2021 Guide to Travel Credit Cards

“Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.”

After a very long year, a return to travel now seems to be drawing nearer. As a result, before you head back to the skies or hit the road, it may be worth considering adding a new credit card to your wallet that will not only compliment your upcoming travels but also earn you free flights and hotel stays in the future. What’s more, several travel-centric credit cards are now offering some of their best welcome bonuses.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at travel cards in three main categories: luxury, loyalty, and simplicity.

For Luxury Travelers

These days, there are a number of premium cards that that offer big perks in exchange for a significant annual fee. However, when used to their full potential, these cards can return great value while also making your travels more comfortable and exciting.

American Express Platinum Card

  • Annual fee: $695
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Top travel perk: Access to Centurion Lounges, Delta SkyClubs (when flying Delta), and other lounges via Priority Pass Select
  • Current public welcome offer: 100,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $6,000 in your first six months + 10x points at restaurants and Shop Small businesses during your first six months of membership (up to $25,000 in combined spending)

The Platinum Card from American Express is one I’ve written about several times — but that’s partially because I’m a cardholder myself. Part of the reason my wife and I choose the Amex Platinum was because of its unmatched airport lounge access, which not only includes Priority Pass locations but also Delta SkyClubs (when you’re flying Delta) and American Express’s own Centurion Lounges. Meanwhile, cardholders can transfer their Membership Rewards to a number of travel partners.

Speaking of Membership Rewards points, the current welcome bonus for the Platinum could send you well on your way towards a great redemption. At this time, cardholders can earn 100,000 points when they spend $6,000 on the card in their first six months. Plus, in a unique twist, you can also earn 10x points on eligible purchases on your new Card at restaurants and Shop Small businesses (up to $25,000 in combined purchases) for your first six months of card membership.

As for other travel benefits, you’ll earn 5x points on flights booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel as well as 5x points on prepaid hotel bookings made through Amex Travel. On that note, you’ll also have access to the American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts program, unlocking exclusive perks such as guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout, $100 in unique property credits, and more. So, while the $695 annual fee may seem steep, the perks you receive coupled with the $200 per year in Uber credits, $200 per year in airline incidental credits, $100 per year in Saks Fifth Avenue credits, $240 in digital entertainment credits (Peacock, Audible, The New York Times, SiriusXM), $300 in Equinox credits, $200 per year in prepaid Fine Hotel + Resort and Hotel Collection bookings, and more can certainly help make up the difference and then some.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

  • Annual fee: $550
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Top travel perk: Airport lounge access via Priority Pass Select
  • Current public welcome offer: 50,000 bonus points when they spend $4,000 on purchases on the card in their first three months

One of the most popular premium travel cards is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. In fact, the card was hailed as a game changer when it first debuted and remains a beloved option. So what is it that draws people to the card?

First, the Sapphire Reserve earns 3 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on travel purchases as well as 3x points on dining at restaurants (including delivery services and takeout). What’s more, those points can be worth 50% more when used to book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Alternatively, Chase also maintains a variety of transfer partners, including popular airline and hotel brands. New cardholders can also earn 50,000 bonus points when they spend $4,000 on purchases on the card in their first three months.

Like with the Amex Platinum, the Chase Sapphire Reserve helps offset its $550 annual fee by providing various credits. In this case, this starts with a $300 annual travel credit that can be used for numerous travel-related expenses. With this plus other benefits — such as airport lounge access via Priority Pass Select — it’s easy to see why the Chase Sapphire Reserve has so many fans.

MasterCard Black Card

  • Annual fee: $495
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Top travel perk: Priority Pass Select and Luxury Card Travel benefits
  • Current public welcome offer: None

One travel card I haven’t featured before is the MasterCard Black Card from the aptly-named Luxury Card. With an annual fee of $495, it’s in the same league as the Amex Platinum and Chase Sapphire Reserve (although it is a bit lower in price). For that price, you’ll enjoy perks such as airport lounge access via Priority Pass Select, exclusive Luxury Card Travel benefits, and more.

Another perk is that MasterCard Black Card offers an Annual Airline Credit of up to $100 on flight-related purchases. Additionally, points have a 2% value when redeemed for airfare. That said, the downsides are that the card only earns one point per dollar on purchases and currently has no welcome bonus. Therefore, it may behoove cardholders to closely compare their options.

