Have you given up on how everyone and their dog can somehow afford to travel the world seemingly every other month, but not you? Don’t throw the towel in just yet! One of the lesser-known ways to become a globetrotter without thousands in the bank, is by using a travel credit card. However, not all of them are equal.
What you really need, is one of the best credit cards for travel rewards in 2019. These cards will give you the best bang for your buck, and will have you traveling from Sydney to Seattle with ease and extra cash in your wallet!
The Platinum Card from American Express
The first item on the list, is The Platinum Card, by American Express. You’ve probably already heard about it, as it’s a great card all-around; not just for travel purposes. For new cardholders, you’ll be pleased to find that you can earn 60,000 bonus Membership Rewards points, after spending $5,000 with the card within the first three months that you have it. That may seem a bit difficult on paper, but if you use it for regular expenses like gas, groceries, etcetera, you’ll probably find that $5,000 is surprisingly easy to spend without splurging on anything.
When we hear the word “platinum”, most of us probably have thoughts associated with luxury and exclusivity. If you like that idea, you’ll love The Platinum Card. It’s designed for more high-end travelers who enjoy seeing the world without sacrificing comfort.
There are various perks that are more than worth it, but we’ll get into that later. Let’s talk about why it initially caught our eye.
It’s not just the whopping 60k bonus that put this plastic on our list. The premium card can create the pathway to some incredible award flights, along with other highly valuable redemptions. If you take a look at the Membership Rewards program’s 20 travel partners, you’ll find Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer, which is the sole option available if you want to use the ultra-posh Singapore Suites by utilizing your miles. As far as other bonuses go, you’ll also receive a stunning 5 points per dollar on airfare. If we use our head a bit, we quickly see that this is about a 95% return on airfare purchases, which is almost unheard of. Similarly, you’ll receive 5x Membership Rewards points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com.
Don’t have a contracted chauffeur? Now you do! With up to $200 in Uber rides each year, you can even reach Uber VIP status, making sure you always have someone to take you where you need to go, complete with the luxury you deserve.
When your Uber driver takes you to the airport, the exclusivity does not stop there. You’ll receive access to the Global Lounge Collection, which is actually the sole credit card airport lounge access program that exists, which includes proprietary lounge locations around the globe. No more having to wait in uncomfortable, hard plastic chairs while dealing with someone half-asleep on your shoulder or not being able to find a comfortable place to catch up on work or have a coffee.
While on your trip, you’re going to want to shop. It’s part of those travel bug side effects. We encourage you to check out Saks Fifth Avenue, where you’ll receive up to $100 in statement credits per year with purchases at the store. Finally, on your way back home, you may find that you have notably heavier luggage due to all of those purchases. Checked bags are now much less of an issue, as you’ll also receive a whopping $200 in airline fee credits and up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees (possibly more at certain airlines).
With such incredible benefits, are there any downsides?
There aren’t many, but we do feel that the $550 annual fee is insanely high as far as your average credit card goes. Essentially, if you’re going to spend a lot on travel, then it’s without-a-doubt, worth it. However, if you’re only planning on traveling every now-and-then on less costly destinations, you may find that you’ll be coming close to how much you’d spend without the card. Also, it’s a good idea to keep in mind that not all merchants accept American Express, like they do with Visa and Mastercard.
Not sure if you qualify?
The recommend a credit score of 690 and up, of course, it’s best to check it out for yourself!
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Named a “Best Travel Credit Card of 2017” by MONEY Magazine, it’s easily made its way into a special place on our list for the best travel credit cards of 2019, too. It consistently ranks as the best premium travel card on the market, and for plenty of good reasons. You’ll receive amazing benefits from using the card, and even from just having the card in your wallet!
What kind of rewards are we talking about?
Try a $300 annual travel credit which can be used toward an array of purchases, along with the ability to redeem points at 1.5 cents each through the Chase travel portal, which is pretty impressive. If you choose, you can transfer them at a 1:1 ratio to various different hotel and airline partners, as well. Not only that, but if you just carry this card, all Ultimate Rewards points you earn on other Chase cards can be used at the 1.5-cent rate, too! It pays to have Chase, doesn’t it?
What kind of rates on points do you get with travel?
Well, after using the initial $300 travel credit Chase gives you, you’ll get 3x points on travel and dining purchases, which is a bit over a 6% return. While the last card did have a higher annual fee, the $450 annual fee that the Chase Sapphire Reserve has is steep, too. However, it easily makes up for it in benefits.
