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What is a Travel Credit Card?

Last Updated: March 11, 2024
5 min read

Key Points:

  1. A travel credit card lets you earn rewards on eligible purchases that may be redeemed for future travel (and non-travel-related) expenses.

  2. Branded airline or hotel credit card travel rewards might include perks like priority boarding or room upgrades.

  3. You can use a travel credit card with an airline or hotel card to maximize your earning potential.

They say that travel is about the journey, not the destination. And if you travel regularly, you know that small comforts on that journey are essential to a good experience—especially if those comforts include discounts or rewards. For an avid traveler, the benefits of a travel credit card make having one a good investment.

So, just what is a travel credit card? Travel cards give you the opportunity to earn Miles, rewards, or points on qualifying purchases that you make with your card. Depending on the issuer, these rewards can then be redeemed for a statement credit, travel bookings, and more. Some cards even allow redemption on non-travel-related expenses.

Further, a co-branded travel card (that’s a credit card that is issued by a bank in partnership with an airline, hotel, or other hospitality brand) lets you earn rewards when you're loyal to their specific airline or hotel brand. Because of that, some people carry more than one travel card and use the combined benefits to achieve ultimate rewards. 

How do different types of travel rewards credit cards work?

Are you looking for the best credit card for you? Here’s a quick overview of the four most common types of travel rewards credit cards and how they work

General travel rewards cards

Earning rewards: A general travel reward card offers the flexibility to earn rewards without being tied to a specific airline carrier, hotel chain, or other hospitality group. Instead, cardmembers earn rewards on eligible purchases with flexible redemption options. The Discover it® Miles Card lets you earn unlimited 1.5x Miles automatically on travel purchases and all your everyday purchases.

Rewards redemption: There can be a wide range for redeeming miles depending on the issuer. For instance, with the Discover it® Miles Card, you can redeem your Miles for cash in any amount, any time.1 You can even easily redeem Miles as a statement credit for travel purchases or get cash.2

View our online comparison chart to see how the Discover it® Miles card stacks up against other offers. Using this chart can help you find the best travel credit card for you.

Did you know?

While some travel cards only allow you to redeem your rewards for travel expenses, the Discover it® Miles Card lets you turn Miles into cash. Or redeem as a statement credit for your travel purchases like airfare, hotels, rideshares, gas stations, restaurants, and more.2 However you redeem, Miles have the same value.

Airline rewards credit cards

Airline credit cards are tied to a specific airline. Your purchases allow you to earn rewards that are redeemable for flights with that airline. Some airline credit cards bump up your rewards when you spend more, allowing you to access elite status levels which can give you access to even more membership rewards. Elite status perks can really up the game in travel comfort with offers like free checked bags, a VIP lounge priority pass, travel insurance, expedited Customs clearance with Global Entry, or discounts on in-flight purchases.

Hotel rewards credit cards

Like airline cards, hotel rewards cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed with a specific hotel brand. Perks could range from a free hotel stay just for having the card to extra rewards when you use your card to book with one of the brand’s properties.

Train rewards credit cards

Frequent transit and train travelers can apply for branded or co-branded cards that allow cardmembers to earn rewards they can put toward train travel. This works both in the United States and for travel abroad. Many allow redemption on your rewards toward hotels, rideshares, dining, and entertainment to make your trip even more enjoyable.

Is a travel credit card with no annual fee best for you?

You can unlock significant value and perks with a travel card with no annual fee. Travel cards with no annual fee, like Discover, give cardmembers the benefit of earning rewards without the costs of an annual fee.

General travel rewards cards with no annual fee

For occasional travelers, travel rewards credit cards that offer flexible earning and redemption options with no annual fee let you enjoy the benefits of a travel credit card and a general rewards card without paying an annual fee.

Co-branded travel rewards credit cards with no annual fee

Before choosing a co-branded travel rewards credit card with no annual fee, check the card’s rewards structure against your current spending habits. If you regularly travel with a preferred airline or hotel, a card that's co-branded with an annual fee could offer extra rewards and benefits that might save you money in the long run.

Choosing the best travel credit card for you

Now that you know what a travel credit card is and how they work, it’s time to look at how to choose the best travel card for you.

Here are a few factors to consider when you’re deciding which travel credit card is best for you:

New cardmember bonus

Many rewards cards allow new cardmembers to earn bonus rewards within a set period of time from opening the account.  In some cases, that means meeting a spending requirement before earning a bonus. Therefore, it’s a good idea to check that any spending requirement fits your spending budget.

Foreign transaction fee

Some credit cards charge foreign transaction fees whenever you make a purchase outside of the United States or with an online retailer in a foreign currency. If you plan on traveling internationally, consider a travel credit card without a foreign transaction fee. Discover has no foreign transaction fee.

Discover Card is accepted at millions of places worldwide.3 When travelling abroad, make sure you can use your Discover card without any delays by registering your trip.

Using more than one travel credit card

Many people use more than one travel credit card. By carrying both a general travel credit card and a co-branded hotel or airline credit card, you can get the perks that come with your favorite hotel or airline credit card—such as free checked bags or fast-track elite status—while having the option of using a general travel card to earn rewards you can redeem toward travel and non-travel-related expenses.

Are travel credit cards worth it?

Before deciding whether a travel credit card is right for you, do the math on where your money is currently going, and ask yourself whether you could profit from earning rewards for future travel expenses.

Once you understand how travel credit cards work, you can enjoy the benefits of adding one to your wallet. Keep that in mind as you book your next trip.

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  1. Rewards Redemption: Rewards never expire. We reserve the right to determine the method to disburse your rewards balance. We will credit your Account or send you a check with your rewards balance if your Account is closed or if you have not used it within 18 months.
  2. Redeem Miles: Starting at 1 Mile, you can redeem your Miles as a credit to your account to pay for all or part of your bill, for cash as an electronic deposit to your bank account, or for a credit for Travel Purchases made on your statement within the last 180 days. Travel Purchases include airline tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals, travel agents, online travel sites, commuter transportation, restaurants and gas stations. Restaurant purchases include those made at merchants classified as full-service restaurants, cafes, cafeterias, fast-food locations, and restaurant delivery services. Gas Station purchases include those made at merchants classified as places that sell automotive gasoline that can be bought at the pump or inside the station. Gas Stations affiliated with supermarkets, supercenters, and wholesale clubs may not be eligible. Even if a travel purchase on your statement appears to fit in a Travel Purchase category, the merchant may not have a merchant category code (MCC) in a Travel Purchase category. Merchants and payment processors are assigned an MCC based on their typical products and services. Discover Card does not assign MCCs to merchants. Certain third-party payment accounts and digital wallet transactions may not be eligible for credit redemption if the technology does not provide sufficient transaction details or a qualifying MCC. See Terms and Conditions for more information.
  3. Discover Acceptance: Merchant acceptance rates vary by country. Prior to international travel, check Discover’s acceptance map. Register your travel plans to minimize purchase interruptions.
  • Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.