Are travel credit cards worth it? Absolutely. Here are the best cards to get

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CNN Underscored reviews financial products such as credit cards and bank accounts based on their overall value. We may receive a commission through the LendingTree affiliate network if you apply and are approved for a card, but our reporting is always independent and objective. Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

On the heels of vaccines rolling out across the country, travel is starting to roar back to life. And as that happens, a lot of Americans are undoubtedly going to want — no, they’re going to need — a well-deserved vacation.

That’s where CNN Underscored’s list of the best travel credit cards for 2021 can come in handy. The right credit card can earn you enough in travel rewards to make your getaway easier, or more enjoyable, or — dare we say it — even almost free. Our comprehensive methodology compares every aspect of each travel credit card to our “benchmark credit card” — the Citi® Double Cash Card — to determine which cards can get you the most perks or rewards.

So take a few minutes to check out our list of the best travel credit cards in 2021 and think about which one might get you to that getaway as planes soar back into the skies again.

The best travel credit cards of 2021

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best overall travel rewards card
American Express® Gold Card: Best “non-travel” travel card
Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for travel purchases
The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best luxury travel perks
Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card: Best airline travel card
World of Hyatt Credit Card: Best hotel travel card
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card: Best for easy-to-use travel rewards

Why did we select these cards as our best travel credit cards for 2021? Dive into the details of each card with us and see how they stack up.

Chase Sapphire Preferred: Best overall travel rewards card

Why it’s great in one sentence: The Chase Sapphire Preferred earns 2 Ultimate Rewards points for every dollar you spend on travel and dining purchases, and the points can be redeemed for travel and other eligible categories at 1.25 cents per point, or transferred to the program’s airline and hotel partners for potentially even more valuable redemptions.

This card is right for: People with larger than average travel and/or dining expenses (including food delivery) who want a low-fee card with basic transferable points.

Highlights:

  • Earn 2 points for every dollar spent on travel and dining purchases.
  • Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Points can be redeemed for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal at a rate of 1.25 cents per point.
  • Now through September 30, 2021, points can also be redeemed for purchases at grocery stores, dining establishments and home improvement stores at a rate of 1.25 cents per point.
  • Points can also be transferred to any of Chase’s 13 airline and hotel partners.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $95 annual fee.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening, plus up to $50 in statement credits on grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.

What we like about the Chase Sapphire Preferred: It may not seem like it, but at over 10 years old, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is practically the granddaddy of travel credit cards. With classic travel and dining bonus categories, 5 points per dollar on Lyft rides and an 80,000-point sign-up bonus, it should be easy to quickly score plenty of points, especially since most food delivery services will code as “dining” on the CSP and earn 2 points per dollar. And card holders also get a complimentary DashPass subscription for at least one year when they activate it by December 31, 2021.

Related: Here’s why the Chase Sapphire Preferred is our favorite travel credit card for beginners.

But the real power of the Sapphire Preferred is in its redemptions. You’ll get 1.25 cents per point when redeeming points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, and can get potentially even more value when transferring points to one of Chase’s 13 travel partners. In fact, the Ultimate Rewards program still features some of the best transfer partners, including United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Hyatt Hotels, and all Chase partners transfer at a 1-to-1 ratio.

Chase also added new redemption options to the Sapphire Preferred in 2020. The issuer’s “Pay Yourself Back” tool allows you to redeem points on purchases beyond just travel. The current eligible categories are grocery stores, dining establishments (including delivery and takeout) and home improvement stores. Through September 30, 2021, you’ll get 1.25 cents per point when redeeming this way.

To top it off, as travel resumes, you’ll be able to safely use the Sapphire Preferred overseas, since it has no foreign transaction fees on international purchases. It even provides primary car rental insurance, so you don’t have to look to your own auto policy first if you have an accident with your rental car.

