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Tourists in cafe on Piazza del Campo
Tourists in cafe on Piazza del Campo, central square of the city of Siena, in Italy.
David Lyons—Alamy

What's the best travel credit card for you? The answer probably depends on how you travel, and how often.

If you're only an occasional traveler, you'll want the best credit card for travel points that doesn't charge an annual fee—something to keep in your wallet to use only when you need its benefits. If you travel overseas often, the best credit card for international travel won't charge foreign transaction fees—most don't—and will be accepted broadly outside the U.S.

If you're an ultra-frequent flier, you probably want a premium travel credit card that offers sweet travel benefits and perks, like lounge access and statement credits you can use against travel-related fees, and makes it easy to rack up travel rewards. (Some of these premium travel credit cards also offer generous sign-up bonuses.) And if you fall somewhere in between? A good travel rewards credit card for you should make it easy to earn and redeem travel points, without charging a high annual fee.

Luckily for you, a very competitive lending market means that issuers are ramping up their best travel credit card offers in a bid to win new customers. We analyzed several strong contenders to come up with the best travel credit cards for you—whether you want the best travel credit card with annual fee, the best premium travel credit card, or the best"Goldilocks"-style, all-around travel credit card.

Best Travel Credit Card With No Annual Fee

Many of the best travel credit cards expect you to pay an annual fee—sometimes a steep one—to get their perks. But if you're an infrequent traveler, you're better off getting a travel credit card with no annual fee, because the travel benefits of the more expensive cards won't outweigh the costs. You just need an inexpensive way to avoid foreign transaction fees for when you do travel abroad, and get some rewards points while you're at it.

To identify the best travel credit cards with no annual fee, we identified cards where earning and redeeming rewards was simple; where you could get an introductory bonus; and where even $2,000 in monthly spending would earn you some decent rewards points.

courtesy of Bank of America

The Winner: Bank of America Travel Rewards

In the no-annual-fee category, we found many features that make this card the best travel rewards credit card. It has no annual fee (of course), charges no foreign transaction fees, offers a straightforward earning and redemption structure for relatively generous rewards. If you just want a simple, no-hassle travel rewards credit card, this is the way to go.

Why it wins: A lot of travel credit cards we looked at have significant limitations on how you can earn or redeem rewards: Either you have to book through a certain site or platform, or you're limited to specific hotel brands or airlines, or you might find that blackout dates make it hard to redeem your points. With Bank of America's no-fee travel credit card, you don't have to jump through any hoops: You can cash in points for a statement credit to pay for airline tickets and baggage fees, hotel stays, car rentals, cruise or vacation packages. It also offers a generous rewards rate, combined with a fairly low spending requirement to earn the 20,000-point signup bonus, which is worth $200. This card also has no interest on purchases for your first year.

Terms: With Bank of America's travel rewards card, you get:

  • 1.5 rewards points per dollar
  • 20,000 sign-up bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of becoming a cardholder
  • $0 annual fee
  • Introductory APR of 0% on purchases for 12 billing cycles, then a variable 16.24% to 24.24%

Caveats: With an APR range of 16.24% to 24.24%, this credit card has higher interest rates than other travel credit cards we looked at in the no-annual-fee category. And as is true for all travel rewards cards: If you don't pay off your charges in full every month and end up carrying a balance, the interest you'll pay quickly outweighs the value of those rewards.

Best Premium Travel Credit Card

These travel credit cards are different from their plain-Jane counterparts in a few key ways: They generally pay out higher rewards for spending on travel, dining, and related categories. Many offer statement credits to offset travel expenses like airline baggage fees—something that lets them compete with co-branded airline credit cards, which tend to waive checked-bag fees for people who are frequent-flier program members. We looked at a number of premium travel credit cards, comparing their fees, rewards structures, and ease of use.

Michael China—Time Inc. Studios

The Winner: Chase Sapphire Reserve

Among the best premium travel credit cards, this offering from Chase rose to the top for several reasons.

Why it wins: It has a signup bonus worth $500 if you choose cash back, or $750 if you redeem your points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Either way, that alone wipes out the cost of your $450 annual fee for the first year. Beyond that, this card has a simple, generous rewards structure, delivering higher points for several travel and dining categories, including flights, cruises, hotels, car rentals, trains, and taxis—no matter how you book and pay for the services.

Terms: Here are the key terms of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card:

  • 3 points per dollar on travel and dining; 1 point elsewhere
  • 50,000 bonus points if you make at least $4,000 in purchases within three months of opening your card account.
  • Annual fee: $450
  • APR of 17.24%–24.24%

For the serious traveler, this card also offers perks that go a long way toward offsetting its annual fee: You get an annual statement credit after each year for up to $300 worth of travel purchases, and you can get a statement credit of up to $100 every four years toward TSA PreCheck or Global Entry applications. You also can activate a Priority Pass Select membership, which gives you access to more than 1,000 airport lounges around the world.

Caveats: Yep, there's that $450 annual fee, which has been a focal point of discussion around this card since it was rolled out in 2016. Although the price is pretty typical among premium travel credit cards, that amount might be tough for some cardholders to swallow—especially if you're just an occasional traveler. Also, this card has an APR range of 17.24% to 24.24%. If you don't pay your bill in full each month, the resulting interest charges will swiftly outpace any rewards you get.

Best All-Around Travel Credit Card

Which issuer has the best credit card for travel points, without charging high annual fees? Unless you're an ultra-frequent flier or a devotee of one single hotel or airline brand, you need a good all-around travel rewards credit card—one that makes it relatively easy both to earn and to redeem points for a broad range of travel expenses. If you travel overseas often, the best credit card for international travel won't charge foreign transaction fees—most don't—and will be accepted broadly outside the U.S.

courtesy of Capital One

The Winner: Capital One Venture

Wondering what is the best credit card for travel? Now you have your answer. This Capital One card stacks up as the best travel rewards credit card in 2018 for all-around use, even if you only charge a couple thousand dollars a month—regardless of which airlines and hotel chains you use.

Why it wins: Among the top travel credit cards, this one stands out for a few reasons: Its sign-up bonus of 50,000 points is worth $500, at the high end of the range for travel cards, while its simple "double miles" earnings formula means you don't have to keep track of rotating categories. The $95 annual fee is waived for the first year. As a bonus, the low end of its APR range is a few percentage points below other major cards in the same category. This combination of features make the Capital One Venture the best travel credit card for travel miles—even if you're not a serious road warrior.

The terms of the Capital One Venture card are as follows:

  • 2 miles per dollar
  • 50,000-point bonus if you make at least $3,000 in purchases within three months of opening your card account.
  • Annual fee:$0 first year, then $95
  • APR: 14.24%-24.24%

Caveats: Unlike some other cards for frequent travelers, this card doesn't offer additional travel-related perks—like a credit against airline fees or TSA PreCheck registration.