Everyone Always Asks Me What’s the First Card I Should Get to Start Earning Travel Rewards. This Is What I Tell Them

The nation's premier credit card expert reveals your next travel rewards card.

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I’ve been collecting frequent flyer miles since I was a teenager in the 1980s, and I started taking it very seriously in 2006. Since then, I’ve earned and spent millions of points and miles, largely through credit card rewards. Since 2013, I’ve almost never paid cash for a flight or hotel room, despite taking dozens of trips a year.

Between this personal experience, and my career as a credit card expert, it’s no wonder that so many people ask me what credit card they should get to start earning travel rewards. In most cases, the answer is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

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Why the Chase Sapphire Preferred Is the Best Travel Card for Beginners

There’s no one best travel credit card that’s right for everyone, but the Chase Sapphire Preferred actually works like having over a dozen different rewards credit cards. That’s because it allows you to transfer your rewards to miles with 10 airlines and points with three hotel programs. Although it might not be ideal for the most frequent travelers and highest spenders, it’s part of a family of Chase cards that has a built-in upgrade path. So when it comes time to take your travel rewards game to the next level, you won’t have to start from scratch with an entirely different card and rewards program.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Rewards Rate for Dining and Travel

The card offers you 2x points per dollar spent on all travel and dining purchases and 1x everywhere else. In fact, Chase broadly defines travel to include not just airfare, hotels and rental cars, but expenses like parking, tolls and public transit too.

Redeeming and Transferring Chase Sapphire Preferred Points

Points are worth 1.25 cents each when redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center, but they can also be transferred to airline and hotel partners at a 1:1 ratio. When you’re able to redeem these rewards for premium class international flights or hotel reservations during peak season, then it’s often possible to realize several cents in value per point redeemed.

>>DISCOVER: The Hidden Benefits of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

For example, it’s not uncommon to redeem 15,000 points for a free night in a Hyatt hotel that costs several hundred dollars a night. Or, you can transfer 150,000 points to frequent flyer miles, which you can redeem for a business class ticket to Europe that would have cost over $5,000.

traveler walks among ruins
Credit: Twenty20

How To Transfer Chase Sapphire Points to Chase Travel Partners

The key to getting maximum value from your Chase Ultimate Rewards points is transferring them to travel partners. To do so, first login to Chase.com and select your Chase Sapphire Preferred account. Look for “See Balance” under the “Ultimate Rewards” heading, and then click “Redeem” or “Redeem Rewards.” That will bring you to the Ultimate Rewards home page, and one option will be “Transfer to Travel Partners.” From there, you can select an airline or hotel program. Then you’ll have to input your member ID number and confirm it. Finally, you’ll choose the number of points you wish to transfer in 1,000 point increments.

  1. Login to your Chase account and select the Chase Sapphire Preferred account.
  2. Look for “See Balance” under the “Ultimate Rewards” heading and click “Redeem” or “Redeem Rewards.”
  3. Select “Transfer to Travel Partners” and review Chase’s current airline and hotel partners.
  4. Input the number of points to transfer, input and confirm your points transfer.

Thankfully, all points transfer to partners in a 1:1 ratio, and most transfers are instantaneous once confirmed. However, Singapore Airlines tend to take up to a day, and Marriott Bonvoy can take up to two days.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Bonus

New applicants can earn a 60,000-point bonus points after using their card to spend $4,000 within three months of account opening. This is worth $750 in travel reservations booked through Chase, but potentially more when transferred to airline and hotel partners. The Chase Sapphire Preferred bonus is generally regarded as among the best credit card bonuses available.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Benefits: Travel and Purchase Insurance

While the Sapphire Preferred is not considered to be among the best credit cards for balance transfers, this travel rewards card offers valuable benefits. The Chase Sapphire Preferred travel insurance benefits include trip cancellation, trip interruption and baggage and trip delay protections.

