Best Travel Credit Cards: Top Rewards Picks for 2023

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Do you start planning your next vacation as soon as you return from the last one? Or are you constantly on the go with business travel? Travel credit cards can be a great way to earn rewards while you’re exploring the globe.

But do you fit the mold of someone who should carry a travel rewards card? These cards often carry annual fees. And their rewards programs are geared toward a small group of people who actually do travel a lot.

Team Clark has analyzed the travel credit card market to help you pick the best choice for you whether you’re trying to claim rewards for your travel or spend to earn free travel,

Though money expert Clark Howard is an avid traveler who carries a travel credit card in his wallet, he doesn’t think travel cards are the best fit for most people. He believes travel cards are “aspirational” for many consumers, and he says most would be better served by a standard cash back credit card.

“People pay those big annual fees and get those cards because they get sucked in by the fantasy. ‘Hey, I got this card and I’m going to Tahiti!’ and ‘Hey, I got this card, so that’s going to be me on the beach in Maui and on that ski mountain!’ And with all this, we’re actually conspiring against ourselves.”

We’ll go into more detail on why Clark feels this way later in the article.

Table of Contents

Travelers Looking for Rewards vs. Spenders Looking for Travel

Before you sign up for a new travel rewards card, you should think about why you feel the need for this type of credit card in the first place.

Typically, there are two different types of consumers who would get the most out of a travel rewards card:

Travelers Looking for Rewards

These folks are on the move a lot whether for business or leisure. And as such, they’re looking for a way to cash in on their travel with a credit card that rewards them for things like miles flown or nights stayed in a hotel. In this article, we’ll explore brand-specific cards that can help with this as well as cards geared more specifically toward business travel.

Spenders Looking for Travel

These people want to increase how much they travel and so want to earn travel-related rewards with their everyday spending. They’re looking for a way to earn a free or discounted vacation through spending on things like groceries and gas purchases. In this article, we’ll explore cards that reward everyday spending with miles or travel rewards points.

The Top Credit Cards for Travel Rewards Right Now

Best ForCredit CardAnnual FeeRewards Perk
No Annual FeeDiscover it® Miles$0Unlimited 1.5 miles for every dollar spent
No Annual FeeBank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card$0Unlimited 1.5 points for every dollar spent
Flat-Rate RewardsVenture Rewards from Capital One$952x miles on every dollar spent
Bonus Category RewardsCiti Premier® Card$953x points bonus on 5 spending categories
Sign-Up BonusChase Sapphire Preferred®$953x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases
Airline RewardsSouthwest Rapid Rewards® Priority$1492x points on local transit and commuting
Hotel RewardsMarriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card$95Up to 17X total points per $1 spent at over 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®; free night each year
Hotel RewardsHilton Honors American Express Card$07x Hilton Honors bonus points on every $1 spent with Hilton
Business TravelChase Ink Business Preferred®$953x points on travel and other business-related categories
High-Volume TravelThe Platinum Card® from American Express$6955x points on airline and hotel travel

Team Clark spent hours reviewing the market for these cards and evaluated them according to the guidelines for usage set by Clark himself. In addition to travel rewards programs, when assembling this list, we considered factors like annual fees, welcome bonuses, introductory annual percentage rates (APRs) and bonus categories.


Clark believes credit cards with high annual fees are a bad idea for most consumers. So for the purposes of these rankings, we paid special attention to the annual fees.

You can read more on our methodology for determining the best travel rewards credit cards here.

Best Travel Cards With No Annual Fees

If you would like to be rewarded with travel, these no-annual-fee cards are an option for everyday spending. They provide a nice, steady rate of return on every purchase you make with the card, and you can put those earnings toward travel, or you can redeem them for cash.

Discover it® Miles

Why We Like It: This straightforward miles card is most attractive because of the generous match at the end of the first year. For example, if you spend $10,000 with your card in the first year, you’d receive a total of 30,000 miles (15,000 earned and 15,000 from the bonus match).

Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card

Why We Like It: This is another straightforward travel card that does not have the hassle of an annual fee. If you’re not a fan of the end-of-year miles match from Discover, you’ll find an alternative bonus offer here (25,000 points for $1,000 in spending) to go along with your 1.5 points per dollar spent.

Best Travel Card for Flat-Rate Rewards

If you are looking to earn travel-based rewards on your everyday spending, you may find that a flat-rate rewards card is a good way to ensure that you’re getting a steady return on your purchases without concern over spending categories or limits.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Why We Like It: If you’re an avid traveler, you’re likely going to want a Global Entry and/or a TSA PreCheck membership. Getting one of those for free through this card offsets the $95 annual fee. And the simplified points structure lets you earn miles on everyday purchases.

Best Travel Card for Bonus Spending Categories

Citi Premier® Card

Why We Like It: The amount of spending categories that let you earn triple points is worth noting. And they line up perfectly with the type of spending someone with a travel card might be doing. You can get $100 off a $500-or-more hotel stay each year if booked through Citi’s If you’re planning one big trip per year, you can make your $95 annual fee back with that annual $100 credit offer.

Best Travel Card for Sign-Up Bonus

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Why We Like It: This card lands just right with a strong welcome bonus and an annual fee under $100. And you’re getting yourself into a pretty solid card once the sign-up bonus disappears.

Best Travel Card for Airline Rewards

Brand-specific airline cards are limiting in that they commit you to one airline, and that might mean you won’t always get the best price for your flight.


But if you’re unfailingly loyal to one airline over the rest, this kind of card can be a massive help in achieving bonus rewards points goals with that airline. We’re citing the Southwest card as an example of one we like, but you’re probably best served by checking out the rewards card offered by your favorite airline.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority

Why We Like It: A lot of the perks some other airline cards offer, such as waivers on bag fees or change, are standard for all Southwest Airlines customers. That allows this card to focus on going a little deeper with its promotions such as unlimited rewards seats and no blackout dates. Also, you’ll get an annual $75 Southwest credit that is like slashing the annual fee in half. Clark carries this card in his wallet.

