Best Travel Card Strategy for Beginners in 2018

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Best Travel Card Strategy for Beginners in 2018

Million Mile SecretsBest Travel Card Strategy for Beginners in 2018Million Mile Secrets Team

We devote thousands of hours of research to help you get Big Travel with Small Money. You support us by signing-up for credit cards through partner links which earn us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.

If you’re new to the world of miles & points, it can seem overwhelming at first to discover the many different types of available rewards credit cards.  But we’re here to help guide you with your credit card strategy, so you can achieve your travel goals!

The easiest way to get Big Travel with Small Money is by taking advantage of lucrative credit card offers.  Earning just ONE valuable bonus could get you $1,000+ worth of travel!

Best Travel Credit Cards
Before Applying for a Travel Credit Card, Take a Look at Our Strategy Guide for Beginners to Be Sure You’re Taking Advantage of Offers That Will Help You Achieve Your Travel Goals!

Lots of folks start out slow by opening 1 or 2 new credit cards.  But eventually, you might have a dozen open credit cards like Million Mile Secrets team member Keith!

There are lots myths associated with applying for new cards.  Many readers are pleasantly surprised to discover it’s possible to keep 20+ credit cards open AND maintain an excellent credit score!

Before You Get Started…

Link:   Beginner’s Guide to Miles & Points

For folks just learning about the world of miles & points and travel credit cards, there are a few things you should know!

First, I recommend checking out my post on the 5 Dangers of Applying for Credit Cards.  Collecting miles & points is NOT for everyone.  I only recommend this hobby if you:

  • Pay your bills on time
  • Have a credit score of 700+
  • Pay attention to detail
  • Track your credit card balances

As long as you can manage your money and use your cards responsibly, you’ll do well in this hobby!

Best Travel Credit Cards
If You’re Organized and Can Pay Your Credit Card Balance in Full Each Month, You’ll Do Well in the Miles & Points Hobby!

The fastest way to get Big Travel is by earning credit card welcome bonuses.  To earn these bonuses, you typically must spend a certain amount in a given timeframe.  For example, spend $4,000 in 3 months and earn 50,000 miles or points.  If you fail to meet the spending, you’re out of luck and won’t earn the bonus!

So you should only take advantage of offers if you can meet the spending requirements and unlock the bonus.  That’s why some folks time their card applications before making a large purchase to ensure they’ll meet the spending requirements.  Be sure to read my post with 40+ powerful ways to meet minimum spending requirements.

Keep in Mind Bank Application Rules, Card Limits, and Restrictions

A certain welcome offer might catch your eye.  But before applying, it’s important consider how applying can impact earning future bonuses with the same card issuer or even with a different bank.  Because some banks have strict card limits or restrictions on earning a bonus on similar types of cards.

Here are a few examples.

1.   Chase

Chase cards have some of the most valuable sign-up bonuses.  I’ll tell you more about them in just a minute.  But the bank makes it harder to get their cards if you open lots of new accounts.

If you’ve opened 5+ cards from any bank (NOT counting Chase business cards and these other business cards) in the past 24 months, it’s unlikely you’ll be approved for most Chase cards.  There are a few exceptions

Chase also has restrictions for their Sapphire brand of cards.  For example, you can NOT have more than one Sapphire-branded credit card.

2.   Citi

Citi will NOT allow you to earn the sign-up bonus on certain credit cards if you’ve opened or closed a card in the same family of cards in the past 24 months.  This goes for Citi issued cards, which earn ThankYou points or American Airlines miles.

3.   American Express

American Express restricts folks from earning bonuses on their cards to once per card per lifetime.  So if you’ve previously earned a welcome bonus from a specific American Express card, you will NOT be able to earn that bonus again.  That’s why I typically recommend folks only apply for an AMEX card if it’s a limited-time or best-ever bonus!

Note:   Personal cards and business cards are considered different card products.  So you can earn the bonus on both of them, even if they sound like the same card.

Apply for Chase Cards First!

Link:   A Review of the Most Useful Points for Budget Travelers OR First Class Jetsetters

As a general rule, it’s best to apply for Chase credit cards BEFORE you sign-up for cards from other banks.  I mentioned earlier that their cards have some of the most valuable sign-up bonuses around.  And their strict application rules mean you won’t be approved for many of them if you apply for other cards first.

I typically recommend folks start with cards that earn flexible Chase Ultimate Rewards points.  These are my favorite type of credit card rewards because you can transfer them directly to terrific airline and hotel partners like Hyatt, Southwest, and United Airlines.  Then, book award travel to save money on flights and hotel stays!

Or you can use points to book airfare, hotels, or car rentals through the Chase travel portal.  This way, you won’t have to worry about searching for award travel!

If you are new to the miles & points world, here are some terrific cards to consider:

Card Sign-Up Bonus & Minimum Spending RequirementsOur Review
Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card


80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your accountRead why this is the top card pick for small business owners
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card


50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your accountThe #1 card for beginners
Chase Sapphire Reserve50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account
Lots of folks love this premium credit card because of the ongoing perks!
Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card
$500 bonus (50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your accountRead our review of this great no-annual-fee small business card!
Chase Freedom UnlimitedCard Image Not Available
$150 bonus (15,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your accountEarn 1.5% cash back (1.5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 on ALL purchases
Chase FreedomCard Image Not Available
$150 bonus (15,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your accountHere's my review of this great no-annual-fee card!

