Top 5 Travel Credit Cards for Beginners

Disclosure: We get a commission for links on the blog. You don’t have to use our links, but we’re very grateful when you do. American Express, Barclaycard, Chase, and US Bank are Million Mile Secrets advertising partners. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or endorsed by our partners. Here’s our Advertiser Disclosure.

Update:   One or more card offers in this post are no longer available.  Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers. 

Folks new to our hobby often ask where to start when signing-up for credit card bonus offers.

There are a LOT of choices!  Airline cards, hotel cards, small business credit cards, and cards that earn transferable points.  And some are better for beginners than others.

Before you commit to lots of cards, it’s important to evaluate your travel goals.  And remember, it’s better to start slow to see how you handle meeting minimum spending requirements, keeping track of your points and spending, and the effect on your credit score.

Top 5 Travel Credit Cards For Beginners

Decide Where You’d Like to Travel Before Signing-Up for Lots of Credit Cards

I’ll show you my top 5 favorite cards for beginners!

Best Cards If You’re Starting Out

Link:   Beginner’s Guide to Miles & Points

Link:   Hot Deals

I’ve always said that folks who’ve just started collecting miles & points should start by collecting transferable points.

That’s because they’re flexible!  So even if you don’t have firm travel plans, you’ll have the option to transfer them to dozens of airline and hotel partners in the future.

Top 5 Travel Credit Cards For Beginners

Not Sure of Your Travel Plans? Transferable Points Are Your Best Bet, Because They’re Flexible

And it’s often better to avoid cards with very high minimum spending requirements, or huge annual fees at the start.  It’s tempting to jump in headfirst and sign-up for the biggest bonuses, but the spending required might be overwhelming for some.

Here are my favorite cards for beginners!

1.   Chase Sapphire Preferred

Link:   Chase Sapphire Preferred

Link:   My Review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the 1st card I recommend for folks starting in our hobby.  It earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which you can transfer to airline and hotel partners like United Airlines, Southwest, and Hyatt.

It’s my favorite card for beginners, in part, because the transfer partners are the best.  And they’re easy to use.

You can use United Airlines miles to fly to the most cities in Asia.  And it’s easy to fly nearly anywhere in the world on partners like Air New Zealand, Lufthansa, SWISS, Thai Airways, and more!

Note:  As with all credit cards where you can move your card points to airlines and hotels, you can NOT transfer the airline & hotel points back to the card.  So be certain you want to transfer before you do!

With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you’ll earn extra points for travel and dining – both categories many folks spend a lot of money on!

Top 5 Travel Credit Cards For Beginners

Earn 2X Chase Ultimate Rewards Points for Dining and Travel With the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card!

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card has a sign-up bonus of 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the 1st 3 months of opening your account.

Those 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth $500 in cash back.  Or $625 on nearly any airline with no blackout dates 

But my favorite use is to transfer to airlines and hotels for Big Travel.  For example, you can transfer 40,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt and get 2 nights at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico!

And you’ll also get:

  • 5,000 bonus points when you add an authorized user who makes a purchase within the 1st 3 months
  • 2 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 you spend on travel and dining
  • Primary car rental insurance – Covers damage or theft to your rental car, when you pay for the rental with your card
  • Trip delay reimbursement – Get up to $500 back per ticket when your trip is delayed more than 12 hours
  • No foreign transaction fees

The $95 annual fee is waived the 1st year.

Another good reason to sign-up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card FIRST is Chase has changed their card application rules.

Some folks report having their application denied because they’ve applied for ~5+ cards in the past 24 months.  However, there are exceptions.

Chase has added new language to the terms & conditions on their cards.  They say:

Chase cardmembers who currently have or have had a Chase credit card in any Rewards Program associated with this offer, may not be eligible for a second Chase credit card in the same Rewards Program.

Chase cardmembers currently receiving promotional pricing, or Chase cardmembers with a history of only using their current or prior Chase card for promotional pricing offers, are not eligible for a second Chase credit card with promotional pricing.

To be safe, if you’re interested in this card, make it 1 of the 1st you apply for!

2.   American Express EveryDay Preferred

Link:   American Express EveryDay Preferred

Link:   My Review of the American Express EveryDay Preferred

Even though it doesn’t have a huge sign-up bonus, I like the American Express EveryDay Preferred for its great spending category bonuses and low minimum spending requirement.

And because you’ll earn 50% more points if you make 30 or more purchases in a billing cycle!

You’ll earn 15,000 American Express Membership Rewards points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the 1st 3 months of opening your account.

You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to airline and hotel partners like Delta, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, and Hilton.  And sometimes there are transfer bonuses!

