HomeTechNewsBest travel credit cards for September 2021- CNET

Best travel credit cards for September 2021- CNET


A travel credit card gets you that much closer to planning your next vacation. Every time you use your travel card, whether at the grocery store or gas station, the points you rack up can be used towards a future travel purchase. If you’re getting ready to plan your next trip, a travel rewards credit card can help you score major perks like first class upgrades, priority boarding, 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 a cash-back credit card, travel rewards credit cards offer some of the highest reward rates out there. They also typically offer more generous perks. So if you want to start accumulating 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, but 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

Reward rates: 10x points on hotel and car rental purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 5x points on air travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3x points on other travel purchases (earn elevated rewards on all travel purchases immediately after earning the $300 annual travel credit), 3x points on dining, 1x point on other purchases
Annual fee: $550
Welcome bonus: 60,000 points
Bonus redemption threshold: Spend $4,000 in first three months
APR: 16.99% to 23.99% variable
Foreign transaction fees: None
Credit requirement: Excellent

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.

Rewards details

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. 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 60,000 point bonus — earned after spending $4,000 in the first three months — is worth $900 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. 

Redemption details

Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed in three main ways. 

  • Cash redemption at a 1-cent per point rate effectively turns your card into a 3% cash-back card for general travel and dining purchases. 
  • Booking travel through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal gets you a rate of 1.5 cents per point, or $1.50 for 100 points, which represents a return of 4.5% on general travel and dining purchases (well above most cash-back cards). 
  • Transfer points to one of the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel partners at a redemption rate of up to 2 cents per point, a 6% total return on general travel and dining purchases according to The Points Guy’s most recent valuations.

The best for foodies and big grocery shoppers

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.

Reward rates: 4x points on restaurants and on Uber Eats purchases, 4x points at US supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year, then 1x), 3x points on flights (booked directly with airline or amextravel.com), 1x points on other purchases
Annual fee: $250 (see rates and fees)
Welcome bonus: 60,000 points
Bonus redemption threshold: Spend $4,000 on eligible purchases in first six months
APR: See Pay Over Time APR (see rates and fees)
Foreign transaction fees: None (see rates and fees)
Credit requirement: Good to Excellent

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.)

Rewards details

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. The intro bonus is fairly standard at 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $4,000 in eligible purchases in the first six months, which is worth up to $1,000. (To determine the value of rewards, bonuses and points, we take the average of the most recent The Points Guy and NerdWallet valuations and apply it to the reward rate.)

Redemption details

There are two main ways to redeem points with the Gold Card. The first is for travel purchases made through the American Express Travel portal, where one point equals 1 cent. The second option is to transfer your MR points to one of 18 airline partners or three hotel partners for a value of up to 2 cents per point, according to the most recent The Points Guy valuations. Since your points can be worth twice as much when transferred, we highly recommend transferring to a travel partner and looking for good redemption deals in order to maximize your earned points.

The best travel card for first-class fliers

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.

Reward rates: 10x points on eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the US (on up to $25,000 in combined purchases) during the first six months of card membership. 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year) and 5x points on prepaid hotels booked on American Express Travel; 1x point on other purchases
Annual fee: $695 (see rates and fees)
Welcome bonus: 100,000 points 
Bonus redemption threshold: Spend $6,000 in first six months of card membership
APR: See Pay Over Time APR (see rates and fees)
Foreign transaction fees: None (see rates and fees)
Credit requirement: Good to Excellent

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. 

Rewards details

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.

Redemption details

The Platinum card offers three main methods of redemption:

  • Travel purchases made through the AmEx Travel portal, where one point is equal to 1 cent, including flights and prepaid hotel reservations.
  • Transfer your MR points to one of 18 airline partners or three hotel partners for a value of up to 2 cents per point, according to the most recent The Points Guy valuations. Given that there’s potentially a 100% value swing, we highly recommend transferring to a travel partner and looking for good redemption deals in order to maximize your points. 
  • A statement credit, but the rate is variable and you’ll typically get less value out of your points with this method.

The best travel credit card for earning miles on everyday spending

Reward rates: Earn 2x miles on everyday purchases
Annual fee: $95
Welcome bonus: 60,000 miles
Bonus redemption threshold: Spend $3,000 in the first three months of account opening
APR: 17.24% to 24.49% variable
Foreign transaction fees: None
Credit requirement: Good to Excellent

The Capital One Venture travel 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. 

Rewards details

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). 

Redemption details

The best way to use your Capital One Rewards miles is to transfer them to one of more than 15 travel partners at a rate of up to 1.4 cents per mile, for a potential net rewards value of 2.8%. The exact reward rate depends on the particular flight you reserve. When compared with the dollar cost of a flight, some flights may get you closer to 1 cent per mile, while others get you the max rate of 1.4 cents per mile. It’s not clear how exactly the mile cost is calculated, but keep in mind sometimes the maximum rate is only available when booking business class or first-class flights.

You can also redeem your Capital One Venture rewards miles as statement credits against past travel purchases (at a rate of 1 cent per mile), use them to shop on Amazon at a rate of 0.8 cents per mile or use them to book travel through the Capital One travel portal.

In the table below, we’ve broken down the key features of each card to help you determine the best travel credit card for you.

Best travel credit cards compared

Best travel card for most Best for foodies Best premium card for frequent flyers Best for no-hassle redemptions/travel rewards
Chase Sapphire Reserve American Express Gold American Express Platinum Capital One Venture
Reward rates 10x points on hotel and car rental purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 5x points on air travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3x points on other travel purchases, 3x points on dining; 1x point on other purchases 4x points on restaurants, and on Uber Eats purchases; 4x points at US supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year, then 1x), 3x points on flights (booked directly with airline or amextravel.com); 1x point on other purchases 10x points on eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the US (on up to $25,000 in combined purchases) during first 6 months; 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year); 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel; 1x point on other purchases 2x miles on all purchases; transfer miles to any of 15+ travel loyalty programs
Reward credits $300 annual travel credit; statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck; up to $60 in DoorDash statement credits (through December 2021) Up to $120 annual dining statement credit (up to $10 monthly) Up to $200 annual airline incidentals statement credit; statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck; up to $200 in Uber Cash annually for US rides and eats Statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
Reward perks Priority Pass select airport lounge access; Luxury Hotel and Resort Collection benefits; travel insurance and coverage; Lyft Pink membership (complimentary 12 months; activate by 3/31/22) Hotel Collection benefits Fine hotel and resorts benefits, Global Lounge Collection benefits Travel accident insurance; extended warranty; auto rental collision damage waiver
Annual fee $550; $75 for each authorized user $250 $695 $95
Foreign transaction fees None None None None
APR 16.99% to 23.99% variable 15.99% to 22.99% variable Pay Over Time APR (see rates and fees) 15.99% to 22.99% variable Pay Over Time APR (see rates and fees) 17.24% to 24.49% variable

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.

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.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.



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