Are you ready to venture into the exciting world of travel credit cards? Perhaps you’re already familiar with best travel credit cards for beginners, whether it’s a cashback card or one tied to a specific store. But now, you’re intrigued by the idea of travel cards – those magical pieces of plastic that promise access to airport lounges or earn you points for dreamy hotel stays.
For newcomers to the realm of travel credit cards, the sheer number of options can be daunting. So, let’s unravel the mystery of travel credit cards together. In this article, we’ll explore what are the best travel credit cards for beginners in 2023.
Understanding Travel Credit Cards
Credit cards come in various flavors, ranging from cashback cards to cards with no rewards at all, and store-specific credit cards like those offered by retail giants such as Target. Then, there are travel credit cards, which we’re about to dive into.
Travel credit cards can be broadly categorized into three types:
- Hotel Credit Cards: These gems let you earn points specifically for a particular hotel chain, such as Hilton or Marriott.
- Airline Credit Cards: Designed for frequent flyers, these cards help you accumulate miles with specific airlines like United or Delta.
- Flexible Currency Credit Cards (General Travel Rewards Cards): Think of these as the chameleons of the credit card world. Popular examples include those issued by American Express and Chase. They earn you points that can be transferred and redeemed through partnerships with various businesses and loyalty programs, spanning hotels and airlines. This flexibility makes them incredibly versatile. (Terms and conditions apply.)
Many travel credit cards roll out the red carpet with a welcome offer. This sweet deal rewards you with a chunk of bonus points after spending a set amount on the card within a specified timeframe. Beyond that, you continue to rack up points just by swiping your card for everyday purchases, much like any other credit card.
Travel credit cards also come in different tiers. While some waive the annual fee, several others charge a fee for the privilege of carrying them in your wallet. These fees typically range from $95 annually to over $550. Evaluating the value of the included perks and a little bit of quick math can help you decide if a particular card is worth its annual fee.
How Travel Credit Cards Differ
Now that we’ve introduced you to travel credit cards, it’s essential to understand how they differ from other types of credit cards.
Different credit cards offer different sets of benefits. Some cards help you build your credit score, while others shower you with cashback rewards, especially in specific spending categories like dining.
Best travel credit cards for beginners in 2023, on the other hand, reward you differently. Instead of cashback, they offer rewards in the form of points or miles, which you can later redeem for exciting travel experiences. Additionally, many travel credit cards come with extra perks, such as access to airport lounges, elite status at hotels, and an annual credit for travel-related expenses.
So, are you ready to embark on your travel credit card journey? Let’s explore the best travel credit cards for beginners in 2023!
Best Travel Credit Cards For Beginners in 2023
Travel credit cards come in various shapes and sizes, and for those just starting, here’s a concise list of our top picks and why they stand out:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card – 60,000 Points Bonus (worth $750 in award travel)
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card – TSA PreCheck or Global Entry Fee Credit
- Citi Premier® Card – 3x Points at Restaurants; $100 annual hotel credit
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card – 50,000 Points
Each card offers its own set of perks and benefits, catering to different preferences and travel styles. The key is to align these features with your personal travel priorities.
The Ideal Starter Credit Card: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
In the realm of premium credit cards, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® stands as the crown jewel. However, for newcomers in the world of rewards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card reigns supreme as the ultimate entry-level credit card.
For a reasonable $95 annual fee, this card offers trip cancellation/interruption protection and a 25% redemption bonus when you use your Ultimate Rewards® points for travel through Chase and its extensive network of transfer partners. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the go-to choice for first-time credit card users eager to embark on their journey into the world of travel rewards.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card brings to the table:
- 5x points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards® (excluding hotel purchases eligible 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)
- 3x points on select streaming services
- 2x points on all other travel purchases
- 1x point per $1 spent on all non-bonus purchases
This card strikes a harmonious balance between a modest annual fee, a bevy of card benefits, and rewarding travel perks. Generally, a minimum credit score of 680 is required to qualify for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
- Enjoy a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, automatically applied as a statement credit when you use your card for hotel bookings through the Ultimate Rewards program, up to a maximum annual accumulation of $50.
- On each account anniversary, receive bonus points equal to 10% of your total purchases made in the previous year. For example, if you spend $25,000 on purchases, you’ll earn 2,500 bonus points.
Each Ultimate Rewards point typically holds a value of one cent per point. However, when redeemed for travel through Chase, they are worth 1.25 cents per point, offering an above-average redemption value.
Furthermore, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card grants access to Chase’s extensive list of Ultimate Rewards Transfer partners. This allows you to transfer your Ultimate Reward points to a variety of airline and hotel partners at a 1:1 ratio, opening doors to exciting redemption opportunities.
As a traveler, you’ll also benefit from trip interruption/cancellation/delay protection, baggage loss/delay protection, and primary auto rental collision damage waiver coverage, which is a valuable rental car protection feature.
