hilton (Honors Gold Status) and car rental privileges, as well as membership in several airport lounge programs including unlimited access to the excellent American Express Centurion Lounges. You earn 5x points on airfare booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 per year), and 5x on prepaid hotels booked through Amextravel.com. You'll also earn 1x on all other purchases and rewards can be transferred to several airline and hotel programs.

The VentureOne Rewards Card is a great travel rewards card with no annual fee that offers you travel statement credits and the ability to transfer your miles to airline and hotel programs.

Pros:

  • Earn 20,000 bonus miles after spending just $500 on purchases within first three months of account opening
  • Earn 1.25 miles on all purchases
  • Points can be redeemed as statement credits towards travel purchases or transferred to participating airline and hotel programs
  • No annual fee

Cons:

  • You only earn 1.25 miles per dollar spent
  • Capital One miles transfer to most airline programs at a ratio of 2:1.5

Capital One offers this no-fee version of its flagship Venture Rewards cards with real value to those who want a travel rewards card without an annual fee. This card offers 20,000 bonus miles (worth $200 in travel statement credits) after spending $500 in new purchases within first three months of account opening.

You'll earn 1.25 miles per dollar spent, and miles are worth one cent each as statement credits towards any travel purchase you make with your card.

Alternatively, you can transfer your rewards to participating airline miles or hotel programs, giving you additional redemption options. Capital One miles transfer to most airline programs at a ratio of 2:1.5, but they recently added several new airline transfer partners with a more favorable 1:1 ratio.

The Ink Business Preferred® card offers you plenty of opportunities to earn valuable Ultimate Rewards Points® on frequent business purchases.

  • Receive 100,000 bonus points after spending $15,000 on purchases within three months of account opening
  • Earn 3x points on up to $150,000 spent each year on business categories such as telecommunications, shipping, advertising and travel
  • Rewards are earned in the Ultimate Rewards Program® and can be transferred to participating airline miles or hotel points
  • Includes several travel insurance and purchase protection benefits

Cons:

  • $95 annual fee

If you're looking to leverage your small business purchases to earn travel rewards, then this is the card for you. You'll begin with the chance to earn 100,000 bonus points after spending $15,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Then you'll earn 3x points on up to $150,000 spent each year in combined business categories such as internet, cable and phone, shipping, advertising (made with social media sites and search engines), and travel purchase. Points are worth 1.25 cents each when redeemed directly for travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, or they can be transferred to participating airline miles or hotel partners. There's a $95 annual fee for this card.

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Frequently asked questions about travel credit cards:

Q. Should I get a travel rewards card if I carry a balance? As with any rewards credit card, travel rewards cards are best used by those who avoid interest by paying their balance in full. Those who are unable to do that should focus on finding a low interest-rate credit card that doesn't offer travel rewards. The exception could be a small business owner that uses a credit card as a short term line of credit in order run his or her business.

Q. Should I start earning travel rewards now, even if I won't be traveling until later this year or next year? The best time to start earning travel rewards is long before you actually plan on using them. That's because it will take time to receive the card, qualify for a bonus and receive the bonus points. Plus, it may take even longer to earn any additional points or miles you need for your next trip. Finally, you'll likely want to book your trip several months before you plan on traveling.

Q. What happens to your airline miles or hotel points earned from your credit card if you cancel the card? Frequent flyer mile and hotel cards award points or miles in programs operated by airlines and hotel chains. Once those rewards are in your airline or hotel account, they are subject to the rules of that program, regardless of whether you keep the card. But when the rewards are with a program operated by the card issuer, then they could be forfeited if you cancel the card and don't have another card that is part of the same program.

Q. Which is best, airline miles, hotel points or flexible rewards? These travel rewards programs all have their strengths and weakness, and the right program for you will be the card that offers the most value per dollar spent on purchases. Hotel rewards tend to be the most flexible, while airline miles can still offer plenty of value if you understand how each program works. Flexible points programs can offer the best of both airline and hotel programs, but they'll lack the company-specific perks that airline and hotel cards offer.

How we chose the best travel rewards cards

To find the best travel rewards cards, we first divided the market into the six most popular types of cards. Then we looked at the travel rewards credit cards offered by all of the major card issuers. Each of their travel rewards credit card offers were examined and compared to other travel rewards cards. We focused at the initial bonus offered, bonus rewards for certain purchases and travel specific features and benefits. The winners were the cards that offered the most valuable rewards and benefits in each category.

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