Three cash-back credit cards that are great for travel

Traveling is expensive, but using the right card can help you earn rewards that help mitigate some of the costs. These three cards are the best for traveling and good all-around!

Mike Blake/Reuters/File
A computer chip is seen on a newly-issued credit card in this photo illustration taken in Encinitas, California September 28, 2015.

For 5% cash back: Discover it®-New! Double Cash Back your first year

The Discover it®-New! Double Cash Back your first year earns 5% cash back in rotating quarterly bonus categories (up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter) and 1% cash back on all other spending. Historically, several travel-friendly bonus categories have been offered, including gas and ground transportation, restaurants and retail spending. When you’re away from home, you’re bound to spend on gas or ground transportation to get around, and this card has the potential to provide big rewards.

Another benefit is access to Discover’s discount online shopping portal, Discover Deals. This provides a helpful service to voyagers, often including discounts or bonus cash back with merchants that sell travel necessities like luggage, clothes, electronics and more. Combined with no foreign transaction fees and EMV chip protection, the Discover it®-New! Double Cash Back your first year is a strong contender as a hybrid cash-back/travel card.

One of the few potential downsides with this type of card has to do with timing. With rotating reward categories, you need to make sure you’re spending on the right categories at the right time to maximize your cash back, so be sure to shop smart.

For the most flexibility: Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

If you want the same cash back on all spending, at all times, the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card is the way to go. It offers unlimited 1.5% cash back on purchases of any type, all year, with no foreign transaction fees. Combined with a $0 annual fee and the widespread acceptance of Visa, you’re getting one of highest-earning, most flexible cash-back cards available.

For travelers, this means no fumbling among different cards to figure out which one is best for certain purchases. The EMV-chip-ready Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card offers across-the-board rewards consistently, and that makes earning cash back seamless while you’re on the go. Just spend and earn.

For more on the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card click here.

For those who travel by car: Wells Fargo Propel 365 American Express

If you travel mostly by car, the Wells Fargo Propel 365 American Express will offset some of your costs. It has one of the highest unlimited, year-round rewards rates at U.S. gas stations, where you’ll earn 3 points per dollar spent. You’ll also get 2 points per dollar spent at restaurants and 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else. Points can be redeemed for a statement credit at a 1 cent-per-point ratio, so with the Wells Fargo Propel 365 American Express, you’ll get your money’s worth. This card charges no foreign transaction fees, so you’ll incur no added costs if your travels take you abroad.

The Wells Fargo Propel 365 American Express isn’t just about points. You’ll also get up to 20% off at more than 18,000 participating hotels and up to 25% off at all major rental car services, just for paying with your card. Plus, you’ll get a solid sign-up bonus to get you started: 20,000 points when you spend $3,000 in net purchases in the first 3 months.

As with any card that has an annual fee, it’s important to weigh costs vs. benefits. The Wells Fargo Propel 365 American Express’s annual fee is waived the first year and $45 every year thereafter, so if you spend $125 per month on gas with this card, you’ll cover the annual fee and break even. (Note: Points can be redeemed at a 1-point-to-1-cent cash-back rate, so: $125 x 12 = $1,500 x 0.03 = $45.)

Whether you travel for work or for pleasure, you should have a card that saves you money away from home. If you don’t want to be bothered with the complexities of most travel cards, there are plenty of options available that benefit travelers while providing the flexibility and simplicity of a cash-back card.

Kevin Cash is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet.

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