Additionally, as a Visa Signature cardholder, you’ll receive purchase protection, offering refunds for items damaged or stolen within the first 120 days after purchase, as well as extended warranty coverage.
New Chase Sapphire Preferred® Cardholders can earn 60,000 bonus points by spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. These points are worth $750 when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
While many credit card experts may steer you towards the Chase Sapphire Reserve® due to its increased annual fee ($550 vs. $95 for the Preferred), the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card stands out as the best travel credit card for beginners. It keeps things straightforward and manageable.
However, it’s worth noting that to qualify for a minimum credit line of $10,000 (a Visa Infinite requirement), you’ll need an excellent credit score. Additionally, you’ll need to evaluate whether you’ll use enough of the card’s benefits to offset the higher annual fee. Depending on your travel goals, this card may still be a worthwhile investment.
For a detailed comparison between these sister cards, check out our Chase Sapphire Reserve vs. Chase Sapphire Preferred guide to determine which one suits you best.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: A Simple Path to Earning Rewards
You may have seen their celebrity-packed television ads, but the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is more than just a marketing ploy – it’s a fantastic option for beginners seeking a straightforward way to earn double rewards on every purchase.
Here’s a closer look at what makes the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card shine among the best travel credit cards for beginners:
- Earn 2x miles for every dollar spent (valued at 1 cent per mile when redeemed). Plus, enjoy a special 5x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel.
- The icing on the cake: this card offers up to a $100 credit towards TSA PreCheck or Global Entry membership, making your travels even more hassle-free.
- Say goodbye to foreign transaction fees, as this card is designed with international travelers in mind.
When you redeem your Capital One miles for travel, you’ll experience true flexibility, as Capital One proudly boasts. You can book your reservations through Capital One’s booking tool (powered by Orbitz) or have a previous travel purchase credited back to you. Additionally, cardholders have the option to transfer miles to various leading travel loyalty programs, including Capital One’s hotel transfer partners, and gain access to airport lounges.
Capital One Travel Transfer Partners
Here’s a list of Capital One’s travel transfer partners:
- Aeromexico Club Premier
- Air Canada Aeroplan
- Air France KLM Flying Blue
- Avianca LifeMiles
- British Airways Executive 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 transfers are at a 1:1 ratio.)
Final Thoughts on the Capital One Venture Rewards Card
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card offers a range of benefits akin to the Chase Sapphire Preferred. These include extended warranty coverage on purchases, purchase security, lost luggage reimbursement, travel accident insurance, and more. While it may not be as feature-rich as the World Elite Mastercard, it provides an above-average assortment of card perks.
With an annual fee of $95, a minimum of 2x miles on all purchases, and Visa Signature benefits, the Capital One Venture card presents exceptional value for frequent travelers. If you’re wondering about the Capital One Venture score required for approval, you can find more information to determine if it suits your needs.
As an added bonus, enjoy a one-time reward of 75,000 miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account. This equates to $750 in travel value, making your adventures even more rewarding.
Furthermore, if you’re new to Capital One, you can start your journey with the no-annual-fee Capital One VentureOne Credit Card. Once you’ve established a relationship with Capital One, accumulated some miles, and are ready for more extensive adventures, you might consider upgrading to the premium Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card.
Citi Premier® Card: Best travel credit cards for beginners
The Citi Premier® Card often flies under the radar, but it boasts a value proposition akin to the popular Chase Sapphire Preferred. For a reasonable $95 annual fee, this card opens doors to a world of rewards:
- Earn a substantial 3x points on a variety of categories, including air travel, hotels, supermarkets, restaurants, and gas station purchases. For all other purchases, you’ll still accumulate a respectable one point per dollar spent.
- As an added perk, cardholders can enjoy $100 off a single hotel stay totaling $500 or more (excluding taxes and fees) when booking through thankyou.com once per calendar year.
New cardmembers can kickstart their rewards journey with a generous 60,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. This valuable bonus can be redeemed for $600 in gift cards or travel rewards when accessed through thankyou.com. Additionally, for a limited time, earn an impressive 10 ThankYou® Points per $1 spent on hotel, car rentals, and attractions (excluding air travel) booked via the Citi Travel℠ portal through June 30, 2024.
As a World Elite Mastercard, the Citi Premier offers an array of benefits that rival, if not surpass, those of a Visa Signature card. This places it among the top-tier Citi credit cards.
When you’re on the road, Mastercard extends its protective wing with benefits such as travel accident insurance, baggage loss and delay protection, and trip cancellation/interruption/delay protection. On the lifestyle front, a 24/7 concierge service is at your beck and call, ready to assist with reservations, ticket procurement, travel planning, and more. Cardholders also receive a complimentary ShopRunner 2-day shipping membership and early access to concerts through Citi Entertainment.
