Best travel credit cards of September 2020
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The best travel credit cards can earn thousands of dollars worth of luxury flights and hotels or put cash in your pocket. Here at Million Mile Secrets, we constantly track down the best rewards credit card, reveal the real deals and toss away the junk. We even tell you which credit cards we use.
Summary of the best credit cards for travel
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Best for its overall value
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Best for premium perks
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Best for business travel
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for premium travel
- American Express® Green Card: Best for earning Amex Membership Rewards on general travel purchases
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card: Best for award flights with no blackout dates
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Best for Marriott hotels
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for premium business travel
- Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express: Best for Hilton hotels
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card: Best for simple travel rewards
|Credit Card||Best for||Annual fee|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Its overall value||$95|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||Premium perks||$550|
|Ink Business Preferred Credit Card||Business travel||$95|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||Premium travel||$550 (see rates & fees)|
|American Express®️ Green Card||Earning Amex Membership Rewards on general travel purchases||$150 annual fee (see rates & fees)|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card||Award flights with no blackout dates||$199|
|Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card||Marriott hotels||$450 (see rates & fees)|
|The Business Platinum Card® from American Express||Premium business travel||$595 (see rates and fees)|
|Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express||Hilton hotels||$450 (see rates & fees)|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||Simple travel rewards||$95|
Best credit cards for travel rewards
When you’re approved for the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you’ll earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred’s benefits and perks include the ability to earn 2x on travel and dining, 5x points on Lyft rides (through March 2022) and one point per dollar on all other purchases. You can get a ton of value from your Chase Ultimate Rewards points by transferring them to a Chase transfer partner.
And in response to the current pandemic, Chase has added a temporary yet valuable benefit called Pay Yourself Back, wherein you can use your Chase points to give yourself a statement credit to offset purchases at dining establishments, grocery stores and home improvement stores. From May 31 to September 30, 2020, you can redeem your points for 1.25 cents each.
Also, between July 1 and September 30, 2020, you’ll earn:
- 5 Chase points per dollar on streaming services (up to $1,500 in spending)
- 3 Chase points per dollar at gas stations (up to $1,500 in spending)
- 3 Chase points per dollar with Instacart (up to $3,000 in spending)
You’ll also receive up to $50 in statement credits towards an Instacart Express membership. Instacart is a grocery delivery service, and its membership will give you free deliveries on select purchases, and protect you from surge pricing. Read this post for more details.
Why it’s the best for its overall value
The Sapphire Preferred is one of the top cards for beginners in the miles-and-points hobby. I’ve had this card for many years and I take it on all my trips. When you subtract the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s $95 annual fee from the value of the welcome bonus and the card’s benefits and perks, the card’s value is pretty clear.
With a bonus worth $1,000 (based on our Chase points valuation) and a paltry $95 annual fee, you can get a first year value of $1,105.
When you sign up for Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve benefits include the ability to earn 3x Chase Ultimate Rewards points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit), 10x points on Lyft rides (through March 2022) and dining worldwide and one Chase point on all other purchases.
You’ll receive a free year of a Lyft Pink membership when you activate it by March 31, 2022. Lyft Pink is a membership that normally costs $19.99/month and comes with perks, like:
- 15% off all rides
- Three free cancellations a month (if you rebook within 15 minutes)
- Three free bike/scooter rides per month
- Priority airport pickups
- Waived lost and found fees
To activate your membership, just add your Sapphire Reserve card as a payment option in your Lyft app and you’ll be prompted to activate your Lyft Pink membership.
You’ll also now receive:
- 10 Chase points per dollar on streaming services (up to $1,500 in spending)
- 5 Chase points per dollar at gas stations (up to $1,500 in spending)
- 5 Chase points per dollar with Instacart (up to $3,000 in spending)
You’ll also get up to $50 in statement credits towards an Instacart Express membership. Read this post for more details.
Why it’s the best for premium perks
The best perk of this card is the annual $300 in travel credits, which are automatically earned whenever you make a qualifying purchase, including airfare, hotels, rental cars and more. And due to the COVID pandemic, Chase has made it even easier to use this credit (and added others!) by implementing additional perks.
For example, from June 1, 2020, through the end of the year, the annual $300 credit will also reimburse you for purchases at gas stations and grocery stores. And with the new Pay Yourself Back benefit, Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders can Chase points to give yourself a statement credit to offset purchases at dining establishments, grocery stores and home improvement stores. From May 31 to September 30, 2020, you can redeem your points for 1.5 cents each.
The card also comes with $60 in DoorDash credit in 2020 and another $60 in credit in 2021. The credit will automatically be applied to DoorDash orders when you pay with the card. On top of that, you’re also eligible for at least a year of free DashPass (normally $9.99/month), you must activate the offer by Dec. 31, 2021. DashPass gets you waived delivery fees on orders of $12 or more at participating restaurants.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is the best premium travel rewards credit card. The Sapphire Reserve sign-up bonus is worth at least $750 in travel. And with the $300 annual credit for travel purchases every cardmember anniversary, that’s $1,050 in value in the first year, not counting other money-saving perks you enjoy as a cardholder.
In addition, everyone planning to renew their Chase Sapphire Reserve this year will pay just a $450 annual fee (as opposed to the $550 standard annual fee). Making this card even more valuable for current cardholders.
With the Chase Ink Business Preferred card you’ll earn 100,000 bonus Chase points after spending $15,000 in the first three months from account opening.
The Ink Business Preferred benefits include the ability to earn 5x Chase points on Lyft rides through March 2022, 3x Chase points on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines (up to a maximum of $150,000 in combined purchases per account anniversary year) and one point per dollar on all other purchases
The card also comes with built-in insurance perks like, cell phone protection, primary rental car insurance (when renting for business purposes), trip interruption coverage and purchase protection.
Why it’s the best for business travel
The Ink Business Preferred is the best card for earning Ultimate Rewards points, thanks in large part to it’s increased 100,000-point bonus offer. With the Chase Ink Business Preferred you can use Chase points to pay for travel booked through the Chase travel site at a rate of 1.25 cents per point. That makes this offer worth at least $1,250 in travel.
We value Chase points at two cents each making this offer worth an amazing $1,905 after you pay the $95 annual fee.
The Amex Platinum card’s benefits are quite valuable and include an annual airline incidental fee credit of up to $200 on your selected airline; up to $200 in Uber credits per year (can be used for UberEATS) and up to $100 in credit for Saks Fifth Avenue per year. With the Amex Platinum card, you’ll get access to more airport lounges than with comparable cards. And for a limited-time you’ll get up to $320 in credits for select streaming services and wireless phone services purchased from U.S. providers. You can receive up to $20 per month in each category from May to December 2020.
Why it’s the best for premium travel
The American Express Platinum card is worth the annual fee if you use the perks and credits. Each year you can get up to $500 total in credits for Uber, Saks Fifth Ave. and airline incidental fees. That means you’ll easily come out ahead if you can get just $50 in value from the other benefits like airport lounge access. And the limited time offer for streaming and wireless phone services can offset the travel perks you won’t be able to take advantage of.
If you max out the card’s statement credits (up to $500) and only get value from the intro bonus ($1,200 based on our Amex points value), you should still get $1,150 in value the first year.
The Amex Green Card has some unique benefits that can save you time and money with a solid 3x Amex Membership Rewards points on both travel and worldwide restaurant purchases — two popular spending categories. Cardholders will get yearly statement credits of up to $100 when using the Amex Green Card to pay for a CLEAR membership, plus up to $100 in LoungeBuddy statement credits per year.
Because of COVID-19’s impact on travel Amex has added up to $80 in statement credits for wireless phone services purchases directly from U.S. providers. You can earn $10 back each month from May through December 2020. This card has a $150 annual fee (see rates and fees) and no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).
The card does carry an annual fee of $150, but if you’re able to take advantage of the card’s benefits throughout the year, you can easily come out ahead. You can see our full guide of who should (or shouldn’t) get the Amex Green Card.
The intro bonus is worth $600 (based on our Amex points valuation) and with the CLEAR and LoungeBuddy credits you could end up with a first year value of $650 after paying the $150 annual fee.
When you open this card, you’ll earn up to 100,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points; earn 70,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Plus, an additional 30,000 points after you spend $25,000 on purchases in the first six months.