Now, let’s talk a bit more about those specific benefits.
Aside from that $300 travel bonus, you also get reimbursed every four years for the application fee for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, which is $85 and $100, respectively. You’ll receive 3x travel rewards points for every dollar spent on travel, and 1x on all other purchases.
Is that not enough for you?
Perhaps exclusive access to over 1,000 airport lounges around the world with one-time enrollment in Priority Pass Select, will make it a little more desirable. Never have to spend those hours at the airport in discomfort, again and make travel a little more pleasant.
So, what are the downsides?
Just the annual fee, really. If you’re a frequent traveler, however, this will more than pay off in the benefits you’ll receive. Overall, it’s a top-of-the-line travel card which offers premium rewards and perks without you even having to do anything.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
No, you’re not seeing double; next on our list of the best travel credit cards, is another Chase Sapphire card! This time, we’re talking about the Chase Sapphire Preferred. While we will say we overall, preferred the Reserve, both have their pluses and minuses.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two best credit cards for travel, is the annual fee. While the former has quite a large fee, this one only comes in at a mere $95, which is even waived for you the first year. While that’s a bonus, you are, unfortunately, going to see lower earning rates and juicy extras, such as lounge access and various credits.
Rather than earning 3x travel and dining points, you’ll only receive 2x that with the Preferred. Also, the point value for UR portal redemptions is at a rate of 1.25 cents, rather than the 1.5 with the Reserve. It may not seem like a huge difference, but trust us, it adds up.
What kind of trip protection do you receive?
You’ll find that both cards have very similar benefits, however, there are some major differences, as well. With rental car insurance, for example, you’ll only receive primary coverage, with “expensive and exotic cars” nowhere in the picture. With the Reserve, in contrast, you’ll receive reimbursement for up to $75,000 for theft and collision. Roadside assistance will cost you approximately $60 per service call, while the Reserve has you covered for up to $50 per incident, four times a year. Trip delay insurance gives you up to $500/ticket for delays of 12 hours or more/overnight stays, while the other cuts that in half, at just 6 hours or more.
Lost luggage reimbursement and baggage delay insurance are the same for both cards. You’ll receive up to $100/day for up to 5 days on baggage delay, and up to $3,000 per person with lost luggage. Both are pretty impressive.
The final two differences between the travel credit cards, are the travel accident insurance coverage, and purchase protection. With the Preferred, you’ll get $500,000 for common carrier loss of life benefits, and $1,000,000 with the Reserve, and $100,0000 for 24-hour loss of life, with the Preferred and the Reserve. Purchase protection gives you up to $500 per claim and up to $50,000 per account with the Preferred, and the Reserve, up to $10,000 each claim and up to $50,000 annually.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred does have its own shining points, though. Unlike so many travel cards tied to certain airlines or hotel chains, you can use this one in various places. Earn a whopping 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the initial 3 months, as well, which is over $600 towards travel. No foreign transaction fees make international travel a bit more pleasant, and with no blackout dates or travel restrictions, you’re all set for traveling whenever is most convenient for you! A little bonus that we also loved, was that the card is metal, rather than plastic. Not only does it make it more travel-friendly, but it really gives it something special.
So, what didn’t we like?
Overall, it was just the lack of special benefits, such as free checked bags, priority boarding, or lounge access around the world. However, if you’re someone who enjoys traveling but don’t feel you’d do it enough to justify a $450+ annual fee, then this offers great flexibility in earning and redeeming rewards, making it an excellent choice for many.
Capital One Venture
Named “The Best Travel Card” by CNBC in 2018, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is easily one of the most desirable travel rewards credit cards out there due to its flexibility and various benefits, such as its one-time bonus of 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months of having the account (equal to about $500 in travel).
As one of the best sky miles credit cards, the 2x miles rate on purchases makes it easy to earn and redeem miles, so you can travel all over the world without having to spend a fortune. Keep in mind that the miles don’t expire as long as you have the account, and there’s no limit to how many miles you can earn. The downside to the card, is that you can’t transfer your points to a transfer partner as you could with the Sapphire Preferred. As far as redeeming those miles go, you can do it as a statement credit towards travel-related purchases, or simply book travel through Capital One.
As there’s no minimum amount to redeem with this mileage credit card, you can use your rewards to pay for even the smallest things, such as a few-dollar taxi ride to the hotel! There’s also no foreign transaction fees, so no downside to withdrawing abroad!
What’s the annual fee like?
