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The Beginner’s Guide to Choosing a Travel Rewards Credit Card

Travel Rewards Credit Cards Featured
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Trying to find the perfect travel rewards credit card can seem overwhelming. So in this post, we’ll cover the five questions you need to ask before applying for a card, and then give specific recommendations for the best travel credit cards for beginners.

Here’s a rundown of our top choices:

To stay updated on the latest information regarding sign-up bonuses, APRs and credit score requirements, we’ve partnered with CardRatings. Check out their list of best travel credit cards, which includes the cards mentioned above, to find the perfect card for your needs.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Applying

To make sure you’re applying for the right card, here are five questions to ask yourself. 

#1. Will you keep this card long-term?

Practicing responsible travel hacking shouldn’t harm your credit score. However, frequently opening credit cards to earn the sign-up bonus and then canceling them soon after can damage your credit score, making it more difficult to get approved for future cards.

Closing a credit card account can decrease the average age of your accounts, which negatively impacts your score. If you continue this practice, it may eventually make you ineligible for new credit cards due to a poor credit history. 

Therefore, choose a credit card you plan to keep for the long term. This is why I generally recommend that beginners avoid high annual fee cards, even though they often have some of the biggest bonuses and/or best travel perks.

Before applying for a credit card, check to see if the credit issuer lists a recommended credit score. While they often won’t give you an exact score, they may say something along the lines of, “For Excellent Credit.” A Google search along the lines of “recommended credit score for Chase Sapphire Preferred” can also help here. 

A general rule of thumb is that you should have at least a 690 credit score before applying for a premium credit card. 

#3. Is the minimum spending requirement to earn the bonus within your budget?

Most credit cards with a sign-up bonus require minimum spending within a certain time frame to earn the bonus. When evaluating a new credit card, ensure the minimum spend requirement is achievable based on your usual spending habits.

Being a financially savvy travel hacker means using the card for regular expenses that you would normally make, like groceries or gas, and paying off the balance in full each month. This way, you can earn the bonus without overspending or taking on debt. If you carry a balance on your card, the interest will cost you far more over time than any rewards or bonuses you earn.

#4. What are you going to do with the points?

Having a plan for your rewards is important, as the sign-up bonus is typically the biggest opportunity to earn points (especially if you don’t spend a significant amount of money every month). 

If you’re unsure where to start, our credit card recommendations below include information about specific programs and the best uses of the rewards. You can also explore our guides on booking free airfare with points and booking hotel stays with points to set your travel goal. 

With a plan in place, you can ensure you get the most out of your rewards for flights, hotels and other travel expenses.

Best Travel Credit Cards for Beginners

If you’re a beginner looking for a travel credit card, it’s important to choose one that offers long-term benefits, a quality sign-up bonus, and reasonable minimum spending requirements. 

We’ve curated a list of the best travel credit cards that meet these criteria to help you make an informed decision. These cards are also flexible in how you can use the rewards, making them worthwhile even if you don’t have a specific travel destination in mind.

We have partnered with CardRatings, a reliable and comprehensive source for credit card information. You can see all these cards and more on their top travel credit cards page. When we provide direct links to credit cards, these are personal referral links, as I often possess the card myself.

#1. Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is our top choice for beginners because it offers:

  • A reasonable annual fee of $95, making it a great value.
  • A consistently great sign-up bonus worth hundreds of dollars in travel rewards.

In addition to these benefits, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers flexibility in using rewards. 

You can redeem your points at a rate of 1.25 cents per point within the Chase Travel Portal. For instance, you can exchange 70,000 points for $875 worth of travel through the portal. The portal offers comparable, if not identical, rates to popular booking sites like Expedia and Kayak for airfare, hotels, and car rentals.

Chase also offers the option to transfer your points to various airline and hotel partners, including popular brands such as United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Hyatt Hotels. 

However, you need a premium Chase card — such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve — to access these transfer partners. If you only have the Chase Freedom, you won’t be able to transfer your points and you’ll have to use them within the Chase Travel Portal.

