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Credit Cards

The best travel rewards credit cards for beginners

It's never too early — or too late — to get started with earning and redeeming travel rewards.

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There's never a bad time to get started with earning and redeeming points and miles for free (or nearly free) travel. If you tend to spend most of your money on flights, hotels, car rentals, dining, groceries or gas anyway, you might as well be rewarded for your efforts and can use those expenses to rack up rewards that'll help cover a future trip.

If you're interested in easily earning rewards points or miles and enjoying a range of redemption options, there are plenty of travel rewards credit cards to choose from, each with its own bounty of benefits. Many of them come with a slew of travel perks and protections, offer lucrative welcome bonuses to help you get started, provide access to their respective card issuer's travel portals and let you maximize your rewards by transferring them to various airline and hotel partners. And while many of the top rewards cards have an annual fee, it's easy to get your money's worth considering all of the benefits they come with.

Below, CNBC Select details the best beginner travel rewards credit cards to help you get started with earning points and miles, which can be redeemed for flights, hotels, car rentals and other travel-related activities.

Best starter travel rewards credit cards

Best for flexible rewards

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    Enjoy benefits such as 5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases, and $50 annual Chase Travel Hotel Credit, plus more.

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    21.49% - 28.49% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

  • Terms apply.

 

Who's this for? The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a great choice for those just starting out with points and miles because of its wide range of travel benefits and redemption opportunities — and for a modest $95 annual fee to boot.

Beyond the generous welcome bonus, you'll be well on your way to free (or nearly free) travel in no time, as the card lets you earn 5X points per dollar on flights, hotels, car rentals and other travel activities booked through Chase TravelSM; 5X points per dollar on Lyft rides now through Mar. 31, 2025; and 2X points per dollar spent on general travel purchases, whether you're buying train tickets or booking a vacation rental. Cardholders can also pick up 3X points per dollar for using select streaming services, dining or shopping for groceries online (except Target®, Walmart® and other wholesale clubs), as well as 1X point per dollar for all other purchases.

Perks include a $50 Annual Chase Travel Hotel Credit, a 10% points boost on your card anniversary, auto rental collision damage waivers, baggage delay insurance, trip cancellation and interruption insurance and special discounts on purchases made through DoorDash, Instacart+ and GoPuff. You'll also never have to worry about paying foreign transaction fees for using the card outside the U.S.

How to redeem rewards: Points are worth 1.25 cents apiece when you redeem them through Chase TravelSM so you'll have at least $750 in travel rewards to start out with after earning the 60,000-point welcome bonus. However, you can get more value when transferring your points to one of Chase's many hotel and airline partners, such as Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, United Airlines MileagePlus, Air Canada Aeroplan, Marriott Bonvoy, IHG One Rewards and World of Hyatt. Rewards experts generally value Chase points at 2 cents each when transferred to travel partners

Learn more: Here are the best ways to redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

Best for frequent travelers

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

  • Rewards

    5 Miles per dollar on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, 2X miles per dollar on every other purchase

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    N/A for purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    19.99% - 29.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    $0 at the Transfer APR, 4% of the amount of each transferred balance that posts to your account at a promotional APR that Capital One may offer to you

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See rates and fees, terms apply.

 

Who's this for? If bonus categories confuse you and you want a more straightforward earning structure, look no further than the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card , which gives you 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, as well as 5X miles per dollar whenever you book rental cars or hotels through Capital One Travel.

As far as travel benefits, this card packs a punch given its modest $95 annual fee (see rates and fees), offering perks such as two complimentary visits per year to any Capital One Lounges (or any of the 100+ Plaza Premium Lounges through the Partner Lounge Network), Hertz Five Star status and a statement credit of up to $100 to cover Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® membership. There are no foreign transaction fees and cardholders receive auto rental collision damage waivers, travel accident insurance and access to additional perks through Capital One Dining and Capital One Entertainment — Taylor Swift tour presale tickets, anyone? (see rates and fees)

How to redeem rewards: Redeeming the miles is as easy as it is to earn them. First, you can either redeem that at a fixed value of one cent per point to offset recent travel purchases or cash them in toward flights, hotels, rental cars and other travel activities through Capital One Travel. Or, to stretch the value of your miles, you can transfer them to a variety of airline and hotel partners, such as Air Canada Aeroplan, Qantas Frequent Flyer, Etihad Guest, Accor Live Limitless and more.

Best for no annual fee

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

  • Rewards

    5 Miles per dollar on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, 1.25X miles per dollar on every purchase

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months

  • Regular APR

    19.99% - 29.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% for the first 15 months; 4% at a promotional APR that Capital One may offer you at any other time

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

  • See rates and fees. Terms apply.

 

Who's this for? Paying an annual fee doesn't make sense for everyone, especially if you're new to the world of travel rewards. If you're in that boat, consider the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card (see rates and fees).

The VentureOne has a similar rewards structure as its sibling, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. It earns 1.25X miles per dollar on every purchase, as well as 5X miles per dollar whenever you book rental cars or hotels through Capital One Travel.

