Travel Hacking 101: Credit Card Plan for Beginners

Lately, I’ve had a lot of people ask me, “What card should I get?” My usual answer is “it depends”.

It depends on…notes-514998_1920

  • Where you want to travel?
  • What cards you currently have?
  • What points/miles you currently have?
  • What your credit score is?
  • What cards do you have targeted offers for?
  • Do you have a business?
  • and much more…

If you want personal recommendations, feel free to contact me or comment on this post. I love helping people figure out what card is best for them.

I’ve written a post about my general suggestions for beginners. However, in this post I’ll give you an actual plan for which cards you should apply for. For the purposes of this post, I am going to make the following assumptions:

  • You have an above average credit score (725+)
  • You have the ability to meet a minimum spend of $2,000 every month
  • You have no new credit cards in the past 24 months
  • You can only apply for personal cards because you do not have a business
  • You don’t have any concrete plans, you just want to travel using points/miles
The Credit Card Plan

These are the 8 credit cards that I would initially apply for to build up your points/miles balances (keep in mind this plan could be slightly out of date due to new developments):

  1. Chase Freedom – This card was one of my first credit cards and I consider it to be one of the best starter cards. It has no annual fee and offers 5% rotating categories. It earns Ultimate Rewards (UR), which are one of my favorite points to accumulate and become even more valuable when you get the next card I’m going to suggest. You also won’t be able to get this card as you get further into travel hacking due to the Chase 5/24 rule.
  2. Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve – You can only get the bonus on one of these cards every 24 months. This Preferred is a good starter travel rewards card (2x UR on Travel/Dining). The Reserve comes with a much higher annual fee (that is not waived for the first year). However, this annual fee is offset by an annual travel credit of $300. Both versions of the card allow you to transfer UR to travel partners like Hyatt, Southwest, United, and many more. Similar to the Chase Freedom, they are both under the 5/24 rule.
  3. Chase United MileagePlus Explorer – This card is also under the Chase 5/24 rule (are you seeing a theme here?). United miles are pretty straight forward and offer great value for traveling to Europe and many other places.
  4. Chase Southwest Plus and Chase Southwest Premier –  The reason I put these two together is that the sign up bonuses of (50k/each) will give you 100k out of the 110k needed for the Companion Pass. You’ll want to time these applications so that all your miles are earned in the same calendar year. One of the best deals in the travel hacking.
  5. Alternative Option: Chase Marriott Rewards – If you don’t typically fly with a companion, I suggest only applying for one Southwest card and grabbing the Marriott card instead. Depending on where you’re planning on staying, the points earned from the signup bonus can provide you with 3-5 nights.
  6. American Express Everyday Preferred – As the credit card name implies, this is a great everyday card to use on small everyday purchases when you’re not trying to meet a minimum spend on a different card. This card earns Membership Rewards and offers a 50% point bonus if you use your card for more than 30 transactions per month, which is pretty easy using the methods I highlighted in this post.
  7. Citi ThankYou Premier – This card is a good secondary travel rewards card to supplement your Chase Sapphire Preferred. This card earns ThankYou Points. I actually find that I tend to use this card more frequently since it provides 3 TYP/$1 spent on travel (including gas) and also has an additional category bonus for entertainment.
  8. American Express Starwood Preferred Guest – This is one of my favorite cards. Primarily because SPG is one of my favorite loyalty programs. Be sure to sign up for this card when it has a high signup bonus since you can only get the bonus once per lifetime.

As you may have noticed… the first five cards I suggested are Chase cards. This is because all of these cards are under the 5/24 rule, which means once you have 5 new credit card accounts in the past 24, you will not be able to get these cards. You’ll also notice that most of my suggestions earn points that can be transferred. The reason I suggest starting with transferable points is that even if you don’t have travel plans within the next year you don’t have to worry about a specific loyalty program devaluations. I value the flexibility of these types of points. If you do decide to apply for any of these cards, feel free to use my referral links.