Best Credit Cards for Travel Purchases

Best Credit Cards for Travel Purchases

If you’re into miles and points, then most likely you are also into travel. After all, that’s the main reason for collecting miles and points. But often you also have to pay for travel expenses out of pocket and you want to maximize those purchases just like anything else.

Here I’ll put together a list of best credit cards for travel purchases. This is not exactly a list of credit cards that you should apply for if you’re into travel. That list might vary a bit, based on signup bonuses and other factors. But if you have a travel purchase that you need to pay for today, take a look at the list and if you see one of the cards that you already have, that should probably be your go to card.

Best Credit Cards for Travel Purchases

I’ll start with the cards that give you the highest earning rates on travel purchases and are widely available, and work my way down from there. I’ll only list cards that earn at least 2x or have travel as a quarterly bonus category. It’s worth noting that this ranking should not mean that you automatically go with the card that gets you more cash back or points. When it comes to travel, especially for expensive trips, you should look at protections that are offered by the card. 

Travel protection is important, especially now. A card that gives you trip delay/interruption insurance, lost/delay baggage insurance, rental coverage or other similar benefits, could end up being more important than cash back. So please take that into account when using a card.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

  • Earn 3X Ultimate Rewards points on travel and dining at restaurants
  • $550 annual fee
  • Points can be used for travel at 1.5 cents each, so you’re actually earning 4.5% on travel purchases. The card also comes with $300 Annual Travel Credit.
  • Travel Protections
    • Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver
    • Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption Insurance (up to $10,000 per person, $20,000 per occurrence, up to a maximum of $40,000 within a 12-month period)
    • Trip Delay Reimbursement (delays of 6 hours or more, or overnight. Up to $100 per day, up to 5 days)
    • Lost Luggage Reimbursement (up to $3,000 per covered person, per trip)
    • Baggage Delay (if delayed 6 hours or more. Up to $100 per day for up to 5 days)
    • Medical Evacuation Insurance
    • Emergency Medical and Dental Benefit
    • Travel Accident Insurance
  • LEARN MORE

Citi Premier

  • 3X ThankYou points on travel including gas
  • $95 annual fee (usually waived the first year)
  • You can redeem points directly for airfare at the Citi ThankYou travel portal for 1.25 cents per point.
  • LEARN MORE

US Bank Altitude Reserve

  • Earn 5X points on prepaid hotels and car rentals booked directly in the Altitude Rewards Center and 3X points for eligible travel purchases and mobile wallet spending.
  • $400 Annual Fee
  • $300 Annual Credit for eligible travel purchases and takeout, food delivery and dining purchases
  • Travel Protections
    • Travel Accident Insurance
    • Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption
    • Trip Delay Reimbursement
    • Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver
    • Emergency Evacuation and Transportation/Repatriation of Remains Coverage
    • Lost Luggage Reimbursement
  • LEARN MORE

American Express Platinum Card

  • 5X Membership Rewards points on airfare booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel plus 5X points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com
  • $695 annual fee
  • The card comes with $200 airline fee credit, $200 Uber credit and $200 Hotel Credit for Amex Travel bookings.
  • Travel Protections
    • Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption Insurance (up to $10,000 per trip, to a maximum of $20,000 within a 12 month period)
    • Trip Delay (delays of 6 hours or more. Up to $500 per trip, limit of 2 claims per 12 months)
    • Car Rental Loss and Damage Insurance
    • Baggage Insurance Plan (up to $2,000 per checked bag, $3,000 for carry-on bag, maximum combined total of $3,000 per person, $10,000 per trip)
    • Premium Global Assist Hotline
  • LEARN MORE

American Express Business Platinum Card

  • 5X Membership Rewards points on airfare booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel plus 5X points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com
  • $595 annual fee
  • Use Membership Rewards® Pay with Points for all or part of a flight with your selected qualifying airline, and you can get 35% of the points back, up to 500,000 bonus points per calendar year
  • Travel Protections
    • Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption Insurance (up to $10,000 per trip, to a maximum of $20,000 within a 12 month period)
    • Trip Delay (delays of 6 hours or more. Up to $500 per trip, limit of 2 claims per 12 months)
    • Car Rental Loss and Damage Insurance
    • Baggage Insurance Plan (up to $2,000 per checked bag, $3,000 for carry-on bag, maximum combined total of $3,000 per person, $10,000 per trip)
    • Premium Global Assist Hotline
  • LEARN MORE

