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8 of the best credit cards for general travel purchases



While we’d all love to be able to book every trip using only points and miles, once in a while, we have to break down and actually pay cash for a flight, hotel, rental car, or other travel expense.

But if we can’t burn miles on a trip, we should at least be certain that we’re earning them, and preferably as many as possible. Alternatively, if a travel expense can be reimbursed via a travel or airline fee credit, that can effectively offset the cost of the trip even better than any loyalty currency.

So which credit card should you use for your travel purchases? We’ve already put together separate lists of the best ones to use for booking flights and hotels, but today we’re looking at the best ones for all other types of travel spending. Think: car rentals, cruises, tours, ridehailing services and trips booked through third-party travel websites like Expedia and Priceline).

The best credit cards for travel spending

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.

Rewards: 3 points per dollar on travel (excluding $300 travel credit) and dining at restaurants and 1 point per dollar on everything else.

Annual fee: $550.

Analysis: There’s a ton of value to be had from the Chase Sapphire Reserve when it comes to travel purchases. The card comes with a $300 travel credit that can be used for many different expenses, and it also includes travel as a 3 points per dollar spent bonus points category (along with dining; 1 point on all other purchases).

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If that isn’t generous enough, Chase has made the travel category rather broad for this card, so not only will you be able to get 3 points per dollar for purchases at airlines and hotels, you’ll also receive it for using the card at online travel agencies such as Expedia and Orbitz, as well as on trains, buses, taxis and cruises. You’ll even get the bonus points at toll booths and parking lots. Plus, all of your travel purchases made with this card are covered by industry-leading travel protections.

In August 2021, the card introduced additional bonus categories as follows:

It still earns 3 points per dollar on other travel and dining purchases.

But the cherry on top is the 1.5 cents per point you get when redeeming these points through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal. That’s the best-guaranteed redemption on any personal credit card on the market. The points are also transferable to Chase’s many airline and hotel partners, so you can also use them for standard loyalty program awards that might otherwise be quite expensive.

When you consider all the benefits of this travel credit card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is a top choice to use on travel purchases this year, despite its pricey $550 annual fee. See our card review for more details.

Related: Which purchases count as travel with Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve?

Apply here: Chase Sapphire Reserve

American Express® Green Card

ERIC HELGAS/THE POINTS GUY

Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first six months of card membership. Plus, 20% back on eligible travel and transit purchases in the first six months, up to $200 back in the form of a statement credit.

Rewards: 3 points per dollar spent on worldwide travel, transit and restaurants and 1 point per dollar on everything else.

Annual fee: $150 (see rates and fees).

Analysis: The Amex Green is a great mid-tier card for travel purchases. This card’s bonus categories include a wide range of travel purchases, including transit and short-term vacation rental website purchases on top of traditional airfare and hotel spending. The card also offers an up to $189 Clear Plus membership credit and an up to $100 LoungeBuddy credit. See our card review for more details.

Related: What counts as travel on the Amex Green card?

Apply here: American Express Green Card

Citi Premier® Card

JOHN GRIBBEN/THE POINTS GUY

Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus ThankYou Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening.

Rewards: For a limited time, earn 10x points per dollar on hotels, car rentals, and attractions (excluding air travel) booked on the Citi Travel℠ Portal through June 30, 2024. Earn 3 points on per dollar spent on air travel, hotels, gas stations, restaurants and supermarkets, and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

Analysis: With a $95 annual fee, Citi’s mid-level Premier Card doesn’t cost much to keep in your card collection, but it’s got awfully nice 3 points per dollar spent categories of its own (see rates and fees).

Once you’ve earned ThankYou points with this card, you’ll have the option to transfer points to Citibank’s travel partners, which aren’t quite as strong as its competitors but do have some sweet spots, like with Avianca LifeMiles as an airline partner. See our card review for more details.

Apply here: Citi Premier® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

JOHN GRIBBEN/THE POINTS GUY

Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

Rewards: 2 points per dollar spent on travel purchases (increases to 5 points per dollar spent on travel booked through the Chase portal).

Annual fee: $95.

Analysis: After all the excitement about the Chase Sapphire Reserve, it’s easy to forget its little sibling. But the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still here, and with just a $95 annual fee, it’s a very attractive option for regular travelers.

Like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, this card introduced new bonus categories in August 2021:

It earns 2 points per dollar on other travel purchases.

You’ll only get 1.25 cents per point for direct travel redemptions with this card. Still, Ultimate Rewards points continue to be extremely valuable when transferred to partners such as United and Hyatt, and these earning rates cannot be beat. The card also offers a $50 annual credit on hotel stays purchased through Ultimate Rewards and 10% of your points back each year based on your card spending. The 10% is based on a rate of 1 point per dollar you spend throughout the year (not including bonus points from specific categories).

