2016 TRAVEL REWARDS Credit Card Analysis

Travel reward credit cards are a great way to earn rewards that can help pay for your next vacation. But how much are those points, miles or other rewards currency really worth? We put the leading travel reward cards to a real-world test by booking actual flights and hotel rooms with each card's currency. Our results show how much real money you can expect to earn for every $100 you spend with each card. For more on how we did it and the methodology behind ranking the cards, see the explanation below the chart.

Our Results Summary

A summary of the travel rewards card values for each category appear in the charts below. For the full context and explanation, see the detailed information for each credit card by clicking the "+" button to the left of the credit card name. To see a specific category, click on one of the links below.

Best Flight & Hotel Rewards

Click Tabs To Sort By Best: Combined Click to sort by the average of each card's Flight and Hotel Rewards value per $100 spent Flights Click to sort by each card's Flight Reward value per $100 spent Hotels Click to sort by each card's Hotel Reward value per $100 spent Intro Bonus Value Click to sort by the dollar value of each card's introductory bonus
Discover it® Miles with No Annual Fee

The Discover it® Miles with No Annual Fee card features a travel value of $1.50 for both flights and hotels for every $100 spent. Plus it has no annual fee, unlike several of the other cards included in this analysis.

Discover it® Miles with No Annual Fee users earn 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases. One of the card's bigger perks is a one-time bonus, where at the end of the first year the card will double all the miles you've earned. So if you earned 25,000 points in your first year of card membership, it will be doubled and you'll receive another 25,000 points, for a total of 50,000 points. Redeeming points is easy and flexible, users just use their card to pay for their travel and then redeem their points as a statement credit towards the travel purchases they've charged on the card. This type of flexibility means you can book your travel however you would like — online, over the phone or via a travel agent — and on any airlines or at any hotel you prefer.

$1.50 $1.50 $1.50 $0
United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card offers its users a somewhat low $0.99 free flight payout per $100 spent. The value of redeeming points for free hotel stays was equally low at $0.95, giving it an average overall value of $0.97 and ranking this card towards the bottom of our survey.

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card members earn 2 points for every $1 spent when they purchase tickets from United, and 1 point for every $1 they spend on everything else. Extra card benefits include earning 30,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months, priority boarding privileges, the ability to check your first bag for free on United flights and 2 annual complimentary passes to the United Club. The card's annual fee of $95 is a little on the high side, but if you like to fly United, it could be worth it.

$0.97 $0.99 $0.95 $283
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card provides a decent travel value of $1.25 per $100 spent for both flights and hotels. Although the point value may not be as high as others, this card has no annual fee and is available to those with merely good credit, rather than the excellent credit required by many card issuers in this analysis.

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card users will earn 1.25 points for every dollar spent. In addition, users can earn a bonus of 20,000 points once they spend $1,000 in the first 3 months, equal to $200 in travel. Just like the Capital One Venture rewards card (our #3 ranked card), users can book their travel however they want — from any travel site, agent or airline. Once they've earned points, they can be redeemed for travel, cash, gift cards, brand-name merchandise and more. An added perk is that this card has no annual fee.

$1.25** $1.25** $1.25** $200
Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card

The Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card offers its members an average value of $0.52. Both its flight and hotel values are low, with a value of $0.52 for free hotel stays and one of $0.51 for flights.

With the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card, users earn 5 points for every $1 spent at Marriot locations, 2 points for every $1 spent on qualifying airline, dining and rental car purchases as well as 1 point per dollar for all other purchases. Users also earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. Cardholders will need to pay an anuual fee of $85.

$0.52 $0.51 $0.52 $320
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card features a terrific average travel value of $2.00 per $100 spent on flights and hotels. Miles are easy to redeem, and cardholders can book their travel however they'd like. Plus, unlike many of the the cards offered by other issuers in this analysis, this card is available to those with good (rather than "excellent") credit.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card users will earn a very generous 2 points per dollar spent on every purchase. Users can book their travel however they want ‒ from any travel site, agent or airline ‒ and then redeem their earned points for a statement credit. Cardholders can also earn 40,000 bonus miles whey they spend $3,000 in the first 3 months of card membership, equivalent to $400 in travel. There is no annual fee the first year, but from the second year on it is $59.

