The 5 Starter Travel Credit Cards for Beginners

Want a travel rewards credit card but not sure which one to choose? Start here.
Last updated Feb. 6, 2023 | By Lisa Bigelow
The 5 Travel Credit Cards That Are Awesome for Beginners

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Points. Miles. Rewards. If you’re in the market for a new travel credit card, then chances are you’ve seen these terms before. But what do they mean, how do you earn them, and why do they help you save money?

And if you talk to anyone who uses a rewards credit card regularly, chances are you’ve heard some not-so-subtle bragging about bonus points, free airfare, or discounted hotel stays. But maybe you think you don’t have the money or the credit to get started in this hobby?

Think again, because there are card options for travel credit card beginners that don’t have steep annual fees, require near-perfect credit, or involve a ton of complicated restrictions. Those free flights and hotel stays are within your reach, too — if you choose one of the travel credit cards that aligns with your spending habits. Here’s what you need to know.

The 5 starter travel credit cards for beginners:

In this article

The 5 starter travel credit cards

Card Annual fee Welcome bonus Key travel perks
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

$0 Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • 1.25X miles per dollar on every purchase, every day and 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
  • No foreign transaction fees

  • Travel accident insurance

  • Auto rental insurance (secondary coverage)

Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card
Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card

$0 Earn 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months (that’s a $200 cash redemption value)
  • Earn unlimited 3X points on restaurants, travel, gas stations, transit, popular streaming services, and phone plans; plus earn 1X points on other purchases
  • Auto rental insurance (secondary coverage)
  • Roadside dispatch
  • Travel and emergency assistance services
  • No foreign transaction fees
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

$0 Earn 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases
  • 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases
  • Travel and emergency assistance services
  • Trip cancellation and interruption insurance
  • Trip delay reimbursement
  • Lost luggage reimbursement
  • No foreign transaction fees
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

$95 Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 5X points on Lyft rides and travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on eligible dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases; 2X points on travel; and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases
  • $50 annual hotel credit for stays booked through the Chase portal

  • 1:1 transfer for travel partners

  • Trip cancellation insurance

  • Auto rental insurance (primary coverage)

  • Baggage delay insurance

  • Trip delay reimbursement

  • Emergency assistance

  • No foreign transaction fees

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card $95 Earn a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, every day; 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles per dollar when you book on Turo through May 16, 2023
  • No foreign transaction fees

  • Credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry

  • Transfer for travel partners

  • Travel accident insurance

  • Auto rental insurance (secondary coverage)

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Early spend bonus: Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

Annual fee: $0

Rewards rate: 1.25X miles per dollar on every purchase, every day and 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel

Why we like it: The VentureOne Rewards shares many of the same features with its Venture Rewards cousin, such as redeeming rewards for statement credits as well as travel and auto insurance protection. But there are two important differences that make this credit card a better choice for some applicants.

The VentureOne Rewards Credit Card doesn’t have an annual fee, which is a nice perk in the rewards card space.

New VentureOne Rewards cardholders get 0% intro APR on purchases during the first 15 months (then 19.24% - 29.24% (Variable) APR).

With such amazing perks, why would anyone choose the Venture Rewards? The answer is simple: the Venture Rewards gives you 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, every day; 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles per dollar when you book on Turo through May 16, 2023. With VentureOne Rewards, you’ll earn 1.25X miles per dollar on every purchase, every day and 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel.

So, for everyday purchases, the Venture Rewards comes out on top. But if you want a $0-annual-fee and have a big upcoming purchase that you want to pay off interest-free over time, the VentureOne Rewards Card might be right for you.

Check out our full VentureOne Rewards Credit Card card review.

Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card

Welcome bonus: Earn 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months (that’s a $200 cash redemption value)

Annual fee: $0

Rewards rate: Earn unlimited 3X points on restaurants, travel, gas stations, transit, popular streaming services, and phone plans; plus earn 1X points on other purchases

Why we like it: The Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card is a solid card for earning elevated rewards rates on specific everyday purchases and it also comes with some unexpected perks for a $0-annual-fee card.

This card offers a 0% intro APR for 12 months from account opening on purchases (then 19.49%, 24.49%, or 29.49% variable). So you could earn rewards for future travel and be able to make big purchases without spending a lot on interest charges as long as you pay them off during the intro period.

Other benefits that can be helpful for a traveler include:

  • Cell phone protection
  • Travel and emergency services assistance, such as lost luggage locator service, emergency message service, and medical referral assistance
  • Up to $50,000 in car rental coverage toward a covered accident or theft on eligible car rentals

Check out our full Wells Fargo Autograph Card review.

Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

Welcome bonus: Earn 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases

Annual fee: $0

Rewards rate: 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases

Why we like it: The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card can be a great addition to your wallet if you're looking for excellent everyday earning potential with rewards that you can put toward travel. In addition, you can boost that earning rate by 25% to 75% if you’re also a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member.

For the traveler, this card offers some potentially valuable benefits:

  • Travel and emergency assistance

  • Trip delay reimbursement

  • Trip cancellation and interruption insurance

  • Lost luggage reimbursement

  • Visa Signature Concierge

If you're looking for perks beyond travel or have some big purchases planned, this card could also be a great fit for you. This card provides:

  • 0% intro APR for 18 billing cycles for any qualifying balance transfers made in the first 60 days (then 18.24% - 28.24% Variable)
  • 0% intro APR for 18 billing cycles on purchases (then 18.24% - 28.24% Variable)

Check out our full Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card review.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

Annual fee: $95

Rewards rate: 5X points on Lyft rides and travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on eligible dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases; 2X points on travel; and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases

Why we like it: Chase built the Sapphire Preferred travel credit card for a beginner audience, and it’s easy to see why consumers like it. Plus, the “travel” category can include things like Uber and tolls.

