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The world of credit cards can seem overwhelming when you’re just getting started. With so much information and so many options, how do you know which card to choose? Do you want transferable points? Or airline miles? Free nights at a hotel chain? Or maybe even miles you can turn into statement credits?
The key to picking the right card is to set your travel goals first. Is your dream trip an international destination like Rome or a ski trip to Vail? Are you comfortable traveling in economy or do you want to spend the extra time and effort to be able to fly in a premium cabin? Is the hotel important to you or are you planning to spend most of your time outside of the room?
There’s no right or wrong answer to these questions — it’s all about what’s important to you. But once you’ve made your decisions, it’s important to match the right points to the right card.
With that in mind, we’ve put together this list of the best starter credit cards to help lead you in the right direction, so you don’t waste time and end up with loyalty points that don’t match your travel goals. We also kept simplicity in mind when compiling this list — none of these cards are tied to complicated, difficult-to-understand programs, nor do they have intimidating annual fees, and all of them are worth getting and potentially keeping in your credit card inventory for the long term.
Best Starter Travel Rewards Credit Cards
Let’s start by taking a look at the key details of the best starter travel rewards credit cards, including the welcome bonuses and the key earning features.
|Card||Bonus||Minimum Spend||Bonus Categories|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred Card||60,000 points||$4,000 in 3 months||2x points on travel, 2x points on dining|
|The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express||10,000 points||$1,000 in 3 months||2x points at supermarkets, 20% bonus on all points after 20 purchases a month|
|Citi Premier Card||50,000 points||$4,000 in 3 months||3x points on travel, 2x on dining and entertainment|
|The World of Hyatt Credit Card||Up to 50,000 points||$6,000 in 6 months||4x points at Hyatt, 2x points at restaurants, airlines, local transit and gyms|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||50,000 miles||$3,000 in 3 months||10x miles at Hotels.com, 2x miles on all other purchases|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card||40,000||$1,000 in 3 months||2x points on Southwest purchases|
|IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card||Up to 120,000 points||$5,000 in 6 months||10x points at IHG hotels, 2x at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants|
Now let’s take a deeper dive into these cards and explore the points, miles and benefits of each one.
There’s a good reason the Chase Sapphire Preferred tops our list of starter cards — it comes with a great sign-up bonus, earns 2x points on travel and dining at restaurants, and the Ultimate Rewards points it earns are easy to use at top airline and hotel programs such as United and Hyatt. Your points can also be redeemed for 1.25 cents apiece to book flights or rooms at any airline or hotel through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal.
The card also comes with terrific travel benefits, including primary insurance when you rent a car and no foreign transaction fees. Couple it all with an annual fee that’s $95, and you’ve got a card that offers great value, especially if you’re just starting out in the world of travel rewards.
2. The Amex EveryDay Credit Card From American Express
Since it comes with no annual fee, the Amex EveryDay card might be the best way to dip your toe into Amex’s Membership Rewards program. You’ll have access to the exact same airline and hotel transfer partners as the much more expensive Platinum and Gold cards, and can earn double points on all US supermarket purchases (on up to $6,000 in purchases per year; then 1x). On top of that, you’ll get a 20% point bonus for each billing period you use the card for 20 transactions or more.
With access to Amex Offers and no fee for adding authorized users, you really can’t go wrong with the Amex EveryDay as a first travel rewards card. Just keep in mind that it does charge a 2.7% fee on foreign transaction fees, so you won’t want to use it abroad.
The beauty of the Citi Premier is its plentiful bonus categories. With 3 points per dollar spent on travel — a broadly defined category on this card that includes gas purchases — and 2 points per dollar on dining and entertainment, you’ll be able to rack up lots of ThankYou points in no time.
When it comes to spending those points, you can transfer them to any of 15 airline partners or redeem them for 1.25 cents per point at the Citi ThankYou travel portal. The card comes with no foreign transaction fees and a $95 annual fee that’s waived for the first year.