Finally, the Sapphire Preferred also provides primary car insurance when you’re renting vehicles, which is a fantastic benefit if you don’t want to rely on your own personal auto insurance to cover you and drive up your premiums if an accident happens, as well as other travel protections such as trip delay insurance and trip cancellation insurance. See our card review for more details.

Apply here: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card

Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you make at least $4,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.

Rewards: 2 points per dollar on travel and dining purchases and 1.5 points per dollar on everything else.

Annual fee: $95

Analysis: At first glance, Bank of America’s entry into the travel rewards market might not seem that exciting. The Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card earns a respectable 2 points per dollar on both travel and dining and 1.5 points per dollar on all other purchases, but there are no transfer partners with this card. Instead, you can redeem your points for a statement credit, a bank deposit, gift cards or travel booked directly at a rate of 1 cent per point.

However, the real value of this card comes when you combine it with Bank of America’s Preferred Rewards banking program. Depending on how many assets you maintain at Bank of America and Merrill Lynch — including checking accounts, savings, retirement, investment portfolios and the like — you’ll earn one of three status tiers in the Preferred Rewards program, which translates to higher earning rates with the Premium Rewards card.

At the highest Platinum Honors tier, the normal 2 points per dollar spent on travel turns into 3.5 points and the everyday earning rate on this card becomes 2.625 points instead of 1.5 points. With those returns, the Premium Rewards credit card is definitely one to consider for travel purchases.

Plus, you’ll get an up to $100 TSA PreCheck/Global Entry application fee credit and an up to $100 annual airline incidental statement credit for qualifying purchases. See our card review for more details.

Apply here: Bank of America Premium Rewards

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Welcome bonus: Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 on purchases in your first six months of card membership.

Rewards: 5 points per dollar on airfare purchased directly with the airlines or booked with American Express Travel on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.; 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel

Annual fee: $695 (see rates and fees)

Analysis: While The Platinum Card from American Express hasn’t necessarily been a great card for general travel purchases, since it doesn’t have travel as a bonus category, it does offer a terrific return for two of the most popular types of travel spending — airfare and hotels.

Earning 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent when booking tickets directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year) and 5 points per dollar spent on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel represents great value.

Add to that an up to $200 annual airline fee statement credit, up to $200 per calendar year in Uber Cash, an up to $100 Saks Fifth Avenue statement credit and a plethora of travel perks such as unparalleled airport lounge access, automatic elite status with Hilton and Marriott, complimentary memberships with Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, Avis Preferred and National Car Rental Emerald Club Executive and a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit (up to $100 or $85, respectively), and it’s clear why this card belongs on this list. Enrollment required for select benefits. See our card review for more details.

Enrollment is required for select benefits.

Apply here: Platinum Card from American Express

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

WYATT SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

Sign-up bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

Rewards: Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on every purchase.

Annual fee: $95.

Analysis: Ease of use is the name of the game for the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Earn 2 miles per dollar on virtually every purchase, including all your general travel expenses.

The Capital One Venture also allows you to redeem miles for a fixed value or transfer the miles you earn to airline and hotel transfer partners, including Avianca, Etihad, Turkish Airlines and Singapore Airlines. Most Capital One partners transfer points at a 1:1 ratio.

In addition, Capital One is opening a network of airport lounges, starting with Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). With the Capital One Venture, you’ll receive two complimentary visits annually and will have access to a special entry rate of $45 per visit after that. Finally, it’s the one card The Points Guy himself, Brian Kelly, can’t live without. See our card review for more details.

Apply here: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Capital One Venture X Rewards Card

JOHN GRIBBEN/THE POINTS GUY

Sign-up bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

Rewards: 10 miles per dollar spent on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, 5 miles per dollar spent on flights booked through Capital One Travel, and 2 miles per dollar spent on all other purchases.

Annual Fee: $395

Analysis: Capital One’s premium travel rewards card is an exciting one. The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card gives you up to a $300 annual travel credit for travel booked through Capital One Travel, an up to a $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit and 10,000 bonus miles on each anniversary.

Additionally, Venture X cardholders receive complimentary access to the new Capital One Lounges, as well as Priority Pass and Plaza Premium lounges. The card also offers travel protections such as trip cancellation and interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement and rental car insurance.

With a significantly lower annual fee than some of its competitors, the Venture X provides some excellent travel perks that make it a worthy addition to a traveler’s wallet. See our card review for more details.

Apply here: Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

Bottom line

Since so many credit cards focus on travel, there are many great options for purchases, and you can’t go wrong with any of these cards.

Whether your interest is points and miles or using up travel credits, this list has the pick of the litter.

So the next time you find yourself facing a significant travel expense — or even a minor one — make sure you know which card to use.

Related guides

Additional reporting by Emily Thompson, Julian Kheel and Chris Dong.

For rates and fees of the Platinum Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Green card, click here.

For Capital One products listed on this page, some of the above benefits are provided by Visa® or Mastercard® and may vary by product. See the respective Guide to Benefits for details, as terms and exclusions apply.

Updated 06/05/2023.

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