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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 on purchases in the first 3 months 2x points on travel, 2x points on dining
The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express 10,000 points $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months 2x points at supermarkets, 20% bonus on all points after 20 purchases a month
Citi Premier℠ Card 60,000 points $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months 3x points on travel, 2x on dining and entertainment
The World of Hyatt Credit Card Up to 50,000 points $6,000 on purchases in the first 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 on purchases in the first 3 months 10x miles at Hotels.com, 2x miles on all other purchases
Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card  40,000 points $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months 2x points on Southwest purchases
IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card 125,000 points $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months 25x points at IHG hotels for the first 12 months (then 10x points), 4x points on all other purchases for the first 12 months; then 2x points at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants and 1x point on all other purchases

Now let’s take a deeper dive into these cards and explore the points, miles and benefits of each one.

1. Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

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 the Amex 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 information for the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card has been collected independently by The Points. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

3. Citi Premier Card 

Gas is considered “travel” on the Cit Premier and earns 3x ThankYou points. Photo by PhotoAlto/James Hardy via Getty Images.

The beauty of the Citi Premier Card  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.

4. The World of Hyatt Credit Card

photo courtesy of hyatt
You can use points at any Hyatt, even the Park Hyatt Sydney. Image courtesy of Hyatt.

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.

5. Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
You can earn 10 miles per dollar on hotel reservations at Hotels.com with the Capital One Venture Rewards card. Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy.

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.

6. Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Points earned with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card are Companion Pass-qualifying. Image by Justin Sullivan via Getty Images.

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 Credit 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 Southwest Rapid Rewards points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 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.

7. IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

Use your anniversary free night from the IHG Premier card at hotels like the Intercontinental Bangkok. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Earlier this year Chase introduced its new IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, and the issuer is offering a sign-up bonus to of 125,000 points after $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months. You’ll also get 25 points per dollar at IHG hotels for the first 12 months, then 10x points; 4x points on all other purchases for the first 12 months; then 2x points at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants and 1x points on all other purchases. 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.

Bottom Line

Summary: Best first-time travel credit cards of 2019

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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2018 TPG Award Winner: Mid-Tier Card of the Year
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

NEW INCREASED OFFER: 60,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
18.24% - 25.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.