Citi Prestige

  • Earn 3X ThankYou points on airfare and hotels
  • $450 annual fee
  • Points can be used for travel at 1.25 cents each for airline redemptions. It also has a $250 air travel credit.
  • No Longer available

Chase Sapphire Preferred

  • Earn 2X Ultimate Rewards points on travel and dining at restaurants
  • $95 annual fee (usually waived the first year)
  • Points can be used for travel at 1.25 cents each, so you’re actually earning 2.5% on travel purchases.
  • Read more about the card
  • Travel Protections
    • Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver
    • Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption Insurance (up to $10,000 per person, $20,000 per occurrence, up to a maximum of $40,000 within a 12-month period)
    • Trip Delay Reimbursement (delays of 12 hours or more, or overnight. Up to $100 per day, up to 5 days)
    • Lost Luggage Reimbursement (up to $3,000 per covered person, per trip)
    • Baggage Delay (if delayed 6 hours or more. Up to $100 per day for up to 5 days)
    • Travel Accident Insurance
  • LEARN MORE

Crystal Visa Infinite Card

  • 3X on gasoline, airline, hotel, taxi, rental car, train, bus, restaurant, fast food and takeout food dining purchases
  • $400 Annual Fee
  • The card comes with $250 Airline Incidental Fees Statement Credit per Calendar Year.
  • Read more about the card

American Express Gold Card

  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $250 Annual Fee
  • Travel Protections
    • Baggage Insurance (up to $500 per checked bag, $1,250 for carry-on bag, maximum combined total of $3,000 per person, $10,000 per trip)
    • Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver
  • LEARN MORE

Barclaycard Arrival Plus

  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • $89 annual fee
  • Miles have a fixed value of 1 cent each but you get a 5% redemption bonus, making it a 2.1X card. The card was gone for a while but is back now with a 60K bonus.
  • Read more about the card

US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Card

  • 2X FlexPoints on the category you spend the most on (at gas stations, grocery stores or airlines). Worth up to 3% in travel.
  • $49 Annual Fee (waived first year)
  • The card has a signup bonus, currently at 20K FlexPoints
  • Read more about the card

Other 2% Cards

Cards with 5% Rotating Categories

Some card also have 5% rotating categories each quarter. Grocery stores and supermarkets usually appears a few times every year, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye out if you have these cards, and maximize the spending when possible.

Card How 5x Works Activate  
Chase Freedom Flex 5X Ultimate Rewards points on $1,500 per quarter Activate LEARN MORE
Chase Freedom 5X Ultimate Rewards points on $1,500 per quarter Activate No longer available
Discover it 5% cashback on $1,500 per quarter Activate LEARN MORE
ABOC Platinum Rewards 5x points on $1,500 per quarter Register once LEARN MORE
Citi Dividend 5% on up to $6,000 spend for the whole year, can be earned in any quarter N/A No longer available
US Bank Cash+ 5% cashback on $2,000 per quarter Activate LEARN MORE
Vantage West Card 5% on $1,500 per quarter N/A LEARN MORE

Please let me know if there’s any other cards that you think should be included in the list, especially if they’re widely available. And also share your opinions on which card you would consider as the best overall.

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3 thoughts on “Best Credit Cards for Travel Purchases

  1. which have primary rental insurance instead of secondary?
    what things typically don’t count for trip delay or cancellation?

  2. Don’t just consider the earning rates, use a card that includes travel protection such as trip delay / interruption insurance, well worth the 1+% you might get with a card that doesn’t include the protection. For example, $500 fare gives you $5 per 1%. Cashing in on a travel benefit one time will pay for that $5 at least 100 times. Also, the extra peace of mind is priceless.

    • Good point Adam. I’ll start adding which card offer some kind of protection/insurance. It is important for travel purchases, especially now.

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