Pick your first travel card

Picking a credit card for travel points

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Ready to open your first card for free travel?

It can be hard to know where to begin, so the first thing I always recommend is to have a travel goal in mind. There are cards that are generally recommended as the “best” first card, but depending on your goal, that might not make sense for you.

Chase and the 5/24 Rule

It is important to understand this guideline before you start opening cards to earn miles & points.

Chase is one of the most restrictive banks when it comes to card approvals — you will only get approved for their cards if you have opened 5 or fewer credit cards (from any issuer) in the past 24 months.  This is known in the miles and points world as the 5/24 rule.

This means I often recommend applying for Chase cards first since if you were to apply for cards from American Express, Citi, and Capital One first — you may later find yourself ineligible for a card from Chase you wanted.

What is this?

Am I under 5/24?

The easiest way to check if you are “under 5/24” is to open a free account with creditkarma.com and go through your credit report and count how many new accounts show up in the past 24 months. People are often asking if a card counts for this — and the very basic rule is if it is on your credit report, it counts.

Look at your credit report to check! Business cards generally don’t report to credit bureaus so you typically will not see those on your credit report. That also means Chase does not count them against you. Even Chase business cards won’t count towards your 5/24 status because they don’t appear on your credit report.

Why does it matter?

This means I often recommend applying for Chase cards first since if you were to apply for cards from American Express, Citi, and Capital One first — you may later find yourself ineligible for a card from Chase you wanted.

Best all around card: Chase Sapphire Preferred

My favorite card to start with is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. This card earns Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR). Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed:

  • For cash at a rate of 1 cent per point (so a $100 purchase uses 10,000 points), but this would generally be considered your lowest possible redemption.
  • For travel through their booking portal at a rate of 1.25 cents per point, so a $125 travel purchase uses 10,000 points.
  • By transferring to a variety of airline and hotel partners, which can often be a great value. For instance 25,000 points could be transferred to Hyatt to book a night at the All-inclusive Hyatt Ziva in Cancun (often about $600 per night). Other transfer partners include Southwest, United, Marriott, IHG, Jet Blue, and more. 
  • See my favorite redemptions here!
Chase Sapphire Preferred (<see current offers here)
  • $95 annual fee
  • Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to a variety of partners like Southwest, Hyatt, United, and more!
  • You can also redeem points through the Chase Travel Portal. 50,000 points = $625 of travel
Chase Sapphire Preferred Guide
See my full guide to this card here

Strategy Tips:

If you are married, I recommend you apply for a card but do not add your spouse as an authorized user. Even authorized user accounts show up on your credit report and will count against your 5/24 total.

After one of you has a card, you can refer the other one through Chase’s Refer a Friend portal, and you will receive bonus points for the referral plus the 2nd person’s sign up bonus. The Sapphire Preferred and Southwest cards pretty much always offer referral bonuses.

If you go into a Chase branch to apply, you might be able to get the first year’s annual fee waived on a Sapphire Preferred. Otherwise, I’m so appreciative if you use my affiliate link!

Chase Sapphire Preferred (<see current offers here)
  • $95 annual fee
  • Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to a variety of partners like Southwest, Hyatt, United, and more!
  • You can also redeem points through the Chase Travel Portal. 50,000 points = $625 of travel

Easy to redeem: Capital One Venture or Venture X

If you’re only going to do 1 or 2 cards per year and want something really easy, I it doesn’t get much easier than the Capital One Venture Card, The points offer a quick return and flexible redemptions. You can reimburse yourself almost any travel purchase with your points, and offer usually start at least with $600 travel cash.

You can even use the card to book your trip and then later use the points to cover the trip! Check out my video on Instagram how to do that.

Essentially you can get the card, pay for 3 nights at a hotel (or plane ticket or Airbnb or whatever) that costs $500. Then that money will count towards the minimum spending you have to do. Finish your minimum spending, get your points, reimburse yourself, and you’ve just saved $600+ on your vacation!

I love the Venture X for its high end perks — check out my full post to read it all. It does have a higher annual fee, but I think that’s easy to make up for!

Capital One Venture – Earn 75,000 bonus points
  • $95 annual fee
  • Miles can be redeemed to erase any travel purchase. 50,000 miles = $500
  • Can be transferred to a variety of partners like Jet Blue, Wyndham, Avianca, Turkish Airways and more
  • Also worth considering the Venture X which has more benefits and the same offer.

Capital One Venture X (see current offers)
  • $395 annual fee
  • $300 annual travel credit when booking through Capital One’s portal
  • 10,000 points every year on account anniversary (worth at least $100)
  • Easy airport lounge access for your whole family
  • Miles can be redeemed to erase any travel purchase. 50,000 miles = $500
  • Can be transferred to a variety of partners like Jet Blue, Wyndham, Avianca, Turkish Airways and more

If you want to have a travel agent book your flights, you could use any of the above cards for the booking. After the charge has posted, you can use your points to request full or partial statement credit, depending on how many points you have.

Capital One Venture X Complete Guide

Other Chase cards to consider

Here are some other cards from Chase that offer great opportunities to earn points.

First – do you want a Southwest Companion Pass? If that might interest you, check out my guide on that to decide if that’s for you. You will apply for 1 business and 1 personal credit card to earn it. All Southwest cards are issued by Chase. 

Southwest Priority Card75,000 point bonus through 7/11/22
  • $149 annual fee
  • $75 annual statement credit for Southwest purchases
  • 4 upgraded boardings per year
  • 7500 points per year on your card member anniversary
  • 3x earning on Southwest flights; 2x on local transit, internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming
  • 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points for every $10,000 spent
  • Check your Companion Pass strategy before applying
United Explorer CardEarn up to 70,000 bonus miles
  • $95 annual fee (often waived the first year)
  • 2 guest passes for the United Club lounge
  • Free checked bag for account holder and one companion on the same reservation
  • Free TSA Precheck or Global Entry credit
World of Hyatt (see current offers here)
  • $95 annual fee
  • Provides 1 free night certificate every year on account anniversary (up to a category 4 hotel)
  • If you spend $15,000 per year on the card you will earn an additional free night certificate
IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card – see current offers
  • $99 annual fee
  • Reward Night after each account anniversary year at eligible IHG hotels worldwide (worth 40,000 points)
  • 4th night free when you redeem points for any stay of 4 or more nights
  • Earn 25 points total per $1 spent when you stay at an IHG hotel
  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants. Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Platinum Elite status as long as you remain a Premier card member
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck Fee Credit of up to $100 every 4 years as reimbursement for the application fee charged to your card

How to complete the minimum spending:

The spending requirements on these cards can be high, so you will have to do some planning. We usually get one card at a time and just put all of our regular spending on that card until we’ve finished.

If you are having a hard time meeting the minimum spending requirement, here are some ideas:

What’s next?

If you start with the a Sapphire Preferred card, and then refer your spouse to that cards, you will already have a chunk of points!

If you still want more Ultimate Rewards points, you can go for the Chase Freedom 

Chase Freedom Flex – see current offers
  • $0 annual fee
  • Includes cell phone protection if you pay your bill with the card
  • Rotating categories earn 5x points each quarter
  • If you have a Sapphire card, you can transfer the Freedom points to the Sapphire card to get all the airline and hotel transfer benefits!

Then take another look at Chase’s other cards to see which one meets your travel goals the best.

See Current Top Card Offers Here

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