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You know what they say: You never forget your first time…signing up for a credit card. We’re willing to bet you were probably a little nervous — yet definitely excited — but above all, totally and completely confused. And if you haven’t taken the plunge yet, don’t worry; that’s why we’re here.

New to TPG? See our Beginner’s Guide.

The Best First-Time Credit Cards of 2019

Choosing the Best First Credit Card for You: Card Details

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

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

Welcome bonus: 60,000 points when you spend $4,000 within the first three months of account opening. We value this bonus at $1,200, depending on how you redeem them — either by transferring them to an airline or hotel, or directly through Chase’s travel portal.

Annual fee: $95

Rewards:

  • 2x points on travel (flights, Uber, etc.) and restaurants
  • 1x points on everything else

Who should get this card? If you’re an avid TPG reader, you know we recommend this card a lot. In fact, it’s usually what we recommend to people just starting out or looking to step up their points game. Those 2x points on dining and travel add up quickly — travel especially is a broad category, and includes everything from Uber, to public transit, and of course, flights. The points you’ll earn are known as “transferable points,” which is a fancy way of saying these are points you can use for free flights or hotels from Chase’s various partners, which include Hyatt, JetBlue, Marriott and Southwest, to name a few. It’s the perfect middle ground for people who travel a few times a year, or who want to travel a few times a year.

Read our full Chase Sapphire Preferred Review for more details.

APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

American Express® Gold Card

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

Welcome Offer: 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months — worth $700 based on our latest valuations.

Annual fee: $250

Rewards:

  • 4x on dining and US supermarkets (the 4x on up to $25,000 spent at US supermarkets each year; then 1x)
  • 3x on airfare, either booked directly with the airline or through amextravel.com
  • 1x points on everything else

Who should get this card? In a word: People who live to eat (present!). The Amex Gold Card came back with a splash this year thanks to its significant dining perks (not to mention a limited-edition rose-gold version that’s no longer available). It currently has a welcome offer of 35,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months — worth $700 based on our latest valuations. It’s not the most impressive bonus out there, but the earning potential of the card makes up for it. That is, it will pay you 4x on dining worldwide, 3x on travel booked directly through airlines or amextravel.com and 1x on everything else.

Oh, and those transferable points we mentioned with the Chase Sapphire card? Amex has them, too. You’ll be able to use your Amex Membership Rewards points on 19 airline and three hotel partners, including Aeroplan, Delta, and Marriott, plus many more. The card has a $250 annual fee (see rates and fees), but that is offset by a $100 airline statement credit and a $120 yearly dining statement credit. Bottom line: If you like to eat, you need this card.

Read our full Amex Gold Review here.

APPLY HERE: American Express Gold Card

Amex EveryDay® Credit Card

Welcome offer: 10,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $1,000 within the first three months of account opening. These points are valued at $200 based on TPG valuations. However, be sure to check Card Match to see if you’re targeted for a higher bonus offer. Many readers often are.

Annual fee: $0

Rewards:

  • 2x points at US supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases)
  • 1x points on all other purchases
  • 20% bonus points when you use your card 20+ times in a billing period

Who should get this card? This is a credit card for points-and-miles beginners. It has no annual fee and earns 2x at US supermarkets (on the first $6,000 spent each year) and 1x on everything else — plus you get a 20% bonus if you swipe it 20 times or more in a billing cycle. In fact, it’s actually the first credit card I got to boost my credit score before I took the jump into more premium cards.

You’ll get 10,000 Amex Membership Rewards points after spending $1,000 in the first three months, which isn’t anything groundbreaking. But then again, Rome wasn’t built in a day, right? On the flip side, consider the fact that you can transfer your Amex points to Delta, and that Delta frequently has flash sales to the Caribbean starting at just 12,000 miles round-trip, you’re looking at an easy way to jump-start your free travels. You can also transfer your Amex Membership Rewards points (a fancy way of saying “Amex points”) to 19 airline and three hotel programs, including JetBlue and Marriott, to really get a lot of value out of them.

The information for the Amex EveryDay® Credit 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.

