Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Credit Cards (page 1 of 6)

5 reasons the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the Best Starter Travel Credit Card

While many people have been singing the merits of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card ever since it debuted last year, I still consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred to be the best starter travel credit card in the business.

If you’re new to this hobby, you really cannot go wrong with the card. It certainly made my list of best starter cards (SEE: 3 Great Starter Travel Credit Cards). Here are 5 reasons I will still recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred as the best starter travel credit card around:

Great sign-up bonus

When looking for a good travel credit card sign-up bonus, you should be looking in the $500+ range if possible. There are certainly some good cards out there with bonuses worth somewhat less than that and others that offer valuable ongoing perks. But $500+ is what I try to look for. The Chase Sapphire Preferred definitely calls in this range.

The standard 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards (UR) points offer for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is worth at minimum $500. That is a value if you simply cashed out the points. The same 50,000 points are worth $625 when redeemed through the Chase travel portal, and you can often get even greater value by transferring to travel partners.

In short, it is a solid sign-up bonus.

No initial annual fee

Some people new to this hobby may be turned off by the idea of paying an annual fee “just for a credit card.” I’ve actually written a post about some of the best no-fee credit card options out there (SEE: 5 of the Best No Fee Credit Cards for Travel).

The Chase Sapphire Preferred gives you the best of both worlds. Since the fee is waived the first year, getting the card doesn’t cost you anything up front. I’m hesitant to say it is “risk free” since credit card can indeed be risky if you don’t manage your finances responsibly! (SEE: 5 Commandments of Travel Credit Cards).

If you do, however, this is a perfect card that gives you a great sign up bonus, yet lets you put off deciding whether you want to pay a fee for the product. It gives you 12 months to decide if the card is a good one for you.

Flexible points

One of the best features of having a “premium” Chase Card (Ink Preferred, Sapphire Preferred, Sapphire Reserve) is the ability to use the points in multiple ways. The fact that the Chase Sapphire Preferred has no annual fee out the gate and has flexible options for using the points is a major reason I consider it the best starter travel credit card.

First, you can always cash them out for 1 cent per point, but I do not recommend this.

The second option is to use them to book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards travel. You can book flights, hotels, and rental cars. You’ll receive greater value this way as each point will be worth 1.25 cents. For Sapphire Reserve cardholders it is 1.5 cents. But let’s focus on the Sapphire Preferred.

Last, but certainly not least, is the ability to transfer points to an array of partners. This is where most of the best value is found.

High-value transfer partners

Of the three major bank programs that have an array of travel partners to which you can transfer your points, I’ll readily argue that Chase is the best. American Express Membership Rewards isn’t all that far behind, but I still consider Chase to be top dog.

Chase has several high-value partners, including United, Hyatt, Korean Air, FlyingBlue, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Southwest, and Virgin Atlantic (SEE: 5 Best Chase Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partners). The ones that are both exclusive to Chase and  high value are United, Korean Air, and Hyatt.

best starter travel credit card

We had a great stay at the Hyatt House Portland for only 12,000 UR points transferred to Hyatt!

Hyatt is by far the best hotel transfer partner of the Ultimate Rewards program, often giving you twice the value from your points as either Marriott/Ritz or IHG.

Ability to transfer points from other Chase cards

The ability to transfer points between UR-earning cards is another great perk of the Ultimate Rewards program. This isn’t exclusive to the Chase Sapphire Preferred, but it comes in especially handy.

To transfer points between Ultimate Rewards accounts, you must either transfer them to one of your own other accounts, or to an account of someone who is a member of your household.

For example, I have transferred points several times from my Chase Freedom card to my wife’s Chase Sapphire Preferred. Given that I don’t have a Sapphire Preferred, this lets us use the points I earn from my Freedom card for travel and for transferring to partners. If I didn’t have this option, I could only cash the points out at 1 cent each. For a full rundown on transferring UR points, see this article.

Convinced that it’s the best starter travel credit card?

There are certainly other cards that offer a bigger sign-up bonus or better perks. But few have all the qualities that make the Chase Sapphire Preferred the best starter travel credit card.

In case you think I get paid to push this product, I have no affiliation with Chase. I don’t make money from credit card referrals (but who knows…I may someday). This is solely my own personal opinion, and still my recommendation after 5 years of being in this hobby.

