18 Best Travel Credit Cards Of October 2023 – Forbes Advisor

  • Business travel. If your work requires you to travel, having a dedicated travel card can make it easy to keep your business expenses separate from your personal expenses.
  • International travel. If you’re planning to travel abroad, travel credit cards often come with perks like no foreign transaction fees, airport lounge access and application fee reimbursements for Global Entry or TSA Precheck that can make your journey more comfortable.
  • Luxury travel. If you want an upscale experience like access to exclusive airport lounges, automatic hotel room upgrades and property credits, a travel credit card with these features can grant you access to these features.

How Many Travel Credit Cards Should I Have?

The number of travel credit cards you should have will depend on how often you travel, which benefits you value, your financial situation and whether you’re willing to spend time tracking multiple cards. Frequent travelers will find value in holding at least one travel card, but may consider holding several. For example, having both an airline card and a hotel card can provide complementary benefits and the ability to earn rewards for all aspects of your travel plans.

Why You Should Consider a Travel Credit Card

Travel cards often include numerous membership benefits such as elite status when traveling with partner programs, free checked bags, lounge access or discounts on ancillary travel fees. These benefits can make your trips easier, more comfortable and more affordable. Additionally, travel credit cards offer the opportunity to earn valuable rewards and in some cases may provide higher yields than cash back or other types of rewards.

How To Choose and Compare Travel Credit Cards

When comparing travel credit cards, items to consider include:

1. Annual Fee

The annual fee on credit cards ranges from zero to several hundred dollars. In general, the more expensive the card, the richer the perks and rewards. It can be well worth it to pay an annual fee if you’ll use the associated benefits. Learn more in our list of the Best No Annual Fee Travel Credit Cards.

2. Foreign Transaction Fee

If you’re traveling out of the country, be sure your travel card doesn’t carry any foreign transaction fees. This can be an additional 2% to 3% surcharge on top of the price of your purchase and makes everything you buy with a card in a foreign country more expensive than a card without this fee. Foreign transaction charges also apply to purchases made with foreign companies, even if you haven’t left the United States. To learn more, see our list of the Best No Foreign Transaction Fee Cards.

3. Sign-up Bonus

If you’re trying to decide between two similar cards, it can help to consider the welcome offer on a given card. These welcome offers ebb and flow and if a card you’re thinking about offers a particularly generous offer, it can help offset the annual fee and/or the cost of future travel.

4. Rewards Rate

When choosing a card, think about your spending patterns. If you rarely fly, it may not make sense to own a card that offers the most rewards on airline purchases.

5. International Acceptance

In some countries, all credit cards may be accepted, but that isn’t always the case. When traveling outside of the United States, Visa and Mastercard tend to be more widely accepted than American Express or other cards. Because of this, if you travel often, you may want to choose a Visa or Mastercard either in addition to or in lieu of other types of cards.

6. Travel Protections

Many travel credit cards include various forms of travel protections, such as trip interruption coverage or collision damage waivers for rental cars. These included protections could save you money compared to separately purchased policies but won’t necessarily be as comprehensive. Check with your card benefits guide to get information on your coverage terms.Learn more about the various travel protections offered by credit cards in our lists of the Best Credit Cards with Travel Insurance and Best Credit Cards For Car Rental Insurance.

7. Perks

Also consider any special perks associated with cards you evaluate. These might range from airport lounge access to statement credit reimbursements for certain purchases made with specific brands or on purchases in specific categories.

Evaluating Airline Credit Cards

Airline credit cards typically earn frequent flyer miles on every purchase which may lead to outsized value when booking award tickets. Airline credit cards also frequently come with perks while traveling, like free checked bags, enhanced award space or lounge access. They may also help you achieve elite status more easily.

When evaluating airline credit cards, think about:

  • Earning Rates: Many airline credit cards don’t offer elevated earnings on categories other than airline spending, so you’ll need to choose carefully if that’s important to you.
  • Perks While Flying: Typically, only cards with an annual fee include benefits while flying such as priority boarding or complimentary checked bags.
  • Elite-Qualifying Bonuses: Some cards include bonus elite-qualifying miles when hitting spending thresholds, which can further enhance your flying experience.
  • Companion Fares: Some airline cards offer the opportunity to earn a companion certificate, which allows you to bring a second traveler on your trip for a reduced price.

Evaluating Hotel Credit Cards

Hotel credit cards will earn points toward future free stays, but this is one case where the benefits can often outshine rewards. More often than not, hotel cards come with automatic elite status as well as a fast track to even higher levels of status. Plus, annual free night certificates or statement credits add to their value proposition.

