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The best travel credit cards of 2021

·9 min read
Taking the family on trip? The right credit card can take the hassle out of your vacation.
Taking the family on trip? The right credit card can take the hassle out of your vacation.

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Editor's Note: We've published a new review with the best travel credit cards.

No matter where you want to go, or how you want to get there, using the right credit card can help make your trip smoother and, in certain cases, help it cost less. Credit card rewards and points can be used to offset the cost of your travel and hotel stays, or can even be redeemed for cash back to help you afford a few extra souvenirs.

If you are planning to head out on the road, these are our five cards that will help you make the most of your trip.

The best travel credit cards

  • Best overall: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

  • Best value: Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card

  • Best for air travel: Chase Sapphire Reserve

  • Best for staycations: IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

Things to know about credit cards

  • Many of the best cards come with an annual fee, but some cards offer perks each year that significantly defray (or even negate) the fee. The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card is a good example of this.

  • APR rates and credit limits vary based on your individual credit. Credit limits and interest rates for each card are determined based on each cardholder's personal situation, so we did not take that information into account when evaluating these cards. One thing to remember is that if you pay your card off in full every month, you will not be charged interest.

  • Banks have the final say on who they accept for a credit card. These recommendations were put together with the assumption that applicants would have average credit or above. That being said, banks decide who they will issue credit cards to using criteria including, but not always limited to, an individual's credit score when evaluating each applicant.

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How we evaluated

I’m a travel writer who has been writing about credit cards for the last six years and studying card benefits for many years longer. Many credit card options help elevate your travel experience, and I’ll help you figure out which option is the best for you. To examine cards, I looked at major credit cards with rewards programs around hotels and airlines, flexible points or miles, and cash back. The best cards were chosen based on the value of rewards (both points and perks), fees and flexibility.

Best overall: Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Preferred
Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred has been a favorite travel credit card for its great benefits and flexible points since it was first introduced in 2009. And it’s still the number one credit card for many types of travelers.

The Sapphire Preferred Card earns super flexible Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be used for nearly any type of travel redemption including hotel stays, cruises, car rentals and flights. This card offers the kind of flexibility that can meet your travel whims for a reasonable $95 annual fee. Plus, Chase currently offers a MEGA sign-up bonus for new cardholders.

Points: The Sapphire Preferred earns 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on travel—or 5 points when booking through the Chase portal. The card also earns 3 points per dollar spent on dining and online grocery orders, and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Ultimate Rewards points can then be used to book hotels, cruises, car rentals, vacation rentals and more directly through Chase’s travel portal with a value of 1.25 cents per point ($0.0125).

For additional flexibility, points can be transferred—at the same value—to Ultimate Rewards partners, including programs like Hyatt and United Airlines. If you just want the cash back, Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed for cash at a rate of 1 point for $0.01. So, those 10,000 points could cover a $125 night in a partner hotel or put a cool $100 back in your bank account.

Perks: The Sapphire Preferred has many great benefits in addition to how flexible the points are, and at the moment Chase offers a major sign-up bonus—its best ever—for new cardholders: Spend $4,000 within the first three months of account opening, and you'll earn 100,000 points. Yes, 100,000. That's a $1,000 statement credit or a whopping $1,250 if you book travel through the issuer's portal.

Year-round, it offers primary car rental insurance coverage, so you can avoid paying extra for insurance with the rental company. Primary means that if something happens to your rental car you won’t have to first make a claim with your own insurance policy.

For jet-setters out there, it also doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees for any trips you make abroad, which is key to save up to 3% on your purchases when you travel internationally.

Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred

Best value: Bank of America Travel Rewards

Bank of America Travel Rewards
Bank of America Travel Rewards

The main selling point of the Bank of America Travel Rewards card is that it has no annual fee, yet it still offers decent rewards on a variety of travel purchases, including no foreign transaction fees while traveling abroad. That said, it does offer fewer benefits and lower rewards than the other cards on this list. And if you have specific travel goals or plans, make sure you consider the other cards on this list as well.

