Choosing a Travel Credit Card in 2020

Hotel view of the beach in Cancun Mexico

Perhaps you’re like me, and you’ve put off choosing a travel credit card.  Maybe you aren’t sure if they are worth the annual fees, or whether they give you any additional benefits over your current credit cards. 

Well, I have been in the same boat as you.  I’ve received the offers in the mail, and I’ve heard friends talking about their travel credit cards, but I never made the leap to get one myself.  Now that I look back on all my travel, I realize I have missed out on a lot of miles and bonus travel rewards.  So, this year, I decided I would do some research and decide on a travel credit card.

This article is the outcome of that research. I hope it helps you decide whether or not a travel credit card is right for you and helps you choose the best card based on your travel spending patterns.

Are Travel Credit Cards Still Beneficial in 2020

2020 is an entirely different year than any I have experienced, and I’m guessing you would probably say the same. You may have wondered whether or not it even makes sense to get a travel credit card this year.  I mean, we haven’t really been able to travel yet this year.  So what’s the use of a travel credit card if you can’t use it for travel?  

Money.com answers this question and explains some of the travel benefits you can earn during this time when travel is limited.  In their article on the Best Travel Cards in 2020, they explain that credit card companies are adapting to the current COVID-19 restrictions. Some are extending the eligible purchases window to give you more time to earn your sign-on bonuses. Many of them currently allow you to accrue bonus points for non-travel purchases such as groceries and streaming services. 

As you can see, there are a variety of benefits you can still receive as well as accrue points for future travel based on your current non-travel purchases.  Travel credit card companies are adapting to the present situation and providing incentives and options for future travel.  

I’ve also listed some travel credit card options that allow you to accrue travel miles based on everyday purchases.  These are an excellent choice during times like this when you are unable to make travel-related purchases.

Why You Might Want a Travel Credit Card

In case you’re not sure why you would want a travel credit card, here is a quick summary of some of the benefits they provide.

  • Earn travel rewards for purchasing you’re already making. Choose a travel credit card that rewards your everyday purchases, and you’ll get points to use on future travel for things you were going to buy anyway!
  • Get a complimentary companion fare.  Some airline travel cards reward you with complimentary companion fares–all you do is pay the taxes and fees!
  • Ever wished you could use those nice airport lounges? Some travel cards give you access to over 1,000 airport lounges.  That means a quiet place to rest, plug in your laptop, get complimentary hot coffee and snacks, and relax before your flight.
  • Get free upgrades on hotel rooms and flights.  Travel cards allow you to get exclusive upgrades with partnered hotels, and some even allow you to receive complimentary upgrades on flights.
  • Most travel credit cards offer no foreign transaction fees, and let me tell you from experience–those really add up!  Early on in my travels, I learned this lesson the hard way.  I quickly switched to only using a card with no foreign transaction fees.
  • You get added protection when you travel.  Travel credit cards offer a wide range of trip insurance coverage, lost luggage reimbursement, and even reimbursements for flight delays.
  • The main reason you might want a credit card is to accrue mileage points to use toward future trips.  You’re already spending the money on travel and everyday expenses, why not be rewarded with even more while doing it!

Researching the Best Travel Credit Cards

Now that we’ve established why you might want one and that travel credit cards are beneficial even during this no-travel period, I want to quickly go over my research to find the best travel credit cards.  I read numerous articles on this subject, specifically searching for the most up-to-date information for 2020 card options. I also looked over the travel credit card offers I received in the mail for comparison.

After reviewing all of the available options I narrowed them down based on the categories I thought would interest most people. 

I’ve summarized my research into the following categories.  Feel free to jump ahead and see my top picks for each group.

can't buy happiness but you can buy a plane ticket quote

Best First-Time Travel Credit Cards

These are my top two choices for someone looking to get their first travel credit card but aren’t ready to pay the high annual fees charged for the more luxury credit cards.  Perhaps you only travel a few times a year, and you’re not sure you could maximize all the benefits of the luxury cards. These travel cards are an excellent place to start. Both provide great travel benefits, even when compared with some of the “luxury” cards.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Currently, Chase offers new cardmembers 60,000 bonus points when you make $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after opening an account.  Cardmembers also earn 2X points on travel and dining and 1 point per dollar spent on other purchases.

You can redeem your points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards site to receive 25% more return on travel-related purchases. Rewards earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card also give you a 1 to 1 point transfer with a variety of frequent flyer programs such as Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus, and many others.

Other benefits include trip cancellation insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, and trip reimbursement. They also offer exclusive bonuses for Door Dash and Lyft customers. Additionally, you can redeem reward points for other non-travel related purchases. 

