The best travel credit cards have great rewards programs and are packed with benefits. Whether you travel infrequently or you have an incurable case of wanderlust, the right travel credit card can get you to where you want to go for less and provide some perks and protection along the way. 

Here’s what you need to know about travel credit cards before you start shopping around, as well as our top choices.

ALSO READ: CardCruncher’s Guide to the Best Credit Cards for Hotel Rewards

The best travel credit cards of 2019

The most important features to look for in a travel credit card include rewards rates, redemption flexibility, annual fees, and the value you can get from their perks. Because there are so many different types of travel credit cards and rewards programs out there, the best one for you largely depends on your preferences. 

None of our top choices are perfect, but they each provide valuable features for all types of travelers. Read our full reviews to see which one is best for you:

What to look for in a travel credit card

No travel card will work for everyone. They all offer varying benefits, rewards rates, redemption options and more. When you compare travel credit cards, there are a few factors to consider, including:

  • Rewards programs
  • Benefits
  • Annual fees

Rewards programs

There are a few different types of travel rewards programs from which you can choose: general travel, airline, and hotel. General travel rewards tend to offer more flexibility when redeeming your points or miles, but airline and hotel credit cards typically come with more dynamic rewards values and perks specific to the brand that make it worth staying loyal.

Depending on how you travel, one may be better than the other. Consider your past travels and future plans to find the right fit for you.

Benefits

While some travel credit cards come with a lot of travel-related perks, some focus more on the rewards program. The more perks you get, though, the higher the annual fee tends to be. Premium credit cards, for instance, offer perks like free airport lounge access and travel credits, but charge fees that run in the hundreds of dollars. 

As you compare cards, look at more than just the rewards program. Depending on the card, the benefits may even be worth more to you than the rewards.

Annual fees

Most of the best travel credit cards have annual fees, but that shouldn’t be an obstacle. Depending on the card, you can get just as much, if not more, value than what it charges each year. 

As you consider travel cards that charge an annual fee, take time to run the numbers on whether the benefits would be worth what you’d end up paying. It’s not always an exact science, but the exercise can give you a better idea of what you’re willing to pay in exchange for the value a card can provide.

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What is the best travel credit card of 2019?

There’s no single best travel credit card out there, so it’s important to know what you want in a card. Things to consider include the card’s rewards program, including its rewards rates and redemption flexibility, its annual fee, and its travel-related perks. 

Keep in mind that most of the top options charge an annual fee. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, as many of them provide perks and other benefits that make up for the fee. 

Is it worth getting a travel credit card?

Travel credit cards are best for people who travel at least once or twice a year and are fine with not getting more flexibility with cash back credit cards. Because some travel credit cards offer special travel-related perks, you can get a lot of value that you might not get with a cash-back card. 

One thing to note, however, is that not all travel rewards programs are the same. Some offer a lot of flexibility with redemption, while others may restrict how you can use your points and miles. If you don’t want to deal with that, a cash-back credit card may be a better option.

What is the best travel credit card with no annual fee?

In our opinion, the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card is the top option if you want to avoid an annual fee. The card offers a decent sign-up bonus, a solid rewards rate, and flexible redemption options. Just use your card to book just about any type of travel and redeem your points for a statement credit against the purchase within 12 months.

Don’t let an annual fee scare you, though. Many travel credit cards offer benefits to make up for their fee. For example, many hotel credit cards offer a free night’s stay every year, which can often be worth much more than their annual fee.

What credit card gives you access to airport lounges?

There are a handful of credit cards that offer complimentary access to airport lounges. A few of our favorites include the Platinum Card from American Express, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Citi Prestige, and the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card. Some premium airline cards also offer access to that specific airline’s lounge.

Which credit card has the best airport lounge access?

Among the cards that offer the benefit, the Platinum Card from American Express offers access to the most lounge networks. Options include The Centurion Lounge, American Express International Lounges, Delta SkyClub, Escape Lounges, and Airspace Lounges.

What are the best travel credit cards for students?

The Bank of America Travel Rewards for Students is a solid choice because it offers all the same benefits as the regular card. Also, while the Journey Student Rewards from Capital One isn’t technically a travel credit card, it doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee, making it an excellent choice if you’re planning to study abroad.

What’s the best credit card for travel miles?

It really depends on what type of miles you want. For example, cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards credit card offer general travel miles, which function the same as general travel points.

Airline credit cards also offer travel miles, which you can typically only redeem for flights through their co-branded airline. These rewards programs don’t offer as much flexibility as general travel miles but can come with some other perks with that airline. 

There’s really no best credit card for travel miles; you just need to compare the options and decide what’s best for you based on your preferences.

What are the best credit cards for international travel?

Most travel credit cards are good for international travel because they don’t charge foreign transaction fees. But in general, you want to avoid Discover and American Express cards because they don’t have the same level of acceptance as Visa and Mastercard. 

That doesn’t mean you should avoid Discover and Mastercard altogether. Rather, you’ll just want to make sure you have a backup card — preferably one without a foreign transaction fee — in case you can’t use your primary one.

How to choose a travel card

Ultimately, the right travel credit card for you is based on your travel habits and preferences. For example, people who fly a lot with the same airline might want to choose that airline’s co-branded credit card to get perks like priority boarding, free checked bags, and in-flight discounts. 

The same goes for people who are loyal to one hotel brand. A co-branded hotel credit card might give you elite status and a free night’s stay every year. 

If you want more general travel rewards and don’t mind missing out on perks, general travel credit cards might be a better option. Within that category, you’ll need to decide whether you want a card that earns a high rewards rate on all your purchases or tiered rewards that offer bonus rewards on certain categories. 

You’ll also want to consider which perks a card offers, along with the fees it charges. Premium credit cards come with long lists of travel benefits, while some others may offer just a few or none at all. But premium cards are expensive, while ones with fewer benefits aren’t. 