Chase has a strict policy called the 5/24 rule, which means that if you’ve opened five or more credit card accounts in the past 24 months, you won’t be approved for a new Chase card. This rule doesn’t apply to all credit card issuers, which is why it’s a good idea to start with Chase if you plan on applying for more cards soon.

If you’re a higher earner, consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Although the annual fee is higher than the Sapphire Preferred, the card comes with a $300 annual travel credit to help offset the fee. You’ll also get additional benefits like airport lounge access and a higher redemption rate in the Chase Travel Portal.

To view the current Chase Sapphire Preferred welcome bonus and minimum spending requirements, plus to compare it with other leading travel rewards cards, we encourage you to visit CardRatings

#2. Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a great runner-up option to consider.

With this card, you can earn unlimited 2X miles per dollar spent on every purchase, making it easy to accumulate rewards quickly. The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card also offers a consistently high signup bonus, which can be worth hundreds of dollars in travel credits.

One unique feature of the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is that it allows you to use points to erase purchases that are categorized as travel on your credit card without having to use a travel portal. 

This gives you greater flexibility in redeeming your rewards, making it a great option for beginners. For example, you can use your rewards to offset the cost of Airbnb stays or cheap cash fares.

Although there are some 2% cash-back cards on the market, they typically do not provide as high of a sign-up bonus or additional travel perks, such as Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credits and no foreign transaction fees. Most importantly, these cash-back cards lack the flexibility to transfer points to airline and hotel partners, which is a key advantage of a travel card. 

Transfer partners include:

  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • Air France-KLM Flying Blue
  • Avianca LifeMiles
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • Emirates Skywards
  • Etihad Guest
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Wyndham Rewards

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card has an annual fee of $95. However, the card offers a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit, saving you time and hassle at the airport.

For higher earners and frequent travelers who want even more perks and benefits, the Capital One Venture X is a premium upgrade worth considering for benefits such as lounge access and annual travel credits

To view the current Capital One Venture Rewards welcome bonus and minimum spending requirements, plus compare it with other leading travel rewards cards, visit CardRatings

#3. Capital One VentureOne

For those looking for a no-annual-fee travel rewards credit card, the Capital One VentureOne card is a great option to consider. With this card, you can earn unlimited 1.25 miles per dollar spent on every purchase.

One of the most attractive features of the Capital One VentureOne card is that it allows you to transfer your rewards to airline or hotel partners. 

Unlike other travel credit cards (such as Chase and American Express) that require a premium credit card with an annual fee to access travel partners, the Capital One VentureOne card provides access to transfer partners without an annual fee.

While the rewards and benefits of the Capital One VentureOne card may not be as extensive as other travel credit cards, it’s still a great option for those looking for a low-commitment way to earn travel rewards. With the ability to transfer rewards to travel partners or erase purchases, you still have plenty of flexibility in using your rewards.

To view the current Capital One VentureOne welcome bonus and minimum spend requirements, plus compare it with other leading travel rewards cards, visit CardRatings

#4. World of Hyatt Credit Card

Hyatt is known for having some of the most valuable hotel points, making the World of Hyatt Credit Card a great choice for those who want to maximize their rewards.

You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt for valuable hotel redemptions (points cannot be transferred from Hyatt). If you combine the rewards from the Chase Sapphire Preferred and World of Hyatt Credit Cards sign-up bonuses, you could potentially earn enough points for a free week-long stay at one of Hyatt’s high-end resorts. 

While the World of Hyatt Credit Card is great for earning valuable hotel points and free stays, it may not be the best choice for everyday spending. With the card, you’ll only earn 1 point per dollar spent on most purchases.

The card does offer bonus points in select categories, however. You can earn 2 bonus points per dollar spent at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline, local transit and commuting, and fitness club and gym memberships.

In addition to earning points on every purchase, the World of Hyatt Credit Card offers a free night each year at a Category 1-4 hotel, which can easily offset the card’s annual fee of $95. 

#5. Chase Business Ink Preferred Card

The Chase Ink Business Preferred card is a strong option for business owners looking to earn valuable and flexible travel rewards. One of the most notable features of this card is the typically high sign-up bonus, which can significantly boost your rewards balance.

