I had been traveling for many years without using travel credit cards. Last year while living at home and saving for my year-long trip around the world, I dove deep into the idea of travel hacking and travel credit cards. Travel credit cards have since revolutionized how I travel. Boy, was I missing out on free flights, free airport lounges, free checked bags and more! They have truly saved me thousands of dollars towards travel.
Travel credit cards are credit cards that offer points and miles to redeem for things like flights and hotels. Travel credit cards can make travel more affordable and enjoyable. They can be affiliated with a specific airline to earn miles, or just earn general points that can be spent in a bank’s reward portal.
Before diving into the best travel credit cards, I want to mention one very important thing: the sign-up bonus. The sign-up bonus is how you can earn the majority of your points and miles from travel credit cards. Often this means when you open the card, you have X amount of months to spend X amount of dollars on the card to earn X amount of miles and points. For example, one of the cards below has a sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles once you have spent $2,000 in 3 months of opening the card. This is one of the fastest ways to earn points.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
This is the best travel credit card there is. Hands down. With the travel insurance it provides, the extra value of their points and the Priority Pass, getting you into airport lounges around the world, it is the best credit card for travelers.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve travel credit card earns you points in Chase’s Ultimate Reward portal. There you can book flights just like you would on sites like Kayak or SkyScanner. You can also redeem the points for cruises, hotels, car rentals and more.
You earn Chase Ultimate Reward points through this credit card which are worth 50% more when used to travel in their portal. For example, say you have 50,000 points, typically in credit cards, that would be worth about $500; however, with this credit card they are worth $750 when applied to travel bookings.
This is how I booked my boyfriend and I each a flight from Hawaii to New Zealand for FREE! The flights were each valued at $445 USD. So from my sign-up bonus and referring a friend, I earned about $900 USD in free travel.
Another great perk about Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card is that it comes with the Priority Pass. The Priority Pass is a membership club that grants you access into airport lounges around the world. This comes free with the Chase Sapphire Reserve travel credit card! You, and one guest, can get access to over 1,300 airport lounges in 120 countries! These lounges are filled with free food and drinks! They often have free showers, great wifi, as well as nice places to relax. I have even gotten a complimentary 15 minute neck massage in one lounge! The Priority Pass has changed how I travel. I now arrive at the airport as early as possible to enjoy all the free, delicious, food and drinks my heart desires!
Another great feature of this credit card is the travel insurance. Imagine you’re on a trip in Japan, but it is cut short due to a typhoon hitting the area. If you have booked the trip with this card, you are covered for non-refundable expenses like passenger fares, hotels and tours for up to $10,000 per person. This travel credit card also comes with trip cancellation/interruption insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, lost luggage reimbursement, trip delay reimbursement, and emergency evacuation & transportation.
At the time of writing this, the sign up bonus for the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card is 50,000 miles once you have spent $4,000 in 3 months of opening the card, which in their reward portal is worth $750. To apply for Chase Sapphire Reserve travel credit card click here.
Travel Tip: I recommend planning to sign up for this card when you know you have a big purchase coming up. For example, are you purchasing a new TV or laptop? Or have a ton of Christmas shopping to do? That is the perfect time to apply for this card because you will not have to worry about not spending enough to make that sign-up bonus.
Once I hit the sign-up bonus on other cards I opened, I quickly went back to spending on the Chase Sapphire Reserve because the benefits you receive from spending on this card are phenomenal.
When spending on this card, you will get 3x points on travel and dining worldwide and 1 point for every $1 spent for all other purchases. And, of course, there are no foreign transaction fees anywhere in the world.
This travel credit card costs $450 per year, but also has gives you a $300 travel credit per year. This means the card only truly costs $150 per year. When my card renewal came this year with the $450 fee, I was refunded $300 within a week for travel expenses I had the previous week since I travel so often.
- The Priority Pass
- $300 yearly travel credit
- Can redeem points for more than just flights in Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal
- Travel insurance
- Earn 3x points on travel and dining worldwide
- No foreign transaction fees
- Yearly cost of $450
- Not affiliated with a particular airline
Overall, this really is the best travel credit card out there. After your yearly $300 travel credit, the costs is only $150 per year. But if you’re going to airport lounges more than 6 times (after 3 round trips to an airport) per year it already makes it worth it, not including the $750 in free points you would be getting if you meet the sign-up bonus. To apply for Chase Sapphire Reserve travel credit card, click here.
Chase United Explorer Mileage Plus
Chase United Explorer Mileage Plus credit card is another great card. Unlike the Chase Sapphire Reserve, this travel credit card is affiliated with United Airlines. So you earn miles which can be redeemed through United Airlines and their partners in the Star Alliance.
The benefits of being the the Star Alliance means you have access to flights with Air Canada, Air New Zealand, ANA, Swiss Airlines, Lufthansa, Air China, Singapore Airlines and many more! In total there are currently 28 members in the Star Alliance, this means you can use your points to get pretty much anywhere on the globe.
With the Chase United Explorer Mileage Plus travel credit card, you will earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United purchases, at restaurants, and on hotel stays. For all other purchases, you will earn 1 mile for every $1 spent. This card also has no foreign transaction fees, so enjoy spending freely while abroad.
Chase United Explorer Mileage Plus travel credit card also provides travel protection. This includes baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, trip delay reimbursement, trip cancellation insurance, travel accident insurance, and auto collision damage waiver for car rentals in the US and abroad.
Other travel benefits that the card includes is free checked bags on domestic flights for the card member and one travel companion on the same reservation, $100 towards Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees, 25% back on inflight purchases, no foreign transaction fees, priority boarding, two United Club passes for one-time entry into a United Club lounge, and luxury hotel and resort collection and concierge services.
At the time of writing this, the sign-up bonus is 40,000 miles once you have spent $2,000 in 3 months of opening the card. The credit card has an annual fee of $95; however, that fee is waived the first year. To apply for Chase United Explorer Mileage Plus travel credit card, click here.
- Yearly fee of $95 waived the first year
- Part of the Star Alliance
- Free checked bags for two travel companions
- Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United purchases, at restaurants and on hotel stays
- Travel insurance
- 2 lounge passes to United’s lounges per year
- $100 towards TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fees
- No foreign transaction fees
- Priority boarding
- Two United Club passes annually
- Yearly cost of $95
- Can only redeem miles for United and within the Star Alliance
The Chase United Explorer Mileage Plus credit card offers miles for the Star Alliance and has a yearly fee of $95. That makes this card a perfect intro card for travel credit cards. The only real drawback is that the miles are only associated with United Airlines and the partners in the Star Alliance. So if you have a destination you travel to often and the flights there are not with their partners, I would not suggest this card. But the Star Alliance should be able to get you practically anywhere in the world. To apply for the Chase United Explorer Mileage Plus travel credit card, click here.
Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard card is another one of my favorite travel credit cards. This card is through the bank Citi and affiliated with American Airlines, so you earn miles to spend on the OneWorld Alliance.
The benefits of it being the One World Alliance means you have access to flights with British Airways, Japan Airlines, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways and many more! In total there are currently 13 members in the One World Alliance, which has access to more than 1,000 airports in more than 100 countries.
The Citi American Airlines AAdvantage card provides free checked bags for domestic flights for up to four travel companions on the same reservation.
One of the drawbacks of the Citi American Airlines AAdvantage card is, as of September 2019, they discontinued many of the travel insurance benefits that the card had. This means no longer are your purchases covered for worldwide car rental insurance, trip cancellation & interruption protection, worldwide travel accident insurance, trip delay protection, baggage delay protection, or lost baggage protection.
At the time of writing this, the sign-up bonus is 50,000 miles once you have spent $2,500 in 3 months of opening the card. The yearly fee for the card is $99, but is waived for the first year.
- Yearly fee waived first year
- Miles earned are part of the One World Alliance
- No foreign transaction fees
- First checked bag is free on domestic flights for up to four people on the same reservation
- Preferred boarding for up to four people on the same reservation
- Earn two miles for every dollar spent at gas stations and restaurants
- 25% savings when using your card on in-flight food and beverages on American Airlines flights
- Yearly cost of $99
- As of Sept. 2019, no longer offers travel insurance to cover for worldwide car rental insurance,
trip cancellation & interruption protection,
Worldwide Travel Accident Insurance,
trip delay protection,
baggage delay protection, or
lost baggage protection
The Citi American Airlines AAdvantage card is a great way to earn points for the One World Alliance. It can earn you miles that can be used around the world and domestically in the US. To apply for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, click here.
It has taken me a long time to learn about the art of travel hacking and deciding which different travel credit cards to choose. If you are interested in learning more about about travel hacking, travel credit cards and more, here are some of my favorite resources:
- The Points Guy
- The Ultimate Guide to Travel Hacking – Nomadic Matt
- Extra Pack of Peanuts – will even do a free credit card consultation!
This post does contain affiliate links, if you end up buying something from one of my links, I will receive a small commission. That being said, all of the items on this page are my honest review and products I use to travel.