Best Travel Credit Cards

Selected by CardHub Editors from 1,000+ credit cards — Updated August 29, 2015

The 2015 summer travel season is shaping up to be one of the busiest in recent memory, with consumers expected to spend a total of $65 billion on online travel bookings between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and some 37.2 million people having kicked things off with a trip over the Memorial Day long weekend. Buoyed by a household windfall borne from depressed fuel costs and the dollar’s global strength, approximately one-third of Americans are planning a trip overseas, taking advantage of dollar’s strength relative to the Euro, Yen, etc.

Nevertheless, the average summer trip for a family of four carries a $4,580 price tag, according to an American Express survey. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to defray the costs associated with travel, especially the international variety. For starters, you could apply for a lucrative initial rewards bonus or 0% introductory interest rate offer, thereby saving $400 -$1,000+ in a matter of months. Using no foreign transaction fee credit cards and debit cards while traveling abroad as well as avoiding dynamic currency conversion will also save you up to 10% on currency conversion.

But which particular credit cards offer the best deals for travelers? The best travel credit cards can be difficult to identify since there are more than 1,000 cards on the market – each offering a different type of incentive. To help you in this endeavor, CardHub’s editors compared all of the cards in our database, regardless of sponsor status, in search of the best money-saving deals for summer travelers. You can find our best-in-class selections below, followed by CardHub’s money-saving travel tips and expert insights on the outlook for summer travel.

All-Around

Citi ThankYou® Premier Card Apply Now 253 reviews

Spending $3,000 during the first 3 months you have this card will score you 50,000 bonus points, which can be redeemed for a $620 statement credit applicable to travel-related charges that post to your account. On an ongoing basis, this card provides 3 points per $1 spent on travel and gas, 2 points per $1 on dining and 1 point per $1 on everything else. Its $95 annual fee doesn’t kick in until the second year either.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card Apply Now 1,411 reviews

Spending $3,000 in the first 3 months will award you with 40,000 bonus points, which can be redeemed for a $400 statement credit attributable to any travel-related expenses. The ongoing reward rate is 2 miles per $1 spent, with no limits or expiration dates. This card charges a $59 annual fee, beginning in the second year and does not assess foreign transaction fees for purchases processed abroad.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ Credit Card 2,355 reviews

Perhaps the best rewards credit card on the market, Arrival Plus offers a 40,000-mile rewards bonus – redeemable for $400 in travel expenses – in return for cardholders spending $3,000 during the first three months their accounts are open. You’ll earn the miles equivalent of 2% cash back on all other purchases and receive 10% of the miles you redeem back upon redemption.

This card does not charge a foreign transaction fee and its $89 annual fee is waived for the first year.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Apply Now 2,291 reviews

Spending at least $4,000 during the first three months your account is open will trigger a 40,000-point rewards bonus, which can be redeemed for $500 in travel accommodations booked through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Program or a $400 statement credit.

This card does not charge an annual fee during the first year ($95 thereafter) and does not assess foreign transaction fees for purchases processed abroad.

Airline Rewards

Frontier Airlines Credit Card 135 reviews

Spending $500 or more with this card during the first 90 days that you have it will get you 40,000 bonus miles, which can be redeemed for 2 round-trip domestic flights.

You’ll also get 2 miles per $1 spent on FlyFrontier.com and 1 mile/$1 on all other purchases. This card has a $69 annual fee.

PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express® Credit Card 205 reviews

In addition to a $200 initial bonus for spending at least $2,500 during the first three months, this card provides you with 5 points per $1 spent on all airfare and 1 point per $1 on everything else.

It does not have an annual fee, but you might have to pay a one-time $15 to join an eligible association, if you don’t initially meet PenFed’s eligibility requirements.

Hotel Rewards

Club Carlson℠ Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card Apply Now 55 reviews

You may not have heard of Club Carlson, but it represents a number well-known hotel brands such as Radisson, Park Plaza, and Country Inn & Suites. This eponymous card Club offers 50,000 bonus points with your first purchase and an additional 35,000 points for spending at least $2,500 within 90 days.