For example, you could move 15,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points to British Airways and earn 12,000 British Airways Avios points.  That’s almost enough for a 1-way flight on Alaska Airlines or American Airlines from the West Coast to Hawaii.  (Because Alaska and American Airlines are partners with British Airways.)

Top 5 Travel Credit Cards For Beginners

Transfer American Express Membership Rewards Points to British Airways for Flights to Hawaii on Partners Alaska Airlines and American Airlines

Or you could get a round-trip, short-haul (under 650 miles) flight on British Airways or their partner airlines for 9,000 British Airways Avios points (until February 2, 2016).

With this card, you’ll also get:

  • 3 American Express Membership Rewards points per $1 you spend at US supermarkets up to $6,000 a year
  • 2 American Express Membership Rewards points per $1 you spend at US gas stations
  • 1 American Express Membership Rewards point per $1 you spend on other purchases

The $95 annual fee is NOT waived the 1st year.

Top 5 Travel Credit Cards For Beginners

Groceries and Gas Are Big Expenses for Many, and You’ll Earn Extra Points for Both With the AMEX EveryDay Preferred Card

When you use the card to make more than 30 purchases within a billing cycle, you’ll earn an extra 50% American Express Membership Rewards points (less returns and credits).  There’s no minimum transaction amount for any of those 30 purchases.

So you’re effectively earning:

  • 4.5 American Express Membership Rewards points per $1 you spend at US supermarkets up to $6,000 a year and
  • 3 American Express Membership Rewards points per $1 you spend at US gas stations
  • 1.5 American Express Membership Rewards points per $1 you spend on other purchases

If you’re interested in a no-annual-fee card, consider the American Express EveryDay card.  It has a lower sign-up bonus and doesn’t earn extra points at gas stations, and you’ll only get a 20% bonus for making 20 or more transactions per month.

But it’s a good card if you don’t like paying an annual fee!

3.   Citi ThankYou Premier

Link:   Citi ThankYou Premier

Link:   My Review of the Citi ThankYou Premier

I like the Citi ThankYou Premier card for beginners because it’s flexible.  You can use the bonus of 50,000 Citi ThankYou points to book $625 worth of flights on nearly ANY airline on any date.  Or for cruises, car rentals, and hotels!  Here’s how.

But you can get really Big Travel by transferring to partner airlines like Singapore Airlines.  Even though you’re transferring to Singapore Airlines, you can book award flights to Hawaii (for fewer miles than using United Airlines miles) flying on United Airlines.  Or to Europe on airlines like Lufthansa, SWISS, or LOT Polish Airlines.

That’s because all those airlines partner with Singapore Airlines.

To earn the 50,000 point sign-up bonus with the Citi ThankYou Premier, spend $3,000 on purchases in the 1st 3 months of opening your account.

Top 5 Travel Credit Cards For Beginners

Use Citi ThankYou Points for Big Travel on Singapore Airlines and Other Partners!

This is also a great card for everyday spending!  With it, you’ll get:

  • 3 Citi ThankYou points per $1 you spend on travel
  • Citi ThankYou points per $1 you spend on dining and entertainment (amusement parks, sporting events, movies)
  • No foreign transaction fees

So say you spend $200 this weekend on dinner, drinks, brunch, and a concert.  You’d earn 400 Citi ThankYou points.  That’s $5 off your next flight for purchases you’d be making anyway ($200 x 2 points per $1 = 400 points, 400 points x 1.25 cents per point = $5).

The $95 annual fee is waived the 1st year.  And it’s very easy to cancel annual fee cards.  There is no sales pitch.  At most, the bank will offer to waive the fee again or offer you points to keep the card.

That said, certain cards ARE worth keeping!  Make your decision ~10 months after opening your account.  Because the banks do NOT like when you earn the sign-up bonus then cancel right away!  

The travel category for the Citi ThankYou Premier card includes a wide range of purchases:

  • Airfare
  • Cruises
  • Car Rental Agencies
  • Gas Stations
  • Hotels
  • Parking Garages
  • Public Transportation
  • Taxis
  • Tolls

It’s easy to earn a LOT of Citi ThankYou points with this card.  But keep in mind, their airline partners aren’t as extensive as other programs (with only 1 US-based airline, Virgin America).

4.   AMEX Starwood Preferred Guest

Link:   Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Link:   How to Earn and Use Starwood Points

Starwood points are a terrific option for folks new to our hobby.  You can use them for Starwood hotel award stays, or stretch your points by using Cash & Points or booking Airline & Hotel packages called Nights & Flights.

And if you transfer Starwood points to partner airlines like American Airlines, you’ll get a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer.