For Loyal Travelers

If your travels often take you aboard a certain airline or to a specific hotel chain, you may benefit from what are known as co-branded cards. These cards may include such benefits as complimentary elite status (or a path to earning status), priority boarding, upgrades, and more. Here are just a few co-branded travel options:

Delta SkyMiles Cards

  • Annual fee: $99-$550
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Top travel perk(s): Priority boarding and free checked bag on most cards, complimentary SkyClub access with Reserve card

Delta’s SkyMiles cards issued by American Express consist of three annual-fee cards: Delta SkyMiles Gold, Delta SkyMiles Platinum, and the Delta SkyMiles Reserve. Each of these three-card cards entitles Delta flyers to such perks as priority boarding, their first checked bag free, and more. What’s more, with the top-tier Reserve card, you’ll enjoy access to Delta SkyClubs when flying the airline along with American Express Centurion lounges.

If you are considering a Delta SkyMiles card, now be may a great time to apply as the Gold, Platinum, and Reserve cards are offering enhanced welcome bonuses for a limited time.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Cards

  • Annual fee: $69-$149
  • Foreign transaction fees: None on Premier and Priority cards, 3% on Plus card
  • Top travel perk(s): Up to 4 Upgraded Boardings per year with the Priority card

For those who prefer Southwest when they fly, there are three credit card options for you. These include the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier, and Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority credit cards. With the latter two cards, you’ll be able to earn tier qualifying points towards A-List status. Meanwhile, with the Priority card, you’ll also be able to take advantage of 4 Upgraded Boardings per year (when available) and a $75 Southwest annual travel credit. Of course, each card also earns Rapid Rewards points, redeemable to Southwest flights.

United Cards

  • Annual fee: $0-$525
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Top travel perk(s): 25% back on United inflight purchases, free checked bag with Explorer and Infinite cards, United Club membership with Infinite card

Of the three airline co-branded line-ups we’re featuring, United’s may be the most interesting. This line-up includes the no-annual-fee United Gateway card, the $95 a year (waived for the first year) United Explorer card, and the $525 United Club Infinite card. In terms of what these cards have in common, they all earn United miles, offer 25% back on United inflight purchases, and more. With the Explorer and Infinite cards, travelers will also receive their first free checked bag and first two free checked bags respectively. Finally, the Infinite card includes a United Club membership while those with the Explorer card will get a taste of such luxury with 2 United Club one-time passes per year.

Hilton Honors Cards

  • Annual fee: $0-$450
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Top travel perk(s): Complimentary Hilton Honors status, free weekend night reward with Aspire card

If you’re a Hilton fan, one of the easiest ways to earn Hilton Honors status is to hold one of their co-branded credit cards issued by American Express. With the no-annual-fee Hilton Honors American Express card, you’ll earn complimentary Silver status. This increases to Gold with the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass card and to Diamond with the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. Additionally, those with the Surpass card who spend $15,000 on eligible purchases on your card in a calendar year can earn a Free Weekend Night Reward while the same reward is offered to Aspire cardholders each year. Finally, with each card offering Hilton Honors points on a variety of purchases, you’ll have plenty of options for earning your way to more free stays.

For Travelers Who Want More Options

Are premium cards too rich for your blood? And you’re not particularly loyal to any airline or hotel brand? Then a simple, straightforwards travel rewards card may be a better option.

Capital One Venture Card

  • Annual fee: $95
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Top travel perk: No blockout dates for reward redemptions
  • Current public welcome offer: 100,000 miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3000 on purchases in the first 3 months

With the Capital One Venture card, you’ll earn 2 miles per dollar spent on every purchase you make with the card. Then, these miles can be redeemed to stay at any hotel or fly any airline with no blackout dates. Because of this, it may be a good option for those who don’t want to worry about retaining loyalties or paying for luxury cards.

Currently, the Capital One Venture card is offering a massive 100,000-mile bonus when you spend $20,000 on the card in your first 12 months — or you can still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 in purchases in your first three months. This amounts to either $1,000 or $500 in free travel. Of course, it should be noted that the card does carry a $95 annual fee. However, if you prefer a no annual fee option, there’s also the Capital One VentureOne, which earns 1.25x miles on every purchase.