You can redeem your 85,000 total bonus points for up to 9 free hotel nights and your 40,000 annual bonus points for up to 4 more nights, depending on the category of hotel you select. There is a $75 annual fee and a 3% foreign transaction fee.

IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card Apply Now 142 reviews

You’ll get 70,000 bonus points in return for spending at least $1,000 during the first three months you have the IHG Credit Card. That bounty is redeemable for up to 14 free nights, as IHG offers rewards nights for as low as 5,000 points through its PointBreaks program.

IHG card users also receive one additional free night each year on their account anniversary and an annual 10% point rebate (up to 100,000), in addition to 5 points per $1 spent at IHG hotel chains, 2 points per $1 spent at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants, and 1 point/$1 on everything else.

This card does not have a first-year annual fee ($49 thereafter) and does not charge a foreign transaction fee. Hotels operating under the IHG umbrella include the Holiday Inn family of hotels and Crowne Plaza.

Hilton HHonors® Surpass℠ Credit Card 143 reviews

Charging $3,000 to this card over the first three months you have it will trigger a 60,000-point initial bonus – redeemable for up to 12 free hotel nights, depending on how your hotel of choice is classified. Unfortunately, this offer comes with a $75 annual fee as well as a 2.7% foreign transaction fee, making it best suited to domestic travel.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express Apply Now 272 reviews

You’ll earn a 25,000 points bonus after if you can manage to charge $3,000 to this card in the first 3 months your account is open. This bounty will score you 8 free hotel nights, depending on your hotel choice.

Another interesting feature of this card’s rewards program are the varied point transfer options, which are sweetened by the 25% bonus points offered with each 20,000-point transfer. The point transfer ratio is 1:1, so transferring will only bring more benefits. The card has no annual fee in the first year, but will charge $65 after and has a 2.7% foreign transaction fee.

Road Trip Rewards

PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Credit Card 916 reviews

This Pentagon Federal Credit Union product offers 5 points per $1 spent on gas (at any station, as long as you fill up at the pump), 3 points per $1 spent on groceries, and 1 point per $1 on everything else. The Platinum Rewards Card doesn’t have an annual fee and no fee for foreign transactions, but you might have to pay a one-time $15 to join an eligible association, if you don’t initially meet PenFed’s eligibility requirements.

Blue Cash Preferred® from American Express Apply Now 987 reviews

This Amex offers 6% cash back on groceries (up to $6000 per year), 3% on gas and department store purchases and 1% on everything else – making it a great card for everyday spending as well as road trips.

While this card does charge a $75 annual fee and a 2.7% foreign transaction fee, you also get a $150 initial rewards bonus for spending at least $1,000 during the first three months.

Financing Travel

Chase Slate® Apply Now 1,515 reviews

If you have existing credit card debt (or you will after your impending summer vacation), transferring what you owe to the Slate Card could save you more than $1,000 in finance charges and help you reach debt freedom way earlier than you would otherwise. Just make sure to use our Balance Transfer Calculator to determine how much you’ll need to pay each month in order to be debt free by the time Slate’s 15-month 0% intro term gives way to high regular rates.

What really sets Slate apart from the balance transfer pack, however, is it’s lack of fees. More specifically, Slate charges neither an annual fee nor a balance transfer fee – which itself will save you hundreds. New applicants will also benefit from Slate’s new credit score tracking feature.

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card Apply Now 596 reviews

This card offers the longest 0% purchase APR on the market, at 21 months. So, if you won’t be able to pay off the cost of your coming trip in a single month, this is a great option to consider. All you have to do is use our calculator to see what monthly payments you’ll have to make in order to be balance-free by the time regular rates take effect.

It’s also important to note that this card probably isn’t your best bet when it comes to balance transfers, despite its near two-year interest-free term. That’s because it charges a 3% balance transfer fee. For the average consumer, who owes roughly $7,100, that fee alone would amount to $213.


