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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 even thinking about where to start so stressful!
This post will highlight:
- the Chase 5/24 rule,
- which Chase credit cards you should start out with, and,
- the timing to consider as you get started with travel rewards.
Before continuing, though, it’s important to understand, 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.
What is the Chase 5/24 rule and Why is It so Important 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 welcome 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.
Chase 5/24 Rule: Subject to vs Adding to your Overall Count
As mentioned above, Chase will not approve you for any of their travel rewards credit cards if you’ve gotten 5 or more new credit cards in the last 24 months.
It’s important to understand that all Chase travel rewards cards, including Chase business cards like the Ink Preferred, are subject to the 5/24 rule.
This means Chase will consider and apply this rule to determine if you’re eligible for the card.
However, some credit cards won’t add to your overall 5/24 count.
- Chase Business Credit Cards, like the Ink Business Preferred, and
- Business Credit Cards from other banks.
For example, if you’re 4/24 and try for a Chase business card like the Ink Preferred, Chase would apply the 5/24 rule to your application because the card is subject to the 5/24 rule.
You’d be hypothetically approved because you have less than 5 new cards in the last 24 months. After being approved, though, you’d still be seen as 4/24 by Chase because business cards don’t add to your 5/24 count.
Step 1- Choose 1 of the 2 credit cards below.
Chase allows customers to have 1 card in the Sapphire family and to be eligible for a Sapphire welcome bonus only if it’s been more than 48 months since your last Sapphire bonus.
So, it’s important to compare each Sapphire card’s benefits carefully and choose the card best for you.
This premium credit card made its debut in August 2016. It’s considered one of the best travel rewards credit cards and for good reason.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with a solid welcome bonus after meeting a set minimum spend. The card has a $550 annual fee but comes with a $300 travel credit each year you renew your card. You can read my card review here.
Chase’s definition of what counts as travel is quite generous. In addition to flights, hotels, and car rentals, the $300 credit is good for things like highway tolls, taxis, parking expenses, and commuter transportation like subways and trains.
Cardholders get free Priority Pass membership, which has 1k+ airport lounges across the globe offering amenities like free drinks. snacks/food, wifi, and more. The membership also allows up to 2 travel companions to join cardholders in the lounges and at participating restaurants for free.
The Sapphire Reserve also comes with 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 a variety of 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.
The Sapphire Preferred also offers a generous welcome bonus after meeting the initial minimum spend. However, the annual fee is considerably less at $95. 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 travel partners linked to above with the Sapphire Reserve. Chase Ultimate Rewards points redeemed in the Chase travel portal return a 1.25 cent per point value.
Both Sapphires also include primary coverage on rental cars, as well as protection against trip delays, cancelations, and interruptions.
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 cashback rewards and/or the option to book travel solely through Chase’s travel portal at a 1 cent per point value.
Both cards offer welcome bonuses, however, they’re typically less than those offered with the more premium Sapphires.
The original 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.
Read my Freedom Card review.
This card does not have bonus categories. Instead, it offers 1.5% or 1.5x the points on all purchases all the time. There is no cap on annual spending. It’s a great credit card to have for any non-bonused spending in your budget.
Both Freedom cards do have foreign transaction fees so these are not the credit card to use outside the U.S.
Sapphire and Freedom Credit Card Duo
The best value comes when pairing a Freedom card with a Sapphire, like the Sapphire Preferred. Rewards points earned with a Freedom card don’t have access to the same airline and hotel transfer partners on its own.
However, cardholders with both a Freedom and a Sapphire card (or an Ink card, see below for more info.) can merge their Freedom Ultimate 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.
What Type of Credit Score Do You Need For These Cards?
The Chase Freedoms and the Sapphire Preferred require good to excellent credit scores. If you decide to go for the Sapphire Reserve, you’ll need excellent credit.
If your credit score is low, consider starting first with a Freedom card instead of a Sapphire. 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.
You can also avoid unnecessary credit card denials. Visit a Chase bank near you and ask a representative about the offers you’re already pre-qualified for and fill out an application in the bank branch.
Step 3- Consider a Chase Business Card.
Beginners often don’t realize they can qualify for business credit cards. Side businesses like selling items on eBay, tutoring, plowing snow, consulting, owning rental properties, even having a blog can all qualify as businesses.
The key is knowing how to honestly explain your business to the bank. The most important thing to remember is, to be honest! Fill out the application properly and possibly provide the bank with additional information should they request it.
Learn more about if you qualify and how to apply for a business card if you do.
Remember, all of these business cards are subject to the 5/24 rule but won’t add to your overall count. You could/should even consider more than 1 Ink card before any cards mentioned in Steps 4 and 5.
This Chase business credit card replaces the Chase Ink Business Plus, which is no longer available for new applicants. The Ink Business Preferred comes with a lucrative welcome bonus after meeting the required minimum spend and the annual fee is $95.
With this card, you’ll earn 3x the points on travel, shipping, internet, cable, and phone 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.
The Ink Business Preferred also offers great cell phone protection when you use your card to pay for your phone.
All points earned can be combined with other Ultimate Rewards points earned and transferred to Chase’s transfer partners. Remember, though, you’d only want to combine points to a Sapphire or combine everything with your Ink card because Freedom cards offer the lowest return value and don’t have access to the airline and hotel transfer partners.
As with the other cards mentioned in this article, the Ink Business Cash offers a solid welcome bonus after meeting a set minimum spend. It also has no annual fee.
