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      The Best Starter Travel Rewards Credit Cards for Beginners in 2024

      Josh Patoka
      Best Starter Travel Rewards Credit Cards for Beginners

      The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of our partner offers may have expired.

      Whether you’re new to points and miles credit cards or finally have the credit and spending capacity to maximize credit card rewards, there are many options to choose from. 

      The best starter travel credit cards make earning and redeeming rewards easy. Some also include additional benefits such as complimentary airport lounge access or travel statement credits that can minimize your out-of-pocket expenses and enhance your trip experience.

      Here are some of the best travel credit cards for beginners to consider first as they offer plenty of benefits with a low or no annual fee. We highlight the most valuable benefits of each card and its rewards program so you find the perfect fit.

      Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

      The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has plenty to offer travelers of any experience level as it has versatile redemption options and valuable additional benefits compared to most travel credit cards with a similar $95 annual fee.

      • Annual Fee: $95
      • Authorized User Fee: $0
      • Foreign Transaction Fee: None

      Earning Points

      Earning up to 5 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on qualifying purchases is possible. Many regard this currency as one of the most valuable credit card points because of its competitive redemption options and value.

      You will earn the following on purchases:

      • 5x on travel bookings made through Chase Ultimate Rewards (excluding the annual $50 hotel statement credit)
      • 2x on other travel purchases
      • 3x on dining and eligible delivery services
      • 3x on online grocery orders (excludes Walmart, Target, and wholesale clubs)
      • 3x on select streaming services
      • 1x on all remaining purchases

      Cardholders also receive an anniversary bonus equivalent to 10% of their annual spending amount awarded as points. For instance, $10,000 in purchases results in 1,000 bonus points.

      Redeeming Points

      This card has a loyal fan base as it’s easy to procure an above-average redemption value if you are ready to use your points to book upcoming travel instead of as statement credit to reimburse recent purchases.

      Specifically, your points are worth 25% more at 1.25 cents versus the standard value of 1 cent. You receive this redemption bonus when booking award travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal for flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises, and experiences.

      Additionally, Chase has approximately 15 airline and hotel transfer partners that you can transfer points at a 1:1 ratio in 1,000-point increments. Domestic airline transfer partners include JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines. A valuable hotel transfer partner is World of Hyatt.

      You can also redeem your points at 1 cent for cash back and gift cards for maximum redemption value.

      Noteworthy Benefits

      The Sapphire Preferred offers several money-saving benefits:

      • $50 Annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit: Your first $50 in paid hotel reservations through the Chase booking portal to receive reimbursement. Remember, you will not earn points when redeeming the $50 hotel statement credit, so keep that in mind.
      • Partnership benefits: Enjoy complimentary access to DashPass for one year (activate by December 31, 2024).
      • Travel protection: Enjoy complimentary travel insurance benefits including trip cancellation/interruption coverage, trip delay reimbursement, primary rental car coverage, and baggage delay insurance. 

      Learn More: Here is an in-depth look at the Chase Sapphire Preferred benefits that are at your fingertips. You can also read our article on the current Chase Sapphire Preferred Bonus and how it compares to previous bonuses.

      The Vacationer Tip from Phil Dengler

      I highly recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred for those new to travel rewards. In addition to unlocking Chase Ultimate Rewards, it also includes primary rental car insurance, which is rare for a card with such a low annual fee.

      Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

      The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a good option for a flat-rate rewards card that earns the same amount on all purchases. You can also redeem your miles for any recent travel purchase or book upcoming trips.

      • Annual Fee: $95
      • Authorized User Fee: $0
      • Foreign Transaction Fee: None

      Earning Miles

      You will earn up to 5 Capital One Miles per $1 on purchases:

      • 5x on hotels and car rentals booked on Capital One Travel
      • 2x on all remaining purchases

      Redeeming Miles

      Each Capital One Venture Mile is worth 1 cent when redeemed for travel:

      • Travel statement credits for purchases made within the past 90 days
      • Upcoming trips that you book through Capital One Travel

      Additionally, there are approximately 15 airline transfer partners and hotel loyalty programs. The redemption value varies and transferring miles is most valuable for international flights as none of the current Capital One airline transfer partners are domestic carriers.

      You can read our head-on Capital One Venture vs. Chase Sapphire Preferred comparison to pick the winner.  

