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How to Choose the Best Travel Credit Card

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With endless opportunities to sign up for travel credit cards these days, it’s hard to know which one to choose. We asked The Budget-Minded Traveler Community which credit cards they prefer and why, and we’ve put the information together in this post to help you figure out which card will be best for you.

Before we start, let’s get one thing clear: we’re not here to use credit cards to accumulate stuff and debt, that doesn’t align with our priorities! We’re here to take advantage of the great opportunities credit cards offer, so we can travel more and save money while doing it.

There are several ways travel credit cards can help achieve this goal:

  • Earn cash back on purchases and put the money saved into your travel fund.
  • Accrue points or miles to use for free or discounted flights and accommodations.
  • Save money on travel insurance for flights, baggage, and rental cars.
  • Make purchases overseas with zero foreign transaction fees.
  • Some cards even include free lounge access, travel reimbursements, exclusive travel discounts, and access to TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry.

Before You Apply For a Travel Credit Card

Before you apply and assume the responsibility of a credit card, make sure:

  1. Your credit score is in good standing (usually 650+).
  2. You are capable of paying off the full monthly balance.

Reconsider your decision to apply for a travel credit card, especially if you aren’t capable of the second point above. Sometimes it’s better to work with cash.

Choosing a Rewards Card: Cash Back vs Travel Rewards

When you are ready to apply for your travel credit card, it’s time to figure out what type of card to get. As I mentioned before, two popular types of cards are those that offer cash back on spending and those that help you to accrue frequent travel points. Both can offer various additional travel benefits like travel insurance, free checked baggage, etc.

Cards with cash back rewards seem to be pretty straightforward. You get a predetermined amount of money (usually a percentage of what you spent) credited back to your account on a monthly or quarterly basis. There’s not much else to it.

Alternatively, accruing and using points/miles for travel rewards takes some effort and sometimes patience to ensure you get the best value. Choosing a card with points/miles should also depend on the frequency at which you’d use the rewards, because depending on the card, the points may expire.

Choosing between cash or travel rewards ends up being a personal preference, based on how much effort you want to put in and how likely you are to use the rewards.

Just make sure the card you choose…

  1. Is accepted where you travel. Credit cards intended for use overseas should be accepted in your planned destinations. It might surprise you that some American credit cards are not accepted worldwide. To be safe, stick to Visa and Mastercard, skip American Express and Discover.
  2. Has zero foreign transaction fees. The travel credit card you choose should have no foreign transaction fees. Basically, this means the bank will not charge you a fee (usually 3%) to convert the currency in every single transaction. These small amounts really add up quickly.

Related: How to Access Money Overseas: Debit Cards, Credit Cards, Cash, Exchange Rates, ATMs, and More

Additional Perks to Look for in a Travel Credit Card

Once you’ve ensured the credit card you want has no foreign transaction fees and it will be accepted in the countries to which you’ll travel, check for these additional perks. The more the merrier!

  • Sign up bonus (preferably with a low spending minimum).
  • No (or low) annual fee.
  • Additional spending bonuses – like higher % for restaurant/grocery/gas/travel purchases.
  • Travel bonuses like free checked baggage, priority boarding, excellent travel insurance coverage, free hotel stays, or rental car upgrades/discounts, etc.

Once You Get Your Travel Credit Card

If you chose a travel credit card to accumulate points and there is a spending minimum for bonus points, get started on it right away. Make sure you get those bonus points!

Easy ways to hit your spending minimum:

  • Set up some auto-pay options for monthly bills like car insurance or loan payments, internet/cable, and Netflix (every dollar counts!). These are things you spend money on every month anyway.
  • Use the card for large purchases you already had planned. Some examples include plane tickets, home appliances, a new laptop, etc.
  • If you can put your rent or other payments on your credit card fee-free for a month or two, do it.

Remember, it’s important to pay off the full balance every month to avoid paying interest. Don’t charge more to the card than you have cash in the bank. In some cases, it might be worth it, but make sure you can pay the balance off quickly.

Also, if you don’t have one already, make sure you create an account with the airline or hotel associated with your new card. Learn the terms and conditions of accumulating and using their points, and all the different ways to do it (like signing up for a dining for points program). Then let the fun begin!

Related: Getting the Most from Frequent Flyer Miles

Travel Credit Cards Used by Members of the BMT Community

The varying goals and preferences of our community members became apparent in a couple of recent discussions in the BMT Community Facebook group. This is the advice they shared about the travel credit cards they use.

All credit card terms and conditions are correct as of publishing date but subject to change without notice. 

Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

capital one venture travel credit card

  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No annual fee.
  • Earn 1.25 miles per dollar spent on purchases, and 10 miles per dollar spent on hotel stays using your card.
  • Redeem miles for a reimbursement of funds after making travel purchases. Also, use miles to book new travel reservations directly with Capital One.

Other perks: Auto rental collision damage waiver, travel accident insurance, complimentary upgrades and special savings at hotels, resorts and spas.

Current sign up bonus: 20,000 miles after you spend $1000 in the first 3 months.

What BMT members have to say about this card:

“Capital One Venture cards are great. None of the Cap One Cards have foreign transaction fees. But the venture cards earn travel rewards too.”

“Capital One Venture for no foreign transaction fees.”

“Capital one venture and I opened a Charles Schwab bank account that I use when I travel because they have no ATM fees and will reimburse any ATM fees you get!”

View the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card 

Chase Sapphire Preferred

chase sapphire preferred travel credit card

  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $0 introductory annual fee, then $95 annual fee after one year.
  • Earn 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining, and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases using the card.
  • Redeem points for any available reward options (cash, gift cards, travel, and products or services) or transfer them to certain frequent travel programs such as Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus, or Marriott Rewards.

Other perks: Trip cancellation/interruption insurance, baggage delay insurance, trip delay reimbursement, and auto rental collision damage waiver.

Current sign up bonus: 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months (equal to $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards).

View the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Chase Sapphire Reserve

  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $450 annual fee, plus $75 per year for each authorized user.
  • Earn 3 points per dollar spent on travel (airfare, hotels, taxis, trains) and dining, and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases using the card.
  • Use points for flights and hotels within participating frequent travel programs only.

Other perks: $300 annual reimbursement for travel purchases, $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓, access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after enrolling in Priority Pass Select. 

Current sign up bonus: 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months (equal to $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards).

What BMT members have to say about these cards:

This cards gives $400 worth of immediate savings in the first year alone, which makes the remaining $50 cheaper than other cards and much more worth it (and that’s not counting any of the value of insurance or lounge entries). My first purchase was a plane ticket, and I immediately received a $300 statement credit. My points add up quickly and I’ve already gotten two free roundtrip domestic flights in just 7 months. The flights are easy to book using points and don’t cost anything extra in cash, as is the case with other frequent flyer programs.” – Jackie

“Chase Sapphire or Chase Reserve… Don’t [let] the high annual fee scare you, worth it if you travel frequently.”

“Depends on what airlines you travel and hotels you frequent. If you aren’t someone set on a specific airline or hotel getting the chase sapphire [preferred] or the chase sapphire reserve is often the standard.”

View the Chase Sapphire Reserve card – use this link to get 50,000 bonus points (This is Jackie’s favorite card! If this post has helped you, please use this link when you apply.)

United MileagePlus Explorer

united mileage plus travel credit card

  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $0 introductory annual fee, then $95 annual fee after one year.
  • Earn 2 points per dollar spent on United flight tickets and earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases using the card.
  • Use points to travel with United or Star Alliance and other partner airlines. Points can also be used for travel upgrades, in-flight Wi-Fi, etc.

Other perks: First checked bag is free, priority boarding on United flights, and receive 2 United Club one-time passes annually. Plus, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage and trip delay reimbursement, auto rental collision damage waiver, and complimentary accommodation upgrades with the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection.

Current sign up bonus: 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

What BMT members have to say about this card:

“I have a Chase Sapphire Reserve card, but I still use my United MileagePlus Explorer Visa to buy all my United flights because of the travel perks I get: priority boarding and free checked bags, or free carry on bags now that United has implemented the new Basic Economy Fare.”

“Chase United for car rentals because they cover insurance for international rentals while many cards do not.”

View the United MileagePlus Explorer Card

JetBlue Card

jetblue travel credit card

  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No annual fee.
  • Earn 3 points per dollar spent on purchases of tickets, goods, and services made directly with JetBlue, 2 points per dollar spent on restaurant and grocery store purchases, and 1 point for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Redeem points for one-way and round-trip flights to any destination JetBlue flies with no blackout dates. Points can also be redeemed for charitable donations, Getaways vacation packages, Hawaiian Airlines flights, newspaper & magazine subscriptions. Receive 5% of your redeemed TrueBlue points back in your TrueBlue account.

Other perks: 50% savings on in-flight purchases of food and beverages on JetBlue flights, baggage delay coverage, travel accident insurance, trip cancellation & interruption reimbursement, auto rental collision damage waiver.