Best Travel Cards for Hotel Rewards

If you make frequent hotel stays, you’ve probably figured out that it’s best to pick one of the major brands and stick with it for the perks. You can take that to the next level by getting a branded credit card.

As you might imagine, brand-specific hotel cards mostly offer rewards that you have to use at that hotel chain. But they do offer a lot of opportunities to multiply your rewards. Marriott and Hilton are the two largest brands in this space, and each has a variety of credit cards from which to choose. If you’re a frequent Hyatt or Choice Hotels customer, you may want to consider those brand-specific cards instead.

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card

Why We Like It: Cardholders receive a free reward night each year, automatic Silver Elite status and 15 Elite night credits per calendar year. The free night is valued up to 35,000 points, so it should cancel out the $95 annual fee on this card.

Hilton Honors American Express Card

Why We Like It: Hilton has three tiers of American Express cards that range from no annual fee all the way up to $450. This one is the no-annual-fee option. While the 7x points on Hilton spending is nice, you can also rack up the rewards with 5x spending on three key everyday spending categories. Terms apply. See Rates and Fees.

Best Travel Card for Business Travel

Chase Ink Business Preferred®

Why We Like It: If you have your own business, you can really rack up travel rewards points based on both your spending and that of your employees. And with a 25% redemption bonus on travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, you can make sure you get the most out of that spending. For example, you’d be able to claim travel worth $1,250 with the welcome bonus and redemption bonus combined.

Best Travel Card for High-Volume Travel

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Why We Like It: Clark recommends against spending this much on an annual fee, but if you’re a high-volume traveler who enjoys the finer things, it’s hard to go wrong with this elite card. Depending on your habits, you can recoup much of the $695 annual fee by earning the statement credit offers. Annual credits for using this card include $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts(R) or The Hotel Collection bookings (requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card(R)), $240 Digital Entertainment Credit, $200 Airline Fee Credit, $200 Uber Cash, $300 Equinox Credit and a $189 CLEAR Credit. Each of these has stipulations on spending and many of them require enrollment before purchasing, but this is a good way to earn back that costly annual fee. Terms apply. See Rates and Fees.

Clark Howard’s Warning for Travel Credit Cards

Travel cards have rewards that can help take you to the most desirable places on the globe. It’s easy to see why they’re popular.

But are they actually in your best financial interests? Clark cautions against getting too carried away with the fantasies associated with travel credit cards.


“If you’re going to do any type of airline or hotel card, you need to understand that they’re typically going to have, at minimum, an annual fee of roughly $100. And in some cases that is actually more like $300-$500,” Clark cautions.

“So you need to have a really high charge volume to make it work. I’m talking about charge volumes of a minimum of $10,000 per month to make many of these cards worth getting.”

That level of spending is often achieved by business owners. But if you’re considering this for a personal card, make sure that your monthly spending is on that level.

Clark says he sees people pulling travel cards out of their wallets all the time, but few of those people are spending enough each month to make these cards worth it.

“There are so many people that I see all around who pull out these Sky Miles reward cards, and I know that they’re not traveling constantly on Delta. They’re not charging $10,000 per month. And it just doesn’t pay,” Clark says.

So who’s actually best served by travel cards? Clark says that the market for people who spend enough to see the benefits is pretty small.

“Typically, it’s for corporate travelers who are not paying for their own tickets,” Clark says. “They use the card and the points for their personal and family travel.”

Before the pandemic, Clark averaged between 25 and 30 trips per year. This frequent travel is why he carries a Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority credit card in his wallet.

Clark Howard’s General Strategy for Credit Cards

Clark believes it’s important to have a credit card to build and maintain a solid credit history. That’s to prepare you for big life events, like a home purchase or a job application, which require credit checks.

He also believes that, before you start focusing on credit card rewards, you need to be paying off your balance each month.

If you carry a balance each month, Clark would point you to a credit card with the lowest possible fixed interest rate or advise you to avoid credit cards altogether.

Assuming you’re here because you’re looking to get the maximum benefits from your credit cards, Clark wants you to think about how you spend your money and how that might best be complemented by a card rewards program.


“Really think through your charge patterns and whether or not those rewards really give you a bang for your buck.”

Clark carries the Costco Anywhere Visa card in his wallet because he’s a frequent Costco shopper. He also likes the Citi Double Cash card because its unlimited 2% cash back program is so simple.

Methodology for Travel Rewards Credit Card Analysis

For the purposes of determining which travel rewards cards are “best,” we got input from Clark and sought to find cards that fit his credit card strategy best.

Team Clark spent many hours reviewing the travel rewards credit cards on the market, assessing them for several factors including:

  • Annual fees (Clark recommends avoiding them)
  • Travel rewards programs
  • Welcome bonuses
  • Length of introductory APR periods
  • Balance transfer introductory periods
  • Additional fees (transaction or otherwise)
  • Perks offered to cardholders

We did not factor in non-introductory APRs as a part of the evaluation, because interest rates will vary based on your financial circumstances. If you’re able to follow Clark’s advice to pay off your balance every month, the regular interest rate shouldn’t matter to you anyway.

We also did not include offerings from local or regional banks or credit unions because those cards aren’t available to everyone. Often, local institutions will have desirable cards, so we recommend that you compare your local bank or credit union’s travel rewards credit cards to the ones that have made this list.

To see the rates and fees for the American Express cards featured, please visit the following links: Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: See Rates and Fees; The Platinum Card® from American Express: See Rates and Fees.

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