5 best travel rewards credit cards of 2018

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5 best travel rewards credit cards of 2018
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Money expert Clark Howard typically recommends cash back credit cards, but there are always those who prefer travel cards to earn free flights, hotel stays and other valuable perks. 

The fact is that travel rewards cards can sometimes offer more generous sign-up bonuses and better money-saving cardholder benefits than even the best cash back rewards cards — especially for frequent travelers. 

RELATED: Best rewards credit cards: Team Clark’s picks

These are the 5 best travel rewards cards right now 

For example, the current sign-up offer for the Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard® is 70,000 bonus miles, worth $735 in travel statement credits (once you receive the 5% rebate of miles redeemed). The credit card features double miles on all purchases, and miles are worth one cent each as travel statement credits, with a 5% rebate of miles redeemed. For a family that spends $2,500 a month on their credit cards, this equates to another $630 of free travel each year. The card has an $89 annual fee that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.

In contrast, the Citi Double Cash Card is an excellent cash back card, but it doesn’t offer a sign-up bonus. And while it has no annual fee, it imposes a 3% foreign transaction fee whenever you make a charge outside of the United States.

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus is just one of our favorite travel rewards credit cards. I’ve reviewed the latest offers and narrowed it down to Team Clark’s top five picks! 

Best travel rewards credit cards: Table of contents

  1. Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard
  2. PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express
  3. Chase Sapphire Preferred
  4. Capital One Venture
  5. Discover it Miles

Of course, you always have to look out for the pitfalls of both travel and cash back rewards credit cards. 

First, you should never overspend to earn rewards, including a sign-up bonus. Even when you’re getting a strong 2% rewards return, you’re still losing 98% when you make an unnecessary purchase.

Clark also says that rewards credit cards only make sense for people who don’t have credit card debt.

If you ever need to carry a balance, then you shouldn’t worry about earning rewards and instead focus on finding a low-interest credit card. For more information, review Clark’s credit card philosophy.

Read on to compare our picks for best travel rewards cards and let us know your favorite in the comments below…

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard

Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard®

Sign-up bonus 70,000 bonus miles, worth $735 in travel statement credits (once you receive the 5% rebate of miles redeemed), after spending $5,000 within 90 days of account opening
Rewards
  • Double miles on all purchases, and miles are worth one cent each as statement credits toward any travel purchase
  • 5% rebate on rewards redeemed, for a net 2.1% return
Annual fee $89, waived the first year
Advantages Large sign-up bonus and a strong rate of return on all spending, with no categories to worry about
Drawbacks $89 annual fee, waived the first year

 Learn more: Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard


PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® 

Sign-up bonus 25,000 points after spending $2,500 on purchases within three months of account opening
Rewards
  • 3x points on all travel and commuter expenses (4x for PenFed account holders)
  • 1.5x points elsewhere
  • Points can be redeemed for travel reservations, generally worth slightly less than one cent each
Annual fee None
Advantages Competitive rewards whether or not you’re spending in the bonus categories; $100 TSA PreCheck application fee credit and an annual $100 air travel credit
Drawbacks Points are worth slightly less than other reward points

Learn more: PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express


Chase Sapphire Preferred® 

Sign-up bonus 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within three months of account opening
Rewards
  • 2x points for all travel and dining purchases, 1x elsewhere
  • Points can be redeemed for 1.25 cents each for travel booked through Chase, or transferred to airline and hotel partners
Annual fee $95, waived the first year
Advantages Chase’s Ultimate Rewards points offers excellent value when used for travel and dining; great flexibility to realize plenty of value from airline and hotel partners
Drawbacks $95 annual fee, waived the first year

Learn more: Chase Sapphire Preferred


Capital One Venture

Capital One® Venture® Rewards

Sign-up bonus 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on new purchases within three months of account opening
Rewards
  • Double miles on all purchases
  • Miles can be redeemed for travel statement credits or transferred to airline partners
Annual fee $95, waived the first year
Advantages Card now offers the chance to redeem rewards for travel statement credits or transfer them to miles with airline partners; $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
Drawbacks $95 annual fee and airline transfer partners are mostly smaller foreign carriers

Learn more: Capital One Venture Rewards


Discover it Miles

Discover it® Miles 

Sign-up bonus Discover will match all of the rewards you earn during your account’s first year
Rewards
  • 1.5 miles per dollar spent
  • Miles are worth one cent each as travel statement credits or cash back
Annual fee  None
Advantages Discover offers a simple travel rewards/cash back card with great customer service
Drawbacks 1.5% returns isn’t as competitive as it used to be, plus Discover recently slashed its travel and purchase protection benefits

Learn more: Discover it Miles

More credit card content from Clark.com: 

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Jason Steele About the author:
Jason Steele is a journalist who specializes in covering credit cards, award travel, and other areas of personal finance. You can check out his website at JasonSteele.com.
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