$2.00** $2.00** $2.00** $400
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Featuring an average travel value of $1.70 per $100 spent, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express (a NextAdvisor advertiser) is a strong pick. It's particularly great for those interested in staying at Starwood hotels, as it offers a substantial $1.94 hotel point value. While their value for flight redemption was much lower at $1.46 per $100 spent, it is still higher than many airline rewards cards.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express users earn a hefty 4-5 points per $1 spent at Starwood hotels and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. The combined point earnings mean that cardholders can effectively earn $1.94 for every $100 they spend with the card, assuming they use their rewards for hotel stays. Additional perks include a 25,000 point bonus after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. The card's annual fee of $95 is waived the first year.

$1.70 $1.46 $1.94 $404
Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card

The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® offers a fairly paltry $1.00 redemption value for hotel stays and a really low $0.46 flight value, with an overall average value of $0.73 not adding up to a particularly high value program. Users cannot book flights with their points, instead earned points need to be exchanged for airline partner miles and there is a 4-week delay before you can use these miles. To ensure a fair comparison with the rest of the programs we researched, we based the flight point value on an airline already included in our analysis — American Airlines.

Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® allows users to earn 6 points for each $1 spent at a participating hotel within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio, 3 points for each $1 spent on purchases at supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations and 2 points for each $1 spent on all other purchases. In addition, users can earn 40,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 4 months. Card holders also acquire Hilton HHonors Silver status for as long as they remain a cardmember. Users cannot directly book flights with their earned points, instead they must exchange their points for miles with a partner airline. The card does not have an annual fee.

$0.73 $0.46 $1.00 $175
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®

Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World Mastercard® Card tallied up a $1.39 in flight value for every $100 spent — an overall average value of $0.99 and a decent deal for anyone who likes to fly American Airlines and get free flights. The hotel value was not so lofty at $0.60, so users might want to focus their reward points on free flights instead of free hotels.

Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World Mastercard® Card users earn 2 points per $1 spent on American Airline flights, and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. Users will also earn 30,000 bonus points after making $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months, enjoy a free first checked bag on American Airline flights and receive priority boarding privileges. The card's annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year.

$0.99 $1.39 $0.60 $398
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card rewards users with a $1.78 value for flights per $100 spent and a lesser $0.71 value for hotel stays, for an average combined value of $1.25. The fairly high flight value makes this a strong choice for Southwest devotees who can now use their points for both free Southwest flights and international flights.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card users will earn 2 points per $1 spent on all Southwest flights, Southwest Rapid Rewards Hotel and Car Rental Partners and 1 point per $1 spent on everything else. Cardholders will also earn 25,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. The card's annual fee is a little on the high side at $99, but could be worth it for loyal Southwest Airlines travelers.

$1.25 $1.78 $0.71 $425
Chase Sapphire Preferred®

Chase Sapphire Preferred® won first place for value in our Travel Rewards Cards Analysis, providing more value than the other cards we looked at. With a remarkably high $2.61 hotel value — the highest hotel redemption value of any card in our study — and a generous $1.78 flight value for every $100 spent, the average $2.19 combined value made this the top value travel card. It also features a phenominal introductory bonus of 50,000 points which, based on our analysis, is equal to a whopping $1,086 (note that this is not a cash back value, instead it is based on transfering the points to Hyatt Gold Passport and using that program's point value). The hotel and flight values were obtained by using the power of the Sapphire Preferred's 1:1 point transfer with participating airline and hotel programs. This means you can transfer over your Sapphire points for an equal number of points in another airline/hotel program. For the purpose of this study, we transferred earned points to Southwest Rapid Rewards and Hyatt Gold Passport, thereby enjoying their high point values. We also based the intro bonus value on these numbers.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® users earn 2 points per $1 spent on travel and dining and 1 point per $1 spent on everything else. They can also earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. Like most other non-branded travel cards in this survey, users can redeem their points for travel, gift cards or statement credits. As mentioned previously, one thing this card offers that the other non-airline and non-hotel cards don't is that users can also transfer their points at a 1:1 value to Chase airline and hotel partners. Additionally, if cardholders book their trips through the online reward portal, they'll use 20% fewer points to pay for travel. There is an annual fee of $95, but it's waived the first year.

