October 7, 2022

Alex o'Loughlin

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Best travel card for beginners (2022)

If you’re thinking about getting into the points and miles game, you’ll want to find a credit card that — at a minimum — makes it easy to earn and redeem travel rewards. Luckily, there are plenty of beginner-friendly cards that fit that description. Even better? Many come with extra features like sign-up bonuses, no foreign transaction fees, and travel insurance.

To help you get started, we’ve compiled the following list of the best travel credit cards for beginners. You’ll find a range of options — including cards with no annual fees — so you can choose one that aligns with your spending habits and travel preferences.

Intro BonusEarn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

APR16.24% – 23.24% Variable

Recommended Credit Excellent/Good

Reward Rates

  • 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 3x on dining.
  • 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.

Annual Fee$95

Intro Purchase APRN/A

It’s no wonder why the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is a favorite among all types of travelers, including beginners and experts. For starters, this metal card allows you to accrue points through Chase Ultimate Rewards, the company’s travel portal. When you redeem your points through Chase’s platform, you’ll get a 25% bonus on flights, hotels, car rentals, and more.

If you’d rather book directly with a certain airline or hotel, the Chase Sapphire Preferred lets you transfer your points to several loyalty programs at a 1:1 rate. Transfer partners include Hyatt, JetBlue, Marriott, Southwest, and United.

The annual fee on this card is $95, which may seem steep if you’re new to travel rewards. However, it includes an impressive number of perks, including bonus points on your cardmember anniversary, a $50 annual hotel credit, trip cancelation/interruption insurance, rental car coverage, and more. Plus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card currently offers an outstanding sign-up bonus of 80,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months after opening your card.

Pros

  • Easy to redeem points
  • Bonus spending categories (travel, dining, online groceries, and streaming services)
  • 25% bonus for booking through Chase Ultimate Rewards portal
  • Transfer points to 13 hotel and airline partners
  • Travel protection for trip cancellations/delays, rental cars, and lost luggage
  • No foreign transaction fees

Cons

  • Annual fee may not appeal to travel beginners
  • Transfer partners don’t include all major airlines
  • Must book through the Chase portal to get the most value

Intro BonusEnjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel

APR16.24% – 24.24% (Variable)

Recommended Credit Excellent, Good

Reward Rates

  • Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you’ll get Capital One’s best prices on thousands of trip options
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.

Annual Fee$95

Intro Purchase APRN/A

If you want even more ways to redeem your miles, the Capital One Venture Rewards Card could be the right pick. There are three ways to trade in your miles for travel, including by booking through Capital One’s portal and transferring to one of its 17 airline and hotel partners (such as Aeromexico, Air Canada, Choice Hotels, and Singapore Airlines).

To make redemption even easier, Capital One also allows you to cash in your miles after you’ve booked travel. All you need to do is purchase your flight, hotel, vacation rental, or rental car, then log into your Capital One account and apply your accrued miles to your travel purchase. They should appear as a credit on your bill within two to three business days. For a $95 annual fee, it’s a great option if you’re busy and don’t have time to transfer miles or search for travel rewards on the Capital One portal.

As far as spending goes, you’ll earn 2x miles per dollar spent on every purchase, as well as 5x per dollar spent on rental cars and hotels reserved through Capital One’s portal. Right now, the company is offering a bonus of 60,000 miles for spending $3,000 in the three months after opening the card.

Pros

  • Multiple redemption options
  • Generous sign-up bonus
  • Miles can be transferred to 17 travel partners
  • All purchases earn 2x miles per dollar
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $100 credit toward Global Entry or PreCheck
  • Two Capital One lounge passes per year

Cons

  • Can’t transfer miles to major US airlines or hotel chains
  • Need to watch your statement to make sure miles credit is applied correctly

Intro BonusIntro Offer: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) – worth up to $300 cash back!

