15 Best Starter Travel Rewards Cards for 2017

I remember the very first time I overheard someone talking about travel rewards. It was on a plane going from Seoul to JFK and we were about 8-hours into the 12-hour flight. I was also 18 years old and a total know-it-all (you know the type).

The idea of someone being able to book any type of trip for free using credit card points sounded like a trick to me. Still, I couldn’t help but continue eavesdropping on the conversation happening behind me.

The main takeaway? 

“Travel rewards are a very real thing! Don’t believe me? Look it up when you get home – people are really booking trips for free.”

And so, I did.

Now, several years and trips later, I can honestly say that travel rewards cards have had a huge impact on the way I travel. Learning how to maximize points and miles has become a fun hobby and I love connecting with others who feel the same. There are a lot of communities out there, but all biases aside, FBZ Elite is my favorite.

If you’re just getting started, you’ve probably already felt overwhelmed by all the options out there. The best way to determine which card is the right fit for you is to figure out your travel goals.

Sure, you want to travel for free, but let’s get a little more specific. Are you hoping to spend a week on the beach in Florida in the next coming months or would you rather hold out to earn enough points for a 2 week getaway in Europe?

The sky’s the limit on the type of trip you’re itching to take, but try to brainstorm a few places you’d like to cross off your bucket list, then see what card(s) will help you get there.

I personally like to book a mixture of both short and long trips, domestic and international, and have racked up quite a stack of cards in the past several years. One thing I didn’t rack up, however, is credit card debt. Falling into debt to earn points and miles defeats the purpose and takes away from the fun.

So, if you’re just starting out – and I’m guessing you are – here are three quick questions and answers to get the most out of your points and miles before you even begin:

1. How many credit cards should I have?

Take it slow. There’s a lot to learn and digest about travel rewards, so starting out with one or two cards until you know the ins and outs of travel rewards is a good idea.

2. Best advice for newbies?

Always pay your balance in full and on-time in order to really maximize your rewards!

3. What’s the fastest way to learn about point hacking?

Have fun with it and connect with others to find the best ideas for redeeming rewards.

You’ll be a travel rewards expert in no time! 

Here’s a list of the best starter credit cards for travel available right now with a breakdown of why we chose each one below.

The 15 Best Starter Travel Rewards Credit Cards for 2017

1. Chase Sapphire Preferred®

2. Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

3. JetBlue Card 

4. JetBlue Plus Card 

5. Amex Everyday® Credit Card

6. Capital One® Venture Rewards® Credit Card 

7. United MileagePlus® Explorer® Credit Card

8. Citi® ThankYou®Premier Card

9. Discover it® Miles 

10. The Hyatt® Credit Card

11. IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card

12. Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express 

13. Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card

14. BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card 

15. Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Why They’re Awesome

Each of the travel rewards credit cards above are awesome in their own way, so if you’re looking to break into the world of points and miles but not quite sure which card to start with, this breakdown can help.

1. Chase Sapphire Preferred®

Great value for travel rewards beginners, experts, and anywhere in between.

  • You’ll earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months of account opening – that’s valued at $625 toward travel!
  • 2x points on dining & travel
  • 1x point on everything else
  • Travel protection, Price/Purchase Protection, Auto Rental Insurance, and more
  • $0 foreign transaction fees
  • $0 annual fee first year, then $95
  • Review additional card details and apply

2. Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

Known for its incredible flexibility with earning and redeeming miles.

  • You’ll earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that's enough to redeem for a $500 travel statement credit!
  • 2x miles on all purchases
  • Miles can be redeemed for travel or cash back statement credits, gift cards and merchandise
  • Use the same miles again! Get 5% miles back to put toward your next redemption
  • Miles never expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • Added benefit of 0% introductory APR for 12 months on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening
  • $0 foreign transaction fees
  • $0 annual fee first year, then $89
  • Review additional card details and apply

3. JetBlue Card

Top-rated personal credit card for frequent JetBlue flyers

  • You’ll earn 5,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days
  • 3x points per dollar on JetBlue purchases
  • 2x points per dollar at restaurants and grocery stores
  • 1x point per dollar on all other purchases
  • No blackout dates on JetBlue flights and rewards never expire
  • Earn and share points together with Family Pooling
  • 50% savings on eligible in-flight purchases
  • $0 foreign transaction fees
  • $0 annual fee
  • Review additional card details and apply

4. JetBlue Plus Card

Especially great benefits for frequent JetBlue flyers who want to earn a higher rewards rate

  • You’ll earn 30,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days
  • Also earn 5,000 bonus points every year after your account anniversary
  • 6x points per dollar on JetBlue purchases
  • 2x points per dollar at restaurants and grocery stores
  • 1x point per dollar on all other purchases
  • No blackout dates on JetBlue flights and rewards never expire
  • Earn and share points together with Family Pooling
  • 50% savings on eligible in-flight purchases
  • Free checked bag for primary cardholder on eligible flights
  • Access TrueBlue Mosaic benefits for one year after you spend $50,000+ each calendar year
  • $100 statement credit when you purchase a JetBlue Vacations package of $100 or more
  • $0 foreign transaction fees
  • $99 annual fee
  • Review additional card details and apply

5. Amex Everyday® Credit Card

An Amex Card with no annual fee is a rare find and this travel rewards card is a gem (although you may want to think twice about using it abroad)

  • You’ll earn 10,000 Membership Rewards® points after you make $1,000 in first 3 months
  • 2x points at US supermarkets (up to $6,000, then 1x)
  • 1x point on all other purchases
  • Earn 20% more points when you use your card 20 times or more in a billing period
  • Membership Rewards® points can be redeemed for all of part of your flight, hotel, vacation, or cruise booking
  • Travel Protection and Warranty/Purchase Protection
  • Additional benefit of 0% introductory APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers
  • 2.7% foreign transaction fee after conversion to US dollars
  • $0 annual fee

6. Capital One® Venture® Rewards

Highly rated for its high rewards rate and ease of redeeming rewards

  • You’ll earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months – that’s valued at $400 in travel!
  • 2x miles on every purchase, every day
  • Earn unlimited rewards that never expire
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
  • No blackout dates
  • Choose your own monthly due date
  • $0 foreign transaction fees
  • $0 annual fee first year, then $59
  • Cool, metal card when you apply today
  • Review additional card details and apply

7. United MileagePlus® Explorer® Credit Card

Incredibly valuable card partnered with Star Alliance – hello, international travel!

  • You’ll earn 50,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 in first 3 months – that’s valued at $625 toward travel!
  • 2x miles per dollar on United tickets
  • 1x mile per dollar on all other purchases
  • Free first checked bag
  • Priority boarding on all United-operated flights
  • 2 United Club one-time passes each year for your Cardmember anniversary
  • Miles never expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • $0 foreign transaction fees
  • $95 annual fee
  • Review additional card details and apply

8. Citi® ThankYou®Premier Card

Highly rated for its extensive bonus category opportunities and quick rewards earning structure

  • You’ll earn 30,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in first 3 months – that’s valued at $375 toward travel or $300 in gift cards!
  • 3x points on travel, including gas stations
  • 2x points on dining out and entertainment
  • 1x point on all other purchases
  • Redeem ThankYou® Points for airfare anytime on any airline – no blackout dates
  • Earn unlimited points and points never expire
  • Points Transfer allows you to transfer points to participating airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • $0 foreign transaction fees
  • $0 annual fee first year, then $95

9. Discover it® Miles

A flexible travel rewards Discover card that offers solid rewards with no annual fee

  • Unique bonus: All Miles matched at the end of your first year with no caps or minimums!
  • 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent
  • Annual $30 in-flight Wi-Fi credit
  • No blackout dates – fly any airline, anytime
  • Your miles never expire
  • $0 Fraud Liability – you’re never responsible for unauthorized purchases on your card
  • Added benefit of 0% Intro APR on purchases for first 14 months
  • U.S. based customer service
  • $0 foreign transaction fees
  • $0 annual fee
  • Review additional card details and apply

