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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 not be 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.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best for flexible travel rewards

Why we picked it

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 5 points per dollar on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3 points per dollar on restaurants, select streaming services and online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs) and 2 points per dollar on other travel purchases.

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.

Pros

  • You’ll get 60,000 points for spending $4,000 in the first three months. That’s $750 in travel purchases when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 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.

Cons

  • There is an annual fee of $95.
  • You get lower rewards value when you redeem for merchandise.
  • There is no intro APR offer.

Who should apply?

  • Those who hold another Chase Ultimate Rewards card and want to maximize points will benefit from this card.
  • Cardholders who travel and dine out frequently can also benefit from this card.
  • Those who are new to the travel rewards game and want to get started with a solid a great first travel card should consider this one.

Who should skip

  • If you’ve opened five or more new credit cards in the last 24 months, Chase will usually turn down an application for another card: This is known as the Chase 5/24 rule.

American Express Green Card: Best for travel perks

Why we picked it

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. 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.

Pros

  • 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 current offer is 45,000 points when you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • 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.

Cons

  • The card comes with a $150 annual fee.
  • Balance transfers are not allowed.

Who should apply?

  • If you dine out frequently and use public transportation – and also travel regularly but not enough to splurge for a high-end luxury card – this could be the card for you.

Who should skip

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

Why we picked it

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 5 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 2 miles per dollar on every other 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.

Pros

  • Currently, you can earn a 60,000-mile bonus if you spend $3,000 in the first three months. That’s $600 when redeemed for travel purchases.
  • You’ll have no blackout or expiration dates.
  • There are no limits on miles.
  • You don’t need a minimum of miles to redeem for travel.
  • You can redeem any hotel or airline purchase for a statement credit.

Cons

  • The card comes with a $95 annual fee.
  • You have an option to transfer your Venture miles, but a good transfer rate isn’t guaranteed.
  • Many major airlines are missing from Capital One’s partner list.

Who should apply?

  • If you dine out frequently and use public transportation – and also travel regularly but not enough to splurge for a high-end luxury card – this could be the card for you.

Who should skip

  • If you’re not someone who pays their balance in full each month, you’ll probably find a better card for your needs.
  • If you’re looking for a 0% intro deal, this probably isn’t the card for you.

Citi Premier Card: Best for bonus categories

Why we picked it

It’s easy to earn rewards with the Citi Premier® Card. You’ll get 3 points per dollar on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel 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 points to Citi’s travel partners.

Pros

  • The Citi Premier offers 60,000 points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months.
  • There are no blackout or expiration dates.
  • There is no minimum number of miles required to redeem for travel.

Cons

  • Citi doesn’t have many domestic airline partners, and there are no hotel partners on the list.
  • It comes with an annual fee of $95.

Who should apply?

  • If you have excellent credit and don’t mind paying an annual fee, this card could get you some very nice miles rewards.

Who should skip

How to choose the right starter travel card for you

There are so many great travel cards on the market that choosing one can really be difficult. The easiest way to get the right card for you is to look for one that matches your travel goals, spending habits and, of course, budget.

First, decide which categories you spend the most in each month and go for a card that rewards you most in those areas. Next, you can use your travel goals to narrow down the choices. For example, if you don’t travel enough to get more than the card’s annual fee in value, perhaps you should go for a lower- or no-fee card. Last, consider which card will give you the best mix of rewards or perks – or combination of both – before you sign on the dotted line.

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 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 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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