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COVID travel restrictions are causing many of us to rethink our international travel plans and instead travel locally. Many people are opting for staying within a single driving day radius while others are aiming for fresh air in the outskirts of cities. The credit cards you use for your new travel habits may be different than when you were a frequent flyer. Here are a few of the best credit cards for use when COVID travel restrictions are in place.

COVID Travel Restrictions
California dreaming in Los Angeles, CA as COVID travel restrictions have us rethinking our travel plans. Photo by Johnny Jet

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card can be a good fit for most wallets as it’s easy to earn bonus points. Every purchase earns 2 Venture Miles per $1 you spend on this metal credit card. Your points are redeemable for travel statement credits, upcoming travel, and transferring to airlines and hotels.

You can also get a fee credit of up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck for when you do take to the skies again. The annual fee is $95 upon application approval. New cardholders can earn a 100k mile bonus by spending $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

Learn more: Rewards Credit Cards

Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® is a travel rewards card at heart but is catering to lifestyle purchases while you stay home. You earn 2 Ultimate Rewards points per $1 on dining and travel (including Airbnb or vacation stays).

Your points are worth 25% more when redeemed for booking award travel with Chase instead of cash rewards. The Pay Yourself Back tool applies the 25% redemption bonus on grocery stores, restaurants, charity donations, and home improvement purchases. This promotion ends on April 30, 2021.

Some of the other benefits you may like include one year of free DoorDash DashPass. When you travel, the Sapphire Preferred offers a suite of travel protection benefits and primary rental car insurance benefits, including collision and theft damage coverage.

The signup bonus is 80,000 Ultimate Rewards (worth $1000 in award travel) after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. The annual fee is $95.

Related: Chase Sapphire Preferred vs Capital One Venture

Chase Sapphire Reserve

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® can be your best option for a premium travel credit card. But, the COVID travel restrictions make being a frequent flyer difficult. While now isn’t necessarily the best time to get a premium credit card as you need to fly often to enjoy all of the card perks, Chase has made some adjustments. Like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, some of the Sapphire Reserve perks are temporarily social-distancing friendly.

For example, the $300 annual travel credit also applies to gas station and grocery store purchases from June 1, 2020, until December 31, 2020. You still earn 3x Ultimate Rewards on travel (immediately after earning the $300 travel credit) and dining. You will also earn up to 10x points on Instacart, gas station, and select streaming plan purchases through the end of September.

Your points are worth 50% more when booking award travel on Chase, including hotels and car rentals. Through September 30, 2020, you can also get a 50% point redemption bonus on recent grocery store, gas station, and home improvement purchases as a statement credit.

Other benefits you may enjoy throughout the year include:

  • One year of free DoorDash DashPass
  • $120 in DoorDash statement credits ($60 in 2020 and $60 in 2021)
  • One year of free Lyft Pink membership
  • Earn up to 10x points on Lyft rides (through March 2022)

Premium air travel benefits you can enjoy include a credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck and Priority Pass lounge access. The signup bonus is 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months. The annual fee is $550 but is offset by the $300 travel credit and other perks.

Related: Chase Sapphire Reserve Perks and Benefits

Citi Double Cash

Cash back credit cards are not always the most exciting option, but the flexibility of redeeming cash rewards is nice when travel is so uncertain. The Citi® Double Cash Card earns up to 2% back on purchases. Cardholders earn 1% cash back when they buy, plus 1% cash back once they pay for the purchase. You can redeem your rewards for cash statement credits, direct deposit, and paper checks.

This is also one of the best Citi credit cards to have in your wallet. There is no annual fee but there is a 3% foreign transaction fee. It’s one of the highest rates for a flat rate credit card.

Related: Citi Double Cash Review

Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is a good pick for grocery and streaming services:

  • 6% back at US supermarkets (on the first $6,000 per year, then 1% back)
  • 6% back on select US streaming subscriptions
  • 3% back on transit purchases
  • 3% back at US gas stations
  • 1% back for all non-bonus purchases
Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit. Also, Plan It gives cardholders the option to select purchases of $100 or more to split up into monthly payments with a fixed fee and no interest.
Available until 12/10/2020, there is a $0 introductory annual fee for one year, then $95 (See Rates & Fees). The welcome bonus is the ability to earn a $300 statement credit after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 6 months. This offer also expires on 12/10/2020.

Because of the high rate of cash back at supermarkets, this card is one of the best credit cards for groceries.

Related: Blue Cash Preferred Card Bonus Categories

American Express Gold Card

The American Express® Gold Card is an excellent choice to earn bonus points at home and while you travel:

  • 4x Membership Rewards at US supermarkets (on the first $25,000 per year and then 1x points)
  • 4x Membership Rewards at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery
  • 3x Membership Rewards on flights you book directly from airlines or on
  • 1x Membership Rewards on all non-bonus purchases

Your points are most valuable when transferring to airline partners at a 1:1 ratio. But you can also redeem your points for award flights on AmexTravel or gift cards for 1 cent each. You also get an annual $120 dining credit ($10 per month) at select restaurants and food delivery apps (enrollment required). It’s one of the best credit cards for eating at home as we wait for things to be safe again.

Another travel benefit includes a $100 airline fee credit for incidental fees at one selected qualifying airline. The annual fee is $250 (See Rates & Fees).

New American Express® Gold Card cardholders can earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first 6 months.

Learn more: Johnny Jet Recommended Credit Cards

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority

Southwest Airlines can be one of your best domestic airline options if you’re able to fly in 2020 because of its low flight prices. You can find discount flights across the United States. One of the few places you might be able to easily reach outside the United States is the Caribbean islands where Southwest Airlines flies to.

There are three consumer Southwest Airlines credit cards you can choose from. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card is the most luxurious card:

  • 2 Rapid Rewards points per $1 on Southwest Airlines purchases
  • 1 Rapid Rewards points per $1 for everything else
  • 7,500-anniversary points per year
  • Annual $75 Southwest travel credit card
  • 4 Upgraded Bookings per year

The signup bonus is 40,000 Rapid Rewards after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months of account opening. The annual fee is $149.

Related: Best Southwest credit cards

Summary of the Best Credit Card for COVID Travel Restrictions

If you’re rethinking which credit cards are in your wallet, these cards excel at maximizing your daily purchases while still offering benefits for when it’s safe to fly again. You also have flexible point redemption options for cash or travel rewards. Note that many of the cards on this list of best credit cards to use during COVID travel restrictions are also some of the best travel credit cards for beginners available.


What credit card is best for travel?

There are two top options for the best travel credit card if you want flexible ways to earn points:

  • Capital One Venture: Earn unlimited 2 miles per $1 on all purchases and redeem your miles for travel statement credits and upcoming travel
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: Earn 2 points per $1 on travel and dining. Your points are worth 25% more when redeeming points for travel you book on the Chase travel portal.

Neither card charges a foreign transaction fee, great for international travel.

If you’re loyal to a particular airline or hotel brand, a branded credit card may be more valuable to you. The Southwest Airlines credit cards are worthy contenders. They are especially good if you can book award flights more often or even qualify for A-List status or the Companion Pass sooner.

Here’s more information on the credit score needed for Southwest Airlines credit cards.

What credit card gives 2% back?

The Citi Double Cash awards up to 2% cash back on every purchase. You earn 1% back at the time of purchase and the second 1% back when paying your credit card statement. This card doesn’t have an annual fee.

Another credit card offering 2% back is the Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature Credit Card, also without an annual fee. This can be a good option if you want a credit card for investing.

How can I use my credit card for free travel?

Credit cards offer you two ways to travel for free:

  • Travel credits
  • Redeem or transfer rewards points you earn from purchases

Travel credits are closer to being a “free travel option.” For instance, the Chase Sapphire Reserve has a $300 travel statement credit that applies to your first travel purchases for the year. Another popular option is hotel or airline fee credits that reimburse your first purchases for a specific airline or hotel brand.

Redeeming credit card points requires you to first make card purchases. Most travel cards award between 1 and 10 points per $1, depending on the bonus category and rewards program. Some credit cards only let you redeem points through their travel portal.

Other cards also give you the option of transferring points to airline and hotel partners. Point transfers can make your points more valuable as each point can be worth between 3 and 5 cents each for first-class flights. Your points may only be worth 1 cent each when booking the same first-class flight on the credit card portal.

Related Articles:

For rates and fees of The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, please click here.

For rates and fees of The American Express® Gold Card, please click here.

Josh Patoka

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.

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