I came up with an incredibly original idea that happened to have already been done. I wanted to fill the football-less void that is the first weekend after the Super Bowl. I enjoy fantasy football. Not so much the managing and week-to-week strategy–just the draft. I wanted that sense of competition to linger just a little bit longer. Hence, the TFB Travel Credit Card Draft.
I enlisted some of my favorite minds in the points and miles community to join me. I opted to create seemingly arbitrary rules. We were to create a portfolio of five credit cards and were limited to $650 in annual fees per year. However, we were to ignore waived fees. An annual fee was an annual fee, no deferring them.
Why this odd cap on annual fees? Well, I wanted to show that you don’t need 20 or 30 credit cards to have elevated travel experiences. $650 a year isn’t nothing, but families on a budget may be able to manage a card or two from this collection to help them see the places they want to see. It’s also a way to challenge people I think are creative. Without restrictions, this draft just becomes a list of ultra-premium cards and portfolios of expensive metal or plastic a casual traveler may not find useful.
The draft took place on the Observation Deck private Discord server. Big thanks to Joe and Trevor for hosting it in their private community. My hope is that we can do this live in 2021.
Below are the results of the snake draft. After the picks, we provide our insight and reasoning for our picks. Of course, we welcome you to judge and declare a winner. Let us know in the comments who you think won. Naturally, each one of us has declared ourselves the winner.
- Joe: Amex Gold
- Bethany: Amex Gold Business
- Dave: Chase Ink Preferred
- Adam: Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Spencer: Citi Prestige
- Spencer: Citi Double Cash
- Adam: Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Dave: Chase Ink Business Cash
- Bethany: BofA Cash Rewards
- Joe: Jet Blue Plus world Mastercard
- Joe: World of Hyatt
- Bethany: Amex Everyday Preferred
- Dave: Amex Blue Business Plus
- Adam: Hilton Honors Aspire
- Spencer: Amazon Business Amex
- Spencer: Hilton Surpass
- Adam: Wells Fargo Propel
- Dave: Amex Green
- Bethany: Delta SkyMiles Platinum
- Joe: Delta Gold (personal)
- Joe: Citi ThankYou Premier
- Bethany: Capital One Venture Rewards
- Dave: CNB Crystal VISA Infinite
- Adam: United Business
- Spencer: Rakuten credit card
The following was taken from Joe’s newsletter. This is only part of his analysis. I’d suggest reading and subscribing for succinct, solid points and miles insights from a levelheaded voice in the space.
Securing transatlantic flights
My first, third, and fourth picks were all about securing transatlantic flights for at least one, hopefully two trips to Europe across two years. I picked up the AMEX Gold card due to the 50K sign up bonus and my ability to earn 200K Membership Rewards points per year through grocery spend. The Delta Gold card will net me 80,000 Skymiles which I can use for cheap transatlantic economy flights.
My other thinking is I can transfer either Membership Rewards or ThankYou points to Virgin Atlantic for times when Delta’s Skymiles’ prices are loco but they open up partner award space (which happens more often than you think). Earning points and miles is always about flexibility and I think these three cards give me that.
Securing domestic airfare and hotels
The Jetblue Plus card, AMEX Gold card, ThankYou Premier, and Delta card also help me secure airfare for 3-4 domestic trips. Outside of the Jetblue card, this is once again about flexibility. Skymiles, Avios, and Virgin Atlantic all are going to help me book domestic flights for my family of five. I’ve got the flexibility to use whichever miles make the most sense depending on prices. I also have the ability to earn the only airline status I care about (more on that below). We stay in enough Hyatt Places that I can get value out of the World of Hyatt card, though I seriously considered a Hilton card for this slot. In the end I just went with my bias in terms of hotels.
Is Jetblue Mosaic really worth it?
Someone asked me whether Mosaic really is worth what I’m giving up, which at a bare minimum is $1000 cash. Mosaic status means spending $50K on the Jetblue Plus card so if I spent that much on a 2% CB card I’d make $1000. I had a couple responses which I’ll outline here.
First, I’d never spend $50K on a 2% cashback card. I just don’t care about cashback that much, which of course is stupid to many intelligent people because cash is what actually matters in this world but we’re lucky enough to both have jobs and we’re saving enough money that I’m comfortable giving up an extra $1000.
Secondly, if I earned $1000 of cashback I wouldn’t use it for travel. My brain is weird – if you gave me $1000 right now I wouldn’t use it on a trip, I’d just invest it in a low cost index fund. I’ve received $1000 bonuses before. They’re exciting, of course, but they don’t bring me the same joy travel does. Maybe I’ll use like $100 to buy a couple video games but then the other $900 go straight into my investment account. I think I’d need to earn at least $3000 before I’d use it to go somewhere and even then I’d still feel bad. And probably not do it. Somehow, since miles technically are worth nothing I’m much happier using them which factored into my thinking.
Thirdly, I get enough value out of Mosaic to happily give up the $1000. As I discussed on our bonus Observation Deck episode, I saved a ton of miles flying to Orlando with my two kids a month ago thanks to Mosaic. I’d estimate I saved at least 35,000 miles which is worth at least $350. Extend that out to a family of five flying twice a year – we’re getting close to $1000 in value.
Finally, Mosaic is fun. And I like to have fun. 🙂 We all spend money we shouldn’t in order to have fun so I’ll chalk Mosaic up to that if you’re mad at me.
But I do encourage anyone chasing status to at least think about what you’re giving up. Worst case scenario? You decide it’s worth it!
Amex Business Gold
Earns 4X Membership Rewards points on the 2 categories where I spent the most each billing cycle from the list below, plus earn 1X on other purchases.
- Airfare purchased directly from airlines
- U.S. purchases for advertising in select media (online, TV, radio)
- U.S. purchases at gas stations
- U.S. purchases made directly from select technology providers of computer hardware, software, and cloud solutions
- U.S. purchases at restaurants
- U.S. purchases for shipping
BOFA Cash Rewards
(Preferred Rewards are one of the easier account bonuses because unlike any other account bonus program it includes 401k including rolled over 401K accounts)
- 3% cash back in the category of your choice: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores or home improvement/furnishings (5.25% CB)
- 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (3.5%)
- 1% cash back on all other purchases (1.75%)
Amex EveryDay Preferred
- 3x points at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (4.5 MRs)
- 2x points at US gas stations (3 MRs)
- 1x points on other purchases (1.5)
Amex Delta Platinum
- 3 Miles per dollar spent on purchases made with Delta and on purchases made directly with hotels.
- 2 Miles per dollar spent on purchases at restaurants and supermarkets.
Pick 1: My favorite transferable points are MRs because I like their transfer partners best and am constantly getting outsized value from Transfer bonus promos on points transfers. Additionally, my favorite way to book domestic biz/first flights is through the Amex Travel Portal combining the pay with points rebate (25%) and regularly offered Amex Insider Fares on AA, Delta and AS. So I definitely needed a card combo that would offer at least 4x on the majority of my purchases while offering 1.34 cents in value per point on my portal redemptions.
Post explaining: Stacking Amex Pay
Pick 2: Online shopping (catch all) High rewards and flexibility couples with investment account- BOFA
Pick 3: Free domestic companion cert plus status shortcuts and 3x bonus points from Delta card (my preferred airline)
Pick 4: Needed more hotel options- Cap 1 (ability to redeem points for hotel discount, travel through portal and transfer (Accor points are valuable and transfer at even money after considering 2x earning on all purchases Plus 2:1.5 on Wyndham which is great for those of us who know how to maximize Caesars Rewards.
Why I came in top 2
Only I, Dave and Adam have card combos that offer the opportunity to combine accounts to earn points with one card and redeem those points at a higher value when booking travel (and mine is the highest value per point):
- Restaurants (5.35)
- Airfare (5.35)
- Groceries (6.03)
Bonus Categories Covered and all at much higher earning rates than most:
- Computer hardware, software, tech providers and cloud providers
- Online shopping
- Drug stores
- Home improvement/furnishings
I have way more flexibility than anyone else
- BOFA online shopping includes all purchases made at online retailers (including Best Buy, Lowe’s Home Depot, Gift Cad resellers like Raise, beauty, department and halth stroes like Walgreens/CVS, Macy’s and Sephora)
- Biz Gold Automatically adjusts each cycle based on my spending and BOFA allows me to change my top earning category each month
- Access to more transfer partners than anyone else plus ability to redeem at higher value in 2 programs (see first bullet)- Cap 1, amex
- Other participants card combos require them to be involved in reselling and or purchases not exclusively for personal use in order to maximize points earned and value of points. None of my bonus categories requires me to make any purchases to get max value
- Joe has 2 no fee airline cards, one hotel card, one premium Amex card with no ability to redeem points for more than 1 cent each (unless he transfers points to partners (which would make his airline and hotel card choices less valuable) and one premium citi card with again- conflicts of interest on redemption values for the same reason.
