Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards of 2016

Travel rewards credit cards are awesome. Play your cards right, and you can save thousands of dollars in travel expenses simply by paying for your everyday purchases (and travel costs) with plastic. Savvy cardholders also score valuable perks, such as free passes to airport lounges, free checked baggage, hotel upgrades, and priority boarding, at no extra cost.

Travel Rewards Credit Card Strategy

travel credit card strategy

You need a game plan to make the most of your travel rewards. Travel reward cards are a moving target. Signup bonuses expire. Annual fee waivers are reinstated, and rewards rates can change. It pays to keep up with developments and make sure you are maximizing your travel rewards. Don’t worry it’s not rocket science and I have already done all the heavy lifting for you.

When planning your deck of travel rewards credit cards:

  • Choose cards that compliment each other. For instance, if you have a card that provides high reward rates on dining and travel, combine it with another card that has high rates on gas and groceries, or even better, on all purchases.
  • Have one (maybe two) credit cards you stick with. Choose cards that offer 2x points (or higher) on all purchases, have flexible rewards programs and include generous travel benefits. The rest of the cards you can churn through and cancel before it’s time to pay the second annual fee. Notice that most of the “winners” in this list waive the annual fee for the first year.

Consider these guidelines when using your travel credit cards

  • Never spend money just to meet a signup bonus threshold. The moment you spend more just to get points you start working for your credit cards instead of having them work for you.
  • Whenever possible, apply for two or three credit cards at the same time. For instance, if you know you are going to make some large purchases within a short period of time. Make it count and spread it over two or more cards. Every time you apply for a new credit card, you receive a credit pull, which will reduce your credit score a little (5 to 10 points). However, credit score algorithms often count credit pulls performed withing a short period of time as a single pull. The idea is to allow consumers to shop around for the best rates without worrying about their credit score. So do all your “card shopping” within a week and you will minimize the hit to your credit score.

If your household spends $1,000 to $1,400 a month on expenses that can be paid with a credit card, you can realistically work through 4 travel cards within a year. For most families, this is not difficult. The average U.S. household spends $500 a month on food, $303 on health care, $250 on gas, $215 on entertainment, and $76 on car insurance: a total of $1,344. And that doesn’t include many other expenses you can charge to your card, such as utilities. If you use four of the cards in this list you can earn over $2,000+ just in signup bonuses. A great start toward your next vacation stash.

travel-credit-cards-planning-2

Methodology

Before I jump into our Top 5 Travel Card list, there are some things you need to understand about my methodology when choosing these cards.

Also, read >  How to Find the Best Credit Card for You?

Without further ado, here are the best travel cards of 2016. See below for more details on each card and an explanation of why they made the cut.

BEST ALL AROUND TRAVEL CARDS OF 2016

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

sapphire_preferred_card

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Credit Needed:  Excellent
Standard APR: 15.99%
Annual Fee: $95, waived the first year
Reward Details: 2 points for each $1 spent on restaurant meals, 1 point for every $1 spent for all other purchases.

Signup Bonus: 50k Ultimate Reward points ($625 in travel purchases) after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months and 5k for adding the first authorized user.

Additional benefits:

  • A classy metal card design
  • Premium travel protection benefits, such as trip cancellation insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver
  • Trip delay reimbursement.

Chase’s Sapphire Card is our overall winner because of its killer signup bonus, flexible rewards program, 0% foreign transaction fees, travel perks, and 2x points on dining and travel purchases.

How to Use It: Add an authorized user (you don’t have to actually give him the card) and put everything on this card until you meet the $4,000 threshold in the first 3 months. Once you receive the signup bonus use it to pay for dining and travel expenses as a compliment to the Capital One Venture card.

Capital One Venture Rewards Cardcapital-one-venture-rewards-credit-card

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent
Standard APR: 12.99% to 20.99%
Annual Fee: $59 (Waived the first year)
Signup Bonus: 40,000 bonus miles ($400 in travel statement credit) after you spend $3,000 within the first three months. The Capital One Venture (as with Barclaycard Arrival Plus) allows you to make travel purchases with any company or website you choose. Once you make a travel purchase, just redeem your miles as a statement credit toward the cost. I love this feature because it allows you to use discount travel websites and doesn’t tie you to an airline or hotel chain.

