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Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the travel industry to a virtual standstill and credit card companies are tightening applications, it still might be a good time to look into travel credit cards. Despite not being able to immediately use some of the cards’ benefits, you can still start to rack up points or miles to use in the future. Some have even adapted to the ongoing situation and are offering their users additional—and currently, more applicable—benefits. For example, Chase recently announced that eligible cardmembers will be able to apply points on the Ultimate Rewards site to pay for purchases in select categories, starting with grocery stores, dining, and home improvement stores.
Whenever travel restrictions are eased, the best travel credit cards available in 2020 provide attractive perks such as skipping through airport security lines, relaxing in comfortable airport lounges, and scoring free benefits like checked bags or in-flight Wi-Fi each time you fly. Others let you upgrade your travel by making it easy to book suites in luxury hotels, cozy business class seats on international flights, and more.
Travel perks are nice, but you’ll want to make sure you earn a lucrative sign-up bonus and generous rewards for each dollar you spend on your card as well. To help with your search, we’ve studied and compared hundreds of travel credit cards in terms of their earning rates, welcome bonuses, travel benefits, and fees.
This list of top travel credit cards for 2020 highlights the absolute best credit cards for travel whether you want to plan a weekend getaway or a luxury trip thousands of miles away from home.
Important Things to Know About Travel Credit Cards
The top travel credit cards let you earn rewards for each dollar you spend. However, you need to think long and hard about the type of points you’d like to earn before you sign up. With some travel credit cards, you earn points that are only good for a few redemption options, such as flights with one airline or stays with a specific hotel brand.
*Don’t automatically write off cards with high fees. Most travel credit cards offer lucrative annual travel credits, airport lounge access, and other perks that can make paying an annual fee well worth it. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers a $300 annual travel credit, airport lounge access, a credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, and more in exchange for its $550 annual fee.
*Many of the top travel credit cards charge a high APR whenever you carry a balance — even as high as 25.49%. To make the most of travel credit cards and other rewards credit cards, you should strive to pay your balance in full each month so you avoid long-term debt. If you need to carry a balance, it’s better to pick up a low interest credit card or a 0% APR credit card.
Travel Credit Cards and the COVID-19 Pandemic
While many of the benefits and rewards remain unchanged, credit card companies such as Chase and American Express have extended the eligible purchase periods by an additional three months so customers have extra time to earn their cards’ welcome bonuses.
Further, since many travel credit cards usually provide bonus points for purchases made at airlines, hotels, and car rentals–most of which are currently unavailable– some companies are providing additional bonus points for purchases that have picked up due to the pandemic such as streaming services and food and grocery deliveries.
Best Travel Credit Cards of 2020
This list of the best travel credit cards can help you figure out which card might work best for your travel goals and spending style. Before you sign up for a travel credit card, you should learn everything you can about their rewards programs and travel benefits. The following reviews can help you figure out which travel credit card might be right for you.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best Travel Credit Card Overall
- Chase Sapphire Preferred: Best Budget Credit Card for Travel
- The Platinum Card from American Express: Best Travel Perks
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best Flat-Rate Travel Rewards
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card: Best with No Annual Fee
Best Travel Credit Card Reviews
Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best Travel Credit Card Overall
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is easily the top travel credit card on the market today, and that is despite the higher new annual fee of $550 that Chase began charging customers on January 12th of this year. The Chase Sapphire Reserve really stands out thanks to its luxury travel benefits. Not only do you get a credit for TSA Precheck or Global Entry membership, but you also get access to more than 1,300 airport lounges around the world via a complimentary Priority Pass Select membership. Additionally, you get a $300 annual travel credit that applies to any travel purchase you make with the card automatically.
Starting in January of this year, Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders will receive complimentary Lyft Pink membership, valued at $239, which includes 15% off rides, priority airport pick up, and three free 30-minute bike or scooter rides per month. Reserve card members will also automatically earn 10x total points on Lyft purchases.
Chase is also partnering with DoorDash to offer rewards and incentives for food delivery, and Sapphire Reserve cardholders will receive up to $120 in statement credits on DoorDash purchases as well as a DashPass subscription with unlimited $0 delivery fees on orders of $12 or more.
This flexible travel credit card lets you transfer points 1:1 to Chase airline and hotel partners, and your points are worth 50% more when you book through the Chase portal. In terms of non-travel redemption options, you can cash out points for gift cards, merchandise, experiences, and more.
This card starts you off with 50,000 points when you spend $4,000 or more within the first three months after opening it, but you’ll also earn 3x points on dining and travel and 1x points on other purchases.
