PHOTO: iStock

CNN Underscored reviews financial products such as credit cards and bank accounts based on their overall value. We may receive a commission through The Points Guy affiliate network if you apply and are approved for a card, but our reporting is always independent and objective.

Travel is almost certainly the last thing on your mind right now. Regardless of whether you’re staying at home more often than not, or out performing an essential job (and many thanks to those of you who are), there’s no time to have more than a passing thought about travel.

But eventually, the coronavirus crisis will relent, planes will fill the air again, and hotels will reopen. And when that happens, you’re undoubtedly going to want — no, you’re going to need — a well-deserved vacation.

That’s where CNN Underscored’s list of the best travel credit cards for 2020 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 2020 and think about which one might get you to that getaway when its safe to get back on the road again.

The best travel credit cards of 2020

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best overall travel rewards card
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card: Best for easy-to-use travel rewards
Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for travel purchases
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®: Best airline travel card
World of Hyatt Credit Card: Best hotel travel card
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card: Best travel protections for no annual fee
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card: Best no-annual-fee travel card
American Express® Green Card: Best for occasional lounge access
The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best luxury travel perks

Why did we select these cards as our best travel credit cards for 2020? Dive into the details of each card with us, and see how they stack up.

Best overall travel rewards card: Chase Sapphire Preferred

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 Sept. 30, 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 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 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, a recently added bonus category that earns 5 points per dollar on Lyft rides, and a 60,000-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.

Card holders also get a complimentary DashPass subscription for at least one year, and for a limited time from now through June 30, you can earn 3 points for every dollar spent at grocery stores using the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Related: Chase adds credit card bonus points on groceries.

But the real power of the CSP 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 recently added new redemption options to the Sapphire Preferred. The issuer’s new “Pay Yourself Back” feature 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 Sept. 30, you’ll get 1.25 cents per point when redeeming this way.

To top it off, when 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.

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You'll get primary car rental insurance with the Chase Sapphire Preferred. PHOTO: iStock

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. You also no longer get the first year’s $95 annual fee waived with the CSP, so you’re paying for the card right out of the gate.

For many people, the Sapphire Preferred isn’t as flashy as its big brother, 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, 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 our complete Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card review.
Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

Best for easy-to-use travel rewards: Capital One Venture 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.
  • For a limited time now through Sept. 30, redeem miles for food delivery and streaming services 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.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months after opening the account.

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 50,000-mile sign-up bonus worth at least $500 in travel.

Even better, for a limited time now through Sept. 30, you can also use the Purchase Eraser on food delivery and streaming services along with travel purchases. So your miles can still be redeemed for the same value even while travel is halted.

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 15 airline transfer partners provide another option. You can transfer miles to most of those partners at a 2-to-1.5 ratio (meaning for every 2 Venture miles you transfer, you’ll get 1.5 airline miles on the other end), while Emirates, Singapore Air and Accor Hotels transfer at a 2-to-1 ratio.

Capital One recently removed the first year annual fee wavier 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. PHOTO: iStock

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 cardholders 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, 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.
Learn more about the Capital One Venture Rewards credit card.

Best for travel purchases: Chase Sapphire Reserve

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 2020 and 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 Sept. 30, 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 both 2020 and 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 50,000 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 brand new $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. And like the Sapphire Preferred, you’ll also get bonus points at grocery stores for a limited time with the Sapphire Reserve, but at an even higher rate of 5 points per dollar through June 30.

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 Sept. 30, you’ll get 1.5 cents per point when redeeming this way.

Related: New redemption options added to the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

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

What could be better: While the high cost of the Chase Sapphire Reserve was easy to justify for the last several years, it recently increased its annual fee from $450 to $550, although existing card holders are seeing a $100 credit through the rest of 2020. Even then, 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.

For instance, even though “travel” on the Sapphire Reserve encompasses a lot of different forms of transportation, it has still been challenging to use the $300 annual travel credit right now. Fortunately, Chase announced that from June 1 through Dec. 31, gas and grocery store purchases will also count toward the travel credit, making this a valuable benefit again.

