your first travel credit card- best main players

Welcome back to summer school! Today’s lesson we return to travel hacking. So you’ve got the lingo down but now you’re wondering what’s the best travel credit card to open first. Today we talk about how to pick your main travel credit card.

So now you know all the Lingo from our last Travel Hacking Episode, but what cards should you actually get? A lot of today’s talk is going to be based around your own travel habits, but hopefully we can give you some insight! 

We’ve already talked about our Easy, Medium and Hard travel hacking in our Second ever episode so this is going to be more about the full wallet, not just one card! 

When we say main player cards, we mean where you are spending money and turning things you buy into flexible currency. So your main cards need to be flexible currency (e.g., points that are transferable to airlines and hotel programs).

If you’re already lost – go back to our lingo episode to get caught up! 

When you start – you will probably have one main card off this list, from one of the ecosystems

As you progress – you’ll want to add cards that give you more points in certain categories

For Example…

Generally there are four ecosystems for Cards- Capital One, Chase, AMEX and Citi. A combo of these are going to be your best bet overall but the order you get them in can matter! Many people will say to start with chase cards if you’re serious into getting into hacking. That’s because Chase has a 5/24 rule – meaning you can’t have more than five cards (of any kind, excluding business cards) opened in the last 24 months AND be approved for a Chase card. I know that sounds like a lot, but you’d be surprised. 

Examples of useful card combinations include: 


  • 1st card – Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve (need this to consolidate points in chase ecosystem otherwise the two additional cards will just be cash back)
    • 1x points – except for very specific categories (dining x3)
  • Chase freedom unlimited
    • 1.5x points on everything
  • Chase freedom flex
    • 5x points – rotating categories 

*So for this example, if you had all three cards, you would use your Freedom Unlimited for most purchases. The only time you wouldn’t use the Freedom Unlimited is if you’re out to eat (then you’d use Chase Sapphire Preferred) or if you were at one of the rotating categories of the Freedom Flex (for example, the 2nd quarter could be 5x on gas).

 Capital One 

  • Venture X (or Venture) can be main spending
    • 2x points for all purchases
  • Second card – capital one saver card – 4x on dining and streaming, 3x on groceries
  • Trade points between cards

 *For this example, you would use the Venture X on all spending except dining, streaming and groceries (then you’d use Savor)


Other example of card combinations would include:

 American Express

    • 5x flights booked with airlines or booked in portal
    • 1x everything else
  • AMEX Gold
    • 4x dining and groceries
    • 3x airfare
    • 1x other
  • The Points Guy values 1 amex point as 2 cents so your points are very valuable in this ecosystem!


Citi Bank

  • Citi premiere – be able to use travel transfer partners
    • Use this for bonus categories, and the other for all other purchases
  • Citi rewards plus (intro bonus)
    • Rounds up to nearest 10 points every purchase
    • $42 haircut = 
      • 42 points on the Premiere
      • 50 points on Citi rewards plus

So, which do you choose? 

Is your head spinning while thinking of credit card strategy?

Yeah, it’s a lot – we know. We’re still learning too, but we put together an overview of our current wallet and how we use it right now to travel for free (or close to it!).

Check out our credit card wallet here

If you’re going to start with Chase, you’ll probably want to start with the Sapphire Preferred or the Reserve. That’s going to be your main spending card and will give you the ability to take other Chase cash back cards and use them as points and miles. Once you have one of those (you don’t need both of those!), then you’ll want to complete a Chase trifecta. This gives you the maximum earning potential. Generally, it is one of the cards mentioned above, the Chase Freedom or Freedom Flex and a Business Ink Card. If you don’t have a business you can get both the freedom and freedom flex.

AMEX has its own trifecta – although I think a little less useful than Chase. It includes the Platinum Card, Amex Gold Card and Blue Business Plus (no fee). They all work together to get you great earning potential in the AMEX ecosystem – BUT, unlike Chase, you can also have each of these individual cards and use the points with their 20 transfer partners. This makes it less of a big deal to have all three, but the annual fees on the Gold and Platinum cards are high! 

Chase and AMEX have the best transfer partners. It’s more complicated to transfer points, but that’s really where you’ll find the best results in travel hacking. 

Capital One and Citi are less intense. Capital One Venture or Venture X pairs well with the Capital One Savor card (plus you can only have two personal Capital One cards). Citi has its Citi premiere and Citi reward pairs as a great combo. 

Capital One has the purchase eraser, which makes it super easy to use the points, but it doesn’t give you the most bang for your buck. It is a set redemption rate of 1 cent per point.

So there’s your roadmap of your first travel credit cards! 

A couple things to remember about opening credit cards are…

  • Make sure you spread out opening cards- you don’t want to try to open three credit cards in a month- that can get you flagged! I recommend opening one every 90-120 days to keep things manageable. Even better if you can spread it out between you and player 2! 
  • Make sure you can also meet the sub – that’s where all the points are – and don’t manufacture spend (spend money you would not have otherwise spent) just to meet those SUBS. This can get you in trouble! 
  • Make sure you’re aware of the bank’s rules – like Chase 5/24, Capital One’s two card limit and AMEX’s “lifetime bonus”. 
  • Do not open credit cards if you have trouble paying them every month. The second you start carrying a balance on credit cards, you completely negate any benefits. 


If this is all giving you a headache, you can also head over to see our exact wallet set up and what we use today to get us all our points and miles! We will update this over time with new offers and as we learn more! 

Meet the Bargers

Bruce and Shelly are a 30-something couple always on the lookout for cheap eats, wildlife sightings and a good brewery. They started traveling together ten years ago and haven't looked back. They travel internationally at least three times a year and have been to 42 states, all while holding those pesky 9-5 jobs. They hope you can take these travel tips and live the life you've only dreamed about!

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