Best rewards credit cards for each type of traveler

Jackson, Wyoming, is known for the four elk-antler arches that serve as entrances to its Town Square. Around the holidays, they are dressed up with strings of lights, giving off a festive glow. Though the town is often just a waypoint for tourists heading to nearby national parks or ski resorts, it’s still worth the stop.
a large ship in a body of water: Carnival Cruise ship swimming pools and hot tubs on deck

It’s no secret that a great travel rewards credit card can be a major asset in helping you save on travel expenses and booking.

But not every travel card is created the same, and added benefits are worth putting in the time upfront to tailor each of your cards to the types of rewards that best suit your travel habits.

Whether you’re a non-stop jetsetter or you prefer to tear up the pavement, here’s a rundown of the types of rewards you should look for and some suggestions for cards that may fit your travel style.

Credit cards for frequent flyers

As one of the most lucrative customers for credit card issuers, there are numerous options targeted towards frequent flyers.

Sarah Silbert, points and miles editor for, says a co-branded credit card “can make sense when you’re loyal to a specific airline and want to enjoy benefits like priority boarding, free checked bags and even the ability to earn credit towards elite status through spending.”

American Airlines fans, for example, can rack up points with the Citi(R) / AAdvantage(R) Platinum Select(R) World Elite(TM) Mastercard(R). Perks include double miles on American Airlines purchases, free checked bags on domestic flights and a sign-up offer worth up to 50,000 bonus miles.

In addition to this card from American, The Points Guy ranks the Southwest Rapid Rewards(R) Premier Credit Card, the United Explorer card and the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature(R) credit card among the best airline cards to add value to your travel. Each of these cards offer generous sign-up bonuses, high redemption values for your points and airline-specific perks.

For those not loyal to any particular airline, a travel card that allows you to redeem points through various airline partners is a better option. Just make sure you choose a card with airline transfer partners that will benefit you the most.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great choice for this type of card. Frequent flyers can quickly earn back the $95 annual fee with unlimited 2x points on travel and dining and a 50,000 point sign-up bonus worth $625 in travel expenses through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal.

Any frequent flyer should also look into whether their credit card offers no foreign transaction fee, credits towards airport conveniences like TSA Precheck and Global Entry or airport lounge access. For those who spend a lot of time in the air, these smaller perks can add up.

Credit cards for infrequent travelers

According to a 2018 study by Airlines for America, the average American flew 5.3 times in 2017, but just 2.6 of those were for personal travel.

“If you won’t be traveling very often and value cash back more than the ability to book trips on points and miles, a cash-back card could be a better pick,” Silbert says. “But even if you only travel occasionally, a travel rewards card could still make sense if you’d like to keep out-of-pocket costs down when you do take a trip.”

The Capital One(R) Venture(R) Rewards Credit Card is a great option due to it’s redemption flexibility. After collecting 2x points on every purchase you make throughout the year with the card, you can apply those points to any travel transaction (freeing up your airline and hotel options even more) and they’ll appear as a statement credit.

Credit cards for roadtrippers

Not everyone wants to take to the sky for their holiday. If you prefer to stay on the ground, look for a card that excels in rewards at the stops you’ll be making along the way.

Between food, overnight stays, gas and souvenirs, you’ll want a card that you can use throughout the trip to earn rewards, whether it’s just a quick drive upstate or a multi-stop cruise along Route 66. Cards with cash-back categories like dining, entertainment and gas can all be great money-savers on your great American road trip.

Silbert cites the Citi Premier? Card, which offers 3x points on gas and 2x points on dining. This is a lucrative choice for drivers due to its category flexibility. The 3x points travel category includes gas, parking and tolls, all of which can add up quickly on the road. The 2x points category encompasses restaurants and entertainment, so keep that in mind if you’re known to make a pit stops at local sporting events or spend a rainy afternoon at the movies.

Another great option is the Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card, which offers 3x points on dining, gas and travel. That means your meals on the road, gas and hotel or motel stays will all earn extra points.

Credit cards for cruisers

Some people prefer ocean views over land-dwelling vacations, and plenty of issuers have caught on to the booming cruise market.

Like frequent flyers, cruise line loyalists may find the best rewards with a co-branded card. Popular lines like Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian all offer co-branded credit cards on Visa and Mastercard networks.

On the other hand, “If you’re willing to pay for cruises out of pocket, you can earn significant bonus rewards on this spending since it counts as travel,” Silbert says. “With the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you earn three points per dollar on travel, so you’d be earning 3x on your cruise spending.”

A cash-back card with transfer partners can also help you with the logistics of your cruise vacation by allowing you to redeem airfare and hotel stays in your cities of departure.

For instance, if you complete your regular grocery and restaurant spending throughout the year for 4x points on the American Express(R) Gold Card, you can redeem those rewards through American Express transfer partners for a flight to your departure point or hotel stay the night before you set sail.

Earning rewards with travel cards is all about understanding your own priorities, Silbert says. “Earning points and miles through credit cards can save you huge money on booking travel, but if you aren’t willing to invest the time and effort to learn how to maximize your rewards, a cash-back card is a worthwhile alternative.”

Before you plan this year’s big summer vacation, use Bankrate’s credit cards guide to find your perfect fit.

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