6 Credit Cards for Award Travel Beginners

Advertiser disclosure: The Miles Genie has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products.  The Miles Genie and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

If you’re new to award travel and you’re ready to start applying for credit cards, a Chase card that earns transferable Ultimate Rewards should be your first priority.  There are three cards that earn transferable Ultimate Rewards points:

I can think of very few scenarios one scenario in which one of these cards shouldn’t be your first choice.  The main exception would be anyone trying to earn the Southwest Companion Pass.  In that case, you would want to get the Chase Southwest cards needed first.   Then, one of the Chase Sapphire cards mentioned above should be your next move.

But what about after that? After opening a Chase Ultimate Rewards earning card, there are some other Chase credit cards that you should consider opening before you apply for credit cards issued by other banks. This is due to the Chase 5/24 rule.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please familiarize yourself with the Chase 5/24 rule rule before applying for any cards!

In short, a beginner with 0 zero credit cards is starting at 0/24.  You have 5 ‘spots’ to fill before you reach 5/24.   Ideally, you want to fill all of your spots with Chase 5/24 cards before moving on to cards from other banks.  Other banks aren’t as strict as Chase, so you should be able to open cards from other banks after reaching 5/24 (provided you are otherwise qualified).

Some of the cards on this list may not necessarily be my first choice if 5/24 wasn’t a factor.  The problem is, if you do not open them before you get above 5/24, you either miss out on valuable welcome bonuses/card benefits or you have to wait to get yourself back under 5/24.  If you have to wait a year or more to get yourself under 5/24, you are missing out on a year of valuable welcome bonuses from other banks such as American Express!

If you want to successfully book travel using credit card rewards long-term (trust me, you will after your first redemption!), planning around the 5/24 rule is critical.

Your #1 application should go to 1 of 2 cards

The #1 spot depends on this: are you trying to earn the Southwest Companion Pass?

If the answer is no, a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve and/or a Chase Ink Business Preferred card should be your first choice(s).

What if I want the Companion Pass?

If you are going for the Companion Pass, a Southwest business card and a Southwest personal card should be your first 2 cards.

  1. Southwest business card (you will not be approved if you are over 5/24. But once you are approved, it does not count against your 5/24 score).  So basically you’re back at 0/24 after opening this card.
  2. Southwest personal card (You’ll be at 1/24 after opening this card, assuming you started at 0/24)

If you’re working on the Companion Pass, you’re going to be at 1/24 after getting the cards needed since the business version doesn’t count against your 5/24 status.  You would have 4 spots left for other Chase 5/24 cards.  The Chase Ink Business Preferred card and/or the Chase Sapphire Preferred (or Chase Sapphire Reserve) should be your next moves.

The order in which you should prioritize applications for your remaining spots may vary depending on your travel goals 

The next section is the order of applications in which the average person would benefit most.  Basically, it is a list of the Chase 5/24 cards with the most valuable welcome bonuses. The order that is best for you could vary. If you have a specific trip in mind, the best plan for you may deviate from this general plan.  I am happy to help you come up with a strategy based on your individual situation and goals.  Email me.

A little patience is required if you want to use all 5 of your 5/24 spots on Chase cards.  It is suggested that you wait at least 30-60 days between applications on Chase-issued cards.  Some data points are even suggesting 3 months is safest.  There is nothing illegal about opening multiple credit cards, but too many cards opened in a short time span is a red flag for Chase.  Since Chase issues some of the best reward cards for travel, you do not want to get shut down by Chase.

6 Chase cards to consider (while you’re still under 5/24)

If you qualify for business cards, apply for the Chase Ink Business Preferred and any other business cards you want while you’re still under 5/24.  You will not be approved for a business card once you’re at 5/24, but any open business card doesn’t count against your 5/24 score.

Here are some details about each of the Chase 5/24 cards you may want to get while you’re still under 5/24.

The most important card long-term is a transferrable Ultimate Rewards earning card.  If you do not open this card while under 5/24, you would have to wait until you are under 5/24 to be approved.  For that reason, it is number one on the list.  But remember, if you want the Southwest CP, do that first.

I’ll also discuss why you may or may not want to keep each card after the first year.

1. Chase Ultimate Rewards earning cards

There are three cards that earn transferable Ultimate Rewards points:

Chase UR points earned from these cards can be transferred to 9 different airlines and 3 hotel programs.  UR can also be redeemed in Chase’s redemption portal.  More on that in this post.

1. Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Preferred 2019

Current offer: Earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. 

Earn 2 points per dollar on travel and dining, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. The annual fee is $95, but the welcome offer alone is worth a lot more than that. 

The welcome bonus is worth at least $750 if you redeem the points in the redemption portal. You can also transfer the points to Chase’s partners, which may end up giving you a much higher redemption value.

2. Chase Sapphire Reserve:

Current offer: Earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in 3 months. 

