3 Best Travel Credit Cards for Beginners, Plus Alternatives

These are the travel credit card for beginners or anyone who wants to get started collecting travel rewards.
Alisha McDarris
By Alisha McDarris 
Updated
Edited by June Casagrande

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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 travel 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.

1. No fee: Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 

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 Chase points

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

  • Welcome bonus: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!

  • During your first year, earn 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase's portal, 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, and 3% on all other purchases on up to $20,000 in spending. After that, earn 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back 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 Chase points

Using your Chase 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.

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Or earn even more cash back by booking and paying with your card through Chase's portal.

Another solid no-fee option: The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

Bank of America Travel Rewards® Credit Card

Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

NerdWallet Rating
3.8
Annual fee

$0

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

Its current welcome bonus is: 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.

2. Mid fee: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 

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 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

  • 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 Chase 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 Chase 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 Chase's booking portal, or you can transfer your points to any of 13 airline and hotel frequent traveler programs.

Another solid mid-fee option: The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

NerdWallet Rating
4.7
Annual fee

$95

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Unlimited 2x miles on all purchases, plus 5x miles on rental cars and hotels booked through Capital One Travel.

You'll also get a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit (worth up to $100), a healthy welcome bonus and access to 15+ Capital One transfer partners.

Its welcome bonus is: Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

3. High fee: The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express
NerdWallet rating 

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 80,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $8,000 on eligible purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.

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

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

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

  • Get $189 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.

Other solid high-fee options

Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

NerdWallet Rating
5.0
Annual fee

$550

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® includes 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's travel portal.

Its annual fee is $550, and its current sign-up bonus is: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

NerdWallet Rating
4.9
Annual fee

$395

The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card also comes with a $300 annual travel credit, the ability to transfer points to 17 airline and hotel transfer partners and unlimited access to Priority Pass, Capital One lounges, and more than 100 Plaza Premium lounges, including select Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses.

New cardholders can earn a sign-up bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

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 some of the best travel credit cards of 2024:

Travel Cards from Our Partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-5x

5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.

Points

Intro offer

60,000

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Points
Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1.5%-5%

Enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

Cashback

Intro offer

Up to $300

Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
4.7
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

2x-5x

Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.

Miles

Intro offer

75,000

Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

Miles
See more travel cards
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