Traveling on Rewards: Our Favorite Cards to Get Started

By Greg Johnson

Saving Money

Published on

Updated on

There’s nothing like traveling for free! 

My family has traveled around the globe and seen places others only dream of visiting…and we’ve done it while paying practically nothing out of pocket.


That’s the power of travel rewards credit cards.

We’ve used travel rewards to visit nearly 40 countries and overseas territories. But, like most things in life, all travel cards aren’t created equally.

The cards below offer lucrative rewards that are hard to beat. 

Do you want to travel the world on rewards points? Here’s the inside scoop on my favorite travel rewards cards for getting started!

Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is hands down my favorite travel rewards card for beginners. The points are flexible, the perks are huge, and it’s simply the best card to get you started in the credit card rewards game.

Currently, this card offers an enormous signup bonus which earns you 60,000 Chase points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.

Those points are worth $750 when you book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. 

Besides the huge bonus and access to the Chase portal, other Chase Sapphire benefits include certain travel insurance protections and a 1:1 point transfer to partner loyalty programs.

Being able to transfer points is a huge benefit for travelers and, in many cases, can stretch your points even further than redeeming them through the portal.

Some partner programs include Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Air France, Marriott, Hyatt, IHG, and more. 

What Else Can You Redeem Points On?

If you don’t redeem your points on travel, Chase lets you cash them in for gift cards at Home Depot, Amazon, Kohl’s, and more.

This is great because you’re never stuck with points you won’t use. Keep in mind that your points aren’t worth as much if you do this, though.

Earning rewards is easy. You earn 2X points on travel and dining purchases with your card and 1X points on everything else.

You also won’t pay foreign transaction fees, and you’ll get complimentary trip cancellation/interruption insurance coverage whenever you use your card or points to pay for travel.

It does have a small $95 annual fee, but you’ll more than cover that with this card’s awesome perks.

Capital One Venture Rewards Card

When it comes to the best credit card for travel, the Capital One Venture Rewards Card is another one of my favorites.

Its simple approach to earning and redeeming points makes it a popular travel card for beginners as well as seasoned rewards junkies.

The current signup bonus of 50,000 points is equal to $500 in travel, and it’s yours when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

You’ll continue to earn 2 points per dollar on every purchase after earning the signup bonus. Capital One gives you 10X points when you book travel through the Capital One portal, helping you to earn even faster.

If you love to travel the globe, you won’t pay any foreign transaction fees, and they’ll even give you up to $100 credit towards the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. 

The miles are good to redeem toward any airline or hotel at any time – no blackouts.

You can also transfer your miles to several different airline loyalty programs, although – in my opinion – the options and transfer rates are not as good as the CSP card.

This card comes with a $95 annual fee, but Capital One waives it the first year.

I can personally vouch for the flexibility of this card. You’ll love the straightforward approach to earning and redeeming points.

Plus, having the annual fee waived the first year is a huge bonus if you’re new to traveling on rewards.

Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card

The Wells Fargo Propel American Express card is another one to consider. You’ll get 30,000 bonus points worth $300 when you spend $3,000 within 3 months of opening your account.

The signup bonus is only the beginning, though. Unlike other cards in this list, you won’t pay an annual fee with this card.

Plus, your rewards will add up 3x faster when you spend on dining out, gas, rideshares, flights, hotels, streaming services, and more.

The Wells Fargo Propel American Express card waives foreign transaction fees and even gives you cell phone protection, making it a perfect choice whether you travel domestically or abroad. 

There’s no cap on the rewards you can earn, and they are totally flexible. The points come in the form of cash back, meaning you can redeem them for free travel.

You also have the option to spend your rewards on concert tickets, a new wardrobe, and more.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus

If you like flying for less, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus is another card you should consider adding to your wallet.

The current signup bonus is 40,000 points when you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months, which is about enough for 2 round-trip tickets to the Caribbean.

And for a limited time, you can earn an additional 20,000 points when you spend $12,000 in your first year.

This card makes earning miles easy as pie. You get 2 points per dollar when you spend with Southwest (or with select hotel and car rental partners) and 1 point per dollar on everything else. 

Southwest also rewards you with 3,000 bonus points each year on your cardmember anniversary. 

And with Southwest, your first two bags are checked for free, saving you even more money on your travels. Unlike some airline cards, when you book with Southwest, the amount of points you use is based on the actual fare price.

So, those flights you find on sale will cost you fewer points. The card comes with a small $69 annual fee, but it’s easily justified with the money you’ll save.

I fly Southwest often and get a ton of value from the points I earn. You’ll love the perks of this card if you fly throughout the continental U.S., Hawaii, the Caribbean, or Mexico.

Citi Premier

From Vegas to Venice, the Citi Premier still has some of the best travel bonuses available.

The signup bonus is competitive at 50,000 points after you make $4,000 in purchases in the first 3 months. After that, you get 3X points on travel purchases and at gas stations, 2X points on restaurants and entertainment, and 1X points on everything else.

Citi ThankYou Points have tremendous value. Your 50,000 signup bonus points are worth $625 in airfare with any airline when you book through the Citi ThankYou Travel Center.

The card does come with a $95 annual fee, but it’s waived for the first year. 

You can also transfer your points at a 1:1 ratio to over 10 airline loyalty programs, which gives you ultimate flexibility when it comes to traveling on rewards.

Traveling on Rewards: Final Thoughts

Traveling on rewards is the best way to see the world without forking over tons of cash. We’ve used travel rewards credit cards to save thousands on travel, and you can too! 

With that said, the right travel rewards credit card for you depends on your personal travel goals. It’s also important to remember that credit card offers and bonuses are constantly changing.

That means the best card for your trip could change at the drop of a hat. To find the best deals, keep your eyes peeled and pounce when you find a great offer.

Finally, if you love to travel, have a travel rewards credit card for your everyday spending. Then, be sure to pay off your balance in full every month.

After all, you’re trying to save money on travel, not rack up oodles of debt. If you do it right, you’ll be able to start traveling the world for pennies on the dollar in no time!

Do you travel on points? What’s your favorite travel rewards credit card to use? Let us know in the comments below!

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