Money-Saving Summer Travel Tips


Picking the right credit card can go a long way to saving you a bundle of money on a summer getaway. But there’s even more to vacation credit card use than applying for one of the offers listed above. There are certainly more ways to save as well. Here are some tips:

General Advice:
  1. Use Plastic Whenever Possible: Credit cards obviously provide a lot of value through initial rewards bonuses and 0% financing deals, but they also offer $0 fraud liability guarantees, the lowest possible currency conversion rates, and complementary rental car insurance coverage. It’s therefore a good idea to use plastic for the majority of your travel expenses.

  2. Choose Your Credit Card Wisely: Consumers who are interested in a new credit card mainly for quick rewards score should obviously concentrate on initial bonus offers, while people who prize the simplicity of having the same card in their wallet for a long time will want to check out those with ongoing rewards. Folks worried about incurring finance charges will find that a 0% offer has the potential to save them far more than even a great rewards card.

  3. Think Outside the Box: The most obvious vacation destinations and types of accommodations are naturally going to be the most popular and therefore the hardest to book on a budget. As a result, you may want to consider taking a mid-week flight, going to a small town, renting a house rather than booking rooms in an expensive hotel (especially if you’re traveling with a big group), and leveraging free resources like public transportation and destinations known for natural beauty.

  4. Mix Business with Pleasure: If you can find a way to squeeze in a few meetings around your trip, certain aspects of it may be tax deductible. While your travel must technically be “for business” and only your own business-related expenses are deductible, you’re allowed to tack a few recreational days onto either end of a business trip and you can certainly brainstorm ways to include your family under the business umbrella even if they aren’t employees (e.g. piling everyone into a rental car that would ordinarily be just for you).

  5. Comparison Shop: Comparing the prices of different air carriers, hotel chains, and vacation packages will enable you to identify best possible deals. You might even be able to score a more attractive price than what’s listed online by telling the sales representative that you’ll book immediately if they can beat a specific competitor’s offer.

  6. Maximize Your Credit Score: All of the Best Travel Credit Cards for 2015 require above-average credit for approval and therefore clearly illustrate the value of the best possible credit score. So, if your credit standing needs some work, make sure to have an open credit card that’s in good standing (look into opening a secured credit card if not), pay your monthly bill on time without fail, and you’ll see positive information flow into your credit reports on a monthly basis. This will either devalue negative information already in there or fill out a currently thin file.

  7. Tell Card Issuers You’re Leaving: Credit and debit card companies may suspend your account if a bunch of transactions suddenly originate from outside your normal spending area. You can prevent the resulting hassle by simply telling your issuer where and when you’ll be traveling. This is especially important if you’re headed out of the country, but it could come into play for long domestic trips as well.

International Travelers:
  1. Take Advantage of the Dollar’s Strength: While weaker than both the Canadian Dollar and the British Pound, the U.S. Dollar currently has a considerable advantage over the Swiss Franc, the Australian Dollar, the Euro and the Japanese Yen. Selectively choosing your vacation destination is thus a distinct money-saving proposition.

  2. Use Your Credit Card for Currency Conversion: Visa and MasterCard offer exchange rates that are 3.66% lower than those offered by the average major bank and 6.90% lower than what Travelex charges, according to CardHub’s Currency Exchange Study.

  3. Avoid Foreign Transaction Fees: Around 90% of credit cards charge a premium to process transactions outside of the United States. You don’t have to be physically abroad to incur such a surcharge – which is known as a foreign transaction fee and can range from 2-4%, depending on the card. Rather, they apply whenever you make a purchase through a foreign-based merchant. As long as you have a no foreign transaction fee credit card, you won’t have to worry about these pesky fees.

  4. Take a Low-Fee Debit Card: You won’t be able to use a credit card for everything when abroad, so the best approach is to take a Visa or MasterCard debit card that has low fees for international ATM withdrawals so you can take out cash as needed and benefit from low card network exchange rates.