The Southwest performance business card’s benefits are especially useful for those who travel with Southwest a lot. Cardholders will get up to 365 inflight Wi-Fi credits (worth $8 each) each year. This is the best Southwest card for earning points because you’ll get triple points on Southwest purchases and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners; 2x points on social media and search advertising purchases and internet, cable and phone service purchases; and 1x Southwest points on all other purchases. In addition, you’ll get 9,000 bonus Southwest points every cardmember account anniversary (worth ~$135 in Southwest flights)
This card has a $199 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. Read our Southwest Performance Business credit card review to learn more about the card.
Using Southwest points is incredibly easy. There’s no Southwest award chart; instead, if there’s a seat for sale, you can book it with points. The price of an award flight is tied to the cost of a paid ticket, so if there’s a Southwest fare sale, you’ll need fewer points.
The Southwest Performance Business card’s annual fee is outweighed by the perks like, Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application-fee credit (worth up to $100) and 1,500 tier-qualifying points after every $10,000 in purchases (on up to $100,000 in purchases every cardmember year).
Southwest points are worth (on average) 1.5 cents each, making this bonus worth $1,500 in Southwest flights. Plus every year you’ll get 9,000 bonus points (worth $135) and up to 365 Wi-Fi credits, worth $8 each. And, you can potentially almost double that amount if you have the Southwest Companion Pass. The good news is that this bonus counts toward earning a Companion Pass.
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card comes with 75,000 Marriott points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
The top Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant benefits from this card include an annual statement credit (up to $300) to use each membership year at participating Marriott hotels (including room charges) and an annual free night (at participating Marriott hotels worth up to 50,000 points) after you renew your card.
The card also offers Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership (you can bring up to two guests) and Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit (a value of up to $100) every four years. These are musts for frequent travelers.The card has a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees) and no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).
The annual fee is high, but the additional money-saving perks can make it worth the annual fee, depending on your situation. The annual free-night award is particularly valuable because it’s valid at hotels that cost up to 50,000 Marriott points per night. Because COVID-19 has negated much of the value of this card’s travel perks, you can use the up to $300 Marriott credit at U.S. restaurants (including takeout and delivery) from June through August 2020.
We value Marriott points at .8 cents each, making the bonus ($800) and Marriott credits ($300) worth $650 after you pay the annual fee. That’s a solid bonus when you consider that we’re not even adding in the annual award night.
The Amex Business Platinum card has a 75,000-point bonus that you’ll earn after spending $15,000 on the card in the first three months from opening the account.
The Amex Business Platinum earns 5x Amex points on flights and prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel, 1.5x points on single purchases of $5,000 or more (up to one million points per calendar year) and one point per dollar on all other purchases. Every year you can also earn up to $400 in statement credits, you’ll get up to $200 in airline fee credits with your selected airline and up to $200 in Dell credits for U.S. purchases ($100 from January-June and $100 from July to December). Also, your application for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck will be reimbursed if you pay with your Amex Business Platinum card.
Amex has also added some temporary benefits to the card because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on travel. First off, from May to December 2020 you can earn up to $320 in credits for U.S. shipping purchases and wireless phone services purchased from U.S. providers. You can earn up to $20 per month in each category. And you can earn an additional up to $200 in Dell credits for U.S. purchases ($100 in additional statement credits from May 1 through June 30, 2020 and up to $100 in additional statement credits between July 1 and December 31, 2020).
Why it’s the best for premium business travel
If you can take full advantage of its benefits the Amex Business Platinum card is worth the annual fee of $595 (see rates and fees). The up to $400 in annual credits can offset most of the fee, so you only need to get more than $195 in value from the rest of the card’s perks to make it worthwhile. And special credits that have been added as a result of COVID-19 can make up for the missed travel perks.
This card’s bonus is worth $1,500, based on our valuation of Amex points. Once you factor in the $400 in yearly credits and subtract the annual fee, you can easily get a first year value of $1,305.
The Amex Hilton Aspire comes with 150,000 Hilton points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in your first three months of account opening.
There’s a reason this card is so great for Hilton stays – you’ll earn a whopping 14x Hilton points at participating Hilton hotels. You’ll also get excellent benefits like an annual weekend-night award (at participating Hilton hotels) and automatic Diamond Elite Hilton status.
In addition, the Hilton Aspire’s benefits include up to $250 in Hilton resort credit each card-member year and up to $250 in airline fee credit with your selected airline each calendar year, both of which will save you money. And because of the COVID-19 shutdown, from June to August 2020 the up to $250 in resort credits will also apply to purchases at U.S. restaurants, including delivery and takeout. Also, any purchases that post to your account from May 1 to December 31, 2020, will count toward earning elite status, including lifetime Diamond status.
With the Priority Pass Select membership that comes with the card, you have access to 1,200+ airport lounges. This card has a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees) and no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).
Why it’s the best for premium business travel
Like other premium cards on this list, Hilton Aspire the annual fee is hefty. But it’s a good deal if you can make the most of the card’s perks. Plus, you’ll earn a second free-weekend-night award at participating Hilton hotels each calendar year if you spend $60,000+ in eligible purchases on your card.
Hilton points are worth around .5 cents each, making this card’s bonus worth $750 and you can easily offset the card’s $450 annual fee with the Hilton resort and airline incidental credits.
After approval, you can earn up to 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.
In addition to the card’s valuable welcome bonus, the Capital One Venture’s benefits and perks, include 2x Venture miles on all purchases, a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck (up to $100) and no foreign transaction fees.
The card also comes with Visa Signature benefits, like secondary rental car insurance, travel accident insurance and lost luggage insurance.
Being able to earn two Venture miles on every purchase is pretty great, especially because you don’t have to worry about tracking bonus categories — everything is simple and straightforward. The card has a $95 annual fee.
Why it’s the best for simple travel rewards
One thing that makes the Capital One Venture worth the annual fee is its straightforward rewards program. All you have to do is pay for travel expenses (such as airfare, hotel stays and parking) with your credit card, then log in to your account and erase the charge by redeeming your miles.
It also has a smaller annual fee than other cards that reimburse Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees, which usually have higher annual fees that are often between $450 and $550.
How we select the best credit cards for travel points
You know how you get credit card offers in the mail and throw them away? Not us. We open all of them, then run to get the magnifying glass and read the fine print. We spend all day looking for new credit card offers online, then we dive in to calculate the true value of the offer.
We let you in on the secrets that the airlines, hotels and cruise ship companies do not want you to know. Credit card introductory bonuses are the fastest way to earn big travel rewards without spending a ton of money. But here’s the thing – you have to know the smart ways to use these bonuses. So, we examine the details.
Credit card companies profit each time you use their card and when you pay them interest, so pay those bills on time. Like any business, they want more customers, so they create offers where you can earn a serious stash of miles or cash when you open a new card. Some bonuses are very appealing; others are not. We sort it all out for you.
Minimum spending requirements
Here’s the catch: To earn the introductory bonus, you must spend a certain amount using your new card within a certain time frame. We like reasonable spending requirements that make it easy to get your bonus. We do list cards with bigger requirements – but only if the reward is huge.
We love seeing how people like you get to travel first class, stay in amazing hotels or earn lots of cash using our insider tips. For example, MMS reader Lori is an English teacher who took trip to Asia worth more than $30,000 for only $500. Like us, she’s a big fan of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. She took it on her epic adventure to Thailand, Vietnam and Hong Kong.
Ongoing bonus opportunities
We prefer travel credit cards that keep rewarding you even after you earn the initial big welcome bonus.
Benefits and perks
Airport lounges with complimentary food and alcohol, no foreign transaction fees and TSA PreCheck are some of my favorite perks that save money and time.
How travel credit cards work (and the different types)
There are many different styles of travel rewards credit cards and to be able to decide which one is a good fit. They each work in dramatically different ways. Let’s break down each type!
Travel credit cards that earn transferable rewards are a bit more complicated to use, but offer the most potential value. Earning transferable points is also an excellent hedge against frequent flyer program devaluations. If airline A makes a negative change to its award chart, with flexible points you’ll still have other options for making the most of your rewards.
The major transferable points programs are:
Who is this for? As transferable rewards can be converted to points or miles with many different loyalty programs, this is the perfect strategy for those who aren’t loyal to certain airlines and hotel programs. Transferable points give you the freedom to use whichever program best suits your needs.
Who is this for? Airline cards are great for those who regularly fly certain airlines, as they have airline-specific benefits. In other words, they make the most sense to open if you’re loyal to that airline or live in a hub city.
Airline credit cards are also good for those with flexible vacation plans. While you can find some amazing deals, airline miles are unfortunately subject to blackout dates and inventory restrictions, meaning if you don’t book far enough in advance, you might not be able to book your desired dates with miles. Not usually a big problem, but something to be aware of.
Opening a hotel credit card can be a great way to earn free nights and fast track your way to elite status. Cobranded hotel cards can also be good options for keeping long term because of the ongoing benefits. For example, The World Of Hyatt Credit Card has a $95 annual fee, but every year that you renew you’ll get a reward night at a Category 1-4 hotel. That free night can easily be worth more than what you pay to keep the card and you get five elite night credits every year as well.
Who is this for? While there is an exception or two, hotel credit cards work similarly to airline credit cards. You can only use the points you collect and the card’s hotel benefits for the specific hotel chain the card represents. In other words, if you have a Marriott card, you can only stay at Marriott hotel brands.
Fixed-value point cards
Some of the best card for travel points earn rewards that have a fixed value. These are the most straight-forward cards you have because the points/miles you earn can be redeem for travel (or other rewards) at a set value. The Capital One Venture card was solely a fixed-value travel point card and you could redeem your miles to erase eligible travel purchases at a rate of one cent per mile. But when Capital One added transfer partners if transformed into both a transferable points card and a fixed-value point card.
Who is this for? Credit cards that earn fixed-value points often work similarly to cash back credit cards. Simply make a travel purchase, and use your points to offset the cost. You don’t have to worry about blackout dates, award availability, etc. And you can often use the points for a myriad of travel purchases, such as airfare, hotels, rental cars, etc.
If you don’t want to worry about award charts and all that jazz, stick to this easiest-to-use travel rewards currency.
Should you get a travel credit card?
If your credit score is above 700, you should absolutely get a travel credit card. Just be sure you can pay off your balances in full each month. Miles and points are extremely valuable, but if you’re incurring interest on hanging credit card balances, you’ll negate most (or all) of the value you’re earning on purchases.
If, however, you’re very responsible with your credit, never make late payments, keep your credit utilization low, etc., your credit score will actually rise and become more robust as you apply for more credit cards. You’ll get a healthier credit mix, and your credit history will improve over time.
Frequently asked questions
What’s a travel rewards credit card?
The top travel rewards cards differ from other types of cards, like credit cards that earn cash back, in that you’ll get the most value using the rewards for travel. These cards also feature spending bonus categories tailored to travel. So you can earn bonus rewards for dining, hotels, airfare or rental cars, but the best credit cards for groceries rarely overlap with this category.
The advantages of holding a credit card that earns travel rewards cannot be understated. With the right cards, you and your loved ones can be on your way to experiencing things you never thought possible. Whether you want to plan a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the other side of the world or just simply want to visit your grandmother for the holidays, travel rewards cards can get you there.
How much is a point or mile worth on a travel credit card?
Some miles and points have a fixed value or at least a fixed value for certain redemptions. For example, you can redeem Capital One miles for one cent a piece toward eligible travel purchases. But you can also transfer Capital One miles to a bunch of different airline partners, this is where the value of your rewards gets murky. You can look at it two ways, what would you have paid for the same travel? Or, what was the travel you booked with points worth?
Let’s say you use 20,000 Delta miles to book a visit home when you would normally pay $350 for the same trip. Since you are saving $350 you could say those miles are worth 1.75 cents each. But what if you like to save your points and use them for expensive business or first-class flights you wouldn’t otherwise be willing to purchase? If you do this the value of your points goes up exponentially. For example, you can use 50,000 Alaska Airlines miles to book a one-way Cathay Pacific business-class award from the U.S. to Hong Kong. Paying cash for this same flight could easily set you back $4,000, so the value you’re getting per point is eight cents, even though you’re not necessarily saving that much.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Green Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, click here.
For the rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, please click here.
For the rates and fees of The Business Platinum Card from American Express, please click here.
Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)