Many of the benefits are also the same, including no foreign transaction fees, auto rental collision damage waiver, access to exclusive events and experiences, purchase protection and extended warranty protection. (see rates and fees)

How to redeem rewards: As with its bigger sibling, the miles you earn with this card can be transferred to Capital One's roster of airline and hotel partners. Alternatively, you can use miles to offset recent travel purchases or toward booking flights, hotels, rental cars and other travel activities through Capital One Travel. *Terms, conditions and exclusions apply. Refer to your Guide to Benefits for more details.

Best for earning rewards

Citi Premier® Card

On Citi's secure site
  • Rewards

    3X points per $1 spent at restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, and on hotels and air travel, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 60,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. Plus, for a limited time, earn a total of 10 ThankYou® Points per $1 spent on hotel, car rentals, and attractions (excluding air travel) booked on the Citi Travel℠ portal through June 30, 2024.

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    21.24% - 29.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5% of each balance transfer, $5 minimum

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Good/Excellent

  • See rates and fees. Terms apply.

 

Who's this for? Anyone who is interested in a generous welcome bonus and an easy way to pick up points in a jiffy should consider signing up for the Citi Premier® Card, which is currently offering 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 within the first three months of account opening. Plus, for a limited time, earn a total of 10 ThankYou® Points per $1 spent on hotel, car rentals, and attractions (excluding air travel) booked on the Citi Travel℠ portal through June 30, 2024.

Beyond that, you'll score an unlimited 3X points per dollar when you use the card at restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, and on air travel and hotels. You'll earn 1X points on all other purchases.

There is a modest annual fee of $95, but no transaction fees for using the card outside the U.S. You'll also receive a $100 annual hotel savings benefit, which can be used when booking a single hotel stay of at least $500 through the Citi travel portal.

How to redeem rewards: The points you earn with the Citi Premier Card can be redeemed for travel, gift cards or cash-back rewards through thankyou.com, online shopping via Amazon or PayPal and statement credits when shopping with eligible retail partners. Points are generally worth up to 1 cent per point on these types of redemptions, meaning 60,000 points would be worth $600.

However, you can also transfer your ThankYou points to one of Citi's airline or hotel partners, such as Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, JetBlue TrueBlue, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Choice Privileges and Wyndham Rewards. As with the other programs, you could easily double the value of your points by taking this route.

Learn more: What are Citi ThankYou points worth?

Best for everyday expenses

American Express® Gold Card

On the American Express secure site
  • Rewards

    4X Membership Rewards® points at Restaurants (plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.) and at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X), 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

  • Annual fee

    $250

  • Intro APR

    Not applicable

  • Regular APR

    See Pay Over Time APR

  • Balance transfer fee

    N/A

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

  • See rates and fees, terms apply.

 

Who's this for? If you're someone whose budget consists mainly of travel, dining and grocery expenses, the American Express® Gold Card might be an ideal choice.

Though the Amex Gold Card has a $250 annual fee (see rates and fees), it also provides a range of travel and dining benefits including up to $120 worth of Uber Cash each year ($10 per month) to put toward rides in the U.S. and dining via Uber Eats (you must add your Amex Gold Card as a payment method in the Uber app to enroll); up to $120 worth of annual dining credits ($10 each month) when you use the card to pay for dining through participating partners like Grubhub, Milk Bar, The Cheesecake Factory and certain Shake Shack restaurants (enrollment required); access to special perks when you book stays through The Hotel Collection; Preferred Seating and exclusive access to shows, concerts and sporting events through American Express Experiences; and additional limited-time perks with SiriusXM, Panera Bread and the Entertainment® app. Terms apply.

Most importantly, this card lets you earn 4X points per dollar at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery within the U.S., 4X points per dollar on up to $25,000 worth of purchases at U.S. supermarkets, 3X points per dollar when you book flights directly with the airline or via amextravel.com and 1X points per dollar for all other purchases.

Cardholders also receive other perks such as *car rental loss and damage insurance as well as baggage insurance, while there are no foreign transaction fees for using the card overseas (see rates and fees).

How to redeem rewards: Membership Rewards® points can be redeemed through a variety of things, including gift cards, statement credits, travel and more, but you'll generally only get between 0.5 cents and 1 cent in value per point this way. To get around 2 cents per point or more, you can transfer your points to American Express' various airline and hotel loyalty program partners, such as Delta SkyMiles, British Airways Executive Club, Etihad Guest, Emirates Skywards, Avianca LifeMiles, JetBlue TrueBlue, Choice Privileges, Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors and more.

Learn more: Here's the best way to redeem Amex Membership Rewards points

Best for cash back

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    Enjoy 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services, 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more; and 3% cash back on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year). After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

  • Welcome bonus

    INTRO OFFER: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    20.49% - 29.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    Intro fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater, on transfers made within 60 days of account opening. After that, either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

  • Member FDIC. Terms apply.

Who's this for? If you're someone who prefers to earn cash-back rewards rather than saving up points and miles to use for future travels, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® might be a good card to go with, especially since there's no minimum amount required if you want to redeem your points.

