Best Airline Miles and Travel Rewards Credit Cards for 2016

By Kevin / October 19, 2016
Comparison of Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards for 2016

Airline miles and travel rewards credit cards allow you to earn rewards on purchases that can than be redeemed for airline tickets, hotel rooms, and even cash back in some cases. When comparing these cards, it is important to understand that there are two types of cards which allow you to earn airline miles / travel rewards.

The Two Types of Travel Rewards Credit Cards:

  1. General Rewards Cards - General travel rewards cards like the Barclaycard World Elite and Capital One Venture cards allow you to earn miles or points that are redeemable with any airline and for other types of travel and vacation costs For most people, we recommend choosing this type of card because you have more options when it's time to redeem​.
  2. Airline Specific Cards - These cards let you earn miles that can be redeemed with a specific airline, such as Delta or United. Generally, we find these cards to be less flexible, offer inferior rewards, and really better suited to business travelers (who are more interested in taking advantage of upgrades and other airline specific perks).​

We we through the best deals for both types of cards to determine the best travel rewards cards for 2016. And if you keep reading below, you can find out a little more about our methodology and how we ranked the cards.

One final note before you start reading: all cards mentioned below have rewards programs that are both easy to use and allow you to easily redeem your rewards.

Our Top Choice: Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® card stand out because you can 2x miles all all purchases - not just some categories of spending. Plus, by spending $3,000 in your first 90 days, you can earn 50,000 bonus points (which is equivalent to $500 of travel rewards).

And when redeemed for travel, your rewards earn a 5% bonus.​

That means each dollar you spend on travel provides 2.10% back in your pocket. That is stellar!​ And that is why our analysis shows you can earn the most travel rewards points with this card.

All with an annual fee of $89, waived the first year.

You can read our complete review for the details, but the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard is now our favorite travel rewards credit card. And our overall favorite card for 2016.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

Comparison of Barclacycard rewards credit cards

CreditShout Rating

Annual Fee: $89 (waived 1st Year)

Credit Required: Excellent/Good

Rewards Program and Signup Bonuses*:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that's enough to redeem for a $500 travel statement credit
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • Redeem for travel or cash back statement credits, gift cards and merchandise. Redemption values vary
  • Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
  • Miles don't expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • No foreign transaction fees on anything you buy while in another country
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months on Balance Transfers made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR will apply, 16.24%, 20.24% or 23.24%, based on your creditworthiness. Please note, there is a fee for balance transfers

Intro APR


Intro Balance Transfer

0% for 12 Months,* plus 3%  Transfer Fee

Regular APR

16.24%, 20.24% or 23.24% Variable APR

Best Welcome Offer

Chase launched new new Sapphire Reserve Card in late 2016 to take on the Platinum Card from American Express.

It comes with a stellar sign up offer: the opportunity to earn a whopping 100,000 bonus points by spending $4,000 in your first 90 days with the card.

The Sapphire Reserve also comes with some other great perks (highlighted below). Plus the opportunity to earn a 25% bonus on your points when redeeming for travel with Chase partners through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.

However, this card has two drawbacks that make it hard to universally recommend:

  • The $450 annual fee​ (which is not waived for the first year); and
  • The fact that you earn only 1 point per $1 spent in most categories.

If you want to earn 3 points on dining and travel, you can do that for no fee with to Costco Anywhere Visa

Thanks to the high cost of the card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is not necessarily a credit card you will keep in your wallet for more than a year. 

Chase Sapphire Reserve℠

new travel rewards credit cards

CreditShout Rating

Annual Fee: $450

Credit Required: Excellent

Rewards Program and Signup Bonuses*:

  • New! Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,500 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases such as airfare and hotels charged to your card
  • 3X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Plus, no foreign transaction fees
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 100,000 points are worth $1,500 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 900+ airport lounges worldwide with complimentary Priority Pass™ Select membership
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre√®
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards

Intro APR


Intro Balance Transfer


Regular APR

16.24%-23.24% Variable

A Good Alternative

Th Venture Rewards card ​recently took on the Chase Sapphire Preferred card in a rematch of travel rewards cards, and won handily. 

And no wonder. It has a nearly identical rewards program and signup bonus as offered by the Barclaycard Arrival Plus. The key difference is the Venture card does not offer a 5% bonus when rewards are redeemed for travel. But it does benefit from a lower annual fee (of $59, and waived for the first year).​

To learn more about this card, read our review.

Venture® Rewards Overview

The very best airline rewards credit cards

CreditShout Rating

Annual Fee: $59​ (Waived First Year)

Credit Required: Good

Rewards Program and Signup Bonuses*:

  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 40,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months, equal to $400 in travel.
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, every day.
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime.
  • Travel when you want with no blackout dates.
  • Miles don't expire and there's no limit to how many you can earn.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No annual fee for the first year; $59 after that.

Intro APR


Intro Balance Transfer

N/A; but No Transter Fee

Regular APR

13.24% - 23.24% Variable on Purchases and Transfers

Best No Annual Fee Travel Rewards Card

The Discover it Miles card provides the most travel rewards without paying an annual fee - which really help out those who charge lower amounts on their rewards cards.

It achieves this status by offering of 1.5 point per dollar spent, plus a first year bonus of doubling all points. This mean you will earn 3x points for each dollar you spend.

Read the complete review for this card to learn more about it.

