December 30, 2022

Virtual cards for travel: The best options for small businesses

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If you still issue physical credit cards to your employees before they embark on business travel, it's time to upgrade your processes. These days, virtual cards are a much better choice for corporate travel management. They help businesses control travel costs, streamline expense management, and lower the risk of fraud.

However, not all virtual cards for business are the same.

What are virtual cards?

A virtual card is a computer-generated card with a unique number linked to a specific transaction. Like traditional cards, virtual cards have the cardholder's name, expiration date, and a three or four-digit CVV. A virtual card is typically stored on the phone, and you can use it to make contactless payments.

Why should you use virtual cards for travel?

Virtual cards benefit everyone in your organization, from frontline employees to your finance team. Here are their main benefits: 

  • Lowered fraud risk: Virtual cards work just like physical credit cards. However, with physical credit cards, if the card number is compromised, all payments are affected. With virtual cards, a unique card number is generated for every transaction. Using a unique card number instead of the same one over and over gives your company a complete audit trail.
  • Improved compliance: With virtual cards, organizations can add extra controls, such as spending limits based on their travel policy. You can limit cards by spend amounts, purpose, frequency, merchants, and even expiration. A single-use virtual card number can be issued to a specific vendor for a specific dollar amount, preventing overcharging.
  • Time savings: Software for virtual cards often collect receipts from employees automatically and match them to transactions, eliminating the need for manual expense reports and saving time for both your employees and your finance team.
  • Reduced personal liability: Virtual cards protects cardholders financially if they’re responsible for any damages or injury to others during business travel. They combine the best of unsecured and secured credit cards seamlessly.
  • Real-time expense visibility and automated reconciliation: With virtual cards, settlement happens in minutes, and the finance team doesn't need to wait for employees to submit expense reports. This gives you more control over spend as it offers real-time visibility into expenses. In addition, the unique credit card number for each transaction allows for automatic receipt-matching and categorization, which helps in financial planning and analysis. You can use these insights to negotiate better deals with vendors and improve financial planning and analysis.

What to look for in a virtual card for travel

The best virtual card for travel vary depending on your company’s needs. Some of the things to look out for when choosing the best travel card include:

  • Welcome bonuses: Many virtual cards offer bonuses such as zero introductory APRs, cashback offers, and cash balance transfer rewards upon signing up. Some even offer generous referral rewards.
  • Reward rates: While bonuses are great, many card providers suspend them after the introductory period. Check the reward rates and terms after the introductory period and confirm whether they’re attractive to your business.
  • Annual fees: Some virtual cards charge an annual fee. Others charge zero fees but specify a minimum spending amount per year. Fail to achieve this spend and you’ll be charged a maintenance fee. Also, check the APRs since some cards charge variable rates.  
  • Foreign transaction fees: Some virtual credit cards include a surcharge for foreign transactions that might negate the benefits they offer. If your company experiences significant foreign travel expenditure, check these rates.
  • Purchase protection: Every virtual credit card offers some degree of purchase protection. Check the terms carefully before signing up.
  • Card benefits: Every virtual card for travel offers different benefits. Miles are the most common reward. Other might offer cashback in lieu of miles. Some offer a combination, allowing you convert miles into cashback etc. Check what the benefits are and if they offer value to your business.

7 popular virtual cards for travel

Virtual cards can help you find major savings if your employees often travel for work. However, choosing the right virtual purchase card for travel can take time and effort. We’ve rounded up the seven popular virtual cards for travel below.

1. Ramp  

Ramp’s virtual card pays you unlimited 1.5% cashback on every purchase. There are no restrictions on spending categories, meaning every dollar you spend earns points.

You can customize spending limits for your employees or restrict spend per vendor to eliminate overspending. With Ramp, you also get real-time transaction visibility so that your finance team can plan spending and track business expenses accordingly.

Ramp’s corporate cards don’t have annual or foreign transaction fees. Add it to your Apple Wallet or Google Pay and make travel payments on the go.

Best of all, Ramp is more than a virtual card. You can centralize expense management by connecting different sources of spending data seamlessly. Export expense entries to small business accounting systems like QuickBooks or enterprise ERPs like NetSuite to simplify monthly closes.

You can also automate bill payments and invoice processing by uploading your invoices. Ramp handles the rest, saving you time. You get a comprehensive audit trail, along with Ramp’s expert support that helps you negotiate vendor contracts and unearth savings on existing subscriptions.

