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The Best Credit Cards to Get Started with Travel in 2024

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You've seen the stories about travelers using credit card points and miles to see the world for next to nothing. It sounds like a dream, but is it even real? And where do you begin?

There's plenty of hype and exaggeration out there, but using the right credit cards – and using them responsibly, paying them off in full without going into debt – can absolutely help you travel more for less. But with hundreds of travel rewards credit cards out there, it's overwhelming to pick the right one for you. What cards are worth it and which cards aren't worth the plastic (or metal) they were printed on?

There's no one-size-fits-all answer: The best starter travel credit card for you depends on … well, you: Your spending, your financial situation, your travel patterns, and your goals. But generally speaking, we think the best options for beginners can be boiled down to just a handful of options.

Keep in mind: Credit cards are serious business. You should never apply for a credit card if you're already in debt, and never charge more to a credit card than you can afford to pay off immediately. However many points and miles you can earn, they're not worth it.

Read on for the list of our favorites.



Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

You'll be hard-pressed to find a better card for anyone just getting started than the longtime-favorite *capone venture*.

This card's annual fee clocks in at a reasonable $95 per year, which is fairly easy to stomach when you consider what you're getting in return.

Most importantly, this card comes with a 75,000-mile bonus for spending $4,000 in the first three months, plus a one-time $250 Capital One Travel credit to use in the first year of card membership. Since Capital One miles are worth one cent each when used for travel, the current bonus offer is worth at least $1,000.

Beyond the big bonus, the Capital One Venture Card is one of the cheapest ways to cover the cost of enrolling in either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, speeding up your path through airport security or customs. 

When it comes time to redeem your miles, you've got options. If you don't want to deal with the hassle of transferring miles and to book a free flight or hotel, this is the right card for you. You simply won't find an easier way to use your miles for travel.

Just book your flight, hotel, rental car, or other travel expense with your Capital One card, then go back and remove the purchase using miles. You can use Capital One Miles to cover anything considered a travel purchase, from an Uber ride to an Airbnb stay to even a bucket list golf trip.


Covering an Airbnb purchase with Capital One Venture Miles


Every Capital One mile is worth 1 cent apiece, which means the 75,000-mile bonus gets you at least $750 toward travel. You can also book flights, hotels, and rental cars through the Capital One Travel Portal or send your miles to an impressive array of Capital One transfer partners to get even more value out of them. Some of our favorites include Air France/KLM, Air Canada Aeroplan, British Airways, and Turkish Airlines.

Having the option to go the easy route or take things to the next level through transfer partners is what makes Capital One miles – and the Venture Card – such a great place to get started.

Read More: The Best Ways to Use Capital One Miles


*capone venture*


Learn more about the *capone venture*



Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

The *csp* has consistently held its own as one of the best travel rewards credit cards, period. So naturally, it's a great choice for beginners, too. 

If you're just getting started, now's a great time to add the Sapphire Preferred to you wallet. That's due in large part to the welcome bonus that the card comes with: bonus_miles_full

While the card carries a $95 annual fee that is not waived for the first year of card membership, it offers a ton of value that can easily outweigh that charge. Beyond the points, you get strong travel insurance coverage on flights booked using your Preferred Card as well as a rental car insurance policy that is second to none.

But the beauty of the Chase Ultimate Rewards points you'll earn from the Sapphire Preferred is that there are several great ways to use them. There's a simple and straightforward approach: You can book flights, hotels, rental cars, and more directly through Chase Travel℠. When you use them this way, your points are that much more valuable. Each point is worth 1.25 cents toward your travel. 

Take this roundtrip flight to Colorado Springs (COS) for example. Though Chase, you can book this $178 fare for 14,224 Ultimate Rewards points.


Chase travel portal Minneapolis (MSP) to Colorado Springs (COS) flight


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 more than a dozen different airline and hotel partners like United, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, and many others. Do it right, and you can make your points go even further towards travel.

The final reason it's one of the best starter credit cards for travelers 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.

Read More: Great Ways to Spend Chase Ultimate Rewards Points




Learn more about the *csp*


Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

The *capone venture x* takes everything we've loved for years about the Venture Card … and puts it on steroids. And while the annual fee might scare off some travelers just getting started with credit cards, it really shouldn't.

Let's start with the bonus, as that's identical to the regular Venture Card. You'll earn 75,000 Capital One Miles after spending $4,000 in the first three months of card membership which can be redeemed for at least $750 towards travel.

The card charges an annual fee of $395 each year, but that's deceiving. Each and every year you hold the card, you'll get a $300 travel credit to use in the Capital One Travel Portal to book flights, hotels, and more. So if you plan to spend at least $300 on travel in 2024, the annual fee on this card is more like $95.

Plus, you'll get a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus starting in year two. Those miles are worth at least $100 towards travel. With the annual travel credit and anniversary bonus, it's almost as if Capital One is paying you to get this card. That's why we urge readers not to let the Capital One Venture X annual fee scare them off.