You'll get primary car rental insurance with the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
You’ll get primary car rental insurance with the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

What could be better: The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a classic, but in some ways it’s starting to get long in the tooth. Other credit cards now offer bonus points or cash back in those same travel and dining categories, and in some cases at higher rates (though usually accompanied by higher annual fees).

Even our benchmark Citi Double Cash card earns 2% on all purchases (1% when you buy, plus 1% when you pay it off) and not just on travel and dining, though you can get more value when redeeming your Sapphire Preferred points than you can with simple cash back.

For many people, the Sapphire Preferred isn’t as flashy as its older sibling, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which comes with travel perks, higher bonus rates and a $300 annual travel credit (but also a much higher annual fee). But if you don’t need or won’t use all those extra perks — especially right now with travel so limited — you may be better off with this significantly less expensive version.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Travel and dining bonus categories, excellent travel protections, solid airline and hotel partners and sign-up bonus.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has no annual fee, an introductory rate on balance transfers and easy cash back.

Read CNN Underscored’s Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card review.
Learn more and apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

American Express Gold: Best “non-travel” travel card

Why it’s great in one sentence: The American Express Gold card earns tons of valuable Amex travel points on practically all the food-related purchases you’re making even when you’re not traveling, and the credits available on the card nearly offset its annual fee.

This card is right for: People who can utilize all of the card’s various credits and who spend significant money at restaurants, on food delivery services or at US supermarkets while they’re not on the road.

Highlights:

  • Earn 4 points for every dollar you spend at US supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1x).
  • Earn 4 points per dollar at restaurants worldwide.
  • Earn 3 points per dollar for flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Earn 1 point per dollar on everything else.
  • Up to $120 in annual dining credits.
  • Up to $120 in Uber Cash annually.
  • $250 annual fee (see rates and fees)
  • Terms apply.

Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first six months after opening the account.

What we like about the American Express Gold: Calling it our “best ‘non-travel’ travel card” may sound odd, but the Amex Gold is a perfect choice if you want to earn as many travel points as possible even when you’re not traveling, and then have lots of ways to use those points on trips as the pandemic wanes.

First, with the Amex Gold, you’ll earn 4 points for every dollar you spend on restaurants worldwide, and on up to $25,000 in annual purchases at US supermarkets (1 point per dollar thereafter). Most food delivery services count as “restaurants” on this card, so that means the vast majority of your food purchases will earn 4x points, regardless of how you’re eating right now.

You’ll also earn 3 points per dollar when you book airfare directly with an airline, so if you’re looking to jump on any sales for flights later in the year, you can pay for them with the Amex Gold and earn extra points on those as well.

The points earned on this card are American Express Membership Rewards points, which are extremely useful. You can redeem them directly for flights via Amex Travel at 1 cent each, but if you put in some extra effort and research, you can potentially get much more value from them by transferring them to any of Amex’s 21 airline and hotel partners, which include Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, Marriott and many more.

Related: Green, Gold, Platinum: What’s the difference between American Express cards?

Then there are the annual credits. While the Amex Gold has a substantial $250 annual fee, you can earn almost as much from the card’s credits as you pay for it.

Each year you have the Amex Gold, you earn up to $120 in dining credits, which can be used for purchases at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed and participating Shake Shack locations. These are doled out in portions of up to $10 each month, but the credits don’t roll over from month to month, so you must use them or lose them.

Amex has also added up to $120 in Uber Cash each year to the Amex Gold. Again, these credits come in $10 monthly installments and can be used either for Uber rides or on Uber Eats orders. Combining the Uber Cash and dining credits will give you up to $240 in annual credits, which would leave you with an effective annual fee of only $10 if you can use them all.

You'll get up to $10 each month in Uber Cash with the American Express Gold card.
You’ll get up to $10 each month in Uber Cash with the American Express Gold card.

What could be better: The one big downside of the Amex Gold is that most of the annual credits come in monthly installments rather than annual chunks, so you’ll need to make sure you can take advantage of them each month to make the card worth it.