      Noteworthy Benefits

      Casual airline flyers stand to benefit the most from the card’s additional benefits that can improve your airport experience:

      Learn More: Our Capital One Venture review dives deeper into this card’s award travel potential.

      Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card 

      The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card  may come across as a head-scratcher for the best starter travel credit card because of its $395 annual fee. 

      However, it should be the first premium rewards card to consider as it’s easy to redeem the card perks that can be more valuable and you can add authorized users at no extra cost, which most luxury cards charge a fee for. Additionally, its $300 annual travel credit (bookings through Capital One Travel) essentially drops the annual fee down to only $95.

      • Annual Fee: $395
      • Authorized User Fee: Authorized users at no extra cost.
      • Foreign Transaction Fee: None

      Related: Compare the Capital One Venture X Rewards and Capital One Venture Rewards

      Earning Miles

      You can earn up to 10x Capital One Miles on travel purchases:

      • 10x on hotels and car rentals booked through Capital One Travel
      • 5x on flights booked on Capital One Travel
      • 2x on all remaining purchases

      Along with collecting at least 2 miles per $1 on purchases, you will receive 10,000 miles on each card anniversary. It is easy to rack up a ton of miles with this card by booking your travel through the Capital One portal.

      Redeeming Miles

      Your miles are worth 1 cent as a travel statement credit or when booking new itineraries on Capital One Travel. 

      You can also transfer your miles to participating airlines and hotels, usually at a 1:1 ratio.  

      Noteworthy Benefits

      A premium credit card like the Venture X Rewards is well worth the upfront cost if you are a frequent traveler or can utilize the card’s additional benefits. 

      Some of the most valuable Venture X benefits include:

      • Annual $300 Capital One Travel credit (bookings via Capital One travel)
      • Complimentary airport lounge access for cardholders and two guests to the Capital One Lounge, Plaza Premium, and Priority Pass Select networks 
      • $100 experience credit for eligible Premier Collection hotel stays booked through Capital One Travel
      • Free Global Entry and TSA PreCheck (up to $100 every 4 years)

      Learn More: See an extensive list of Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card benefits with our comprehensive guide 

      Chase Freedom Unlimited®  

      The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is a competitive option when you don’t want to pay an annual fee, although there is a 3% foreign transaction fee. After the first year (or $20,000 spent), you earn 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

      You also have the flexibility of earning Ultimate Rewards points that you can combine with your other account. A common Chase credit card combination strategy is using the Freedom Unlimited to earn at least 50% more rewards on daily purchases that only earn 1x points with either the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

      • Annual Fee: None
      • Authorized User Fee: $0
      • Foreign Transaction Fee: 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars

      Earning Points

      Your purchases earn up to 5% back (travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards) and are awarded as Ultimate Rewards. For reference, 1% back is equal to 1 point per $1.

      The rewards categories include:

      • 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
      • 3% on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services
      • 3% on drugstore purchases
      • 1.5% on all remaining purchases

      Being able to earn 1.5% back versus 1% back on non-bonus purchases is a compelling reason to use this card. The extra 50% in purchase rewards can add up quickly if you make frequent purchases.   

      As a brief history lesson, the Freedom Unlimited has long been labeled a flat-rate cash back credit card. It only earned 1.5% back for most of its history which is an impressive rate and introduced the other 3% and 5% bonus categories in 2020 to be more competitive with travel credit cards

      Redeeming Points

      Your points are worth 1 cent for the following redemptions:

      • Award travel booked on Chase Ultimate Rewards
      • Cash back (statement credits or bank account deposits)
      • Gift cards
      • Apple Store purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards

      Unfortunately, this card doesn’t support point transfers or travel redemption bonuses like the Chase Sapphire Preferred as it doesn’t have an annual fee. So, you will need to apply for either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve to combine points or transfer them to a friend or relative to enjoy these additional travel redemption options.

      Noteworthy Benefits

      No annual fee credit cards typically don’t have many additional benefits to speak of. You get what you pay for, so to speak but here are several helpful travel and retail perks:

      • DoorDash: 3 months of complimentary DoorDash DashPass membership (must activate by December 31, 2024)
      • Instacart: 3 months of complimentary Instacart+ membership (enroll by July 31, 2024) 
      • Lyft: 5% back on Lyft rides through March 31, 2025
      • Extended Warranty Protection: An additional year of coverage on eligible warranties of three years or less
      • Purchase Protection: Up to $500 per claim ($50,000 per account) on qualifying new purchases for 120 days against theft or damage
      • Trip Cancellation or Interruption Insurance: Up to $1,500 per person and $6,000 per trip in non-refundable travel purchases.

      Learn More: Read our Chase Freedom Unlimited review for an in-depth benefit analysis. 

      The Vacationer Tip from Phil Dengler

      The Chase Freedom Unlimited was my first credit card, and I still use it today. For purchases I can’t earn more than 1x points per dollar spent, I use the Freedom Unlimited to earn 1.5%. I then transfer the points to my Chase Sapphire Reserve. I recommend the Freedom Unlimited for both pros and beginners to the travel rewards space.

      Bilt Mastercard®

      The Bilt Mastercard® can be a perfect pairing if you pay rent as you can use the credit card to earn points and not pay any transaction fees. You also won’t pay an annual fee or a foreign transaction fee which is also useful. 

      This card also offers a travel redemption bonus and has an impressive array of point transfer options. 

      • Annual Fee: $0
      • Authorized User Fee: $0
      • Foreign Transaction Fee: 0%
      • Current Bonus: None

      Earning Points

      Your spending earns up to 3 Bilt Points per $1, although you will need to complete at least five purchases per statement cycle to earn points for that particular month.

      • 3x on dining
      • 2x on travel
      • 1x on rent payments (up to 100,000 points per year)
      • 1x on all remaining purchases

      Regarding rent payments, Bilt mails a check or sends an electronic deposit to your landlord if they don’t accept credit card payments. There are no additional convenience fees for either party and you earn the same amount of points.

      Additionally, all non-rent purchases can earn double the points on the first day of each month as part of the platform’s “Rent Day” promotion. You will earn up to 6x points per $1 on qualifying purchases on this single day each month.

      Redeeming Points

      You can redeem Bilt Points for upcoming travel at 1.25 cents each through the Bilt App travel portal. This redemption value is 25% higher than the average credit card point value of 1 cent.

      For more flexibility, there are several airline and hotel partners with 1:1 point transfers, with American Airlines being the most unique. While it’s one of the world’s largest airlines, the legacy carrier doesn’t have ongoing point transfer partnerships with flexible rewards credit cards.

      In addition to American Airlines, other notable transfer partners include Hawaiian Airlines, United Airlines, Flying Blue, Air Canada Aeroplan, and World of Hyatt. As a result, you have a lot of potential for domestic and foreign flights if you’re willing to transfer points. 

      Noteworthy Benefits

      Being able to pay rent with a credit card without fees is the Bilt Card’s most valuable benefit. Other value points include:

      • Rent Day: Enjoy opportunities to earn bonus points, limited-time travel perks, free SoulCycle classes, and the chance to win free rent on the first day of each month.
      • Cell Phone Protection: Up to $800 of protection against theft or damage (subject to a $25 deductible)
      • Trip Cancellation and Interruption Protection: Up to $5,000 in coverage for non-refundable passenger fares

      The information regarding the Bilt Mastercard® was independently collected by The Vacationer and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.

      American Express® Green Card

      The American Express® Green Card is ideal for frequent flyers as there are several air travel benefits. Further, your rewards points are typically most valuable when booking award flights.

      This card also has several rewards categories to earn 3 points per $1 which can help you book award travel sooner. Additionally, this card doesn’t have a preset spending limit which allows you to easily stretch your purchasing power when you need to make large purchases. 

      • Annual Fee: $150
      • Authorized User Fee: $0
      • Foreign Transaction Fee: 0%
      • Current Bonus: 40,000 Membership Rewards Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 6 months

      Earning Points

      You will earn unlimited 3 Membership Rewards points per $1 on these purchases:

      • Travel
      • Transit
      • Restaurants (worldwide)
      • Takeout and delivery (U.S. only)

      All remaining purchases earn 1 mile per $1. 

      Redeeming Points

      American Express Membership Rewards tend to be the most valuable for award flights. Each point is worth 1 cent when booking award flights through American Express Travel. 

      The loyalty program also has an extensive collection of airline and hotel transfer partners, usually at a 1:1 ratio. Most partners are best for overseas travel, although you can easily book domestic flights by transferring to Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian, and JetBlue.

