If you don't want to pay an annual fee to use a credit card but still want to earn rewards, consider the Chase Freedom Unlimited, suggests Brian Kelly, founder and CEO of The Points Guy. He turned his credit card expertise into a full-time job and now jets around the world for next to nothing, thanks to points and frequent-flyer miles.
Kelly, who has 25 credit cards himself, typically steers clear of no-fee cards. They "generally offer less perks," he tells CNBC Make It. Compared to cards with a fee, they "may not be the most lucrative in the long-term."
But "if you're dead set on a no annual fee card, I would recommend the Chase Freedom Unlimited," he says.
The Freedom Unlimited offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases, which is "a decent earn," says Kelly. It also offers 120-day purchase protection and extended warranty protection.
What Kelly particularly likes about the card, though, is that you can also earn your rewards on this card in the form of points. That will come in handy if you ever upgrade to a premium Chase rewards card that has an annual fee, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve, because you'll be able to pair them.
"Here's the deal," explains Kelly: "If you get a card like a Chase Freedom Unlimited, those points are technically cash back, but, if down the line you get a Sapphire card, you'll be able to transfer those cash-back points into your Sapphire points ... and you can get a ton of value."
If you end up combining your points across your Chase cards, you'll have great redemption options, says Kelly: First, you can use them to book travel through the Chase travel portal. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, every point you redeem on travel is worth 1.5 cents. That means its 50,000-point sign-up bonus can have a value of $750.
With the Sapphire Preferred, points redeemed on travel are worth 1.25 cents.
"In either case, you're already getting more value per point than the 1 cent each you'd get by redeeming them for cash back," TPG explains. Chase also offers 13 transfer partners, so you can trade your points in for United MileagePlus miles, for example, and find a seat in business class.
In general, if you're new to points and miles, Kelly says, "starting off with a no-annual-fee card from one of the big banks, like Chase, is a good way to at least get your foot in the door."
You can build up valuable travel points with the no-annual-fee card, and then, he says, if you switch cards, you're going to be able to "upgrade those points to get as much value out of them as possible down the line."
Whatever credit card you settle on, make sure you pay off your balance in full every month. Otherwise, the interest you end up owing by carrying a balance could negate the value of any points, benefits or cash back you earn.
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