If you’re brand new to the world of travel credit cards, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and not be sure where to start. In this article, we’ll outline some of the best travel credit cards for beginners, depending on your travel goals.

Do you want to earn points for free travel, or enjoy perks when traveling on a particular airline? Or are you completely new to credit cards and looking for a starter card that you can leverage for free travel in the future? No matter which of these is the case, there’s a credit card that’s right for you.

A quick note before we get started: many of the best travel credit cards are offered by Chase, which has a strict rule for new accounts, known as the 5/24 rule. If you’ve opened five or more new credit cards (with any bank) within the last 24 months, you will not be approved for a new Chase credit card. This means that if any Chase cards align with your travel goals, you should consider opening those cards first before moving on to cards from other issuers. Check out this guide for more information.

If this is you: I want to earn points for free travel.

American Express, Capital One, Chase and Citibank each have their own rewards programs which allow you to transfer points to various partner airlines. You can also redeem points directly for travel at a fixed redemption rate, which can be useful when ticket prices are low – especially since you’ll also earn miles for tickets purchased this way.

American Express Membership Rewards

American Express has the widest variety of transfer partners, including Delta and Hawaiian as well as a number of foreign airlines like British Airways, Avianca, Air Canada, Air France-KLM, and Virgin Atlantic. This gives you the ability to book flights on every major US airline (except Southwest) as well as a huge number of foreign carriers.

The American Express Green Card is a great option for beginners – you’ll earn 3 points per dollar spent on restaurants, travel and transit. It also has a $100 annual credit toward CLEAR enrollment for expedited security screening at select airports and event venues, and a credit for up to $100 towards airport lounge passes with LoungeBuddy. The card also includes key travel protections including trip delay coverage, rental car loss and damage insurance, and baggage insurance. It has a $150 annual fee.

Editors Note: All information about The American Express Green Card has been collected independently by 10xTravel. The American Express Green Card is no longer available through 10xTravel.

The American Express® Gold Card is also a solid choice, and may make more sense depending on your spending patterns. It earns 4X points per dollar spent at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 in purchases per year, 1x thereafter), 3X points per dollar spent on air travel and a monthly credit up to $10 toward select restaurants and delivery services including Grubhub, Seamless, and Boxed. The card has a $250 annual fee. (Rates and fees)

best travel rewards credit card

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Chase has the smallest number of transfer partners, but includes unique and valuable partners like United, Southwest and Hyatt. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card earns 2X points per dollar spent on travel and restaurants, and includes a host of valuable benefits like trip delay protection, baggage insurance and rental car protection. It has a $95 annual fee.

More frequent travelers should consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve® – while it has a hefty $550 annual fee, it also comes with significant perks including an annual $300 travel credit, 3X points per dollar spent on travel and restaurants, one year of Lyft Pink membership (which includes a 15% discount on all rides), a $60 DoorDash credit in 2020 and 2021, a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck enrollment and access to airport lounges and restaurants around the world with Priority Pass.

Citi ThankYou Points

Citi has a range of unusual partner airlines that unlock some excellent points redemption opportunities, including Avianca and Turkish Airlines (both good for United and other Star Alliance airlines) and Air France/KLM and Virgin Atlantic (good for Delta). Since virtually all of its partners are not US airlines, these points take a bit more work to understand but the rewards can be significant.

A good place to start is the Citi Premier card, which recently underwent some changes. It earns 3X points per dollar spent on air travel, hotels, rental cars, restaurants (including takeout) and grocery stores. This wide range of categories makes it a solid card for everyday spending.

Capital One

Capital One partners with a variety of international airline and hotel partners, but because their cards have no bonus categories (you get 1.25-2.0 points per dollar depending on the card) and the redemption options are more complex than other programs (2 Capital One miles gets you between 1 and 1.5 miles depending on the partner), it’s not the ideal place to start for beginners.

If this is you: I fly one airline most of the time, and want to get discounts and perks when traveling.

While airline loyalty doesn’t make sense for most people, there are plenty of travelers who find themselves flying one airline most of the time for one reason or another. If that’s the case for you, almost every airline has at least one credit card that gives you benefits when traveling with that airline.

American

American offers several credit cards with both Citibank and Barclays, including two very similar cards that are a good option for first-timers: the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard and the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard from Barclays.

