Miles and points beginners often ask which travel rewards credit cards for beginners are the best. It’s understandable. First, there are so many travel rewards credit cards available. Second, many people believe credit card myths which make applying for them stressful.
What is the Chase 5/24 rule and why is it especially important for miles and points beginners to know?
The major banks have their application rules and Chase, by far, has the most restrictive. If you’ve been approved for 5 or more credit cards in the last 24 months from any bank, Chase will deny your application even if you have a stellar credit score. Travel hackers affectionately refer to this rule as 5/24.
Combine this with the fact that Chase offers some of the best travel rewards credit cards, in terms of sign-up bonuses and long-term spending value, and you can begin to see the problem this rule can unknowingly pose to miles and points beginners.
Too many credit cards from other banks in the last 24 months likely means being locked out of the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel program until time passes and less than 5 new credit card applications show on your credit score report.
This post will highlight:
- which Chase credit cards you should start out with and when to apply,
- as well as discuss some of the possible exceptions to the 5/24 rule in order to help you formulate a travel hacking strategy.
Before continuing, though, it’s important to point out that you’ll need a credit score of 700+ to qualify for most travel rewards credit cards. Many credit cards offer customers the ability to check their credit score. If you don’t have one that does, use a service like Experian to find out your FICO 8 credit score for just $1. And lastly, responsible miles and points enthusiasts always pay off their credit card balances in full at the end of the month. If you have trouble doing so, travel hacking isn’t the right hobby for you.
Travel Rewards Credit Cards for Beginners: The First 5 to Get + a Strategy
I’ve outlined a step-by-step strategy for beginners getting started with travel rewards credit cards. Keep in mind this strategy is the ideal in order to maximize Chase’s travel rewards given their 5/24 rule. No matter what, you should always do what’s best for your travel goals and finances.
Step 1- Choose 1 of the 2 credit cards below.
**In August 2017, Chase changed its application rules. New applicants are only able to have 1 card in the Sapphire family. So, it’s important to compare each Sapphire card’s benefits carefully and choose the card best for you.**
Chase Sapphire Reserve
This premium credit card made its debut in August 2016. Since then, it’s been dubbed the best travel rewards credit card ever and for great reason.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with a 50k sign-up point bonus after spending $4k in 3 months. The card has a $450 annual fee but comes with a $300 travel credit. Chase’s definition for what counts as travel is quite generous. So, in addition to flights, hotels, and car rentals, the $300 credit is good for things like highway tolls, commuter transportation, taxis, and parking expenses.
Cardholders get free Priority Pass membership which has over 1k airport lounges across the globe offering amenities like free drinks. snacks/food, wifi, and more. The membership also allows travel companions to join cardholders in the lounges for free. There’s also a $100 Global Entry credit and no foreign transaction fees.
The card earns 3x the points for every dollar spent on travel and dining. These points can be transferred to 13 airline and hotel partners or used with an added 50% bonus within Chase’s travel portal for a 1.5 cent per point redemption value.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Sapphire Preferred also offers a 50k point sign-up bonus after spending $4k in 3 months. However, the annual fee is considerably less at $95 and waived the first year. The card has no foreign transaction fees making it also good to use while traveling.
In addition, the Sapphire Preferred earns 2x the points on travel and dining and has access to the same 13 travel partners mentioned above with the Sapphire Reserve. Chase Ultimate Rewards points redeemed in the Chase travel portal return a 1.25 cent per point value.
Step 2- Choose 1 of the Freedom Cards
This No-Fee card comes in 2 varieties, Freedom and Freedom Unlimited. On their own, the Freedom cards offer typical cash back rewards and/or the option to book travel solely through Chase’s travel portal at a 1 cent per point value. The cards come with a 15k sign-up bonus after spending $500 in 3 months.
The Freedom card offers 5% or 5x the points for every dollar spent within specific bonus categories. These categories rotate each quarter and cap out at $6k for the year or $1,500 per quarter. All other purchases earn 1% or 1 point per dollar.
The Freedom Unlimited card does not have bonus categories. Instead, it offers 1.5% or 1.5x the points on all purchases all the time.
Both Freedom cards do have foreign transaction fees so this is not the credit card to use outside the U.S.
The best value comes when pairing a Freedom card with a Sapphire Card. Rewards points earned with a Freedom card don’t have access to the same 13 travel transfer partners mentioned above.
However, cardholders with both a Freedom and a Sapphire card (or Ink card, see below for more info) can merge their Freedom rewards points with their Sapphire rewards points. The benefit is a better redemption value when transferring points to Chase’s travel partners or for use within Chase’s travel portal compared to the fixed 1 cent per point return value with a Freedom card alone.
If your credit score is low, start with a Freedom card. By spending responsibly and paying off your bill in full each month, you’ll help your credit score and build a relationship with Chase for future applications.
Avoid unneccessary credit card denials. Visit a Chase bank near you and ask a representative about the offers you’re already pre-qualified for and apply in the branch.
Step 3- Learn how to get approved for Chase’s business card, the Chase Ink Preferred.
Beginners often don’t realize they can apply and qualify for business credit cards. Side jobs like selling items on eBay, tutoring, plowing snow, consulting, even having a blog with affiliate links can all qualify as businesses. The key is knowing how to honestly explain your business to the bank. Via Million Mile Secrets, you need to fill out the application properly and possibly provide the bank with additional information.
Chase Ink Preferred
This Chase business credit card replaces the Chase Ink Plus. The Ink Preferred comes with an 80k point sign-up bonus after spending $5k in the first 3 months. The annual fee is $95.
