The best travel credit cards for beginners can help you easily earn points/miles that you can redeem for travel, cash, gift cards, and more. Many of these cards have reward categories for everyday spending, which can add more value to your purchases. For instance, you might earn points/miles for gas, drugstore, and grocery purchases, get free access to fitness classes, enjoy free delivery and food delivery perks, get credit for streaming services, and more. So, even when you aren’t traveling, you can still use these cards for daily living.
However, these offers sometimes come with annual fees, spending tiers, transferable points, and hard-to-understand terms and conditions. Deciding on your first credit card for travel miles can lead to “analysis paralysis.” Because we know that it can be overwhelming trying to find the best option, we’ve put together a list to help narrow down the many choices.
Best Travel Credit Cards For Beginners in 2023
Not all travel cards are created equally. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards for beginners and why they made our list.
- 60,000 Points Bonus (worth $750 in award travel): Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- TSA PreCheck or Global Entry Fee Credit: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- 3x Points at Restaurants; $100 annual hotel credit: Citi Premier® Card
- 50,000 Points: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
Each one has its perks and benefits. Some come with the ability to transfer points, while others have specific hotel or airline benefits. The best way to narrow your options down is to determine what will be most beneficial for you.
Best First-Time Credit Card: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
While the Chase Sapphire Reserve® is the crown jewel of the “premium” credit card market, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the best credit card for beginners in the rewards space.
For a $95 annual fee, you can earn trip cancellation/interruption protection and a 25% redemption bonus when you redeem your Ultimate Rewards® points for travel through Chase and its numerous transfer partners. The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best first-time credit card for people looking to get serious about travel rewards.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred earns unlimited:
- 5x points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards® (excluding hotel purchases that qualify for the $50 Anniversary Hotel Credit)
- 3x points on dining (including eligible delivery services, takeout, and dining out)
- 3x points on online grocery purchases (excluding Target®, Walmart®, and wholesale clubs)
- Also, 3x points on select streaming services
- 2x points on all other travel purchases
- 1x point per $1 spent on all non-bonus purchases
The Sapphire Preferred strikes a balance between a modest annual fee, rich card benefits, and generous travel rewards. The credit score needed for the Sapphire Preferred card is usually 680 at a minimum.
There is a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit. It comes in the form of a statement credit that will automatically be applied to your account when your card is used for hotel accommodation purchases made through the Ultimate Rewards program, up to a maximum annual accumulation of $50.
Plus, on each account anniversary, you’ll earn bonus points equal to 10% of your total purchases made the previous year. So, if you spend $25,000 on purchases, you’ll get 2,500 bonus points.
Additional Features on The Best Travel Credit Card for Beginners
Each Ultimate reward point is usually worth one cent per point. When you redeem them for travel through Chase, they’re worth 1.25 cents per point, which represents a better-than-average redemption value.
On top of that, you’re getting access to the long roster of Chase Ultimate Rewards Transfer partners with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. This means you can transfer one Ultimate Reward point to any number of airline or hotel partners at a 1:1 ratio. This opens up a plethora of redemption opportunities where you could use a reduced number of Ultimate Reward points for a show-stopping vacation.
Chase Airline Transfer Partners
- Aer Lingus – AerClub
- Air Canada – Aeroplan
- Air France/KLM – Flying Blue
- British Airways – Avios
- Iberia Plus
- Korean Air – Skypass
- Singapore Airlines – KrisFlyer
- Southwest Airlines – Rapid Rewards
- Virgin Atlantic – Flying Club
- United – MileagePlus
Chase Hotel Transfer Partners
- Hyatt – World of Hyatt
- IHG Rewards Club
- Marriott Bonvoy
As a traveler, you’ll also get trip interruption/cancelation/delay protection, baggage loss/delay protection, and an auto rental collision damage waiver benefit. This is the most valuable rental car protection benefit of any card on this list, as it is “primary protection.” That means if you damage your rental car, you can file a claim with Visa instead of against your car insurance policy.