Top 5 Travel Credit Cards For Beginners

Use Starwood Points for Luxury Hotel Stays, Like the St. Regis Bali. Or Transfer Them to 30+ Airline Partners!

With the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, you’ll earn 25,000 Starwood points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the 1st 3 months of opening your account.

The $95 annual fee is waived the 1st year.  And you’ll also get:

Note:   It could be worth waiting to apply until the increased 30,000 point sign-up bonus comes around again.  For the past several years, it’s been offered every summer.  But there’s no guarantee it will return, especially since Marriott is buying Starwood hotels!

5.   Chase Hyatt

Link:   Chase Hyatt

Link:   My Review of the Chase Hyatt

The Chase Hyatt card earns Hyatt hotel points, which can be used for award stays at Hyatt hotels including:

But my favorite thing about this card is the sign-up bonus.  You’ll earn 2 free nights at ANY Hyatt (even their most expensive resorts!) after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the 1st 3 months of opening your account.

You have 1 year from the date your free night certificates are issued to use them.

Top 5 Travel Credit Cards For Beginners

You Could Use Your Hyatt Nights at the Amazing Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, Where Rooms Often Cost $700+ per Night!

Folks who’ve had a Hyatt stay since May 1, 2015 should use this link to apply.  With this offer, you’ll earn a $50 statement credit after your 1st purchase, and 5,000 bonus Hyatt points when you add an authorized user who makes a purchase in the 1st 3 months.

If you haven’t had a Hyatt stay since May 1, 2015, use this link instead.  You’ll still earn the 2 free nights, but NOT the $50 statement credit.

You’ll also get:

  • 3 points per $1 you spend at Hyatt hotels
  • 2 points per $1 you spend at restaurants, airline tickets purchased directly from the airline, and car rental agencies
  • Platinum status (free premium internet, better rooms when available, late check-out)
  • A free night in a category 1 to 4 Hyatt each year on your account anniversary
  • No foreign transaction fees

The $75 annual fee is waived the 1st year.  And it’s well worth paying it, because you get a free night at a category 1 to 4 Hyatt each year you renew the card.

This card is a terrific way to get huge travel very quickly, without a lot of spending!

Emily and I don’t earn a commission from this card, but we always share the best deals with our readers!

With the exception of the American Express EveryDay cards, you will NOT be charged foreign transaction fees when using these cards in other countries.  Other cards tend to add ~3% to each purchase when you use them outside the US!

So getting at least 1 card with NO foreign transaction fees is a no-brainer for anyone planning to travel abroad.

Bottom Line

Folks new to miles & points should consider 1st signing-up for cards that earn transferable points.

That way, they’ll have flexibility to transfer points to airline and hotel partners, even if they’re not yet sure of their travel plans.

Or consider cards that offer a valuable sign-up bonus for relatively little spending and a low or waived annual fee.

My favorite cards for beginners include:

Remember to start slow with signing-up for credit cards if you’re new to this hobby!   And don’t forget to read my Beginner’s Guide to Miles & Points for more tips!

Which card is your favorite?

* If you liked this post, why don’t you join the 25,000+ readers who have signed-up to receive free blog posts via email (only 1 email per day!) or in an RSS reader …because then you’ll never miss another update!

Editorial Disclaimer: Neither the responses below nor the editorial content on this page are provided or commissioned by the bank advertisers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertisers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank advertisers. It is not the bank advertisers’ responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

6 responses to “Top 5 Travel Credit Cards for Beginners

  1. Calendar year or membership year for amex everyday preferred’s $6000 a year grocery spending bonus cap?

  2. My 2 cents:

    While the list is good, all of them are fee cards and trasnfer points card.

    I would bring AMEX Blue Cash Preferred instead of AMEX Everyday Preferred and
    Either Freedom, Discover or Cash + instead of Hyatt.

    Reasoning is, All your UR points can be converted into Hyatt.

  3. RT – Almost 100% certain the $6,000 limit is for calendar year.

  4. You can currently get Everyday Preferred with a 30k sign up bonus, not the 15k mentioned in the article (though it requires $2k spend rather than $1k that’s still a substantially better offer). I was able to get it without a special link, just googling in an incognito window does fine.

  5. These are all great choices, though I might add the Barclay Arrival+ since beginners may like to have a currency that can be used anywhere.. One thing I see with some beginners is a hesitancy to think outside the box. For example, they may assume Delta miles can only be used on Delta flights or that Marriott points can only be used at Marriott hotels. So, transferable points sometimes intimidate them. Teaching people how to do things like Chase UR points –> United –> fly on Lufthansa is a huge step toward helping them achieve truly aspirational travel.

  6. Thanks Dustin