  5. Don’t Bother with Chip-Based Cards: The international community is moving increasingly toward a chip-based credit card infrastructure complete with automated machines at places like train kiosks and parking garages that may not accept U.S. magnetic stripe cards. You might take that as a reason to get one of the chip-based cards now being marketed to U.S. consumers, but most of them are chip-and-signature cards while automated machines only accept chip-and-PIN (you can read more about the difference here). There are a few chip-and-PIN cards available to U.S. consumers, but they’re mostly from a handful of credit unions and don’t offer the most competitive terms. Most international merchants still accept magnetic stripe cards anyway.

  6. Pay in the Native Currency: This doesn’t apply to domestic travelers, but those of you traveling abroad should make sure to only sign receipts expressed in the local currency. Foreign merchants sometimes offer to convert prices into U.S. dollars in order to charge a high conversion rate and line their pockets.

Ask The Experts: Assessing the Summer Travel Outlook


How strong will the 2015 summer travel season be? What trends will emerge in terms of vacation types, destinations and payment methods? And what, ultimately, does all of this tell us about consumer sentiment and the economy?

WalletHub turned to hospitality and travel industry experts for insights into those issues and more. You can find their comments on the following questions below.

  1. What is the summer travel outlook?
  2. What travel trends will be most prominent?
  3. What does the travel outlook say about the economy?


What is the summer travel outlook?

Joseph La Lopa - Associate Professor, Purdue University

The outlook is good, with confidence up, but it will be difficult for families to have family vacation, with millennials busy starting careers, in school, etc.
--

Lalia Rach, University of Wisconsin-Stout

In a word -- positive. The reason for this is pent-up demand amongst U.S. citizens and the ever-increasing desire by citizens of emerging countries (Brazil, China, India, Russia, etc.) to visit the US. Wherever the middle class is expanding, it is positive for the US travel industry. There is some evidence that it could be a record breaking summer for the US travel industry.
--

Linchi Kwok, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

I feel very positive about the travel and tourism industry for the summer. Lower gas price will encourage Americans to take more road trips. Stronger dollars in the foreign exchange market also help boost the outbound travel for Americans because more Americans find trips to Asia and Europe much more affordable than before. These two factors are very positive for both business travelers and leisure travelers with families.
As far as inbound tourism is concern, tourists from mainland China will continue to grow substantially in the summer, benefiting from the new visa agreement between the U.S. and China, and the summer holidays for the Chinese students (typically in June, July, and August).
--

Elyria Kemp, University of New Orleans

The travel outlook for this summer is encouraging, and it will likely be a very busy travel season. Some hotels have reported that advanced bookings are up and there will likely be longer lines at airport security checkpoints.
--

Debra Cannon, Georgia State University

Judging from the volume of travel predicted over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the outlook for summer travel is very good. According to the U.S. Travel Association, this weekend's travel is at a ten year high with an estimated 37 million people traveling around the country. A busy travel season this summer is expected to be fueled by the improving job market, lower gas prices, and a strong U.S dollar. Also, according to The Conference Board Economic Forecast for the U.S. Economy, consumer spending slowed during the first quarter of the year, despite strong real incomes. Money saved by consumers during this time, may lead to spending this summer on travel and vacations, particularly after the inclement weather experienced this winter.
--

Galen Collins, Northern Arizona University

A strengthening economy, rising disposable personal incomes, and relatively low gas prices will likely provide the U.S. travel economy with a healthy boost during the upcoming summer months. D.K. Shifflet and Associates, a travel and tourism research company, predicts that U.S. travelers will dedicate significantly more time and money to summer leisure travel based on a survey of 8,600 American conducted in April.
--

Dallen Timothy, Arizona State University

As of right now, the summer travel outlook in the US and abroad looks rather promising. All indicators suggest that numbers of travelers will increase this summer over last year, particularly as the US economy has improved dramatically since 2009.
Some nearby international destinations (e.g., Mexico and the Caribbean) will likely see an increase in US visitors this summer. The security concerns associated with Mexico are still in people’s minds, but its importance as a reason for not traveling to Mexico has declined. The Caribbean and Mexican cruise sector will also likely improve this summer over last year. This is especially so with the increasing summer heat in the United States, which causes people to want to be closer to water, including cruises and beach resorts. Americans traveling to Europe and Asia should also grow this summer, according to all economic and social indicators. As well, international arrivals to the US are expected to grow this year.
--

What travel trends will be most prominent?

