Credit Card Reviews Episodes

Good Credit Cards for Casual Travelers and Points/Miles Newbies

To hear my sultry voice discuss these cards and strategies in more depth, use the player above or download on whichever app you use for your podcast listening enjoyment.

Know that this is far from a complete list or guide. Consider this a primer and catalyst for discussion. What’s really important is to find a strategy that is comfortable for you. I know of travel bloggers with 15+ cards in their wallet. Most people don’t travel enough to make the fees worth carrying that many pieces of plastic.

Are premium cards worth the cost?

During year one, certainly. Sign-on bonuses alone will make most, at worst, a break-even proposition. They all offer a litany of sexy perks and benefits which are especially tantalizing for frequent travelers. If you only travel a few times a year, they may not be worth the annual fees after year one.

Find your mainstay

Find a card or cards that work best for the long term then form a strategy around it. Certain cards, specifically those that earn flexible points, work well together. For instance, Amex’s Membership Rewards points combine into one pool. Chase points work similarly, but you have to move them between Ultimate Rewards accounts.

Try one from each category

Flexible, hotel, airline. Rinse, lather, repeat. Know, however, because of varied earn rates and transfer options, you may earn more miles or points on a flexible card than with the co-branded card.

Why are transferable points better?

It has to do with award charts. You may find that for some airlines, the amount of points required to book a ticket depends on the actual price of that ticket if paid in cash. For some, the award chart is somewhat static, though based on availability. Essentially, based on a couple different criteria, a flight from city A to city B cost a certain number of points, no matter the actual cash price of the flight at any given time. This is similar to how many hotels work. Depending on the category of room, if there is availability, the points per night cost will be static. It’s these situations in which you can really stretch the value of your points. However, playing this game can cost some time and energy. There are some simple cards out there that make redemptions straightforward, but this does limit the value of their points/miles. There’s always a tradeoff.

The cards:

Best Overall

Chase Sapphire Preferred

$95 annual fee (waived first year)
50,000 point sign-on bonus
2x points on restaurant and travel
Points worth 1.25 cents when booking through Ultimate Rewards
Points transfer to several travel partners

The opportunity to transfer to travel partners is the big draw for this card and the best way to unlock a lot of value. Couple that with the bonus points for a popular category, dining, and this is a card is worth holding for a while.

Simple

Capital One Venture Rewards
$95 annual fee (waived first year)
$100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre-check
50,000 mile sign-on bonus
2x miles on every purchase
10x miles on Hotels.com bookings

The miles earned are used as a statement credit applied towards travel expenses. You’ll get a flat 1 cent per point redemption, so you won’t unlock crazy value. But if you don’t want to try to navigate award charts and simply want a straightforward process, this is a great option.

Hotel

World of Hyatt Credit Card (new version)
$95 annual fee
40,000 points sign-on bonus
20,000 additional points after spending $6k in first 6 months
4x points on Hyatt purchases
2x points on dining, commuting, and airfare
1 free night in category 1-4 hotel annually
Additional free night after $15k of spend annually

I am a big fan of Hyatt hotels, perhaps unnecessarily so. What I like about this card are the generous bonus spending categories, which aren’t typically as generous for co-branded cards. The Hyatt chain isn’t as expansive as others, so hotel availability is sparse in certain locations, but the card offers a good value
for a low fee.

Airline

These are hard to promote as your carrier of choice is limited to your location. Chicago, for instance, isn’t where I’ll find great options for Delta flights, so I’m ditching the card soon. What airline do you usually fly? Planning any aspirational trips? Choose the card that corresponds to the airline out of which you’ll get the most mileage. Puns.

No Fee

Amex EveryDay
10,000 point sign-on bonus
2x points at supermarkets
20% bonus points if card is used 20 times in billing cycle
Membership Rewards points can be transferred to travel partners

Amex has some interesting premium cards. I like the EveryDay card because rewards fairly well on a big spending category for families. It’s a meager sign-on bonus, but for a free card you just take what you can get. As a Membership Rewards based card, the true value for travelers is in the ability to transfer to points to outside partners.

Other notable options:

Bank of America Travel Rewards – simple, a good bonus, 1.5x points per $1 spend, and fee free
Citi ThankYou Premier – $95, but a good bonus and flexible points that can be transferred
Amex Premier Gold – $195 fee, but a decent bonus, $100 annual airline fee credit, relevant bonus categories (2x restaurants, gas stations, supermarkets)

There is no true “great” card out there for any type of traveler. It all depends on your spending proclivities, location, and travel habits. Have a card you’re fond of? Think I missed a good one? Let me know.

 

The information herein should not be considered prescriptive financial advice. Travel Fanboy receives no commission or compensation from any credit card issuer or affiliated companies. The opinions expressed are the author’s alone.

For information on how the churn and burn process can impact your credit score: Churn and Burn Credit Score Guide

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