If you’re new to earning points and miles through credit cards, you have many options when it comes to what cards you can get and earn the bonus on.
This changes when someone has been signing up for cards for a while due to some rules that various credit card issues have. Deciding which cards to get first is pretty straightforward if you know what to look for.
Since most people who are relatively new to points and miles don’t know the best starter cards, here are our top three choices.
Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ vs. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card – Which one to Choose?
These two cards have always been hot topics in points and miles and due to Chase’s 5/24 rule, Chase cards are often the best place to start. Both cards generally offer a decent sign-up bonus and offer bonus points for spending on travel and at restaurants–something that a traveler is likely going to do.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- + $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
- + Named a ‘Best Travel Credit Card for 2018’ by MONEY® Magazine
- + 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
- + Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
Earn 50K bonus points after you spend
$4,000on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
- Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
- No Foreign Transaction Fee
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- + 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
- + No foreign transaction fees
- + 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- No foreign transaction fees
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is the newer and premium version of the card, coming with a higher annual fee but also more benefits. It earns a higher bonus on travel and dining purchases and gives you access to the Priority Pass network of over 1,000 airport lounges around the world.
What’s the difference in the annual fee, you ask? The answer on paper is the Chase Sapphire Reserve® has a $450 annual fee while the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has a $95 annual fee, but it’s really a little more complicated than that. The Chase Sapphire Reserve® also has a $300 annual travel credit benefit that works for any kind of travel purchase including airfare, hotels, and car rentals.
Assuming you spend at least $300 on travel per year, this really can be considered to be an annual fee offset. At this point, your Reserve annual fee is effectively $150 compared with the Preferred’s $95 annual fee.
Are the extra benefits of the Chase Sapphire Reserve® worth an extra $55? To me, without a question. Lounge access, a Global Entry/TSA Pre Check fee credit once every five years, and more bonus points on restaurant and dining purchases are easily worth $55 annually to me. If you agree, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® is for you. If not, you can start earning Chase’s Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card instead.
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card – Best for Points-to-Miles Transfer
The key to being able to use your miles is flexibility and diversification. The more flexible you are when planning your travels, the more likely it is that you can use your miles. Likewise, if you have a bunch of different kinds of miles you can draw from, it is more likely that you will be able to find miles that you can use to book flights based on the current availability for your upcoming trip.
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
- 6x Starpoints at Participating Starwood and Marriott Rewards Hotels
- 2x Starpoints on All Other Purchases
- + 1 Free Night Award every year after Card account anniversary
- 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months
- Receive a 5,000 Starpoint bonus when you transfer 20,000 Starpoints to a participating frequent flyer program
- No Foreign Transaction Fee
For these reasons, I think the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is a great one that should be in everyone’s wallet. Even though SPG points are hotel points, they can be transferred to a huge number of airline transfer partners at a 1:1 ratio. Even better if you can transfer in increments of 20,000 SPG points because you will be rewarded with a 5,000 mile bonus into the program that you are transferring to.
Earning SPG points gives you even more flexibility because you can redeem your Starwood points for stays at Starwood hotels and you can also transfer your SPG points at a 1:3 ratio to Marriott hotels and redeem points for stays there as well!
While the earning rates on this card aren’t super stellar, the transfer bonus effectively makes it a 1.25 mile per dollar spent card on all purchases if you always transfer in increments of 20,000 points which is pretty great for spending that doesn’t otherwise fall into a category bonus.
Chase Freedom® Card and Discover IT – Boost Rewards with 5% Earnings
An easy way to boost your Chase Ultimate Rewards point earning is through spending on the Chase Freedom®. The Chase Freedom® is a great no annual fee card that can help you rack up a few thousand extra points per year pretty easily.
The Chase Freedom® has quarterly rotating categories that earn 5 Ultimate Rewards per dollar spent. Categories frequently include the likes of gas stations, groceries, and Amazon.com. In other words, places that most people are very likely to spend money throughout the year!
- + Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate
- + Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter
- + Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
- + Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open and there is no minimum to redeem for cash back.
Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend
$500on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
- 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of
17.24% to 25.99%. Balance transfer fee is 3% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
- Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit Journey℠
- No annual fee
- 3% foreign transaction fee
The Discover it® Cash Back operates in basically the same way as the Chase Freedom®, but instead of earning Ultimate Rewards, you’ll be earning 5% cash back on quarterly rotating categories. If you feel like you are already earning plenty of miles, this is a great way to earn a little bit of extra cash to spend on vacation instead.
Discover it® Cash Back
- + cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate.
- + Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
- + Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
- + Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
- INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
- Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.
- Activate for free.
- Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.
- No annual fee.
Beyond these cards that offer extreme versatility, the cards that you consider should be based on your individual travel goals. If you never stay in hotels, ignore those hotel cards. If you’re planning a honeymoon and want to redeem at an extremely fancy hotel, focus on cards that offer a sign-up bonus in terms of number of nights instead of points.
If you always fly with your wife or husband and travel mostly domestically and to the Caribbean, the Southwest cards might be a great option–and make sure you do it in a way that you earn the Southwest Companion Pass while you’re at it!
There are a bunch of great credit cards that offer extremely valuable rewards, you just have to decide what you want and look at what credit cards will best help you get there. Above we listed three cards that will be great for nearly everyone, but there are many more that will fit individual travelers’ needs and help you achieve your travel goals if you have a particular route in mind.