I was asked recently about what a good first card would be for a friend, a casual traveler, who flies Southwest a few times year. While their air travel is infrequent, Southwest is still their predominant carrier. If you’re new to the points and miles hobby, it may seem that a natural first step is to acquire a co-branded card of an airline or hotel company you frequent. That was my friend’s inkling. Co-branded cards, like the Southwest family of cards, can be quite useful. Many come with perks and benefits that can further enhance your already established loyalty. There’s one thing they tend to lack, however, that may make them sub-optimal for your first foray into the travel credit card game–flexibility.
The problem is that when you rack up points with co-branded cards, in general, the redemption options for those points are limited to a single program. In the case of the Southwest cards, the points are deposited straight into your Rapid Rewards account. With hefty sign-on bonuses, it’s easy to score a few free flights easily and quickly. But that’s just it, beyond Southwest flights, there really are limited, valuable options for those Rapid Rewards points.
If you’re just starting out with a travel credit card strategy and want to take things slow, I’d suggest looking at travel credit cards that earn flexible bank points–mainly those that allow point transfers to partner programs. In the case of my friend, I suggested either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve. Both cards earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points. And because Southwest Airlines is a transferable partner, they can transfer those points to Southwest when they need to. Better still, if their bank of points allows, they can transfer points to a partner hotel program, like Hyatt, as well.
Because their points are not locked into one program, their options broaden quite significantly. Now, they won’t feel compelled to use Southwest should it not be their best option for a particular trip. United is another Chase partner, for example. Or, they can do what has become my go-to, simply book their flight with their points through the Chase travel portal.
A travel credit card strategy, of course, is dependent on your goals and habits. If they were really wanting to reach for the much heralded Southwest Companion Pass, applying for multiple Southwest cards is really the only way to go about it. But for a single, simple card strategy, it’s best to find a bank card with a solid sign-on bonus, good earning categories, and a broad mix of travel partners you’ll actually use.
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 from links on this website. 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