The best travel rewards credit cards of June 2020

By Sarah Silbert

This article is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. It has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of the issuers listed. Some of the offers you see on this page are from our partners, like Citi and American Express, but our coverage is always independent.

The best travel rewards credit cards:

While it takes more work to use travel rewards compared to cash back, the upside is that you can get much more value for your points compared to receiving cash back. For example, Business Insider's David Slotnick got almost 6 cents per point when he used Chase Ultimate Rewards to book a first-class flight to Japan. With cash back, your rewards will always be worth the same amount.

In this guide, we're focusing on travel credit cards that earn transferable points — points such as American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards that you can transfer to airline and hotel loyalty programs.

Airline and hotel co-branded credit cards can make sense if you travel frequently and are loyal to a particular brand, but if your main goal is to earn as many rewards as possible on your spending and have lots of options for using your points, cards that earn transferable points are the best option.

We're focused here on the rewards and perks that come with each card. These cards won't be worth it if you're paying interest or late fees. When using a credit card, it's important to pay your balance in full each month, make payments on time, and only spend what you can afford to pay.

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60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months
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While the Chase Sapphire Reserve card was previously our pick for the best travel rewards card overall, it recently increased its annual fee from $450 to $550. While it did add some new perks with Lyft and DoorDash, it's become harder to recommend the Reserve to more casual travelers. We've updated this guide to reflect the changes, and we now recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred card as the best travel rewards credit card for most people. 

Chase Ultimate Rewards points are some of the easiest travel rewards to use — you can redeem them for travel directly through Chase and get more than 1 cent per point (you get 1.25 cents with the Preferred and 1.5 cents with the Reserve), and Chase's selection of transfer partners is great for US-based travelers, with United, Hyatt, Marriott, and more.

The Sapphire Preferred has a $95 annual fee, and it earns 2 points per dollar on travel and dining. It also earns 5 points per dollar with Lyft, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. The card stands out for its travel protections. You'll enjoy protection if your flight is delayed, if your baggage is delayed or lost, primary car rental insurance, and more if you book eligible travel and meet the benefit requirements. 

Read more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred:

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Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
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Not everyone wants to pay a $550 annual fee, but if you're serious about maximizing your rewards and you travel frequently, the Sapphire Reservecould be worth it.

Not only do you get up to $300 in statement credits toward travel each year (and Chase has a very generous definition of travel — including everything from airfare to highway tolls), but you also earn 3x points on travel and dining (excluding the $300 travel credit). You also get airport lounge access through the Priority Pass network, which has more than 1,200 locations worldwide.

The Sapphire Reserve's annual fee recently increased from $450 to $550, so it's now more of a niche card for serious travelers who can maximize all of its benefits. Along with the higher fee, the card now offers benefits with DoorDash and Lyft. You'll get up to $60 in statement credits with DoorDash in 2020, and another $60 in 2021, and you can activate a free year of Lyft Pink membership, which gets you perks like 15% off rides. Additionally, the Sapphire Reserve currently earns 10x points on Lyft through March 2022.

When it comes to redeeming points, you can book travel through Chase and get 1.5 cents per point (a 50% bonus over the standard 1-cent-per-point rate), or you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards to travel partners like Hyatt, British Airways, and United.

Plus, like the less-expensive Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Sapphire Reserve offers some of the best credit card travel insurance around. This includes primary rental car insurance, trip delay and trip cancellation protection, and lost baggage insurance.

Read more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve:

The Capital One Venture is a great "set it and forget it" card, in the sense that you don't have to worry about various bonus categories for earning rewards. You'll earn 2 miles per dollar, no matter what you buy.

This card also offers one of the most straightforward ways to redeem rewards for travel: The Purchase Eraser Tool lets you "wipe" travel purchases from your card statement, at a rate of 1 cent per mile. So the 50,000-mile sign-up bonus is worth $500 toward travel (to get the sign-up bonus you must spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening).

You also have the option to transfer Capital One miles to more than a dozen frequent flyer programs, including Air Canada Aeroplan, Etihad Guest, JetBlue TrueBlue, and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. The transfer ratio is 1.5 airline miles for every 2 Capital One miles you transfer.