You’ll get a ton of value right off the bat with the recently revamped World of Hyatt Credit Card because the sign-up bonus is up to 50,000 bonus points, split into two tiers. You’ll earn 25,000 bonus points after you make $3,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months, plus an additional 25,000 bonus points for a total of $6,000 in spend in the first six months. Hyatt has some fantastic high-end properties where you can redeem those points, such as the Park Hyatt Zurich and the Andaz Maui.
The card, which has a $95 annual fee and waived foreign transaction fees, gets 4 points per dollar at all Hyatt properties and 2x points at restaurants, gyms, local transit and on tickets booked directly with airlines. The card also comes with Discoverist status in the World of Hyatt loyalty program, plus you’ll get 5 qualifying night credits toward Hyatt elite status each year, plus an additional 2 qualifying night credits for each $5,000 you spend on the card. Finally, you’ll receive a free night at a Category 1-4 property after your card member anniversary each year, and another Category 1-4 free night after spending $15,000 on the card in a card member year.
The Capital One Venture Rewards earns 2 miles per dollar on all purchases, and an amazing 10x miles on hotel reservations made at hotels.com/Venture and paid for with your Venture Rewards card. The card’s currently offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.
Recently, Capital One added transfer partners, so you can move the miles you earn with this card to airline programs such as Avianca LifeMiles and Etihad Guest. 12 of the partners have a 2:1.5 transfer ratio, so 50,000 miles would equate to 37,500 miles, and the other partners (Emirates and Singapore Airlines) have a 2:1 transfer ratio, which would mean your 50,000 miles become 25,000. These transfer rates aren’t the most user-friendly, but you also have the option to redeem miles at a flat rate of 1 cent apiece to offset travel purchases on your statement — and you can dip your toe into the airline partners’ programs when you’re ready.
There are no foreign transactions fees on this card, there’s no annual fee for the first year and you’ll only pay $95 a year after that to hang onto the Venture.
Southwest features a fixed-value loyalty program, which means you might not get an outsized return when you redeem your points, but you’ll also never have to worry about a lack of award space since there’s always availability as long as there are still open seats on the plane. That makes the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card one to look at if your main interest is simplicity and economy-class travel.
The card is offering a sign-up bonus of 40,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three months.
Since Southwest never has change fees, you can also book and rebook award travel repeatedly until you find the award price you want. The $69 annual fee also gets you 3,000 bonus points at each card member anniversary. Note that this card does have a 3% foreign-transaction fee.
Earlier this year Chase introduced its new IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, and the issuer increased the card’s sign-up bonus to a whopping 80,000 points after $2,000 in purchases in the first 3 months plus an additional 40,000 bonus points after spending a total of $5,000 on purchases within 6 months of account opening. You’ll also get 2 points per dollar at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants, your fourth night free on all IHG point redemptions, a 20% rebate on points purchases and IHG Platinum status for as long as you keep the card. Then starting with your first anniversary, the IHG Premier provides a free night at any IHG property that normally goes for up to 40,000 points per night. The IHG Premier charges no foreign transaction fees and has an annual fee of $89 per year.
Summary: Best first-time travel credit cards of 2018
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Amex EveryDay Credit Card
- Citi Premier Card
- World Of Hyatt Credit Card
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
- IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
With so many travel rewards cards out there, choosing a new one to apply for might seem treacherous. But you can’t go wrong with any of the choices on this list. So make your travel goals for the year, then use these options as a guide to pick the right card to get you there. And get yourself off and running!
Featured image by Bruskov / Getty Images.
This is The Points Guy’s permanent page for best starter credit cards, so you can bookmark it and check back regularly for updates. Keep in mind you may see some reader comments referring to older offers below.
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WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points Terms Apply.
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: Delta Sky Club and Centurion lounge access, $200 annual airline fee credit and up to $200 in Uber credits annually
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
- Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
- 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
- Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
- Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
- Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
- $550 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees