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If you’ve wanted a travel credit card but still aren’t sure if it is worth it, you may have considered a cash back card instead. Alternatively, you may want to learn more to find which might work best in the long run. Would a cash back or travel rewards credit card let you maximize your spending? The answer depends on your lifestyle, goals, and spending habits. However, we can help you wade through the choices to decide which card is your best option.

Residence Inn Norwalk. Credit: Johnny Jet

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Cash Back vs Travel Rewards Credit Cards

While both cash back vs travel rewards credit cards have their perks and benefits, choosing the wrong one will put a damper on your rewards. Do you plan to travel in the coming months? Or do you prefer getting cash back?

Each card is different. You may find one that really speaks to your financial goals and needs. So, even if you’re leaning towards a cash back card, it’s helpful to look at different options to get an overall picture. And even if you aren’t traveling soon, you’ll find you can still earn travel rewards without stepping foot outside your home.

Travel Credit Cards

If you take several trips per year, a travel credit card can be the better option. Below are a few reasons travel credit cards can be better.

Tiered Purchase Rewards

Most travel credit cards offer tiered rewards. You can usually earn between 1 and 5 points per $1 spent on most credit cards. Co-brand hotel credit cards may award more points for hotel loyalty purchases. As travel-related expenses tend to be a large portion of your monthly budget, you might be able to earn more points/miles than a flat-rate credit card.

Note that there are flat-rate travel rewards cards and tiered rewards cash back credit cards as well.

Above-Average Redemption Value

Travel rewards tend to be more valuable than cash rewards. Most credit card points are worth 1 cent each when redeemed for cash rewards, gift cards, or travel statement credits.

However, your points/miles can be worth as much as 6 cents each when redeemed for first-class or business-class award flights on select airlines. Select cards offering 1:1 transfer ratios that let you redeem your points for maximum value.

Complimentary Travel Perks

Travel credit cards are also more likely to offer additional benefits, saving money on travel. Some examples of the perks you can get include:

These benefits will vary by card. Generally, the more perks a credit card has, the higher the annual fee. Even so, there are no annual fee options available that are worth considering (more on that below).

Signup/Welcome Bonuses

Most travel credit cards offer a one-time signup/welcome bonus for new card members. Most bonuses require you to spend between $1,000 and $5,000 within the first 3 months. Higher spending requirements usually signify a more valuable bonus between $300 and $1,000.

Most cash back bonus offers are worth around $150 but only require you to spend $500 in the first 3 months.

No Foreign Transaction Fee

Travel credit cards are more likely to charge an annual fee than cash back cards. However, there are several travel credit cards without an annual fee. Typically, you can expect to pay an annual fee between $95 and $550 for most cards. However, using the card perks and maximizing your point/mile redemptions can exceed or offset the annual fee cost.

While you’re more likely to pay an annual fee, travel credit cards are less likely to charge a foreign transaction fee. This is something to keep in mind if you make international purchases.

Best Travel Credit Cards

Below are some of the best travel credit cards that you should consider first. These cards do a great job of making it easy to earn rewards points/miles, redeem points/miles for award travel, and offer benefits worth more than the annual fee.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is an excellent option for one of the best overall travel credit cards. Key reasons include:

  • Earn at least 2x miles on all purchases
  • Redeem miles for travel statement credits, upcoming travel, or transfers to airlines and hotels
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit, up to $100
  • The annual fee is $95
  • No foreign transaction fee

However, if you want to earn a few more miles on travel, good news—earn 5x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel.

Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel, with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is another budget-conscious travel credit card with flexible redemption options. Your points are worth 1.25 cents each when booking award travel. Or, you can transfer points to travel partners, including United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and World of Hyatt.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred earns unlimited:

  • 5x points on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠ (excluding hotel purchases that qualify for the $50 Anniversary Hotel Credit)
  • 3x points on dining (including eligible delivery services, takeout, and dining out)
  • 3x points on online grocery purchases (excluding Target®, Walmart®, and wholesale clubs)
  • Also 3x points on select streaming services
  • 2x points on all other travel purchases
  • 1x point per $1 spent on all non-bonus purchases 

There is a $50 annual Hotel Credit. Plus, on each account anniversary, you’ll earn bonus points equal to 10% of your total purchases made the previous year. 

Other benefits include:

  • Points are worth 25% more when booking any award travel through Chase
  • Transfer points at a 1:1 ratio to airlines and hotels
  • Trip cancellation insurance of $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip
  • Primary rental car insurance benefits
  • No foreign transaction fees

New Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card cardholders can earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s worth $750 when redeemed through Chase Travel℠.

There is a $95 annual fee.

The Platinum Card from American Express

One of the best premium credit cards for frequent travelers is The Platinum Card® from American Express. While this card has a hefty $695 annual fee (See Rates & Fees), the value of these benefits is worth the annual fee:

  • 1:1 airline point transfers
  • Airport lounge access (includes Centurion, Priority Pass (enrollment required), Delta Sky Club, and others)
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit
  • Hilton Honors Gold and Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite loyalty status (enrollment required)

Cardholders earn 5x Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year, and earn 5x Membership Rewards® points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.

Cardholders can get up to $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings with American Express Travel when they pay with the Platinum Card®. The Hotel Collection requires a minimum two-night stay.

Also, select one qualifying airline and then receive up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year when incidental fees are charged by the airline to your Card.

Complimentary entry to The Centurion® Network and exclusive perks are also perks.