2. Capital One Spark Miles for Business Card

The Capital One Spark Miles for Business Credit Card is another virtual card for business owners on the hunt for travel awards. You’ll earn unlimited double miles on every purchase.

If you spend $4,500 within the first three months of account opening, you’ll earn 50,000 miles. You can redeem your miles for flights, hotels, and car rental or even transfer them to Capital One’s travel partners. The card also comes with useful perks, including a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. Plus, it’s free for the first year, and $95 after per year.

Where Capital One Spark Miles for Business Card falls short is the high variable APR of 23.99% and lack of a zero intro APR period. Although the annual fee is waived for the first year, paying $95 per year is still expensive for such a card.  

3. Citi Premier Card  

The Citi Premier Card  offers a welcome bonus of 80,000 miles after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. In addition to the intro bonus, you earn three points for every dollar spent on various categories, including restaurants, gas stations, air travel, hotels, supermarkets, and more.  

Additional benefits of this virtual credit card include no foreign transaction fees and easy points transfer to dozens of Citi’s airline partners. There’s also a $100 annual discount on a hotel stay of $500 or more. The Citi Premier Card works for companies looking to earn travel rewards on everyday purchases for a $95 annual fee.

While Citi Premier card offers several perks, it is not the best virtual card for travel out there. For one, the annual fee is quite high and may not be worth it. Second, there’s a high spending requirement for the sign-up bonus. Finally, it lacks travel and purchase protections that are relevant to a small business.

4. CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard

If your employees often travel with American Airlines, the CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard can help you save up to 25% on inflight food and beverage. Cardholders stand to earn 65,000 American Airlines miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 120 days of opening the account.  

With the card, you also earn two miles per dollar on common expense categories like gas stations, car rental, telecommunications, cable, satellite merchants, and eligible American Airlines purchases. All other purchases earn one mile per dollar. There’s no limit on the AAdvantage® miles you can earn. The card costs $99 annually, waived the first year.

This card has a few downsides though. You can only earn double miles on specific categories and redemptions can only be booked with American Airlines and its partners. Moreover, the $99 annual fee is quite expensive compared to other options.  

5. Citi Double Cash Card  

The Citi Double Cash Card is a flat-rate cashback credit card that offers virtual cards with no spending categories. Cardholders earn two percent cash back on all purchases 一 one percent back when purchases are made, and an additional one percent back when they pay for those purchases.  

The Citi Double Cash Card falls short in the following:  

  • Doesn’t have a welcome bonus  
  • 3% foreign transaction fee
  • No introductory zero percent APR on purchases

6. American Express Business Platinum Card

The Business Platinum Card from American Express is a long-time virtual credit card on the market. While it has a $695 annual fee, it offers credit card rewards for frequent travelers. Cardholders get 120,000 membership reward points after spending $15,000 on qualifying purchases within the first three months of card membership.

It has drawbacks though:

  • The $695 annual fee is very high
  • High spending requirement to earn the welcome bonus
  • Maximizing the statement credits maybe unworkable for many   

7. Bank of America virtual credit card for travel  

The Bank of America virtual card for travel is a perfect choice for companies looking for a standard virtual card with minimal fees but earning travel rewards. The card offers 25,000 introductory bonus points if you spend at least $1,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. You’ll also earn unlimited 1.5 points for every dollar spent.

However it has downsides:

  • No bonus categories to rake in more rewards
  • High APR depending on your creditworthiness
  • Three percent balance transfer fee  

Upgrade your finance tools for business travel

Virtual cards are transforming business travel. By providing an added layer of security, you can pay merchants that accept card payments without worrying about your information being stolen. You can also digitize your travel policy and give every employee a corporate card with spend controls and limits.  

In addition, you don’t have to waste time on travel expense reports as everything is automated and you get real-time transactions in one dashboard. When choosing a virtual small business credit card, pick a card that will not only earn you rewards but also saves you time and has low fees.

See how Ramp can help you streamline business travel for your small business.

The Ramp team is comprised of subject matter experts who are dedicated to helping businesses of all sizes work smarter and faster.


What are the benefits of using virtual cards for travel?

Virtual cards offer several benefits, such as:

  • Reduced fraud risk thanks to unique transaction-level card numbers
  • Time savings from automated expense reconciliation
  • Potential cash flow increase through higher cashback rates
  • Reduced need for expense reimbursements

What are virtual cards?

A virtual card is a computer-generated card with a unique number linked to a specific transaction. Like traditional cards, virtual cards have the cardholder's name, expiration date, and a three or four-digit CVV.

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