Current sign up bonus: 10,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

What BMT members have to say about this card:

“I personally use a Jetblue card because the signup bonus at the time was killer (20K TrueBlue miles after spending only $1000 in 3 months), there is no annual fee, and you can earn TrueBlue miles in other ways than spending with the card. I got a free RT flight from Boston>Cancun (with points left over). Then I used miles to save a few hundred dollars on costs to get to New Zealand by using a free flight to the west coast…”

View the JetBlue Card

Barclay Miles & More World Elite Mastercard

barclay miles and more credit card

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $89 annual fee.
  • Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on tickets with partner airlines and 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Redeem miles for award flights and upgrades on Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, SWISS, Star Alliance Airlines, and other partners

Other perks: Lufthansa Business Lounge access for 2 (once a year), one annual companion ticket, baggage delay insurance, trip cancellation/interruption coverage.

Current sign up bonus: Earn 20,000 miles when you make an initial purchase and pay the annual fee. Then earn an additional 30,000 miles after spending $5,000 in purchases in the first 3 months.

What BMT members have to say about this card:

“I can’t get this card as a Canadian BUT it is one that has everything I was looking for in a card and I’ve heard very good things… Check them out! I would have for sure got the miles and more if I could have.”

View the Barclay Miles & More World Elite Mastercard

travel credit cards with cash back benefits

Cash Back Rewards Credit Cards

Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card*

bank of america travel credit card

  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No annual fee.
  • Earn 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases.
  • Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars or baggage fees.

Other perks: Owners of a Bank of America checking or savings account can receive an additional 10% customer points bonus on every purchase.

Current sign up bonus: 25,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months (equal to a $200 statement credit for travel purchases).

What BMT members have to say about this card:

“… [doesn’t] charge any foreign transaction fees and [there is] no annual fee…”

View the Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card 

Uber Visa Card

uber visa travel credit card

  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No annual fee.
  • Earn 4 points per dollar spent on dining (restaurants, bars, takeout, and UberEats), 3 points per dollar spent on hotel and airfare purchases, 2 points per dollar spent on select online purchases, 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Redeem points for Uber credits, cash back, or gift cards.

Other perks: $50 credit for streaming services like Netflix or Spotify after spending $5,000 per year, mobile phone protection that covers damage or theft when you pay your mobile phone bill using the card.

Current sign up bonus: 10,000 bonus points after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months (equal to $100 in Uber credits, statement credits or gift cards).

What BMT members have to say about this card:

“Uber currently a fave as it gives 3% back on airfare and hotel, and 4% for restaurants, which clearly comes in handy and adds up!”

View the Uber Visa Card 

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

amazon prime travel credit card

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No annual fee.
  • Earn 5% cash back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market with eligible Prime membership (earn 3% without membership), 2% cash back at restaurants, gas stations, and drug stores, and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Use rewards to pay for all or a portion of all Amazon.com purchases. Rewards balance will be visible at check out.

Other perks: Lost luggage reimbursement, baggage delay, and travel accident insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, and many more useful travel perks.

Current sign up bonus: Receive a $70 Amazon.com gift card upon approval.

What BMT members have to say about this card:

“I love my amazon signature card. No foreign transaction fees and no annual fee. 5% (with amazon prime) or 3% Back at Amazon.com, 2% Back at gas stations, restaurant and drugstores, 1% Back on all other purchases.

View the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card (affiliate link) 

Avoid ATM Fees Worldwide with Charles Schwab Debit Card

Charles Schwab Travel Card

Carrying cash in the local currency while you travel is helpful and just necessary sometimes. For instance, cash is needed to pay fees at borders or to ride most public transportation. Plus, some restaurants, markets, or stores may only accept cash.

Many credit cards offer cash advance options that allow you to get cash at an ATM but it’s usually for a charge of upwards of $35 or at a higher interest rate than spending on credit. In the long run, this is not the best option.

That’s why we suggest opening a Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account. Charles Schwab is an online-only bank with no ATM machines anywhere, so they will reimburse you for all fees accumulated every single month for using other bank’s ATM machines. It can really add up!

A Charles Schwab checking account isn’t just for spending overseas. You can avoid ATM fees during domestic travel and everyday spending at home, too.

View the Charles Schwab magic debit card and use this helpful post to walk you through the somewhat complicated application process.

What BMT members have to say about this card:

“Charles Schwab is great – all ATM fees waived, no matter where. I never had an issue with them abroad (traveled to Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, and I’m keeping the account open for future travel!)

“Charles Schwab to get your overseas ATM fees reimbursed!!”

“I have the same one. Got it just Bc I travel a lot and hated taking out a huge chunk of cash. I now get money in smaller increments and never get charged.”

Related: How to Set Up a Charles Schwab Bank Account and Avoid ATM Fees Anywhere

Related: The Best Travel Advice on This Blog, According to a Reader

Join the BMT Facebook Community and contribute your advice to the next community post!

By Brittany Quaglieri with help from The Budget-Minded Traveler Community

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