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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.
» Learn more: Are travel credit cards worth it?
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.
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!
With the current welcome bonus, you'll earn 6.5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 4.5% at drugstores and on dining at restaurants (including takeout and eligible delivery services), and 3% on all other purchases.
After your first year or $20,000 spent, earn 5% cash back on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®, 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.
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.
» Learn more: How to get the most from the Chase Freedom Unlimited®
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 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 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.
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.
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 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+ 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 80,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $8,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
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.
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®: 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.
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card: This 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.
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 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card