Joseph La Lopa - Associate Professor, Purdue University

Travel by car is still most popular, followed by air then train, if accessible to it. I think younger crowd will continue to use AirBnB and Uber and others, to stay and play in other cities. When an airline figures a way to mimic what is going on in other hospitality and travel industries -- watch out. Older travellers will try to get in that overseas trip they have dreamed of to safer destinations. Eating cleaner and healthier will be on the rise.
--

Lalia Rach, University of Wisconsin-Stout

Some things remain the same -- auto travel will be the primary mode of transportation, the national and state parks systems will receive record number of visitors, and activities that unite the factors nostalgia, family and fun will dominate (reunions, state fairs, parades). The foremost trend is the American traveler expects a memorable experience from every aspect of the trip. We want to see, touch, learn, laugh and enjoy leaving behind the everyday responsibilities. Whether we return home refreshed or exhausted, the memories are what sustain us until the next escape!
--

Linchi Kwok, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

I will expect more people are taking trips in a shorter distance (e.g., within a few hours’ drive), and at the same time, travel more frequently than before. There are many factors that contribute to this change. For example, air travel has become more expensive with airlines cutting flights and the government increasing fees and taxes. It becomes very troublesome and costly to travel by air these days. Then, the gas price in the summer is predicted to be very low, probably the lowest in the last five years, making road trip much cheaper. In addition, the shifting life style of consumers also pushes them to find every chance to enjoy and appreciate what is around them. Businesses are responding to the changing needs of consumers and providing many options for one- or two-day getaways.
--

Debra Cannon, Georgia State University

While it is too early to predict, it will be interesting to see if Americans follow the pattern of taking several long weekend vacations which became popular during the recessionary years versus carving out a week or more for lengthier and more expensive vacations. With such a boast in the unofficial start of summer travel, it might be projected that travel will be more extensive over the summer encompassing the lengthier trips as well as extended weekends.
Travel patterns will likely continue to reflect multi-generational family trips, an increase in heritage/cultural tourism and the millennial generation seeking unique travel that is rich in the experiences of specific regions.
--

Galen Collins, Northern Arizona University

While disposable incomes are increasing, leisure travelers are still cost conscious due to the lingering effects of the “great recession.” They will take advantage of low-cost modes of transportation and look for travel bargains online, which may translate into more weekday trips.
--

Dallen Timothy, Arizona State University

1) “Mass tourism” attractions and destinations, namely amusement/theme parks, cruises, and beach resorts will see an upswing in arrivals this summer.
2) There will also likely be an increase in ‘special interest tourism’, or people traveling for a specific purpose, such as sailing, rock climbing, food festivals, or visiting railway museums.
3) Volunteer tourism will increase, as students are out of school for the summer, which provides opportunities for them to travel for environmental, poverty alleviation, archaeological exploration, and other such volunteer opportunities.
4) National parks are among the most salient attractions in the United States, and visitation will increase dramatically.
5) We are seeing a major growth in arrivals from China and one of the Chinese’ main objectives is to visit Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, as well as other national parks.
6) Although people traveling away from home will increase, it is likely that more people will also decide to stay closer to home on ‘staycations’, where they can stay at home but behave like tourists. Some destinations, such as Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, give special offers (e.g., low-cost resort stays) to locals to encourage them to stay at home during the hot season.
--

What does the travel outlook say about the economy?