APR15.24% to 23.99% Variable

Recommended Credit Excellent/Good

Reward Rates

  • Enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more;
  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service
  • 1.5% on all other purchases

Annual Fee$0

Intro Purchase APR0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months

Since travel credit cards come with so many perks, it can be hard to find one without an annual fee. However, the Chase Freedom Unlimited Card is an exception to that rule. It’s technically a cashback card, which offers 1.5% cashback on all purchases, plus an additional 3% at restaurants and 3% at drugstores. On top of that, you’ll get 5% extra cashback for travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards. 

Here’s what makes the card different: you can get your cashback as a bill credit or direct deposit, book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, or convert it into higher-value Chase Ultimate Rewards points (if you have a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve).

If you spend $500 in the first three months after opening this card, you’ll earn a $200 cashback bonus and unlock 5% cashback on gas in the first year of membership. All things considered, the no-annual-fee Chase Freedom Unlimited Card delivers impressive value — especially if you can pair it with another Chase card and convert your cashback into Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • 1.5% cashback on all purchases, plus additional cashback in special categories
  • Cashback rewards don’t expire
  • Extra coverage includes trip cancelation/interruption insurance, rental car insurance, and extended warranty protection

Cons

  • Smaller sign-up bonus
  • 3% foreign transaction fee
  • Need to use with another Chase card to get the most value

Intro BonusEarn 60,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.

APRSee Pay Over Time APR

Recommended Credit Excellent/Good

Reward Rates

  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

Annual Fee$250

Intro Purchase APRN/A

Love to eat? Whether you dine out or cook most of your meals at home, the American Express Gold Card is designed to reward foodies. With it, you’ll earn 4x points per dollar on restaurants around the world, as well as takeout and delivery in the US. Plus, you’ll also score 4x points per dollar at US grocery stores (up to $25,000 per year). To sweeten the deal, you can score up to $120 in dining credits and $120 in Uber Cash (for rides or food) each year.

Of course, the American Express Gold Card also offers travel-specific benefits. You’ll accrue 3x points on flights (when booked directly with an airline or through the AmEx travel portal) and get a $100 annual credit on the Hotel Collection properties. All of your points are redeemable through the company’s Membership Rewards program, where you can purchase flights, hotels, rental cars, and more. Alternatively, you can transfer points to more than 20 travel partners, including major players like Delta, Hilton, Marriott, and Radisson.

Compared to the other credit cards on our list, the $250 annual fee on the American Express Gold Card may seem high. However, if you spend a lot on food, it could make sense for you. If you sign up now, you can earn an extra 60,000 bonus points for spending $4,000 in the first three months after opening the card.

Pros

  • 4x points on restaurants, takeout, delivery, and groceries; 3x points on flights
  • Solid sign-up bonus
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual Uber Cash and dining credits
  • Includes car rental and lost baggage insurance
  • Choose your card color (Gold or Rose Gold)

Cons

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Intro Bonus25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening – that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.

APR14.24% – 24.24% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

Recommended Credit Excellent/Good

Reward Rates

  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don’t expire

Annual Fee$0

Intro Purchase APR0% for 15 billing cycles

The Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card, another beginner-friendly option, doesn’t have an annual fee — but still has plenty of perks. If you choose this card, you’ll earn a flat rate of 1.5x points for every dollar spent. This means that there aren’t special bonus categories, which can be helpful if you’re just starting out with points and miles.

Not only is it simple to earn points, but it’s also easy to redeem them. When you’re ready, just book travel with your Bank of America card. After the charge posts to your statement, you can trade in your points for a statement credit. If you’re traveling overseas, there are no foreign transaction fees, which is great to see on a no-annual-fee card.

If you belong to the America Preferred Rewards program, you can earn up to 75% more points per purchase. Plus, new cardholders can receive a 25,000-point bonus for spending $1,000 or more in the first three months after signing up. 

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • 1.5x points on all purchases
  • Easy to redeem points for travel
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Competitive sign-up bonus
  • Extra perks for BofA Preferred Rewards members

Cons

  • No bonus spending categories
  • Can’t transfer points to travel partners
  • No trip or rental car insurance

What is the best travel card for beginners?

