I receive compensation for content and many links on this blog. Citibank is an advertising partner of this site, as is American Express, Chase, Barclays and Capital One. Any opinions expressed in this post are my own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by my advertising partners. I do not write about all credit cards that are available -- instead focusing on miles, points, and cash back (and currencies that can be converted into the same). Terms apply to the offers and benefits listed on this page.
If you’re new to frequent flyer miles, the single fastest way to rack up miles quickly is with a rewards credit card. Roughly two-thirds of miles are earned with activities other than flying and the number one way is through credit cards.
The best rewards programs are the ones that let you transfer points to your choice of airlines. You pick later where to put the miles based on,
- Where you want to go
- Who has the award you need
- What points you may already have and which account you want to top off to have enough to redeem the award you want
The best transferable currencies are American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards.
There’s one classic piece of advice for people new to the miles and points hobby, and then there’s an option to consider that’s a bit newer.
The classic is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. It offers 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. The card earns double points on travel and dining at restaurants. It also offers primary collision when you rent cars. Points transfer to:
- Star Alliance: United, Singapore Airlines
- oneworld: British Airways, Iberia
- SkyTeam: Air France KLM
- Non-alliance: Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, JetBlue, Aer Lingus
- Hotels: Hyatt, Marriott, IHG
Singapore Airlines Business Class
There are several reasons this makes the best starter card.
- Chase’s “5/24”. Chase only wants to approve people for rewards cards that have had fewer than 5 new cards in the last 24 months. So you want to start with Chase cards before getting something from other issuers.
- Sapphire Preferred has the best bonus so racks up points quickly. There’s no personal card with a better initial bonus that’s also realistically achievable (it doesn’t have a huge spending requirement to earn).
- The card works as a ‘Chase hub’ meaning that you can get other no annual fee cards later that earn points quickly on specific kinds of spending – even up to 5 points per dollar in some categories – but you need a card like Sapphire Preferred so you can move the other card’s points into an account that lets you transfer to airline miles. (The no annual fee cards do not permit this on their own.)
- Positions you to get a Sapphire Reserve later. Sapphire Reserve is anecdotally difficult to get, with high credit scores and average incomes. It’s also a Visa Infinite which means Chase needs to be willing to approve you for more credit to approve you for the card. Since Sapphire Preferred seems easier to get – and has a bigger bonus, they’ll only let you get the bonus on one or the other – it makes sense to get Sapphire Preferred, wait a year, and then ask Chase if they’ll product change you to Reserve if you wish.
In general folks new to miles and points aren’t signing up for $450 annual fee cards, so a $95 annual fee starter card makes a ton of sense.
The more novel, or newer idea, is to get started with an American Express® Green Card. The card earns points quickly and comes with valuable statement credits: up to $100 per year when you use the card to pay for your CLEAR membership and up to $100 in statement credits per year on your LoungeBuddy purchases for lounge access.
ANA First Class
The card earns 3 Membership Rewards points on per dollar on travel and at restaurants worldwide. That’s faster earn than Sapphire Preferred. And these points transfer to:
- Star Alliance: Aeroplan, ANA, Singapore, Avianca
- oneworld: AsiaMiles, British Airways, Iberia, Qantas
- SkyTeam: Aeromexico, Alitalia, Air France KLM, Delta
- Non-alliance: Etihad, Emirates, El Al, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Aer Lingus, Virgin Atlantic
- Hotels: Choice, Hilton, Marriott
Since American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards are, in my view, the two most valuable currencies getting started in each with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and American Express® Green Card can make a lot of sense.