If you’re interested and want to support me, send me a note via the contact me page and I can send you a referral link! (Yes, this is different than an affiliate link, as it is a personal referral).

5 of the Best No Fee Credit Cards for Travel

Many people balk at the idea of paying an annual fee for a credit card. I’d like to convince you that fees aren’t all bad, especially if you are getting great value for even a $95 fee. But if you want to jump into the “travel hacking” world without paying a fee, consider one of these best no fee credit cards.

Technically, I’ll still suggest getting a Chase Sapphire Preferred as your first card. It’s introductory fee is $0 for the first year, so there really isn’t a downside. You’ll have 12 months to decide if you want to pay the fee. But if you want to start with something truly free, these are some of the best no fee credit cards you can get:

Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Chase Freedom Unlimited card is one of the best no fee credit cards if you are new to this hobby. The card typically carries a sign up bonus of $150 (really 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points), and it earns 1.5 Ultimate Rewards (UR) points on all purchases.

If you have a premium Chase card (Sapphire Preferred, Ink Preferred, Sapphire Reserve), you can transfer these points to one of these cards and then to travel partners. You can also use them to book travel directly through the Chase travel portal. If you don’t have a premium card, you can simply use them for cash back.

The points have substantially more value when redeemed for travel, which I one reason I suggest getting a Chase Sapphire Preferred card. But if you are adverse to fees, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is a decent card.

American Express EveryDay

The American Express Everyday card shines as the best no fee credit card for travel that actually earns transferable points. It typically comes with a sign up bonus of 10,000 points after $1,000 in spending, but occasionally you can find a higher offer. Obviously, getting a higher bonus is great since you can only get it once due to Amex’s once-per-lifetime bonus limit.

The American Express EveryDay card earns 2x points per dollar at supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year of spending. It earns 1x on all other purchases. However, if you make at least 20 purchases in your billing cycle, you will earn an additional 20% bonus on your points. This equals up to 2.4 points per dollar spent on supermarket purchases, which is quite good.

If you do a lot of spending at supermarkets, the EveryDay Preferred may be the better way to go. But it has a fee.

Chase Freedom

The Chase Freedom card is similar to the Chase Freedom Unlimited, except it earns 5 UR points per dollar in quarterly rotating categories. It earns 1x points on all other purchases. The quarterly categories are capped at $1,500 in spending, which mean you can earn a maximum of 7,500 UR points at the bonus rate each quarter.

Again, the Ultimate Rewards earned from the Chase Freedom card can only be used for travel if you have one of the premium cards. You can also transfer them to the account of someone in your household if you are an authorized user on one of their premium cards.

Best no fee credit cards

Citi DoubleCash

While not specifically a travel credit card, the Citi DoubleCash card is one you should consider adding to your wallet. The card doesn’t offer a sign up bonus, but is does offer unlimited 2% cash back on all purchases. The earning is split: 1% when you buy, 1% when you pay. Rewards hit your account at the end of each statement cycle.

Often when I can’t decide what travel card to use for spending in a non-bonus category, I’ll simply pull out my DoubleCash. It’s hard to beat straight 2% cash back (although my SPG American Express gets some love as well, but it *does* have a fee).

Which of the best no fee credit cards should you get first?

Out of these best no fee credit cards, the only one with which you can earn flexible, transferable points is the American Express EveryDay card. It is one of the cards I suggest getting and keeping, especially considering American Express’ “once per lifetime” limit on credit card bonuses.

However, it may not be the best choice as a first card for a couple reasons. First, you may want to get Chase cards first due to the Chase “5/24” rule (SEE: Trying to Understand the Chase 5/24 Rule). Second, the Freedom or Freedom Unlimited will provide better value in the long run if you ever get a premium Chase card. I’ll reiterate that the Chase cards must both be paired with a premium card to get the full value out of the points. Otherwise you’re just looking at them as cash back cards.

Remember to use credit cards responsibly. The rewards you earn are only worth it if you pay your balance in full and on time every month (SEE: The 5 Commandments of Travel Credit Cards – or really any credit card).

Don’t be Afraid to Call the Bank!