Points: The Bank of America Travel Rewards Card earns 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases. In order to redeem your points, you have to pay for your travel purchase with your credit card and redeem the points as a statement credit against the cost of the purchase. Each point is worth one cent ($0.01), so if you have 10,000 points you’ll be able to cover $100 in travel purchases.

Perks: This card has only one travel perk, but it's a valuable one: No foreign transaction fees. This is somewhat unusual for a card without an annual fee, so it’s a good option to consider if you want a card without a fee but you're planning on traveling internationally in the future.

Learn more about the Bank of America Travel Rewards

Best for air travel: Chase Sapphire Reserve

Chase Sapphire Reserve
Chase Sapphire Reserve

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is the premium travel credit card with the most—and most valuable—travel benefits, making it easily our top pick if you’re flying this summer. Users earn flexible and valuable points and hugely useful perks. This card has a $550 annual fee, but its excellent returns quickly make it worthwhile for jet-setters.

Points: The Sapphire Reserve card offers 3 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit, 3 Ultimate Rewards points on dining at restaurants and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Ultimate Rewards points can then be used to book hotels, cruises, car rentals, vacation rentals and tourist activities directly through Chase’s travel portal where they’re worth 1.5 cents each ($0.015).

So, a cross country flight that would cost you $500 on an airline’s website would only cost 37,500 points (worth $375 if redeemed for cash) if you bought it through Chase’s travel portal. For additional flexibility, points can also be transferred to partners like United Airlines if you want to combine it with your frequent flyer miles.

Perks: The Chase Sapphire Reserve doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees for purchases made abroad. This perk is an absolute must if you plan to travel internationally because foreign transaction fees can be as much as 3% on cards that charge them. That adds a significant amount to the cost of a trip.

The Sapphire Reserve also offers primary car rental insurance coverage up to $75,000 in physical damages or theft, meaning you don’t have to pay extra for the car rental company’s insurance and if something happens to your rental car, you won’t have to make a claim to your own insurance policy first.

You’ll also benefit from trip delay coverage, trip cancellation coverage, and lost and damaged baggage coverage which means that you may be able to get away without purchasing additional travel insurance. What’s more, the Sapphire Reserve offers a $300 travel credit each year, where the first $300 in travel purchases (from taxi fares to hotels to flights) made on your card will be refunded via a statement credit, effectively reducing the annual fee to $250.

You’ll also receive an application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck every four years, and a Priority Pass Select Membership, giving you access to over 1,000 airport lounges around the world. These travel benefits can save you time and hassle, and maybe keep you a little saner, when you're dealing with the madness of an airport.

Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve

Best for staycations: IHG Rewards Club Premier

IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

If going away for a vacation isn’t in the books for you anytime soon, but you really need to get out of the house for a night or two, consider a staycation instead. The IHG Rewards Club Premier has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year. After that, it's $89. But it's still a great card because of one benefit alone—the free night certificate.

Points: You’ll earn up to 25 IHG points per dollar spent at IHG hotels, 2 IHG points per dollar at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants and 1 IHG point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

Perks: The most valuable benefit of the IHG Rewards Club Premier is the annual free night reward that can be redeemed at hotels that cost up to 40,000 points. At some hotels, you might be able to get over $200 in value with your certificate, but even if you use it at an inexpensive hotel close to home, there’s a good chance that you’ll get at least $89 (the annual fee of the card) in value from the certificate alone.

Unpack your bags for a little bit longer, and there's some extra perks. After stays of at least four nights, you can redeem points for a free night.

With this card, you’ll also automatically have high-level Platinum Elite status with InterContinental Hotels Group, which scores you benefits like late checkout and room upgrades. And every four years you can receive a $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck when you charge it to your account.

Last but not least, spend $3,000 within three months of opening your account, and you'll receive a bonus of 150,000 points.

Learn more about the IHG Rewards Club Premier

Please note: The offers mentioned above are subject to change at any time and some may no longer be available.

Reviewed has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Reviewed and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

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This article originally appeared on Reviewed: The best travel credit cards of 2021: Reviewed

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