Who doesn’t want to take a free vacation using their credit card rewards? If only it were always that simple. For years, airlines and hotels have offered co-branded credit cards that earned points and miles in their loyalty programs. But over time, these programs have become more complex and cardholders need to carefully examine terms and conditions of both the card and the rewards program before they apply. But there are some cards out there that offer some perks to tempt even the occasional traveler.
How to Choose the Best Travel Rewards Credit Card for You
A new breed of travel rewards credit cards is changing the game. There are travel reward cards that offer points and miles in rewards programs operated by the banks, not the airlines or hotels. With these cards, the rewards you earn can be redeemed for nearly any travel reservations with no blackout dates or capacity controls. Unlike most frequent flier and hotel rewards programs, with these types of rewards, the number of points or miles required will vary based on the price of the reservations. In fact, this type of program is an especially good deal at times like this when low oil prices have resulted in falling travel costs.
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The best travel credit cards generally require an excellent or good credit score in order to qualify. Before you apply for a credit card, it’s important to know where you stand so you don’t apply for cards you’re unlikely to get approved for. You can check two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com.
We looked at some of the top travel credit cards in the field and ranked them based on factors like rewards value, travel protections and fees. Here are the winners of the 2016 Best Travel Credit Cards in America.
The Winner: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Why It Won: Capital One’s Venture Rewards Credit Card offers double miles on all purchases with a reasonable annual fee of $59 that’s waived the first year.
The Rewards: New applicants receive 40,000 miles as a sign-up bonus after spending just $3,000 on their card within the first three months of opening the account. Cardholders earn double miles on all purchases, with no limits on the rewards they can earn. As a Visa Signature card, customers receive access to numerous shopping and travel discounts, as well as the Visa Signature concierge service. (You can read a full review of the card here.)
The Costs: There is a $59 annual fee that is waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
1st Runner-Up: Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard
Why It Won: This card now offers only a 5% bonus on miles redeemed (it was previously 10%) but it’s still a strong offer.
The Rewards: Similar to the Capital One Venture Rewards card, new applicants receive 40,000 miles as a sign-up bonus after spending $3,000 on their card within the first 90 days of opening an account. Cardholders also receive two miles for every dollar on all purchases, and each mile is worth one cent as statement credits qualifying travel expenses over $100 incurred in the past 120 days. But now, cardholders receive a 5% rebate on all mileage redeemed, down from 10% previously. This card is also part of the World Elite MasterCard program, which features many travel and shopping discounts. It also offers travelers true Chip-and-PIN compatibility, which is often necessary when using unattended kiosks in Europe and elsewhere.
The Costs: There is an $89 annual fee for this card that is waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
2nd Runner-Up: Discover it Miles
Why It Won: This new card offers 1.5 miles per dollar spent, and will double your miles after your first year as a cardholder (only for new cardholders).
The Rewards: You receive 1.5 miles per dollar spent, and each mile is worth one cent in statement credits toward travel purchases. In addition, miles can also be redeemed for cash back, giving you an additional option. In addition, Discover will double cardholders’ miles earned at the end of their first year of card membership, which equates to a total of three miles per dollar for a whole year. Other benefits include a $30 annual credit toward in-flight Wi-Fi purchases, the cardholder’s first late payment fee is waived automatically and there is no penalty interest rate.
The Costs: There is no annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
At publishing time, the Capital One’s Venture Rewards, Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard and Discover it Miles cards are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.
Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.