You’ll earn 3x the points on travel, shipping, internet, cable, and phones services, as well as on social media and search engine advertising costs. All other purchases earn 1x the points. The card has no foreign transaction fees and returns a 25% bonus (1.25 cents) on points redeemed within Chase’s travel portal.
All points earned can be transferred to Chase’s 13 travel partners and Freedom points can also be merged with Ink Preferred Ultimate Rewards.
Step 4- Decide on your travel goals. Choose 1 of the following options.
Option A: Southwest Credit Cards
Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program offers a companion pass once you earn 110k Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year. What makes this deal so phenomenal is that your companion flies with you for free (except for the tax) as many times as you’d like for the rest of that calendar year AND the whole following year! You get to keep the 110k points so while your companion flies for free, you can use your Rapid Rewards points for award flights. It’s a super sweet deal!
To earn the pass, apply for 1 personal and 1 business Southwest credit card.
Throughout the year, Chase often ups the sign-up bonus on its 3 Southwest credit cards from 40k to 50k points each. At times, the sign-up bonus has even been 60k points!
- The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus and Premier credit cards each typically offer the 50k point sign-up bonus for spending $2k within the first 3 months. The $69/$99 fees are not waived the first year.
- The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business credit card also typically comes with a 50k point sign-up bonus for $2k in spending over the first 3 months. Again, the $99 fee is not waived.
Bags fly free on Southwest, but the cards let you check an extra one at no cost. You also get 3k anniversary points for renewing the Rapid Rewards Plus card and 6k points for renewing the Premier cards.
Option B: United MileagePlus Explorer & Chase Marriott Premier Personal Cards
If your travel goals include more international travel than domestic, a United miles/Marriott points combo will be more useful than the Southwest companion pass.
United miles are great for domestic and international travel on United or any of their Star Alliance partners. Even with United’s stopover rule changes, these miles still offer a good deal of flexibility and solid value.
Additionally, United is one of Chase’s travel partners. You’ll be able to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned with your Sapphire, Ink Preferred, and Freedom (when paired with a Sapphire or the Ink) directly to United at a 1:1 ratio.
The United MileagePlus Explorer card typically has a sign-up bonus of 40k miles for spending $2k in the first 3 months. But, the sign-up bonus usually increases to 50k miles publicly and has gone as high as a 70k mile targeted offer for specific Chase and United customers.
If you think the United Mileage Plus Explorer card is right for your travel goals, wait until the higher 50k offer comes around.
Chase’s personal Marriott Rewards card typically offers 80k Marriott points after spending $3k in 3 months. With Marriott’s acquisition of SPG and their hotel brands, international travelers will find great value on award nights in hotels around the globe in both Marriott and SPG properties. Marriott points can also be redeemed for a great value with Marriott’s Hotel and Air packages.
Given Chase’s application restrictions, award travelers looking to max out on Ultimate Rewards point sign-up bonuses and earnings through everyday spending may consider applying for both Freedom cards and skipping one of the credit cards in Option B. While 1.5% or 1.5x the points isn’t the best earn rate compared with other cash back rewards cards, the Freedom Unlimited offers another way to earn additional Ultimate rewards points on spending not covered by the category bonuses on the regular Freedom card.
Exceptions to the Chase 5/24 Rule
There’s a saying within the miles and points community. “Your mileage may vary.” Essentially, just because others have had success or failure with something doesn’t mean your experience will be the same. So, take this next bit with that in mind.
- Chase IHG
- Chase Hyatt
- Chase British Airways
- Chase Ritz-Carlton
That being said, do not start out with these credit cards. Chase can make changes at any time to which cards are and aren’t counted towards the 5/24 rule. Play it safe. Start with the travel rewards credit cards for beginners described above because they offer better all-around travel rewards.
In addition, business card applications from most banks don’t show on your personal credit report and thus are not factored into your 5/24 status. These cards are an excellent way to continue to earn miles and points while still remaining eligible for high-value Chase travel rewards cards.
When to Apply
By now, I hope you’re thinking about your first 5 travel rewards credit cards from the options above.
However, you cannot apply for all of them at once! In fact, Chase has become tougher on individuals with too many applications in a short window of time. In some cases, even shutting down their accounts altogether!
- First and foremost, start slowly. Be smart about how you space out your applications to avoid account reviews and a possible shut down.
- Consider the minimum spend on each credit card and what you can responsibly handle. There’s no point in applying for a card and not getting the bonus.
Chase will typically only approve you for 2 credit card applications every 30 days. Each time you apply for a new credit card, banks do a hard pull of your credit score. In general, you want to limit the number of hard pulls that show on your credit report. Via Doctor of Credit, if you apply for 2 personal credit cards on the same day, the hard credit pulls may combine on your credit report to look like 1. The same goes for applying for 2 business cards on the same day.
Remember, your mileage may vary! Others have applied for a business and a personal credit card on the same day and have had them combine as well. While others have had a completely different experience.
Follow the majority consensus in the data. Technically, an application strategy could look like this, but remember to play it safe! Don’t compare yourself to others and just do what you’re comfortable with.
Apply for whichever Chase Sapphire (preferably the Reserve) and whichever Freedom you have selected.
2a. Wait at least 31 days and consider your ability to handle minimum spend amounts. Then, apply for the Chase Ink Preferred and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business cards.
2b. Apply for the Chase Ink Preferred.
3a. After another 31+ days, apply for 1 of the personal Southwest credit cards.
3b. Apply for the United Mileage Plus Explorer and the Marriott cards.
No matter which options you choose, you should consider carefully your first 5 Chase credit cards. This is a critical key to success when starting out in order to maximize your miles and points earnings. Don’t lock yourself out of earning these bonuses and the travel rewards they continue to bring with everyday spending.
So, which travel rewards credit cards for beginners will you apply for? What tips do you have for beginners?
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