Best Credit Cards for Miles and Points Beginners

Waikiki, Hawaii

Waikiki, Hawaii

People often come across my Blog in search for some­thing travel related and are aston­ished by the miles and points world and all the pos­si­bil­i­ties. They want to know how to get in the game for free travel and the best way to enter. Friends and fam­ily and their friends will often hear about all the free trips they’re tak­ing and then have the same ques­tion. The best way to start rack­ing up miles and points is by sign­ing up for a few credit card bonuses, but begin­ners need to know what the right credit cards are. So I put together a list of credit cards for begin­ner travelers.

Before starting, I’d like to issue a bit of a warn­ing. You should only sign up for credit cards if you already have good credit and can pay off the bal­ance in full every month. The APR on high yield rewards cards is high and car­ry­ing a bal­ance and pay­ing inter­est will quickly negate the value of any rewards you may earn. If you have the dis­ci­pline to not rack up debt and keep your finances orga­nized, the miles and points game can be extremely reward­ing (and it is for me with lux­ury hotels and first class tick­ets). Although I lose 3–5 points on my credit score when I apply for a new credit card, it comes back after a few months. My score also ben­e­fits from hav­ing a low credit usage ratio, which means I have a lot of credit and use very lit­tle of it, mak­ing me look very respon­si­ble in the credit card bureau scor­ing model. After years of col­lect­ing miles and points, I’ve been able to main­tain an excel­lent credit score of 750 and take great trips at the same time!

What begin­ners should think about when sign­ing up for credit cards!

  • don’t have many miles in dif­fer­ent pro­grams and need points that are flexible
  • don’t already know the ins and outs of every miles pro­gram and need points that are easy to use
  • want to be rewarded well for their every­day spending
  • want an attrac­tive sign-up bonus with a rea­son­able spend­ing require­ment that’s not too high

There are many miles credit cards and miles pro­grams. I per­son­ally have stashes of miles and points in United Air­lines, Amer­i­can Air­lines, US Air­ways, British Air­ways, Alaska Air­lines, Hyatt Gold Pass­port, etc. and flex­i­ble cur­ren­cies like Ulti­mate Rewards, Star­wood Pre­ferred Guest, Bar­clay­card Arrival Miles, etc. The idea is that there is no “one size fits all” miles pro­gram and dif­fer­ent points are good for dif­fer­ent things. I’ve been doing this a long time and have a sys­tem worked out to replen­ish miles in all these pro­grams, but it’s sim­ply not fea­si­ble for begin­ners to have every sin­gle type of mile. That’s why begin­ners need to con­sider credit cards with flex­i­ble points so they can eas­ily trans­fer their miles into these pro­grams and use as they see fit. That’s why two of the cards I selected allow you to trans­fer points into many dif­fer­ent miles pro­grams, includ­ing British Air­ways, with­out forc­ing you to use a par­tic­u­lar miles currency.

Begin­ners also need miles and points that are easy to use and don’t force them to digest a com­plex miles program. Let’s take as an exam­ple, my father, who had signed up for a 100,000 mile British Air­ways offer a few years ago. These were the only miles he had. He then wanted to take a trip to Israel. Because British Air­ways charges fuel sur­charges on many routes con­nect­ing through Europe, he ended up pay­ing $700 per ticket in taxes and fuel sur­charges. He didn’t get much value at all from his miles and hard work because he didn’t have the right miles or plan for his trip. The miles he had were inflex­i­ble and not great for begin­ners. While British Air­ways offer great value for short flights within North Amer­ica and can be a gold mine there, I don’t con­sider hav­ing only those miles a good deci­sion for begin­ners. They are not very easy to use for a trip to Israel, for exam­ple, because you have to think how to avoid fuel sur­charges. Nev­er­the­less, given their value for short trips within North Amer­ica, begin­ners should have the option to use them.

The Best Credit Cards for Beginners

I care­fully selected the fol­low­ing credit cards for begin­ner miles and points col­lec­tors. These all have attrac­tive sign-up bonuses, easy to use and flex­i­ble miles and points. Since all these credit cards come from dif­fer­ent banks, you can apply for all of them (just make sure you can orga­nize and meet the spend­ing require­ment for the sign-up bonus) or one or a few of them. I per­son­ally have each of these cards and can rec­om­mend each one.

1. BarclayBank Arrival World MasterCard!

This is a very sim­ple 2.2% cash back card where the earned cash rewards can be used for any travel pur­chase includ­ing flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises.

Sign-up bonus: $440 travel credit toward any travel pur­chase after spend­ing $1000 within 90 days.

Every­day spend­ing rewards: 2 miles per dol­lar for all spend­ing. Miles are worth 1.1 cents each toward any travel pur­chase with the card. This is essen­tially a 2.2% cash­back card where you can use cash­back for any travel purchase.

