Your First Steps Toward Using Points and Miles

Congrats on reaching the end of the starter series! Now it's time to take the next steps. Maybe you're going to become a travel hacker (whatever that means to you) or maybe you just want to do one vacation using points and miles. Whatever your situation, here are some options for you.

Option 1: A Cash Back Card

The first option (but probably not the best!) is to get a cash back card.

Example Cards

Reasons to Use This Option

This option is good for people completely new to credit cards or who don't have a card earning points or cash back already. If you have neither, and you really just want to get the tiniest sense of this, then we suggest getting a cash back card.

Cash back cards are simple. You don't have to worry about what to do with your points or how to transfer them or use them. You'll pretty much be limited to a statement credit, gift cards, or some equivalent uses. They're also usually easy to get approved for.

Reasons Not To Use This Option

Signup bonuses are usually non-existent or unimpressive for cash back cards. Of the cards we listed above, only the Chase Freedom is going to earn you points you could potentially use for great value down the road. It isn't hard to justify either of our next two options of a cash back card if you'll do any travel in the next two years.

Option 2: The Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred has pretty much been the undisputed king of starter travel credit cards for the past few years.

Reasons to Use This Option

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a good starter card for a few reasons:

The Chase Sapphire Preferred was our first step into travel hacking, and we haven't looked back since.

Reasons Not To Use This Option

If you're a frequent traveler, the Chase Sapphire Reserve may be a better option. We've compared the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve in case you need help deciding. The everyday earning of 1X points (worth 1.25 cents toward travel expenses) outside travel and dining won't always be worth what you'd get with a 2% cash back card. That said, the waived first-year annual fee and generous signup bonus make this a great chance to test the waters of travel hacking.

Option 3: For Disney World Fans - The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card

The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card is one of the more popular cards for travel hackers, and it works especially well for Disney World fans.

Reasons to Use this Option

The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card is a great place to start for Disney World fans because the signup bonus can be used for nights at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin. The current signup bonus as of writing is (referral link):

That bonus will get you two to three nights at the Dolphin (depending on the total length of your stay). Starpoints are also incredibly valuable because of all the ways to transfer them to airline partners.

Reasons Not To Use This Option

With Marriott's recent acquisition of Starwood, there's reason to be cautious about accumulating too many Starpoints without a reason to use them. Starpoints have been an outlier as far as value for a long time now, and we can't be certain this will continue now that the program is owned by Marriott.

If you're not going to transfer your points and you have no interest in the Swan and Dolphin, you might instead prefer the versatility of the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Go Out And Earn Your First Signup Bonus

If you're at all seriously interested in travel hacking, and you won't have any problem paying your balance in full every month, here's how to get started with the Chase Sapphire Preferred:

  1. Review your spending to figure out how you're going to spend $4000 on a new card in three months. If necessary, review our post on hitting minimum spend without manufacturing spending.

  2. Head over to Chase and apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred (referral link)

  3. Execute your spending strategy over the next 3 months

  4. Wind up with at least 54,000 in Ultimate Rewards Points (50,000 from the signup bonus and 4,000 from the spending required to get the signup bonus)

Those 54,000 Ultimate Rewards Points could be used toward (for example):

And Beyond!

But this is just the first step. There is a whole world of travel hacking waiting for you. If you haven't already, subscribe to our newsletter to keep up on the latest, including some exclusive tips and deals we only share with our subscribers.

If you're ready for more in-depth hacks, try some of the following:

Thanks for reading the starter series. Otherwise, good luck on your travel hacking journey, and we hope to see you back here real soon!