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There are many reasons why paying for your day-to-day transactions with credit cards can be a good idea. Credit cards offer robust fraud protection and the ability to build credit without going into debt. Yet the potential to earn rewards in exchange for purchases that I need to make anyway is one of my favorite credit card perks.

As someone who loves to travel, my favorite rewards credit cards are the ones that help me and my family see the world for free. Here are four of my preferred credit card picks that could help you earn free travel too.

Chase Sapphire Preferred®

The Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card makes it easy to earn free travel, even as a beginner. When travel rewards newbies ask me to recommend the best starter rewards credit cards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred always makes my short list.

The card comes with an affordable $95 annual fee that’s easily offset by perks such as the following.

  • Sign-Up Bonus: 60,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 within the first three months of account opening.
  • 1x-5x Points: Earn 5x points per dollar on travel booked through Ultimate Rewards, 3x points for spending on dining, 2x points on other travel and 1x point per dollar on all other eligible purchases.
  • Enhanced Rewards Redemption Rate: Redeem the points you earn for 25% more when booking travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal or through Chase Pay Yourself Back.
  • Travel Protections: Enjoy trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage, baggage delay coverage and rental car insurance.

The sign-up bonus alone is worth up to $750 in free travel when you book through Chase Ultimate Rewards. And you could potentially cash those points in for even more value if you transfer them to a Chase airline or hotel travel partner.

Chase Sapphire Preferred®

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  • Our Rating 5/5 Read the review
  • APR20.24% – 27.24% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$95
  • 60,000 60,000Chase Ultimate Rewards Points More Info

    Earn 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 within three months of account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $1,320 (60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points * .022 base)

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is at the top of our list of starter travel rewards cards. Between a digestible $95 annual fee, valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be transferred to over a dozen hotel and airline partners, and easy ways to earn points, this is a top card for rewards beginners and experts alike.

Overview

The Chase Sapphire Preferred actually works like having over a dozen different rewards credit cards. That’s because this credit card allows you to transfer your rewards points into miles with 11 airlines and points with three hotel programs.

Although the Chase Sapphire Preferred might not be ideal for the most frequent travelers and highest spenders, it’s part of a family of Chase cards that has a built-in upgrade path. So when it comes time to take your travel rewards game to the next level, you won’t have to start from scratch with an entirely different credit card and rewards program.

The card has a $95 annual fee, but the $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit effectively reduces that fee to $45. Plus, the credit card allows you to continue earning points through bonus categories and a 10% anniversary points boost. But when it comes time to redeem your rewards for travel, this card really shines. You can take advantage of some really strong transfer partners such as United, Southwest, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Hyatt. Similarly, you can just book any reservation you want through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.

Pros

  • Points are easily transferable to airlines and hotel partners
  • Accelerated earnings on dining, travel & household purchases
  • Excellent travel and purchase protections
  • No foreign transaction fees

Cons

  • Not ideal for the highest spenders
  • $95 annual fee

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is what I would consider the big sister of the Sapphire Preferred Card. This premium travel rewards credit card delivers a lot of value, but comes with a pricey $550 annual fee. If you can use enough of the following benefits to offset the annual fee, however, the card can be well worth the cost.

  • Sign-Up Bonus: 60,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.
  • 10x Points: Earn 10x points on hotel and rental car reservations made through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
  • 5x Points: Earn 5x points on air travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
  • 3x Points: Earn 3x points on eligible travel and dining purchases. Get 1x point per dollar on all other eligible purchases.
  • Enhanced Rewards Redemption Rate: Redeem points for 50% more when you use them to book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal or Chase Pay Yourself Back.
  • Travel Credit: Get up to $300 in statement credits each year for travel purchases.