Why this is a good card for begin­ners: In the entire uni­verse of miles and points, there is noth­ing eas­ier to use than Bar­clay­card Arrival miles. There is no award search­ing or spe­cific web­sites or por­tals you need to use to redeem your points. You sim­ply use your card to pay for any travel expense. Whether that’s a domes­tic plane ticket, hotel, cruise or car rental, you just put the expense on your card and then go online and select that you’d like to redeem for miles for that purchase.

Addi­tional perks: Mem­bers get free access to TripIt Pro and FICO credit scores.

Annual fees: $89 — waived the first year

2. Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express!

This is a hotel points credit card offer­ing good value for redeem­ing points at Star­wood prop­er­ties all over the world. How­ever, these points also trans­fer to 30 dif­fer­ent air­line with the abil­ity to con­vert 20,000 points to 25,000 air­line miles.

Sign-up bonus: 25,000 Star­wood Pre­ferred Guest points after spend­ing $5,000 within 3 months.

Every­day spend­ing rewards: 1 Star­wood Pre­ferred Guest point per dol­lar spent (equiv­a­lent to 1.25 air­line miles per dol­lar spent).

Why this is a good card for begin­ners: Star­wood Pre­ferred Guest points are the most valu­able hotel points out there and the ones I tend to use the most. Star­wood hotels give a fifth night free when redeem­ing points. On top of that, Star­wood Pre­ferred Guest points are a valu­able and flex­i­ble cur­rency. It gives begin­ners access to 30 dif­fer­ent air­line pro­grams such as Amer­i­can Air­lines, British Air­ways, US Air­ways, etc by allow­ing them to trans­fer the points directly into these miles programs.

Annual fee: $65 waived first year

3. Chase Sapphire Preferred Card!

This card earns Chase Ulti­mate Rewards points, which are extremely flex­i­ble in that they trans­fer to ten dif­fer­ent air­line and hotel part­ners. In most cases, the trans­fer is instan­ta­neous so you can find an award ticket, trans­fer the miles and book it immediately.

Sign-up bonus: 40,000 Chase Ulti­mate Rewards points after spend­ing $3,000 within 3 months of account opening.

Every day spend­ing rewards: 1 Ulti­mate Rewards point per dol­lar spent, 2 points per dol­lar spent on travel and dining.

Why this is a good card for begin­ners: Ulti­mate Rewards points are a valu­able, flex­i­ble cur­rency and can be trans­ferred to 10 dif­fer­ent air­line and hotel part­ners includ­ing United Air­lines, British Air­ways, Hyatt Gold Pass­port, etc. For those who are not ready to deal with miles or find good value pur­chas­ing tick­ets, you can redeem each point at 1 cent cash back (10,000 points = $100) or 1.25 cents toward air­line tick­ets (10,000 points = $125). The card also gives access to the Ulti­mate Rewards Mall, a shop­ping por­tal to earn extra points when shop­ping online at mer­chants like Macy’s, Sta­ples, Sephora, drugstore.com, etc.

Annual fee: $95 — waived the first year.

How I’ve used my Chase Ulti­mate Rewards points in the past:

  • 120,000 points for a Busi­ness­ Class flight from Bangkok,Thailand for me and my wife.
  • 60,000 points for a round-trip flight to Rome,Italy and Madrid,Spain for both of us in Aug, 2013.
  • 40,000 points for several round-trip flights to Hawaii in the past 5 years.

4. CitiBank Platinum Select AAdvantage World MasterCard!

The Amer­i­can Air­lines credit card has an attrac­tive sign-up bonus and Amer­i­can Air­lines miles are sim­ple to use with their region-based award chart and abil­ity to book one-way tick­ets as well as round-trips.

Sign-up bonus: 50,000 Amer­i­can Air­lines AAd­van­tage miles after spend­ing $3,000 within 3 months of account opening.

Every­day spend­ing rewards: 1 miles per dol­lar spent, dou­ble miles on Amer­i­can Air­lines purchases.

Why this is a good card for begin­ners: Although this credit card only earns Amer­i­can Air­lines, the Amer­i­can Air­lines pro­grams is one of the eas­i­est to use and prob­a­bly the one I write about the most. They also don’t have fuel sur­charges except on British Air­ways so that’s one less thing to fig­ure out when redeem­ing awards. This is also by far the most attrac­tive offer with Citibank.

Addi­tional perks: 10% miles rebate on miles redeemed for awards, up to 10,000 miles a year. Group 1 board­ing. Free checked bag.

Annual fee: $95 — waived first year.

For questions on how to use any of these credit cards for free trips, leave me a message and I’ll answer as soon as possible!

One thought on “Best Credit Cards for Miles and Points Beginners

  1. Thanks to your help I booked our 10 days getaway to Hawaii for my family of 3… I used the miles from my signed up bonus from City AA Advantage card. We are ready to start planning a trip to Australia (for 2017), we have a few miles left on AA… but which card would you recommend for our dream Australia vacation?…. thanks in advance for all your help!

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