I consistently get asked this question by readers, friends, and family of what my take is on the best credit card to kick off their career of reward earnings and free flights. Those of you that are still working on building up your credit scores should be focusing on cash back cards like the Chase Freedom or Discover. However, if your credit score is solid and you’re ready to start earning valuable points in one of the 3 great reward programs of Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Starwood, or American Express Membership Rewards then I suggest you consider applying and starting with one of the 3 following cards:

1. Chase Sapphire Preferred

  • Earn 40,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of account opening. Get an extra 5,000 points when adding an additional user to your account.
  • Receive a 7% bonus dividend every year on all miles earned. That essentially gives you 51,360 points just for signing up, adding a user, and meeting the spending requirement.
  • Earn 2x points for spending on travel and restaurant dining and 3x points when you book airfare and hotels through the Chase Ultimate Rewards website (flights, hotels, cabs, car rentals, etc.). 3x points for spending at restaurants on the first Friday of every month.
  • $0 intro annual fee your first year and then $95 per year after that. After a year you can choose to keep the card, as the value of the card usually exceeds the $95 fee, or just downgrade the card to a Chase Freedom or Chase Sapphire non-annual fee card to avoid the $95.
  • No foreign transaction fees. When you use this card abroad or make purchases online in a different currency you will not incur any additional fees.
Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Preferred

  • Why is this card so valuable? Chase Ultimate Reward Points are transferrable to multiple airlines and hotel chains giving you the freedom and flexibility to transfer your points instantaneously to make a booking of your choice. Travel programs include British Airways Executive Club, Korean Air SKYPASS, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards®, United MileagePlus®, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Amtrak Guest Rewards®, Hyatt Gold Passport®, Marriott Rewards®, IHG® Rewards Club and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards®.
  • 25,000 points can get you a free round trip ticket from Los Angeles to New York, while 60,000 points can get you a free round trip ticket to Europe and a free stopover. You can redeem nights for as little as 5,000 points or if you’re feeling luxurious, use 30,000 points for a category 7 Park Hyatt hotel in Paris, Tokyo, or Sydney among others that go for over $1,000 a night!
  • United is a valuable program to transfer to as they have amazing award availability and don’t have fuel surcharges on flights overseas. British Airways is another amazing award partner. Their award points chart goes according to the distance you travel.
  • As an added bonus, this card comes in an all blue metal with a chip enabled for international use, which makes it a really cool card to carry around.
  • Also, if you like to make online purchases at your favorite stores, you can earn up double, triple or up to 15x or even 30x points when using Ultimate Rewards to shop through online retailers such as Kohls, Macy’s, Amazon, Sephora, and Groupon. Read more about online credit card shopping portals and earning points fast here.

2. Chase Ink Plus & Bold Cards

If you’re looking for a better sign up bonus than the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and earn up to 5x points in some spending categories, the Chase Ink cards might just be perfect for you. I don’t recommend keeping a Chase Sapphire Preferred and a Chase Ink card for more than a year because they both essentially earn the same Ultimate Rewards points and you don’t want to be paying both $95 annual fees.

  • Earn 50,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months of account opening. The Chase Ink Plus and Bold are business cards and transfer to the same partners listed above in the Chase Sapphire Preferred description.
  • You do not need to have a business to get this card. Just put your social security number where it asks for the Tax ID number and put your full name Sole Proprietorship under business name (ex. Julien Bortz Sole Proprietorship). Anyone can use this card for their side business, such as selling items on eBay or for any purpose that you may want to keep tabs on yours and your family’s or employee’s spending on separate statements.
Chase Ink Bold

Chase Ink Bold

  • Why is this card so valuable? Besides the generous signup bonus, earn 5x points for every dollar spent on telecommunications (cell phone, cable, internet, and satellite TV bills). Earn 5x points for spending at office supply stores such as Staples, OfficeMax, and Office Depot. These stores carry gift cards for many stores that can help you rack up a ton of points. Earn 2x points at gas stations (many also carry gift cards) and 2x points for hotels for up to 50,000 points of spending in bonus categories.
  • Receive 2 Free lounge passes with this card and every additional user card you have by signing up with this link: loungeprogramenroll.com/inkcard
  • No annual fee first year, $95 following. No foreign transaction fees.
  • If you and your spouse get a bold and an ink card that’s 220,000 points that can be used for multiple round trip tickets to Europe, South America, Australia, or Asia! If you are worried about meeting the spending threshold then one can buy gift cards to be used at a later date, use Amazon Payments, and get a bluebird card. Also, these cards can be downgraded to avoid paying annual fees.

3. American Express Starwood Preferred Guest

The Amex Starwood Preferred card has a lower sign up bonus than the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink cards, but Starpoints are definitely considered to be the most valuable points of all the reward programs. Read about the dollar value breakdown of each reward program here.

  • Earn up to 25,000 points when you spend $5,000 in 6 months. Earn 10,000 points after your first purchase and an additional 15,000 when you meet the spending threshold of $5,000 in 6 months.
  • $0 first year introductory fee, $65 a year following the first year.
  • Earn 2x for spending at Starwood hotels and receive a 2 stay and 5 night elite status credit per year that go towards you reaching elite status.
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American Express Starwood Preferred Guest

  • Why is this card so valuable? Starwood points transfer to almost every major airline in the world at a 1:1 ratio and when you transfer 20,000 points you receive an additional 5,000 points free! For example, if you were to transfer 20,000 points to American Airlines, your AA account would receive 25,000 points. On top of that, Starwood hotels include the Westin, Sheraton, Le Meridien, W Hotels, St. Regis, and more that can be redeemed at some really great values. I recently redeemed a $300 a night hotel stay for 12,000 points and received a complimentary upgrade for having this card.
  • American Express is also known for having great purchase protections and I recommend using this card for making purchases on expensive electronic products.

The cards listed above are a must-have for beginners looking to start earning rewards in 2 of the best reward programs available. There are other great American Express cards that I wrote about in an earlier post that can earn you Membership Reward points and are great everyday spending cards. For any other questions about the cards listed above or about any other cards, comment below!