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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.
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.
I’ll show you my top 5 favorite cards for beginners!
Best Cards If You’re Starting Out
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.
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
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!
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.
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
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.
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.)
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.
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
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.
This is also a great card for everyday spending! With it, you’ll get:
- 3 Citi ThankYou points per $1 you spend on travel
- 2 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:
- Car Rental Agencies
- Gas Stations
- Parking Garages
- Public Transportation
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
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.
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:
- 2 points per $1 you spend at Starwood hotels (includes Aloft, Element, Four Points, Le Meridien, Sheraton, St Regis, The Luxury Collection, Westin and W brand hotels)
- 1 point per $1 you spend on everything else
- Unlimited use of Boingo Wi-Fi hotspots (excluding in-flight)
- 2 stay credits or 5 night credits toward Starwood Elite Status
- No foreign transaction fees
- Terms & limitations apply
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
- Grand Hyatt
- Hyatt House
- Hyatt Place
- Hyatt Regency
- Hyatt Zilara and Hyatt Ziva (all inclusive)
- Park Hyatt
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.
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.
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:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- American Express EveryDay Preferred
- Citi ThankYou Premier
- American Express Starwood Preferred Guest
- Chase Hyatt (not transferable points, but an excellent sign-up bonus!)
Which card is your favorite?