10. The Hyatt® Credit Card

A powerhouse travel rewards card geared towards maximizing hotel stays

  • 2 free nights when you spend $2,000 in first 3 months – that’s valued at $2,400!
  • 1 free additional night each year for Cardmember anniversary
  • 3x points per dollar spent at all Hyatt hotels and resorts
  • 2x points per dollar spent at restaurants, on airline tickets, and at car rental agencies
  • 1x point per dollar on everything else
  • Enjoy room upgrades, late check-in/check-out with automatic Discoverist status
  • Bump up to Explorist status after you spend $50,000 or more in a calendar year and receive guaranteed room availability up to 72 hours in advance, 4 Club lounge access awards, and more!
  • Travel and Purchase coverage
  • $0 foreign transaction fees
  • $75 annual fee
  • Review additional card details and apply

11. IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card

A staple for travel rewards beginners, experts, and anywhere in between due to its high-value rewards and low annual fee

  • You’ll earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 within first 3 months
  • 1 free night each year after Cardmember anniversary
  • 5x points per dollar spent at IHG hotels
  • 2x points per dollar spent at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants
  • 1x point per dollar spent on all other purchases
  • Get 10% back when you redeem your points automatically! (up to 100,000 points each year)
  • Priority check-in as a Platinum Elite Select cardmember
  • $0 foreign transaction fees
  • $0 annual fee first year, then $49

12. Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

A favorite in the travel community, this top-rated travel rewards card offers incredible value for hotel stays

  • You’ll earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints when you spend $3,000 in first 3 months – that’s valued at $750!
  • Up to 5x Starpoints per dollar at SPG hotels
  • 2x Starpoints per dollar at Marriott/Ritz
  • 1x Starpoints per dollar on all other purchases
  • Free in-room premium internet at SPG hotels
  • Free Boingo Wi-Fi at over 1,000,000 hotspots worldwide
  • Access to one of the most extensive travel transfer partner programs available
  • $0 foreign transaction fees
  • $0 annual fee first year, then $95
  • Review additional card details and apply

13. Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card

If you stay at Hilton hotels and want to rack up points fast, you’ll love this highly-rated travel rewards card from Citi®. 

Don't miss it! Rumor has it this card will be discontinued soon – apply now!

  • You’ll earn 40,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after making $1,000 in first 4 months
  • Plus, earn 10,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points each calendar year in which you spend $1,000+ with Hilton
  • 6x points per dollar on hotels stays within Hilton portfolio
  • 3x points per dollar at supermarkets, drugstores, and gas stations
  • 2x points per dollar on all other purchases
  • Automatic Hilton Honors Silver status, which provides several exclusive benefits
  • Bump up to Hilton Honors Gold status after 4 stays within first 90 days OR when you make $20,000 in purchases each calendar year
  • No cap on earning points and points never expire as long as your account has eligible activity every 12 months
  • Travel and Purchase Protection
  • 3% foreign transaction fee after conversion to US dollars
  • $0 annual fee
  • Review additional card details and apply

14. BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card

Especially high value for travelers who use Bank of America

  • You’ll earn 20,000 online bonus points when you spend $1,000 in first 90 days – that’s valued at $200 toward travel!
  • 1.5x points per dollar on all purchases everywhere, every time
  • Bank of America customers get a 10% customer points bonus on every purchase when you have an active checking or savings account with Bank of America
  • Bank of America Preferred Rewards clients earn an increased customer bonus of 25 - 75%
  • Rewards never expire
  • Additional benefit of 0% Intro APR on purchases for first 12 months
  • $0 foreign transaction fees
  • $0 annual fee
  • Review additional card details and apply

15. Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Especially great benefits for frequent Southwest flyers who want to earn a high rewards rate and Companion Pass

  • You’ll earn 60,000 bonus points when you spend $2,000 in first 3 months
  • Also earn 3,000 bonus points each year after your Cardmember anniversary
  • Points count towards earning the highly popular Companion Pass
  • 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases, Rapid Rewards® Hotel, and car rental agencies
  • 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions when redeeming with points
  • First and second checked bags fly free
  • Points never expire as long as your account is open
  • $0 change fees
  • 3% foreign transaction fee after conversion to US dollars
  • $69 annual fee

Disclaimer: This content and the opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and have not been provided, commissioned, or endorsed by the credit card issuer. All information was accurate at the time of this post but card terms and conditions may change at any time.

When did you first hear about travel rewards and are you ready to jump in? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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