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Expert Q&A

Best travel credit cards for beginners

If you’re looking for your first travel credit card, here are your best options

Summary

It’s a great time to plan your post-pandemic vacation and get your first travel credit card. But which card should it be?

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If you’ve decided it’s time to take your credit card strategy to the next level and start flying on points or miles, you might be wondering which travel credit card you should choose. You may be not feeling ready to commit to a high-annual-fee rewards card, but you also want to make sure you get a card that offers plenty of value.

If you’re looking for your first travel credit card, you’re in the right place. Read on to learn about the best starter credit cards and find one that fits your lifestyle.

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Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best for flexible travel rewards

As far as credit card rewards programs go, Chase Ultimate Rewards is the top pick if you want flexibility in your points and are thinking long-term.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the perfect entry card for this rewards ecosystem. At $95 annually, it earns 2 points per dollar on travel and dining and 1 point per dollar on everything else.

That may not sound impressive, but Ultimate Rewards points have excellent value. You can redeem them for 1.25 cents per point when booking travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal or transfer your points to the program’s partners, including World of Hyatt, Southwest Airlines and many more.

Currently, the card offers a very generous sign-up bonus – 80,000 points for spending $4,000 in the first three months. That’s $1,000 in travel purchases when redeemed through the portal.

Later, when you’re ready for an upgrade, you can request a product change to the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, one of the best credit cards on the market. It comes with a steep $550 annual fee, but its impressive list of benefits is hard to beat.

American Express® Green Card: Best for travel perks

When you step into the world of travel credit cards, the choice is often between Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards. Both currencies are incredibly valuable, so the choice comes down to your preferable transfer partners and card benefits.

Amex travel cards are known for their top-tier benefits, and that’s obvious even with the American Express® Green Card, which is more of a starter Amex product. At $150 per year, it’s the most expensive option on our list, but it also comes with the best perks.

The card earns 3 points per dollar on travel, dining and transit and offers a $100 statement credit on a CLEAR membership and another $100 credit for LoungeBuddy passes.

The best options to redeem Amex points is to transfer them to American Express partners or redeem for airfare on the American Express Travel portal.

The perks will give you a taste of what Amex credit cards can offer. When you’re ready for your next Amex travel card, you can look into the American Express® Gold Card, a foodies’ favorite (myself included) and The Platinum Card® from American Express, which is packed to the brim with premium benefits.

The Amex Green card currently offers 30,000 points when you spend $2,000 in the first three months as a welcome bonus. That’s $300 in travel booked through American Express.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best for simple travel rewards

If simplicity is what you aim for in your credit card strategy, you’ll probably like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. With a $95 annual fee and minimal maintenance, you’ll earn 2 miles per dollar on every purchase. You can redeem your rewards for a wide range of travel purchases or choose another redemption option – though your miles will lose a lot of value.

You also have an option to transfer your Venture miles, but, depending on the transfer rate, it can be hit-or-miss. Plus, many major airlines are missing from Capital One’s partner list.

Currently, you can earn a whopping 100,000-mile bonus, but it requires $20,000 in spend in the first 12 months. That’s $1,000 when redeemed for travel purchases. Alternatively, you can earn 50,000 miles ($500 in travel purchases) when you spend $3,000 in the first three months.

Citi Premier® Card: Best for bonus categories

It’s easy to earn rewards with the Citi Premier® Card. You’ll get 3 points per dollar on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, airfare and hotels. Similar to the other cards on our list, the annual fee is $95, and the best redemption options include booking travel through the Citi ThankYou portal and transferring miles to Citi’s travel partners.

Note, however, that Citi doesn’t have many domestic airline partners. There are also no hotel partners on the list.

The Citi Premier offers 60,000 points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months, worth $600 when redeemed through the ThankYou Travel Center.

Best travel credit cards for beginners: Summary

CardRewardsNotable featuresAnnual fee
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • 2 points per dollar on dining and travel
  • 1 point per dollar on general purchases
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Travel insurance
  • VIP events and experiences
  • Free DashPass subscription for one year (must activate by Dec. 31, 2021)
$95
American Express® Green Card
  • 3 points per dollar on travel, transit and dining worldwide
  • 1 point per dollar on other purchases
  • Up to $100 credit toward cost of CLEAR
  • Up to $100 LoungeBuddy credit
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Travel insurance
  • Travel discounts
  • Ticket presale for events
  • Shoprunner membership
  • Free Uber Eats Pass membership (must enroll by Dec. 31, 2021)
$150
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card2 miles per dollar on all purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Travel discounts and upgrades
$95
Citi Premier® Card
  • 3 points per dollar spent on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels
  • 1 point per dollar spent on other purchases
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Free concierge service
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
$95

Bottom line

Getting into travel credit cards can be exciting, especially when you start with the right card. A good first travel credit card isn’t expensive, but it fits your spending habits, offers plenty of value and helps you save on travel.

Check CardMatch to see travel credit cards tailored to your credit profile. Checking your offers is free and doesn’t impact your credit score.

*All information about the American Express Green Card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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