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3 Travel Credit Cards for Beginners

American Airlines in Nashville, TN
American Airlines in Nashville

It's been a little over a year since I first wrote about travel credit cards for beginners, based on my experience in 2018

I had a positive experience with all three that I obtained and found it easier than expected to earn and redeem points for free flights. 

To recap, in my first year, I obtained three new cards:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve card
  • Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card
  • Citi Premier ThankYou card

In 2019, I took my advice by continuing a slow and steady approach toward opening new lines of credit. 

It's important to me that I not get in over my head. I'd rather have fewer high-quality cards than a wallet full of random ones. 

I applied for three new credit cards, all of which offer significant bonus miles for new customers who meet the minimum spend requirements.

All three also offer excellent travel-related rewards and benefits.

Disclaimer: For accuracy and clarity's sake, all rewards, benefits, and spending requirements in this article are based on what's associated with the card today and are not necessarily what they were when I signed up. 

Travel Credit Cards I Got in 2019

After spending January 2019 in Colombia, I returned home to Austin, TX, and set my sights on two airline credit cards.

The riverfront in downtown Nashville, TN
I visited Nashville for the first time using airline points

AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard

The first card I applied for was the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard by American Airlines. 

The Bonus

New cardholders earn 60,000 bonus miles after making their first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee. 

Your first purchase could be anything. I bought a movie ticket for $12.50, and that met the requirement.

So, after spending $111.50 in total, I was credited with 60,000 miles to use toward free flights. 

I don't fly American Airlines often. However, due to the number of routes they fly, I knew it wouldn't be hard to redeem their miles for domestic and short international flights. 

Additional Rewards

  • Earn a Companion Certificate for one guest at $99 (plus taxes and fees) after paying for your first purchase and the annual fee within the first 90 days
  • 2x miles for every one dollar you spend on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • 1x mile for every dollar on all other purchases
  • Save 25% on inflight food and beverages when you use your card on American Airlines flights (applied as a statement credit)
  • Get up to $25 back on inflight Wi-Fi (statement credit) each anniversary year on American Airlines flights

Travel Benefits

  • First checked bag is free for the cardmember and up to four companions when traveling on domestic American Airlines flights
  • Preferred boarding for the cardmember and up to four companions when traveling on domestic American Airlines flights
  • Travel accident insurance, auto rental collision waiver, baggage delay insurance, trip cancellation and interruption coverage
  • No foreign transaction fees 

Overall, this card was easy to apply for and easy to use. 

It made traveling to Montreal for my first Canadian Grand Prix more affordable and helped me celebrate July 4th in Nashville

And I still have enough points left to use toward a third flight. 

Time with Card = 11 months (February to December)

Points Earned = 65,088

Points Redeemed = 42,750 for two free flights (Nashville to Austin | Montreal to Austin)

Delta planes at JFK airport in New York City
Delta planes at JFK airport

Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card 

I applied for the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express card the same week as the American Airlines card above. 

The new cardholder bonus has changed a little since I signed up, but it is still very generous. 

The Bonus

New cardholders earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 within the first three months. 

Plus, you'll get an additional 10,000 bonus miles on your first anniversary with the card. 

I used this card to pay my 2018 taxes, which was the most I've ever spent.

I quickly cleared the spending requirement and received my bonus miles soon after that.

Additional Rewards

  • 2x miles for Delta purchases, restaurants, and US supermarkets
  • 1x miles on all other eligible purchases
  • Receive 20% off Delta in-flight purchases (applied as a statement credit)

Travel Benefits

  • First checked bag is free (a potential savings of $60 on a roundtrip Delta flight)
  • Enjoy Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding
  • Car rental loss and damage insurance 
  • No foreign transaction fees

I used Delta points to help offset the cost of my trip home from Copenhagen (by way of New York City).

I ended the year with enough points to cover several free flights in 2020.

Time with Card = 11 months (February to December)

Points Earned = 81,806

Points Redeemed = 32,500 for one free Delta Comfort+ flight (New York City to Austin)

Sebastian Vettel leads the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal for Ferrari
Using airline points, I visited Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix

American Express Gold Card 

The third card I applied for last year was the American Express Gold card, and it was my favorite of the three.

The required spend to earn the welcome bonus has changed since I got it, but the benefits and high value of the AmEx Membership Rewards points still make it an excellent card to have in your wallet. 

The Welcome Bonus

New cardholders will earn 50,000 Membership Rewards points when spending $4,000 using the card within the first three months. Terms Apply.

Additional Rewards

  • 4x Membership Rewards points on restaurants worldwide
  • 4x Membership Rewards points at US supermarkets (up to a maximum of $25,000 per calendar year)
  • 3x Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly with airlines or on
  • 1x Membership Rewards points for all other qualifying purchases
  • $120 dining credit (up to $10 per month) when you use your Gold card with select delivery apps and restaurants

Travel Benefits

  • $100 airline fee credit – pick one qualifying airline and receive up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year when incidental fees such as checked bags and in-flight drinks are charged by the airline to your Gold card
  • Car rental loss and damage insurance
  • Baggage insurance
  • No foreign transaction fees

This card has an annual fee of $250. However, as you can see above, the benefits are worth it. 

To quickly qualify for the welcome bonus, I put all my spending on this card for a month.

Once I met the requirement, I began using it primarily for food, one of my most significant monthly expenses. 

I previously used my Chase Sapphire Reserve card for restaurants; however, it only earns 3x points per dollar in this category. 

Because I got this card in late summer, I'd already accounted for how I would pay for and cover my remaining flights for the year. I chose to save my points for future use.

Time with Card = 5 months (August to December)

Points Earned = 77,466

Points Redeemed = zero


New Credit Cards = 3

Total Points Earned = 224,360

Total Points Redeemed =  75,250

Number of Free Flights = 3

Credit Score = Excellent

I ended 2019 with over 250,000 points across six travel credit cards for beginners and various airline loyalty programs.

Even though I had thought about trying a hotel credit card, I didn't end up taking that approach, nor did I create the spreadsheet I envisioned to track everything. 

The latter is becoming more critical as the number of accounts I have open continues to grow. 

I hope this update from my adventures in the world of frequent flyer miles and travel rewards proves helpful. 

Flying for free is a great feeling, whether you're traveling an hour or two to visit family or across the world. 

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