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Editor's Pick: Best Travel Rewards Cards 2010

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By Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D.
June 21, 2010

Editor's note: The offers in this article may have expired. See CreditCardGuide.com's travel and airline page for the latest offers.

Travel credit cards continue to feature some of the most lucrative rewards credit card deals. Their only drawback is that there are so many different types of rewards offers, it can be difficult to determine which cards feature the best deals. To help you choose which credit card to apply for, here is our pick for the best airline rewards cards for 2010.

Generic Airline Miles Cards
Generic airline miles cards offer the greatest flexibility among travel rewards cards, since rewards earnings, unlike frequent flier credit cards, can be applied to multiple airlines. Further, rewards can be redeemed towards any travel-related purchase, including free flights, hotel, or car rentals.

Capital One VentureOne
One of the best mile-per dollar deals out there comes in the form of Capital One&#039s VentureOne rewards credit card. Not only does the card give its holders 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase, the miles are Capital One&#039s signature “No Hassle Miles,” which means that there are no blackout dates, mile caps, or other restrictions on redemptions. Capital One also is one of the few credit card issuers that doesn&#039t charge foreign transaction fees on purchases made overseas, which will otherwise typically 2-3 percent to overseas charges.

Rewards earnings can be used on any airline, and they can even be translated into gift cards or merchandise for the traveler on hiatus. One other bonus: this no-annual-fee card also comes with up to 12 months of 0% APR for eligible cardholders.

For those willing to pay for that extra mile, the Capital One Venture card, which totes a $59 annual fee (waived the first year), offers 2 miles per every dollar spent. In addition, new cardholders are awarded an extra 10,000 bonus miles for spending $1,000 in the first three months of usage, which translates to $100 towards a flight, hotel stay, car rental, or other travel related purchase. For cardholders charging in excess of $10,000 a year, the upgrade is well worth it. The Venture card also offers the additional benefit of complimentary concierge and other travel upgrades.

American Express PenFed Premium Travel Rewards
While rewards earnings are average, the PenFed Premium Travel Rewards offers some of the best perks in the travel rewards card industry. The card, whose $50 annual fee is waived the first year, offers a 5 points per dollar spent on airfare, 3 points per dollar on hotels and dining (but only until the end of 2010), and one point per dollar on all other purchases. Furthermore, new cardholders who spend $650 in the first three months will receive an extra 20,000 bonus points, worth $200 in travel rewards.

While rewards earnings don&#039t match those of the Capital One Venture card, the extra perks are what make this card really stand out. All cardholders receive 24/7 premium concierge service, and those who spend $15,000 annually will enjoy access to 600+ luxury VIP airport lounges worldwide. The card&#039s program also comes with exclusive travel upgrades and offers.

To qualify, applicants must be a member of the Pentagon Federal Credit Union. Application is easy though, and available to all U.S. government employees, military, uniformed services, Red Cross members, and eligible family. If none of these fit, for an annual $20 membership fee, you can join the National Military Family Association as a civilian member, making you eligible for a membership in the PenFed Credit Union.

Best Frequent Flier Credit Cards
If you fly frequently with a specific airline, frequent flier credit cards are a great way to speed up miles accumulation and earn free travel faster by consolidating miles earned from purchases with miles earned from flights. Many frequent flier cards also boost miles earnings up to 150 percent on trips paid with the card. Also, unlike generic airline miles card where rewards earnings are lost should the card account ever be closed, frequent flier cardholders will still have the miles earned in their frequent flyer account even if they choose to close their credit card.

American Express Gold Delta Skymiles Card
Amex is offering a great sign-up bonus on its Gold Delta Skymiles card: those approved will receive a full 20,000 miles after their first purchase as well as an additional 2,500 miles per additional cardholder, for a total of up to 25,000 miles—the equivalent of $250 off any qualifying flight. The card does come with a $95 annual fee, but the first year of use is free, and cardholders who renew are rewarded with a complimentary $99 companion ticket each year. Cardholders earn double miles on Delta purchases and one mile per dollar on other purchases and enjoy freedom from any expiration dates or other limitations.

Other noteworthy frequent flyer rewards cards include U.S. Airways Premier World MasterCard, which offers 12,500 bonus miles after the first purchases and one mile per dollar spent. United Mileage Plus Visa also gives one mile per dollar and rewards new cardholders who spend $250 with 30,000 bonus miles.