The 5 Best Travel Cards to Get Started with Points and Miles
The world of credit cards, points, and miles is confusing and daunting as you’re just trying to get started.
There are so many banks, airline, and hotel programs trying to compete for a share of your wallet, it can be difficult and downright overwhelming knowing where to get started. What cards are worth it and which cards aren’t worth the plastic they were printed on?
While there are literally hundreds of different travel rewards credit cards out there, we think there are only a select few that make the cut as the best credit cards for beginners looking to travel. Read on to see our favorites.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
We didn’t name it our #1 starter card for no reason.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred has dominated travel rewards for years. While the card does carry a $95 annual fee which is not waived for the first year of card membership, it offers a ton of value that easily erases that charge. And there are a few reasons why it’s the perfect way to get started in collecting points and miles.
For starters, the card is currently offering 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of card membership. That’s a lot of points.
But the beauty of the points you’ll earn from the Chase Sapphire Preferred is that there are several ways to use them. There’s a simple and straightforward way: You can book flights, hotels, rental cars and more directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. And when you use them this way, you get a bonus: Each point is worth 1.25 cents toward your travel. That means the 60,000 -point sign-up bonus is worth $750.
But the Chase Sapphire Preferred is also great because it’s an introduction to the versatility of credit card points. You can transfer these points to 12 different airline and hotel partners like United, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, and many others. Do it right, and you can unlock even more free travel this way.
But the final reason for prioritizing a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a practical one. Chase has some of the most restrictive rules for opening new credit cards. Once you’ve opened a handful (from any bank, not just Chase) you’ll no longer be approved for a Chase card. That’s why we recommend opening Chase cards first.
Thrifty Tip: See our guide on how to spend your 60,000 Point bonus on the Sapphire Preferred card.
Click Here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
Capital One Venture Rewards Card
There is no simpler travel card than the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of transferring points and jumping through hoops to book a free flight or hotel, this is the card for you. It offers 50,000 Venture miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months of card membership which can be redeemed for up to $500 towards travel. It even waives the $95 annual fee for the first year. You will also earn 2x miles per dollar spent on every purchase.
These miles are among the easiest to use as all you have to do is book your travel as you normally would and pay with your Capital One Venture Rewards card. From here, you simply log into your Capital One account and utilize the Purchase Eraser feature to remove the charge from your credit card statement. It’s really that easy.
But the benefits don’t end there. Just for holding the card, you will get a $100 application fee credit for either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck once every four years. This will cover the entire cost of either program and provide you with a fast track through airport security. Since Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck, it’s the obvious choice if you plan on doing any sort of international travel. You’ll also earn 10x points per dollar on all bookings made through Hotels.com.
Click Here to learn more about the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
The Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited Cards
OK, so technically these are two different cards but holding either one of them is a fantastic idea if you already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
That’s because while these cards are marketed from Chase as no annual fee cash back credit cards, you can actually transfer the cash back earned into Ultimate Rewards points so long as you hold either Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
This is significant because both cards earn bonuses on spending categories you won’t earn from the Chase Sapphire cards. The regular Chase Freedom card offers a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 in the first three months of card membership. It also earns 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in spending in rotating quarterly bonus categories, and an unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. 5% back is equivalent to 5 Ultimate Rewards points once you transfer them.
Click Here to learn more about the Chase Freedom Card.
On the other hand, the Chase Freedom Unlimited card earns a straight 3% cash back on all spending in your first year up to $20,000, then 1.5% cash back after that with no annual limit. The card doesn’t offer a sign-up bonus, but if spending $20,000 on the card in a calendar year is feasible for you, that’s another 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points you can earn.
Click Here to learn more about the Freedom Unlimited card.
Barclays American Airlines Aviator Red Card
Few credit cards offer an easier, more lucrative welcome offer bonus than the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard.
Just for opening the card, making a single purchase, and paying the $99 annual fee you can earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles. You should easily be able to get $600 or much more in flights out of these miles.
This card makes the list as there is no daunting spending requirement to receive the bonus miles. And even if you don’t plan to fly on American Airlines often, these miles can get you a long way in seeing more of the world for less money. In fact, as we often say, the best way to use American Airlines miles is for flights on some of their partner airlines, and not actually flying the airline itself. That includes great partner airlines like Japan Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Etihad.
Thrifty Tip: Need some guidance on just how to use these 50,000 miles? See our post on the 7 best ways to use American Airlines miles.
Click Here to apply for the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard (this is not an affiliate link)
A Co-Branded Airline Credit Card
If you often find yourself flying with the same airline and checking luggage, that airline’s co-branded credit card is likely a wise decision. Not only will you get free checked luggage just for holding the card, but you will also get priority boarding which can help you beat basic economy fares on airlines like Delta.
In fact, unless you are flying on United or jetBlue, you don’t even need to pay for the airline ticket with the card to get the free checked luggage benefit. It simply gets attached to your frequent flyer account which will allow you the free checked bag. Considering bags cost $30 each way and the annual fee on these cards is usually $95, taking two round trip flight a year will more than pay for your annual fee – assuming you check luggage.
This also allows you to pay for the flight with a card that might be more rewarding or allow you to use other points like the Capital One Venture card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred cards listed above.
We get it. There is a lot to digest in the world of points and miles and knowing just which card to start with can seem like a full-time job. Use this list to help you get started in the world of free travel and pick one of the best credit cards for beginners.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.
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