2015 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 sidebar on the right.

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

Combined Click to sort by Average of Flight and Hotel Rewards per $100 spent Flights Click to sort by Flight Rewards per $100 spent Hotels Click to sort by Hotel Rewards per $100 spent
Discover it® Miles

The Discover it® Miles 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 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 miles in your first year of card membership, it will be doubled and you'll receive a 25,000 earned 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
United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card offers its users a somewhat low $1.00 free flight payout per $100 spent. The value of redeeming points for free hotel stays was equally low at $0.88, giving it an average overall value of $0.94 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.

$0.94 $1.00 $0.88
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 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 #2 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**
Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card

The Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card offers its members a average value of $0.48. Both it's flight and hotel values are low, with a value of $0.47 for free hotel stays and one of $0.50 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.

$0.48 $0.50 $0.47
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Featuring a terrific average travel value of $2.00 per dollar spent on flights and hotels, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is our number two ranked pick. Miles are easy to redeem, and cardholders can book their travel however they'd like and with any airline or hotel they prefer. 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.

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

Featuring an average travel value of $1.86 per dollar 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 an amazing $2.30 hotel point value - the highest hotel redemption value of any card in our study. While their value for flight redemption was much lower at $1.43 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 $2.30 for every $100 they spend with the card, assuming they use their rewards for hotel stays. This is the highest hotel value we found for any travel card in our study. Additional perks include a 25,000 point bonus after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.

$1.86 $1.43 $2.30
Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card

The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® offers a fairly paltry $0.87 redemption value for hotel stays and a really low $0.34 flight value, with an overall average value of $0.60 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.

$0.60 $0.34 $0.87
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®

Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World Mastercard® Card tallied up a $1.04 in flight value for every $100 spent — an overall average value of $0.80 and a decent deal for anyone who likes to fly American Airlines and get free flights. The hotel value was not so lofty at $0.57, 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.

$0.80 $1.04 $0.57
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card rewards users with a $1.81 value for flights and a lesser $0.73 value for hotel stays, for an average combined value of $1.27. The 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.

$1.27 $1.81 $0.73
Chase Sapphire Preferred®

Chase Sapphire Preferred℠ provides a generous $2.06 hotel value and $1.81 flight value for every $100 spent, for an average $1.94 combined value. These 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.

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.

$1.94 $1.81 $2.06^
Virgin America Visa Signature® Card

Virgin America Visa® Signature Card was the clear winner for flight redemption value, leading the pack with a $2.51 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 (ie, 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. Earned points can be redeemed for Virgin Amercia 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 their first card purchase.

$1.25 $2.51 $0
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Gold Delta Skymiles® from American Express (a NextAdvisor advertiser) trailed the pack with only a $0.65 value towards free flights. Another strike against them is that members can only use their points on flights, as there are no hotel options available.

Gold Delta Skymiles® 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 30,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 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.

$0.33 $0.65 $0
Hyatt Credit Card from Chase

Hyatt Credit Card from Chase offers a great hotel travel value of 2.06 with a much lesser flight value of $0.48, a good 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 $1.27, which puts them mid-pack in our ratings. 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 rental and 1 point for every $1 spent on all other purchases. Users must exchange their earned points for miles with a partner airline in order to use their points for flights.

$1.27 $0.48 $2.06
Barclaycard Arrival™ World Mastercard®

Barclaycard Arrival™ World Mastercard®, the sister card to our number one ranked Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard®, did not fare quite as well in our analysis. With an average $1.10 hotel and flight value, its value proposition placed it lower in our rankings. 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*
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% annual points bonus on their total yearly 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
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 an average hotel redemption value of $0.87 and a much lower flight value of $0.34 for an overall average value of $0.60. 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 100,000 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.

$0.60 $0.34 $0.87
Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite Mastercard®

Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard® won first place for value in our travel rewards cards analysis, providing more value than the other cards we looked at. With a lofty $2.10 flight and hotel redemption value for every $100 spent, this many-faceted card combines high value with very flexible miles usage, making it our "top travel rewards card" choice.

The Barclay 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 redeeemd 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 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 3 months of card membership, equal to $400 that users can spend on travel or even as a statement credit.

$2.10 $2.10 $2.10*
Hilton HHonors™Card from American Express

With an average hotel redemption value of $0.87 and a much lower flight value of $0.34 for an overall average value of $0.60, 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 75,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. Card holders also enjoy 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.

$0.60 $0.34 $0.87

* 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 2015 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.

Ratings Analysis

We created 3 different categories of rankings; one for both hotel and flights, one for flights only and one for hotels only. 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.


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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.