Also, while Amex points are valuable, they’re best used for the airline and hotel transfer partners, which take some time to understand and flexibility to maximize. If you’d prefer to just book flights through a standard online travel portal, you might be better off with one of the Chase or Capital One cards, which can offer more value when redeeming rewards the easy way.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Welcome bonus, annual credits, bonus categories and solid airline and hotel partners.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has no annual fee, an introductory rate on balance transfers and easy cash back.

Read CNN Underscored’s American Express Gold Card review.
Learn more and apply for the American Express Gold Card.

Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for travel purchases

Why it’s great in one sentence: The hugely popular Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with a high price tag but also a $300 annual travel credit, airport lounge access, a $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2021, a massively increased earning rate when you use Lyft and 3 points for every dollar you spend on travel and dining.

This card is right for: People who make lots of travel purchases, even in their daily lives while they’re not on the road right now.

Highlights:

  • $300 annual travel credit.
  • Earn 3 points for every dollar you spend on dining purchases.
  • Earn 3 points per dollar on travel purchases (after using your $300 travel credit each year).
  • Earn 10 points per dollar on Lyft purchases through March 2022.
  • Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Points can be redeemed for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal at a rate of 1.5 cents per point.
  • Now through September 30, 2021, points can also be redeemed for purchases at grocery stores, dining establishments and home improvement stores at a rate of 1.5 cents per point.
  • Points can also be transferred to any of Chase’s 13 airline and hotel partners.
  • $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2021.
  • Up to two years of free DashPass membership.
  • One free year of Lyft Pink membership.
  • Complimentary Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $550 annual fee.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

What we like about the Chase Sapphire Reserve: When it first launched in 2016, the Chase Sapphire Reserve was an instant hit, thanks in part to its broad travel and dining categories. It’s incredibly easy to earn bonus points with the card, since “dining” includes almost every restaurant, fast food and even food delivery services such as Seamless.

A $60 annual DoorDash credit further adds to the card’s value, especially right now. If you can utilize it along with the travel credit, you’re left with an effective annual fee of just $190.

The ability to redeem points you earn with the card for any flight or hotel at a rate of 1.5 cents per point via the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal makes the card’s rewards easy to use, though you’ll potentially get even more value if you can dive into the more advanced airline and hotel transfer partners.

Also, like the Sapphire Preferred, Chase added its new “Pay Yourself Back” feature to the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which allows you to redeem points on purchases beyond just travel. The current eligible categories are grocery stores, dining establishments (including delivery and takeout) and home improvement stores, and through September 30, 2021, you’ll get 1.5 cents per point when redeeming this way.

Related: Chase extends “Pay Yourself Back” categories on its Sapphire cards.

And if you plan to fly regularly once travel resumes, you’ll find solid value in the card’s Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership, with access for you and up to two guests to over 1,200 lounges around the world.

Visit the Plaza Premium Lounge at London Heathrow, part of the Priority Pass Select network.
American Express
Visit the Plaza Premium Lounge at London Heathrow, part of the Priority Pass Select network.

What could be better: While the high cost of the Chase Sapphire Reserve was easy to justify for the last several years, it increased its annual fee from $450 to $550 at the start of 2020, so you really need to be able to use all of the card’s perks for the price to make sense, which can be difficult given the current worldwide travel situation.

The Lyft bonus category means you’ll earn an impressive 10 points for every dollar you spend on the ride-sharing service, but it won’t be of any use to most people who aren’t currently using Lyft. The same goes for the added DoorDash annual credit and free DashPass membership, which are only valuable to folks who order food for delivery and have DoorDash service in their area.

And while the travel and dining bonus categories were market-leading four years ago, there are now other credit cards with similar if not even better earning rates in those categories, such as the Amex Gold, which earns 4 points per dollar on restaurant purchases worldwide. Or, if the annual fee increase on the Sapphire Reserve is too much to stomach, consider the cheaper Chase Sapphire Preferred with fewer travel perks but only a $95 annual fee.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Easy-to-use travel credit, travel and dining bonus categories, excellent travel protections, solid airline and hotel partners, and sign-up bonus.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has no annual fee, an introductory rate on balance transfers and easy cash back.