$2.19^ $1.78^ $2.61^ $1,086^
Virgin America Visa Signature® Card

Virgin America Visa® Signature Card was the clear winner for flight redemption value, leading the pack with a $2.57 value per $100 spent. The flight value is top of the heap, but users will not be able to redeem their points for anything other than flights (i.e., no hotels or other rewards). However, the flight value is so strong you might want to consider getting this card and switching your travel allegiance to Virgin America.

Virgin America Visa® Signature Card earns 3 points per dollar spent on Virgin America and 1 point per $1 on everything else. As an added bonus, if you're a member of Virgin America's Elevate program (which is free to join) you'll earn an extra 5 points for each dollar spent on Virgin America, bringing you to a possible total of 8 points per dollar spent on Virgin America. Earned points can be redeemed for Virgin America flights and flights with international partners including Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia. Perks include checking one free bag for yourself and one companion on Virgin America flights and $150 off a companion ticket each year. Cardholders will also earn 10,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. There is a $49 annual fee.

$1.28 $2.57 $0 $233
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Gold Delta Skymiles® Credit Card from American Express (a NextAdvisor advertiser) has a flight value of a $1.47, which based on flight value alone puts them squarely mid-pack in our analysis. Although the flight value is decent, members can only use their points on flights, as there are no hotel options available.

Gold Delta Skymiles® Credit Card from American Express users earn 2 miles per $1 spent on Delta flights and 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else. It also includes bonuses like earning 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 on the Card in the first 3 months and the ability to check your first bag for free on Delta flights. The downside to this card is that members are unable to book free hotel stays. There is also an annual fee of $95 that is waived the first year.

$0.73 $1.47 $0 $698
Hyatt Credit Card from Chase

Hyatt Credit Card from Chase offers a terrific hotel travel value of $2.61 per $100 spent (the highest hotel value in our analysis), with a much lesser flight value of $0.64, a smart choice for those who want to stay at a Hyatt but aren't as interested in earning free flights. The average value of both flight and hotel was $1.62, which ranks them as one of the top-runners in our ratings. The card also leads the pack in introductory bonus value, with a bonus worth a whopping $1,304. This value is based on the point value determined by our analysis. Users can't book flights directly, instead they need to exchange their points for miles with a partner airline and then wait up to 30 days to use the miles. To keep the playing field even, we obtained the flight value by exchanging points for American Airlines miles — another program featured in our analysis.

Hyatt Credit Card from Chase users earn 3 points for every $1 spent at Hyatt locations, 2 points for every $1 spent at restaurants, airline tickets and car rentals and 1 point for every $1 spent on all other purchases. Cardholders will also earn 2 free nights (valued at up to 120,000 points or $1,304!), after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. Users must exchange their earned points for miles with a partner airline in order to use their points for flights. The card does have a $75 annual fee, but it's waived the first year.

$1.62 $0.64 $2.61 $1,304
Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard®

Barclaycard Arrival™ World Mastercard®, the sister card to our number two ranked Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard®, did not fare quite as well in our analysis. With an average $1.10 hotel and flight value per $100 spent, its value proposition placed it lower in our rankings (note: The $1.10 value includes the 5% redemption bonus mentioned below). However, it does have very flexible miles usage which makes it a good choice for someone in the market for a travel card without an annual fee.

The Barclaycard Arrival™ World Mastercard® earns 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining and 1 point per dollar spent on everything else. To redeem rewards, users just book their travel however they'd like and then redeem points for a statement credit. Points can also be redeemed for merchandise, gift cards or a statement credit. Plus, when you redeem your points, you'll earn an additional 5% in bonus points. For the purpose of this analysis, we included this 5% bonus into the overall point value of $1.10. Users will also enjoy 20,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days — enough for a $200 travel statement credit.

$1.10* $1.10* $1.10* $210
BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card

BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card offers a $1.50 travel value on both flights and hotels for every $100 spent, a very decent value for a card that charges no annual fee.