Keep in mind, you can NOT transfer points directly to Chase airline and hotel partners if you have a no-annual-fee Chase Ultimate Rewards points earning credit card.  But you can combine points to another eligible Chase card.  Then, transfer points.  Here’s a graphic to show which cards you must have to transfer points.


Take Advantage of Card Offers to Achieve Your Travel Goals!

Link:   How to Decide Which Miles to Collect for Your Trip

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to miles & points.  So the best miles & points to earn depends on your travel goals!

Some folks save up points for luxury vacations, First Class travel, and 5-star hotels.  Other prefer stretching their points to book coach flights and budget accommodations.

Best Travel Credit Cards
No Travel Goal Is Out of Reach When You Collect Miles & Points! But Be Sure Your Card Strategy Matches Your Travel Plans

There’s no right or wrong way to use the rewards you earn.  But here are tips and recommendations depending on the type of travel you’re planning.

Transferable Points Give You the Most Travel Flexibility!

Link:   Beginner’s Guide to Transferable Points

Link:   The Trick to Travel Flexibility Is With Transferable Points!

I usually recommend folks new to miles & points start by applying for cards that earn transferable points with programs like American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and Starwood Preferred Guest.

These points programs have dozens of airline and/or hotel partners, which give you the ability to choose where to move your points when you’re ready to use them.  This can give you more options than just collecting miles with just one airline.  Because what happens if you’re unable to use those airline miles to travel to a destination on your bucket list?

For example, folks with AMEX Membership Rewards points can transfer points directly to 19 airline and hotel partners.  AMEX has direct airline transfer partners that are great for flights to Europe.

Best Travel Credit Cards
Earn AMEX Membership Rewards Points to Transfer to Airline Partners to Save Money on Airfare to Europe!

Or you can earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points to transfer to travel partners like Hyatt, which is my favorite Chase hotel transfer partner.  You can book award nights for as little as 5,000 points per night!  And the hotel chain has a no “blackout date” policy for award nights!  You can even redeem points for free nights at their all-inclusive hotels, like the Hyatt Zilara Cancun.

Less Flexible Travelers Can Earn Miles to Offset ANY Travel Purchase

Collecting flexible points is usually the best way to get Big Travel with Small Money.  But depending on your travel style,  you could be better off earning simpler rewards.

For example, if you like to book cheap flights on budget airlines or stay at hostels, it might be better to focus on earning miles you can use to offset travel purchases.  Even if you have flexible miles & points, sometimes it’s nice to have other types of rewards that can cover purchases like commuter transportation, boutique hotels, or amusement park tickets.

Capital One Spark and Venture miles are very popular with Million Mile Secrets readers because they’re easy to earn and redeem.  Simply pay for travel with your card and use miles to offset the purchase!

You can use Spark and Venture miles to offset purchases with:

Best Travel Credit Cards
Family Adventures to Disney World Can Be Expensive! Earning Simple Rewards With Capital One Cards Can Help You Offset Your Vacation Costs!

Even Beginners Can Earn the #1 Deal in Travel!

Link:   Increased Public Offer Makes Earning the Southwest Companion Pass Even Easier!

My favorite miles and points deal is the Southwest Companion Pass!  And you don’t have to be an expert to earn it!

With this amazing perk, a friend or loved one can fly with you for (almost) free for up to 2 years!  This deal can save you thousands on airfare!

Best Travel Credit Cards
Folks With the Southwest Companion Pass Can Save Lots of Money on Flights and Enjoy Flights to Terrific Destinations!

To qualify for the Companion Pass, you must earn 110,000 qualifying Southwest points in a calendar year.  

Right now, it’s possible to earn 110,000 Southwest points by signing up for 2 of the Chase Southwest cards (1 personal and 1 small business) and meeting the minimum spending requirements!

Just be sure to avoid these 3 common mistakes when trying to earn the Companion Pass.

Bottom Line

If you’re just starting out in the miles & points hobby, it can seem overwhelming at first.  But once you understand a few basics, it’s easy to start planning your card strategy to help achieve your travel goals!

First, keep in mind there are lots of myths associated rewards credit cards.  But as long as you use credit cards responsibly and pay your bills on time, this hobby can get you a huge return on your time investment!

As a general rule, it’s best to apply for Chase credit cards BEFORE you sign-up for cards from other banks.  The bank has strict application rules, which make it more difficult to be approved for many of them if you apply for other cards first.  I typically recommend folks start with cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points (like the Chase Sapphire Preferred).  Because you can transfer points directly to terrific airline and hotel partners, like Hyatt and United Airlines.

But depending on your travel style, you might be better off earning simple rewards with cards like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card.  With this card, you can just pay for travel purchases.  Then, use miles to erase the expense.  So there’s no need to worry about complicated award charts or blackout dates!

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Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards

More Info

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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