The annual fee is $450, but, you receive a travel credit of $300 each year. That brings the fee to effectively $150. You cannot have this card if you already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred. But if you’re trying to decide which one to open, it really depends on how much you travel. Here are some of the reasons the fee is higher:

You will receive a travel credit of up to $300 annually. Also, you get a Priority Pass membership, which gives you access to Priority Pass lounges worldwide. The Chase Sapphire Reserve’s bonus categories earn more than the Chase Sapphire Preferred. You’ll earn 3 points per dollar at restaurants and on travel. Finally, you receive a $100 credit for Global Entry (or $85 for TSA precheck). 

The other benefit to this card (as opposed to the Chase Sapphire Preferred) is that your points are worth more when you redeem through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. The redemption rate is 1.5 cents per point. So 50,000 Ultimate Rewards are worth $750. Of course, you can also transfer those Ultimate Rewards to Chase’s airline and hotel partners at a 1:1 ratio.

3. Chase Ink Business Preferred (this is a business card):

Chase ink business preferred 2019

Current offer: Earn 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 in 3 months. 

The annual fee is reasonable at $95. 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points are worth $1,000 if you book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards redemption portal. To potentially redeem for even more value, you can also transfer the 80,000 points to Chase’s airline and hotel transfer partners. 

The earn rate makes it easy to accumulate Chase Ultimate Rewards points on business and travel expenses. You’ll earn 3 points per dollar on the first $150,000 spent each year in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, and on advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines. After you hit $150,000 on these categories, the rate is 1 point per dollar. All other categories are 1 point per dollar.

Important notes:

You can have a Chase Ink Business Preferred card and a Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred open, but you cannot have the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve open at the same time.

I usually suggest the Chase Sapphire Preferred to beginners since the annual fee is lower and the bonus offer is better.  But the Reserve comes with lots of benefits that may offset the higher annual fee.  If you’re torn between Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred, click here for more information and a comparison.

Are Chase Ultimate Rewards earning cards everyday spending cards? Yes

Transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards, the currency earned with these cards, is one of my favorite currencies for award travel. For that reason, I suggest keeping this card open and using it for everyday spending.

The other card that I would suggest for everyday spending, Chase Freedom Unlimited, is most valuable when paired with one of these 3 cards.  More on that in a moment.

2. Southwest Rapid Rewards cards

There are 5 Southwest cards.

3 are personal cards and 2 are business cards.  You cannot have more than 1 personal version of a Southwest card at the same time.  This is a new rule, so even if you have been able to have both in the past, it’s not allowed anymore. You also cannot have both versions of the business credit cards.

You can have one business card and one personal card.  In fact, that is now the only way to earn the Companion Pass with credit card bonuses.

Note that this offer is the same on all 3 personal Southwest co-branded cards, but of the 3, my top pick would be the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority credit card. 

Current offer: Up to 60,000 points.  Earn 40,000 Rapid Rewards points after spending $1,000 in 3 months.  If you spend a total of $12,000 in the first 12 months, you’ll receive an additional 20,000 Rapid Rewards points.

The annual fee is $149, but if you fly Southwest, the $75 annual credit on Southwest flights effectively brings that fee to $74. Another notable benefit is that you get 4 upgraded boarding positions per year with this card. 

The earn rate is 2 points per dollar on Southwest and 1 point per dollar on everything else.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card was launched in June. In my opinion, the current welcome offer on this card makes it superior to the other Southwest co-branded business product from Chase.

Southwest Rapid Rewards performance business card

Current offer: 80,000 Rapid Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 monthsThe annual fee is $199.

Notable benefits: 9,000 anniversary points each year, Global Entry or TSA precheck reimbursement ($100 or $85, respectively), Four upgraded boardings per year when available, $8 credit for inflight wifi on Southwest flights, up to 365 times per year 

Are Southwest co-branded cards everyday spending cards? No (unless you are trying to earn the Companion Pass)

Southwest credit cards earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points.  You can only redeem Rapid Rewards points for Southwest flights.  Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Southwest at a 1:1 ratio.  For that reason, I’d rather earn 1 Ultimate Rewards point than 1 Southwest point per dollar on my everyday spending.  When I need Southwest points, I can always transfer from Ultimate Rewards.  But having other options with Ultimate Rewards makes those points more desirable for me.

The exception is if you’re trying to earn Companion Pass qualifying points.  Transfers from Ultimate Rewards do not qualify for the Companion Pass.  Points earned from Southwest cards (sign up bonus points and everyday spending points) do count.

Sock drawer card? Maybe

The higher annual fee business and personal versions each have some benefits you may consider valuable enough to outweigh the annual fee. For example, if you actually purchase upgraded boarding positions, that benefit could be worth more than the annual fee.

