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You’ve probably seen an exciting article or two about people traveling to far-flung destinations using travel rewards points. As inspirational as these stories tend to be, they may seem out of reach for you — especially if you’re a low spender. After all, how do you earn points if you don’t have many expenses?
Happily, not all cards require you to splash out to cash in.
Let’s look at the best travel credit cards for low spenders and their benefits.
The best rewards credit cards for low spenders
Do you have enough cash to cover a $99 annual fee? Can you afford to make a single transaction on a credit card? If so, the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® could be an excellent option for you.
The card's welcome bonus is as follows: Earn 60,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after making your first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee in full, both within the first 90 days.
What will 60,000 AAdvantage miles get you? Well, from New York, it can get you a round-trip flight to Europe, eight flights across the country or two tickets to the Caribbean and back.
Not bad for a cup of coffee and an annual fee.
The card also has ongoing benefits as well, such as:
$25 in statement credits each year on American Airlines in-flight Wi-Fi purchases.
A free checked bag.
2 miles per dollar spent at American Airlines.
1 mile per dollar spent everywhere else.
Companion Certificate on your cardholder anniversary.
» Learn more: The complete guide to redeeming American Airlines miles
One of our favorite travel credit cards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers a whole host of benefits for its customers. Although it charges a $95 annual fee, you’ll receive $50 in statement credits toward hotel stays and a 10% bonus on earned points each anniversary in return.
It also offers a generous 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®. You could possibly get even more value according to our recent valuations.
The main draw for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, however, is the ability to earn elevated rewards on common categories:
5 points per dollar spent on all travel booked via the Chase travel portal.
2 points per dollar on all other travel.
3 points per dollar spent on restaurants, online grocery purchases and select streaming services.
1 point per dollar everywhere else.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card also features rental car insurance, which can save you a good deal of money on your rentals.
Even if you don’t have significant expenses, the ability to earn increased bonus points on the purchases you do make will go a long way towards going on that dream vacation.
The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card offers 5% cash back on the first $500 of your highest eligible spend category each billing cycle. Practically speaking, this means that Citi will automatically identify where you’re spending the most money every billing cycle and award you 5% back on the first $500 you spend. You’ll receive 1% back everywhere else. All with a $0 annual fee.
The categories eligible for a 5% return are broad:
Select travel and transit.
Grocery stores, drugstores, and home improvement stores.
Select streaming services and live entertainment.
The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card earns cash back in the form of Citi ThankYou Points, which can be redeemed for travel, statement credits and more. Even better, if you also hold the Citi Premier® Card, you can combine your points and transfer them to one of Citi’s 19 transfer partners.
» Learn more: Benefits of the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card
Our most expensive card on this list, the American Express® Green Card will charge you a $150 annual fee. That may seem high, but you’ll receive a lot in return, including:
Even if you only make it to the airport once a year, these benefits help smooth the way for your travel. The American Express® Green Card also offers strong returns on your spending, including 3 points per dollar spent on restaurants, transit and travel. You’ll earn 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else.
The card's welcome offer threshold is much lower than many other offers: Earn 45,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $2,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months. Terms Apply.
This card earns American Express Membership Rewards, another flexible point currency. These kinds of flexible points typically offer travelers a solid value since they grant you the ability to compare different transfer partners to find the cheapest redemption rates. This is especially true for airfare since each airline may charge you different point amounts for your flights.
If you’re looking for something simple, the Discover it® Miles card (annual fee: $0) is hard to beat. Its benefits are sparse, but you’ll earn a flat 1.5 miles per dollar spent without limit. You can then redeem your miles at a rate of one cent each, whether you’re looking for a statement credit, a PayPal purchase or a cash deposit.
The Discover it® Miles card also comes with the UNLIMITED BONUS: Only Discover will automatically match all the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. There’s no signing up, no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a Miles-for-Miles match. This effectively grants you 3 miles per dollar spent on all purchases in your first year, which is unbeatable for any other fee-free credit cards.
» Learn more: Best no annual fee travel credit cards right now
Final thoughts on credit cards for minimal use
Just because you don’t have many charges doesn’t mean you have to miss out. Whether you’re looking for a credit card that provides an appreciable welcome offer for minimal spending or travel cards that earn you plenty of points on your purchases, there’s an option out there for you. So decide what matters most, weigh your options and start enjoying the perks of owning a travel credit card.
All information about the American Express® Green Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The American Express® Green Card is no longer available through NerdWallet.
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 2022, 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