Rewards for the Capital One Venture Rewards Card

Venture cardholders earn 2x points on all purchases. Simple. No games. In effect, you are getting a 2% cash back on all purchases, which you can put toward your travel expenses.

Drawbacks of the Capital One Venture Rewards Card

  • It has an annual fee

Barclay ArrivalPlus CardAFB_arrival_WMC-fee

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent
Standard APR: 15.99% or 19.99%
Annual Fee: $89, waived the first year
Reward Details: Each purchase earns 2 miles for every $1 spent

The 12-month 0 percent introductory APR makes the Barclaycard ArrivalPlus Credit Card ideal for people who carry balances. Cardholders also earn 40,000 bonus miles for spending 3,000 dollars within 90 days of obtaining the card and redeem miles with no blackout dates.

BEST BUSINESS TRAVEL CREDIT CARDS

Chase Ink Plus 

Chase Ink Plus Top Travel Cards 2016

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The Chase Ink Plus Business Card is the best business travel credit card for rewards of 2016. Cardholders receive a 60,000-point signup-up bonus for cardholders who spend $5,000 within the first three months of opening an account. In other words, you get $750 credit for travel expenses. The card does have a $95 annual fee, but the just signup bonus will pay for the first 7 years.

Rewards for the Chase Ink Plus Business Credit Card

This card allows you to earn:

  • 5 points for every dollar you spend on office supplies, cell phones, internet, cable TV, and landline service up to $50,000 of combined purchases a year
  • 2 points for every dollar spent on hotels — when purchased directly through the hotel — and gas stations up to $50,000 a year
  • 1 point for every other dollar you spend with no limit
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The Ink Plus uses Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program, which is valued at 1.25 cents a point. Cardholders can transfer points to other loyalty programs. Business owners can set spending limits for employees, and there is no charge for additional cards.

Drawbacks of the Chase Ink Plus Business Card

  • The only downside of the Ink Plus is you don’t get traveling perks that are standard with other prime travel credit cards, such as priority boarding and waived baggage fees.

If you’re interested in business cards, read 9 Best Business Credit Cards of 2016.

BEST AIRLINE REWARD CREDIT CARDS

Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card from American Express

Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card from American Express

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The Gold Delta SkyMiles business Credit Card from American Express is ideal for business owners who spend a lot of time traveling, especially on Delta flights. Cardholders earn 30,000 bonus miles after spending at least $1,000 during the first three months after obtaining the card. You can also earn a $50 statement credit by making a Delta purchase within the first three months after receiving the card. Your first bag flies free, and there are no foreign transaction fees.

Rewards for the Gold Delta SkyMiles business Credit Card

  • Earn 2 miles for every $1 spent on qualifying Delta purchases
  • 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases

Drawbacks of the Gold Delta SkyMiles business Credit Card

  • Low reward rate for a business card
  • $95 annual fee

Frontier Airlines Credit Cardfrt_card_rrgb_lynxwm

Credit Needed: Excellent
Standard APR: 15.99% to 24.99%
Annual Fee:  $69
Reward Details: 2 miles for each $1 for purchases made on frontier.com, 1 point for each $1 spent on all other purchases.

Frontier Airlines Credit cardholders receive 40.000 bonus points after spending just 500 dollars during the first 90 days of holding the card, redeemable for two round trip domestic tickets.  Balance transfers made within the first 45 days of obtaining the card carry a 0 percent APR.

 

PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American ExpressAMEX-Travel-Card-Art@2x

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent
Standard APR: 9.99% to 17.99%
Annual Fee: $0
Reward Details: 5 points for each $1 spent on airfare, 1 point for each $1 spent for all other purchases

Pentagon Federal (PenFed) Premium Travel Rewards American Express Credit Cardholders receive a 200 dollar bonus by spending 2,500 dollars within 3 months of obtaining the card.  Cardholders must join the credit union, but eligibility can be obtained by becoming a member to one of two designated organizations.

BEST HOTEL REWARDS CARDS

Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express

Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

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Credit Needed: Excellent
Standard APR: 15.494% to 19.49%
Annual Fee: $95, waived the first year
Reward Details: 5 Starpoints for each $1 spent at Starwood hotels

Cardholders earn 2 free nights at participating SPG Category 1-5 hotels and resorts after you make $5,000 in purchases. Starwood Preferred cardholders also receive access to Sheraton Club Lounges and can redeem points for free flights with 150 airlines. If you don’t have a small business (even sole proprietors with microbusinesses can qualify for this card) consider the personal card version of the American Express Starwood Preferred.

Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature CardClub-Carlson-VisaD

Credit Needed: Excellent
Standard APR: 14.24% to 23.24%
Annual Fee: $75
Reward Details: 10 points for every $1 spent at Carlson Rezidor hotels, 5 points for every $1 spent for all other purchases

The Carlson group includes well-known hotel brands such as Radisson and Country Inn and Suites. Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Cardholders receive 50,000 bonus points after their first purchase, 35,000 more bonus points after spending at least 2,500 dollars within the first 90 days of obtaining the card and 40,000 bonus points annually, redeemable for free hotel nights. That is enough for 9 free nights worldwide.

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IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Cardihg_card

Credit Needed: Excellent
Standard APR: 15.99%
Annual Fee: $49, waived the first year
Reward Details: 5 points for every $1 spent at IHG hotels, 2 points for every $1 spent at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants.

The IHG hotel group includes such prominent brands as Holiday Inn, Intercontinental and Crowne Plaza. IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card holders enjoy IHG Rewards Club Platinum elite status for as long as they have the card and earn 60,000 bonus points after making at least 1,000 dollars in purchases within the first 3 months of obtaining the card.

Hilton Hhonors Surpass Credit Cardhilton-surpass

Credit Needed:  Excellent
Standard APR: 15.24% to 19.24%
Annual Fee: $75
Reward Details: 12 points for each dollar spent at Hilton hotels, 6 points for every $1 spent for gas, groceries, cable, wireless Internet and at drug stores 3 points for every $1 spent for everything else.

Card holders receive 60,000 bonus points for spending at least 3,000 within the first 3 months, redeemable for up to 12 free hotel nights at Hilton properties worldwide. There is also a 25 percent point bonus for Gold Status members.

 

BEST ROAD TRIP REWARDS CARDS

PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature Credit CardScreen-Shot-2013-03-20-at-6.43.50-PM

Credit Needed:  Good, Excellent
Standard APR: 9.99% to 17.99%
Annual Fee: $0
Reward Details: 5 points for every $1 spent on gas, 3 points for every $1 spent on groceries, 1 point for every $1 spent on everything else.

Besides a generous cash back rewards program, the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature Card carries no foreign transaction fees. Cardholders must belong to the PenFed Credit Union, either by residence, volunteerism, relationship to an eligible member or purchasing a membership in one of two designated organizations.

 

Blue Cash Preferred Card from American ExpressBlueCashEveryday

Credit Needed:  Excellent
Standard APR: 12.99% to 21.99%
Annual Fee: $75
Reward Details: 6% cash back at grocery stores, 3% cash back at gas stations, 1% cash back for everything else.

The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express awards new cardholders with a 150 dollar bonus for spending 1,000 within 3 months of opening an account.  Card members also enjoy travel and car rental insurance, roadside assistance and extended warranty protection for purchases made using the card.

 

BEST CARDS FOR FINANCING TRAVEL

Chase Slate Card06598_Card_D0001_rsp

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Credit Needed: Good, Excellent
Standard APR: 12.99% to 22.99%
Annual Fee: $0
Reward Details: 0% APR for purchases and balance transfers made during the first 15 months after obtaining the card.

The absence of annual fees and a 15-month 0% introductory APR translates into significant potential savings for customers who carry balances on the Chase Slate card.  There are also no balance transfer fees for transfers made within the first 60 days after obtaining the card.

 

Citi Diamond Preferred Cardcitibank-diamond-preferred-card

Credit Needed:  Good, Excellent
Standard APR: 11.99% to 21.99%
Annual Fee: $0
Reward Details: 0% APR for balance transfers and purchases made during the first 21 months after obtaining the card.

With its generous 21-month 0% percent introductory APR, using the Citi Diamond Preferred Card for vacation related purchases is the next best thing to paying cash. The card also represents an excellent opportunity to reduce everyday debt loads.

Getting the Most Bang from Your Travel Buck

Still can’t see a travel reward credit card that works for you? SuperMoney’s credit card search engine is a useful tool to filter through the hundreds of credit cards available and find the one that best fits your priorities and preferences. Yes, it’s free.

Credit Card Search Engine