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 American Express® Gold Card, 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, 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.

Explore whether the Chase Sapphire Reserve is worth the increased annual fee.
Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Best airline travel card: Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Mastercard

Why it’s great in one sentence: If you even occasionally fly American once travel resumes, the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Mastercard is an easy win — taking advantage of its first checked bag free benefit for you and a companion on just one round-trip a year easily offsets its $99 annual fee.

This card is right for: People who want to avoid paying checked bag fees on American Airlines while also getting priority boarding and other basic AA perks.

Highlights:

  • Earn 2 miles for every dollar you spend on eligible American Airlines purchases, at restaurants and at gas stations.
  • Earn 1 mile per dollar on all other eligible purchases.
  • First checked bag free for you and up to 4 companions on American flights.
  • Preferred boarding for you and up to 4 companions on American flights.
  • 25% back on eligible American in-flight purchases of food and beverages.
  • Receive a $125 flight discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during your cardmembership year and renew your card.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $99 annual fee.

Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after $2,500 in purchases within the first three months of account opening.

What we like about the Citi AAdvantage Platinum: There are two features of the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card that currently place it in the lead when it comes to airline credit cards.

The first is a solid 60,000-mile sign-up bonus, which you can get after just $2,500 in purchases in the first three months after you open the card. Based on the point valuations of CNN Underscored’s partner The Points Guy, those 60,000 miles are worth as much as $840 in travel.

The second standout feature is that for a limited-time from May 1 to Dec. 31, 2020, American will count all miles earned with the Citi AAdvantage Platinum toward Million Miler elite status. That’s something the airline hasn’t done in almost a decade, and no other US carrier does it. No, you probably won’t spend $1 million on this card, but those extra miles could be enough to get you over the lifetime elite status hump.

Other great features of the Citi AAdvantage Platinum include a free checked bag on all American flights (which normally costs $30 in each direction) for you and up to 4 companions on the same reservation. A family of four could save as much as $240 on a single round-trip if everyone has a bag to check, more than double the $99 annual fee on this card.

Everyone in your reservation also gets preferred boarding, giving you a better shot at finding overhead space for your carry-ons, and using the Citi AAdvantage Platinum on in-flight purchases gets you 25% back on staples like food and beverages. Also, if you manage to put $20,000 in purchases on this card in a card member year and renew the card, you’ll receive a $125 flight discount that you can redeem for any American flight, which is a nice added perk.

Get a free checked bag for you and up to 4 companions with the Citi AAdvantage Platinum credit card.
Get a free checked bag for you and up to 4 companions with the Citi AAdvantage Platinum credit card. PHOTO: iStock

What could be better: While American flyers can get decent value from the perks on the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card, you probably won’t want to use it as your everyday spending card. Since The Points Guy values American AAdvantage miles at just 1.4 cents each, you’re earning a fairly mediocre 2.8% return on the card’s bonus categories, and only a 1.4% 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.

Also, if you’re normally a heavy American flyer with elite status, you already have the perks that come with this card, so you could be better off with the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®, which comes with a much higher $450 annual fee but provides complimentary Admirals Club access for you and up to two guests or immediate family members when you’re flying American.

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

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 about the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard.

Best hotel travel card: World of Hyatt Credit 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.
  • From April 15 through June 30, receive an additional 3 qualifying night credits every time you spend $5,000 on your card (after June 30, receive 2 qualifying night credits per $5,000 spent).
  • Receive 1 free night at any Category 1-4 Hyatt each year after your first cardholder anniversary.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $95 annual fee.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points — 25,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, plus an additional 25,000 points after you spend $6,000 total within 6 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.

Plus, the Hyatt card can put you on the way to earning higher-level Explorist or Globalist elite status. For a limited time now until June 30, new card holders will get 10 elite night credits when they open the card. That’s double the usual 5 elite night credits you normally get each year with this card.

