Best Rewards Credit Card for Points Beginners

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When friends find out that my life is made up largely of points and miles it often doesn’t take long for the conversation to shift to how they can get started in the miles and points world as well.  They usually want to know which rewards credit card is the overall best one to focus on.  Most of them have established credit, and have been using a credit card for some purchases for years, but their card(s) often provide pretty measley rewards, if any at all.  In fact, because the card they use doesn’t offer impressive rewards, it can be hard for them to believe that not all cards are created equally.

Those of us who have been at this a while know that the real secret isn’t having just one card, but getting multiple cards.  However, that method isn’t for everyone, and certainly isn’t what I recommend for a person new to this hobby.  They often want just one card, and they want it to be a good one.  Before I make a recommendation I usually try to understand what they want to use their miles and points for, as that can really help me give a better suggestion.  This is also what I suggested in my recent post for beginners. 

However, not everyone knows from the beginning how they want to use their miles, they just want in the game.  Fair enough.  In that case there is one card that is almost always my universal suggestion for those just getting in the game.  Any guesses as to which card it is?

All things being equal, my recommendation for beginners is to get the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.  The reason is that the sign-up bonus is pretty solid at 40,000 Ultimate Reward points after spending $3,000 in three months.  Best of all, the points can be transferred to a number of partners at a 1:1 rate so newbies don’t have to know exactly how they want to use the points before they earn them.  They can decide later if they want to use the points with United, Hyatt, British Airways, etc.  There is a introductory fee of $0 the first year, then $95 in subsequent years.  The card also gets you access to the Ultimate Rewards shopping portal, so it is a good way to get friends into the habit of shopping via a pretty reliable online shopping portal for extra points.

There are other very good cards out there for those new to the hobby, but I don’t personally think that any other card is as universally a good starting point as the Sapphire Preferred.  I guess you could call it a “gateway card”.  😉

I know I can’t possibly be the only one who regularly gets questions from others about what card to get to start their rewards card journey, so I’m curious to know what cards are the common ones you recommend to friends who want to start getting into the game.

 

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Comments

  1. I wonder if some newbies would be discouraged at the requirement for spending $3K in 3 months in order to get any bonus.

    Perhaps an airline card with zero or $750 spend would be a better “gateway” into our hobby, with a free domestic r/t as the aspirational bonus.

  2. I like the Discover More card. The 5% cash back categories are good. Plus, if people don’t want to redeem for travel, the huge selection of gift cards are always at least at a 20% discount. The shopping portal I think is superior to the Chase Ultimate Rewards site.

  3. I get asked the question a bunch and also recommend the sapphire preferred. It doesn’t matter for most people but most of my friends live between DC and Boston. For those people the Amtrak transfer option is usually the simplest to understand and the easiest to redeem. The ones who have gotten into the game have almost all started with Amtrak points and then got bitten by the bug. Against just a northeastern perspective but one that I have found useful.

  4. Miles, there aren’t many cards left that give miles after first purchase, though there are many good ones that do give the bonus after $1000. If the beginner you are talking to would possibly have an issue hitting a $3000 spending requirement then I very much agree it makes sense to point them toward a card like United, Southwest, or Hyatt with a $1000 requirement.
    Shannon, that card does have some good qualities for sure.
    Dan, good point about those in the NE!

    • asdfas, if you are paying more to use a credit card, something is going wrong. You should be getting money/rewards for using a credit card if done the right way. 😉

  5. I think the csp is a great newbie card. I think the 40k with 2,000 spend in 3 months that is offered any local branch would be a better deal. 3K can be overwhelming for a newbie dont you think?

    • Most of my friends seem to already be used to using cards, so the minimum doesn’t seem to freak them out, but certainly always keep that in mind when recommending a card! If you are spending more to get rewards you are going backward. 😉

  6. Friends and co-workers ask me this question all the time, and I always tell my friends to start with the Citibank American Airlines card that offers 50,000 frequent flyer miles for signing up and spending $3000 within four months. Currently, they would be able to sign up for this, and the AA business card a few months later, and very quickly amass over 106,000 American airlines miles. I know that this card doesn’t offer anyone up to $300 as a referral fee for enticing people to sign up, but it is the one I recommend to my friends and coworkers. They are easy to use, and that’s enough for three round trip tickets to Hawaii or the Caribbean or 2 1/2 round-trip tickets to Paris, which is how several of my coworkers have used their bonus miles. I have a small collection of Eiffel Towers and postcards from France in my office that are causing a snowball effect among my coworkers; those who see the knickknacks others have given me want in on the deal for themselves! 🙂 This card is also eminently churnable, so the sooner you start, the sooner you can churn the next one. The link for these can be found in the milesbuzz forum of FlyerTalk.com.