Ink Business Cash earns 5% or 5x the points at office supply stores and for telecommunications, including your cell phone, cable, and internet service up to $25k annually. In addition, you’ll earn 2% or 2x the points for gas and restaurants, also up to $25k.
Like the Freedom cards, points earned with the Ink Business Cash have the same fixed 1 cent per point value. However, all points can be merged with an Ink Preferred or Sapphire to have access to Chase’s transfer partners.
The Ink Cash card also comes with collision insurance for business car rentals and purchase protection.
The card is meant to somewhat mirror the Freedom Unlimited on the personal credit card side. Ink Business Unlimited earns 1.5% or 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on all purchases with no annual spending cap. This is in addition to the boost of points you get after meeting the minimum spend on the card’s welcome bonus.
As with the Ink Business Cash, the points earned can’t be transferred to Chase’s travel partners but they can be combined with your Ink Preferred or Sapphire points.
Purchase protection, collision coverage for business car rentals, and extended warranty perks come along with the card’s non-bonused spend earn rate.
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 125k 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 125k points, too. So while your companion flies for free, you can use your Rapid Rewards points for award flights. It’s a super sweet deal!
Consider whether the personal and/or business Southwest credit cards are right for your travel goals. You’d need 1 Southwest personal card and 1 business card to get close or even reach the amount needed for the companion pass. Or, you could also consider 2 Southwest business cards.
There are 3 personal credit cards. These include:
As their names suggest, each one scales upward with its perks and benefits. Each year you renew your card, you’ll get a varying number of Rapid Rewards points (depending on your card) as an anniversary bonus.
For travelers looking to take advantage of Southwest’s international destinations in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America, the Priority and Premier cards come with no foreign exchange fees.
Chase also offers 2 Southwest business credit cards. These cards include:
These credit cards also offer varying welcome bonuses after meeting the minimum spend. You’ll earn bonus points when you use your card to pay for Southwest flights and other amenities while flying with them. Both cards also have no foreign exchange fees.
And remember, two bags fly free on Southwest, but the cards let you check an extra one at no cost.
Option B: United Explorer Card & a Co-Branded Hotel Card
If your travel goals include more international travel than domestic, a United miles/hotel points combo will be more useful than Southwest Rapid Rewards points.
United miles are good for domestic and international travel on United or any of their Star Alliance partners. Even with United ditching their award charts, there are still ways to redeem United miles for a 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 Business Preferred, and Freedom (when paired with a Sapphire or the Ink Preferred) directly to United at a 1:1 ratio.
As with all the above mentioned Chase credit cards, the United Explorer card offers a solid welcome bonus for meeting a minimum spend.
Cardholders also get 2 United Club passes each year, priority boarding, a free checked bag, a $100 Global Entry Fee, and exclusive award space seen only by cardholders.
The card earns 2x restaurants and hotel accommodations booked directly with the hotel and it has no foreign exchange fees.
Chase’s co-branded hotel cards include the:
- World of Hyatt Credit Card
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Visa Signature
- IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
- and Ritz-Carlton Credit Card.
Depending on where you travel and your overall travel style, one brand may be better for you than another.
Hyatt offers the most value because of its upscale properties, reasonable award chart, and the ability to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt. The downside is they have a smaller, (albeit growing) geographic footprint than Marriott or IHG.
And, yes, Marriott and IHG are Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners. However, it’s a much better value to earn points with these programs respectively instead of transferring valuable Ultimate Rewards points.
Finally, if you’re just getting started with miles and points, you may not realize Marriott is also its own flexible currency. The program has 40+ airline transfer partners, some of which cannot be accessed through other travel rewards programs, like American and Alaska Airlines.
By now, I hope you’re thinking about your first 5 travel rewards credit cards from the options above.
However, you cannot try for all of them at once! In fact, the steps in this guide could easily play out over 12 months 0r more! Not to mention, 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 each credit card decision. Keep your travel rewards goal in mind.
- Consider the minimum spend on each credit card and what you can responsibly handle. There’s no point in opening a new card and not getting the welcome bonus.
Technically, Chase will typically only approve you for 2 credit card applications every 30 days. Each time you try for a new credit card, banks do a hard pull of your credit score. Personally, I recommend opening no more than 1 Chase card every 30 days and typically wait longer than this before applying for another one myself.
Put it all together: What does this strategy look like?
A beginning credit card strategy could look like this, but remember to play it smart! Don’t compare yourself to others and just do what makes sense for you.
1. Choose the Chase Sapphire and Chase Freedom that are right for you. Personally, I like the Chase Sapphire Preferred for anyone starting out and the superpower of earning 5x with the Chase Freedom. Wait at least 30 days between applications.
2. After at least a month+ has passed since your last application and, and preferably after you’ve met any minimum spends on the previous cards, check out the Chase Ink Business Preferred and/or the Ink Business Cash or Ink Business Unlimited.
3. If you’re interested in a Southwest Companion Pass or even just earning Rapid Rewards points for your travel goals, look at a Southwest Business card like the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business.
4. After at least a month (& preferably more!) has passed and you have the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business credit card, consider a personal card, like the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card.
4a. If you’re not on the Southwest path and went for the Ink Business Preferred, look at the United Explorer Card. Follow this up with a co-branded hotel card choice that fits your travel goals.
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 welcome bonuses and the travel rewards they continue to bring with everyday spending.
As always, make sure you’re thoughtful in your approach. Go slowly. Have a plan for the travel rewards you’re earning. Don’t take on more than you can handle financially and organizationally. And, be sure to pay off your bills in full and on time each month.
So, which travel rewards credit cards for beginners are you interested in?
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