Best travel cards for each type of traveler

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In a Nutshell

Before booking your next trip, check out these travel rewards cards and see which one is the right fit for you.

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This offer is no longer available on our site: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

At a glance: The best travel rewards credit cards for each type of traveler in 2019

Great for frequent travelers Platinum Card® from American Express
Great for infrequent travelers Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Great for business travelers Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Great for international travelers

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Great for domestic travelers

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

 

We’ve dug into the fine print to find the best travel rewards credit cards for five types of travelers. See which one may be the best fit for your travel needs.


Great for frequent travelers: Platinum Card® from American Express

From our partner

Platinum Card® from American Express

From cardholders in the last year

See Details, Rates & Fees

Who’s it for?

Regular travelers who want a card that maximizes travel points and gives them perks like access to airport lounges.

Frequent flyers will love this charge card, as they get five points for each $1 spent on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, a $200 airline fee credit per calendar year for baggage and other incidental fees at one qualifying airline of their choice, and access to more than 1,000 airport lounges around the world.

Why we like it

You can pick up points quickly with the Platinum Card® from American Express. If you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, you get 60,000 Membership Rewards® points.

Frequent travelers can rack up points quickly with the five points earned for every $1 spent on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.

You’ll also pick up five Membership Rewards points per $1 spent on eligible hotels when you book through amextravel.com.

This card offers many travel-related perks, including a fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, which means less time waiting in line at the airport.

You’ll also get room upgrades (when available) and a $75 hotel credit that you can spend on qualifying dining, spa and resort activities when you stay at least two consecutive nights at eligible hotels that you book through American Express Travel.

Basic Card Members get up to $200 worth of Uber rides annually. Cardholders are eligible for membership in premium car rental programs like Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, Avis Preferred Club and National Emerald Club Executive, which could get you special upgrades and discounts.

With no foreign transaction fees on top of all these perks, this card adds up to a great option for a frequent traveler.

Keep reading: How to maximize the benefits of the Platinum Card® from American Express

Watch out for

The card has a $550 annual fee, and it’s not waived the first year.

Plus, American Express isn’t as widely accepted outside the U.S. as other card networks, so you may have issues using it internationally.

How to use it

To maximize your points, book your flights directly with airlines or through American Express Travel, and check amextravel.com for eligible hotels in your destination.

But only spend the $5,000 in purchases required to earn the welcome offer of 60,000 Membership Rewards® points if you can comfortably fit that into your budget.

When you use the Platinum Card® from American Express, the total balance is due each month. If payment is late, you will be charged a late fee up to up to $39 if you again pay late within six billing periods.

American Express does, however, have an option that allows select charge card members to carry balances from travel-related charges and other eligible purchases of $100 or more. It’s free to enroll, but you’ll have to pay interest on carried balances.

Great for infrequent travelers: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

From our partner
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Who’s it for?

Infrequent travelers who are interested in travel rewards but don’t want to pay an annual fee or worry about restrictions.

Why we like it

If you’re looking for a card that gains points for regular everyday purchases and has no annual fee, the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card could be a good fit for you. With the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card, cardholders get 1.5 points for every $1 spent, and there’s no limit to the amount of points you can earn.

You don’t have to worry about category restrictions, too. As soon as you’ve earned at least 2,500 points, you can redeem your points for cash or for a travel credit.

You can apply the travel credit to your account as a statement credit to offset eligible travel purchases you’ve already made. This means that you won’t have to deal with any airline blackout dates or hotel restrictions.

New cardholders get 25,000 bonus points for spending at least $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

This can be worth up to $250 in statement credits toward travel-related purchases.

The card also has a $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. You also get a 0% intro APR for purchases for the first 12 billing cycles (after that, the variable APR will be 17.24% - 25.24%).

Watch out for

You can find cash back cards that give you more rewards on non-travel purchases, which could be a better fit for you if you don’t care too much about the perks of a travel rewards card.

How to use it

If these benefits aren’t enough, you can get even more if you have a Bank of America® account.

The card gives you a 10% customer points bonus for every purchase when you have an active Bank of America® checking or savings account.

Great for business travelers: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

From our partner

Who’s it for?

Regular business travelers may want a card that maximizes points for hotel stays. Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express rewards travelers who regularly stay at Starwood or Marriott Rewards® hotels.

