The 6 best starter travel credit cards of 2019

Nov 26, 2019

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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? 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.

In This Post

Best starter travel rewards credit cards

Compare the 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 three months 2x points on travel and dining
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card 50,000 miles $3,000 on purchases in the first three months 2x miles on all purchases
American Express® Green Card 30,000 points $2,000 on purchases in the first three months 3x on eligible travel, dining and transit
Citi Premier℠ Card 60,000 points $4,000 on purchases in the first three months 3x points on travel, 2x on dining and entertainment

The information for the Citi Premier card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

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

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Annual fee: $95

Welcome bonus: 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months.

Why it’s a great starter 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 only $95, and you’ve got a card that offers great value, especially if you’re just starting out in the world of travel rewards.

Read our review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card here.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

Annual fee: $95, waived the first year

Welcome bonus: 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months.

Why it’s a great starter card: The Capital One Venture Rewards earns 2 miles per dollar on all purchases. You can redeem your miles for a fixed value on travel purchases, or you can move the miles you earn with this card to airline programs such as Avianca LifeMiles and Etihad Guest. Most of the partners have a 2:1.5 transfer ratio, so 50,000 miles would equate to 37,500 miles, but three partners (Emirates, Singapore Airlines and JetBlue) 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 it does give the beginners the option to dip your toe into the airline partners’ programs when you’re ready.

There are no foreign transaction 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.

Read our review of the Capital One Venture Rewards card.

American Express Green Card

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

Annual fee: $150 (see rates and fees)

Welcome bonus: 30,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.

Why it’s a great starter card: The recently revamped Amex Green may come with the highest annual fee on this list, but it also packs the most punch. In addition to earning an amazing 3x across travel, dining and transit purchases, you’ll also get a $100 statement credit for your CLEAR® membership and a $100 statement credit for LoungeBuddy purchases. The Amex Green earns valuable Membership Rewards that give you access to a wide range of hotel and airline partners. While the welcome bonus isn’t anything to write home about, you can still get a lot of value from 30,000 points.

Read our review of the American Express Green card here.

Citi Premier Card

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

Annual fee: $95

Welcome bonus: 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months.

Why it’s a great starter card: 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 transit and 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.

Read our review of the Citi Premier Card here.

How to choose the right starter travel card for you

There is no one-size-fits-all travel card. With so many great options available, it can be hard to narrow down which card (or cards) to get to begin building your credit card portfolio. Make sure you’re choosing a card that fits your spending habits, travel goals and budget. Start by taking inventory of what categories you spend the most money on each month.

Do you live in a large city where transit and dining make up the majority of your monthly spending? Then consider cards like the Citi Premier or Amex Green Card that offer rewards across those categories. From there, narrow down your options based on your travel goals. Are you wanting the option to transfer points to partners? Then the Premier and Green are the better two options from this list. Are you wanting to travel internationally more than a couple of times a year? In that case, the Green’s annual statement credits paired with its more valuable transfer partner list makes the most sense. Lastly, consider your budget. If you don’t think you’ll get more than $150 in value from the Amex Green every year, then maybe the Premier’s lower $95 annual fee is a nice compromise between your travel goals and budget.

At the end of the day, it’s all about considering which cards will give you the most value each year, either through earned rewards, perks or a mix of both.

What credit score do you need for a travel credit card?

Most travel credit cards require good-to-excellent credit, meaning you’ll want a score over 650 at the lowest end of the spectrum. However, a 700+ score is ideal. That’s not to say that you won’t be approved if your score isn’t that high, but it is a good rule of thumb to go by when considering applying for a credit card.

The cards on this list are a bit easier to be approved for than luxury cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Chase Sapphire Reserve, but you’ll still need to have established credit and a good score to have the best chance of getting approved.

If you don’t currently have a credit score, you’ll want to build credit with a beginner card or by becoming an authorized user on someone else’s card. If your credit score is less-than-stellar, it’s a good idea to take the necessary steps to improve your score before applying for a travel rewards credit card.

Bottom line

With so many travel rewards cards out there, choosing a new one to apply for might seem overwhelming. 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!

Are you just getting started in the points and miles game? Check out our beginner’s guide to everything you need to know about earning, burning and maximizing travel benefits.

Featured photo by Artur Debat/Getty Images.

Additional reporting by Nick Ewen.

For rates and fees of the Amex Green, please click here.

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.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points


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
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.
Intro APR on Purchases
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit

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.

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