Not only does this no-annual-fee card offer an 0% intro APR for purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months from account opening (after that, 20.49% - 29.24%, variable), it also lets you earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back! That means at the end of the first year they will match what you earn from the regular rewards of 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants (including takeout and eligible delivery service), and 3% on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year). After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

Cardholders also have access to travel benefits and protections such as auto rental collision damage waivers, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, travel and emergency assistance, purchase protection and extended warranty protection.

How to redeem rewards: Rewards earned with this card can be redeemed for cash back, travel, gift cards and more. However, as you're starting out in the world of points and miles, you should save your rewards until you have another Chase-Ultimate Rewards-earning card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, since you'll be able to convert the cash back into transferrable Ultimate Rewards points®, which opens up a world of redemption opportunities with the issuer's 14 airline and hotel partners.

Learn more: How to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points

Best for students

Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students credit card

  • Rewards

    Unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 spent on all purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    25,000 online bonus points after you spend at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening, which can be redeemed for a $250 statement credit toward qualifying travel and dining purchases

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% APR for the first 15 billing cycles on purchases, and for any balance transfers made within the first 60 days of opening your account.

  • Regular APR

    18.24% - 28.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% of each transaction intro balance transfer fee for the first 60 days from account opening, then 4%

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Good/Excellent

Terms apply.

Who's this for? It's never too early to start getting involved with travel rewards programs and applying for the Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students is a great way to get started. It's very beginner-friendly thanks to a straightforward points-earning structure — you'll earn an unlimited 1.5 points for every dollar you spend.

The card has no foreign transaction fees or annual fees. Additional benefits include a generous 0% intro APR for purchases for your first 15 billing cycles and for balance transfers made within the first 60 days of account opening (after, 18.24% - 28.24% variable), and complimentary monthly access to your updated FICO® Score via Bank of America's Mobile Banking app or Online Banking features.

How to redeem rewards: Although the rewards earned with this card can't be transferred to airlines or hotels, they can be redeemed in a variety of ways, including toward any flights, hotels, cruises, rental cars, vacation packages, baggage fees and dining (including takeout) you've used the card to pay for.

Things to consider before applying for a new card

Keep in mind that card issuers usually require you to have good credit or excellent credit (scores above 670). Therefore, it's key to check your credit score before applying for your first travel rewards card.

Also, credit card issuers will be looking closely at the number of cards you currently have or have recently applied for. Chase in particular is known for its strict 5/24 rule, which prevents anyone who has applied for five cards within the last 24 months from being approved for a new one with them, so be aware that you may be rejected for that reason.

Finally, it's a good idea to do the math and make sure you'll be able to use enough of your desired card's included benefits to rationalize paying its annual fee, especially if it's a steep one. As always, keep an eye on your budget to ensure you can hit any minimum-spending requirements responsibly and stay on top of your credit score to get a more realistic idea of where you'll stand in terms of approval.

Find the best credit card for you by reviewing offers in our credit card marketplace or get personalized offers via CardMatch™.

Bottom line

With a little planning and thoughtful spending — especially if your chosen credit card earns extra rewards points for certain categories of expenses such as dining, travel, grocery shopping or gas purchases — you could be well on your way toward enjoying a well-deserved vacation with most or all of your flights, hotels or car rentals covered by flexible, transferable points and miles thanks to travel rewards credit cards.

Alternatively, if you're a stickler for status and prefer to only fly with certain airlines or stay at specific hotel chains, it might be worth adding an airline credit card or hotel credit card. Instead of providing transferable rewards points for you to redeem with several travel partners, this kind of card would let you rack up rewards through the brand's loyalty program, climb the status ladder and have access to special perks such as late check-out, early check-in, complimentary breakfast or room upgrades.

Just remember that rewards credit cards often require good or excellent credit (scores above 670), so check your credit score before applying for one of these cards.

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Why trust CNBC Select?

At CNBC Select, our mission is to provide our readers with high-quality service journalism and comprehensive consumer advice so they can make informed decisions with their money. Every credit card review is based on rigorous reporting by our team of expert writers and editors with extensive knowledge of credit card products. While CNBC Select earns a commission from affiliate partners on many offers and links, we create all our content without input from our commercial team or any outside third parties, and we pride ourselves on our journalistic standards and ethics. See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best beginner travel rewards credit cards.

Our methodology

To determine which cards offer the best value for beginners, CNBC Select analyzed 234 of the most popular credit cards available in the U.S. We compared each card on a range of features, including: rewards, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, balance transfer fee and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available. We also considered additional perks, the application process and how easy it is for the consumer to redeem points.

Catch up on CNBC Select's in-depth coverage of credit cards, banking and money, and follow us on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to stay up to date. 

Information about the Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.

Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions and Limitations Apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/ benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company. Underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company. Car Rental Loss or Damage Coverage is offered through American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc.

For Capital One products listed on this page, some of the above benefits are provided by Visa® or Mastercard® and may vary by product. See the respective Guide to Benefits for details, as terms and exclusions apply.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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