Discover® it Miles Overview

how to maximize your travel rewards points

CreditShout Rating

Annual Fee: $0

Credit Required: Excellent

Rewards Program and Signup Bonuses*:

  • Exclusive Double Miles Offer: At the end of your first year—when other Miles cards charge an annual fee—Discover doubles all the Miles you've earned. Only for new cardmembers.*
  • No annual fee* & unlimited 1.5x Miles on every dollar you spend on purchases.
  • 100 Miles = $1 value. Redeem Miles in any amount toward travel purchases on your statement. Or get cash as a direct deposit to your bank account.*
  • Discover pays you back for your in-flight Wi-Fi fees—up to $30 a year—with an automatic statement credit.*
  • Freeze It℠ on/off switch lets you prevent new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers on misplaced cards in seconds by mobile app & online.*
  • Plus get 100% U.S.-based service.
  • Track your recent FICO® Credit Scores for free in one easy-to-read chart on monthly statements & online.*
  • Free overnight shipping of replacement cards to any U.S. street address at your request. And you're never responsible for unauthorized purchases on your Discover card.*

Intro APR

0% for 12 Months on Purchases​

Intro Balance Transfer

10.99% for 12 Months + 3% BT Fee

Regular APR

10.99% - 22.99% Variable

Best Card if You Do Not Have Excellent Credit: Capital One® Venture One

Capital One's VentureOne Visa card is the no annual fee version of the Venture Rewards credit card. It offers 1.25 points for each dollar spent, and the potential for 20,000 bonus points by spending $1,000 in the first 3 months.

We do not think the rewards and benefits of this card are as generous as those for the it Miles card. However, if you do not have excellent credit, the VentureOne travel rewards card makes a great alternative.

Read our review to learn more.

VentureOne® Rewards Overview

vacation rewards programs for everyone

CreditShout Rating

Annual Fee: $0

Credit Required​: Good

Rewards Program and Signup Bonuses*:

  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months, equal to $200 in travel.
  • Earn unlimited 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase, every day and pay no annual fee.
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime.
  • Enjoy a low intro APR on purchases for 12 months; 11.9%-21.9% variable APR after that.
  • Travel when you want with no blackout dates.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Miles don't expire and there's no limit to how many you can earn.
  • Enjoy unlimited access to your credit score and tools to help you monitor your credit profile with CreditWise®.

Intro APR

0% fo 12 Months

Intro Balance Transfer

N/A, but No Transfer Fee

Regular APR

12.24% - 22.24% Variable on Purchases and Transfers

What About the Chase Sapphire Preferred?

We know that a lot of bloggers out there tout the Chase Sapphire Preferred. And we really wanted to love it too. In fact, we went out of our way to maximize its value in making our rankings by assuming you will spend more than typical amounts on travel and restaurants.

We also assumed you would always redeem your rewards through one of their partner programs to take advantage of their 25% ​rewards bonus. (You always use one of these providers, right?: United, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Hyatt, and Marriott. And you don't mind be limited in your choices, right?)

But, despite all that, the Chase Sapphire Preferred did not do as well as other cards we analyzed. Don't believe us. Check out articles comparing the CSP vs. Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® and the CSP vs Capital One Venture Card.

The Rankings

Like our EPIC Guide to Cash Back Cards, we assumed that you would spend either $36,000 per year (or $3,000 per month) or $54,000 per year ($4,500 per month) on your card. (This also makes it easier for us to compare the total value of cards across classes.)

Based on those spending thresholds, we also made the following assumptions about how you would spend your money:​

$54,000 per Year

  • ​Travel: $14,000
  • Dining Out: $10,000
  • All Other Spending: $30,000

$36,000 per Year

  • ​Travel: $14,000
  • Dining Out: $10,000
  • All Other Spending: $30,000

After assuming you max out all signup bonuses and other redemption rewards, and taking into account any annual fees, we calculated that the 2-year total value of each card is:


2 Year Value


2 Year Value


Chase Sapphire Reserve



Barclaycard Arrival Plus



Capital One Venture



Chase Sapphire Preferred



Discover it Miles



Capital One VentureOne



One final note: you can really see how the lower your spending goes, the more amplified the benefit of the it Miles card can be, thanks to Discover doubling your first year rewards.

Airline Miles Credit Cards Q&A

Q. How Do I Redeem My Points or Miles?

A.  Redeeming points and miles with a travel rewards card like those reviewed above  is pretty painless. You just book your trip with the card (it can be any airline, hotel etc..) and then you can apply the points you've earned towards those purchases, either online or over the phone.

Q. Are Airline Credit Cards Any Good

A.  Some airline specific cards do have solid rewards programs. If you are planning to apply for a specific airlines rewards card, make sure that your airport is a hub for that airline! For example: Even though Delta flies into pretty much everywhere, your life will be much easier when it comes time to book if you live near a Delta hub like Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Memphis, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York (JFK), or Salt Lake City because there will be more available flights to choose from.

This is why many times it can be good to go with a general travel rewards card like the Venture Rewards Visa. You can book with any airline or hotel and not have to worry.

Q. What is the Difference Between an Airlines Miles Credit Card and a Frequent Flyer Card?

A.  Frequent flyer programs work in conjunction with your airline or travel rewards credit card. By signing up for a frequent flyer program you receive miles and build status whenever you fly with an airline. These miles are usually in addition to the miles you earn on the purchases you make with your card.

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