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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 road trips: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card
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.
More: The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is the best credit card for travelers
Best overall: 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. So if you don’t know what you’re planning to do yet this summer, or if your plans change each year, this card offers the kind of flexibility that meets your need, for a reasonable $95 annual fee.
Points: The Sapphire Preferred card earns 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on all travel and dining purchases and 1 Ultimate Reward 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 also be transferred 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 could put a cool $100 back in your bank account.
Perks: The Chase Sapphire Preferred has many great benefits in addition to how flexible the points are. It offers primary car rental insurance coverage, so you can avoid paying extra for insurance with the car rental company. Primary means that if something happens to your rental car you won’t have to make a claim to your own insurance policy first.
It also doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees for any trips you make abroad, which is key to saving up to 3% on your purchases when you travel internationally. Not to mention, you can receive 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within three months from account opening.
Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred
Best value: 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
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 road trips: Wells Fargo Propel
The Wells Fargo Propel is our pick for the best gas card, so it’s a great pick if you plan to go on a road trip this summer. But it’s not just a great card for gas purchases. You’ll also earn more rewards for other purchases you’ll be making while you travel, like at restaurants and hotels. And, the best part is that this card has no annual fee, so everything you earn back is extra money.
Points: You’ll earn 3 points per dollar spent on gas, car rentals, eating out and ordering in, ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft, transit, flights, hotels, and popular online streaming services. You’ll earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. This card essentially earns 3% back on all of the bonus categories and 1% back on other purchases because each point is worth one cent ($0.01).
Perks: The Wells Fargo Propel card comes with some awesome perks. When in North America, you’ll benefit from secondary car rental loss and damage insurance, which is a nice bonus if you plan to rent a car for your road trip because you don’t have to pay extra for the rental company’s collision or damage-waiver insurance. But, if you need to make a claim, you’ll have to go through your personal car insurance first.
If you plan to road-trip to Canada, rest assured that you won’t be charged extra for making purchases abroad because the Propel card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees (though American Express isn’t always accepted in other countries).
Finally, if you pay your monthly cell phone bill with your Propel card, you will benefit from up to $600 per claim in cell phone protection to protect your phone from both damage and theft, subject to a $25 deductible.
Learn more about this Wells Fargo card
Best for staycations: IHG Rewards Club Premier
If going away for a vacation isn’t in the books for you this summer, 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 an $89 annual fee, which is waived the first year. Beyond that, it’s a great card for a staycation 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 140,000 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.
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This article originally appeared on Reviewed: The best travel credit cards of 2021: Reviewed