Obtaining the best travel credit card can be an overwhelming task. From co-branded cards to points, miles, and cash back, the options are numerous, and it can be difficult to distinguish between the various reward currencies.
Points are essentially more flexible, transferable award currencies — ideal for people who aren’t loyal to any one airline or hotel chain for airfare or accommodations. Furthermore, these points can be redeemed for purposes other than travel.
Miles, on the other hand, are ideal for those who are content with limited redemption options, such as award bookings within a loyalty program for a specific travel brand. Even if you give up some flexibility by using miles, you can still get more value for your miles while gaining access to certain status upgrades in your preferred loyalty program.
What’s the difference between points and miles?
The distinction between credit card points and miles is determined by how the issuer defines its rewards currency. Miles are typically redeemed for award tickets for airfare. Miles can be transferred to other airline travel partners, hotel nights, and car rentals in some cases.
Credit card points, on the other hand, are typically issued by bank credit cards and have more flexible redemption options, such as travel accommodations and other items.
Miles are often associated with travel loyalty and frequent flyer programs, and they are the designated currency of co-branded airline cards. If you have a rewards card linked to a hotel loyalty program, the rewards will be called points, but they will be tied to the brand in the same way.
When you earn miles in these programs, you’ll typically get the most bang for your buck when you redeem them for flights or other brand-related purchases. If you earn with a co-branded credit card, you may also be eligible for free perks and status upgrades.
Miles can be earned by flying, spending, shopping online, dining out, and participating in other activities specified by the card issuer. If you know how to redeem airline miles (and hotel points) within the loyalty program with which they are associated, they can be extremely valuable.
General travel rewards credit cards provide more flexibility because you can transfer points to multiple hotel and airline loyalty programs.
As with miles, the terminology used by the card issuer may differ. Some travel credit cards, such as the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, use the term “miles” to describe their rewards. However, for the purposes of this analysis, we will refer to the flexible rewards provided by a credit card issuer rather than a loyalty program as “points.”
You’ll have far more redemption options with points than with a co-branded credit card for a single hotel or airline frequent flyer program. You won’t have to worry about being tied to one program’s award inventory fluctuations if you use points instead of miles, which is especially important during peak travel seasons.
Credit cards that earn miles for travel
This category could include both airline and hotel credit cards. The main idea is that the rewards are most valuable when used to purchase brand-specific travel accommodations. Consider the following co-branded travel cards:
American Express Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card
The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card earns rewards not only on Delta flights and Delta Vacation purchases (3X miles), but also on purchases made directly with hotels (3X miles), 2X miles at U.S. supermarkets and restaurants, and 1X miles on everything else for a $250 annual fee.
After spending $3,000 in the first six months, you’ll receive 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) as a first-year bonus. In terms of travel benefits, you can expect credits toward Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, as well as your first checked bag free and a companion ticket each year.
American Express Marriott Bonvoy Bevy Card
With the Marriott Bonvoy Bevy American Express® Card, you can earn 6X points at Marriott Bonvoy hotels (up to 18.5X points with automatic Gold Elite status), 4X points at restaurants worldwide and US supermarkets (up to $15,000 in combined purchases per year, then 2X points), and 2X points on everything else.
This hotel card has a $250 annual fee, but it comes with benefits such as a 125,000-point welcome bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months, a Free Night Award of up to 50,000 points when you spend $15,000 per year, and more.
Credit cards that earn points for travel
American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Capital One miles, and Citi ThankYou points are the four major transferable point currencies. So, selecting a card from any of these issuers will assist you in earning those flexible rewards points. You can transfer your points to at least a dozen airline and hotel partners through each of these rewards programs. This adaptability is useful for last-minute bookings or when award space is limited. Consider the following specific travel cards:
Card from Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a $95 annual fee points-earning travel card. As a cardholder, you earn 5X points on Chase Ultimate Rewards travel and Lyft rides (Lyft offer valid until March 20, 2025) and 2X points on all other travel. In addition, 3X points are awarded for dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases (excluding Walmart, Target, and wholesale clubs), and 1X points are awarded for all other purchases.
The Sapphire Preferred comes with a 60,000-point welcome bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months, a $50 annual hotel stay credit, and a 25% points-value boost for Chase Ultimate Rewards travel redemptions.
The American Express Platinum Card
The Platinum Card® from American Express, as one of the most premium travel credit cards on the market, provides exceptional value for those who can afford its $695 annual fee. In terms of rewards, spend up to $500,000 per calendar year on directly booked airfare, flights, and prepaid hotels through American Express Travel to earn 5X points, 2X points on prepaid car rentals through American Express Travel, and 1X points on everything else.
When you spend $6,000 in your first six months, you’ll receive an 80,000-point welcome bonus, as well as up to $1,709 in travel credits and annual reimbursement opportunities. Aside from these incredible benefits, you’ll also have access to the Global Lounge Collection, complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status, and Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status, among other things.
How to Choose the Best Travel Credit Card
The best type of travel card is entirely dependent on the type of traveler you are and what you hope to gain from a credit card. If you’re new to points and miles, a credit card with transferable points may be a good choice. There will be many transfer partners to choose from, but if you want to keep things simple, you can charge flights to your card and redeem points for a statement credit.
Even if you’re a seasoned traveler, having a diverse points portfolio is essential. A card that earns transferable points can provide this, eliminating the need to obtain multiple credit cards and incur hundreds of dollars in annual fees.
It makes sense for many people to have both: a card that earns points that can be transferred to multiple hotel and airline programs, and an airline card that earns miles but also provides additional benefits when flying with that specific airline or staying at a specific hotel brand.
If you’re still unsure what to do next, use Bankrate’s spender type tool to get personalized travel credit card recommendations based on your credit score.
Whether you’re new to travel credit cards or a seasoned pro, there are numerous factors to consider when deciding which card to get. Diversification is important at all levels, and rewards credit cards can help you achieve it.