When used with Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program, you can get more bang for reward-buck with the Sapphire Preferred card than say the below Venture Rewards card.  However, it is not as straight forward as some might prefer. See the Chase Sapphire Preferred website for more information on benefits and restrictions.

Quick Overview:
  • Low annual fee of $95
  • 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 during the three months after initial sign-up.
  • 2X points on travel and dining and 1X for all other purchases.
  • Extra redemption benefits through Chase Rewards as well as 1:1 point transfer with airline/travel partners.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees
  • A variety of trip insurance and travel protection benefits
  • Primary car rental insurance.
  • Additional offers for cardmembers with DoorDash subscriptions or Lyft accounts. 

Capital One Venture Rewards Card

The Capital One Venture Rewards travel credit card offers an easy way to earn points. There aren’t separate categories for earning miles. Instead, you earn 2X miles rewards for every dollar you spend on all purchases. New cardmembers get 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months after initial sign-up. 

There are no foreign transaction fees with the Capital One Venture Rewards card.  Cardmembers receive travel accident insurance, car rental coverage, and extended warranty protection on qualified purchases. Redeem reward points for flights, hotels, and even use them to pay for purchases on Amazon.com.  

You can also transfer rewards points to a variety of travel partners such as EVA Air, Jet Blue, and Air France. Another benefit not offered by Chase Sapphire Preferred is the reimbursement of up to $100 for the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee. 

The Venture Rewards card is a good choice if you plan to use it for everyday spending vs. travel purchases. Its simple accrual and redemption of points will appeal to many who prefer to find their own travel deals rather than book through a specific travel site such as Chase Travel. Visit the Capital One Venture Rewards card website to learn more about additional benefits and restrictions.

Quick Overview:
  • Earn 2X miles rewards on all purchases.
  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 during the three months after initial sign-up.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Low annual fee of $95
  • A variety of trip insurance and travel protection benefits
  • Transfer miles to other travel partners, redeem points for travel-related purchases and even use for non-travel purchases on Amazon.com
  • Receive up to $100 reimbursement for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fees.

Best Luxury Credit Cards

This category is best suited for frequent travelers—those that travel for business or work, rather than the vacation traveler. Review your travel needs to determine whether the high annual fees are worth the travel benefits you receive and what you will use.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Card

The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card is similar in many ways to the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.  I highlight the extra benefits the Sapphire Reserve offers and where it might make sense to choose it over the Sapphire Preferred. If you want to look at an in-depth comparison of the two cards, I recommend reading this comparison done by The Points Guy.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a travel credit card designed with the frequent traveler in mind. As such, it has travel perks not seen on the lower-tier Sapphire Preferred card. Benefits such as complimentary access to over 1,000 airport lounges or complimentary room upgrades at luxury resorts worldwide.  

Cardmembers also receive up to $100 every four years as reimbursement for the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee. Additionally, Chase Sapphire Reserve cardmembers earn an annual $300 credit for travel purchases charged to your account each year. If you factor in the yearly $300 credit, then the $550 annual fee is only $250.  Cardmembers who use Lyft will also receive 10X the points on Lyft rides vs. 5X with Chase Sapphire Preferred.

New cardmembers receive 50,000 in bonus points after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of opening an account. Earn 3X points on travel and dining (2X on the Sapphire Preferred) and 1 point per dollar spent on other purchases. Redeem your points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards site to receive 50% more return on travel-related purchases (Sapphire Preferred was 25%). See the Chase Sapphire Reserve website for additional benefits and restrictions.

Quick Overview:
  • Annual fee of $550. 
  • $300 annual travel credit.
  • Access to over 1,000 airport lounges worldwide.
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 during the three months after initial sign-up.
  • 3X points on travel and dining and 1X for all other purchases.
  • Extra 50% redemption value when redeeming points through Chase Rewards
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees
  • A variety of trip insurance and travel protection benefits
  • Receive up to $100 reimbursement for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fees.
  • Earn 10X points on Lyft rides as well as extra benefits for DoorDash subscribers.

American Express Platinum Card

If you travel mostly in the U.S., another luxury card option to consider is the Amex Platinum card. It has a lot of the same benefits as the Sapphire Reserve, with a few rewards options not offered with the Sapphire Reserve.  However, Amex cards are not as widely accepted internationally as Visa or Mastercard, so you may have to carry a second card with you as a backup.  

Some of the benefits the Amex Platinum has over the Sapphire Reserve are an annual Uber credit up to $200, up to a $100 credit to Saks Fifth Avenue, gold status with Marriot Bonvoy and Hilton Honors, and a more extensive airport lounge network with access to over 1,200 airport lounges.