I have a bad habit of putting off bank calls. For instance, I still haven’t called Banco Popular to unfreeze my Avianca Vuela Visa card (SEE: Lucrative Offer! New Avianca LifeMiles Credit Cards). Goes to show how much I use it. The one time I went to make a large purchase out of area, the bank declined it. I got a letter within a week asking me to call. Over two months later, I still haven’t.

Bank calls can be intimidating. And long. And often frustrating. I hate being placed on hold for more than a few minutes.

Today’s call was different. I had a bit of time to kill this evening, so I figured I’d contact American Express regarding my Starwood Preferred Guest personal card. I’ve been considering canceling it, simply to make room for another card. Ever since I got my business SPG Amex (SEE: Getting My First Business Credit Card), I have hardly used the personal one.

Canceling a card turns into free money

I was pleasantly surprised when I was on hold for maybe a minute before getting a helpful agent. Since she didn’t specialize in card cancellations, she transferred me to another specialist who did. He was competent and helpful.

After expressing my desire to cancel my personal SPG card, he asked me to hold for a minute. In no time at all he was back with an offer for a $100 statement credit. This was a pleasant surprise. I had expected a small number of Starpoints to be offered. But $100? I’ll take it.

He went on to explain that there were no strings attached. American Express was basically offering me $100, free and clear. He went so far as to mention that if I canceled my card come July (when me fee is due), I’d still keep the credit. I’m not sure if American Express would want him explicitly alerting me to that fact…

Conclusion: call the bank more often

My takeaway is that I shouldn’t shy away from calling the card issuer. Banks try to do what they can to keep customers. I’ve put a good amount of spending on my American Express cards in the past couple years, so that may be one of the factors that triggered the offer.

In any case, don’t be shy about calling, especially when an annual fee comes due. The bank may work with you to either reduce it (by a statement credit offset) or make it worth your while in other ways, such as extra points. These are called “retention offers”. I’m going to do my best to capitalize on more of them!

Featured image courtesy of Infrogmation under CC 2.0 license

Best-Ever Hilton American Express Card Offers

Credit card sign up bonuses routinely fluctuate. It is good to understand when you are getting in at the top of the wave rather than the bottom. In general, most airline cards should turn your head when they have an offer of 50,000 miles or more.

Hotel cards, however, are all over the map. You just need to understand each program and the value of its points currency. But…the good thing is most bloggers will let you know when the offers are at their best. And now is one of those times for the Hilton American Express cards.

Hilton Amex Card offer

The offer on the Hilton Card from American Express is 80,000 points after $2,000 in spending within the first 3 months of card membership. Features of this card include:

  • No annual fee
  • Earns 7x Hilton points on Hilton stays, 5x points on gas, groceries, and restaurants, and 3x points on everything else.
  • Hilton Silver status and ability to earn Gold status after spending $20,000 on the card in a calendar year.

The no-fee Hilton card is one of the “keepers” in my wallet. Because American Express only offers a sign-up bonus once per lifetime on their products, getting the Hilton card with this increased bonus is ideal. Once you have it, there is no reason to drop in, in my opinion, since you can’t ever get the sign up bonus again.

Link here (or hit me up via the contact me page for a referral).

Hilton Surpass Amex Card offer

The offer on the Hilton Surpass Card from American Express is 100,000 points after $3,000 in spending within the first 3 months of card membership. Features of this card include:

  • $85 annual fee
  • Earns 12x Hilton points on Hilton stays, 6x points on gas, groceries, and restaurants, and 3x points on everything else.
  • Hilton Gold status and the ability to earn Diamond status after spending $40,000 on the card in a calendar year.

The perks of the Hilton Surpass Card over the no-fee American Express Hilton card are slightly better since it grants you automatic Gold status with Hilton, and the earning is better as well. But there is a fee. However, if you have paid Hilton stays several times per year, you’ll probably come out ahead with this card.

Link here.

Both offers end 5/31/17.

The value of Hilton points

While these bonuses might seem huge in terms on the number of bonus points, they really aren’t all that spectacular. Don’t get me wrong, now is definitely the time to apply. But Hilton points don’t go as far as you might think.

