Our Favorite Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Having worked in finance and sales for seven years, I have no problem talking about money, but I’ve found that generally, people (like Ellie) get anxious when the topic comes up. When we started telling people we were quitting our jobs to travel the world, however, a lot of people were not so shy. One of the biggest questions we got was how we were paying for this grand adventure. Everyone wanted to know what our secret was. But it’s not a secret! We’re just two Value Travelers rocking the travel rewards credit card game, and you can be too.

“But Rik, I’m worried about credit card debt. What about interest rates?”

Great question! Understanding interest rates is very important. The only way this strategy makes sense is if you pay off your credit card at the end of every month (or at the end of the introductory period if your card offers 0% interest for the first year). Credit cards have very high interest rates and you can find yourself getting stuck if you build up a balance that you can’t pay off every month. Instead of getting a flight for free, you may end up digging yourself in a hole. It’s crucial that you continue to spend within your means, stick to your budget, and pay off your statement balance each month to avoid paying interest on your card.

“What about annual fees, Rik?”

There are a lot of different theories about credit card annual fees. Not all cards charge an annual fee. Some cards don’t charge an annual fee for the first year, so a lot of people cancel the credit card before the annual fee kicks in. Generally, I look at what extra benefits I get from having the card and decide if it’s worth keeping or not. For example, I receive a voucher for a free night in any IHG hotel each year after I pay the $89 annual fee. Most hotel rooms cost more than $89, so I consider this a huge win! I try not to close a bunch of credit cards shortly after opening them, so I pick cards that I feel are worth the annual fee, meaning I likely will want to keep them even after I receive the introductory bonus.

“What kind of credit score do I need?”

Generally speaking, the travel cards we suggest require good to excellent credit scores (690–850). Stay tuned for a post on how to improve your credit score!

“Ok, so which travel cards are best?”

I’m glad you asked. There are a ton of travel rewards credit cards to choose from and some might work better for you than others. Below are our favorites that are helping us fund our travels this year.

(Note: Some links below are referral links, meaning we may get bonus points if you sign up for a card using our link.)

IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card (Chase Mastercard)

Annual fee: $89
Required credit score: 690–850

Why we like it: If you’re looking for a hotel rewards card, this is the one we suggest. We were already fans of IHG hotels, but we were drawn to this card by a great introductory offer. New cardholders earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 in the first three months, which equals roughly two to three free nights. Other perks include automatic Platinum Elite Status (like a boss), free room upgrades, flexible check-in/check-out times, and complimentary internet. Plus, after you pay the annual fee each year, you get a voucher for a free night at any IHG hotel. Since we’ve had this card, we’ve gotten at least five free rooms, including at amazing resorts in Thailand.

Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island, Thailand
This was the view from our Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island bungalow in Thailand that we got for FREE in November 2017 thanks to our IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card.

Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card (American Express)

Annual fee: $0 first year, then $95
Required credit score: 690–850

Why we like it: Those who frequently fly Delta will love this card. Get 60,000 bonus miles for spending $2,000 in the first three months as well as stellar perks like your first checked bag for free, discounted lounge access ($29/visit), and priority boarding in group one.

Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card (American Express)

Annual fee: $195
Required credit score: 690–850

Why we like it: If you read about the Gold Delta Card above and said, “annual fee, schmannual fee,” and, “only $2,000—I could easily spend $4,000 in three months,” then the Platinum Card (baller, baby!) is for you. In addition to the perks of the Gold Card, the higher annual fee and introductory spending limit will get you 70,000 bonus miles and a yearly companion pass for domestic flights.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card (Visa)

Annual fee: $95
Required credit score: 690–850

Why we like it: This is a great stand-alone card that offers 60,000 bonus points for spending $4,000 in the first three months. Additionally, we found a lot of value in its 1:1 point transfer program, which allows you to convert Chase Ultimate Rewards points to nine airlines and three hotel partners. Going to book your flight with points only to find you are a couple thousand short is the worst, but this card gives you an easy way to round out your total. You also get 25% more value when you redeem points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Grand Cayman Sunset
We transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points to our existing JetBlue TrueBlue account, which gave us enough points to fly round trip from Los Angeles to Grand Cayman for our honeymoon in March 2019.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card (Chase Visa)

Annual fee: $99
Required credit score: 720–850

Why we like it: If you’re a loyal Southwest Airlines customer, you need this card! Earn 40,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three months and 6,000 points each year after paying the annual fee. Google Chrome users can easily earn additional points by adding the Rapid Rewards Shopping button, which offers extra points per dollar on participating websites. We’ve gotten numerous free flights since opening this card, including our upcoming flight from Seattle to Indianapolis in July.

Venture from Capital One (Visa)

Annual fee: $0 first year, then $95
Required credit score: 690–850

Why we like it: The benefit of this card is that you can use your points to reimburse any travel expense, including plane tickets, Airbnb, hotel rooms, train tickets, Uber/Lyft, etc.; you’re not tied to a specific airline or hotel group. Just use your card for travel purchases and redeem expenses with your points for up to 90 days. Earn 50,000 points for spending $3,000 in the first three months and a credit of up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check.

British Airways Visa Signature Card (Chase)

Annual fee: $95
Required credit score: 690–850

Why we like it: While the introductory offer for this card is different from when we opened it, you now get 4 Avios points for every dollar spent within the first year. This card isn’t what it was when we used it to purchase our flight to Argentina, but you can still rack up points for British Airways and its partner airlines. It’s worth noting that we no longer have this card and, until they change the introductory offer, we would not recommend this card unless it is being used as a complement to another rewards program such as the American Airlines AAdvantage program.

(Note: Annual fees, credit score requirements, and introductory offers are subject to change. The information above is accurate at the time of posting.)

There are a ton of travel rewards credit cards out there and there’s really no wrong answer. We’ll be sharing tips on picking the right card for you in another post soon. Remember to follow the rules: spend within your means, stick to your budget, and pay off your statement balance each month. Do that and you’ll be traveling on the cheap in no time!

Comment below to let us know what think or if you have any questions.

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