Travel Credit Cards for Beginners

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The hardest part of using points for travel is picking the right place to get started.  Most are scared to begin because they are overwhelmed with the amount of options—you are not alone! This post is going to guide you through the basics of programs that are simple and also have credit card options so that you can easily maximize your points!

Without using a credit card, you probably won’t gather enough points for a LONG time to use for a hotel or flight redemption. Credit cards allow you to use every day spend to gather lots of points,and all of the cards in this post will have a large sign-up bonus

Will It Hurt My Credit Score?

No! If used correctly, credit cards will only help your credit score, especially after having and using them over several years.  A large factor of your credit score is credit history, so the longer you keep the card, the better your credit history becomes and the more your score increases.

The picture below shows the calculation of the credit score in a pie chart:

Are Credit Cards Going to Cause Me to Go in Debt?

No! If you pay off your full balance every month, you don’t have any interest charged.  This is the only way to use travel credit cards, because if you carry a balance over month to month then you are technically losing money to gain travel points!  This is a bad idea! If you don’t think you can pay off your credit cards every month, then please stop reading now!  As far as travel cards go, you have to be disciplined!

Hotel cards are much easier to understand in the beginning compared to airline cards—that is unless you fly frequently. For frequent flyers, look for a later post on the best airline cards to get for beginners. Below you will find the best hotel credit cards for beginners:

Hilton Honors

Hilton is a system that is easy to understand, mainly because the points fluctuate with the price of the hotel.  This means if the hotel costs a lot of money, then the points are more expensive.

Hilton currently has two credit cards.  They are both through American Express.

1. First, the no fee card is called the Hilton Honors Card from American Express.  This card gains:

7x points per dollar spent at Hiltons

5x points per dollar spent at gas stations, supermarkets, and restaurants

3x points per dollar everywhere else

It also comes with a 75,000 point sign up bonus after you spend $1,000 on the card in the first 3 months.

2. The second Hilton credit card is called the Hilton Honors Surpass from American Express. It currently has a $75 annual fee if you sign up before the end of 2017.  This card earns:

12x points per dollar spend at Hilton

6x points per dollar spent at gas stations, supermarkets, and restaurants

3x points per dollar everywhere else

It also comes with an 85,000 point sign up bonus after you spend $3,000 on the card in the first three months. The sign up bonus sounds like a lot of money, but if you use the card for every day spend you can normally reach that total fairly easily. Go to this link to find out how to reach the sign up bonus.

You also receive Gold Elite status as long as you have this card, which gets you free breakfast, upgraded rooms, and a 25% point bonus on paid stays!

Starwood Hotels

Starwood operates its hotels a little differently than Hilton, because the hotels are assigned to categories.  That means even if a hotel is really expensive on a holiday, the point totals are exactly the same as a random weekday in March.  WIth that being said, Starwood has an advantage over Hilton when redeeming points during peak seasons.

Starwood has one credit card offered through American Express, and it may not be continued much longer! If you are interested in getting this card, you need to sign up now!

This card has a $95 annual fee after the first year and is called the Starwood Hotels Credit Card from American Express.

This card earns:

2x points per dollar at Starwood hotels

1x point per dollar everywhere else

I know this sounds like not as good of a deal as Hilton, but Starpoints are valued to be at least 3 times more valuable than Hilton Honors points. Trust me, you get lots of value out of Starpoints!

You also get a sign up bonus of 25,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.  Because Marriott recently bought Starwood and will eventually merge the two companies, you can transfer Starpoints to Marriott rewards points at a rate of 1 to 3.  That means 25,000 Starpoints equals 75,000 Marriott Rewards points!


Marriott is normally the easiest program to use and understand for beginners. Hotels are found all over the country, and redeeming rewards points is very simple.  The points needed for a redemption are fixed, meaning the points to do fluctuate with the price of the hotel. Click here to find out more about the Marriott Rewards program.

Marriott has one primary credit card offered through Chase.  This card is called the Marriott Premier Rewards Credit Card from Chase.  

It comes with an $85 annual fee, but you get a free stay after your account anniversary each year. This free stay is good for any Marriott hotel that is Category 1-5.

The Marriott Rewards credit card earns:

5x points per dollar spent at Marriott

2x points per dollar spent on airline tickets, car rentals, and restaurants

1x point per dollar everywhere else

The card comes with a massive 80,000 point sign up bonus after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.  You will also receive Silver Elite status as long as you are a cardholder.

Credit cards are essential for gaining large amounts of points. Even though many are scared to get started with credit cards, if you use them right you will get a lot of benefit from them.  The credit cards listed above are simple ones to use when getting started, so study those programs and see what you think!

As always, let us know if you have questions by commenting below or emailing us at

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