When evaluating hotel credit cards, consider:

  • Elite Status Offers: Generally speaking, cards with higher annual fees may automatically bump you to higher elite status levels which can be invaluable on frequent stays.
  • Free Night Certificates: Many, but not all, hotel cards offer free night certificates either upon renewal of your card or when hitting spending thresholds. Each certificate may come with restrictions on when or where you can redeem it, so compare fine print.
  • Earning Rates: Hotel cards may offer huge multipliers on bonus categories, allowing you to earn five to 10 times on certain purchases. However, keep expectations in check: hotel points may not be worth a full penny per point.
  • Statement Credits: Some cards may include statement credits toward eligible purchases made at hotels and resorts or even on airline fees or restaurant purchases, which can be valuable, but you’ll need to actually use them.

How To Make the Most of Your Travel Credit Card

The best way to make the most of your credit card is to use a card that aligns with your spending patterns. In other words, if a large part of your budget goes towards travel and dining, using a card that offers high rewards in those areas will make the most sense. Another option is to pair credit cards and use different cards in different areas of spending.

Airline and Hotel Rewards Loyalty Programs

Understanding how to get the most out of the points and miles you earn from your travel credit card goes hand-in-hand with using the loyalty programs offered by most airlines and hotel brands. It’s free to join and you can belong to as many loyalty programs as you like. Typically, when you sign up for a co-branded credit card affiliated with a particular brand, you’ll automatically become a member of the loyalty program if you aren’t already.

Track Your Credit Card Points and Miles Earnings

Tracking your spending allows you to make sure that every time you make a purchase, you’re using the card that will earn you the most rewards. This means knowing which card to use in which scenario based on how a particular merchant codes the purchase. For example, if you own two credit cards, one that earns high rewards on dining and one co-branded airline card, it might not make sense to use the airline card to pay your restaurant tab since the dining card likely earns more rewards. You can do this by various methods as complicated as creating a spreadsheet or as simple as putting stickers on each card to remind you when to use it.

How To Use Credit Card Points for Travel

Beyond earning rewards, there are strategies to get the most value when it comes time to redeem your rewards, too. When it comes time to cash in your travel rewards, there’s generally two ways to do it. You can plan the itinerary you want and use your rewards to fully or partially off-set the cost. Or, you can research to see where the rewards you have can be used to get the most bang for your buck. It comes down to how much work you’re comfortable doing.

How To Travel for Free With Credit Cards

Credit cards can save you a lot of money on travel compared to paying full price. Often, the most substantial way to travel for free with credit cards is by redeeming rewards for travel. A combination of welcome bonus offers and the rewards you earn from everyday spending can add up to hundreds of dollars in value toward free travel. However, you’ll need to learn to redeem points and miles from your specific program to do so.

Included statement credits or card benefits can also help you travel for free. Premium credit cards may offer annual credits toward the purchase of select travel, effectively serving as a rebate. Alternatively, you might have airline companion certificates or hotel free night certificates, which work more like a coupon.

Travel Rewards Aren’t As Popular As You Think

With hundreds of travel rewards credit cards to choose from, you might assume that travel rewards are a consistent favorite among consumers. As it turns out, they’re actually a specialty interest—cash back is, by far, most people’s favorite choice.

A September 2023 survey conducted by OnePoll for Forbes Advisor found that the vast majority of cardholders would prefer an influx of cash rewards rather than any type of travel if they were to receive a bonus. Over 70% of respondents prefer cash bonuses compared to only 18% who selected a preference for free flights, upgrades or hotel stays combined.

If you’re in the minority, you have plenty of options. Airline credit cards and hotel credit cards both often come with generous welcome offers that you can redeem for travel. However, if you’re on the fence between choosing cash or travel, you don’t have to commit in advance. Cards with transferable points, like Chase Ultimate Rewards or Capital One Rewards, allow you to earn flexible rewards that can later be redeemed for cash or travel—or a mix and match.

Are Travel Credit Cards Worth It?

Generally speaking, yes, travel credit cards are worth it—if you’ll use the benefits. Travel rewards credit cards can be a strategic addition to your finances if you travel with any regularity. You’ll be able to earn rewards on every purchase and later redeem those rewards toward future trips, often at a higher yield than if you had chosen cash back or other types of rewards. Many travel cards also include benefits to enhance your travel experience along the way to add even more value. Examples include the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express.

To view rates and fees for American Express® Gold Card* please visit this page.
To view rates and fees for The Platinum Card® from American Express please visit this page.
To view rates and fees for Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card please visit this page.

Scroll to Top