Also, now through June 30, World of Hyatt Credit Card holders will receive an additional 3 qualifying night credits every time you spend $5,000 on your card. Normally you only get 2 qualifying nights for each $5,000 spent, so that’s an extra qualifying night for each $5,000 in purchases. (After June 30, the rate will go back to the usual 2 qualifying night credits per $5,000 spent.)

Related: Earn extra nights toward Hyatt hotel elite status while you’re sitting at home.

But the icing on the cake starts one year from when 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.
Stay at the Park Hyatt Sydney using points earned with the World of Hyatt credit card. PHOTO: Hyatt Hotels

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 on March 22, 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 will now be delayed until 2021.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Sign-up bonus, decent bonus categories, 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.

Click here to learn more about the World of Hyatt Credit Card.

Best travel protections for no annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express

Why it’s great in one sentence: The Wells Fargo Propel Amex features a unique combination of strong bonus categories, easy-to-redeem points, an introductory interest rate on purchases and balance transfers, solid travel protections, no foreign transaction fees and even cell phone protection coverage, all for no annual fee.

This card is right for: People who spend significant money on dining, travel (including gas) and certain streaming services, and want to earn travel rewards for no annual fee.

Highlights:

  • Earn 3 points for every dollar you spend on dining and travel.
  • Earn 3 points per dollar on gas stations, ride-shares and transit.
  • Earn 3 points per dollar on popular streaming services.
  • Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Cell phone protection coverage.
  • 0% interest on all purchases for the first 12 months (14.49%-24.99% variable afterward).
  • 0% interest for 12 months on balance transfers made in the first 120 days after you open the card (14.49%-24.99% variable afterward).
  • Balance transfer fee of 3% of each transaction (minimum $5).
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No annual fee.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first three months.

What we like about the Wells Fargo Propel: While we’ve included it on our best travel credit cards list, the Wells Fargo Propel Amex is similar to a cash back card, since its points can be redeemed at 1 cent per point whether it’s for travel, gift cards, as a statement credit or even for cash at a Wells Fargo ATM.

But the card has a great mix of features, including a slew of useful 3x bonus categories that cover many everyday purchases, and the fact that it doesn’t rely as heavily on travel as the other cards on our list could make it more valuable in the current climate.

You’ll also find a 0% introductory interest rate on both purchases and balance transfers on the Wells Fargo Propel, though be sure to clear your debt within 12 months, because after that the rate jumps to a variable 14.49%-24.99%, depending on your creditworthiness.

You’ll get many enhanced travel protections — such as travel accident insurance, car rental damage coverage, and lost luggage insurance — that will be useful when travel resumes. And even while you’re not on the road, you’ll be covered for up to $600 in the event your cell phone is stolen or damaged (subject to a $25 deductible), so long as you pay your cell phone bill with the Propel Amex. It’s a surprisingly robust set of benefits and perks on a card that has no annual fee.

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You're covered with the Wells Fargo Propel Amex if your cell phone is stolen or damaged. PHOTO: iStock

What could be better: The major feature missing from the Wells Fargo Propel is the ability to transfer points to airline or hotel programs — instead, you can only redeem the points for travel using the issuer’s Go Far Rewards travel portal. (However, there’s one way to increase the value of your points: If you also have the Wells Fargo Visa Signature® card, you can transfer your points between the cards and redeem them for airfare at 1.5 cents per point through the Visa Signature.)

You’ll also want to be sure the bonus categories make sense for you based on your spending habits versus a flat-rate everyday card. The Propel Amex is also missing a few high-end travel protections like trip delay and trip interruption coverage, but frankly, for a no-annual-fee card, these are minor omissions.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Bonus points for travel, dining and streaming services, travel protections, cell phone protection, an introductory rate on purchases, sign-up bonus.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has a longer introductory period on balance transfers (18 months) and the option to convert its cash back to transferable ThankYou points if you also have the Citi Premier℠ Card or Citi Prestige®.

