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Looking for credit card tips and tricks and the best credit cards to use for travel? This is a great place to start.

Airline miles and hotel points are one of the best ways to reduce the cost of travel for you and your family, and the fastest way to earn those miles and points is by using the right credit cards. Sounds Easy, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not.

The world of miles and points is a tough one to navigate. No matter how much time you put into learning, there always seems to be a whole lot you don’t know anything about.

Even after you figure out you need a new credit card, there are a ton of different cards to choose from.

How do you pick the best one? What points should you collect? Where do you even begin?

Top 5 Low Annual Fee Cards

Low Annual Fee Cards

While we can’t provide all the answers, Traveling Dad is here to give you some credit card tips and tricks to help you understand the basics. Below, we will detail 5 of the best miles and points earning credit cards to get you started.

The best part? All of these cards have an annual fee of $0 for the first year. One even has a $0 annual fee for as long as you hold the card. That means you can get started with no out of pocket cost.

Wait, there are miles and points earning credit cards that don’t cost anything?

Yes, there are. Let’s take a look.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® card

$0 Annual Fee for the first year, $95 after that.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® is probably the number one recommended points earning credit card. The signup bonus gets you 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on the card in the first three months. In addition, you can get another 5,000 points by adding an authorized user and making a purchase on their card during that timeframe.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® earns 2 points per dollar of all of your dining and travel spending, so points add up even faster. It also comes with a variety of benefits ranging from baggage delay insurance to primary rental car insurance. The foreign transaction fee is 0% so you won’t even incur a fee on your travel spending outside of the US.

Those 55,000 points you earn from the signup bonus alone are worth a minimum of $687.50 when you redeem them for flights or hotels through the Chase Travel Portal. So right there, by only completing the minimum spend and not even counting the extra points you earn with that $4,000 spend, you have received almost $700 in value.

But it gets better! That value is the minimum you can redeem for. Once you learn how to transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to partner airlines and hotels, the value of the points goes up even farther. That’s why the card is one of the best travel rewards credit cards out there.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Card from American Express

$0 Annual Fee for the first year, $95 after that.

The standard signup bonus for this card is 25,000 points after you make $3,000 in purchases in the first three months. You get double points for purchases at Starwood properties and the card has no foreign transaction fees, so you can use it wherever you travel. Once or twice a year, American Express offers an increased bonus of 30,000 or 35,000 points for this card. Keep an eye out for that if you want to earn some extra points on your signup.

The Starwood Preferred Guest® card from American Express has long been a favorite of miles and points experts. The main reason for this is that Starwood points are so highly valued. They are one of the best transferable points programs, and when you transfer 20,000 points to an airline program, you get a 5,000 point bonus.

Starwood has recently been acquired by Marriott, so points are not movable between the two programs. One Starwood point is equivalent to 3 Marriott points. This also means you can book any of the hotels in either the Marriott or Starwood portfolios with your points.

Although Marriott has just announced that the two programs will remain separate through the end of 2018, we can’t be sure how long the Starwood Preferred Guest program will remain after that. Once the program is gone, so is the credit card, so there is a time limit on getting this one. We just aren’t sure how long that time limit is. As far as hotel credit cards go, this is one of the best.

Citi ThankYou Premier Card

$0 Annual Fee for the first year, $95 after that.

Currently, this card doesn’t have a signup bonus available, so we would definitely recommend waiting until the offer changes. We have regularly seen a bonus of 50,000 points in the past and would expect to see it again.

The Citi ThankYou Premier Card earns 3x points on travel expenses and 2x points on dining and entertainment. There are no foreign transaction fees, so you can use your card anywhere in the world.

Along with Chase’s Ultimate Rewards and Starwood points, Citi ThankYou points are one of the most valuable points currencies. At a minimum, you can redeem your points at a value of 1.25 cents per point by booking travel through the ThankYou Rewards Travel Center. That means if you wait for the 50,000 point signup bonus, it will be worth at least $625 towards your travel.

In addition, ThankYou points are transferable to over a dozen airline and hotel programs, so you can really increase the value of your redemptions.

Chase Freedom UnlimitedSM Card

$0 Annual Fee for as long as you hold the card.

The current signup bonus for this card is $150 cash back after you spend $500 during the first three months. You earn 1.5% cash back on all eligible purchases with the card, so this is a great card for your everyday spending that does not qualify for a bonus on any of your other cards.

The Chase Freedom UnlimitedSM Card is a bit different than the others we have listed so far in that it is marketed by Chase as a 1.5% cash back card. However, your cash back is stored as Ultimate Rewards points, with each point representing a penny in value. If this is the only Ultimate Rewards earning card that you have, then a penny per point is what you can redeem them for, making it a true 1.5% cash back card.

But let’s see how we can get even more value out of those points. If you have one of the premium Ultimate Rewards earning cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® that we have already gone over, you have the ability to transfer your earning points over to the premium card and redeem them for the higher value.

Your 1.5% cash back (in points) is suddenly able to be redeemed for 1.25 cents per point through the Chase Travel Portal. That takes the redemption value of the earned points up to 1.875 cents per point. If you transfer to airline or hotel programs, the value just gets higher and higher.

The combination of the Chase Freedom UnlimitedSM Card and one of the premium Ultimate Rewards cards is one of the best points-earning credit card pairs in the game.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®

$0 Annual Fee for the first year, $95 after that.

This card offers a signup bonus of 40,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. All of your eligible purchases earn 2 points per dollar and there are no foreign transaction fees. Your points don’t expire as long as you hold the card.

Including the double points you would earn on your required minimum spend, you will end up with 46,000 points from this signup offer. That works out to over a $460 value!

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® is also a bit different in that the points you earn have a fixed value. They are worth a penny per point towards statement credits for your travel charges. Actually, they are worth slightly more than a penny per point, because you get 5% of your points back every time you redeem them.

When you pair the 5% back on redemptions with the fact that you earn 2 points per dollar on all of your spend, this rewards on this card end up at a value of a bit over 2.1%. That’s a pretty good rate for someone just getting into the miles and points game or even for the experts who want to redeem rewards for travel expenses that other points won’t cover.

To Sum It Up

Machu Picchu

Putting the time in to learn about miles and points will make it easy for your family to travel the world for pennies on the dollar. Our spring break trip to Machu Picchu wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the award flights that got us there and the credit cards that earned us those points.

All of the cards and other travel credit cards provide potentially huge value with very little upfront investment. If you’ve ever wanted to get into miles and points but didn’t know where to start, feel free to use this post of credit card tips and tricks as your cheat sheet.

Starting slowly with one or two points-earning credit cards will let you get your feet wet without feeling overwhelmed. Once you have these low fee cards under your belt, you can start to learn about some of the more valuable high annual fee cards.

Look for a post in the next few days going over a few of those and the value they can bring to the table.

If you have any questions about these cards or miles and points in general, feel free to ask in the comments. If you are ready to get started, get out there and get a points earning credit card. You can check out some of Traveling Dad’s favorite offers here! Maybe I’ll run into you in an airport somewhere down the road.

Happy Travels!


RESPONSIBLE USE OF CREDIT WARNING: Points and miles from credit card spending are amazing if you never carry a balance on your card and never pay interest. This “hobby” — though it can quickly become a way of life — is for those who can use and pay off credit cards in full each month. Understand the FICO credit score equation, how opening and closing cards affects your score, and how you are most likely to be approved for the specific card you want.