3. United Explorer card

The current offer is enough to open the United Explorer credit card, and the benefits may make this card worth keeping open, even if you use other cards for everyday spending.  This card earns United Mileage Plus miles. You can redeem United miles for United flights and for flights on United’s partners.

Current offer: 40,000 United miles after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account. 

The annual fee is waived the first year. After that, the annual fee is $95. You will earn 2 miles per dollar on United flights, plus you will get your first checked bag for free. That’s a value of up to $120 per roundtrip flight. Note that you must use the card to purchase the ticket in order to get the free checked bag.

Other valuable benefits include up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Precheck fee reimbursement, 2 one-time passes to United Club each anniversary year, and priority boarding. In addition to 2 miles per dollar on United flights, you also have restaurant and hotel bonus categories. Earn 2 miles per dollar on spend at restaurants and hotels. All other purchases earn 1 mile per dollar.

Is this an everyday spending card? No

I prefer to earn transferable points such as Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards.  I can earn Ultimate Rewards with Chase Sapphire cards.  United happens to be a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards.  By earning Ultimate Rewards, you can still transfer those points to United if needed.  Flexibility makes 1 Chase Ultimate Rewards point more valuable than 1 United mile.  If you only earn United miles, you can only redeem them with United’s frequent flyer program, United Mileage Plus.

Sock drawer card? Maybe

Are the benefits worth the annual fee of $95?  One valuable benefit on this card is a free first checked bag. This benefit alone can easily offset the annual fee.

4. World of Hyatt credit card

World of Hyatt is my top hotel loyalty program, so the World of Hyatt credit card from Chase is my top hotel credit card.

chase world of Hyatt credit card 2019

Current offer: Up to 50,000 Hyatt points. 25,000 if you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months, then another 25,000 if you spend an additional $3,000 in the first 6 months (a total of $6,000 in the first 6 months). 

The annual fee is $95, but the initial bonus offer and then the annual certificate for each anniversary make this card worth opening and keeping. 

The main benefit that makes this card worth keeping year after year is the annual free night certificate. This is good for any Hyatt property that is category 1-4. There are so many properties for which you can use the annual free night with rates significantly higher than $95.

This card also comes with Discoverist status, which is mid-tier at best, but Discoverist status will get you free premium internet and late checkout. in our experience, Hyatt is also generous with room upgrades, even for lower status!

The earn rate is 4 World of Hyatt points per dollar at Hyatt, 2 points per dollar at restaurants, 2 points per dollar on airfare purchased directly from airlines, 2 points per dollar on local transit, and 2 points per dollar on gym memberships.

Is this an everyday spending card? No

Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio.  If I use the WOH card, I only earn Hyatt points.  If I use an Ultimate Rewards earning card, the points can be transferred to Hyatt, plus they can be transferred to other airlines and hotels.

Sock drawer card? Yes(YMMV)

For me, this is definitely a keeper.  One benefit alone has great potential to be worth more than the annual fee.  You get a free night at a category 1-4 property.  The Andaz Costa Rica is a category 4 property.  Those rooms easily go for $500 or more per night. (Update 2019: It is now a cat 5 property, so this particular property is no longer bookable with the free night certificate, but there are still other cat 1-4 properties with great value.) To determine if this card is worth keeping, consider which properties you could book with that certificate.

chase cards 5/24 policy
Andaz Costa Rica

5. Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Visa Signature from Chase

The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Visa Signature credit card from Chase is another hotel card worth considering.

Marriott convoy boundless chase credit card 2019

Current offer: 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. 

The annual fee is $95. 75,000 Marriott points aren’t as valuable as it sounds, but 75,000 Marriott points can get you at least one free night at some of the most luxurious Marriott properties worldwide.

In addition to the nice welcome offer, the card comes with a free night worth up to 35,000 points starting at your first anniversary of card membership.

The earn rate on this card seems high, but remember, Marriott points aren’t as valuable as other points. With this card, you earn 6 points per dollar at Marriott and SPG properties, and 2 points per dollar on everything else.

This card also comes with Marriott silver status.

Important note:

Amex now issues a Marriott Bonvoy card.  So basically 2 banks issue Marriott cards: Chase and Amex.

Yes, you can have both, but both banks have now placed restrictions on welcome bonuses. To put it simply, once you open one from either bank, there is a waiting period before you can get a welcome bonus from the other bank’s card.

If you want a Marriott co-branded card, I’d prioritize this over the Amex because of 5/24.

Is this an everyday spending card? No

The earn rate is 2 points per dollar, but the redemption chart is inflated, so don’t let 2 points per dollar fool you.  I consider Ultimate Rewards points and Amex Membership Rewards points more valuable, therefore, I use cards that earn those points.

Sock drawer card? Maybe

Because of the free night, it may be worth keeping.  You would have to look at the properties available for 35,000 points to make that determination.