Other beginner credit cards on this list offer it in the “secondary” position if they offer it at all. This means you must file a claim against your own personal car insurance policy first.
As a Visa Signature card, you’ll also receive purchase protection. This provides a refund against damage and theft of an item within the first 120 days after purchase. There is also an extended warranty on items.
New Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card cardholders can earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
Final Thoughts Regarding the Chase Sapphire Preferred
A lot of credit card gurus will try and steer you to the Chase Sapphire Reserve® over the Preferred, arguing that you could make back the higher annual fee ($550 for the Reserve vs $95 for the Preferred) if you take advantage of its even higher number of card benefits.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is the best travel credit card for beginners because it keeps things simple to understand and reasonably manage.
The problem is, you have to qualify for at least a $10,000 line of credit (a Visa Infinite requirement), possess an excellent credit score, and keep track of whether you use enough benefits to make back the increased annual fee. Still, this card may be worth it, depending on your travel goals.
Compare these sister cards in our Chase Sapphire Reserve vs Chase Sapphire Preferred if you want to see which one might work best for you.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Their celebrity television ads may have caught your attention. Still, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is an excellent value for beginners if you want to keep it simple and earn (at least) double rewards on every single purchase you make.
The Venture Rewards earns 2x miles for every dollar spent (valued at 1 cent per mile in redemption value). However, earn 5x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. Plus, Venture cardholders will earn 5x miles when booking through the Turo app or on Turo.com (through May 16, 2023). Turo is like Airbnb, but for cars.
This card is the only one on our list that also offers up to $100 credit towards TSA PreCheck or Global Entry membership.
There are no foreign transaction fees to worry about, making this a viable option for international travel.
If you redeem your Capital One miles for travel, you can truly score any seat with no blackout dates, as Capital One often boasts. That’s because you can book your reservation through Capital One’s booking tool (provided by Orbitz) or by having a past travel purchase credited back to you. Plus, cardholders can transfer miles to leading travel loyalty programs, including Capital One hotel transfer partners, along with airport lounges.
Capital One Travel Transfer Partners
Here are the Capital One travel transfer partners:
- Aeromexico Club Premier
- Air Canada Aeroplan
- Air France KLM Flying Blue
- Avianca LifeMiles
- British Airwaysyou’lltive Club
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
- Emirates Skywards
- Etihad Guest
- EVA Air
- Qantas Frequent Flyer
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
- TAP Air Portugal
- Turkish Airlines
- Accor Live Limitless (ALL)
- Choice Privileges
- Wyndham Rewards
Note that not all transfer at a 1:1 ratio.
Final Thoughts on the Capital One Card Venture Rewards Card
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card also offers a myriad of other benefits (similar to the Chase Sapphire Preferred). These include an extended warranty on purchases, purchase security, lost luggage reimbursement, travel accident insurance, and more. While not as feature-rich as World Elite Mastercard, it does offer an above-average number of card benefits. You can see how the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capital One Venture Rewards compare.
With a $95 annual fee, at least 2x miles on all purchases, and Visa Signature benefits, the Venture from Capital One represents an excellent value for those who travel often. This post on the Capital One Venture score needed for approval can help you determine if it’s right for you.
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, with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
Additionally, you can start with the no-annual-fee Capital One VentureOne Credit Card. Once you’ve established a relationship with Capital One, racked up some miles, and are ready for more adventures, you may be able to upgrade to the premium Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card.
Citi Premier Card
An often-overlooked card, the Citi Premier® Card offers a similar value proposition to the Chase Sapphire Preferred. A $95 annual fee gives you access to 3x points on air travel, hotels, supermarket, restaurants, and gas station purchases, and you’ll earn one point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
Additionally, cardholders also can enjoy $100 off a single hotel stay of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, through thankyou.com once per calendar year.
