branded travel rewards credit cardUpdated: Sept. 21, 2017

Traveling is so much better when you have a travel rewards credit card in your wallet because for every dollar you spend, you can be earning free flights, hotel stays and more. There are a lot of travel rewards credit cards out there, some are branded with particular hotel chains or airlines, and others are more general. How do you decide which is right for you? We dig into the pros and cons of owning a branded travel rewards credit card to help you make a decision.

What are the pros and cons of branded travel rewards credit cards?

If you are someone who prefers to fly the same airline or stay with the same hotel chain regularly, then a branded credit card that earns you extra rewards when you spend money with that airline or hotel chain is a huge asset. In addition to earning more when you book travel with the partnered airline or hotel chain, you will often receive perks like free checked bags or complimentary breakfast that can make it a worthwhile card to use.

On the flip-side, if you like to book your travel with whatever option is the cheapest or most accessible trip-to-trip, you might not get a whole lot out of a branded travel rewards card. A general travel rewards credit card that earns points or miles on all of your purchases which you can redeem for travel when and where you choose lets you keep things flexible. Ultimately, what it comes down to is a combination of personal preference and earning potential. Someone who consistently books with the same airline or hotel chain will get much more out of a branded credit card that rewards them for loyalty, but if you tend to switch from airline to airline or hotel to hotel, an unbranded travel rewards card is likely your best bet.

Which travel rewards credit card should I choose?

Not all travel rewards credit cards are created equal, which is why we have reviewed the top in each category to help narrow down the best picks for you, ranking them all in our annual Travel Rewards Credit Card Analysis, which breaks the value of the points/miles down into real dollars per $100 spent. Whether you want a branded airline rewards credit card, a branded hotel rewards credit card or an unbranded travel rewards credit card, we’ve got you covered.

Branded hotel rewards credit cards

branded travel rewards credit cardThe Hyatt Credit Card from Chase is a great pick for Hyatt hotel lovers, as it offers the ability to earn free nights, room upgrades spa treatments and more at Hyatt hotels worldwide. Not only did this card take second place in our hotel value analysis with a redemption rate of $2.08 per $100 spent, but when you spend $2,000 within the first 3 months from opening your account, you’ll earn 2 free nights at Hyatt properties worldwide — which is a hefty intro bonus worth $1,038. Additionally, you’ll earn 3 points per $1 spent at Hyatt locations, 2 points per $1 spent at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly with an airline and at car rental agencies and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. Other features of this card include a free night each year on your card membership anniversary, no foreign transaction fees and no annual fee the first year (it’s $75/year afterward). Points can be redeemed for Hyatt hotel stays, Hyatt room upgrades, Hyatt dining and spa treatments or car rentals with participating companies.

branded travel rewards credit cardAnother good choice for hotel lovers is theĀ Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express (a NextAdvisor advertiser), which has a hotel redemption value of $2.05 value for every $100 spent. You can earn a bonus of 25,000 points when you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months with this card, and you won’t have pay foreign transaction fees or an annual fee your first year (after that it’s $95/year). Earn up to 5 points per $1 at participating hotels (2 points as a cardholder and 2-3 points as a Starwood Preferred Guest member) and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases, and redeem them at over 1,300 participating hotels and resorts in over 100 countries and for flights on more than 150 airlines with SPG flights, all with no blackout dates.

Branded airline rewards credit cards

branded travel rewards credit cardThe JetBlue Plus Card took first place for flight value in our 2017 Travel Rewards Credit Card Analysis, with a $2.18 value for every $100 spent. You will earn 6 points for every $1 spent on JetBlue, 2 points per $1 at grocery stores and restaurants, and 1 point per $1 on everything else, plus a 30,000 point bonus when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days. Every time you redeem your points, you’ll get 10% of your points back to use toward your next redemption, and you can redeem for flights on JetBlue or Hawaiian Airlines or use a combination of cash and points for GetAways vacation packages (air + hotel + car). Other perks of this card include your first checked bag free and 50% savings on eligible in-flight purchases, including cocktails, food and movies, and no foreign transaction fees. While there is a 0% intro APR on balance transfers for the first 12 months, keep in mind that you will have to pay a 3% (or $5, whichever is greater) balance transfer fee. The JetBlue Plus Card also charges a $99 annual fee.

branded travel rewards credit cardThe Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card is one fans of this airline will want in their wallets, as it features a generous flight redemption value of $2.12 per $100 spent, plus some great perks like a free checked bag for you and up to six other passengers on the same reservation and a companion ticket after your anniversary date each year (so long as your account is in good standing at the time). You’ll earn 3 miles for each $1 spent on Alaska Airlines and Virgin America purchases (including vacation package, cargo and in-flight purchases), as well as 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases. Plus, if you spend $1,000 within the first 90 days, you will earn a 30,000-mile bonus. There aren’t any foreign transaction fees, and you can redeem your miles for flights on a wide range of domestic and international airline partners; however, note that you will have to pay a $75 annual fee with this card.

branded travel rewards credit cardThe Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card earns 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases, partner hotel and car rental partner purchases plus 1 point per $1 spent everywhere else. The flight redemption value is $1.66 per $100 spent, and you can redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events and more. Not only can new cardholders earn a whopping 60,000-point bonus after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months, but each year on your card member anniversary, you’ll get 6,000 bonus points. There is a $99 annual fee with this card, but you won’t have to pay foreign transaction fees when you travel outside the U.S. Additional features include free checked bags and no change fees.

Unbranded travel rewards credit cards

branded travel rewards credit cardTaking the top spot overall in our travel analysis this year is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. First things first, you earn a flat 2X miles on all purchases, in addition to a 40,000-mile bonus after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days (enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit). Your miles can be redeemed for travel or cash back statement credits, gift cards and merchandise, and you get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption every time you redeem. Although there is an $89 annual fee, it’s waived for your first year, and you’ll never pay any foreign transaction fees. Finally, there’s a 12-month 0% intro APR on balance transfers made within the first 45 days of account openingĀ (with a $5 or 3%, whichever is greater, balance transfer fee).

branded travel rewards credit cardComing in close second is the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which offers an unlimited 2X miles per dollar spent on all purchases, a bonus of 40,000 miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening (equal to $400 in travel) and a combined hotel and flight point value of $2.00 for every $100 you spend. Redeeming your rewards for travel is a breeze, either using your card to book travel and redeeming your miles as a statement credit or by contacting the Capital One Rewards Center to book your flight, car rental or hotel using your miles. You can also redeem for cash (in the form of a check or account credit), gift cards, brand-name merchandise and more. Although there is a $59 annual fee, it’s waived for the first year, and cheaper than the other cards we’ve detailed in this post. Other perks of this card include no foreign transaction fees, free FICO credit scores and extended warranty protection on purchases.

branded travel rewards credit cardRounding out this list is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which features an incredibly flexible redemption program — in addition to redeeming through Chase Ultimate Rewards for travel, merchandise, entertainment, dining or cash (which nets you a 25% bonus), you can transfer your points at a 1:1 value to participating frequent travel programs. Points are earned at a rate of 2 points per $1 spent on travel and dining worldwide and 1 point per $1 on everything else, plus when you spend $4,000 within the first 3 months, you’ll get a 50,000 point bonus — that’s equal to $625 in travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards! Card members will also enjoy travel perks like travel accident insurance, lost luggage reimbursement and no fees on foreign transactions, plus a waived annual fee their first year ($95 afterward).

None of these travel rewards credit cards doing it for you? Check out our reviews of the best travel rewards credit cards for a full list of cards available.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This content was accurate at the time of this post, but card terms and conditions may change at any time. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.