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Yes, cash back cards with solid travel rewards do exist. 

Molly McArdle
April 11, 2018

Typically, travelers searching for a new credit card have to decide between cards with great rewards (think: airline-branded credit cards, hotel-branded credit cards, and even gas station-sponsored cards) and those with excellent cash-back benefits.

But despite the common misconceptions, it is possible to find a cash back credit card that makes sense for even serious jetsetters.

Related: Hotel Credit Cards That Earn You a Free Night Every Year 

How Cash-back Cards Work

Cash-back cards are (for the most part) easy. You spend, and then you automatically get cash back. But even though they side-step the Byzantine rewards systems of conventional travel credit cards, even cash-back cards have their complexities.

While some offer a flat rate of return on every purchase, others offer higher rates for specific vendors or categories of purchase. Some cards offer miles or points that can be converted, while others display a straight dollar amount.

Those cash-back cards that award miles or points may lack the simplicity of cards that have no miles or points to decipher, value, transfer, or redeem, but they offer a greater variety of benefits. And many of those are a great appeal to travelers.

Because credit card bonuses and terms change from year to year, be sure to confirm the current offer before applying for a new card.

Cash-back Cards with Travel Perks

Travelers who can't choose should consider applying for one of these travel-friendly, cash-back credit cards. They're available from Chase and Citibank, and give frequent fliers a wide range of ways to redeem rewards. 

Best For: Travelers Who Want Maximum Flexibility

The Chase Freedom Unlimited card offers a flat cash-back rate for all purchases, which means that credit card holders can spend without crafting a complex rewards strategy. With perks like rental car insurance, travelers can enjoy significant savings on daily surcharges. However, it charges foreign transaction fees, which is not great for international travelers.

Benefits:

  • 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases
  • Convert cash to Ultimate Rewards points, or vice versa
  • Damage and theft protection on new purchases
  • Guaranteed 90-day returns on new purchases
  • Extended warranty protection
  • Rental car insurance
  • Zero Liability Protection, which means you won’t be responsible for unauthorized charges made with your credit card

Sample Sign-up Bonus: Get $150 (15,000 points) back after you spend $500 in the first three months.

Annual fee: $0

Best For: Travelers With a Serious Spending Strategy 

The Chase Freedom card offers a much higher cash-back rate than the Freedom Unlimited card — but only for purchases that fall within a rotating spending category. This is not a credit card for set-it-and-forget-it types, because to really get the most value out of Chase Freedom, cardholders need to monitor the changing categories (which alternate every quarter) and plan spending accordingly. It’s possible to convert cash rewards to Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which can be redeemed for air travel or hotel stays. This card also has a valuable rental car insurance benefit that is augmented by damage and theft protection, 90-day guaranteed returns, and extended manufacturer warranties. Like the Chase Freedom Unlimited card, however, it charges foreign transaction fees.

Benefits:

  • 5 percent cash back on rotating spending categories
  • 1 percent cash back on all other spending
  • Convert cash to Ultimate Rewards points or vice versa
  • Damage and theft protection on new purchases
  • Guaranteed 90-day returns on new purchases
  • Extended warranty protection
  • Rental car insurance
  • Zero Liability Protection

Sample Sign-up Bonus: Get $150 (15,000 points) back after you spend $500 in the first three months.

Annual Fee: $0

Best For: Frequent Travelers Who Only Occasionally Want Cash Back

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is a premium card and, unlike the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited cards, cardholders will have to pay an annual fee. (Though this is waived in the first year.) The perks for frequent travelers, however, quickly add up. With no foreign transaction fees, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is ideal for people frequently out of the country, especially when packaged with the built-in delayed baggage insurance, trip interruption and cancellation insurance, and rental car insurance. Cardholders also earn double the cash-back rate for travel and dining-related purchases. Cash back rewards can be converted to Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Benefits:

  • 2 percent cash back on travel and dining purchases
  • 1 percent cash back on all other purchases
  • Convert cash to Ultimate Rewards points, or vice versa
  • Sapphire Preferred points are worth 25 percent more when redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards online travel portal
  • Zero foreign transaction fees
  • Delayed luggage insurance
  • Trip interruption and cancellation insurance
  • Rental car insurance
  • Access to events and experiences like Sundance cast parties or exclusive lounges at music festivals

Sample Sign-up Bonus: Get 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months, plus another 5,000 points if you add an authorized user who also makes a purchase of any value in the first three months

Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)

Best For: Costco Junkies

The Citibank Costco Anywhere Visa Card offers a great value for cardholders who love Costco as much as they love travel. (We know you are out there.) With incredible cash back rates on gas, travel, and Costco purchases, the card still offers a solid 1 percent back on all other spending. This Citibank card also comes with benefits like trip interruption and cancellation insurance, travel accident insurance, travel and emergency assistance, rental car insurance — and it has no foreign transaction fees. Because the card doesn't come with an annual fee, it's easy to recommend it to travelers with active Costco memberships.

Benefits:

  • Get 4 percent cash back on eligible gas purchases (including at Costco gas stations) for the first $7,000, and 1 percent afterwards
  • 3 percent cash back on eligible travel (including Costco Travel) and restaurant purchases
  • 2 percent cash back on all other purchases from Costco and Costco.com
  • 1 percent cash back on all other purchases
  • Damage and theft protection on purchases
  • Extends manufacturer warranties by 24 months
  • Citi Price Rewind, which conducts a 60-day search for lower prices on your registered purchases (and if they find one, you may receive the difference in cost)
  • Trip cancellation and interruption protection (consumer card only)
  • Worldwide car rental insurance
  • Worldwide travel accident insurance
  • Travel and emergency assistance
  • No foreign transaction fees

Sample Sign-up Bonus: None

Annual fee: $0

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