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Best travel credit cards for October 2021

Level up your travel and dining game with the right travel rewards credit card.

Getting ready to plan your next epic adventure? The right travel credit card can help get you on your way and upgrade your travel experience too. Every time you use your travel card, whether at the gas station or grocery store, the points you accumulate can be used toward a future travel purchase. A travel rewards credit card can also help you score major perks like priority boarding, first-class upgrades, airport lounge access, TSA Precheck and Global Entry statement credits and exclusive hotel and rental car benefits. 

While the rewards system isn't as straightforward as with a cash-back credit card, travel rewards credit cards feature some of the highest reward rates out there and  typically offer more generous perks and welcome offers. So if you want to start racking up points that will be useful for your next vacation, check out our picks for the best travel credit cards.

Note: This list contains only the best travel credit cards; if you're a frequent flyer who's dedicated to one airline, we recommend checking out our best airline credit cards to maximize your rewards.

Read more: Airline cards vs. travel credit cards: Which one's better for you

The best travel credit card overall for most travelers

Card Highlights
Intro BonusEarn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
APR16.99%-23.99% Variable
Recommended Credit Excellent
Reward Rates
  • Earn 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Earn 5X total points on air travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Earn 3X points on other travel and dining.
  • Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
Annual Fee$550
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Additional Details
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each balance transfer, whichever is greater
Balance Transfer APR16.99%-23.99% Variable
Foreign Transaction Fees $0
Penalty APR Up to 29.99%
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Earn 5X total points on air travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Earn 3X points on other travel and dining.
  • Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Our Take

Chase Sapphire Reserve offers great value for those who spend around $12,000 or more annually on travel. The credit card company lets you accrue rewards card points for flights, hotels, rental cars, trains, buses and either travel or dining. Consider the Platinum Card (for the frequent flyer) or the Gold Card (for high food budgets). Otherwise, I'm a big fan of the wide range of expenses that fall under the Chase Sapphire Reserve card's bonus points categories. And it's even better for those who value its additional travel perks like travel insurance, hotel discounts through The Luxury Hotel and Resort Collection and lounge access through Priority Pass Select.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card gives you unlimited 10x points on hotel and car rental purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 5x points on air travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards and 3x points on other travel purchases (earn elevated rewards on travel purchases after earning the $300 annual travel credit). Plus, you can earn 3x points on dining, 1x points on all other purchases and 10x points on Lyft rides through March 2022. 

While the Chase Sapphire Reserve card's $550 annual fee is steep, the yearly travel credit of $300 essentially brings the overall cost down to $250, making the annual fee more manageable. Plus, the 50,000-point bonus -- earned after spending $4,000 in the first three months -- is worth $750 toward travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Finally, card holders get a statement credit reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA Precheck (worth $100 for Global Entry or $85 for TSA precheck, both of which are valid for five years) plus a number of VIP-style travel perks.

The best for foodies and big grocery shoppers

See Rates and Fees Terms Apply
Card Highlights
Intro BonusEarn 60,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
APRSee Pay Over Time APR
Recommended Credit Excellent/Good
Reward Rates
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, including takeout and delivery.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
Annual Fee$250
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Additional Details
Late Payment Fee Up to $40
Foreign Transaction Fees None
Penalty APR See Rates & Fees
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, including takeout and delivery.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

Our Take

As the only card on this list that offers a high rewards rate on both restaurant and US supermarket purchases, the Gold Card from American Express is a great option for those who don't currently spend a ton on travel every year, but would like to travel at a discount with points earned by spending money on food. 

If you spend more than about $7,000 annually on restaurants and US supermarkets (including smaller grocery stores, but excluding big-box stores like Walmart or Target), the $250 annual fee is well worth it. Considering the average American household spent $7,923 on food in 2018, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, many households could benefit from the Gold card. (If you spend a high amount on both food and travel each year, I recommend the Chase Sapphire Reserve instead.)

The Gold Card has a broad spectrum of rewards categories for a travel card, with 4x points on restaurants and US supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in US supermarket purchases each calendar year, then 1x) and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com, the website where points can be redeemed. The $250 annual fee is partially offset by up to $120 in annual dining statement credits (up to $10 per month) at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. 

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

The best travel card for first-class fliers

See Rates and Fees Terms Apply
Card Highlights
Intro BonusEarn 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
APRSee Pay Over Time APR
Recommended Credit Excellent/Good
Reward Rates
  • Earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
Annual Fee$695
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Additional Details
Late Payment Fee Up to $40
Foreign Transaction Fees None
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.

Our Take

The Platinum Card is Amex's top-tier travel card, offering the highest potential ongoing reward rate of any we've reviewed, topping out at 10%, depending on how points are redeemed (details below). This card is ideal for anyone who already spends more than $10,000 annually on flights and hotels alone and for those who value premium travel perks such as lounge access and hotel upgrades. The narrow ongoing rewards structure -- which doesn't include food or dining -- and high annual fee of $695 make this a valuable card for a particular spending profile, so do the math before applying. 

The Platinum Card gives 5x Membership Reward points on flights booked directly with airlines or through the American Express Travel portal and hotels -- which require prepayment -- booked through the Amex portal. Flights or hotels booked through a third-party service or company, like Orbitz, don't qualify. 

