The best beginner travel credit cards will help you start earning rewards that you can redeem for travel, cash, gift cards, and more. Plus, many travel cards have added perks for everyday spending that can add more value to your purchases. Anything from rewards for gas, drugstore, and groceries, exercise credits, ordering-in perks, and even more ways to redeem points are being offered. So, if you aren’t ready to travel just yet, these cards can still be used for everyday life.
But 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 2021
Not all travel cards are created equal. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards for beginners and why they made our list.
- 60,000 Points Bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- TSA PreCheck or Global Entry Fee Credit: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- 3x Points at Restaurants: Citi Premier® Card
- 100,000 Point Bonus: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
Each one has its own 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 useful 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 version of the 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 their numerous transfer partners. The Chase Sapphire Preferred is definitely the best first-time credit card for people looking to get serious about travel rewards.
There are several Chase Sapphire reward categories. 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)
- 5x points on Lyft rides (through March 2022)
- 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
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 an annual maximum 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.
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.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card currently has an offer of 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months from account opening, worth $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
New Benefits for 2021
New benefits of this metal credit card include no delivery fees for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with a DoorDash DashPass subscription, over a $100 value (activate by December 31, 2021).
Additionally, cardholders can earn up to $60 in statement credits on Peloton Digital and All-Access Memberships through December 31, 2021.
Points are worth 25% more when redeemed for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories with the Chase Pay Yourself Back feature.
Additional Features on The Best Travel Credit Card for Beginners
Each Ultimate reward point is normally worth one cent per point. When you redeem them for travel through Chase, they’re actually 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. Note that 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 personal 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.
Final Thoughts Regarding the Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is the overall best travel credit card for beginners because it keeps things simple to understand and reasonable to manage. 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 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 actually 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, but the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a great value for beginners if you want to keep it simple and earn at least double rewards on every single purchase you make.
The Venture also offers 2x miles for every dollar spent (valued at 1 cent per mile in redemption value). On top of that, the card is the only one on our list that also offers up to $100 credit towards TSA PreCheck or Global Entry membership.
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 new 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 new Capital One hotel transfer partners along with new airport lounges.
Final Thoughts on the Capital One Card Venture Rewards Card
As a Visa Signature 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 Mastercards, it does offer an above-average number of card benefits. You can see how the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capital One Venture compare.
With a $95 annual fee, 2x miles on all purchases, and Visa Signature benefits, Venture from Capital One represents a great 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.
New Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card cardholders can earn 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Learn more: Travel Rewards Credit Cards
You can also compare the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Capital One Venture bonus to see which one works better for you.
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 triple points on air travel, hotels, supermarket, restaurants, and gas station purchases. You’ll earn one point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
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 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. The 80k bonus points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com.
As a World Elite Mastercard, the Citi Premier offers similar (but better) benefits than that of a Visa Signature card. It’s also one of the best Citi credit cards available.
When you’re on the road, Mastercard offers World Elite Cardholders travel accident insurance, baggage loss/delay protection, and trip cancellation/interruption/delay protection. Lifestyle benefits include a 24/7 concierge, which can make reservations for you or tend to other needs. You’ll also get a free ShopRunner 2-day shipping membership (which is similar to Amazon Prime for other online retailers), 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 a number of 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.
The Citi Premier Card offers a large number of airline and retail point transfer partners.
Citi ThankYou Airline Transfer Partners
- Air France/KLM – Flying Blue
- JetBlue – TrueBlue
- Asia Miles
- Avianca LifeMiles
- Etihad Guest
- EVA Air – Infinity MileageLands
- Jet Airways – JetPrivilege
- Malaysia Airlines – Enrich
- 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.
But for most beginners, we would recommend sticking to the Chase Sapphire Preferred if choosing between the two. Still, compare the Chase Sapphire Preferred vs Citi Premier to learn more about each as one may be the 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 beginners to 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 Companion Pass®.
You’ll also receive 7,500 points during each annual 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 standard Southwest Companion Pass®. It has more benefits than the other Rapid Rewards cards offered.
New cardholders can earn the best Southwest points offer ever! New cardholders can earn up to 100,000 bonus points. Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open, plus 50,000 more bonus points after spending $12,000 total on purchases in the first 12 months.
The latter being the better benefit, as earning 125,000 Rapid Rewards points in a year’s time could translate to a free Southwest Companion Pass®. This pass is the holy grail of air rewards, allowing anyone you designated 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. Southwest is also famous for its no change fee and no cancellation fee policies, for both paid and reward flights. All of which makes traveling Southwest a cinch.
One curious problem with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card is that it is initially issued as a regular Visa card with no additional card benefits. However, a Chase representative confirmed that once you’re approved for the card, you can request the card be upgraded to a Visa Signature card.
Visa Signature benefits would, presumably, be the same as other Visa Signature cards, including travel and purchase protections. But given the newness of this card, verification of full Visa Signature benefits has yet to be confirmed.
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 and will easily make back that amount in benefits. They’ll do this by flying with Southwest Airlines and using the Priority card.
Check out these miles credit cards if that is more appealing to you.
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, goals, and needs. Before you know it, you’ll be on the road, at sea, or up in the air!
- The Best Travel Credit Cards of 2021
- 7 Best Credit Cards for International Travel
- The Best Chase Credit Cards
- How To Use Travel Credit Cards As Stay-at-Home Orders Lift
- Best No Annual Fee Travel Credit Card
- Best Cash Back Credit Cards
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Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.