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If you’re a frequent traveler, signing up for a travel credit card can help you save money on flights, hotels and more. Even not-so-frequent travelers can use a travel credit card to help them cover the cost of their next trip — especially if they choose a credit card that comes with a hefty sign-up bonus.
But which travel credit card should you choose? If this is your first travel rewards card, it’s best to start simply. We’ve got some tips to help you pick the best card for your travel needs, as well as advice on how to maximize your travel rewards.
Choose the right credit card
There are a lot of travel credit cards out there, but not all of them are ideal for beginners. If you’re new to the travel credit card world, consider a flexible card that gives you high rewards without equally high annual fees.
We reviewed our list of the best travel credit cards and pulled out four excellent introductory travel rewards cards. We avoided cards that limit rewards to a specific airline, as well as cards with pricey annual fees (like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card, which offers a lot of points and perks but also attaches a $450 annual fee). Instead, we selected the top starter travel cards for people who want to learn how travel rewards work and start earning rewards of their own.
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card is great for people who want to try out the benefits of a travel card without having to commit to an annual fee. You get an unlimited 1.5 points per dollar on every purchase — and if you have a Bank of America checking or savings account, you get a 10% customer points bonus. Earn another 25,000 bonus points by making $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of card ownership. As an added bonus, there is a 0% intro APR for the first 12 statement closing dates, then 17.24% – 25.24% variable thereafter.
You can redeem your points as statement credits for qualified travel purchases. In other words, you’ll book the travel first through a retailer of your choice, then visit your Bank of America account and turn your points into a statement credit against that purchase. Bank of America’s flat-rate point structure combined with a single, easy redemption option makes this card ideal for people who want to earn travel rewards without having to do a lot of extra work.
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One® Venture® Rewards card is designed for frequent travelers who want a flat-rate rewards structure. You’ll earn 2x miles per dollar for every purchase, and can earn an additional 10x miles per purchase if you book hotels through Hotels.com/venture. You’ll also earn 50,000 bonus miles — worth $500 in travel rewards — if you spend $3,000 in the first three months of card ownership.
Unlike the Bank of America® Travel Rewards card, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards card comes with a $95 annual fee (waived for your first year as a cardholder). However, your per-dollar rewards are slightly higher with the Capital One card than they are with the Bank of America card, so you’ll have to decide whether the annual fee is worth it.
You can redeem your miles by using them to book travel through Capital One Rewards — or, if you prefer to book travel with a different retailer, you can use Capital One’s Purchase Eraser to turn your miles into statement credits and erase the cost of your travel purchases.
The Capital One® Venture® Rewards card is great for people who want to test out a travel loyalty program. For more information about the Capital One Miles program, read our guide to Capital One Miles.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® card is an excellent all-around travel card with some great bonus options. It’s the only card on our list to offer a tiered rewards structure; you’ll earn 2x points per dollar on travel and dining, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. If you have another top rewards card in your wallet that offers more than 1 point/penny per dollar on purchases, you might want to get in the habit of using your Chase Sapphire only for travel and dining purchases and using your other rewards card for everything else.
You’ll also want to get into the habit of using your Chase Sapphire rewards to book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. Why? Because making travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards increases the value of your points by 25%. If you earn your 60,000 bonus points by spending $4,000 in the first three months, for example, the value of those points jumps from $600 to $750 if you spend them on travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Use our guide to Chase Ultimate Rewards to learn more about this credit card loyalty program — and then decide whether the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card is for you.
Discover it® Miles
The Discover it® Miles is designed for people who want to earn occasional travel rewards but would also like the option to redeem their miles for cash back. It also comes with an outstanding first-year bonus: Discover will match all rewards you earn on the card during your first year of card ownership, with no limit. If you’re the type of person who likes to put all of your spending on a single credit card, you could end up with some serious bonus miles at the end of your first year. Additionally, there is a 0% intro APR on purchases for 14 months, then 14.24% – 25.24% variable thereafter.
With the Discover it® Miles card, you earn a flat 1.5 miles on every purchase. You can redeem those miles as statement credits for travel purchases, or turn those miles into cash back at the rate of 1 penny per mile. That’s a lot of flexibility for a travel rewards card. If you want to learn more, check out our guide to Discover it Miles.
Learn how to maximize your rewards
If you’re looking to save money with a travel credit card, learn how to maximize your rewards. We’ve got three tips to help you get started.
Earn your bonus
If your travel credit card offers a bonus for making a certain amount of purchases in the first three months, make sure you hit that bonus — if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card, for example, your bonus is worth $750 when you use it to book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Use online portals to earn and redeem
Online portals are great ways to maximize your rewards. Chase increases the value of points earned on the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card by 25% when you use those points to make travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards. If you use the Capital One® Venture® Rewards card, you’ll earn 10x miles per dollar when you book and pay for hotels through Hotels.com/venture. Keep your eyes open for other promotions!
Pool your rewards for even more options
There are many ways to pool your rewards. Capital One, for example, lets you transfer your miles to a friend or family member — so you could combine your miles with theirs before booking a big-ticket flight.
You can also combine your travel credit card rewards with other travel rewards such as airline miles. Chase lets you transfer points to travel and hotel partners at a 1:1 rate, which means you can convert your points to airline miles and use those miles to book your next ticket.
Even if you have a card like the Discover it® Miles card, which doesn’t let you transfer points to travel partners, you can still look for ways to pool your rewards. For example, you could use airline miles to purchase a ticket and then use the miles you earned through Discover as a statement credit against the taxes and fees.
Getting your first travel credit card shouldn’t be an intimidating process. Choose a credit card that meets your needs, get to know its rewards program, and start using your rewards to save money on travel. Bon voyage!
Editorial disclosure: All reviews are prepared by Bankrate.com staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank’s website for the most current information.