travel credit cardMany of us dream of jet-setting around the world. Finding a credit card that helps you do that is certainly enticing. Travel credit card can reward you for travel-related spending, like hotel and flight booking. Some can even earn you miles or points for dining out and everyday purchases. However, there are a lot of rewards, perks and features to weigh when deciding which travel credit card is right for you. We fly through the most important factors and list some of our favorite credit card options with travel rewards to help you decide.

Annual fees

If you are looking for great travel rewards, you likely won’t want to try to avoid an annual fee entirely, as many of the best travel credit cards have one. However, you’ll want to compare that cost to the travel perks and rewards you’ll earn. For example, a card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived for the first year. While you may not have to worry about the fee the first year, you will want to make sure the unlimited 10X miles on hotels booked via Hotels.com/Venture (this offer expires Jan. 31, 2020) and the unlimited 2X miles on all purchases will be rewards you’ll use. After all, if you don’t use the card’s rewards, there’s no point in paying an annual fee.

If you don’t expect to earn enough rewards to offset the annual fee or you want to avoid the fee completely, you’re probably better off choosing a card with a lower rewards rate and no annual fee (like Discover it Miles). Another option for the infrequent traveler is to get a cash rewards credit card and use the cash for travel as desired. For those who travel often, however, we’ve found several travel credit cards with terrific travel rewards and reasonable annual fees. Many of them even waive the fee for the first year, like the previously mentioned Capital One Venture card.

Foreign transaction fees

Foreign transaction fees are another cost to keep in mind. These fees consist of a percentage charge (usually 3% to 5%) on each transaction made outside of the United States. If you plan to use the card internationally, choosing a travel credit card with no foreign transaction fees can save you a lot of money. Most of the travel credit cards we review don’t charge these fees, so you’ll be able to find a fee-less card with ease.

It’s also possible that foreign transaction fees won’t apply to you — for example, if you limit your travel within the U.S. or if you use a card to accumulate miles and purchase your flights, then use a different card or cash to make your international purchases. Still, we recommend having at least one credit card with no foreign transaction fees if you plan to travel internationally, as those fees can rack up quickly.

High-value miles and a big bonus

It isn’t always clear what miles will be worth to you, as not all miles are created equal. It helps to research before you compare the miles of different travel credit cards. You’ll want to know where you can spend them, roughly how much they are worth in dollars and if they are particularly valuable in a specific category (e.g., hotel stays or flights). Sometimes you can find that information on the issuer’s website (it’s usually in the terms and conditions). Otherwise, you can rely on our Travel Rewards Credit Card Analysis. Once you know what the miles are worth, you’ll want to look for a large sign-up bonus. A nice bonus can quickly earn you the free flights or hotels stays that make a travel credit card worthwhile. Not sure where to start? Here’s our top choice for a card with high-value mile and a big bonus:

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

travel credit cardThanks to its great point value, high point accumulation rate, big intro bonus and ability to use miles with any airline, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is our top-rated travel credit card. We’ve found this card’s miles to be worth $2.40 per $100 spent on flights and hotels. You can redeem your miles toward travel in two ways: 1) Redeem your miles through the Capital One Rewards Center to make the travel purchase or 2) Book your travel with your card however you’d like and then redeem your points through the Capital One website to cover your spending.

With the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, you’ll earn a flat rate of 2 miles per $1 spent and a massive 10 miles per $1 spent on hotel bookings through Hotels.com/Venture. The 10X miles deal is valid on purchases made through Jan. 31, 2020. Plus, as a large introductory bonus, you’ll earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. You’ll also pay no foreign transaction fees and no annual fee for the first year ($95 per year thereafter). The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which is available to those with good to excellent credit (usually considered a credit score of 700 or higher), also comes with a number of added perks, like a statement credit of up to $100 every 4 years to cover the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees and Visa Signature benefits.

Do you want loyalty benefits?

A big decision you’ll need to make in deciding which travel credit card is right for you is whether to get a co-branded credit card. These cards are sponsored both by a credit card issuer and by a specific retailer. In the case of travel credit cards, an airline or a hotel chain.

Co-branded cards often earn high reward rates, but they are usually limited in how you earn them or where you can spend them. You’ll often either accumulate the points by purchasing from the retailer, or you’ll need to spend your points with the retailer. For example, the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express (a NextAdvisor advertiser) earns the highest rewards rate on purchases made at Starwood and Marriott hotels. Co-branded cards also come with brand-specific special perks, like priority boarding or a free first checked bag when flying with a specific airline.

If you are loyal to specific airlines or hotel chains, you may find a branded card worthwhile. If you prefer using a variety of hotels and airlines, you are likely better off with a travel credit card that doesn’t tie you to a specific retailer.

The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

travel credit cardIf you’re a loyal Starwood or Marriott hotel customer looking for great travel rewards, the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express is the perfect choice. To start, you’ll earn 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in first 3 months of account opening. Our Travel Rewards Credit Card Analysis estimates that intro bonus to be worth $1,345!

You’ll continue to build up points for your big getaway at a rate of 6 points per $1 spent at participating Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott hotels and 2 points per $1 spent on all other purchases. We’ve determined your points to be worth the most when redeemed for hotel stays, at a value of $3.95 for every $100 spent, but it also has a very nice flight value of $2.82. Plus, you’ll pay no annual fee for the first year, then it’s $95 per year, and no foreign transaction fees. The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card requires good to excellent credit, generally considered a credit score of 700 or higher.

Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

travel credit cardA nice co-branded airline option is the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard (a NextAdvisor advertiser). This card is wonderful for loyal American Airlines customers. It starts with a nice intro bonus of up to 50,000 miles. First, you’ll earn 40,000 miles for spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 month. Then, if you spend a total of $6,000 on purchases within the first 12 months of opening your account, you’ll earn an additional 10,000 points. You’ll also earn 2 miles per $1 spent on American Airline purchases, at restaurants and at gas stations. All other purchases earn 1 mile per $1 spent.

We found the hotel redemption value of miles to be low for this card, at $0.66 per $100 spent, and the flight value to be decent, at $1.25 per $100 spent. However, the American Airline benefits may make up for it for loyal flyers. That’s because your first bag will fly free on American Airline flights (as will the first bag of up to 4 companions on the same reservation), you’ll enjoy preferred boarding on domestic flights and you’ll save 25% on in-flight food and beverage purchases. Last but not least, you’ll pay no foreign transaction fees and no annual fee for the first 12 months (it’s $99 after that). You’ll need good to excellent credit for this card, which is generally a credit score of 700 or higher.

Perks you value

In addition to earning miles to help you travel, different cards may offer special perks or benefits that make the card particularly appealing, depending on your needs. For example, a few rare travel credit cards offer low intro APRs on purchases or balance transfers. Other cards may offer premium travel perks.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard

travel credit cardWith the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, you’ll get access to some interesting perks not often seen in travel credit cards. One of those perks is an intro balance transfer period. You’ll get a 12-month 0% intro APR on balance transfers that post to your account within 45 days of account opening. There is a balance transfer fee of 3% ($5 minimum), but it may be worth it if you are carrying a balance on a high APR credit card. If balance transfers are your primary concern, however, you can find the best balance transfer credit card for you using our free Balance Transfer Calculator. Another exciting perk of the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard is the miles redemption reward. Whenever you redeem your miles, you’ll earn 5% of those miles back for your next redemption!

In addition to these unusual perks, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard also provides a high bonus, a nice rewards rate and reasonable fees. You’ll earn a limited-time 70,000-mile intro bonus when you spend $5,000 on purchases in your first 90 days as a cardholder — that’s worth $735 when you add in the 5% redemption bonus! On top of that, you’ll earn 2 miles per $1 spent on all purchases, pay no foreign transaction fees and pay no annual fee for the first year. After the first year, the annual fee is $89. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard is available to those with good to excellent credit, generally considered a credit score of 700 or higher.

The Platinum Card from American Express

travel credit cardThe Platinum Card from American Express has the intro bonus and high rewards rate features that we look for in a great travel credit card, plus some huge travel benefits. Two things worth keeping in mind, though: this card has a $550 annual fee and is a charge card. This means if you choose this card, you will need to pay the balance in full each month and can’t carry a balance.

To earn the 60,000-point intro bonus, spend $5,000 on purchases in your first 3 months as a cardholder. If you pre-qualify, that bonus could be as high as 100,000! You’ll earn 5 points per $1 spent booking flights directly through airlines or through the American Express Travel website; 5 points per $1 spent on prepaid hotels booked through the American Express Travel; and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases.

Where the Platinum Card really shines for prospective cardholders is in its travel benefits. Take the Fine Hotels and Resorts program as an example: you’ll receive complimentary upgrades and benefits with an average value of $550. That already makes up for the annual fee. Also of huge value is the Global Lounge Collection. As a cardholder, you’ll have access to over 1,200 airport lounges across 130 countries. The Platinum Card is available to those with good to excellent credit scores (generally, a credit score of 700 or higher).

Match your credit scores

Not all credit cards are available to all people. You’ll want to be sure the credit card you hope to apply for matches your credit scores. You’ll need good or excellent credit scores to be eligible for most travel credit cards. Good credit is usually considered a score over 700 and excellent is generally over 750. If you have average credit scores, generally considered 670 or higher, there’s still a nice option to know about.

Discover it Miles

travel credit cardDiscover it Miles holds a special place on this list. That’s because it has a lot of features that are unusual for a travel credit card. Unlike the rest of the cards we’ve listed, it charges no annual fee and has a slightly lower credit requirement than many travel credit cards, as you’ll need average to excellent credit (generally considered a score of 670 or higher) to be eligible for the card. You’ll also enjoy 14 months of 0% intro APR on purchases. After the intro APR period elapses, the go-to variable rate applies.

Discover it Miles doesn’t earn different rewards rates by spending category, meaning travel purchases won’t earn you more than grocery purchases. Instead, you’ll earn a flat 1.5 miles per $1 spent on all purchases. Our Travel Rewards Credit Card Analysis values these miles lower than several of the previously mentioned cards, but that may be worth it to avoid an annual fee. We value both flights hotels at $1.50 value per $100 spent. As an uncapped intro bonus, Discover will match all of the miles you earn in your first year. For example, if you earn 30,000 miles in your first year, Discover will match that 30,000 and you’ll earn a total of 60,000 bonus miles back.

Picking the right card for your needs is essential if you want to make the most of your travel purchases. Visit our reviews of the best travel credit cards to learn more about the cards detailed in this post and see how they compare to other top cards on the market.

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.