Unlike the other Ink cards, the Ink Business Preferred is the only one that comes with transfer partners on its own. This makes it a great choice for those who want to transfer their rewards to airlines or hotels for maximum value. 

The other Ink business cards can only transfer to transfer partners if you have another premium Chase credit card, such as the Sapphire Preferred.

The Chase Trifecta is a strategy that optimizes the use of different Chase credit cards to earn more points and increase their redemption value.

One great benefit of Chase is combining points from your personal and business accounts. This means that if you have multiple Chase credit cards, you can pool all your rewards into one account for easier redemption. 

Additionally, you can also combine points with another person in your household. This can be a great way to maximize your rewards and make the most of your travel.

For example, if you and your spouse have business and personal cards from Chase, you can combine all your rewards into one account, such as your Chase Sapphire Reserve, which has a higher redemption rate. This can help you earn more valuable rewards and enjoy luxurious travel experiences.

The Chase Ink Business Preferred also offers 3X points per $1 spent on the first $150,000 in combined purchases in several categories, including shipping purchases; advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines; internet, cable and phone services; and travel. This can provide significant earning potential for businesses that spend heavily in these categories.

If you spend heavily on paid advertising, like Google and Facebook Ads, see our picks for the best travel rewards credit cards for paid ads.

FAQ: Beginner’s Guide to Choosing a Travel Rewards Credit Card

What are travel rewards credit cards?

Travel rewards credit cards are credit cards that offer rewards or points for purchases, which can be redeemed for travel-related expenses such as flights, hotels and rental cars. These rewards can help you save money on travel or even earn free trips. 

What should I consider when choosing a travel rewards credit card?

The most important factors are the annual fee, signup bonus, rewards program, transfer partners, minimum spending requirements and credit score requirements. You should also consider your travel goals to determine which card will provide the most value for your needs.

What are the best travel rewards credit cards for beginners?

The best travel rewards credit card for beginners depends on individual needs and preferences. However, our preferred choice is the Chase Sapphire Preferred due to its high signup bonus and the ability to earn flexible rewards.

What is the 5/24 rule for Chase credit cards?

The 5/24 rule is a policy implemented by Chase that restricts applicants from being approved for certain credit cards if they have opened five or more credit card accounts in the past 24 months. This rule applies to several of Chase’s travel rewards credit cards, including the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

What is a signup bonus?

A signup bonus, otherwise known as a welcome offer, is a promotional offer provided by credit card issuers to new cardholders who meet certain spending requirements within a specified timeframe. Signup bonuses can provide significant rewards points or miles that can be used toward travel expenses.

Can you combine rewards points from multiple credit cards?

Some credit card issuers allow you to combine rewards points from multiple credit cards. For example, Chase allows you to pool personal and business credit card points into one account for easier redemption. Capital One also does, but you have to call to transfer from person to person. American Express doesn’t. 

Are there any credit score requirements for travel rewards credit cards?

Yes, most travel rewards credit cards require a good to excellent credit score for approval. The specific credit score range varies by the card issuer, but a score of 690 or above is generally recommended.

What’s Next After Choosing a Travel Rewards Credit Card?

Congratulations on taking the first step toward becoming a travel hacker! The travel credit cards we’ve discussed are excellent options for earning valuable rewards and enjoying luxurious travel experiences.

But what’s next?

The next post in our in-depth guide to travel hacking will show you how to use your travel credit card rewards to find free airfare. You’ll learn how to find and book flights using your points and miles and get the most value for your rewards.

By combining your travel credit card rewards with these tips, you can take your travel hacking to the next level and enjoy even more incredible adventures.

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R.J. Weiss
R.J. Weiss, founder of The Ways To Wealth, has been a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ since 2010. Holding a B.A. in finance and having completed the CFP® certification curriculum at The American College, R.J. combines formal education with a deep commitment to providing unbiased financial insights. Recognized as a trusted authority in the financial realm, his expertise is highlighted in major publications like Business Insider, New York Times, and Forbes.

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