I love credit card rewards! They’ve saved my family tens of thousands of dollars on travel.

My rule is that I’m always trying to work towards a credit card bonus. Between my wife and I, we apply for around one new personal and one new business card every year. A simple strategy like this has been enough to take one or two free vacations every year. 

My goal here is to make it as easy as possible for you to find the right credit card for your travel goals.

Best Overall Travel Credit Card

Winner: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

What’s to like: Chase Ultimate Rewards are flexible. You can exchange them for travel at a rate of 1.25 cents each, or transfer them to many quality airline and hotel partners for even better value.

Details:

  • Bonus: 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (worth up to $750 in travel) after spending $4,000 in the first three months
  • Cash back: Earn two points per dollar spent on travel and dining, and one point on everything else
  • Annual fee: $95 per year
  • Foreign transaction fees: 0%
  • Recommended credit: Good to excellent

Analysis: A great credit card for beginner travel hackers. Chase Ultimate Rewards are super flexible. Plus, the sign-up bonus for hitting the minimum spending requirement is worth an impressive $750 if used for travel.

Learn how to apply to the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

 

chase sapphire reserve card art May 19Runner Up: Chase Sapphire Reserve Card

What’s to like: A premium card with a lot of benefits. Most important for travelers are the 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months, the 50% extra value-per-point when booking travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, and the $300 annual travel credit.

Details

  • Bonus: 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (worth up to $750 in travel) after spending $4,000 in the first three months
  • Cash back: Earn three points per dollar spent on travel (excluding travel eligible for a statement credit) and dining. Then, earn one point per dollar spent on everything else
  • Annual fee: $450, plus $75 for each authorized user
  • Foreign transaction fees: 0%
  • Recommended credit: Excellent

Analysis: If you travel more than once per year, you’ll likely get more value from this card than from the Sapphire Preferred. The $300 annual statement for travel expenses makes the $450 annual fee a lot easier to stomach, and lounge access is always nice. If you’re not sure whether the annual fee is worth it, go with the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

What’s great about Chase is that you can combine points with another member of your household, such as your spouse. In our household, we earn Chase Ultimate Rewards through a variety of cards, then transfer the points to our Sapphire Reserve account, where points are worth 1.5 cents each when exchanged for travel. So, when we earn 5% cash back with the Chase Freedom, then transfer those points to the Sapphire Reserve, it’s like earning 7.5% if those points are exchanged for travel. 

Learn how to apply to the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card

Still not sure whether the Reserve or Preferred is the right card for you? Check out my in-depth review and comparison of the two cards

 

Best Travel Credit Cards for Beginners

Winner: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

What’s to like: Beginning travel hackers need flexibility, and that’s what the Chase Sapphire Preferred card delivers. After earning the sign-up bonus, you’ll have at least 64,000 points to use. You can use those points to book $625 worth of travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, which is simple to use. If you’re feeling advanced, you can transfer the points to a number of airline or hotel partners and potentially get even more value per point. For example, you can currently get a United Airlines Saver Award ticket from the mainland U.S. to Hawaii for just 45,000 points.

Details:

  • Bonus: 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (worth up to $625 in travel) after spending $4,000 in the first three months
  • Cash back: Earn two points per dollar spent on travel and dining, and one point on everything else
  • Annual fee: $95 per year
  • Foreign transaction fees: 0%
  • Recommended credit: Good to excellent

Analysis: I love this card for beginners because of its flexibility. It’s not hard to find great value when using Chase Ultimate Rewards and the annual fee is fairly low.

Learn how to apply to the Chase Sapphire Preferred

 

capital one venture rewards credit cardRunner Up: Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

What’s to like: Don’t want to mess around with transfer partners or have to deal with limited availability? Capital One has a simple and straightforward travel rewards program. Just spend on travel as you normally would, and then use your points for a statement credit at a rate of one cent per point.

Details:

  • Bonus: 50,000 points after spending $3,000 within the first three months ($500 of value in travel)
  • Cash back: Earn two points per dollar spent on every purchase, and 10 points per dollar spent at hotels.com
  • Annual fee: $0 annual fee for the first year, then $95 per year after
  • Foreign transaction fees: 0%
  • Recommended credit: Good to excellent

Analysis: A great bonus, a low annual fee, and an easy-to-understand rewards program. What’s great about this card is the variety of expenses Capital One categorizes as “travel” (and which you can therefore use your points on). As you’ll learn, there are a lot of flights and hotels where rewards typically can’t help you out; that’s where the Capital One Venture Rewards credit card really shines. For example, say you’re taking a road trip and you want to stay in an Airbnb. To help pay for your Airbnb, you can use your Capital One Rewards, which will be worth at least a $560 statement credit after hitting the bonus.

In late 2018, Capital One also added 14 airline transfer partners. Between the 14 airlines, you’ll actually have access to the three major airline alliances: Star Alliance, Oneworld, and SkyTeam. So now there are even more high-value redemption options. 

Learn how to apply to this card

 

Best Business Travel Credit Cards

chase business ink preferredWinner: Ink Business Preferred Credit Card

What’s to like: My favorite sign-up bonus available right now at 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points. That’s enough to book $1,000 worth of travel.

Details:

  • Bonus: 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first three months
  • Cash back: Three points per dollar spent on select categories, and 1% on everything else
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Foreign transaction fees: 0%
  • Recommended credit: Good to excellent

Analysis: One of my favorite cards due to the huge sign-up bonus and the ability to earn 3X points in select categories. You can then transfer points earned in a Chase business account to a personal account, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve. If you do, you can make this 80,000-point-bonus be worth $1,200 in travel! 

Learn how to apply to the Ink Business Preferred Card

 

Chase Business Ink UnlimitedRunner UpInk Business Unlimited Card

What’s to like: Solid bonus offer at $500, or 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Plus, no annual fee. Combine it with the Ink Business Preferred by using it for non-bonus spending to optimize your business expenses.

Details:

  • Bonus: 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points or $500 after spending $3,000 in the first three months
  • Cash back: 1.5% on everything
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Foreign transaction fees: 3%
  • Recommended credit: Good to excellent

Analysis: Worth having, especially if you have a separate premium card with Chase. For example, if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can transfer points you earn with the Ink Business Unlimited to the Sapphire Preferred to redeem them for travel with a 25 percent bonus. Doing so would make this sign-up bonus worth up to $625 in travel rewards, which is as good as it gets for a no-annual-fee card.

Learn how to apply to the Ink Business Unlimited

 

Chase Southwest Business Performance Card ArtHonorable Mention: Chase Southwest Performance Business

What’s to like: Whenever a new card is launched, there’s typically a limited-time increased sign-up bonus. I’m not sure when the bonus for this card will end, but I don’t expect it to be around forever ⁠— and at 80,000 Southwest points, it’s a good one. 

Details:

  • Bonus: 80,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first three months.
  • Cash back: 3X points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases; 2X points per dollar spent on social media and search engine advertising, internet, cable, and phone services; and one point on everything else.
  • Annual fee: $199 per year
  • Foreign transaction fees: 0%
  • Recommended credit: Good to excellent

Analysis: With any premium card, you want to make sure you can justify the annual fee. This one is easily justifiable for frequent Southwest flyers. When you look at the 80K bonus and other benefits (such as a 9K bonus each account anniversary, four upgraded boardings per year, and inflight wifi credits) this card makes a lot of sense. Also, the value of the sign-up bonuses increases significantly for those with a consistent travel partner, as you’re only 25,000 points away from qualifying for the companion pass.

 

Best Cards for International Travel

Winner: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

What’s to like: With transfer partners like British Airways, Iberia Plus, Singapore, and United, Chase has multiple ways to help you get to your international destination of choice. For example, an off-peak award from Chicago to London costs only 26,000 points with British Airways.

Details:

  • Bonus: 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (worth up to $750 in travel) after spending $4,000 in the first three months
  • Cash back: Earn two points per dollar spent on travel and dining, then earn one point on everything else
  • Annual fee: $95 per year
  • Foreign transaction fees: 0%
  • Recommended credit: Good to excellent

Analysis: With a great sign-up bonus and quality airline transfer partners, the Chase Sapphire Preferred wins out again.

Learn how to apply to the Chase Sapphire Preferred

American Express Platinum CardRunner Up: The Platinum Card from American Express

What’s to like: With a 60,000 point welcome offer and quality transfer partners, the Platinum Card from American Express is a solid choice. American Express is also known for consistently offering quality bonuses to transfer partners. 

Details:

  • Welcome offer: 60,000 American Express Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first three months
  • Cash back: 5X points on flights and hotels booked through American Express Travel, and 1% on everything else
  • Annual fee: $550
  • Foreign transaction fees: 0%
  • Recommended credit: Good to excellent

Analysis: While the sign-up bonus and benefits — such as Centurion lounge access, $200 in airline fee credits, and up to $200 in Uber credits per year — are top of the line, the decision comes down to whether or not the $550 annual fee is worth it for you. For those who travel frequently, it definitely can be. But if you’re just looking to book a one-off trip, I’d go with the Sapphire Preferred Card.

Learn how for the American Express Platinum Card

 

Best Hotel Credit Cards

chase sapphire reserve card art May 19Winner: Chase Sapphire Reserve Card

What’s to like: The sign-up bonus alone is worth $750 in hotel stays, if booked through the Chase Travel portal. Chase does allow you to transfer points to Hyatt, IHG Rewards Club, Marriott Rewards, and Ritz Carlton Rewards; however, these exchanges typically do not provide great value. The best value is when you can get a hotel that’s discounted.

