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.
Million Mile Secrets reader, Nick, tweeted:
Good question, Nick!
It’s easy to see why Nick has narrowed down his decision to the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express. They’re both excellent cards for earning transferable points which give you the most travel flexibility!
Because Nick is still in college, it may be difficult for him to be approved for these cards. His credit history may not be lengthy enough for premium credit cards.
Which Card Is Best for a Beginner?
Link: Chase Sapphire Preferred
The best card for Nick depends on his travel goals and spending habits.
If Nick wants to spend his points on hotel stays, he can transfer the sign-up bonus from the Chase Sapphire Preferred to hotel partners like Hyatt, IHG, and Marriott.
Or maybe Nick wants to visit family and friends in the continental US or Canada. He can apply for the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold and have enough points to transfer to Delta for a round-trip domestic coach award ticket after he receives the welcome bonus!
Each card earns points you can transfer to airline and hotel partners, which are different for each card. So Nick should consider where and how he wants to travel to decide which transfer partners are best for his goals.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is always my first recommendation for someone new to miles and points. It earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which are my favorite because you can transfer them to terrific airline and hotel partners like United Airlines, Southwest, and Hyatt.
Chase Ultimate Rewards Airline Transfer Partners Aer Lingus British Airways Flying Blue (Air France/KLM)
Iberia JetBlue Singapore Airlines
Southwest United Airlines Virgin Atlantic
Chase Ultimate Rewards Hotel Transfer Partners Hyatt IHG Marriott
Or use them to book paid travel at 1.25 cents per point through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, which can save you points and money!
The current sign-up bonus is 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account.
You’ll also get:
- 2X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on travel and dining
- 1X Chase Ultimate Rewards point per $1 spent on other purchases
- 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. This makes it easy to evaluate the card for ~10 months without a fee to see how you like it.
Nick will then have a total of at least 54,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (50,000 point sign-up bonus + at least 4,000 points from meeting minimum spending).
That’s worth ~$675 in paid travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal (54,000 points X 1.25 cents per point).
Chase has tightened their application rules. I recommend applying for Chase cards before other card issuers.
That’s because if you’ve opened ~5 or more accounts in the past 24 months, it’s unlikely Chase will approve you for certain cards.
AMEX Premier Rewards Gold
The Premier Rewards Gold card earns American Express Membership Rewards points. Nick can transfer his points to 20+ travel partners, or use them to book paid travel directly through American Express at a rate of 1 cent per point.
|American Express Membership Rewards Airline Transfer Partners|
|ANA||Asia Miles||British Airways|
|Etihad||Flying Blue (Air France / KLM)||Hawaiian Airlines|
|American Express Membership Rewards Hotel Transfer Partners|
The current welcome bonus for the Premier Rewards Gold is 25,000 American Express Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account.
This spending requirement is $2,000 lower than the Chase Sapphire Preferred. But the welcome bonus is also much lower.
You could use 25,000 AMEX Membership Rewards Points towards $250 in paid travel booked through American Express at 1 cent per point.
With the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold, you’ll get:
- 3X points per $1 you spend on airfare purchased directly from airlines
- 2X points per $1 you spend at US gas stations, US supermarkets, and US restaurants
- 1X point per $1 you spend on everything else
- $100 per calendar year in airline incidental fee credits (baggage fees, change fees, etc.)
- NO foreign transaction fees
- Transfer points to participating frequent traveler programs
- $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $195
- Terms and limitations apply
Keep in mind, there are sometimes higher targeted offers available for this card. You can only receive the welcome bonus on American Express cards once per lifetime. You can check the CardMatch tool to see the best offers for you (it does not result in a credit pull).
What If You Aren’t Approved?
Link: Chase Freedom
Link: Chase Freedom Unlimited
There are a number of other cards that earn travel rewards for those who haven’t had a chance to grow their credit.
Like the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited, which each have a sign-up bonus of $150 bonus (15,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account!
Until you have one of those 3, the Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited are effectively cash back cards. But are great cards to help you establish a relationship with Chase. They have no annual fee, so you’ll never have to cancel!
Here are my top recommendations for college students who have limited credit history.
Because Nick is still in college, he may not have the credit history to be approved for a premium card. But there are cards that are easier to get if you don’t have a long credit history.
Which card would you recommend for a beginning points traveler?