As you compare your options, you’ll need to be able to weigh features against fees and decide what works best for your budget. 

How to maximize your travel rewards

Because there are so many different travel rewards programs out there, it’s hard to get into detail about how to maximize rewards you can earn in each. In general, though, learn as much as you can about your credit card’s rewards program. Read the card’s benefits guide and the fine print to get an idea of what redemption options you have and how you can squeeze as much value out of your points or miles as possible.

If your card’s rewards program has airline or hotel transfer partners, also take some time to learn about those programs, as they can potentially give you much more value than what you’d get with the original program.

Finally, consider using more than one card to maximize the rewards you earn. Some travel cards, for instance, offer bonus rewards on some purchases and a low rewards rate on everything else. 

If you get a card that offers a high rewards rate on everything and another one that offers bonus rewards on certain categories, you can use the cards in tandem to ensure you earn the maximum amount of rewards regardless of where you shop.

Popular redemptions from travel rewards

Depending on the card you have, you may have many or few redemption options. In general, flights and hotels are the most popular redemptions you can get from travel rewards. However, some credit cards may also allow you to redeem your points or miles for rental cars, cruises, timeshares, travel agencies, campgrounds and more.

Take the time to get to know your credit card’s rewards program to understand not only which redemptions are available, but which offer the most value.

The bottom line

Travel credit cards can make it easy to afford your next vacation, plus help you enjoy your experience more while you’re there. When used correctly, you can get a lot of value out of top travel credit cards. Just make sure that you get enough benefit from a card’s rewards program and its features to make up for the card’s annual fee.

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More details on travel credit cards

Here are some details about our favorite travel credit cards of 2019:

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Annual Fee: $450

APR: 18.99% to 25.99% Variable

Bonus: 50,000 points

Rewards Rates: 3 points per dollar on travel and dining, and 1 point per dollar on everything else.

Travel perks: Get 50% more value when redeeming points for travel through Chase, $300 annual travel credit, the option to transfer points to airline and hotel partners, complimentary access to Priority Pass lounges, application-fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, and various travel protections.

Pro/strength: The travel-fee credit effectively reduces the card’s annual fee to $150. In addition to other perks, you could get more value out of it than cards with lower fees.

Con/weakness: Steep annual fee for those who won’t maximize the benefits.

Read full Chase Sapphire Reserve details here.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Annual Fee: $95

APR: 17.99% to 24.99% Variable

Bonus: 60,000 points

Rewards Rates: 2 points per dollar on travel and dining, and 1 point per dollar on everything else.

Travel perks: Get 25% more value when redeeming points for travel through Chase, the option to transfer points to airline and hotel partners, and various travel protections.

Pro/strength: Ultimate Rewards points offer a lot of flexibility. You can get 25% more value when using rewards to book travel through Chase, or you can redeem points for cash back or gift cards, or transfer them to one of Chase’s airline and hotel partners.

Con/Weakness: Annual fee isn’t waived the first year, and low base rewards rate.

Read full Chase Sapphire Preferred details here.

Platinum Card from American Express

American Express Platinum Card

American Express Platinum Card

Annual Fee: $550

APR: None. Card requires payment in full each month.

Bonus: 60,000 points after spending $5000 in the first three months

Rewards Rates: 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel, as well as on prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com, and 1 point per dollar on everything else.

Travel perks: $200 annual airline fee credit, $200 annual Uber credit, complimentary access to several airport lounge networks, elite hotel and car-rental program status, and more.

Pro/strength: The card is packed with elite travel perks.

Con/Weakness: It has a steep annual fee and requires payment in full each month.

Read full American Express Platinum details here.

Citi Premier Card

Citi Premier

Citi Premier

Annual Fee: $0 the first year, then $95

APR: 18.24% to 26.24% Variable

Bonus: 50,000 points

Rewards Rates: 3 points per dollar on travel (including gas stations), 2 points per dollar at restaurants and on entertainment, and 1 point per dollar everywhere else.

Travel perks: Get 25% more value when using your points to book flights through Citi, option to transfer miles to airline partners.

Pro/strength: Offers more value on flights booked through Citi.

Con/Weakness: Not many travel benefits.

Read full Citi Premier details here.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Annual Fee: $0 the first year, then $95

APR: 17.49% - 24.74% Variable

Bonus: 50,000 miles

Rewards Rates: 2 miles per dollar on every purchase, and 10 miles per dollar on hotels booked through hotels.com/venture through January 2020.

Travel perks: $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck; option to transfer miles to airline partners.

Pro/strength: High rewards rate and flexible redemption options.

Con/Weakness: Not many travel benefits.

Read full Capital One Venture details here.

Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card

Bank of America Travel Rewards

Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card

Annual Fee: $0

APR: 0% for 12 months, then 16.99% to 24.99% Variable

Bonus: 25,000 points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days

Rewards Rates: 1.5 points per dollar on every purchase, plus an extra 1.5 points per dollar on travel booked through the Bank of America Travel Center.

Travel perks: None.

Pro/strength: No annual fee.

Con/Weakness: Small sign-up bonus and no travel perks.

Read full Bank of America Travel Rewards details here.

Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card

Chase Ink Preferred

Chase Ink Preferred

Annual Fee: $95

APR: 18.24% to 23.24% Variable

Bonus: 80,000 points

Rewards Rates: 3 points per dollar on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, and on advertising purchases made with socil media sites and search engines each account anniversary year. 1 point per dollar on everything else. 

Travel perks: Get 25% more value when you use your points to book travel through Chase.

Pro/strength: Huge sign-up bonus and great rewards.

Con/Weakness: Not many travel benefits.

Read full Chase Ink Business Preferred details here.

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