Choose a Credit Card
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Because you are new to this hobby, I recommend starting out slow with just 1 or 2 cards. But keep in mind in the long-term, you want to apply for multiple cards. That’s because more cards means more sign-up bonuses and more miles for travel!
Choosing a card that is right for you depends upon your travel goals.
You have decided where you want to travel, now you need to decide which points you should earn to get you there. For example, if you want to go to Paris find out which airline (usually United or American) has the most flights from the US to Paris for a low amount of miles.
Then decide which hotel chain offers the best options for you in Paris. You could also use my guide to choosing the best hotel card for a trip to Paris to help you with this decision.
There are also a few categories to consider and how they may fit with your goals. In the next step, I’ll give you my top choices for specific cards but here are the 5 general categories.
1. Cards That Offer Flexibility
Cards that fall into this category are a good choice for folks who are new to this hobby. Despite your best efforts to make plans, you never know what direction life may take you and these cards give you options.
One of my favorite flexible points card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. You can transfer points to airlines including Southwest or United, hotels such as Hyatt and Marriott or use on the Chase travel portal
2. No Annual Fee Credit Cards
Many mile & point credit cards charge an annual fee which can range from ~$50 to ~$450 per year. These fees are often waived for the 1st year you have the card (Don’t worry, it’s easy to cancel your card if you don’t want to pay the annual fee in the 2nd year.)
And sometimes paying the annual fee is worth it because the benefits outweigh the costs. For example, if a credit card comes with a free hotel night, it could be worth it to pay the $49 annual fee.
However, there are a few cards that charge NO annual fees.
A no annual fee credit card is a great choice for folks who are new to this hobby. That’s because with no annual fee you never have to cancel these cards. This helps you build a relationship with the banks and increase your credit score by creating a longer credit history.
Whatever you do, don’t cancel your longest credit cards because they help your credit score and establish history with the bank.
3. Airline Credit Cards
With airline credit cards you will earn points for use with specific airlines.
This is may be a good option for folks who do a lot of business travel with a certain airline. These are also good cards to get when you know the airline you want to fly. And airlines have partners. So you can use 1 airline’s miles to fly its partner airlines.
For instance, British Airways award flights typically come with high fuel surcharges. But you can get around this because British Airways is a member of the oneworld alliance, which includes American Airlines. So you can use your British Airways miles to book a flight within the US on American Airlines and avoid the high fuel surcharges.
4. Hotel Credit Cards
Hotel credit cards earn points that you can use at certain hotel chains. A hotel card may be a good choice if you stay at hotels often.
5. Cash Back Credit Cards
With cash back cards you earn points that can be redeemed for credit card statement credits.
|Card||Cash Back at Restaurants||Cash Back Limit||Annual Fee||Foreign Transaction Fee||Sign-up Bonus|
|AMEX SimplyCash Plus||• 3% cash back at U.S. restaurants if you choose this as your bonus category||• up to $50,000 in spending per 12 billing cycles||No||2.7%||Earn up to $500 in statement credits. Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $5,000 or more on qualifying purchases on your Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership and earn an additional $250 statement credit after you spend an additional $10,000 or more on purchases within the 1st year of Card Membership.|
|Chase Ink Cash||• 2% cash back at restaurants||• up to $25,000 in spending each card anniversary year||No||3%||• 30,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points ($300 cash back) when you spend $3,000 within 3 months|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||• Earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide||No limit||- $95 (Introductory annual fee of $0 the 1st year)||No||• Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®|
|Barclaycard Arrival Plus||• 2X points (2.1% cash back if redeemed for $100+ travel purchases) on dining and all other purchases||No limit||$89 annual fee waived the 1st year||No||• 40,000 Arrival miles ($420 in cash back when you redeem for travel) when you spend $3,000 within 3 months|
|Citi Double Cash||• 1% cash back on spending and 1% cash back on payments||No limit||No||3%||No|
|US Bank Cash+||• 5% cash back at fast food restaurants if you choose this as 1 of your bonus categories||up to $2,000 in spending each quarter||No||3%||No|
|Chase Freedom||• 5% cash back on rotating categories each quarter (sometimes includes restaurants)||• Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate||$0||3%||• Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening|
|Discover It||• 5% cash back on rotating categories including restaurants|
• Earn 5% cash back at chain restaurants when you buy gift cards in other categories such as online shopping, home improvement, and gas stations.
|up to $1,500 in spending each quarter||No||No||$50 cash back after your 1st purchase in the 1st 3 months of opening your account|
|Fidelity Visa||• 2% cash back on all spending||No limit||No||2.7%||No|
|Chase AARP||• 3% cash back on restaurants and at gas stations||No limit||No||3%||• 10,000 points ($100 cash back) when you spend $500 within 3 months|
Cash back cards could be the right choice if you prefer types of travel that you can’t usually pay for with miles & points. For example, road trips, trains, boutique hotels, and cruises.
Cash back cards are also a great way to help pay for incidental travel expenses such as meals and entertainment. And cash back cards give you the ultimate flexibility because you don’t have to worry about black out dates and finding award space.
However, keep in mind that cash back is NOT the best way to get Big Travel with Small Money.
That’s because you can get much more value from award travel than cash back. For example, 125,000 cash back points are worth $1,250 in travel. But with 125,000 American Airlines miles you can fly round-trip from the US to Europe in First Class. Without miles a First Class flight from the US to Europe could cost ~$7,500 depending upon your destination and exact travel dates!
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! 🙂