  • Trip Cancellation: This policy covers you for up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip for cancellation of a trip for a covered reason such as injuries or sickness of the traveler or an immediate family member, as well as severe weather, military orders or jury duty.
  • Trip Interruption: This policy also covers you for up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip when your trip is interrupted for a covered reason.
  • Baggage Delay: This benefit can reimburse you for up to $100 per day for up to five days when your luggage is delayed for at least six hours.
  • Rental Car Insurance: This benefit covers your rental car for collision damage or theft, so long as you decline the optional insurance and pay for the rental with your card.

When shopping online or in-person, it includes purchase protection for damage or theft up to 120 days and an automatic extended manufacturer’s warranty where applicable.

  • Purchase Protection: Your purchases made with your card are covered for theft and accidental damage for 120 days from the date of purchase. The limit is $500 per claim and $50,000 per account.
  • Extended Manufacturer’s Warranty: This coverage offers you an additional year on your manufacturer’s warranty, up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per account.

The Chase Ecosystem: Pairing the Sapphire Preferred With Other Chase Cards

Another thing to consider is that this card is a vital part of what many people think of as the “Chase Ecosystem.” This refers to a number of credit cards offered by Chase that feature reward points that can be combined.

For example, when you have the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, you can earn 5x points per dollar for purchases from select retailers and merchant categories. By itself, the rewards that you earn from the Chase Freedom are worth just 1 cent each. But when you also have a Chase Sapphire Preferred, then you can combine those rewards, and redeem them for 1.25 cents each for travel reservations.

>>NEXT: Here’s How Chase Cardholders Can Get a Free DoorDash Membership

Or, you can transfer your rewards to airline miles or hotel points. The same ability to combine points is true of the Chase Freedom Unlimited, Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card and Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card.

a family swims in the sea during a vacation
Credit: iStock.com /MaFelipe

How to Transfer Points Between Chase Cards

To transfer points between one account and another, first login to Chase.com and select an account. Look for “See Balance” under the “Ultimate Rewards” heading, and then click “Redeem” or “Redeem Rewards.” That will bring you to the Ultimate Rewards home page, and one option will be “Combine Points” From there, you can select an airline or hotel program or your Chase Sapphire Preferred account. Then you’ll have to input your member ID number and confirm it. Finally, you’ll choose the number of points you wish to transfer in 1,000 point increments.

  1. Login to your Chase account and select one of your card accounts.
  2. Go to “See Balance” below “Ultimate Rewards”
  3. Select “Redeem” or “Redeem Rewards” and look for the “Combine Points” option.
  4. Determine how many points you will transfer, confirm you member ID number and agree to transfer.

Thankfully, all points transfer to partners in a 1:1 ratio, and most transfers are instantaneous once confirmed. However, Singapore Airlines tend to take up to a day, and Marriott Bonvoy can take up to two days.

How To Upgrade Chase Sapphire Preferred to Chase Sapphire Reserve®

This is a great card for those who are just getting started earning travel rewards, and it continues to be a solid choice for all but the most frequent travelers and hardcore award travel enthusiasts.

But if you ever find yourself wanting more, it’s pretty easy to call Chase and request a product change to the ultra-premium Chase Sapphire Reserve. With its $550 annual fee, the Sapphire Reserve offers 3x points on travel and dining, and returns 1.5 cents in value per point redeemed towards travel reservations made through Chase. It also features a Priority Pass™ Select airport lounge membership and a $300 annual travel credit.

>>UPGRADE: Why I Helped My Mom Apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve

Bottom Line: Chase Sapphire Preferred Review

This card is one of the gold standards for earning travel rewards. It starts you off with a generous sign-up bonus, and then continues to offer strong value by allowing you to earn double points on all travel and dining expenses.

But when it comes time to redeem your rewards for travel, this card really shines. You can take advantage of some really strong transfer partners such as United, Southwest, Singapore, Virgin Atlantic and Hyatt. Or, you can very easily just book any reservation you want through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center.

Apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card Benefits

family run into the ocean
Credit: Twenty20

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Jason Steele

Jason Steele is a journalist who specializes in covering credit cards, award travel and other areas of personal finance. As one of the nation’s leading experts in the credit card industry, Jason’s work has been featured at mainstream outlets such as Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money and Business Insider.

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