On top of these great perks, you can enjoy all of the travel protections available through the Sapphire Preferred card. Plus, receive complimentary airport lounge access with a free Priority Pass Select membership, a Complimentary Lyft Pink membership for one year, and more. The 60,000-point sign up bonus is worth $900 in free travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards—possibly more with a travel partner transfer.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

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Secure application on issuer’s website

Rates & Fees
  • Our Rating 4.5/5 Read the review
  • APR21.24% – 28.24% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$550
  • 60,000 60,000Chase Ultimate Rewards Points More Info

    Earn 60,000 bonus points after using your card to spend $4,000 within three months of account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $1,320 (60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points * .022 base)

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® card is among the best travel credit cards available. Not only does it offer one of the best credit card sign-up bonuses, but the card also comes packed with a number of valuable travel and lifestyle benefits that warrant its premium price tag.

Overview

If you’re looking to elevate your travel experience, look no further than the Chase Sapphire Reserve. When you first get approved, you’ll earn a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months — that’s worth at least $900 in travel-related spending booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards® and potentially more if you transfer your rewards to one of Chase’s airline or hotel partners.

Pros

  • An array of premium travel perks including access to Priority Pass lounges
  • Easy-to-use $300 travel credit that helps offset card’s annual fee
  • Generous rewards rates for spending

Cons

  • High annual fee may be a deterrent for some
  • Perks are starting to get stale relative to newer competition

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Once upon a time, I wasn’t a fan of annual-fee credit cards. If you prefer to avoid annual fees, the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card offers you a chance to earn travel rewards without this cost. And while the rewards rate isn’t as high as you may find elsewhere, the card does feature several attractive features and benefits such as:

  • Sign-Up Bonus: 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
  • 1.25x Miles: Earn 1.25x miles on all eligible purchases.
  • 5X Miles: Earn 5x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel.
  • 0% Intro APR: Pay 0% interest on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months after you open your account (then a 19.24% - 29.24% (Variable) APR applies based on creditworthiness). The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card charges a 3% balance transfer fee for transferred balances during the 15-month promotion.

The sign-up bonus is worth $200 in travel statement credits. Capital One also allows you to transfer points to any of its numerous hotel and airline travel partners. So, if you’re strategic, you may be able to redeem those 20,000 bonus miles for more value.

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Capital One Venture One
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Rates & Fees
  • Our Rating 4.0/5 Read the review
  • APR19.24% – 29.24% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$0
  • 20,000 20,000Capital One Rewards Miles More Info

    New cardholders can earn 20,000 bonus miles after spending $500 with the card during the first three months of account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $360 (20,000 Capital One Rewards Miles * 0.018 base)

It’s not just that this card has a simple rewards structure. One of the most appealing feature of the VentureOne card is the ability to transfer miles to Capital One travel partners—an uncommon feature on a card with no annual fee.

Overview

The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card features several standout benefits. Perhaps the most appealing feature of this travel credit card is the ability to transfer miles to Capital One travel partners—an uncommon feature on a card with no annual fee. Plus, the ability to transfer miles to travel partners—both airlines and hotels—is arguably the most attractive feature of this travel card.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Ability to earn transferable points to use on travel partners
  • No foreign transaction fees

Cons

  • Earning rate is lower than some of the competition
  • Not useful if you don’t spend in dining, entertainment, streaming, and supermarket categories

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card is the entry level card for aspiring Rapid Rewards point earners. This airline credit card earns 2X points per dollar spent with Southwest and on Rapid Rewards hotel and car partners. It also earns 2X points per dollar spent on local transit and commuting, including ride-sharing services, as well as on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming. Finally, the credit card earns 1X points on all other purchases.

Above all, for a modest $69 annual fee, the Rapid Rewards Plus credit card helps you rack up points as cheaply as possible. Our favorite Rapid Rewards Plus perks include the 3,000 bonus points and 2 EarlyBird Check-Ins awarded to cardholders on the anniversary of your account opening. It’s all added incentive to retain the card after you’ve earned the introductory sign-up bonus.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

This product is currently not available via Slickdeals.