New Citi Premier® Card cardmembers can earn 60,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. This bonus is redeemable for $600 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com.
As a World Elite Mastercard, the Citi Premier offers similar (but better) benefits than a Visa Signature card. It’s also one of the best Citi credit cards.
When you’re on the road, Mastercard offers World Elite Cardholders travel accident insurance, baggage loss and delay protection, and trip cancellation/interruption/delay protection. Lifestyle benefits include a 24/7 concierge, which can make reservations for you, help you get tickets, plan travel, and tend to other needs. You’ll also get a free ShopRunner 2-day shipping membership and early access to concerts through Citi Entertainment.
This is the credit score you’ll need for the Citi Premier.
Once you make a purchase, Mastercard also backs you up with several purchase protections. This includes return protection (refunds you if the retailer won’t take your item back), purchase security (refunds you if your item is lost, stolen, or damaged), and extended warranty protection.
Citi ThankYou Airline Transfer Partners
The Citi Premier Card offers a large number of airline and retail point transfer partners.
- Air France/KLM – Flying Blue
- JetBlue – TrueBlue
- Asia Miles
- Avianca LifeMiles
- Etihad Guest
- EVA Air – Infinity MileageLands
- Jet Airways – JetPrivilege
- Qatar – Privilege Club
- Singapore Airlines – KrisFlyer
- Thai Airways – Royal Orchid Plus
- Turkish Airlines – Miles & More
- Virgin Atlantic – Flying Club
On the whole, these transfer partners mostly stick to a 1:1 transfer ratio.
Final Thoughts Regarding Citi Premier Card
If you’re partial to a Mastercard or Citi, or you have a specific need to transfer points to one of their more obscure transfer partners, the Citi Premier card represents a solid choice in a low annual fee travel credit card for beginners.
Compare the Chase Sapphire Preferred vs Citi Premier to learn more about each, as one may be a better fit.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card
Rounding out our list of best travel credit cards for beginners is the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card. We find that most beginner travel credit cards lean towards an airline or hotel-specific rewards card. As the nation’s largest airline, we picked this particular Southwest Airlines card for both its travel redemption opportunities and other unique card benefits.
Cardholders earn unlimited:
- 3x points on Southwest® purchases
- 2x points on local transit and commuting, including rideshares
- 2x points on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming purchases
All points earned count towards the Southwest Companion Pass®, which is essentially a buy one, get one free on flights for a year or more (more on this below).
You’ll also receive 7,500 points during each anniversary, a $75 annual Southwest travel credit, four upgraded boardings per year, 25% back on in-flight purchases, and the ability to earn points towards qualification for both A-list elite status and a coveted Southwest Companion Pass®. It has more benefits than the other Rapid Rewards cards offered.
New Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card cardholders can earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Earning 135,000 Rapid Rewards points in a year could translate to a free Southwest Companion Pass®. This pass is the holy grail of air rewards, allowing a designated person to travel with you for free whenever you travel for one year (taxes and fees not included).
While most airline credit cards offer free checked bags to cardholders, Southwest already offers two free checked bags to every passenger. Additionally, Southwest is also famous for its no change fee and no cancellation fee policies, all of which make traveling Southwest a cinch.
Final Thoughts Regarding the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card
There are very few corners of the country where Southwest Airlines doesn’t fly to. They’ve also added more routes.
Overall, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card represents a rare find. Valuable card features, customer-friendly airline, and easily usable benefits make this card one of the best travel credit cards for beginners. Despite its higher-than-average $149 annual fee, most users can easily offset that amount by making use of the benefits. There are no foreign transaction fees.
However, not everyone is a fan of Southwest. You may want to check out these miles credit cards if that is more appealing to you.
In conclusion, depending on where you fly, you may find that other credit card reviews better suit your travel needs. Regardless, our list is based on a general audience. Determine what the best travel credit cards for beginners are for your lifestyle and travel goals. Before you know it, you’ll be on the road, at sea, or up in the air!