For the 19th edition of the Credit Card Reviews Expert Roundup, Jason Steele asks our group comprised of Ben Luthi, Andy Shuman, Louis DeNicola, Robert Harrow, and Sean Bryant which credit card they would recommend for people just getting into travel rewards. Here are their responses:
Ben Luthi - Freelance writer who specializes in credit cards and consumer debt
For first-timers just getting their feet wet, I recommend the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. It's not a popular one among travel hackers because it doesn't offer any ways to maximize your rewards through transfer partners. But I think this card is a solid choice for a first card because it offers a big sign-up bonus, great rewards, and flexible redemption. It also recently started offering an application fee credit for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, which gives you a taste of the many incredible travel perks you can get with top travel credit cards.
Once you've used the card for a while, you can decide whether you prefer its simplicity or if you'd like to move on to a more complex card that can offer you ways to better maximize your rewards. If you decide to stick with the Venture, you're still getting solid rewards. But if you're ready to find a card that lets you squeeze more value out of your points, I'd recommend going with the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Sapphire Reserve as a second card.
Andy Shuman - Travel and credit expert and an author of the Amazon bestselling Lazy Traveler's Handbook series
There are plenty of good credit cards that earn excellent travel rewards. But if you’re just starting out, I’d recommend Chase Sapphire Preferred. You get a nice enough sign-up bonus and the ability to transfer the points to several airline and hotel programs including United and Hyatt. In the future, it will give you a vehicle to earn and transfer more points to travel loyalty programs using other Chase cards, like Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card has a $95 annual fee, but Chase waives it for the first year. You’ll also need to make sure to spend $4,000 in three months, which is a significant spending requirement. As an award, however, you will receive enough points to get at least two round trip tickets within the U.S. or Canada or almost enough points for a free ticket to anywhere in Europe or South America.
This spending requirement may seem large (and it is), but there is a reason I recommend starting with this particular card. Chase limits your ability to apply for its cards if you have more than four applications in the last two years. This means that in order to maximize your travel rewards, your best bet would be starting with the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is the one that can get you the best chance to earn some serious points. And if you have a small business, you will be able to apply for a business card with a great sign-up bonus down the road.
Louis DeNicola - Personal finance writer who works with Fortune 500 financial services firms, FinTech startups, and non-profits to help promote financial literacy
If you're interested in earning travel rewards, you'll likely want to consider a co-branded travel card or a card that offers flexible travel rewards. The former is subjective based on where you live, want to travel to, and which airline or hotel chain you want to use. However, a travel rewards cards let you earn cash back that you can then redeem for statement credits to offset almost any travel expenses. An even more flexible route could be a rewards program that lets you choose between statement credits or rewards travel.
The Chase Freedom credit card could be a good first card. You can earn up to five points per dollar spent (on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter) on a rotating list of merchants. You can then redeem the points for cash back or use them to book travel.
If you're open to paying an annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Preferred might be even better. You can still redeem points for cash back, but you’ll get an extra .25 cents per point when you use them to book travel. Also, you can transfer points to partners’ loyalty programs. So, with a few quick calculations, you can determine if it’s best to book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards or transfer points and book a rewards flight or hotel stay.
Robert Harrow - Product Manager in charge of the credit cards vertical at ValuePenguin.com
The answer depends on what your credit score and credit history are. If you have a credit history that is at least a few years old, and an excellent credit score (above 720), then I recommend getting the Chase Sapphire Preferred. The card is an excellent start into the travel world. It’s relatively low-cost ($95 annual fee, waived the first year). The points you earn through it, Ultimate Rewards, can be either used to book travel directly through a travel portal, or you can transfer them to any of the participating hotel and airline programs. That latter option will allow cardholders to tap into their inner travel hacker. Transferring points to airlines and hotels will allow you to hunt for the best deals, and start thinking about maximizing the best redemptions. What makes the Sapphire Preferred a great starter card is that, even if you don’t want to spend time transferring points and hunting for deals, it still packs a lot of value.
If you're new to credit (like a student), then you can go with the Bank of America Travel Rewards card for Students. While it's not as exciting as the Sapphire Preferred, this card still packs a punch. You get 1.5 points on all your purchases and you don't pay any foreign transaction fees. The card also doesn't charge an annual fee, so it won't burn a hole in your wallet. Bank of America's travel points aren't as attractive as other loyalty point systems (like Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards). However, as someone new to credit, the top-tier options are unfortunately going to be beyond your grasp, so this is a good starter option while you work on improving that FICO score.
Jason Steele - Journalist who specializes in covering credit cards, award travel, and other areas of personal finance. Founder of CardCon
When I had a friend or relative that wanted to get into award travel, I used to plunge people into the points and miles world. I once recommended cards like the Starwood card or a Membership Rewards card. But then I started to realize that I was trying to teach them to run before they could walk, as these programs can be challenging for beginners to use.
Now, I try to start them off with an easy card. I like cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards and the Barclays Arrival Plus, that offer double miles for all purchases, with miles worth a penny each as statement credits towards travel expenses. If they already have some experience, I’ll recommend a card like the Sapphire Preferred, which allows you to book travel directly, or transfer points to miles fairly easily.
Sean Bryant - Personal finance and credit card journalist. Founder of OneSmartDollar.com
When I talk to someone looking for their first travel rewards credit card, I tend to always mention the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. This is one of my favorite cards available today. Even though it comes with an annual fee of $95, the big appeal is that it's part of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.
Many people tend to start with an airline or hotel co-branded credit card. There is no problem with this if you're frequently flying the airline or staying at that particular hotel brand. With Chase Ultimate Rewards you're going to have options. Not only will you be able to book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, but you will also be able to transfer the points you earn to several different loyalty partners. Options are almost always a good thing.