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If you’ve never applied for a travel-centric credit card, the marketplace can be both confusing and a little intimidating.
There are dozens of popular travel credit cards to choose from, as well as options that don’t look like travel rewards cards at first glance. Annual fees range from $0 to nearly $700. Some offer the chance to earn points or miles, while others advertise themselves as “cash back cards,” but can do the job of a travel card.
Furthermore, cards offer a wide array of perks and benefits. Some will click perfectly with your travel habits and lifestyle, others will be of little use so you have to have a good grasp of your own budget, lifestyle, rewards desires and, importantly, credit history/score. There are travel credit cards for beginners, but having a solid credit history and score will open up the possibilities a great deal.
So how can a “newbie” choose the travel card that will provide the best benefits them? Fortunately, CardRatings can help with that. Our editors have done the research and have compiled the following list of best travel cards for beginners.
Best for getting started with Chase Ultimate Rewards
CardName is a perennial recommendation as a top first travel rewards card. That’s because the annual fee is reasonable and the Ultimate Rewards program offers superb value.
That said, if you aren’t quite ready to commit to an annual fee card, take a look at CardNamediscontinued. Freedom Unlimited advertises itself as a cash-back card, but all the rewards accumulate as Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which means it can function as a travel rewards card.
Once you’re comfortable with Freedom Unlimited card, you can add the powerful CardName to your wallet. Group all your points in the Sapphire Preferred bucket and they’re worth 25% more when redeemed through the Ultimate Rewards portal; additionally, having a Sapphire card means you can transfer points to one of Chase’s airline or hotel loyalty partners, which is where you can often find the best value for your rewards.
Best travel credit card for simplicity
A travel rewards credit card beginner can benefit from simplicity, which is what VentureOne offers. Earn a flat 1.25 miles for every $1 you spend without worrying about caps or categories. Furthermore, the redemption options are straightforward – just redeem your accumulated rewards for statement credit to cover eligible travel purchases charged to your card. There are loyalty program transfer partners as well, but if that’s too much to think about as you’re starting out, the simple “redeem for statement credit option” still offers solid value.
Best travel credit card to redeem rewards for dining
Dining while traveling can eat up (pardon the pun) a significant portion of any travel budget. That’s where a card like this comes in handy. With the CardName, you can redeem your rewards as statement credit to cover restaurant purchases – including takeout and delivery – charged to the card. You can also redeem those rewards to cover eligible travel purchases, but it’s the chance to offset dining purchases here that sets this card apart.
Best for getting started with AmEx Membership Rewards
American Express is a CardRatings advertiser
This card does come with an annual fee (AnnualFees; See Rates and Fees), but it also offers excellent rewards earning on everyday purchases as well as numerous “fine print” benefits and perks.
And American Express Membership Rewards points offer plenty of value when it comes to using rewards for travel, including the option to transfer points to a number of popular airline and hotel loyalty programs.
Best travel rewards card for students
This isn’t specifically a travel rewards card, but it does offer the chance to rack up rewards and doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. That makes it a solid choice if you’re beginning to travel more as a student and want to get a feel for using a credit card to aid your journey.
See Rates and Fees for the CardName