Currently, Amex offers 75,000 bonus points (usually 60,000) when cardmembers make $5000 in purchases within the first three months after sign-up.  You’ll earn 5X points when booking flights and hotels directly through the Amex Travel site and 1X points for all other purchases. You’ll also receive an annual $200 airline fee credit to cover fees charged by participating airlines. See the American Express Platinum website for additional benefits and restrictions.

Quick Overview:
  • Annual fee of $550. 
  • $200 annual airline fee credit to use towards baggage fees and in-flight beverage fees, etc.
  • $200 in annual Uber credits
  • $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue credits annually.
  • Access to over 1,200 airport lounges worldwide.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 during the three months after initial sign-up.
  • 5X points on travel and hotels booked directly through Amex Travel and 1X for all other purchases.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees
  • A variety of trip insurance and travel protection benefits
  • Receive up to $100 reimbursement for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fees.
  • Excellent travel customer service and personalized travel planning with Amex Platinum Travel Counselors

Best Airline Credit Cards

Choosing an airline credit card will be a very subjective choice.  It depends on which airline you tend to travel with the most.  I list two options I would consider for an airline credit card based on my travel preferences.  You will need to review both and see if either of these match up with your travel habits.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card

If you are a frequent flyer with Southwest Airlines, then consider getting the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card.  This travel credit card has an annual fee of $149, but if you frequently fly with Southwest, the cost quickly pays for itself. 

New cardmembers will receive 40,000 bonus points when they spend $1,000 during the first three months after opening an account. Cardmembers also receive 7,500 bonus points annually on their cardmember anniversary.  Earn 2X points on all Southwest Airlines purchases and 1X points on all other purchases.  Cardmembers also receive a $75 annual credit from Southwest, four upgraded boardings per year, 20% back on in-flight beverages and WiFi, and no foreign transaction fees.

Cardmembers can also earn up to 15,000 tier-qualifying points each year to use towards A-list status rewards like priority boarding and same-day standby flights. Another fantastic benefit of using a Southwest travel card is it allows you to earn points toward receiving your Southwest Airlines Companion Pass

With a Companion Pass, you can bring a friend or family member for free (just pay taxes and fees) on any flight you take! That is an excellent benefit!  Did you know Southwest now flies to the Hawaiian islands?  Yup, you could become the most popular person at this year’s Christmas party. See the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card website for additional benefits and restrictions.

Quick Overview:
  • Annual fee of $149.
  • Earn 40,000 bonus points for new members after spending $1,000 in the first three months after sign-up.
  • Receive 7500 bonus points annually.
  • Earn 2X points on all Southwest purchases and 1X points on all other purchases.
  • $75 annual Southwest travel credit
  • Four upgraded boardings per year, plus 20% back on in-flight beverage and WiFi purchases
  • Earn up to 15,000 tier-qualifying points to help you achieve A-list status rewards.
  • No foreign transaction fees.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card

If you live on the West Coast and frequently fly with Alaska Airlines, then consider the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card. Currently, new cardmembers receive 40,000 bonus miles and one companion fare after making $2,000 in purchases during the first 90 days of sign-up. The current offer also includes a $100 statement credit.

Cardmembers also receive an annual companion fare every year on their account anniversary.  The Alaska Famous Companion Fare means you only pay around $121 for a second companion ticket valid on Alaska flights book on alaskaair.com. You’ll also receive free checked bags for you and up to 6 guests on the same flight. 

Earn 3X miles for every $1 spent on Alaska Airlines purchases and 1X miles for all other purchases. Cardmembers also get 50% off day passes at Alaska airport lounges and 20% back on all in-flight purchases when you pay with your Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card. 

Although Alaska Airlines is primarily a West Coast-based airline, you can redeem mileage points to over 800 destinations worldwide on Alaska Airlines flights as well as with their global airline partners such as British Airways, Korean Air, and many others.  Upgraded Points wrote a detailed article on the various ways you can redeem your Alaska miles. 

See the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card website for additional benefits and restrictions.

Quick Overview:
  • Annual fee of $75.
  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles, an extra companion fare, and receive a $100 statement credit after making $2000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening an account.
  • Earn 3X miles on all Alaska Airlines purchases and 1X miles on all other purchases.
  • Receive an annual companion fare on your cardmember anniversary each year.
  • Get 50% Alaska airport lounge day passes and 20% back on in-flight purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees.

