The Best Points and Miles Credit Cards for Beginners

These cards are good for people who want to get started collecting travel rewards.
Alisha McDarrisSep 10, 2021

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There are dozens of points and miles credit cards out there, from airline and hotel cards to business and cash-back cards. But not all of them are a good choice for someone new to travel rewards.

If you’re on the hunt for the best points and miles credit card for beginners, take a look at these three: a no-fee, mid-fee and high-fee card. Then you’ll be ready to start earning award travel fast.

No fee: Chase Freedom Unlimited®

There aren’t many no-fee travel credit cards out there, but the Chase Freedom Unlimited® is about as good as they come. That, coupled with its ease of use, may make it one of the best entry-level travel credit cards available.

Earning points

Among the benefits that make this zero-fee card worth a look:

  • Welcome bonus: Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. And earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.

  • Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% at drugstores and on dining at restaurants (including takeout and eligible delivery services), and 1.5% on all other purchases.

This card is best for pre-travel spending because you will be charged foreign transaction fees if you use it while traveling overseas. But for earning points at home, this card is a workhorse, especially when used on everyday expenses like groceries.

Redeeming points

Using your points is as easy as racking them up. You can redeem them for many reward options including travel, which encompasses airline fees, hotels, cruises, passenger trains and more. All you need to do is make travel purchases with the card and redeem the cash back earned.

Or earn even more cash back by booking and paying with your card through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal.

Another solid no-fee option

Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card: Unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, a nice welcome bonus and no foreign transaction fees.

Mid fee: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

One of the best beginner travel credit cards out there may be the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. It’s a favorite among savvy travelers for a reason. It comes with a $95 annual fee, but for ease of use and flexibility in using your points, this card is tough to beat.

Some of the perks and benefits of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card include:

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

  • 2x points on all dining and travel purchases.

  • A 25% bonus on redemption value when you book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

  • 1:1 transfer rate if you want to convert your points to partner airline miles or hotel points.

  • No foreign transaction fees.

Earning points

That makes this card a great choice for an everyday point credit card, but it earns you even more on travel purchases and dining out (or ordering in). The sign-on bonus is also exceptional for a card with such a low annual fee, though the minimum spend required to earn the bonus points is a little higher than with some other cards.

Redeeming points

What makes this card worth a second glance as a starter travel credit card is its redemption options. You can either book travel and pay directly with points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® booking portal, or you can transfer your points to any of 13 airline and hotel frequent traveler programs.

Another solid mid-fee option

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Unlimited 2x miles on all purchases, plus you'll get a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit (worth up to $100). You'll also get a healthy welcome bonus and access to 15+ transfer partners.

High fee: The Platinum Card® from American Express

Ready to dive into travel rewards with both feet and reap all of the possible benefits of a top-tier card? A good first travel card for those willing to pay a hefty annual fee in exchange for a slew of travel benefits is The Platinum Card® from American Express.

At $695, it doesn’t come cheap, but it provides some seriously valuable perks:

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.

  • Earn 10x points at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S. on up to $25,000 during your first six months of card membership.

  • Earn 5x points on flights and hotels, plus 1x points on most other purchases.

  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year for select hotel bookings.

  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year for incidental travel fees, like checked bags.

  • Get a statement credit for the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.

  • Get $179 back per year on a Clear annual membership.

  • Get up to $15 per month and $35 in December of Uber Eats or ride credit in the U.S.

  • Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status.

  • Hilton Honors Gold Status.

Terms apply.

If you travel frequently — and like to do so in style — this card may be worth the high annual fee. So if you stay at hotels often (specifically Marriott and Hilton properties), frequently check luggage, aren’t yet approved for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, and would definitely use all the statement credits and status boosts, you’ll likely get more out of this card than you pay. Plus you'll have access to 20+ transfer partners including 19 airlines, so you can turn those AmEx points into airline miles.

Another solid high-fee option

Chase Sapphire Reserve®: A $300 annual travel credit helps offset the annual fee. Plus, Priority Pass access, 3x points on travel and a 1.5-cents-per-point value for travel booked through the Chase travel portal.

If you’re shopping for your first points and miles credit card

The best entry-level travel credit card depends largely on your travel plans, spending habits and budget, but these are three excellent choices for anyone getting started with travel rewards.


How to Maximize Your Rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:

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