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By Jason Steele
September 1, 2021
Two Suitcase Shaped credit Cards
Money; Getty Images

After a year and a half of off and on COVID restrictions, 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 this may be the right time for you to take a look at the best travel rewards cards.

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

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:

  • 100,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening
  • Earn double points for dining and travel expenses
  • Transfer points to airline and hotel partners, or book travel directly through Chase Ultimate Rewards

Cons:

  • $95 annual fee
  • 1:1 transfer rate to Marriott and IHG doesn't offer much value

This card sets the standard for flexible points as its Ultimate Rewards program allows you to transfer your rewards to several high-value travel partners. This card currently offers 100,000 bonus points after you use it to spend $4,000 on purchases within first three months of account opening. You'll earn double points on all travel and dining purchases, and 1 point on all other purchases.

Best Airline Card: FRONTIER Airlines World Mastercard®

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 after paying the annual fee and spending just $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 other airlines often include
  • $79 annual fee (waived the first year)

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 of status is reached after earning 20,000 miles from flying, 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 $79 annual fee, but that's more than justified by the $100 flight voucher you earn every year (after using the card to spend $2,500 or more annually).

Best Hotel Card: World of Hyatt Credit 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 up to 60,000 bonus points after meeting purchase requirements
  • 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 points at Hyatt plus 2x 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 qualifying night credits 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.

Best Premium Card: Chase Sapphire Reserve

This popular travel rewards card is just full of features and benefits, and it recently added even more.

Pros:

  • Earn 60,000 bonus points, worth $900 in travel rewards booked through Chase, after spending $4,000 on purchases within three months of account opening.
  • Earn 5x on flights and 10x on hotels and car rentals booked through Chase. Earn 3x on all other travel and dining.
  • Earn 10x on Chase Dining purchases with Ultimate Rewards
  • $300 annual travel credit.
  • Points are worth 1.5 cents towards travel booked though Chase or can be transferred to airline and hotel partners.
  • Numerous travel benefits including Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership.

Cons:

  • $550 annual fee

The Sapphire Reserve is the ideal card for frequent travelers who want to earn valuable rewards and enjoy premium benefits. You can earn 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening. This card also offers 10x points for hotel and car rentals and 5x on airfare when you purchase travel through Chase. You also receive a $300 annual travel credit. Then, there's 3x points on all other travel and dining.

Points can be redeemed for 1.5 cents each towards travel booked though Chase or can be transferred to airline and hotel partners. Benefits include a $100 credit towards the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, and a Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership. There's a $550 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.

Best No-fee Card: Capital One VentureOne Rewards Card

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 that 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.

Best Small Business Card: Chase Ink Business Preferred®

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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