Chase Freedom Unlimited

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

Sign-up bonus: 3% cash back in the first year (up to $20,000 in purchases); then 1.5% cash back

Annual fee: $0

Rewards:

Who should get this card? If you like to use one card for everything and are looking to earn cash back, this might be the perfect card for you. Unlike many cash-back cards, the Freedom Unlimited also allows you to earn Ultimate Rewards points. This might not sound too exciting now, especially if you’re a beginner, but that’s a really nice perk because if you get the Sapphire Preferred, Sapphire Reserve and the Ink Business Preferred — you can pair these three with the Freedom Unlimited, transfer the points you earn on it and redeem them in the Chase portal. Additionally, Ultimate Rewards points are some of the most valuable points when it comes to redeeming for travel and who doesn’t love free travel?

Read our full Chase Freedom Unlimited Review here.

APPLY HERE: Chase Freedom Unlimited

Venture® Rewards From Capital One®

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Sign-up bonus: 50,000-mile bonus after spending $3,000 in 3 months

Annual fee: $95, waived the first year

Rewards:

Who should get this card? This was another buzzy card of the past few months, thanks to the addition of 15 airline transfer partners — a benefit that Capital One cards lacked for a long time. It’s currently offering a 50,000-mile bonus after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The perks include 2x miles on purchases, but the biggest kicker is 10x miles when you book at hotels.com/venture through January 2020. It also has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year and no foreign transaction fees. If you have a lot hotel stays coming up, this is definitely one to look into.

Read our full Capital One Venture Review here.

APPLY HERE: Venture from Capital One

Why You Should Get a Credit Card

Using your debit card has virtually no point — pun intended. You’re spending money and not getting anything back in return. For all the money you spend on food, clothing, skincare, workout classes, transportation etc., you could be earning valuable points or miles toward your next vacation. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we promise the points really do add up. Plus, one day you’re going to want to get a house or a car and we guarantee some people in suits will be asking you for your credit score.

Applying for your first “real” credit card is a big step towards financial freedom, not to mention a way for you to start racking up valuable points and miles that you can use to start traveling the world for free. But before we get into that, let’s set a few ground rules.

How Credit Cards Work

Travel credit cards can help you earn points and miles — a.k.a. pieces of plastic (or metal) that are putting you one step closer to being on the beach in Bora Bora.

How do you get these elusive points and miles? We’re glad you asked. You can get them a few different ways, from actually flying on airlines to going through online shopping portals. But the biggest and the best way is through sign-up bonuses. This is a fancy way of saying “if you spend a certain amount of money in a certain amount of time, you’ll earn a certain amount of points.” It varies from card to card, which we’ll break down shortly. Nothing happens if you don’t hit the sign-up bonus, you just won’t get those bonus points; you will, though, get points for whatever spending you do put on it. Again, this varies from card to card.

A lot of credit cards will also offer bonus points for spending on certain categories of purchases. For example, if you get 3x points on dining and your dinner cost you $15 dollars, you’d earn 45 points. 45 points won’t get you anywhere, really, but they do add up over time.

If you take nothing else away from this article (or really, any article on the site) it’s this: Pay your bills on time and in full every single month. Having a credit card is not Monopoly money in your pocket, and by not paying off your credit card in full, you’re negating the value of any points you earn. In short: Spend what you can afford. Period.

Now once you get your new credit card, understand that the points or miles you’ll earn are valuable — and they’re not all created equal. Our monthly valuations are a good resource to figuring out how much each of yours are worth. At the end of the day, you never want to pay more for a flight in points or miles than if you just booked it outright using your credit card.

Just remember that you’ll want to put them to use to pay for your next vacation, not your Amazon or food-delivery order. Also, the value of points and miles varies from program to program, so check out our monthly valuations guide to determine if you’re getting a good deal.

Bottom Line

We know there are a lot of options out there, and it can be hard to find your Cinderella slipper. But no matter how you start your points and miles journey, these cards will help you get started without getting overwhelmed; there’s no need to go straight to the big leagues with a premium travel credit card just yet. Start off small and build your credit, and we promise these points will add up fast than you can say, “Award redemption.”

Additional reporting by Nick Ewen and Liz Hund.

Know before you go.

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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.

Apply Now
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.
  • No foreign transaction fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
17.99% - 24.99% 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.