My Top Two Credit Cards for Beginners

Points Game

If you are looking to get into the travel hacking world, I am excited for you! Over the years, I have saved thousands of dollars on hotels, flights, and car rentals in Jamaica, New Orleans, and almost everywhere across the world!

A lot of people ask me which credit cards to start with, so I figured I would write a post to address this exact question.

My wife and I recently stayed at the Andaz Napa for free (2019 © JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

My wife and I recently stayed at the Andaz Napa for free (2019 © JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

Many Ways to Skin a Card

There are lots of credit card strategies out there. Some are very lucrative, while others are just plain wrong. In talking to people over the years, I have found is that the majority of beginners just want a simple strategy.

So while I personally try to maximize every dollar I spend, I know not everyone wants to run to office supply stores for gift cards or to think about which credit card to use to buy coffee. Sometimes, life is just too busy for that. For those who want the most points for the least amount of work, I strongly suggest considering two cards.

Seeing Double (Tokyo, 2010  ©  JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

Seeing Double (Tokyo, 2010 © JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

The Chase Double

The Chase Freedom and the Chase Sapphire Reserve have been in my wallet for many years. They are consistently on my best credit card list, and for good reason.

I recently reviewed the Chase Freedom, a no annual fee card that has the potential to be very lucrative. If you can maximize spending on it, you can earn $300 a year without paying a single cent. Even if you are not looking to play the “hacking” game, it would still make sense to get the card.

Do you buy groceries? Get the Chase Freedom! (2019  ©  JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

Do you buy groceries? Get the Chase Freedom! (2019 © JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

The second card you should consider is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. If you are adamantly against annual fees, then maybe the Chase Freedom is the only card you should get. But you should not be afraid of annual fees, since you can easily avoid them.

With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, for instance, some people really balk at the $450 annual fee. Yes, that does sound incredibly high. But when you factor in the $300 yearly travel credit, which is really easy to take advantage of, the annual fee comes down to $150 a year.

Now, a $150 is still a cost worth considering, but if you already spend $2,700 a year in eating out at restaurants and travel expenses, the annual fee is effectively covered with the points you earn. If you do not spend that much a year in those categories, then the Chase Sapphire Preferred is probably the better option for you. If you are interested in the math with the Sapphire cards, you can read more about that here.

Another point to consider is that the Chase Sapphire Reserve makes your Chase Freedom points worth more. So if you do maximize your use of the Chase Freedom, instead of getting $300 a year, you can actually get $450 a year. That is $150 more, cancelling our the cost of having the Sapphire Reserve!

The Chase Sapphire Reserve has no foreign transaction fees, so you can also use it in places like Canada!

The Chase Sapphire Reserve has no foreign transaction fees, so you can also use it in places like Canada!

Rewards in Action

How do these two cards help me in my regular travel life?

I just came back from Detroit, where my wife and I went for a wedding. I enjoy weddings, but the reality is they can be costly to attend. Our four day trip, for example, would have cost over $1,000 if we had paid cash. Instead, we ended up paying about 10% of the total price!

Here’s the breakdown.

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I used Chase points for our flights, hotel, and car rental, which all ended up being free! Flights and the hotel were booked through transferring points to jetBlue and Hyatt respectively, which are both Chase transfer partners. I booked our car rental through the Chase portal, where each Chase point is automatically worth 1.5 cents each.

So there you have it - my Chase cards helped me save over $1,000! Yes, flying across the world in luxury is exciting, but honestly I get just as excited about saving money on “normal” itineraries within the USA. Even if you only travel once a year, the cost savings with credit card points can definitely be worth it!

The Happy Couple (2019  ©  JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

The Happy Couple (2019 © JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

As always, let me know if you have any questions!