BankAmericard Travel Rewards® users will earn 1.5 points for every $1 spent on all purchases. Cardholders who have another qualifying Bank of America account will especially appreciate this card, as they will earn an extra 10% point bonus on all purchases. In addition, all cardholders will earn 20,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days. Redeeming points is easy — users need only to use their card to pay for their travel and their points are used as a statement credit towards their travel purchases. They can book their travel anyhow and anywhere they like; whether online, over the phone or with a travel agent.

$1.50 $1.50 $1.50 $200
Hilton HHonorsTM Surpass® Card from American Express

The Hilton HHonors™ Surpass Card from American Express (a NextAdvisor advertiser) doesn't feature a particularly high value program, with a good hotel redemption value of $1.64 per $100 spent and a lower flight value of $0.75 for an overall average value of $1.19. It does offer more overall value than the similar Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® card though, due to a higher potential point earning per dollar (up to 12x!) in certain categories. Users aren't able to book flights with their points, instead earned points need to be exchanged for airline partner miles and there is a 4-week delay before you can use these miles. To ensure a fair comparison with the rest of the programs we researched, we based the flight point value on an airline already included in our analysis — American Airlines.

Hilton HHonors™ Surpass Card from American Express cardholders will earn 12 points per $1 spent at participating hotels and resorts within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio, 6 points per $1 spent on purchases at supermarkets, restaurants and gas stations, and 3 points per $1 spent on all other purchases. Plus, users will earn 75,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. Card holders also enjoy Hilton HHonors Gold status for as long as they remain a cardmember. Users cannot directly book flights with their earned points, instead they must exchange their points for miles with a partner airline. The card has an annual fee of $75.

$1.19 $0.75 $1.64 $328
Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

Featuring a terrific average travel value of $2.10 per $100 spent on flights and hotels, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard® is our number two ranked pick. The $2.10 value factors in the 5% redemption bonus mentioned in the next paragraph. This many-faceted card combines high value with very flexible miles usage, making it one of our top travel rewards card choices.

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard® earns 2 points per dollar spent on every purchase. To use rewards, cardholders just book their travel and then redeem points for a statement credit. Rewards can also be redeemed for gift cards, merchandise or a straightforward statement credit. As an added bonus users earn an additional 5% in points when they redeem their points. This means if you spend 10,000 in points on travel, you'll get a 500 point bonus deposited to your rewards bank — a huge benefit we have not seen with any other travel rewards card. We included this 5% bonus into the overall point value of $2.10. In addition, cardholders earn 40,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days of card membership, equal to $400 that users can spend on travel or even as a statement credit. The annual fee of $89 is waived the first year.

$2.10* $2.10* $2.10* $420
IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card

IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card has a hotel value of $0.83 per $100 spent, which is low, particularlly for a hotel-branded card. You are unable to use your points for flights, so this card is best for those who want to earn free hotel stays at IHG Hotels & Resorts, Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts and Holiday Inn. The hotel value assumes card users will earn the 10% bonus mentioned in the following paragraph.

IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card users earn 2 miles per $1 spent at IHG hotels, 2 points per $1 spent at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants, and 1 point per $1 on everything else. You'll also earn 70,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on the Card in the first 3 months. On top of this, users will earn an ongoing 10% point bonus each time they redeem their earned points. So if you redeem 10,000 points you'll get a 1,000 point bonus! The downside to this card is that members are unable to book free hotel stays. The card does have an annual fee of $49 that is waived the first year.

$0.41 $0 $0.83 $453
Hilton HHonors™Card from American Express

With an average hotel redemption value of $1.49 and a much lower flight value of $0.68 for an overall average value of $1.08 per $100 spent, The Hilton HHonors™ Card from American Express (a NextAdvisor advertiser) doesn't add up to a particularly high value program. However, it offers more overall value than the similar Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® card due to a higher potential point earning per dollar in certain categories. Users can't book flights with their points, instead earned points need to be exchanged for airline partner miles and there is a 4-week delay before you can use these miles. To ensure a fair comparison with the rest of the programs we researched, we based the flight point value on an airline already included in our analysis — American Airlines.

Hilton HHonors™ Card from American Express cardholders will earn 7 points per $1 spent at participating hotels and resorts within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio, 5 points per $1 spent on purchases at supermarkets, restaurants and gas stations, and 3 points per $1 spent on all other purchases. Plus, users will earn 50,000 points after spending $750 in the first 3 months. Card holders also enjoy Hilton HHonors Silver status for as long as they remain a cardmember. The card does not have an annual fee.

$1.08 $0.68 $1.49 $218

* This value assumes card holders will redeem their earned points for travel, thereby receiving an extra 5% point bonus.

** This value assumes that the card holder will redeem their earned points for travel.

^ This value assumes the user transfers their points 1:1 to a participating travel program. For the purpose of this study we transferred points to Hyatt Gold Passport and Southwest Rapid Rewards because they offered the greatest value. We then used the 2016 Travel Rewards Analysis values for Hyatt Gold Passport and Southwest Rapid Rewards to calculate the Chase Sapphire Preferred point values.

Hotel Analysis

First we looked at what it costs to book hotel stays with each program. We did this by comparing the standard prices of hotels in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washingon D.C. at different times of year with the number of points required to book a free stay. We used the same dates and locations for each program, and picked dates in the high summer season as well as less traveled fall season to account for seasonal fluctuation. When possible we also attempted to book stays in the same hotel for each card.

Flight Analysis

Next we employed the same real-world type of test to determine the point exchange value for free flights. We booked flights through each rewards program website, then compared the number of points required to book an economy flight with the actual dollar value of the flight. The dollar value of the flight was obtained by matching up the exact same flight with the cost on the actual airline site. We booked roundtrip flights from San Francisco to Washington D.C. and Los Angeles to New York in both the summer and fall, and used the same criteria for each program.


Reward Analysis

To calculate the actual reward card value, we employed a basic formula. First we took the dollar value of the reward and divided it by the number of points required to purchase that reward.

Point Value = Reward Price / Number of Points Required to Purchase

Then we assumed a spend of $100, with 5% ($5) spent on high-point rewards like hotel stays and flights. The remaining 95% ($95) was allocated to standard point earning spends.

Value per $100 Spent = (High Point Earn * $5 * Point Value) + (Standard Point Earn * $95 * Point Value)

For efficiency purposes, we use the term "points" to descibe the rewards earned, even though programs members can earn either miles or points. The final value per $100 spent is displayed in U.S. dollar currency ($x.xx). You can see the values in the results section to the left.

To calculate the Intro Bonus Value, we took the Point Value for each card and multiplied it by the number of introductory bonus points offered.

Intro Bonus Value = Point Value * Number of Intro Bonus Points Offered

Ratings Analysis

We created 4 different categories of rankings; one for both hotel and flights, one for flights only, one for hotels only, and one for the introductory bonus (if the card offered one). The methodologies differ between the categories.

The Best Hotel & Flight category took the average of both the flight and hotel values for a card. For example, if the hotel value was $2.00 and the flight value was $1.50, then the average came out to $1.75. This average was then used to rank the cards in order of value. If a card did not offer the ability to redeem rewards for both flights and hotels it was not included in this category — instead it is featured in either the Best Flight or Best Hotel category.

The Best Flight category only used the flight values for each card, not taking into account the hotel values. If a card did not offer the ability to redeem rewards for flights then it was not included in this category.

The Best Hotel category only used the hotel values, and not the flight values. If a card did not offer the ability to redeem rewards for hotel stays then it was not included in this category.

The Intro Bonus Value category used the introductory bonus point value for each card. If a card did not offer an intro bonus a value of $0.00 is shown.



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Advertiser Disclosure: NextAdvisor.com is a consumer information site that offers free, independent reviews and ratings of online services. We receive advertising revenue from most but not all of the companies whose products and services we review. For credit cards, we review cards from all of the top 10 US issuers by purchase volume (according to Issue 1035 of The Nilson Report, Feb 2014) excluding issuers that require additional accounts to be a cardholder and private label issuers. We may also review cards from other issuers in select cases. We do not review all products in a given category. We are independently owned and operated and all opinions expressed on this site are our own.