Details:

  • Bonus: 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (worth up to $750 in travel) after spending $4,000 in the first three months
  • Cash back: Earn three points per dollar spent on travel and dining, then earn one point on everything else
  • Annual fee: $450 annual fee
  • Foreign transaction fees: 0%
  • Recommended credit: Good to excellent

Analysis: You can find lots of great deals on hotels inside the Chase Travel portal. Hotels often discount how many points are needed for a stay. Combine that with the fact that your points are worth 50% more when redeemed for travel with the Chase Sapphire Reserve and you can get a really great deal. For example, when I search for a hotel on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, I see that the Waikiki Resort Hotel is offering a 55% discount. So, a hotel that normally charges $321.40 per night, at 55% off, redeemed with points that are worth 50% more, is available for only 9,642 points per night.

Waikiki Resort Hotel in Chase Sapphire Reserve

Learn how to apply to the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card

 

Winner: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

capital one venture rewards credit card

What’s to like: The thing to love about the Capital One Venture Rewards card is how the points work. Instead of having to book inside of a portal, you can use points for any travel-related expense. This includes Airbnb, stays inside national parks, or independent hotels not associated with any hotel loyalty program. This opens up A LOT of opportunities.

Details:

  • Bonus: 50,000 points after spending $3,000 within the first three months ($500 of value in travel rewards)
  • Cash back: Earn two points per dollar spent on every purchase, and 10 points per dollar spent at hotels.com
  • Annual fee: $0 annual fee for the first year, then $95
  • Foreign transaction fees: 0%
  • Recommended credit: Good to excellent

Analysis: I gave the slight edge to in this category to Chase Sapphire Reserve card due to the 50% bonus when booking through Chase Ultimate Rewards. But for larger families looking to stay in an Airbnb, this card is a great fit.

Learn how to apply to this card

 

Best Travel Credit Cards With N0 Annual Fee

Winner: Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

What’s to like: One of the higher sign-up bonuses available with a no-annual-fee card.

Details:

  • Bonus: 20,000 bonus points within three months of account opening ($200 of value in travel)
  • Cash back: Earn 1.25 points per dollar spent on every purchase, and 10 points per dollar spent at hotels.com
  • Annual fee: $0 annual fee
  • Foreign transaction fees: 0%
  • Recommended credit: Good to excellent

Analysis: A solid option for a low-spender who wants to save a few bucks on an upcoming trip. Keep in mind, the above-mentioned Capital One Venture Rewards card has no annual fee in its first year and is just $95 per year thereafter. Plus, it pays 2X points per dollar spent. So, as long as you’re spending around $13,000 or more per year on the card, the annual fee would pay for itself.

Learn how to apply to this card

 

Runner Up: Chase Freedom Credit Card

What’s to like: Solid bonus at $150, but the biggest benefit is the rotating 5% cash-back categories. Plus, there’s a 0% APR for the first 15 months.

Details:

  • Bonus: $150 after $500 in purchases during the first three months
  • Cash back: 5% in rotating categories, and 1% on everything else
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Foreign transaction fees: 3%
  • Recommended credit: Good to excellent

Analysis: With the rotating 5% cash-back categories, you can really rack up points throughout the year and then exchange them for travel through the Chase Travel portal. Or even better, transfer them to a premium Chase account like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Business Ink Preferred, where they increase in value.

Learn how to apply to the Chase Freedom Card

 

The Ultimate Cash Back Credit Card Hack

As you know, I’m a huge fan of Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Well, there’s a way to make each dollar you spend earn a minimum value of 2.25 points on every purchase!

One little-known benefit of Chase Ultimate Rewards is that you can combine rewards from different Chase cards. This is called the Chase Trifecta, and I wrote about in detail here.

For example, say you have both the Chase Freedom and Chase Sapphire Reserve cards.

The Chase Freedom Card allows you to earn 5% back in rotating categories. As such, you can use your Chase Freedom card, then transfer the points to your Chase Sapphire Reserve account. Since the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card allows you to get 50% more value when redeeming for travel, that’s like getting 7.5% back!

If the Chase Sapphire Reserve card has too high of an annual fee, you can use the same strategy with the Chase Sapphire Preferred. With the Preferred card, points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel.

Chase also has the Chase Freedom Unlimited card, which offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

You can use this card for non-bonus category spending, then transfer the points to a Chase Sapphire Reserve card to get a minimum 2.25% back on every purchase when you redeem the points for travel.

Let’s do a quick recap:

Note: I would definitely space out these applications. As a rule of thumb, I don’t apply for more than one card in a three-month span. 

This is my #1 strategy (with a slight twist) for maximizing cash back.

That slight twist is due to the fact that Chase allows you to combine rewards from business and personal accounts (or vice versa) and from one other account in a household (such as a spouse’s rewards account).

In my household, that looks like this:

If this sounds confusing, don’t worry: I thought so too when I first started.

That’s why I wrote an in-depth guide titled “A Four-Step Guide to Travel Hacking: The Easiest Way to Take Your First Free Trip.”

It will teach you everything you need to know — from the absolute basis to how to book your dream vacation. 

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