Summary of benefits:
- Earn 3x points on travel and dining and 1x points on other purchases
- Earn 10x points on Lyft purchases
- Earn 50,000 points when you spend $4,000 within the first three months
- Redeem for travel through the Chase portal or 1:1 transfers to airline and hotel partners
- $550 annual fee
Chase Sapphire Preferred: Best Budget Credit Card for Travel
If you’re looking for a general travel credit card that offers some flexibility without a big financial commitment, look no further than the Chase Sapphire Preferred. This card gives you an initial boost of 80,000 points, worth $1,000 in rewards, a when you spend $4,000 or more within the first three months after opening the account which is extremely generous, but you’ll also earn 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on other purchases. You’ll also earn 3x points on gas, and on Instacart, plus $50 in statement credits towards yearly or monthly Instacart Express members. Then there’s 5x points on purchases from select streaming services and Lyft rides. This card does charge a $95 annual fee, but the first-year rewards are well worth giving it a shot.
On the redemption side of the equation, you can cash out your points for travel through the Chase portal and get 25% more value in the process, but you can also use them for 1:1 transfers to popular airline and hotel partners like Emirates, JetBlue, Southwest Rapid Rewards, and Marriott Bonvoy. You can also receive 25% more value when you redeem your rewards for everyday purchases (currently, grocery, dining, and home improvement).
You won’t pay any foreign transaction fees on purchases made abroad, and you’ll qualify for important consumer protections like trip cancellation/interruption insurance, baggage delay coverage, primary auto rental coverage, purchase protection, and extended warranties on products you purchase.
Summary of benefits:
- Earn 2x points on travel(including parking and tolls) and dining, 3x points for gas and Instacart and 5x points on some streaming services and Lyft. 1x points on all other purchases
- Earn 80,000 points when you spend $4,000 or more on your card within three months of opening the account
- Redeem rewards for travel through the Chase portal, 1:1 transfers to hotel and airline partners, gift cards, and more
- $95 annual fee
The Platinum Card from American Express: Best Travel Perks
The Platinum Card from American Express is offering an initial welcome bonus of 60,000 points when you spend $5,000 on your card within three months. As a cardholder, you’ll earn 5x points on flights booked direct or through AmexTravel.com, 5x points on prepaid hotels booked through AmexTravel.com, and 1x points on all other purchases.
The travel categories this card offers aren’t as broad as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which is part of the reason it didn’t make the cut as our best card overall. Then again, earning 5x points on airfare and prepaid hotels booked through AmexTravel.com can add up fast if you use this benefit a lot.
Like Chase travel credit cards, the Platinum Card from American Express also lets you redeem rewards in more than one way. You can transfer points to a variety of travel partners, including Delta SkyMiles, Air France/Flying Blue, and British Airways, or you can use points to book flights, hotels, and more through AmexTravel.com. You can also redeem rewards for statement credits, gift cards, or merchandise, although redemption values vary.
In terms of travel benefits, the Platinum Card from American Express comes with the most comprehensive airport lounge benefits available, a $200 annual airline credit, up to $200 in Uber credits per year, Hilton Honors Gold Status, Marriott Bonvoy Gold Status, and more.
Summary of benefits:
- Earn 5x points on flights booked direct, flights booked through AmexTravel.com, and prepaid hotels booked through AmexTravel.com
- Earn 1x points on all other purchases
- Earn 60,000 points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months
- Redeem for transfers to travel partners, travel through AmexTravel.com, and more
- $550 annual fee
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best Flat-Rate Travel Rewards
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card offers an interesting earning structure and rewards that are easy to use. This card starts you off with 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 within three months of opening the account, but you’ll also earn a flat 2x miles for each dollar you spend.
However, these aren’t airline miles. The “miles” you earn with this card work as flexible travel credit you can use for various travel purchases like flights, hotels, or campground stays. You have the option to redeem your miles for any type of travel at a rate of one mile per point, making the sign-up bonus alone worth $500 in airfare, hotel stays, and more. However, you can also transfer your miles to a handful of international airline partners like Aeromexico and Air Canada.
This card charges a $95 annual fee, but it’s waived the first year. In the meantime, you’ll get a $100 credit toward Global Entry or TSA Precheck as a cardholder perk. Other benefits you’ll qualify for include no foreign transaction fees, auto rental coverage, extended warranties, travel accident insurance, and more.