Hotels.com Rewards Visa Credit Card

  • Annual fee: None
  • Foreign transaction fees: None
  • Top travel perk: Earn ‘stamps’ that can be redeemed for free nights at eligible Hotels.com properties
  • Current public welcome offer: Earn two free rewards nights (worth up to $125 each) when you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card without your first three months days (note: excludes taxes and fees. If a night at the selected property is less than $125, cardholders will not receive the difference.)

If you’ve ever used the Hotels.com platform to book a stay, you probably know that the site features more than 500,000 properties across more than 200 countries. Thus, while the Hotels.com Rewards Visa Credit Card has a unique structure, it’s also a versatile travel option. In addition to earning a ‘stamp’ for every night you stay at an eligible Hotels.com property, you’ll also earn ‘stamps’ for every $500 you spend on the card. Then, once you have 10 stamps in total, you can redeem your reward for a free night at an eligible hotel. The value of this free night will depend on the average rate of the stays you earned the stamps from. Meanwhile, stamps earned through credit card spend will be valued the same as if you stayed at a hotel priced at $110 per night. In other words, if you earn 10 stamps by spending $5,000 on your Hotels.com card, you could redeem one free night at an eligible property costing up to $110.

At this time, the Hotels.com Rewards Visa Card also has a generous and attractive welcome offer. Now, when you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card in your first three months, you’ll earn two rewards nights — each priced at up to $125 (for a total of $250 in value). Notably, if you choose to use your rewards night for a stay that costs less than $125, you will not receive the difference. Additionally, taxes and fees are not covered by free night redemptions. Still, this is a strong offer — and potentially good option — for those already familiar with the Hotels.com program or who want to earn free hotel stays in the future.

With increased bonus offers abounding and plenty of perks to be enjoyed, now could be the perfect time to pick out a new travel credit card. Whether you’re one for luxury, want to make the most of your loyalty, or just want to keep things simple, there’s surely a card for you. As always, however, be sure to compare all of your options and run the numbers on any annual fees to ensure that you get as much value as possible from these travel-minded selections.

DyerNews has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. DyerNews.com and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.” (Note: advertising relationships do not have any influence on editorial content. Advertising compensation allows DyerNews.com to provide quality content for free. All editorial opinions are those of the individual author and/or Dyer News.)

Also published on Medium.


Kyle Burbank

Kyle is a freelance writer and author whose first book, "The E-Ticket Life" is now available on Amazon. In addition to his weekly "Money at 30" column on Dyer News, he is also the editorial director and a writer for the Disney fan site LaughingPlace.com and has recently starting publsihing his own personal finance blog at https://moneyat30.com/

Other Articles by Kyle Burbank

Money at 30: Pluto TV Review — The Pros and Cons

These days, it feels as though everyone has at least a few streaming service subscriptions. While these memberships may only be a few dollars each, those costs can add up as more services join the fray and prices rise for many. However, there is at least one service you can enjoy without paying a dime: Pluto TV. Pluto TV may not exactly be new, but I've noticed that the service...

Cash App Cash Card Review (2023)

Have you ever owned something for years before one day you suddenly discovered a super useful function you never knew it had? That’s essentially what happened to me with Cash App. Despite downloading the app long ago, I apparently didn’t keep up with its growing power and ability to save me money — that was until a couple of years ago. So what is the Cash Card and what makes...

Aldi Curbside Pickup Review — Is it Worth it?

Over the past few months, I've been a bit torn. While I love saving money and keeping costs down, the convenience of grocery delivery has proven too powerful for me to resist. Now one of my favorite discount grocery stores is rolling out a better option with the introduction of Aldi Curbside Pickup. Yet, the question still remains: is this option actually worth it?

These travel credit cards are an amazing companion for traveling and the offers are tempting but travel this year is still unsure for me.

I miss traveling with no worries, and if I already can, will definitely try some credit card hacks I learned from this blog.

These credit cards will be great travel companions but I just wish that we could travel freely soon.

Comments are closed.