    I do not recommend the Chase Sapphire preferred with only 40,000 points sign-up bonus to my friends. I know from experience that that card often offers 50,000 sign-up points, and I would feel as if it’s a betrayal of trust to recommend my friends take a deal that’s very likely to get better.

  7. I often recommend the spg amex, because of the 1-1.25 ratio, but it really depends on whether your airline of choice is united or American

  8. My recommendation would be to check your mailbox for targeted offers. For years, we just tossed these mailers into the trash without opening them. When we needed to amass some miles to offset the cost of frequent travel to see family, we took a closer look at some of the offers that arrive by mail each week.

    I was targeted for an offer of 50,000 miles on Delta for opening their Amex card. My husband, the same. I believe the public offer was 35,000 miles at the time. We were able to use these points to pay pay for two $600 tickets for family members to travel on domestic flights. This is not the most exciting travel opportunity in the world but it enabled a family get together at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

  9. CSP here as well, assuming they can hit the spend without much trouble. I think a key to really getting the miles/points bug is getting over the common impression that miles are very difficult to actually redeem in any effective manner- most prefer straight cash back, even if its less valuable. The power of CSP, then, is that at a minimum, points can be redeemed at 1% cash back, or more for travel, while at the same time being able to hit a great UA or Hyatt redemption when the opportunity presents itself.

  10. I love Ultimate rewards and all things Chase! Start with the Sapphire Preffered, Add a ink Bold, throw in a Freedom. Add a United, Priority Club, Ink Plus.

  11. -Actually, I am just getting into this game, and have a decent amount of points, so now we are thinking of using these to make a quick ‘get out of the doldrums’ domestic trip. I’m having a hard time finding availability for flights anywhere warm (it is the spring break season, I suppose). Any recommendations on a good general intro on finding award availability? Which blogs to you think handle this subject the best?
    -I like Chase Sapphire Preferred. Even if it isn’t the biggest mega bonus, it’s great to have 40K points that you can use in so many different ways. That makes getting into the game fun. To me $1000/mo is not hard to put on a card, but we are a family of four.
    -The AA card sounds great, too. I’ll have to check that out next time.

  12. Jamie, check out milevalue.com for all you ever wanted to know about redemptions, plus things you didn’t even know to ask. Just make sure you’ve had some coffee and nothing to do for a few hours.

    MP, I like the CSP suggestion but a decent alternative for those that tend to fly the same airline is their branded card that comes with other benefits.

  13. I am sorry to say but since the demise of US airways grand slam , the quality of your blogs have just tanked .

    Nowadays you just want commission for your affiliate links , its more of an advertisement than information .

    you started copying FM in the Ultimate rewards portal guessing .

    Come up with something new as you have the knack to write good posts , you just don’t have the material it seems.

    • Amod, sorry the blog isn’t the one for you. I try post about things that are relevant for busy families who want to earn miles and points. I do not guess about the UR portals as FM does, but I have posted about portals and monthly updates about them for as long as I can remember, possibly even before FM started his site, and will continue to do so as it is relevant for families. Again, I am sorry the blog doesn’t suit your needs.

  14. Do you first have discussion regarding thier credit card paymentd habits? “Established credit” might not mean paying in full each month If a friend is going to carry balances I’m going to suggest no additional cards or a card with low rates (which travel cards usually are not).

  15. Carl, certainly is important to work that info in somewhere in the conversation…it also is trickier with friends than with internet strangers are you are now tiptoeing around personal finance issues that not everyone wants to divulge in full detail. However, it is always important to mention that the rewards are only worth it if you aren’t carrying a balance.
    Jamie, MileValue is very good at writing in detail about redemptions. I’m also happy to help you brainstorm a quick domestic trip. Spring Break availability can be tough, but not impossible if you are flexible. Feel free to email me mommypoints at hotmail.com if you want to brainstorm.

  16. Just met my minimum spend on CSP and bonus UR points have posted to my account. I am now working on min spend for my new Chase Ink. It looks like the UR points I earn on this card are going into a “new” UR account. How do I link or merge my UR points? Thanks!

  17. @MP – thanks for the offer! I think we have it figured out now, but I’ll definitely shoot you an email if I get stuck again. Milevalue is definitely one of those blogs I read as educational background for this hobby. They have so much awesome, nitty gritty, squeeze every drop of value out of your points, info on there. The day I book an award flight and add on a free oneway will be the day I stop considering myself a rookie. I can’t wait.

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