Read CNN Underscored’s Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card review.Learn more and apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

American Express Platinum: Best luxury travel perks

Why it’s great in one sentence: It’s definitely not cheap, but the famous American Express Platinum card is a heavyweight when it comes to travel perks, with numerous annual credits; access to more than 1,200 airport lounges worldwide, including Amex’s own Centurion Lounges and Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta; elite status with Hilton, Marriott, Hertz, Avis and National Car Rental; and many other luxury travel benefits.

This card is right for: People who want top-notch luxury travel perks, refundable travel credits and transferable travel rewards.

Highlights:

  • Earn 5 points for every dollar you spend on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (up to $500,000 per year, then 1x point).
  • Earn 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked on Amex Travel.
  • Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Points can be redeemed for travel through Amex Travel at a rate of up to 1 cent per point.
  • Points can also be transferred to any of Amex’s 21 airline and hotel partners.
  • Up to $200 in statement credits annually for incidental fees at one selected qualifying airline.
  • Up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue.
  • Up to $15 in statement credits every month ($35 in December) when you pay for your Uber rides with the card.
  • Complimentary access to American Express Centurion Lounges, Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta, and Priority Pass airport lounges (not including Priority Pass restaurants).
  • Complimentary Gold Elite status with Hilton and Marriott hotel chains.
  • Complimentary Preferred Elite status with Hertz, Avis and National Car Rental chains.
  • Complimentary Shoprunner membership.
  • Access to American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts.
  • No foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).
  • $550 annual fee (see rates and fees).

Welcome bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus points after you make $5,000 in eligible purchases in your first six months, plus earn 10 points per dollar on eligible purchases at US gas stations and US supermarkets on up to $15,000 in combined purchases during your first six months of card membership.

What we like about the American Express Platinum: For an annual fee of $550 a year, you need to be able to really take advantage of the perks of this card to make it worth the cost. Fortunately, that’s starting to become easier as travel returns to normal, so if you hit the road with this card, you’ll feel like a true VIP.

The Amex Platinum has access to literally thousands of airport lounges, including Amex’s own Centurion Lounges, which are considered some of the best domestic airport lounges in the US. To many road warriors, this benefit is worth the cost of the card all by itself.

But if you can also take advantage of the card’s up-to-$200 annual incidental airline fee credit as well as the up-to-$200 annual Uber credit, plus the up-to-$100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit (which you can use to buy anything at Saks, either in-store or online), you’ll be scoring up to $500 worth of annual credits for a card that costs $550 a year.

Related: 9 of our favorite credit card perks that you won’t want to miss out on.

Speaking of those credits, the Uber credit can also be used on Uber Eats purchases, which means you can still take advantage of them even if you aren’t using ride-share services at the moment. Same goes for the Saks Fifth Avenue credit, which can be used on anything you buy at Saks’ online website.

The cherry on top is the 75,000-point welcome bonus after you spend $5,000 on the card in your first six months, which at the very least you should be able to redeem for a pair of domestic airline tickets for you and a companion, or even a trip to Europe in coach for yourself.

Use your Amex Platinum bonus to score a pair of domestic airline tickets.
Use your Amex Platinum bonus to score a pair of domestic airline tickets.

What could be better: Surprisingly, the American Express Platinum isn’t a terrific card when it comes to earning points. It’s strong when you’re booking airline tickets, since you’ll earn an impressive 5 points for every dollar you spend directly with airlines. But to earn 5 points per dollar at hotels, you’ll need to book only prepaid hotels, and only through Amex Travel. For such an expensive card, those aren’t exceptional bonus categories.