Your Mastercard doesn’t stop at travel benefits. It also offers robust purchase protections, including return protection (for those stubborn retailers), purchase security (for lost, stolen, or damaged items), and extended warranty protection.
Citi ThankYou Airline Transfer Partners
The Citi Premier Card takes pride in its wide array 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
For the most part, these transfer partners maintain a 1:1 transfer ratio, amplifying your redemption options.
Final Thoughts on the Citi Premier Card
If you have a preference for Mastercard or Citi, or if you intend to transfer points to one of their less-commonly-tapped transfer partners, the Citi Premier card stands out as a solid choice among low annual fee travel credit cards for beginners. For an in-depth comparison, you can explore the Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Citi Premier to determine which one aligns better with your needs.
For those considering this card, the CardMatch™ tool is a handy resource. It’s a free tool that helps you find personalized offers tailored to your needs and may even unveil exclusive welcome bonus offers not available to the general public.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card: Elevate Your Travel Game
Bringing our exploration of the best travel credit cards for beginners in 2023 to a close is the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card. While many starter travel credit cards lean toward airline or hotel-specific rewards, we’ve chosen this Southwest Airlines card for its diverse travel redemption options and exceptional card perks.
Here’s a quick rundown of what this card has to offer:
- Earn unlimited rewards, including 3x points on Southwest® purchases, 2x points on local transit and commuting (including rideshares), and 2x points on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming purchases.
- All the points you earn count toward the coveted Southwest Companion Pass®, which essentially translates to a buy one, get one free deal on flights for a year or more (details below).
- Enjoy a generous annual bonus of 7,500 points, a $75 Southwest travel credit each year, four upgraded boardings annually, and 25% back on in-flight purchases. Additionally, you can earn points toward qualifying for both A-list elite status and the sought-after Southwest Companion Pass®. This card offers more benefits than its Rapid Rewards counterparts.
New cardholders of the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card can kickstart their journey with a substantial 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 unlock the coveted Southwest Companion Pass®, a true treasure in the world of air rewards. This pass allows a designated person to accompany you for free on all your travels for one year (excluding taxes and fees).
While most airline credit cards offer free checked bags to cardholders, Southwest goes the extra mile by providing two free checked bags to every passenger. Additionally, Southwest’s no change fee and no cancellation fee policies add to the convenience of traveling with this airline.
Final Thoughts on the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card
Southwest Airlines has an extensive network, covering almost every corner of the country. They’ve also expanded their routes in recent times.
All in all, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card is a rare gem. Its valuable features, customer-friendly airline, and easily accessible benefits make it one of the best travel credit cards for beginners. Despite its slightly higher annual fee of $149, most users can readily offset this amount by fully utilizing the benefits. Plus, there are no foreign transaction fees.
However, it’s worth noting that Southwest might not be everyone’s cup of tea. If that’s the case, you may want to explore alternative miles credit cards that align better with your preferences.
How to pick the best first Credit Card for Travel
Choosing your first travel credit card in 2023 is an important decision, and there are several key factors to consider to ensure you select the right one for your needs:
1. Your Travel Goals in 2023:
- Determine your primary travel goals. Are you looking for free hotel stays, award flights, or access to travel perks like airport lounge access and elite status? Your goals will shape the type of travel card that suits you best.
2. Brand Loyalty vs. Flexibility:
- Assess whether you have brand loyalty to a specific hotel chain or airline. If not, consider a card that offers flexible point currencies, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. This way, you can redeem points for various travel options, including flights and hotel stays.
3. Welcome Bonuses:
- Look for cards with attractive welcome bonuses. These can provide a substantial boost to your travel rewards account. The value of the bonus and the spending requirement to earn it are essential factors to consider.
4. Annual Fees:
- Consider the annual fee associated with the card. While some premium travel cards offer excellent benefits, they often come with higher annual fees. If you’re new to travel cards, start with one that has a lower or no annual fee to ease into the world of rewards.
5. Budget-Friendly Options:
- Ensure the card aligns with your budget. Don’t jump into a premium travel card with a hefty annual fee if you’re just starting. Choose a card that you can comfortably manage within your financial means.
- Assess whether you’re comfortable managing a rewards program. Travel credit cards often involve points and miles systems that require some degree of management. If you prefer a simpler approach, consider a cash-back card.
7. Travel Frequency:
- Evaluate how frequently you plan to travel. If you intend to travel at least once a year, a travel credit card can be beneficial. The card’s benefits and perks can significantly enhance your travel experiences.
Travel credit cards can significantly enhance your travel experiences while also offering money-saving benefits. From free room upgrades to access to comfortable airport lounges with complimentary amenities, these cards provide valuable perks.
If you’re considering getting a travel credit card in 2023, start by identifying your specific needs and travel goals. Whether you prioritize hotel stays or flights, choose a card that aligns with your objectives. Once you’ve made your selection, use your card for everyday purchases, focusing on bonus categories, and watch your points accumulate for future savings.