Why we like it

You can earn six points for every $1 you spend at participating Starwood Preferred Guest® and Marriott Rewards® hotels. And you’ll earn two points on all other eligible purchases.

You’re able to redeem points for free nights at W Hotels, Marriott, Sheraton and other affiliated hotels.

You’ll earn 75,000 points if you spend $3,000 on purchases with the card in the first 3 months from account opening.

Also, this card has no foreign transaction fees.

Watch out for

You’ll also pay an annual fee of $0 intro, $95 after first year.

How to use it

Business travelers who stay at eligible hotels can pick up points quickly. If you spend regularly on hotel rooms — and stay at the hotels affiliated with this card — the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is an excellent choice.

Best for international travelers: Chase Sapphire Reserve®

From our partner

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

From cardholders in the last year

See Details, Rates & Fees

Who’s it for?

International travelers who want benefits they can use beyond U.S. borders. Chase Sapphire Reserve® does that by giving three points per $1 spent on dining worldwide plus global benefits.

Why we like it

Cardholders get 50,000 bonus points when they spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.

Another added bonus — you get 50% more value when you redeem your points for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

That means 50,000 bonus points can be worth up to $750 when you redeem them through Chase Ultimate Rewards® for travel.

The card offers a statement credit of up to $100 every four years to reimburse for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee.

You’ll also get complimentary access to more than 1,000 airport lounges after you enroll in Priority Pass Select.

With this card, there’s no foreign transaction fee. Plus, Visa is generally widely accepted abroad.

You’ll also get special car rental privileges from Avis, Silvercar and National Car Rental when you book using your card.

If that’s not enough, there’s a $300 annual travel credit that you can use to reimburse travel purchases made with your card.

Those perks make for a top-line card for international travelers.

Watch out for

There’s a $450 annual fee on this card, and you get hit with another $75 charge for every authorized user.

How to use it

The card is a travel card that gives you some flexibility. You’ll get three points per $1 spent not only on travel, but also for dining, and one point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

Great for domestic travelers: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

From our partner
See Details, Rates & Fees

Who’s it for?

Domestic travelers who want a travel rewards card for an airline that flies all over the U.S. (and some international locations too). These travelers appreciate getting a bonus for loyalty.

Why we like it

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card gives cardholders two points for every $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and through Rapid Rewards® hotel and rental car partners, such as Best Western and Avis.

You get one point for every $1 spent on all other purchases.

You get 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card doesn’t have blackout dates or seat restrictions when you redeem your points for flights.

Plus, your first and second checked bags are free, and there are no change fees — so if you need to change your flight, you’ll only have to make up any difference in fare.

Watch out for

There’s a $99 annual fee that is charged on your first bill.

There’s no priority boarding, lounges or similar perks on this card, but it also has a lower annual fee than the cards that offer those kinds of add-ons.

How to use it

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a card that provides flexibility on how to use your points, honors you for your loyalty and offers a low annual fee.


Before choosing a travel rewards card, make sure it makes sense for your lifestyle and matches your spending pattern.

Let’s say you always fly the same airline. In that case, getting a rewards credit card specific to that airline makes sense. However, if you like more flexibility, then a better choice might be a travel rewards card that doesn’t limit you to one airline or hotel.

Beverly Harzog, a credit card expert, says there are so many travel rewards categories and subcategories that anyone can find the right card to maximize rewards.

“You need to spend time on this,” says Harzog. “You need to get a card that matches your lifestyle and how you spend your money.”


Bottom line

There are many different travel rewards cards, so with a little research you can choose what’s right for you.

When shopping for a travel rewards card, check if there’s a foreign transactions fee or rewards cap.

Harzog says a card may give you 5% rewards on each $1, but it may cap rewards after you reach a certain limit. So you could get quick points, but your rewards potential could max out within a few months.

Harzog also warns that travel rewards cards can also have higher APRs, especially for consumers who don’t have stellar credit.

So before signing up, make sure you know the interest rate. “Don’t carry a balance with these cards,” she suggests, “and know what your APR is.”

What is the average APR on a credit card?

There is a card out there for you whether you’re flying for fun or business. Some have hefty annual fees with incredible perks, some offer you more flexibility to gain more points from multiple sources, and others have no annual fees but limited perks.