      Most remaining non-flight travel redemptions are almost always worth less than one cent and we advise against them unless you really need to use your points instead of money.

      Noteworthy Benefits

      The Amex Green Card has two valuable travel perks:

      • $100 in LoungeBuddy airport lounge credits each year
      • Free CLEAR® Plus membership (up to $189 per year in application reimbursements)

      You will need to be a casual and frequent flyer to utilize these benefits which go hand in hand with the most valuable ways to redeem your American Express points. 

      Learn More: Read our American Express Green Card review to decide if this is the best American Express credit card for travel.

      The information for the American Express Green Card has been collected independently by The Vacationer. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

      How to Choose the Best Travel Credit Card for Beginners

      The best rewards credit card depends on several factors such as your travel habits, spending patterns, and preferred points redemption method.

      Current Travel Habits

      You will want to find a card with purchase rewards categories, redemption options, and additional benefits that favor your most common travel routine.

      For example, some cards are better for flights with statement credits, airport lounge access, free checked bags, and application fee credits for Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, and CLEAR

      You may consider hotel credit cards for statement credits to offset your lodging costs or on-site amenities. Co-branded cards can be a great option when you’re loyal to a certain hotel chain as you can earn more points on hotel purchases and get accelerated loyalty status.

      Analyze Your Spending Habits

      Rewards credit cards fall into one of two categories:

      • Tiered Rewards: Earn bonus points on select expense types, such as travel, dining, transit, supermarkets, and streaming services. This card type can be better when most of your spending falls into the bonus categories as you can earn from 2-5x more rewards.
      • Flat-Rate Rewards: Earn a fixed amount of points or miles on every purchase. 

      Flexible travel rewards credit cards like the ones we mention tend to excel at balancing purchase rewards and getting more mileage from any travel purchase, including less common transactions such as booking cruises

      Redemption Preferences

      Most travel credit cards offer a booking portal for award flights and other travel methods. This is usually the most valuable redemption method. However, remember that you will need to negotiate with the booking site instead of the airline if you need to cancel or change a flight which can be a headache.

      Other programs offer 1:1 point transfers that are valuable if you travel with a particular airline or hotel. 

      Travel and cash back statement credits offer the most flexibility as you can offset any purchase and earn rewards points on the purchase. Depending on the card, the redemption value is the same as booking upcoming travel but double-check before applying.

      Spending Budget

      Credit cards with an annual fee tend to offer more benefits, but you must determine your breakeven point to decide if the fee is worth it. This exercise may require estimating how much you need to spend and how often you need to use the benefits to offset the annual fee.

      While easy to overlook, determine if you can afford the annual fee as you must pay this cost upfront before recouping the expense through point redemptions and benefits.

      Credit Score

      Many of the best travel credit cards require good or excellent credit with a score from 670 to 850. Normally, you will have the best approval odds with a credit score of 700 or above as you’re firmly in the good credit range. 

      You can estimate your approval odds for free and without hurting your credit using the CardMatch tool. This service may also match you with a targeted signup bonus that’s more valuable than the standard offer on the card issuer’s website. 

      The Vacationer’s Final Thoughts

      Choosing one of the best travel credit cards for beginners can help you earn more rewards and unlock more benefits that can help you travel more often and reduce your out-of-pocket expenses. 
      You may find yourself using the card long-term allowing you to continue enjoying valuable perks and redemption options on nearly any travel purchase. Simultaneously, you can build credit that may pave the way to getting a luxury travel credit card with even more perks for constant travelers.

      Editorial Disclosure: Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.

      For Capital One products listed on this page, some of the above benefits are provided by Visa® or Mastercard® and may vary by product. See the respective Guide to Benefits for details, as terms and exclusions apply

      Upon enrollment, accessible through the Capital One website or mobile app, eligible cardholders will remain at upgraded status level through December 31, 2024. Please note, enrolling through the normal Hertz Gold Plus Rewards enrollment process (e.g. at will not automatically detect a cardholder as being eligible for the program and cardholders will not be automatically upgraded to the applicable status tier. Additional terms apply.

      Josh Patoka The Vacationer Bio

      By Josh Patoka

      Josh Patoka writes about maximizing travel rewards for The Vacationer. As well, he contributes to several personal finance sites specializing in making money, paying off debt, and investing.