Get the full details and learn more in our in-depth The Platinum Card from American Express review.

Other Platinum Card from American Express Benefits

There’s also a digital entertainment credit. Cardholders can get up to $20 in statement credits each month when they pay for eligible purchases with the Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.

In addition to enjoying TSA PreCheck or Global Entry access, cardholders can also enjoy CLEAR perks. Get up to $189 back per calendar year on your Membership (subject to auto-renewal) when you use your Platinum Card.

Another exciting benefit is the ability for cardholders to get up to $300 back each year in the form of statement credits on an Equinox+ subscription or any Equinox club membership when they pay with their Platinum Card. Enrollment required.

Welcome Bonus Offer

New The Platinum Card® from American Express cardmembers can earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after spending $8,000 on purchases on their new Card in the first 6 months of Card Membership.

The annual fee is $695 (See Rates & Fees) but can be offset with the perks, which are valued at over $1,400.

Cavallo Point. Credit: Johnny Jet

Cash Back Credit Cards

Cash back credit cards can be the better option if you enjoy the flexibility of cash rewards. It’s possible to redeem your rewards for cash statement credits, bank account deposits, or gift cards.

Some travel credit cards let you redeem points for recent travel purchases. But if you don’t travel often, it can be several months between redemptions. If you don’t travel regularly, the more valuable redemption options or additional travel perks may not help you save money. After all, you have to patronize a participating airline or hotel to use the benefits.

The best cash back credit cards are also less likely to charge an annual fee. Travel credit cards with the most benefits tend to charge higher annual fees.

Most, but not all, cash back credit cards give you flat-rate rewards programs. On average, you can expect to earn 1.5% or 2% back on purchases. However, the best cash back credit cards award up to 5% back on select purchases.

Best Cash Back Credit Cards

Here are some cash back credit cards to consider first.

Citi Double Cash Card

The information for the Citi® Double Cash Card has been collected independently by Johnny Jet. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

The Citi® Double Cash Card earns up to 2% back on all purchases. Cardholders earn unlimited 1% cash back when they make a purchase, plus an additional 1% back when they pay for those purchases. To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.

There is no annual fee, but there is a 3% foreign transaction fee.

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card earns an unlimited 1.5% back on every purchase. However, earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. It doesn’t have an annual fee or a foreign transaction fee. There is no minimum balance requirement when redeeming your cash rewards.

This card also has a signup bonus of $200 bonus cash after spending $500 in the first 3 months of account opening.

Chase Freedom Flex

The information for the Chase Freedom Flex® has been collected independently by Johnny Jet. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

The Chase Freedom Flex® takes a unique approach to offering tiered rewards. You get 5% back on the first $1,500 spent in rotating bonus categories once activated.

Cardholders earn:

  • 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate (then 1% back)
  • 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠ (unlimited)
  • 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services (unlimited)
  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases (unlimited)
  • 1% on all other purchases (unlimited)

There isn’t an annual fee.

New Chase Freedom Flex® cardholders can earn a $200 bonus after they spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

The Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express

The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express offers the following rewards:

  • 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%)
  • 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations (up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%)
  • Plus, 3% cash back on U.S. online retail purchases (up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%)
  • 1% cash back on general purchases

Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed for statement credits.

There is a $0 annual fee (See Rates & Fees).

The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express welcome bonus is the ability to earn a $200 statement credit after spending $2,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months.

Summary

Travel credit cards tend to offer more valuable redemption options and additional card benefits than cash back cards. However, cash back cards are better when you don’t travel or prefer the flexibility that comes with cash. Between cash back vs travel rewards, which do you prefer?

FAQs

Are travel cards better than cash back?

Travel cards tend to offer higher redemption values for credit card points. They also tend to offer more valuable travel perks like airline lounge access, travel fee credits, and travel insurance.

However, cash back cards are better if you can’t maximize the travel rewards or additional benefits.

For example, you might be able to earn more rewards with the Citi Double Cash, which earns up to 2% back on every purchase (1% when making the purchase, then 1% when paying for the purchase). Since Double Cash doesn’t have an annual fee, you don’t lose the first portion of your rewards like most travel credit cards with a $95+ annual fee.

Is it worth getting a cash back credit card?

A cash back credit card can be worth it when you can’t maximize the redemption options or additional benefits of a travel credit card. Some exceptions can be a hotel credit card with a free anniversary night or an airline credit card with free checked bags. These benefits can exceed the annual fee.

Otherwise, a cash back card is a better option. Most cash back cards don’t charge an annual fee. They can also make it easier to earn bonus points on your daily spending. Since you can redeem your rewards for cash statement credits or bank account deposits, your cash rewards are less likely to expire than travel miles.

Which travel credit card is best?

The best travel credit card depends on your travel habits and the annual fee you’re willing to pay.

Which credit card is best for cash back?

The best overall cash back credit card is the Citi® Double Cash Card. It earns up to 2% back and doesn’t have an annual fee. However, there is a 3% foreign transaction fee.

In that case, go with the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card which earns 1.5% back on the U.S. and global purchases with no annual fee or foreign transaction fee.

For tiered rewards, consider one of these cards depending on your largest expense category:

  • Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express: Up to 3% back at U.S. supermarkets
  • Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card: 4% back on dining, entertainment, and select streaming services
  • Chase Freedom Flex: Up to 5% back on rotating bonus categories

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.

For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, please click here.

Johnny Jet has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Johnny Jet and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

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