But the benefits don't stop there, either. You'll also get complimentary access to Capital One Lounges and Priority Pass Lounges for you and up to two guests traveling with you. That includes the recently opened Capital One Lounge at Washington-D.C.-Dulles (IAD) and Denver (DEN).


Capital One Lounge at the Denver Airport (DEN)


You'll also get a $100 credit to cover the cost of a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry membership, incredible travel insurance protection, and more.

Make sure to check out our story on the full benefits of the Capital One Venture X Card. If you plan on spending money on travel, this is truly a no-brainer card – as long as you can responsibly meet the minimum spending requirement to earn the big bonus.


*capone venture x*


Learn more about the *capone venture x*


Chase Freedom® Unlimited and Freedom Flex

OK, so technically these are two different cards. But holding either one of them is a fantastic idea, especially if you already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card … and even if you don't.

That's because while these cards are marketed by Chase as no-annual-fee cashback credit cards, you can turn that cash back into Ultimate Rewards points so long as you hold either Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the top-tier *chase sapphire reserve*.

That's significant because both cards earn bonuses on spending categories that you won't currently earn from the Chase Sapphire cards. While earning the bonus on the Preferred Card is a great start, using these Freedom cards for your everyday spending is a better bet.

On the Chase Freedom Flex℠, you'll earn a $200 bonus (20,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after you spend $500 in the first three months of card membership.

With the *freedom unlimited*, Chase will give you an extra 1.5% cash back (or 1.5x Ultimate Rewards) on everything you buy in your first year (up to $20,000 in purchases). That means you'll be earning a bare minimum of 3% cash back (or 3x Chase Ultimate Rewards) on all purchases (up to $20,000) for a whole year – and it gets even better if your spending falls into a bonus category like dining or drug stores.

Either offer is an incredible deal for cards with no annual fee.

Read More: Chase Freedom Flex vs Freedom Unlimited: Which Version is Right for You


Chase Freedom Flex credit card


Learn more about the Chase Freedom Flex Card (for full disclosure, this is a personal referral link).


*chase freedom unlimited*


Learn more about the *chase freedom unlimited*


Barclays American Airlines Aviator Red Card

You won't see this card mentioned often, but few credit cards offer an easier, more lucrative welcome offer bonus than the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®.

Just by opening the card and making a single purchase, you can earn 70,000 American Airlines miles after one purchase (of any amount) and paying the annual fee in full within the first 90 days.

You should easily be able to get $700 in value – or much, much more – by booking flights with these miles.

This card makes the list of one of the best credit cards for beginners as there is no daunting spending requirement to receive the bonus miles. 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. And if you do fly AA, you'll get a free checked bag on every domestic flight.

In fact, 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, Cathay Pacific, and more.

Read More: Why You Should Earn American AAdvantage Miles (Even If You Never Fly Them)


Best Starter Credit Cards


Learn More about the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard (for full disclosure, this is not an affiliate link).


A Co-Branded Airline Credit Card

Almost everyone has their go-to airline. Whether it's because of the seats, service, or the array of nonstop flights from your home airport, sometimes picking which airline to fly isn't much of a choice at all. Why not get some benefits out of it?

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, United, and American.


delta a220 cabin


And unless you're 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 at least $30 each way and the annual fee on these cards is typically under $100, taking two roundtrip flights a year will more than pay for your annual fee – assuming you check luggage, of course.

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 X Card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred cards listed above. We're strong believers that just because you have an airline card, it doesn't mean you should be spending money on it.

But when it comes to co-branded airline credit cards, timing is critical. Twice or more a year, airlines like Delta and United regularly roll out bigger bonuses on their credit cards – and that's when you want to strike.

See our full list of the top airline credit cards!


Bottom Line

We get it. There's 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 and pick one of the best starter credit cards for travelers in 2024.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

6 Responses

  • I currently possess Chase Saphire Preferred, US Bank Flex Perks, Delta Sky Miles Gold, Sun Country U Fly (using up my miles and will not renew this card), Wells Fargo Rewards, and Wells Fargo Debit card linked to my checking account.

    My daughter suggested I upgrade the Saphire Preferred to the Saphire Reserved, but I am unclear whether there is a waiting period between getting Saphire Preferred and Saphire Reserved to still get the initial sign-on bonus. She also suggests eliminating some of the other cards, but I have balance of points/miles on all of these cards.

    I am a Thrifty Traveler member. What do you suggest for best use of these cards.

    • Hi Ric,

      If you have the Sapphire Preferred you can upgrade to the Reserve at any time. You just won’t be able to earn the sign-up bonus on the Reserve when you upgrade. Closing some of those other cards will result in losing the points as you mentioned, so make sure to use them up first. Feel free to email me at [email protected] if you have more questions. Happy to help. 🙂

  • Hello😀. Your content is super well organized, clear, & efficiently communicated. Thanks!!!
    My husband said he saw a card offering 100k miles. I thought I saw it also. Was it an American Express reserve?
    Thanks in advance, Lisa

    • For the purpose of this article, they are lumped into the section on getting an airline credit card. Generally speaking, you’ll be better off with a card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points. These can be transferred directly to United and are simply more valuable.

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