Fortunately, new card members get an extra temporary bonus category. During the first six months of card membership, you’ll also earn 10 points per dollar on eligible purchases at US gas stations and US supermarkets on up to $15,000 in combined purchases. That’s a fantastic return and a great way to rack up travel points if you’re still sticking close to home.

The credits on the Amex Platinum can also be a challenge to maximize. Unlike travel credits on cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the up-to-$200 airline incidental fee credit is only good on the one airline you choose each year, and then only for certain fees like checked baggage or in-cabin pet fees.

The up-to-$200 annual Uber credit doesn’t come as one big credit but instead as a monthly series of $15 credits, with an extra $20 in December to earn the $200 total. Even the Saks Fifth Avenue credit is split in two, with $50 available in the first six months of the calendar year and the other $50 in the second half.

In the end, the Amex Platinum isn’t really designed for everyday use. Rather, you need to be a regular traveler with a desire to be treated better during those long days on the road for the cost of the card to make sense in the long term.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Luxury travel perks and travel credits, airline and hotel bonus categories, solid travel protections, extensive airline and hotel partners, and welcome bonus.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has no annual fee, an introductory rate on balance transfers and easy cash back.

Read CNN Underscored’s American Express Platinum card review.
Learn more and apply for the American Express Platinum Card.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card: Best airline travel card

Why it’s great in one sentence: If you expect to be a regular Southwest flyer once travel resumes, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card is an easy win, as its annual credits, perks and points can easily offset its annual fee.

This card is right for: People who want a card that offers elite perks when flying Southwest.

Highlights:

  • Earn 2 points per dollar on all Southwest purchases.
  • Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • $75 Southwest travel credit each year.
  • Four upgraded boardings per year when available.
  • 20% back on in-flight drinks and Wi-Fi.
  • 7,500 bonus points after your card holder anniversary each year.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $149 annual fee.

Welcome bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months after opening the account, plus earn 3 points per dollar on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services for the first year.

What we like about the Southwest Priority Card: If you’re already a fan of Southwest, you’ll really enjoy the perks that come with the Southwest Priority Card. But it’s also a useful time to take advantage of the card’s sign-up bonus to earn the airline’s coveted Southwest Companion Pass.

The Companion Pass is an elite travel benefit that allows another passenger to fly with you for free on Southwest (plus taxes) an unlimited number of times. Normally, earning the pass requires earning 125,000 qualifying points in a calendar year. That’s a massive amount of flying on Southwest, which you likely aren’t doing right now.

Related: What’s the Southwest Companion Pass, and should you get one?

But Southwest credit card sign-up bonuses count toward the Companion Pass, which means the 40,000 bonus points on this card will get you nearly one-quarter of the way there. And if you were a Southwest frequent flyer member at the beginning of 2021, you’ve already gotten another 25,000 Companion Pass-qualifying points added to your account by Southwest, getting you even closer.

You’ll also get some truly great perks with the Southwest Priority Card. The biggest one is a $75 Southwest travel credit every year, which can be used toward any Southwest flight purchase — just pay for your flight or taxes on your Southwest card and you’ll receive a statement credit up to $75. Use the credit every year and you’ve already recouped half of the card’s annual fee.

The Southwest Priority Card also offers four upgraded boarding certificates annually. This means you can purchase an A1-15 boarding position at the gate (if available), giving you the opportunity to board the plane before most other passengers, and you’ll receive a statement credit for the amount charged.

You’ll also get 20% back on in-flight drinks and Wi-Fi purchases on Southwest, and 7,500 bonus points at each card anniversary. Those points are worth $113 on “Wanna Get Away” fares, so this card very easily pays for itself as long as you’re flying Southwest every year.

The Southwest Priority card offers excellent perks for Southwest flyers.
The Southwest Priority card offers excellent perks for Southwest flyers.