Much like the previous card, you don’t pay any fee for the first year, and it’s $95 for each subsequent year. Overall, while it’s an excellent card for gaining miles and flexibility, you also won’t see those airline-specific perks as you may see with comparative options. If you find yourself using only one particular airline, you may find you’ll want to go with a card co-branded with them instead.
Bank of America Travel Rewards
If we were to solely talk about the best travel credit cards with no annual fee, few would compare to the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card. Use your card to book your tip exactly how and where you want. In contrast to many other cards, you don’t have to be limited to just certain websites with blackout dates and restrictions.
This card makes it easy to rack up points for travel, by earning an unlimited 1.5 points per each dollar you spend, with points that don’t expire, and with no blackout dates or restrictions. This means that it’s not only just easy to gain points, but it’s easy to actually redeem them for exactly when and what you want!
Did we mention that after making purchases of $1,000 or more in the first 3 months, you’ll earn 25,000 bonus points (previously 20,000) that can be used towards travel on any airline or hotel? While it may not be the 50,000 points that can be earned on other cards, it’s still quite impressive, considering there are no annual fees going on here.
What’s more, is that starting at a mere 2,500 points, you’ll start redeeming points towards travel credits or cash rewards. You can also redeem points for just about anything relating to travel expenses, such as cruises, hotels, baggage fees, rental cars, and of course, flights!
When we travel, it can be a bit stressful worrying about how secure the transaction terminals are. However, with this card, you’ll receive chip technology for boosted security and protection and chip-enabled terminals, which is what you’ll find in most parts of the world.
Already a Bank of America customer?
Then you’ll love this travel rewards card even more. You’ll receive an additional 10% customer points bonus on each purchase you make, when you have an active BoA, Merrill Lynch, or Merril Edge account (checking or savings)! Oh, and if you’re a Preferred Rewards client, take that bonus up to an impressive 25% to 75%! Your Preferred Rewards and credit card bonus points are based on your combined balances in your BoA accounts, as well as your Merrill Edge and Merrill Lynch investment accounts. As they grow, so do your Preferred Rewards benefits and bonus points. No foreign transaction fees and a 0% APR for the initial 12 billing cycles on all purchases make this card even more appealing to travelers.
So, what were we less-than-impressed with?
It is a bit more restrictive than your standard cash-back credit card, where you receive the most value for your points when redeemed for travel and travel-related purchases. If you find yourself with higher-than-average monthly spending in certain areas or are fine with paying an annual fee, we suggest looking at some other options on our guide, that will provide you with higher rewards, as well as better sign-up bonuses.
United Explorer Card
Remember when we mentioned airline-specific credit cards? If you find yourself loyal to the airline giant that is United, then you absolutely have to consider the United Explorer Card.
You’ll find yourself with a massive 40,000 bonus miles after just spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 90 days your account is open, with no introductory annual fee the initial year, and a $95 annual fee the subsequent years, which isn’t bad at all.
The airline credit card offers 2 miles each dollar spent at restaurants and hotel stays (which is pretty standard for major airline credit cards), so you’re earning travel as you just go about your normal routine of eating out and sleeping in hotels while traveling. In fact, you’ll find that travel is now much more pleasant and less expensive with the United card. Check your (and a companion’s!) first bag for free when you use your card to purchase your ticket, and get up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check Fee credits!
Tend to make United in-flight purchases? You now get 25% back on that!
You’ll no longer have to squeeze by people struggling to fit their luggage in the overhead bin, with priority boarding privileges, and you’ll even get to visit the United Club with 2 one-time passes annually, for your anniversary! The card also offers primary rental car insurance, so you’ll no longer have to stress about that.
Are there any negatives?
Really, just the fact that other airlines offer free checked bags for more travelers. Not only that, but you are obviously limited to redeeming rewards for just United, or other Star Alliance partners, so it’s not all that flexible. However, if you’re a big United flyer, this is just the card for you!
Choosing the best travel credit card of 2019, is going to depend greatly on you and your needs. You’ll want to consider the annual fee, how often you travel and how much you typically spend on travel, the rewards rate, sign-up bonuses, travel protections, and more.
To make the most out of your card and benefits, we highly recommend planning your card application around a large purchase so you can get that sign-up bonus from the first 3 months of purchases. Not only that, but redeeming rewards for travel instead of gift cards or cash back is going to give you the best bang for your buck. It can be a confusing process, but we can assure you that whichever one of these travel credit cards you select, that you’ll be in very capable hands! See you in the air!