Hilton hotels require anywhere from 5,000 to 95,000 points per night, which mean you could actually get over 20 nights out of the 100,000 point bonus offer (Hilton also offers a 5th night free benefit)! But the 5,000 and 10,000 point hotels are few and far between.

Honestly, I’m not even sure you can find them anymore after Hilton killed their award chart. But I haven’t really checked. In general, you should expect to pay anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 points per night on a “typical” hotel.

At this point, just view your Hilton points as worth about 0.5 cents each. This makes the bonuses worth roughly $400 and $500, respectively. This is a good card bonus, but nothing groundbreaking.

Again, if you’re interested in the no-fee Hilton card, shoot me a note via the contact me page and let me send you a referral link.

5 Best Chase Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partners

Chase Ultimate Rewards is my favorite flexible points program. The points are redeemable for 1.25 cents (1.5 cents if you have a Sapphire Reserve) each in travel through the Chase travel portal, or redeemable for cash at 1 cent each.

Or you can transfer them to travel partners, which is where some of the greatest value lives.

Best Chase Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partners

I consider the following five transfer partners to be the best among the bunch. This is primarily because of the value you can get out of your points plus the availability/flexibility of the awards you can book with them.

  1. United MileagePlus – United miles are hands-down my favorite way to use my Ultimate Rewards (UR) points. As a Star Alliance partner, United miles can be used to fly pretty much anywhere. And nearly all awards are bookable through the website. They are also the best miles for Humboldt-based travelers, in my opinion. United awards also never pass on fuel surcharges, which is another reason I like them so much.
  2. HyattHyatt is the one good hotel program among Chase’s partners. I find that I can typically redeem my Hyatt points for at least 1.7 cents each, as they have a favorable award chart. Hyatt doesn’t have quite the number of properties that Marriott and IHG have, but their hotels are top notch. They certainly have plenty of coverage is most major international destinations.
  3. Korean Air Skypass – This is not a program that I am terribly familiar with, but it is one that some people use to great advantage. Their award chart has some great sweet spots, including East Asia to North America for 80,000 miles one-way in first, and North America to Hawaii for 25,000 miles round-trip. The trick with the latter is that Korean Air doesn’t treat Hawaii as different than the rest of the United States.
  4. Singapore KrisFlyer – Singapore recently made some changes to their awards, effectively increasing the price of many awards, but reducing fuel surcharges. Their points are still quite valuable, however, especially for aspirational redemptions like flying Singapore Suites, as they are the only effective way to attain them.
  5. FlyingBlueFlyingBlue is the loyalty program for both KLM and Air France. The program has some great sweet spots, including North America to Israel and North America to Hawaii/Caribbean. Do some research. The program treats some interesting places as “Europe” for award price purposes, including Israel and North Africa. FlyingBlue also offers promo awards that change every couple months. Promo awards reduce the points cost of specific redemptions by 20% to 50%, which can really let you stretch you UR points!
Best Chase Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partners - United Award

I recently topped off my United miles using some UR for a ticket to Australia

For all partners, points are transferred at a 1:1 ratio in increments of 1,000. To transfer you points to Chase’s partner’s, log into Ultimate Rewards using your Chase credentials and click ‘Use Points’ and then ‘Transfer to Travel Partners’.

From there you can transfer your points to any partner, and even save your loyalty numbers so you don’t have to input them in the future.

What about the other partners?

These are the best 5 partners across the board. I’m not saying you can’t find value in transferring to British Airways Avios, Southwest RapidRewards, and Virgin Atlantic FlyingClub, but it’s a bit tougher, in general.

As far as the other hotel partners go, I would avoid transferring UR points to them. It *might* make sense in Marriott’s case, if you are really close to a specific redemption or travel package.

In IHG’s case, I don’t really see an upside. You will nearly always get better value by doing a “points and cash” night rather than converting some UR points to get the last few you need for a full redemption.

Conclusion

Take some time and become familiar with the Ultimate Rewards partner loyalty programs. It will help you immensely in the long run since you’ll be better able to maximize the value of your points.

If you don’t already have a Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa card, I highly recommend that it be your first travel credit card. If you want to apply, shoot me an email and let me send you a referral link. 🙂 The points are valuable, and you can maximize their value by transferring them to any of the best Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners above.

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