Joseph La Lopa - Associate Professor, Purdue University

Not as much as one would think with so many more options to travel on the cheap and not be manipulated by traditional suppliers like hotels, taxis and chain restaurants.
--

Lalia Rach, University of Wisconsin-Stout

Leisure travel is generally a discretionary activity meaning we travel more (stay longer, go farther, do more at the destination) when we are confident about our livelihoods and our bills are more manageable. The fact is that most tourism businesses will tell you that the summer outlook is bright, better than last year is a direct indication that consumers are feeling more confident about their situation. It is interesting to note that the under 30 aged American views travel as an indispensable right and incorporate the expense of travel as an essential item. They will forego other activities or expenses that were qualified as necessities by those over 30 in order to meet this need.
Another view is that of travel employment and travel as the leading export for growth in the economy. Travel is a vital employer, adding jobs at all wage levels, providing consistent additions to employment figures. Travel is a positive or surplus portion of US trade. In 2014, records were set with the sale of airline tickets by US travel agencies ($89.6 billion), 73.9 million international arrivals, hotels set records with average daily rate (ADR) and revenue per available room (RevPAR).
--

Linchi Kwok, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

The positive travel outlook indicates the economy is recovering. At least, Americans show great confidence of spending in travel. For decades, travel and tourism industry has been one of the nation’s largest industries and the largest employers. Recently, the industry has reported more development projects for hotels, restaurants, and travel related businesses, which will also benefit other industries such as investment banking and constructions. In addition, the travel and tourism industry also continues to hire more people. In summary, more travel activities are now adding more “fuels" to the economy.
--

Elyria Kemp, University of New Orleans

Higher demand during the summer travel season will likely lead to higher prices. However, Americans traveling abroad will benefit from a strong U.S. dollar.
--

Debra Cannon, Georgia State University

The impact of the Memorial Day weekend is an indicator of the significant economic driver of travel to the United States. For this holiday weekend, according to the U.S. Travel Association, there will be a boast to the U.S. economy of $12.3 billion. --

Galen Collins, Northern Arizona University

Rising confidence in the U.S. economy typically results in increased corporate travel budgets and fewer travel restrictions. U.S. business travel is expected to increase over the next two years. Historically, corporate travel is one of the first expenses cut in a slowing economy. --

Dallen Timothy, Arizona State University

It appears that the traveling public has a more optimistic view of the economy - that it is on the mend. Unemployment rates are down, real estate sales are up, and people generally have a more optimistic view of the economy than in the previous few years. This translates into their willingness to expend money on travel within the United States and abroad.

Community Discussion

Ask a question or help others find the best travel credit cards by sharing some tips.

Aug 25, 2015
Photo of Ashley S.
Aug 25, 2015
The Chase Sapphire card is great for travel. The first bonus offer of $550 in travel rewards is great and can really put a dent in an upcoming vacation. It's also great they waive the annual fee for the first year. This would also be a great card for traveling abroad with no foreign transaction fees which can really add up when making purchases overseas. Overall, I love having this card and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for good rewards to use on travel.
Jun 29, 2015
Photo of Scott B.
Jun 29, 2015
The best travel credit card out there is the one that doesn’t charge annual fees. I hate fees and I don’t see a reason to get a card that requires you to pay one when there are several that do not charge an annual fee. The Chase Slate is the travel card that I like the best. The best part of the card is that there are no annual fees whatsoever. There is also no balance transfer fee. The only bad thing about this card is that it does not offer rewards. So that’s definitely a negative. I am okay with that as long as I don’t have to pay more
Jun 26, 2015
Photo of Jennie Y.
Jun 26, 2015
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Rewards card is a great travel credit card to have. They reward you for making purchases on the card within the first 3 months with 40,000 extra points. In addition, the card offers 1 point for every $1 spent and also has promotions with 2 points for every $1 spent. The extra 40,000 points equates to $500 in travel which is pretty decent and competitive.
Jun 2, 2015
Photo of Dikibujiri A.
Jun 2, 2015
How may i obtain my credit card and others who are ready to travel with me to US?