In this review, we cover what we believe to be the 3 best travel reward credit cards on the market in 2016. If you learn how to use travel reward credit cards like these, you’ll soon be on your way to free or discounted flight and hotel stays. Learn about other great travel deals and credit cards throughout our travel deals series.
Each of the following travel credit card products are used by millions of people and are issued by reputable credit card brands.
Note that if you really want to make the most of, and substantially increase your points and miles balance, you’ll need excellent credit. The three travel reward credit cards below all require that the consumer have excellent credit in order to be considered for approval. Please read each of our reviews below for specific details on each travel credit card, and then click the link to be taken directly to the card issuers webpage for additional fine print.
What are the Best Travel Reward Credit Cards to Get This Year?
The Chase Sapphire is a Visa rewards credit card. Rewards, as they relate to this card, first equate to points; which can be redeemed for free and discounted flights, car rentals, hotel stays and cash (redemption options go past these, but this is where you’ll find the most value). I’ve been a long time client of JP Morgan Chase. Since opening the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, I’ve earned over 200,000 miles (points) and a couple dozen free round trip flights.
New account holders will earn 50,000 points in their Chase credit card account if they spend $4,000 dollars within the first 3 months of opening the account. Have a friend or family member who likes to travel? Refer them and you’ll earn more. Oh, you like food and traveling? Everytime you use your card at a restaurant (includes fast-food), you earn 2x points per dollar. The same goes for any travel related purchase, like flights, cabs, rental cars and hotel spending. The Chase Sapphire also comes with no foreign transaction fees, making this literally the only card I use abroad. It comes with no fee for the first year of membership, and then you’ll pay $95 annually. Considering the signup bonus alone will cover this for 5 years, it’s a non-issue.
My favorite part about this card is the Ultimate Rewards portal. It’s an interface within your credit card account that lets you search hundreds of hotel, airline and car rental merchants. If you’re looking to plan a trip, Ultimate Rewards simplifies the process like no other and presents you with point redemption options along with regular purchases. If you opt out of using your points for a particular trip — you can pay for that same trip through Ultimate Rewards and earn 3x points per dollar spent. That makes this the most lucrative credit card for travel purchases. You can also transfer your points to a wide variety of airline and hotel programs at a 1:1 ratio.
Here are Chases’ current 2015 terms for the Sapphire Preferred card. Keep in mind that credit card issuers change the Terms & Conditions of their products incredibly frequently. It’s important that before you apply, you read the current terms so you know what you’re getting into. If used responsibly, credit cards be an incredible asset to the frequent or wannabe frequent traveler.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
- Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
- $0 foreign transaction fees, plus chip-enabled for enhanced security and wider acceptance when used at a chip card reader
- 1:1 point transfer to leading frequent travel programs at full value — that means 1,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points equal 1,000 partner miles/points
- Travel and shop with confidence with premium Travel and Purchase Protection Benefits, including Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Purchase Protection and more
- 24/7 direct access to dedicated customer service specialists
- Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
*Hint* — Renting a car? No need to pay extra for that collision coverage at an additional $20 per day. Chase actually encourages you to charge the whole thing. Their coverage is primary, which means that they will provide reimbursement up to the confirmed cash value of any vehicle following an accident or theft. This coverage is provided for most rental merchants globally.
You can apply for the Chase Sapphired Preferred here. Keep in mind that this is a credit card product for the consumer who maintains an excellent credit rating. Ideally over 740+.
American Express is a great issuer because they pride themselves on customer service. The name has a certain ring of exclusivity to it as well which I’m sure their marketers are aware of. If you look behind all that, there’s serious value in their credit cards. Especially when it comes to the Starwood Preferred.
You automatically earn 10,000 points after the first purchase and an addition 15,000 when you spend $5,000 in the first 6 months. Make sure when you apply for credit cards that have a spend threshold that you space them out. $5,000 is definitely relatively easy to hit in 6 months if you put all of your spending on this one card (and you’re not a college student). That’s ultimately 25,000 Starpoints you can use to redeem hotel stays around the world with Starwood partners or over 150 airline companies.
This card also comes with no fee for the first year, and then you’re charged $65 annually. Low compared to most other reward products.
- Earn up to 25,000 bonus Starpoints®
- Earn 10,000 Starpoints after your first purchase on the Card and an additional 15,000 Starpoints after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first 6 months.
- Redeem Starpoints for free nights at over 1,100 hotels & resorts in nearly 100 countries and for free flights on over 150 airlines with SPG Flights – all with no blackout dates.
- Some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges.
- Starpoints stay active as long as you continue to spend on your Card.
- $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $65.
- Terms and Restrictions apply.
You can apply for the Starwood Preferred Guest from American Express here. As with most prime travel reward credit cards, this is also a credit card geared towards the consumer who maintains an excellent credit rating. Have a question about this? Ask us in the comments.
Barclaycard has come on strong in the last 2 years as a major player in the credit card industry. This card dropped in and gave Chase a punch in the nose saying “we CAN compete with you.” The Arrival Plus is a flexible card, but not in the way that Starwood or the Chase Sapphire is. Pickup a quick 40,000 points when you open your card account and spend $3,000 in the first three months. When you earn points with this card, you redeem them like you would cash. If you earn 10,000 points by spending money with it, that translates in $100 in rewards. That $100 must be redeemed in your Barclaycard account as a statement credit. IE: My Balance this Month = $500, but I have 10,000 points, if I redeem that, my balance is now $400. Maff, though, and yes I went to MIT. Separately, you’ll get an additional 10% back when you redeem your points as statement credits. The BEST part about this card, which in some ways makes it better than the Chase Sapphire, is that you earn 2x points on EVERY purchase. Not just travel and dining. Like the other two cards above, it also comes with a free first year. After one year of card membership with Barclaycard, you’ll pay $89 annually. Which, again, is covered for 4 years by the signup bonus alone. Finally, there’s no foreign transaction fees, which makes it a great backup to the Sapphire since it’s a MasterCard.
*Hint* I rotate this card with my Sapphire and AMEX Starwood. If I’m eating out or spending money on travel, I’ll use the Sapphire. If I’m buying ANYTHING ELSE under $200, I use the Barclay Arrival. Anything over $200 that doesn’t fall under travel and dining, goes on my AMEX Starwood. Anyway, that’s my routine, and it’s helped me maximize hundreds of thousands of miles without getting 800 credit cards.
- Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that’s enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit
- 0% intro APR for 12 months for each Balance Transfer made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR currently 14.99% or 18.99%, depending on your creditworthiness.
- Earn 2X miles on all purchases – Miles don’t expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
- Chip card for increased confidence and convenience to pay abroad as easily as you do at home
- Redeem your miles for travel statement credits – redemptions start at 2,500 miles for $25 toward travel purchases made in the last 120 days
- Get 10% miles back to use toward your next redemption every time you redeem for travel statement credits
- No foreign transaction fees on anything you buy while in another country
- Complimentary online FICO® Credit Score access for Barclaycard Arrival cardmembers
Apply for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite here. As an FYI, this credit card requires an excellent credit rating like the others we discussed.