 

Ritz Carlton Tokyo

6. Chase Freedom Unlimited 

I wrote about why the Chase Freedom Unlimited is a great card for everyday spending if you also have a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve card.  

Chase Freedom Unlimited, best credit card offers of 2019

Welcome offer: There is no welcome bonus, but there is a nice welcome offer. The offer is 3% cash back (instead of 1.5%) on up to $20,000 in spend during your first year.  That’s up to $600.  Or 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points. 

There is no minimum spending requirement since there is no traditional bonus. If you spend more than $20,000 your first year, the rate switches to the normal rate of 1.5 points per dollar, which is still better than the other Ultimate Rewards earning cards!

Another important thing to point out: there is no annual fee on this card! 

Alone, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is just another cash back card.  But when you have the Freedom Unlimited AND a card that earns transferable Ultimate Rewards (such as Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve), you can transfer points earned from the Freedom to the card that earns the transferable Ultimate Rewards.

This is important because the Chase Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5 points per dollar on everything.  The CSP and CSR earn only 1 point per dollar on non-category bonus spend.  So using the Freedom earns 50% more points!!

The problem is, if you (or your spouse/partner) do not have one of the three cards that earns transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards (Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Chase Ink Business Preferred), the points you earn are just cash back. So 1.5 points is 1.5 cents. There are other cash back cards with better earn rates. But, when paired with a transferable Ultimate Rewards earning card, these points can be redeemed as transferable Ultimate Rewards points OR they can be redeemed as cash.  Click here for more details. 

So why is Chase Freedom Unlimited at the bottom of my list?

There is no welcome bonus, which makes me hesitant to suggest this as one of your cards to fill your 5/24 spots.  Plus, the everyday spending earn rate is the most appealing thing about this card, but a beginner most likely wont be needing it for the first year.  The reason for that is because you’ll likely be working toward minimum spending requirements on other cards.  

The problem is, if you do not open this card while you’re still under 5/24, you will not be able to get it.  And the whole point of this post is to strategize for the long term.  Eventually, you will want a card for everyday spending with a good earn rate such as this one.   You will either have to find another card for your everyday spending or wait until you are under 5/24.

If you have the Chase Ink Business Preferred card, you could downgrade the CSP or CSR to the Chase Freedom Unlimited as long as you keep the CIBP open.  But if you do not have the CIBP, downgrading the CSP or CSR won’t work, because you have to have one of these open in order to be able to transfer the Ultimate Rewards earned on the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

You can only choose 5 out of the 6 5/24 cards in this list (unless you wait to get back under 5/24). Choosing this card over one of the above cards is certainly not the worst move. My situation would allow me to hold off on this card though, because there is a solution if you’re in 2 player mode.

If you’re in 2 player mode, there may be a solution.

2 player mode is when you and a spouse, friend, partner, etc are working together towards an award travel goal (or multiple goals).  In two player mode, each person should be opening his or her own credit cards so that you have double the points between the two of you.

If both players open a Chase Sapphire Preferred (or Reserve), each person earns the welcome bonus. After the first year, here is the plan (assuming both players are now at 5/24 or more):

  • Player 1 keeps the Chase Sapphire Preferred (or Reserve) open
  • Player 2 downgrades to the Chase Freedom Unlimited

Player 2 won’t earn a welcome bonus (if applicable.  Currently there is no bonus), but also wont have a credit inquiry for the downgrade.

Chase’s current policies make it possible to transfer Ultimate Rewards between members if either of these situations apply:

  1. Player 2 makes player 1 authorized user on the Chase Unlimited Freedom or
  2. If player 1 and player 2 are spouses or domestic partners

Player 2 can transfer Ultimate Rewards earned on the Freedom Unlimited to player 1’s CSP or CSR.  Doing so makes the points earned from the Freedom Unlimited useable the same way you use Ultimate Rewards earned from the CSP or CSR (transferable or use booking portal).  Chase’s current policies make it possible to transfer Ultimate Rewards between household members.

In 2 player mode, you would be able to open of the first 5 cards in this list.  That means at least 5 welcome bonuses (times 2!) PLUS you could reap the benefits of having the higher everyday spending earn rate with the Chase Freedom Unlimited card after the first year.

Is this an everyday spending card? Yes

This is the card (along with an Amex MR earning card) that I would suggest using for non-category bonus everyday spending (as opposed to the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve) because it earns 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar.  Note that currently (July 2019) the offer for new applicants is even better for the first year. 

But remember, you must have a Chase card that earns transferable Ultimate Rewards points to be able to use the Freedom Ultimate Rewards points as transferable UR (rather than cash back).  In other words, you need to keep a CSR, CSP, or CIBP open.

Advertiser disclosure: The Miles Genie has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products.  The Miles Genie and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

 

 

 

Want to save money on travel?

Subscribe now to receive the latest tips and tricks straight to your inbox (for free!)

Success

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: