We review the best credit cards for travel rewards that can be redeemed for flights, hotels, or dining at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. For the most part, these same cards will also be good options for travel to any destination in the world–that includes destinations like Tokyo Disney Resort and Disneyland Paris, too! (Updated October 27, 2019.)
We understand and appreciate that credit cards are not for everyone, but that does not make them inherently bad. Between the two of us, Sarah and I have had ~25 credit cards, received tens of thousands of dollars in rewards, and never pay any interest on purchases. (In fact, all of our flights for 2019 thus far have been booked with miles.)
Credit card debt is obviously bad. It should go without saying that you aren’t coming out ahead with rewards if you’re paying interest. That does not change the fact that “debt” is not an inherent element of possessing a credit card. Nor does it change the fact that an inherent element of credit cards is rewards and perks. We’ll stop with the preachiness, but felt a little of it was necessary to overcome the terrible stigma associated with having credit cards…
Let’s turn to our methodology for determining which credit cards belong on this list. Factors include annual fees, sign-up bonuses, earning and redemption rates, reward options, redemption difficulty, and ancillary benefits (such as free checked bags).
One factor that is notably omitted is APR. All of the benefits offered by credit cards are outweighed by paying any amount of interest, and that goes for any credit card. While valuable tools if you leverage their benefits and pay off your balance in full each month, credit cards become DANGEROUS WEAPONS OF SELF DESTRUCTION (too preachy? 😉 ) when they carry a balance.
Again, this is because we use credit cards for their rewards and awards. If you have good credit, time to spare, the desire to travel, and some great organizational skills, we recommend that you do the same. We cover all of the basics in our Travel Hacking Tips for Doing Disney & Beyond post. This is how we “pay” for most flights, stays in ~$1,000/night hotels, and visits to airport lounges, among many other things.
Suffice to say, credit card churning is an integral component of this, and involves simultaneously opening new credit cards based upon what perks are being offered, spending the appropriate amounts to receive those perks, redeeming said perks, and closing the credit card account, usually all within around 3-4 months. If you wondered why we’ve had so many credit cards, that’s precisely the reason.
With few exceptions (including all of the cards below), we usually open a credit card, earn and use the rewards–then rinse & repeat. In our extensive experience, this is well worth the effort. There’s a slight learning curve involved (and you’ll definitely want to read about this on other sites–like this one–as there are a lot of basics to know about this that are beyond the scope of this post), but once you spend a few hours learning the ins and outs, you’ll overcome that and be rewarded with the knowledge needed for inexpensive or totally free travel.
With that out of the way, here are the ‘foundational’ travel credit cards we recommend…
Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card – This is the new gold standard of travel credit cards. It became available only a few months ago, and since getting it, this has become our primary credit card for travel purchases. One reason we use this so much is because of its redemption flexibility, as its rewards are not tied to any single airline or hotel chain. Another is that it earns at a higher rate (across the board) than almost any other card.
The biggest balking point on this card is going to be that $450 annual fee. If you travel at all, knock that amount down to $150, since the card includes a $300 annual credit for travel. Still, $150 is a lot if you don’t travel much. You also receive a $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓, which can make that fee even more palatable. Another perk that may seem valuable is the touted access to 900+ airport lounges, but there are so many caveats that this is virtually worthless. (We’ve tried to use it 10+ times already, and have been denied each time…)
It’s the earning and redemption rates that make this a must-have for any frequent traveler. You earn 3 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. Add to that a 50% bonus when you redeem those points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
To illustrate that in practical terms, you can normally redeem 100,000 points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal for $1,000 in travel. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card, your 100,000 points are worth $1,500. Speaking of 100,000 points…the sign-up bonus is exactly that (after $4,000 spent in the first 3 months), meaning your sign-up alone is worth $1,500. There are several other perks, including no foreign transaction fees and a blackout date/seat waiver.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card – Think of this as the “lite” version of the Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card. It has the same upsides in terms of flexibility, but with scaled back earning and redemption rates, and lacks a few of the other perks. It also lacks that $450 annual fee (but it has a $95 one, which is waived for the first year). We recommend this credit card if you travel a few times per year or less, and don’t need or want the Sapphire Reserve.
With the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you earn 2 points on dining and travel per $1 spent and 1 point per $1 spent on everything else. Points are worth 25% more when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards portal; you can also transfer them at a 1:1 rate to several loyalty programs.
Marriott Bonvoy Credit Card – Following the Marriott-Starwood merger, there are now a ton of hotels where you can earn and redeem Marriott Bonvoy points. At Walt Disney World, your only options are Swan and Dolphin hotels, which are located right next to Disney’s BoardWalk Inn and are within walking distance of both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
In addition to the sign-up bonus that’ll earn you multiple free night awards, the Marriott Bonvoy Credit Card offers up to 6 points per $1 spent at Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 2 points per $1 spent on all other purchases, and one free night per year. There are three different credit cards (two via Chase, one via Amex) that are Marriott Bonvoy-branded, but we recommend the middle-tier “Boundless” card. Sign-up bonuses vary, but it’s currently 100,000 points–which is very good! Sign-up for the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card via our referral link!
United MileagePlus Explorer Credit Card – We bounce back and forth between Delta and United as our preferred carrier depending upon the year (never American Airlines) as we’ve had success with both airlines and need a primary carrier that has actual international routes (sorry, Southwest).
World of Hyatt Credit Card – Hyatt is our favorite hotel chain in the world (definitely more so than Hilton, Marriott–or even Disney), and we stay at their various brands whenever and wherever possible. The current sign-up bonus is 50,000 points, which is enough for several nights. Sign up via our referral link to earn those points!
There are no Hyatts on-site at Walt Disney World, but the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress is a wonderful resort that’s only ~5 minutes from Walt Disney World (a cheap Uber ride). At Disneyland, there are actually 3 hotels within walking distance–Hyatt Place Anaheim, Hyatt House Anaheim, and Hyatt Regency Orange County.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card – While Hilton is not our preferred chain (as noted above, that’s Hilton), we usually stay at the Hilton Tokyo Bay–a monorail loop resort at Tokyo Disneyland–for a week or so per year, and that alone is enough for us to justify having this card. At Walt Disney World, there are also three on-site Hiltons that are eligible for Extra Magic Hours!
With a massive 150,000 point sign-up bonus, you can stay several nights at any of these properties. Other perks of this Hilton Honors Amex include large category spend bonuses, Hilton property credits, airport lounge access, an airline fee credit, and Diamond Status–which means concierge lounge access, free breakfast, and room upgrades. Sign up via our referral link for 150,000 Hilton Honors bonus points!
BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card – Okay, let’s say you want to pay no annual fee at all. This is pretty common sentiment, and we can respect not wanting to spend money on credit cards. However, we would caution against being anti-annual fee before doing the math to see if the benefits (based on your spending habits) don’t offset the fee. In any case, if this describes you, this card offers a moderately good reward rate, good redemption options, and a decent sign-up bonus.
The BankAmericard Travel Rewards card earns a flat 1.5 points on every $1 spent. It’s that flat 1.5 rate that makes this card our ultimate recommendation for the “no fee” category. Points can be redeemed as a statement credit for travel purchases. If you have a Bank of America account, you receive a 10% bonus; if you’re a Preferred Rewards client, that bonus is up to 75%.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card – The next two cards are airline and hotel loyalty ones that we think will most benefit Disney travelers. The Southwest card is our airline pick for a couple reasons. First, we know Southwest is the most popular airline for Walt Disney World and Disneyland fans (it’s a popular and convenient carrier at both MCO and SNA). Second, this card makes earning and redeeming points easier than most other airline-specific cards. On a personal note, it’s no longer our preferred airline card.
For most Disney travelers, the Southwest card is the best airline-specific option. The $99 annual fee might sting a bit, but you receive a 6,000-mile anniversary bonus each year. Standard point rate is 1 point for every $1 spent, except Southwest purchases, which earn at a 2:1 rate. There are also no foreign transaction fees, and the ability to earn a Southwest Companion Pass (which is a huge one). More on that…
Bonus Hack: Open two Southwest Chase credit cards, one personal card and one business card (something as pedestrian as selling on eBay qualifies you for a business card). You’ll immediately earn 80,000 points, which is nearly enough to make you eligible for a Southwest Companion Pass. With the Southwest Companion Pass, whenever the primary traveler flies, their designated companion flies free.
Sarah and I had a Southwest Companion Pass, and during the nearly 2 years that we had it, I think we took nearly a dozen “weekend getaway” trips to Walt Disney World. With airfare that averaged less than $100 roundtrip for each of us, plus our Annual Passes to Walt Disney World, it was too much to pass up quick trips for…really, whatever excuse we could make. (So, I guess, “be careful” as this card can be dangerous.) It was easier to qualify for the Companion Pass then as the sign-up bonus was higher, meaning you’ll now need to put $30,000 on the cards to earn the pass.
You might’ve noticed above that we had the Companion Pass for nearly two years. A final tip with this is that the Southwest Companion Pass is good for the full calendar year after the year you earn it. Meaning, a Companion Pass earned in December 2019 expires December 31, 2020, but a Companion Pass earned in January 2020 would expire December 31, 2021–a full year of extra use. Plan strategically to have that Companion Pass longer!
Disney Premier Visa Credit Card – Saving the best for last? No, not at all. This credit card is really only advantageous to use while at Disney destinations, making it a solid specialized use card for Disney fans, but not among the best cards on this list–even for Disney fans. It’s a good card to have as a 4th or 5th card, but definitely not for everyday use. We do a more thorough job of this in our Disney Visa Credit Card Pros & Conspost, but basically, it comes down to rewards and perks.
The Disney Premier Visa card has a $49 annual fee and offers 2% rewards at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, and most Disney locations, and 1% everywhere else. It’s also good for some discounts at Walt Disney World and Disneyland; sometimes Disney Visa holders also receive advantages when it comes to Free Dining.
Okay, that covers it for our summary of the best credit cards for travel (with an emphasis on Disney travel). Note that the Southwest and SPG cards are not one-size fits all. Our primary airline and hotel-specific cards are for Delta, United, and Hyatt, but those are just what happen to work best for us. Also, travel cards are not the same as primary, everyday use credit cards–you should look to different cards for that. That’s a whole other topic, and one that probably isn’t relevant to this blog. There are also a couple other credit cards that are tangentially good for Disney travel if you’re taking advantage of the hacks in our Money-Saving Tips for Buying Disney Gift Cards post.
What’s your favorite credit card for Disney? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!