  • Our Rating 4.0/5
  • APR20.24% – 27.24% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$69
  • 50,000 50,000Southwest Rapid Rewards Points More Info

    Earn 50,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Dollar Equivalent: $700 (50,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards Points * 0.014 base)

This entry-level Southwest card costs a reasonable $69 per year, the ability to earn points towards Companion Pass, and carries plenty of opportunities to earn Rapid Rewards points across a handful of bonus categories.

Overview

This is the entry-level card for aspiring Rapid Rewards point earners, and new cardholders can earn a 50,000-point sign-up bonus, which can help get you closer to booking flights for your next travel destination.

Above all, for a modest $69 annual fee, the Rapid Rewards Plus credit card helps you rack up points as cheaply as possible, and all points earned with this card get you closer to a Southwest Companion Pass®.

Pros

  • 2x points on Southwest purchases, local transit and commuting, select streaming and more
  • Annual fee that’s palatable
  • Earn points towards a coveted Southwest Companion Pass

Cons

  • In exchange for a lower annual fee, the card’s ongoing benefits may seem lackluster
  • 3% foreign transaction fee

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

In addition to perks like no foreign transaction fees, two complimentary EarlyBird Check-In vouchers each year and being able to earn A-list flight status, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card also offers a generous 6,000 bonus points every cardholder anniversary, which can often be enough to cover the cost of a one-way domestic flight. It’s these types of benefits that help round out the value of the $99 annual fee.

This airline credit card also earns 3X points per dollar on Southwest purchases and 2X points on Rapid Rewards hotel and car-rental partners. It also earns 2X points per dollar on local transit and commuting, including ride-sharing services. Additionally, this Southwest card rewards 2X points per dollar spent on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming. It earns 1X points on all other purchases.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

This product is currently not available via Slickdeals.

  • Our Rating 4.0/5
  • APR20.24% – 27.24% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$99
  • 50,000 50,000Southwest Rapid Rewards Points More Info

    Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Dollar Equivalent: $700 (50,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards Points * 0.014 base)

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card makes it effortless to rack up bonus points toward award flights. Plus, all points earned on the card count toward unlocking the coveted Southwest Companion Pass or A-List status.

Overview

In addition to perks like no foreign transaction fees and being able to earn A-list flight status, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card also offers a generous 6,000 bonus points every cardholder anniversary. It’s these types of benefits that help round out the value of the $99 annual fee.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card also offers two EarlyBird Check-Ins each year, and all points earned with this card get you closer to a Southwest Companion Pass®.

Pros

  • Land A-List status faster with 1,500 TQPs for every $10,000 you spend
  • Earn points towards a coveted Southwest Companion Pass
  • 6,000 bonus points awarded every cardmember anniversary

Cons

  • $99 annual fee
  • Must fly Southwest often for this card to make sense

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

When you look at benefits like a $75 annual travel credit, four upgraded boardings each year, free checked bags and 25% back on in-flight purchases, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority is probably the most affordable of all the Southwest credit cards. Similarly, the 7,500 bonus points each cardmember anniversary really pack on the value and offset this card’s $149 annual fee.

This airline credit card also earns 3X points per dollar on Southwest purchases and 2X points on Rapid Rewards hotel and car-rental partners. It also earns 2X points per dollar on local transit and commuting, including ride-sharing services. Additionally, this Southwest card rewards 2X points per dollar spent on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming. It earns 1X points on all other purchases. Read our full review of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card here.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

This product is currently not available via Slickdeals.

  • Our Rating 4.0/5
  • APR20.24% – 27.24% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$149
  • 50,000 50,000Southwest Rapid Rewards Points More Info

    Earn 50,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Dollar Equivalent: $700 (50,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards Points * 0.014 base)

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card makes it effortless to rack up bonus points toward award flights. Plus, all points earned on the card count toward unlocking the coveted Southwest Companion Pass or A-List status.

Overview

When you look at benefits like a $75 annual travel credit, four upgraded boardings each year, free checked bags and discounts on in-flight purchases, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card is probably the most affordable of all the Southwest credit cards. Similarly, the 7,500 bonus points each cardmember anniversary really pack on the value and offset this card’s $149 annual fee.