The selection of transfer partners is best suited to someone who wants to travel internationally and who doesn't mind spending some time researching the best ways to redeem miles with the different frequent flyer program options. But the upside is that you can always use the Purchase Eraser tool instead. You also get up to a $100 Global Entry application fee credit.

Click here to learn more about the Capital One Venture Rewards card »

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60,000 points after your spend at least $5,000 in your first 3 months of account opening
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The Amex Platinum has one of the highest credit card annual fees, but it can be well worth it if you travel a lot and you can put all of its statement credits to use.

You'll earn 5x points on flights when you book directly through the airline or through Amex Travel, which makes the card a great choice for purchasing airfare. The card offers trip cancellation and interruption insurance, plus some of the best purchase protection, so it's a good option for buying expensive items (and don't forget to see if you can take advantage of an Amex Offer for bonus points or cash back).

The Amex Platinum offers more airport lounge access than any other personal travel rewards card — in addition to Priority Pass membership, you get access to Amex Centurion Lounges, Delta Sky Clubs (when you're flying Delta), and more. 

The card's three annual statement credits can go a long way toward offsetting the high annual fee. You get up to $200 in statement credits toward airline incidental fees like checked bags and inflight purchases; up to $100 each year toward Saks Fifth Avenue purchases; and up to $200 in annual Uber credits.

Just keep in mind that there are several caveats. You're limited to one designated airline (you can choose it each year in your Amex account) for the airline incidental fee credit, and both the Saks and Uber credits are divided into portions. You'll get up to $50 in statement credits toward Saks purchases from January to June, and another credit of up to $50 for Saks purchases from July to December. With the Uber credit, you get up to $15 each month, and a $20 bonus in December for a total of $35 that month.

Read more about the Amex Platinum:

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35,000 points after you spend at least $4,000 in your first 3 months of account opening
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The American Express® Gold Card is an ideal travel rewards card for anyone who frequently eats out and/or shops at US supermarkets. You'll earn 4x Membership Rewards points on these purchases (though note the $25,000 annual cap for US supermarkets; after that, you'll earn just 1 point per dollar, but that's a pretty high cap). The card also earns 3x points on flights booked directly with the airlines or through AmexTravel.com, and 1 point per dollar on everything else.

While the $250 annual fee is on the high side, you can offset it by up to $220 thanks to two annual statement credits. You get up to $100 in airline incidental fee credits (it's the same deal as with the Amex Platinum, where you have to select one airline) that you can use to cover baggage fees, in-flight purchases, ticket changes, and more. 

You also get up to $120 in annual dining credits, but it's divided into up to $10 in credits each month, and the credit only applies at the following restaurants and delivery services: Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations.

Read more about the Amex Gold card:

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30,000 points after you spend at least $2,000 in your first 3 months of account opening
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The American Express® Green Card recently got a major update, and it's now a real contender when it comes to travel rewards cards with a mid-tier annual fee. It earns 3x points on travel and dining, which is even better than the Chase Sapphire Preferred (with a slightly lower $95 annual fee). In fact, you could make the argument that the Amex Green is now a better card than the Sapphire Preferred, but it depends on what benefits matter most to you.

In addition to earning a strong return on your dining and travel spending, the Amex Green card offers a few different statement credits that may or may not move the needle for you. You get up to $100 per year in statement credits when you use your card to pay for CLEAR membership. CLEAR is similar to TSA PreCheck, but in addition to getting you expedited security access at airports, it's available at select stadiums and arenas. It costs $179, so unfortunately the statement credit won't cover the entire cost.

You also get up to $100 in credits each year when you use your card to purchase airport lounge access through LoungeBuddy. 