The high annual fee of $695 is offset by up to a $200 airline fee statement credit per calendar year for travel incidentals, such as a checked bag, in-flight food or beverage or Wi-Fi; a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck (worth $100 for Global Entry or $85 for TSA precheck, both of which are valid for five years); and up to $200 in Uber Cash per year for US rides and eats. The new-member bonus is on the high end at 100,000 points when you spend $6,000 in the first six months of card membership, worth up to $2,000 when transferred to a travel partner and redeemed at its maximum value (to determine the value of rewards, bonuses and points, we use the most recent The Points Guy valuations). The Platinum Card also offers a number of premium travel benefits, with hotel perks including room upgrades, complimentary breakfast, early check-in and late checkout on eligible hotel stays and access to the Global Lounge Collection.

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

The best travel credit card for earning miles on everyday spending

Card Highlights
Intro BonusEnjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel
APR15.99% - 23.99% (Variable)
Recommended Credit Excellent, Good
Reward Rates
  • Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get our best prices on thousands of trip options
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.
Annual Fee$95
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Additional Details
Intro Balance Transfer APRN/A
Balance Transfer Fee $0 at this Transfer APR
Balance Transfer APR15.99% - 23.99% (Variable)
Late Payment Fee Up to $40
Foreign Transaction Fees None
Penalty APR None
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get our best prices on thousands of trip options
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.

Our Take

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card* is a straightforward, easy-to-use option for those who would like to book travel with travel reward miles generated from general spending and would rather not worry about eligible purchase spending categories. 

With unlimited 2x miles on every purchase, the Venture card is the broadest-earning travel card available. You can earn 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months (compare that with $4,000 for most other cards). That's significant -- especially given the relatively low $95 annual fee. The Capital One Venture also gives cardholders up to a $100 statement credit for TSA Precheck or Global Entry, as well as travel accident insurance and rental collision insurance (more on that later).

FAQs

What are the best travel credit cards right now?

With its welcome bonus of 50,000 points (after spending $4,000 in the first three months) and 3x points for general travel and dining, Chase Sapphire Reserve is our current top pick for the best travel credit card for most people. American Express Gold Card has emerged as the best card for foodies, while The Platinum Card from American Express is the choice for first-class fliers.

How do travel credit cards work?

Travel credit cards turn purchases into points or miles that can be redeemed for travel purchases, like flights and hotel stays. Sometimes you can redeem those points for cash or a gift card, but you typically get the best rate when using them to book travel. The top cards have their own travel booking portals through which you can find flights, hotels and rental cars; sometimes, points are worth more when used in those credit card company portals.

Airline and hotel credit cards -- which we didn't include in this list -- operate like loyalty programs in that you stay in a closed-loop rewards system. You earn rewards when you purchase flights or hotels through your chosen airline or hotel company, and you can use those points for perks or future bookings through the same airline or hotel group.

How do you choose the best travel credit card?

The points and travel benefits that you accrue through a travel rewards program are often redeemed through your credit card issuer's website (or app) or appear as a statement credit that reimburses you for past travel-related and everyday purchases you made with your travel credit card. Points or miles can also be transferred to travel partners -- mostly hotels and airlines -- at a fluctuating conversion rate, where they can then be used to book a flight or hotel room.

To choose the best travel credit card, there are a few key factors to consider: 

  • Annual fees: Every single travel rewards program reviewed here has annual fees, with some climbing as high as $695, but those fees are usually mitigated by monthly or annual credits. 
  • Exclusive perks: Some of these travel rewards card options also grant access to exclusive travel perks, like airline lounges, priority boarding or VIP welcomes at hotels. The value of those perks is subjective and something you'll have to evaluate based on your needs and wants.
  • Foreign transaction fees: None of the best travel cards makes users pay a foreign transaction fee, so a foreign transaction fee is not something you have to worry about with any of the credit cards recommended here.

Other travel credit card benefits

Most travel credit cards -- which carry hefty annual fees -- include benefits that further add value to those cards. Benefits like rental car collision insurance and even lost luggage reimbursement have become standard. Here's what's offered for the cards chosen here:

Travel accident insurance: Reserve, CapOne Venture

Trip cancellation insurance: Reserve, Platinum

Trip delay reimbursement or protection: Reserve, Platinum

Lost luggage reimbursement: Reserve, Platinum, Gold

Rental car collision insurance: Reserve, Platinum, Gold, Venture

How we picked the best travel credit cards

To determine our recommendations for the best travel credit cards, we researched 20 of the most popular travel rewards credit cards (listed below) and selected based on the best monetary value for certain customer profiles, such as frequent travelers, those who spend a lot on dining and groceries or those who are looking for an easy way to travel at a discount with miles earned on everyday spending. We always hold overall net value paramount, since choosing the right rewards credit card is about saving money and being financially responsible, not being lured by perks or offers that are flashy or irrelevant.

Cards researched

More finance guides for 2021 

For rates and fees of the American Express Gold Card, click here.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card from American Express, click here.

*All information about the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

Disclaimer: The information included in this article, including rewards program features, program fees and credits available through credit cards to apply to such programs, may change from time to time and are presented without warranty. When evaluating offers, please check the credit card provider's website and review its terms and conditions for the most current offers and information. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

The comments on this article are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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