Points Whisperer: Improving Your Travel with Plastic

By @ 03/09/15 in Gay travel, ManAboutWorld, Points Whisperer, Towleroad, Travel


Tips for earning travel points using credit cards from ManAboutWorld via Towleroad

The joy of earning points … and traveling.

Airline frequent flyer mile credit card programs have become a focal point of many frequent traveler programs. Not only do they provide points for your everyday spending, they increasingly provide travel benefits, as do select cards from issuers like Chase, Citi and American Express. Choosing the right card (or cards) depends on a number of factors: what kind of traveler you are, how much you spend on your charge cards — even where you use them.

Fortunately, you’re not limited to a single card, and bonuses for new card acquisition are so extensive, that some of us earn more miles/points each year by churning cards than we do for flights and nights. The bonuses are typically tied to a “specific card product” — so if you have the Delta Skymiles Gold American Express Card, you can still get another bonus by getting the Delta Skymiles Platinum American Express Card. And if you cancel your Chase United Explorer Card after the first free year (and have Chase transfer your credit line to another Chase-issued travel card, like Marriott), you can apply for the United card again two years later and get the bonus again. And with the major US carriers decreasing the miles most travelers earn by flying, the miles/points earned from charge cards are even more valuable.

The Acquisition Bonus
Acquisition bonuses can be huge. Bonuses of 30,000 to 50,000 points are common, bonuses double that are sometimes offered, and are usually combined with other incentives, like no annual fee for the first year or miles for adding an additional cardmember. Most cards now tie the bonus to a minimum spending threshold, assuming that if you get in the habit of using the card, you’ll continue to use it, providing the issuer with the merchant revenue stream that funds the offers. Google around before applying for any card — there’s often a 20,000 mile difference between the standard offer and promotional offers. Even if you have to pay an annual fee, the acquisition bonus will usually make up for it. There are lots of websites providing information about current card acquisition bonuses. Their information is usually accurate and current, but their advice is sometimes biased — they earn commissions by recommending certain cards.

imageAirline Cards
If you’re a semi-frequent traveler who doesn’t fly enough to earn elite status, the benefits offered simply by having a rewards card from your airline(s) of choice can make a big difference. First bag free checked luggage is common among all airline-affiliated cards, and can more than cover the annual fee. Priority Boarding is also common — so common that it seems like half the plane has it now, but at least you’re still ahead of the rest, which means your carry-on luggage will find a spot. You’ll also find discounts for onboard purchases, companion flight offers. etc. Airline miles are not the best frequent traveler points to bank, so unless you need the extra miles, choose these cards primarily for the benefits.

Hotel Cards
Most hotel-affiliated cards come with upgraded elite status and benefits such as free internet. The free night you get annually on many of the cards can pay for the cost of the card, but is usually restricted to lower category hotels — unusable in most major cities. The Hyatt, Marriott and IHG cards are all issued by Chase, https://creditcards.chase.com/hotel-credit-cards.aspx with similar features (no foreign transaction fee, first year free, upgraded elite status), but very different reward structures. While these hotel cards all have different earning structures for hotel stays, all three award 1 point per dollar spent on the card, and those points have very different values. A free night at IHG hotels costs 10,000-50,000 points. At Marriott, you’ll need 70,000 points for their best hotel rooms. Hyatt’s best rooms go for 30,000 (39,000 points with Club access). With Hilton cards, you’ll earn 2-3 points per dollar spent, but need as many as 95,000 points per free night for their best rooms. Like many experts, we’re big fans of the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card, because it acts like a “universal donor” card (see below), and with Starwood, rooms cost 2,000-35,000 points. But the SPG card still charges a foreign transaction fee of 3%. Not a good choice if you charge internationally. Like the airlines cards, hotel card benefits can easily pay for the annual fee if you stay a few times per year, but check what your annual spending might get you before using the card to accumulate points for a free hotel stay.

No Hassle Cards
Capital One’s http://www.capitalone.com/credit-cards/travel-and-miles/ promise of easy rewards really strikes a chord for anyone who’s tried to redeem miles at a saver level award. But here’s the thing: their $1 = 1.25 to 2 points; 1 point = 1¢ redemption formula means your reward rate of return is 1.25 – 2%, while airline miles redeemed for first and business class tickets can be a 4-13% return if you’re smart about redemption. BarclayCard https://www.barclaycardus.com/ is also offering a 2% return, but it’s only worthwhile for those who can’t be bothered playing the redemption game, and those guys stopped reading this long before now.

Universal Donor Cards
American Express, Chase, Citi and Diners Club all offer cards that transfer to a wide variety of partner programs. This is a great way to bank “universal” travel points, which you can accumulate and then strategically deploy. Many airlines hold redemption inventory for their own program members and not alliance members. So, for example, if you want to fly first class on Singapore Airlines, it doesn’t matter how many Star Alliance points you have — you’ll need Singapore Krisflyer points to do it. Many experts (us included) recommend the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card for this reason — not only does it have a long list of partners, but you’ll get a 5,000 point bonus each time you transfer 20,000 points. But our favorites of these cards are the American Express Platinum Card https://www.americanexpress.com/us/credit-cards/benefits/view-all/platinum  and the Citi Prestige Card. https://online.citibank.com/US/JRS/portal/template.do?ID=GACHome  Both have high annual fees, but come with equally impressive benefits. Both offer lounge memberships: AmEx Platinum gives you entree into Delta Sky Clubs and American Express’ own “Centurion Lounge” — the best lounges in the United States. Citi Prestige gets you into American AAdmirals Clubs. Both cards offer Priority Pass Select membership for independent lounge access all over the world. Both offer a $100 rebate on your Global Entry fee, and both have a credit towards airline expenses. (Citi is the better option here, with a $250 credit against any charge, whereas AmEx offers you $200 on incidentals only on a single carrier of your choice. And both let you transfer your points to partner programs — though here AmEx Platinum rules, with 21 partner programs vs. 11 each for Chase Sapphire Preferred or Citi Prestige. Check the partners before building a big point balance.


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  1. Pingback: 5 Credit Card Tips Every Traveler Should Know (But Doesn’t) - Safe Schools | Desert Cities

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