Read more about the Amex Green card:

 Chase Sapphire PreferredChase Sapphire ReserveCapital One Venture cardPlatinum CardAmex Gold CardAmex Green Card
Annual fee$95$550$95$550$250$150
Welcome bonus60K points after you spend $4K in the first 3 months of acocunt opening50K points after you spend $4K in the first 3 months of acocunt opening 50K miles after you spend $3K in the first 3 months of acocunt opening 60K points after you spend $5K in the first 3 months of acocunt opening 35K points after you spend $4K in the first 3 months of acocunt opening 30K points after you spend $2K in the first 3 months of acocunt opening 
Rewards

2x points on travel 

2x points on dining 

5x on Lyft rides

1x on everything else

3x points on travel 

3x points on dining 

10x on Lyft rides

1x on everything else

2x miles on every purchase

5x points on flights booked directly with airlines

5x points on flights booked through Amex Travel 

5x points on prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel 

1x on everything else

4x points at US supermarkets*

4x points at restaurants worldwide

3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel 

1x on everything else

3x points on all eligible travel

3x points at restaurants worldwide

1x on everything else

Top benefits

25% points value bonus

Travel protection

50% points value bonus

Travel protection

Up to $120 in DoorDash credits*

Priority Pass Select airport lounge access

Up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck

Uber credits

Saks credits

Annual airline fee credit

Travel protection

Up to $10 dining credit each month***

Up to $100 annual airline fee credit

Up to $100 in annual credits for CLEAR

Up to $100 in annual LoungeBuddy credits

*on up to $25,000 per year, then 1x **on up to $60 in eligible DoorDash purchases in 2020 and again in 2021 ***when you pay with the Amex Gold card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations

What is the best travel rewards card?

We think the Chase Sapphire Reserve is the best overall travel rewards card, but the best card for your particular situation will depend on what benefits you care about the most, as well as how you feel about paying a high annual fee. You don't need to spend $550 a year for a great travel rewards card; there are great options under $100 as well.

We'd recommend opening a travel rewards card that earns Amex or Chase points, since these are among the easiest rewards to redeem and you have various travel partners to utilize. But if you've investigated your options and are confident that you can get value out of their rewards, cards that earn Capital One miles or Citi ThankYou points can make sense as well.

What are the different types of travel credit cards?

There are two main types of travel rewards cards:

  • Cards that earn transferable points: Transferable points are generally bank rewards that you can move over to travel partners. Transferable points currencies include Amex Membership Rewards points, Capital One miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, Citi ThankYou points, and Marriott Bonvoy points (which transfer to more than 40 airline partners).
  • Airline and hotel co-branded cards: These cards earn points or miles within a respective hotel or airline program; you don't have the option to redeem your rewards with a wide variety of travel partners (or if you do, the transfer ratio usually isn't great). See our guide to the best airline credit cards, as well as our guide to the best hotel credit cards.

How do I pick a travel credit card?

There are a few different things you'll want to evaluate when deciding on the right travel rewards card for you:

  • Sign-up bonus — Is this card offering an attractive intro bonus to new cardholders? 
  • Bonus categories — Does the card earn you bonus rewards on your most common purchases, such as dining out or travel?
  • Ease of use — How easy is it to use your points? A travel rewards card can offer all the points in the world, but if the options for using them aren't convenient for you, chances are you'll be leaving value on the table. Make sure you research your options for redeeming rewards with a travel credit cards before you apply. That means taking a look at the rewards program's travel partners, as well as your options for using rewards to book travel directly through the credit card issuer's website.
  • Perks — The more benefits a credit card has, the higher its annual fee tends to be. So you'll want to make sure you'll be able to utilize most of its perks, such as annual statement credits, airport lounge access, and complimentary elite status.
  • Annual fee — If you don't want to pay a high annual fee, you can rule several travel rewards cards out. Luckily, though, you still have some great options under $100.

Are annual fees worth it?

Travel rewards cards with annual fees are worth it if you're able to get significant value out of their benefits and rewards. Before you apply for a card, make sure you'll actually use all the features that contribute to the card's annual fee. For example, if a card offers an annual statement credit of up to $200 toward travel but you can't use it, you're probably not getting what you pay for.

How do travel rewards cards work?

Travel rewards cards earn you points (or miles) on every purchase you make, with the goal of helping you earn enough rewards to book free travel. The best travel rewards cards earn points that can be transferred to various airline and hotel partners — like Amex, Chase, or Citi points. 

How do I get a free flight?

Applying for a travel rewards credit card and earning its welcome bonus is a great way to work toward a free flight. Domestic award flights in economy typically require about 25,000 points, so depending on the welcome bonus, you could have enough rewards for a flight right out of the gate.