The Sapphire Preferred also offers robust travel-specific benefits: Think a $50 annual hotel credit for stays booked through the Chase portal, purchase and extended warranty protection, and travel-related insurances not offered by other issuers at this level.

Best of all, Chase Sapphire Preferred cardholders also get access to Chase’s popular Ultimate Rewards program. Chase Ultimate Rewards is your gateway to trading your points for loyalty program rewards. You can also find deals on retailer gift cards or redeem your points for cash.

Check out our full Chase Sapphire Preferred card review.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Early spend bonus: Earn a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

Annual fee: $95

Rewards rate: 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, every day; 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles per dollar when you book on Turo through May 16, 2023

Why we like it: The Capital One Venture Rewards takes a lot of the hassle out of rewards cards with one simple feature: redeeming rewards for statement credits. Book travel with the card and, at your request, Capital One will redeem your miles and apply a statement credit. Easy! 

Plus, unlike other credit card rewards programs, there’s no redemption minimum. That means if you really want to trade miles to pay for your $5 airline headphone purchase, you can do it.

You’ll also get a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry registration reimbursement — valued at $78 or $100, respectively. Already have it? Apply it toward a family member or friend’s fee instead.

Check out our full Capital One Venture Rewards card review.

What to look for in your first travel credit card

At a basic level, all travel rewards credit cards work the same way. Every time you use the credit card, you earn points or miles that you can redeem for travel, merchandise, or cash. Some cards reward points or miles based on spending in certain categories, such as booking flights or eating out. Others offer the same reward structure no matter what you spend your money on.

The first thing you should know is that travel credit cards aren’t always easy to qualify for. If your credit history is thin or you occasionally pay your statement balance late, getting approved could prove difficult. But more on that later.

Second, take the time to review each credit card’s rewards and travel partners because they don’t all offer the same perks. In other words, if you’re a loyal Marriott Bonvoy member but the card you’re eyeing partners with Hilton or Hyatt, you might want to reconsider.

Next up is your payment history. If you typically pay your statement balance in full, that’s helpful because interest charges won’t offset the value of your rewards. If you occasionally carry a balance and have good credit, you’ll want a lower APR (annual percentage rate) — just in case.

In short, you’ll need good credit, a card with the right perks, and the lowest possible interest rate in case you have to roll your balance from month to month.

FAQs about travel credit card for beginners

What's the easiest travel card to get?

To get approved for a travel rewards credit card, you'll likely need good to excellent credit. If you're in the market for a new card, check out our picks for the best credit cards for fair credit. Consider those options to build your credit history and credit score, and then apply for a travel rewards card down the line once your credit score falls within the good to excellent range.

Which card offers the best travel rewards?

Several travel rewards cards offer attractive benefits and perks for cardholders, but the best one for you depends on how often you travel, your travel preferences, and the types of benefits and perks you're looking for. Those who are new to travel rewards may appreciate the perks and features of the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Capital One Venture. 

Seasoned award travelers may appreciate high-end perks that come with a higher-annual-fee card, like Priority Pass access, Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credits, airline fee credits, or free checked bags. If you prefer luxury perks, The Platinum Card from American Express or the Chase Sapphire Reserve card might be worth considering.

Is a travel credit card worth it?

Whether a travel card is worth it for you or not depends on a few different factors, including how often you travel, your typical spending habits, and the card's annual fee. If you're a frequent traveler that can take advantage of all the benefits that a travel rewards card has to offer, chances are it will help offset the cost of your travel expenses and help you keep some cash in your pocket. Just make sure you do your research to find the best travel card for your wallet. 


One last tip about travel cards

Remember the credit score caveat I mentioned earlier? It’s important because the best travel credit cards usually require at least a “good” credit score of 680.

If your credit score is below 680, you’ll want to improve your credit score before you apply. The best way to raise your score is to always pay your bills on time. Pay in full whenever possible. Avoid maxing out your credit cards — in fact, keep your balances below 30% of your total available credit. Lastly, don’t open too many cards at once and keep your old accounts open, even if you don’t use them.

The bottom line? With responsible money management habits and the right rewards credit card, you can get access to incredible discounts on travel — and potentially free hotel stays or flights — or redeem for merchandise or cash. And next time your friend brags about their next vacation, you can share a tale or two of your own, too.

Methodology

To choose the best starter travel credit cards, we identified credit cards with travel benefits and compared features like welcome offers, annual fees, and rewards rates. We did not include all possible options.

Our #1 Travel Card

Current Offer

Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

Annual Fee

$95

Rewards Rate

5X points on Lyft rides and travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on eligible dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases; 2X points on travel; and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 5X points on Lyft rides and travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 10% anniversary point bonus each year
  • $50 annual credit on hotel stays booked through Ultimate Rewards
  • Premium travel protection benefits

Drawbacks

  • Has annual fee
  • Typically need to spend thousands to reap rewards
Card Details
  • Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 5X points on Lyft rides and travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on eligible dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases; 2X points on travel; and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases

Author Details

Lisa Bigelow Lisa Bigelow is an award-winning freelance content creator who helps people learn smarter credit, borrowing, saving and information security habits. In addition to FinanceBuzz, Lisa has contributed to Life and Money, MagnifyMoney, Well + Good, Smarter With Gartner, Popular Science and Cadre Insights. She lives with her family in Connecticut.