Pros

  • Although there’s a $149 annual fee, the $75 Southwest annual travel credit makes the card much more affordable for frequent flyers
  • 7,500 anniversary bonus points as a cardmember
  • Earn towards a coveted Southwest Companion Pass
  • 4 Upgraded Boardings per year when available

Cons

  • Higher annual fee may not be a fit for some
  • Must fly Southwest with some frequency for card to make sense

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express has long been a symbol of extravagance and affluence. And with its precious annual fee, it’s easy to see why. Yet, this premium credit card is more than just wallet candy — it offers cardholders a diverse lineup of statement credits and benefits that may negate the yearly cost for many people.

Each year, Platinum Card members look forward to a collection of rebates, including:

  • $200 hotel credit: Prepaid bookings with select hotels
  • $200 airline fee credit: Benefit can be applied to one selected airline
  • $240 digital entertainment credit: $20 benefit per month
  • $155 Walmart+ credit: Benefit covers monthly membership cost
  • $200 Uber Cash: Receive $15 monthly benefit for rideshares and meal delivery
  • $300 Equinox credit: Get up to $300 in credits each calendar year when you use your Amex Platinum to pay for the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships.
  • $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit: $50 benefit between January and June and then again between July through December
  • $189 CLEAR credit: Benefit applies to annual membership

Some of these benefits will more exciting than others, depending on the merchants and services you already use. Still, cardholders who can take full advantage of what The Platinum Card® from American Express offers will find outsized value for its yearly fee.

Keep in mind, with any credit card benefit, terms and conditions apply. Read our full review of the Platinum Card.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

  • Our Rating 4.5/5 Read the review
  • APRSee Pay Over Time APR
  • Annual Fee$695
  • 80,000 80,000Membership Rewards Points More Info

    Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months Dollar Equivalent: $1,520 (80,000 Membership Rewards Points * .019 base)

The American Express Platinum Card is a cornucopia of perks and annual credits that reminds one of a fancy coupon book. Each year, cardholders have a variety of credits to look forward to including a $200 hotel credit, $240 digital entertainment credit, $155 Walmart+ credit, $200 airline fee credit, $200 in Uber Cash, and more.

Overview

The American Express Platinum Card isn’t a standout when it comes to rewards rates, but if you’re looking for a card that will elevate your travel experience and provide you with solid monthly lifestyle benefits, this one should be on your radar.

Pros

  • One of the best cards for premium travel and lifestyle perks
  • Access to American Express Centurion Lounges, Delta Sky Clubs (when flying same-day Delta), Priority Pass lounges and more
  • Nearly $1,500 in annual statement credits, from hotels, Uber, CLEAR, digital entertainment and more
  • Up to 5x points on flights and prepaid hotels
  • Automatic Gold elite status with Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy hotel programs

Cons

  • At $695 per year, this premium card has one of the most expensive annual fees
  • “Use it or lose it” benefits, as statement credits don’t roll over
  • Long list of coupon-like perks may be hard to keep track of

How to Choose a Travel Rewards Card

Figuring out which travel rewards card is best can be tricky. But in reality, no credit card holds this title. There’s no “best” travel rewards credit card, but there may be a card that’s for you at this moment in time.

Next, you can research how to get approved for a new credit card. (Tip: A credit check is an important step you don’t want to skip.)

You can also consider factors like which cards will reward you the most for your spending habits, sign-up bonuses and benefits that you can use. Compare card benefits to any annual fees to make sure they’re worth the cost.

Once you find the perfect-for-you rewards card, be careful to manage it wisely. It’s important to pay your full statement balance every month. Otherwise, the interest you pay on your credit card could cancel out the rewards you earn.

ML

Michelle Lambright Black

Michelle Black is founder of CreditWriter.com and HerCreditMatters.com. Michelle is a leading credit card journalist with over a decade and a half of experience in the financial industry. She’s an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring, identity theft, budgeting, small business, and debt eradication. Michelle is also a certified credit expert witness and personal finance writer.