Overall, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best credit card if you’re new to travel rewards. It does come with a $95 annual fee, but it’s easy to justify that expense with the annual hotel credit, sign-up bonus, no foreign transaction fees, bonus spending categories, and travel insurance features.

Card

Annual Fee

Points Earnings

Extra Perk

Chase Sapphire Preferred

$95

  • 1x points on all purchases

  • 2x points on travel

  • 3x points on dining, streaming services, and online groceries

  • 5x points on Lyft, Peloton, and travel booked through Chase’s portal

$50 annual hotel credit

Capital One Venture Rewards

$95

Two airport lounge passes per year

Chase Freedom Unlimited

$0

Receive cashback on your statement or into a checking or savings account

American Express Gold Card

$250

  • 1x points on all purchases

  • 3x points on flights booked direct with the airline or through AmEx’s portal

  • 4x points on restaurants, takeout, and grocery stores

$120 Uber Cash per year

Bank of America Travel Rewards

$0

No foreign transaction fees

Are travel credit cards worth it?

For many people, yes. Even if you’re only an occasional traveler, you can use your points and miles to cover the costs of flights, hotels, and rental cars. Plus, many travel cards include great perks like trip cancelation insurance, lost baggage insurance, and rental car insurance. However, if you’re in debt or struggling to pay your credit card bills in full each month, a travel credit card may not be the best choice for you.

What credit score do you need to get a travel credit card?

In most cases, you need a “good” or “excellent” credit score (670 or higher) to be approved for a travel credit card. 

Do you need a travel card for an international trip?

No, but it helps. Most non-travel cards (like debit cards) charge foreign transaction fees, which can be around 3% per purchase. With cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Bank of America Travel Rewards card, you won’t need to pay these fees when you’re overseas.

How did we choose these credit cards?

The credit card space is highly competitive, with issuers offering tons of perks and features to attract new customers. To choose these five cards, we looked at several factors, including: 

  • Fees: The annual fees on travel credit cards range from $0 to $600+. Our picks are on the lower end of this spectrum to accommodate beginners who are just starting their journey with travel rewards.

  • Points-per-dollar earnings: This is one of the most important considerations when it comes to travel cards. When redemption rates are higher (3x to 5x points per dollar), you’ll get more value from your everyday purchases — particularly if you spend a lot in certain categories. For this list, we chose cards with a variety of earning rates and bonus categories.

  • Sign-up bonuses: Also known as welcome offers, sign-up bonuses reward you for spending a certain amount of money after opening a card. In many cases, these bonuses can cover the costs of roundtrip flights or multiple nights at a hotel. Our travel card picks all have competitive welcome offers.

  • Extra features: From airport lounge access to hotel credit to concierge services, each travel card has its own set of attractive bonus features. The cards on this list include a mix of features, so you can choose the ones that appeal most to you.

Which card is the right credit card for you?

While each of these five cards is great in its own way, there are certain ones that might make more sense depending on your personal situation. 

For instance, if you’re just testing the waters with travel rewards or don’t plan to travel often, you might consider a card with a $0 annual fee (like the Chase Freedom Unlimited or the Bank of America Travel Rewards).

On the other hand, if you’re planning a few big trips, you might be better off choosing a card with a generous welcome offer or the ability to transfer points to travel partners. In that case, cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the American Express Gold Card are wonderful options.

Are there alternative credit cards worth considering?

The travel cards listed above are some of the best options for beginners, but there are also a handful of other ones to consider, including: 

  • Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card: This card offers 10x miles on rental cars and hotels and 5x miles on flights (as long as you book through the Capital One portal). It comes with a $395 annual fee.

  • Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: If you’re a business owner, you can use this card to earn 3x points on travel and several business categories. There’s a $95 annual fee, and the card currently has a 100,000-point welcome bonus.

  • Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card: We didn’t include any hotel or airline-specific cards on our list, but if you’re looking for a good option, this Delta card is worth considering. As a cardholder, you’ll earn 3x miles on Delta and hotel purchases and 2x miles at U.S. supermarkets and restaurants. Its fee is $250 per year.