The information for the Wells Fargo Propel Amex Card and the Wells Fargo Visa Signature Card has been collected independently by CNN Underscored. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Best no-annual-fee travel card: Capital One VentureOne Rewards

Why it’s great in one sentence: One of the few no-annual-fee credit cards with both transfer partners and easy-to-redeem direct redemptions, the Capital One VentureOne features a lower earning rate than its more expensive brother but offers the same solid redemption options.

This card is right for: People who like the features of the Capital One Venture, but are willing to exchange a lower everyday earning rate for no annual fee.

Highlights:

  • Earn 1.25 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.
  • 0% interest on all purchases for the first 12 months (15.49%-25.49% variable afterward).
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No annual fee.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 20,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months after opening the account.

What we like about the Capital One VentureOne: Usually when there are two versions of the same credit card — one with an annual fee and another without — you can expect the no-annual-fee one to be a fairly stripped-down offering. But that’s not necessarily the case with the Capital One VentureOne.

Most of the features of the more expensive Capital One Venture remain intact on the VentureOne, including the same 1 cent per mile redemption value when using the card’s “Purchase Eraser” to wipe out any travel charge (as well as food delivery and streaming services between now and Sept. 30), access to the same airline and hotel transfer partners at the same transfer ratios, the same travel and purchase protections, and even the same no foreign transaction fees.

The main two downsides of the VentureOne are a reduced 1.25 miles earned for every dollar you spend (instead of the 2 miles you get on the Venture) and only a 20,000-mile sign-up bonus, albeit with a lower minimum spending requirement of just $1,000 in purchases in the first three months you have the account. Depending on how much value you can get from these two features, you may want to consider the VentureOne with no annual fee and most of the best perks.

Miles earned with the Capital One VentureOne can be redeemed for any travel purchase.
Miles earned with the Capital One VentureOne can be redeemed for any travel purchase. PHOTO: iStock

What could be better: Unless you’re going to take advantage of Capital One’s transfer partners, you’d be better off with our benchmark Citi Double Cash card over the VentureOne. That’s because you’re only earning 1.25 miles per dollar with the Capital One VentureOne, and you only get 1 cent per mile when redeeming them using the “Purchase Eraser,” meaning you’re effectively getting a return of 1.25 cents per dollar spent, while the Citi Double Cash earns 2 cents per dollar spent.

That equation changes if you can utilize the transfer partners when travel gets rolling again, since you can score a higher redemption rate than just 1 cent per mile if you do your homework. But if you’re ready for that more advanced step, you’re probably better off starting with the more powerful Capital One Venture card anyway, especially since the $95 annual fee on that card is more than offset by its bigger sign-up bonus.

In the worst-case scenario, you can always try the Venture card for a year and get the sign-up bonus, then convert it to a no-annual-fee VentureOne after the first year if you still aren’t using all its features (though keep in mind you won’t get a second sign-up bonus for converting).

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

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has an introductory rate on balance transfers.

Read our complete Capital One VentureOne Rewards card review.
Learn more about the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card.

Best for occasional lounge access: American Express Green Card

Why it’s great in one sentence: The much-improved American Express Green card features bonus categories of 3 points per dollar on eligible travel and dining purchases, along with an annual credit of up to $100 on CLEAR membership, up to $100 a year on LoungeBuddy purchases, an impressive set of airline and hotel transfer partners and an annual fee of just $150.

This card is right for: People who only travel occasionally even when travel patterns are normal, and just need airport lounge access a few times a year for a significantly lower cost than high-end premium travel credit cards.

Highlights:

  • Earn 3 points for every dollar you spend on eligible travel and transit.
  • Earn 3 points per dollar at restaurants worldwide.
  • 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.
  • For a limited time now through Dec. 31, up to $70 in statement credits on wireless telephone services purchased directly from US service providers.
  • Up to $100 per year in statement credits for your CLEAR membership.
  • Up to $100 per year in statement credits for LoungeBuddy purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $150 annual fee.
  • Terms apply.

Welcome bonus: Earn 30,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on purchases on your new card in your first three months.

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