The Best Starter Credit Cards for Travelers in 2021
Best Starter Credit Cards

The Best Starter Credit Cards for Travelers in 2021

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You’ve seen the stories about travelers using credit cards 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 they were printed on?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer: The best starter travel credit card depends on your travel patterns and goals. But some of the best options for beginners are out with the biggest bonuses we have ever seen as banks, airlines, and hotel programs compete for a share of your wallet.

Read on for the list of our favorites.


The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Not only do we think the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is the best option for beginners. It could easily be the best travel rewards card, period.

That’s due in large part to the current bonus of 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of card membership.

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 easily outweighs 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 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 travel portal. 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 more than a dozen 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.

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: How to Spend 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points. 


Chase Sapphire Preferred Card


Click Here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. 


The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Next on our list of the best starter credit cards for travelers is 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 60,000 Venture miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months of card membership which can be redeemed for at least $600 towards travel. You will also earn 2x miles per dollar spent on every purchase, a benefit you won’t find on almost any other travel credit card.

Like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card discussed above, the card charges an annual fee of $95 each year. But 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.

And the benefits don’t end there. Just for holding the card, you will get up to a $100 application fee credit for either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck once every four years. Membership in either program is good for five 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.


Best Starter Credit Cards


Click Here to learn more about the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. 


The Chase Freedom Flex 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 – and even if you don’t.

That’s because while these cards are marketed from Chase as no annual fee cash back credit cards, you can actually transfer the cashback earned into Ultimate Rewards points so long as you hold either Chase Sapphire Preferred or the 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.

No matter which version you choose, you’ll earn a $200 bonus (20,000 Chase points) after you spend $500 in the first three months of card membership. On top of that, you’ll earn 5% back on grocery store purchases on up to $12,000 spent in your first twelve months of card membership. That gives you the ability to earn another $600 back or 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points. That’s an incredible deal for cards with no annual fee.

Related Reading: Chase Freedom Flex vs Freedom Unlimited: Which Version is Right for You


Best Starter Credit Cards


Click Here to learn more about the Chase Freedom Flex Card. 


Best Starter Credit Cards


Click Here to learn more about the Freedom Unlimited card. 


The 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 for opening the card, making a single purchase, and paying the $99 annual fee, you will earn 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles. You should easily be able to get $600 in value – or 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.

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.

Need some guidance on just how to use these 60,000 miles? See our post on the 7 best ways to use American Airlines miles.


Best Starter Credit Cards


Click Here to apply for the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard.

All information about The Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard has been collected independently by Thrifty Traveler.


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.

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


Best Starter Credit Cards


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 are strong believers that just because you have an airline card, it doesn’t mean you should be spending money on it.

See our list of the Top Airline Credit Cards.


Bottom Line

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 and pick one of the best starter credit cards for travelers.

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.

4 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

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