Best No Annual Fee Travel Credit Cards

I know for some people the biggest drawback to choosing a travel credit card has been the annual fees.  Before my research, I would think, “why would I pay a credit card company just to use their credit card?” After doing a little homework on the subject, I can see that with the right card, the fee is quickly paid for in rewards benefits.  

That said, I realize you might not be ready to pay an annual fee.  So here are a couple of good choices for travel credit cards with no annual fee.

CapitalOne VentureOne Rewards Card

The VentureOne Rewards card is CapitalOne’s no annual fee counterpart to the CapitalOne Venture Rewards card I mentioned above. With the VentureOne Rewards card, you’ll earn 1.25X miles per dollar you spend on all purchases. New cardmembers will receive 20,000 bonus miles when they spend $1,000 during the first three months of opening an account.

One thing that makes this no fee card unique is that in addition to redeeming miles for statement credits, you can also transfer the miles to any of CapitalOne’s travel loyalty partners.  This is typically only an option with travel credit cards charging annual fees.  It can be a little complicated to learn when to use the statement credit and when to transfer the miles to a travel partner, but here is an article that explains some of the miles transfer options.

Cardmembers also receive rewards like travel accident insurance, extended warranty coverage, rental car coverage, and no foreign transaction fees. In addition to redeeming rewards for statement credits and transferring to travel partners, you can also use your rewards point on Amazon.com purchases. See the VentureOne Rewards website for more benefits and restrictions. 

Quick Overview:
  • No Annual Fee
  • Earn 20,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening an account.
  • Earn 1.25X miles on all purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Travel Accident Insurance
  •  Car Rental Coverage
  • Transfer miles to other travel partners, redeem points for travel-related purchases and even use for non-travel purchases on Amazon.com

Discover it Miles Card

The Discover it Miles credit card is another option to consider when looking for a travel credit card with no annual fee. It offers a unique bonus to new cardmembers that I haven’t seen from other credit card companies. Instead of giving you a fixed bonus after you spend “x” amount of dollars, Discover offers a one-year unlimited bonus.

At the end of your first year, Discover matches all the miles you’ve earned for the entire year! So the more you spend, the more you get. The regular earnings rate is 1.5X miles for every dollar spent on all purchases and no foreign transaction fees. So this means in the first year you’ll effectively earn 3X miles for every dollar you spend.

Cardmembers can redeem their miles as a statement credit or have them deposited as cash in their bank account (one mile equals one cent).  There are no blackout dates, no foreign transaction fees,  your miles never expire, and you won’t lose your miles even if you close your account.  

However, similar to American Express cards, Discover is also not as widely accepted internationally as Visa or Mastercard.  Thus, you might need to bring a secondary credit card when traveling abroad. For more information on benefits and restrictions, visit the Discover it Miles card website.

Quick Overview:
  • No Annual Fee
  • Earn an unlimited first-year bonus. Get an unlimited miles match at the end of the first year for all miles earned.
  • Earn 1.5X miles on all purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Travel Accident Insurance
  •  Car Rental Coverage
  • No minimum for redeeming miles.
  • Redeem for travel or cash.
Time is more valuable than money quote

Deciding Which Card is Right for You

Deciding which travel credit card is the right one for you is a personal choice.  Review the sign-up bonuses and the regular earning of miles/points.  For example, if you typically spend on everyday purchases (rather than travel) such as groceries, bills, and online shopping, then you might consider the CapitalOne Venture card over the Chase Sapphire Preferred.  

If you’re a frequent flyer with Southwest, then considering that card is a no brainer. Perhaps you aren’t ready for an annual fee, then either the Discover it card or VentureOne Rewards card make great choices. You must analyze your spending and traveling habits to determine which travel card is best for you. 

Some argue that to truly maximize all the available travel benefits, more than one travel credit card is needed.  Many people have an “everyday” credit card that gives them the best rewards for everyday spending and then one that rewards them for travel purchases. Using two cards allows them to maximize rewards for both categories and provides even more significant travel benefits each year.

Credit Score & APR

Another important thing to consider is your credit score.  The cards on this list require average to excellent credit scores to qualify. You might try an airline card or a cash rewards card for starters as you build up your credit score.  Most of the travel credit cards will want a credit score of 650 or higher.  

And one final point I want to make, these cards are not low APR credit cards.  So if you aren’t prepared to pay off the balance each month I suggest you wait and consider getting a low interest rate card instead.

There are a variety of things to consider when getting a travel credit card. I hope this article narrows down which options to research when determining the one that is right for you. Whenever there is an opportunity to get free travel benefits, I think it’s worth looking into.  I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to do it! Please let me know if you have any questions, and I will do my best to help!  

Happy Travels!

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