What could be better: While Southwest flyers can get great value from the perks on the Southwest Priority Card, you probably won’t want to use it as your everyday spending card. Southwest points are worth approximately 1.5 cents per point when booking Southwest’s lowest “Wanna Get Away” fares, so while you’re earning a 3% return on Southwest purchases, you’re only getting a 1.5% return on everything else.

You’d be better off putting your daily purchases on our benchmark Citi Double Cash card and getting 2% cash back on everything — 1% when you buy it, and another 1% when you pay it off — and utilizing other credit cards with stronger bonus categories or more flexible travel rewards when you can.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Sign-up bonus and travel perks on Southwest.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has no annual fee, an introductory rate on balance transfers and easy cash back.

Learn more and apply for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card.

World of Hyatt Credit Card: Best hotel travel card

Why it’s great in one sentence: The World of Hyatt Credit Card features a solid set of bonus categories and earns points in the most valuable hotel loyalty program around while at the same time offering complimentary Hyatt Discoverist elite status and the ability to earn even higher levels of elite status even if you can’t travel at the moment.

This card is right for: People who routinely stay at Hyatt hotels under normal travel conditions, especially those chasing Hyatt elite status.

Highlights:

  • Earn 4 points for every dollar you spend at Hyatt hotels.
  • Earn 2 points per dollar on dining and on airlines tickets purchased directly from the airlines.
  • Earn 2 points per dollar on local transit and commuting, and on fitness club and gym memberships.
  • Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Complimentary World of Hyatt Discoverist elite status and 5 qualifying night credits every year.
  • Receive 2 qualifying night credits per $5,000 spent.
  • Receive 1 free night at any Category 1-4 Hyatt each year after your first card holder anniversary.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $95 annual fee.

Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points — 30,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening, plus 2 bonus points for every dollar you spend on purchases that earn 1 bonus point, up to $15,000 in the first six months of account opening.

What we like about the World of Hyatt Credit Card: Hyatt’s loyalty program remains by far the best of all the major hotel chains, which makes the World of Hyatt Credit Card our pick for the one hotel credit card to include on our best travel credit cards list.

You can earn boatloads of Hyatt points with this card and still get great value when redeeming Hyatt rewards, including stays at top-notch properties like the Park Hyatt New York or at the Hyatt Ziva and Hyatt Zilara all-inclusive resorts.

You’ll also get automatic Hyatt Discoverist elite status just from having the card, which is the lowest-level elite status but still gets you perks such as 10% bonus points on your Hyatt stays, elite check-in, premium internet and a late 2 p.m. checkout where available. And the Hyatt card can put you on the way to earning higher-level Explorist or Globalist elite status — card holders get 5 elite night credits every year just from having the card.

But the icing on the cake starts one year after you first open the card — you’ll receive a free night at any Category 1-4 Hyatt property every year at your card anniversary when you pay the new year’s annual fee. That’s perfect timing since travel is likely to have significantly recovered by then.

Stay at the Park Hyatt Sydney using points earned with the World of Hyatt credit card.
Hyatt Hotels
Stay at the Park Hyatt Sydney using points earned with the World of Hyatt credit card.

What could be better: While the bonus categories on the World of Hyatt Credit Card are useful, it’s important to remember that Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program includes Hyatt as a transfer partner, meaning that points you earn with cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve can be turned into Hyatt points as well as other airline or hotel points, making them more flexible than just regular Hyatt points.

So if you have a card like the Sapphire Reserve, you’ll do better using it on some purchases instead of the Hyatt card. For instance, you’ll earn 3 points per dollar on dining with the CSR versus just 2 points with the Hyatt card (and you’ll have more options when it comes to redeeming Chase points).

The one major downside to Hyatt is that it’s a much smaller chain than the big players such as Hilton and Marriott, which can make it difficult to find a convenient Hyatt hotel in some smaller cities. However, the chain has made promising attempts to improve this situation in recent years by partnering with other hotel groups such as Small Luxury Hotels of the World, allowing you to use Hyatt points at a greater variety of properties.