  • Both cards have a $99 annual fee and offer a free checked bag, priority boarding, a 25% discount on inflight food and beverages, access to discounted mileage awards and 2X miles per dollar spent on American Airlines purchases.
  • The Barclays card also offers a $25 annual statement credit for in-flight WiFi purchases, while the Citi card offers 2X miles per dollar spent on restaurants and gas stations.
  • While both cards offer 60,000 bonus miles for new accounts, Citi requires $2,500 in spending within three months to get those miles, while Barclays just requires that you make a single purchase and pay the annual fee.

Delta

Delta flyers can choose between three personal credit cards offered by American Express, which mostly offer similar benefits. All of the Delta cards offer a free checked bag and priority boarding.

United

United travelers should look at the United℠ Explorer Card, which offers a free checked bag, priority boarding, a 25% discount on in-flight food, beverage, and WiFi purchases, a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck enrollment, and enhanced availability for economy award tickets – making it easier to use your miles. You’ll also get 2X miles per dollar spent on restaurants, hotels and purchases with United (1 mile per dollar everywhere else). The card has no annual fee for the first year, then costs $95 per year.

Southwest

Southwest frequent flyers have three credit cards to choose from, but the only one that offers significant benefits when traveling is the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card. For a $149 annual fee, you get 4 upgraded boardings per year, 20% off in-flight drinks and WiFi, a $75 annual Southwest travel credit, 7,500 bonus points every year and 2X miles per dollar spent on Southwest and its hotel and rental car partners (1 mile per dollar everywhere else).

Alaska

Alaska flyers should take a look at the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card from Bank of America, which offers a companion fare certificate upon opening and every year on your account anniversary – when you buy one paid ticket on Alaska, you can bring along a companion for $99 plus taxes and fees (starting at $22), with no blackout dates. You’ll also get a free checked bag, 20% off inflight purchases, and 3X miles per dollar spent on Alaska purchases (1 mile per dollar everywhere else). The card has a $99 annual fee.

JetBlue

JetBlue passengers should consider the Jetblue Plus Card from Barclays, which offers a free checked bag, 50% off in-flight food and drinks, a 10% rebate on points redemptions, 5,000 bonus points on your account anniversary, and a $100 annual statement credit towards JetBlue Vacations purchase. You’ll also get 6X points per dollar spent on JetBlue purchases, 2X points per dollar spent on restaurants and grocery stores, and 1 point everywhere else. The card has a $99 annual fee.

Spirit

Spirit travelers can check out the Spirit Airlines World Mastercard from Bank of America, which offers priority boarding and check-in, access to lower-priced award tickets (starting at 2,500 miles one way), and an easy way to avoid Spirit’s draconian three-month mileage expiration policy. There’s no annual fee for the first year, and afterwards it is $59.

If this is you: I don’t have a credit history or I’m not sure about paying an annual fee.

Most travel rewards credit cards are aimed toward customers with established credit and a good credit score. If you’re totally new to credit cards or you have less than perfect credit – or you just aren’t sure you want to commit to an annual fee – each of the banks with transferable points programs also have entry-level cards that you can start earning rewards with and then combine with a premium card in the future.

Chase

Chase offers two no-annual-fee cashback credit cards linked to the Ultimate Rewards Program. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® earns 1.5% cash back everywhere, while the Chase Freedom Flex℠ earns 5% cash back on travel purchased through the Chase travel portal, 3% cash back on dining at restaurants including take out, 3% on drugstore purchases, and 5% on up to $1,500 in purchases in select categories that change every quarter.

Cash back earned with these cards can be transferred to Ultimate Rewards points (at a rate of 1 cent per point) and then transferred to airline partners as long as you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve®, or Chase Ink Business Preferred card.

Citi

Citi has the Citi Double Cash card, which effectively earns 2% cash back everywhere (1% when you make your purchase and 1% when you pay off your statement). This cash back balance can be transferred to Citi ThankYou points at a rate of 1 point per dollar spent, and can be transferred to airline partners if you have a Citi Premier or Citi Prestige card.

American Express

American Express offers the no-annual-fee Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which offers 2X Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on groceries (up to $6,000 per year) and 1 point per dollar everywhere else, with a 20% bonus on points earned if you use the card at least 20 times during your statement period. This card is a full participant in the Membership Rewards program, so you don’t have to have any other credit card to transfer its points to airline partners.

Bottom Line

The world of credit card rewards for travelers can be overwhelming, but no matter what your travel goals are, there’s a credit card that’s right for you. The most important thing is to let your decisions be driven by your travel goals, not marketing campaigns or the cards that your friends are using.