Summary of benefits:
- Earn 2x miles for all purchases
- Earn 50,000 miles when you spend $3,000 on your card within three months of account opening
- Redeem points for any type of travel or transfer to select airline partners
- $95 annual fee; waived the first year
Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card: Best with No Annual Fee
The Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card is worth considering if you’re looking for a travel credit card without an annual fee. This card allows you to earn 3x points on dining, gas, rideshares, transit, flights, homestays, hotels, car rentals, and streaming services, plus you’ll earn 1x points on all other purchases. There’s also an initial bonus of 20,000 points (which translates to $200 in rewards) when you spend $1,000 within three months after getting the card.
There is no limit to the rewards you can earn, and you can redeem points for travel with the card’s Go Far Rewards program. You can also cash in your points for statement credits and gift cards. This card also comes with free cardholder benefits such as cell phone insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, and extended warranties on eligible items you purchase with your card.
Summary of benefits:
- Earn 3x points on dining, gas, rideshares, transit, flights, homestays, hotels, car rentals, and streaming services, plus 1x points on other purchases
- Earn $200 when you spend $1,000 within the first three months
- Redeem points for travel, statement credits, gift cards, and more
- No annual fee
How We Found the Best Travel Credit Cards of 2020
With so many travel credit cards available, it’s easy to lose track of what each of them has to offer, making it difficult to find the one that best fits your needs.
We’ve created this list to ease the decision-making process, considering criteria such as rewards earning rates, welcome bonuses, travel perks, fees, and more.
The best travel credit cards reward cardholders handsomely for their spending, particularly within popular bonus categories like airfare, general travel, or dining. We sought out cards that offered the highest ongoing earning rates we could find.
Sign-up or Welcome Bonus
Since travel credit cards tend to be very competitive, we looked for cards that offer big bonuses consumers can earn right away. However, we gave the best marks to travel credit cards with sign-up or welcome bonuses with reasonable minimum spending requirements.
While rewards are a crucial component of travel credit cards, we also took travel perks and benefits into consideration. Some of these include access to airport lounges, expedited airport security, annual travel credits, and other benefits that make travel easier or more comfortable.
Each of the credit cards on this list were rated within J.D. Power’s 2019 U.S. Credit Card Satisfaction Study, which considered the experiences of more than 28,000 credit card customers nationwide. Card issuers that received a higher-than-average rating in the study ranked higher on our list.
What You Need to Know About Travel Credit Cards
Travel credit cards can make travel more comfortable and more affordable, but they’re most beneficial when you have some sort of plan. The following tips can help you enjoy the upside of travel credit cards without enduring the downside.
Watch out for High APRs
While travel credit cards offer generous rewards for travel, you’ll pay a hefty price if you use a travel credit card to rack up long-term debt. Many of the top travel credit cards come with interest rates that can make carrying a balance costly, and the interest you pay will easily wipe out the value of any “free travel” you earn along the way.
Your best bet? Only pursue travel rewards if you can pay your balance in full each month. If you need time to pay your purchases down, you should forgo rewards and choose a credit card with a low APR instead.
Annual fees shouldn’t scare you off
As you look over our list of top travel credit cards, you may be concerned to see that some of them charge high annual fees. Keep in mind, however, that these fees can be justified if you take advantage of your card’s benefits.
Take the Chase Sapphire Reserve with its $550 annual fee, for example. This card comes with a $300 annual travel credit that wipes out most of that annual fee right away. You’ll also get a $100 credit toward Global Entry or TSA Precheck, which means you’ve received $400 in value already. On top of that, you’ll get an airport lounge membership that would easily be worth $429 if you paid for it in cash. Plus, this doesn’t even take into account the card’s sign-up bonus and the ongoing rewards you’ll earn.
When you think of it this way, the annual fees some credit cards charge start to make sense.
Consider pairing more than one card
If you want to earn rewards for travel but need to maximize your everyday spending, make sure to consider some of the best card combinations available today. A good example includes various cards within the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. You could pick up the Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3x points on travel and dining and score exclusive travel benefits, for example, but you could also sign up for the Chase Freedom Unlimited so you earn a flat 1.5% back on non-bonus spending.
This strategy works well because Chase lets consumers pool all their points in one account for optimal redemptions. This means you could rack up as many points as possible then pool them in your Chase Sapphire Reserve account to get 50% more travel through the portal.
This means you could rack up as many points as possible then pool them in your Chase Sapphire Reserve account to get 50% more travel for free through the portal.
Summary: Best Travel Credit Cards of 2020
|Best Travel Cards of 2020||Best For|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||Overall Travel|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||Budget Travel|
|The Platinum Card from American Express||Travel perks|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||Flat-Rate Travel Rewards|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card||No Annual Fee|
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