Hyatt was also originally scheduled to add peak and off-peak redemption rates to its award chart last year, meaning properties would have become more expensive to redeem points for during high-demand times (though also cheaper in low-demand periods). However, the chain announced those changes are delayed until sometime in 2021.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Sign-up bonus, decent bonus categories and travel perks at Hyatt.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has no annual fee, an introductory rate on balance transfers and easy cash back.

Learn more and apply for the World of Hyatt Credit Card.

Capital One Venture Rewards: Best for easy-to-use travel rewards

Why it’s great in one sentence: You’ll earn 2 Capital One miles per dollar on every purchase with the Capital One Venture Credit Card, and you can redeem those miles for any travel purchase you make at 1 cent per mile, or transfer them to Capital One’s airline partners for potentially even more valuable redemptions.

This card is right for: People who want to travel for free, using easily redeemable miles, but with the option to learn how to master transferable miles down the line for even greater value.

Highlights:

  • Earn 2 miles per dollar on all purchases with no limit.
  • Redeem miles for any travel purchase at a rate of 1 cent per mile.
  • Miles can also be transferred to any of Capital One’s 15 airline partners.
  • Up to $100 credit when applying for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $95 annual fee.

Welcome bonus: Earn up to 100,000 bonus miles — 50,000 miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months, plus another 50,000 miles when you spend $20,000 total on purchases in the first 12 months.

What we like about the Capital One Venture: Some people want easy-to-redeem travel rewards. Others don’t mind more complicated redemptions that can increase the value of their miles. The Capital One Venture card gives you the best of both worlds.

For folks who don’t want to deal with complex charts or award availability, you can use the Venture’s “Purchase Eraser” feature. It uses miles you’ve accumulated to pay off any travel purchases that you make with the card at a rate of 1 cent per mile, making the 100,000-mile sign-up bonus worth at least $1,000 in travel.

For others who want to put in the time and research to find first- or business-class flight redemptions when travel returns, Capital One’s 19 airline transfer partners provide another option. You can transfer miles to those partners at either a 1-to-1, 2-to-1.5 or 2-to-1 ratio depending on the partner.

Related: Capital One adds new airline and hotel partners to its credit cards, improves transfer ratios.

Capital One removed the first year annual fee waiver on the Venture card, so you’re paying $95 a year right from the start. But you’ll still get up to a $100 fee credit when applying for either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck and no foreign transaction fees.

Use the Capital One Venture to take your family on a beach vacation.
Use the Capital One Venture to take your family on a beach vacation.

What could be better: There’s only one bonus category on the Capital One Venture — you’ll earn 5 miles per dollar on hotels or car rentals, but only when you book them through Capital One Travel. Unfortunately, you likely won’t get elite credit or have your elite benefits honored when booking a hotel through a travel portal instead of directly with the hotel. It also doesn’t have trip cancellation or interruption coverage, which is somewhat unusual for a travel credit card.

If you’re only planning to redeem your miles using the “Purchase Eraser,” you could be better off with our benchmark Citi Double Cash card, which earns 2% cash back on everything — 1% when you make a purchase, 1% when you pay it off — since you’ll be effectively earning 2 cents in rewards for every dollar you spend either way, but the Venture card has a $95 annual fee.

Capital One’s transfer partners also include only one US airline option (JetBlue), though advanced card holders will be able to leverage international airline alliances to score domestic redemptions. But if you think you’ll mix in some airline transfers, even down the line, the Venture card serves as a great beginner gateway to the world of transferable points.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Sign-up bonus, purchase protections and travel protections.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has no annual fee and an introductory rate on balance transfers.

Read our complete Capital One Venture credit card review.

Want a credit card that covers you when you’re traveling? Check out CNN Underscored’s guide to the best credit cards with travel insurance protections.

Get all the latest personal finance deals, news and advice at CNN Underscored Money.

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