The three best travel credit cards for beginners

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We’ve been there. You’ve asked friends and family for tips, you’ve read through a number of credit card reviews, and you still can’t decide which travel rewards card you should get. The miles & points hobby can be an overwhelming one, especially when you’re just starting out.

To make your life easier, we’ve narrowed your choices down to just three cards — all of which would be an excellent choice for your first travel rewards card.

Card nameBonusAnnual fee
Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardEarn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening (worth $1,250) when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards).$95
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit CardEarn 100,000 Capital One miles after spending $20,000 on purchases within the first 12 months of account opening

Or you still earn 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months
$95
American Express® Gold CardEarn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first six months.$250 (see rates & fees) 

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Best for benefits and perks

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the #1 card we recommend for anyone starting out the miles and points hobby. According to reports online and from readers, you’ll have the best chance of approval if your credit score is ~720 or more. If you already have a good credit score (perhaps because you’ve had student loans, car loans, or a mortgage) but are new to credit cards, this is an excellent pick.

The card also comes with a sign-up bonus of 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s worth $1,250 when you book paid travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal and potentially much more when you transfer your points to airline and hotel partners like Southwest, United Airlines and Hyatt.

  • 2X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on travel and dining worldwide
  • 1X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on other purchases
  • Primary car rental insurance – Covers damage due to theft or collision to your rental car if 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 card has a $95 annual fee. You’ll find our full review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred here.

Here’s our Capital One Venture Rewards credit card review.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Best for simple travel rewards

With the Capital One Venture card, you can earn 100,000 Capital One miles after spending $20,000 on purchases within the first 12 months of account opening. Or, you still earn 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.

This is a great travel credit card. The miles are easy to use and I love that it reimburses you with a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. I’ve saved so much time at airports with this perk.

  • 2 Venture miles per $1 you spend on all purchases
  • Statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck (up to $100)
  • No foreign transaction fees

This card has a $95 annual fee.

American Express® Gold Card

Best for restaurant and U.S. supermarket purchases

The Amex Gold card comes with a welcome offer of 60,000 Amex Membership Rewards points after meeting minimum spending requirements.

The Amex Gold card’s benefits and perks are loaded with valuable credits. You can earn up to $120 dining credit ($10 monthly) each year at participating restaurants (enrollment required).

With the card’s earnings rates and perks, this card has essentially become one of the best cards for restaurants. Plus, the $250 annual fee is quickly covered when you eat out and shop for groceries at U.S. supermarkets and account for the value of the statement credits you can earn make the Amex Gold card worth it for many people.

There’s a $250 annual fee (see rates and fees), but the credits you’ll earn will offset most of that cost. This card also has no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).

What to look for in your first travel card

Without a doubt, the fastest way to rack up travel rewards is to focus on a card’s introductory bonus. That said, there are a number of factors to consider when you’re picking your first (or second or third) travel rewards card, including: 

Bonus offer

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. One of the most efficient ways of earning travel rewards is to earn lucrative welcome bonuses from the best travel credit cards. For example, with the Sapphire Preferred, the welcome offer alone is worth at least $1,000.

Minimum spending requirement

With most cards, earning a welcome bonus requires spending a certain amount on your new card within a certain timeframe. You wouldn’t want to open a card a miss out on the introductory offer. So it’s important to understand whether or not you’ll be able to meet the spending requirements of the card for which you’re applying. Depending on the card, the minimum spending could be anywhere from $1,000 to $15,000+.

Annual fee

When deciding between travel rewards cards, it’s important to weigh the annual fee against the potential value you can receive from a particular card. That includes not only its initial welcome bonus, but its ongoing benefits and spending bonuses, too. While an annual fee may be a turnoff for some, after taking into account a card’s perks, it’s easy to see how paying an annual fee can be worth it.

Flexibility

Each rewards currency has its own upsides and downsides. Certain types of rewards are more flexible than others. And this flexibility should be taken into consideration when you’re deciding between cards. 

For example, Venture rewards from the Capital One Venture card can be used for any travel purchase. And in comparison, the way to make the most of Ultimate Rewards points you earn with a card like the Sapphire Preferred are most valuable when they’re transferred to certain Chase travel partners.  

Bottom line

Deciding between the numerous travel rewards credit cards may seem overwhelming at first. Especially if you’ve never participated in the miles & points hobby before. The most important factors to consider are the card’s welcome bonus, ongoing earnings and benefits, and annual fee. The decision is a personal one, but if you’re a beginner, it’s hard to go wrong with any of the three cards on this list.

Featured image by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.

For rates and fees of the Amex Gold card, click here.

Deborah Atchison is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, she covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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