- so either he spends a ton of money on Delta and Jetblue or he checks a lot of bags so he’s probably not
- no real added benefits from benefits like $100 amex gold credit (unless he does AA or AS, SW etc which means he probably doesn’t spend all that much on his airline cards)
- Spencer (limited bonus categories) plus his Citi card combo doesn’t offer ability to redeem for added value through travel portal
- rakuten is only an extra 3% plus shopping through rakuten is required so you forgo better cashback portal opportunities in order to get the 3%
- Has to spend 15k on Hilton card to get free night but also has to pay cash for hotel stays for the prestige card to provide the best value
- Spending on Hilton bonus categories offers very low category value unless spending at Hilton for 12x
- Amazon (limited to Amazon and then redeeming cashback reduces the amount you spend at Amazon) plus you need to maintain a prime account each year
- Dave- very limited earnings in non biz categories (no grocery)
- Adam (as I said in the chat) easily my second favorite (only thing I’d say is less flexibility) but hotel is better than mine
Check out more from Bethany on her Bougie AF YouTube Channel: Bougie Miles YT
Pick 1: Amex Gold was surely a strong pick, but I’m going to start with a Chase Ink Preferred. 80,000 points I’ll get minimum $2,000 in value from plus I’ll have my path to Chase transfers and 3x on all travel. ($95 fee)
Pick 2: I think I’m going to take an Ink Business Cash next. Honestly I wanted both the Prestige and Double Cash but without having two card choices at once that was going to be impossible to pull off. And Amex Gold went first. So, with my Ink Cash I’ll at least have 2x on dining and gas and be able to transfer my Chase to Hyatt or airlines. AND of course I can buy gift cards for Amazon and anything else I need regularly for a crazy 5X URs which I’ll value at close to an 8% return. Boom.
Pick 3: Ok. EDP was a strong choice. I’m feeling boxed out on groceries so I’m going to take Amex Blue Business Plus next. Easy 2x on everything and I need an MR card especially with DC gone for 2x on TYP.
Pick 4: Alright. I had to type this in between courses because I feel like an evil genius (Dave was drafting during dinner). I was feeling pretty stopped out of the dining and grocery game. Until I realized I can get the Amex Green, 45k Bonus and 3x on dining, no fee the first year (oh and a year of nearly free CLEAR) – but I can product change in one year (no rules against that, suckers!!!!) and enjoy my 4x on dining and groceries from there on out.
Pick 5: You see, I need benefits. My strategy so far has somewhat purposely fully avoided so I could have a nice earn and spend combo.[10:18 AM]But I have needs. I need Priority Pass. And I need priority pass with dining.[10:18 AM]And I fly Delta primarily now. So I need WiFi. And I have but $405 to spare. So, I’ll be adding the CNB Crystal VISA Infinite.
I was eager, perhaps overly so, to snag at two Chase Ultimate Rewards earning cards. With the Sapphire Preferred ($95) falling to me, I eagerly scooped it. Knowing that Dave was my only competition for complementary Ultimate Rewards cards, I probably didn’t need to grab the Freedom Unlimited ($0) with my second pick, but here we are.
I can get a lot of mileage out of the CSP and Freedom Unlimited combo. The CSP gives me the transfer partners I need with a modest sign up bonus, while the Unlimited ensures I’m never earning less than 1.5x on all transactions.
I knew I wanted to add a hotel card to the mix and was hoping the World of Hyatt card would fall to me. I suspected it wouldn’t, what with all the Hyatt fanboys in the community. Had Joe let it go, I know Bethany would have been quick to scoop it up. Enter the Hilton Aspire, a card I don’t actually have, but packs quite a punch.
The Aspire has been the hotel card du jour of late, with good reason. It’s pricey–$450 annual fee–but it comes with a litany of perks that could make my hypothetical post-draft travel quite nice. Users are given up to $250 in statement credits for purchases at Hilton resorts. It can’t be used to book rooms and is only valid at “resorts”, so a lot of room service is reality’s future. In addition, cardholders are given $250 in credits annually to cover airline incidental fees. This is a similar, valuable perk akin to the Amex Platinum. The card also comes with a Priority Pass membership so I can live that lounge life and automatic Hilton Diamond status, so I can get on the carousel of status matching progress. The 150,000 HH points isn’t bad either.
I was feeling good after my Aspire pick up, but was thinking it may be good to branch out to another flexible bank card. I opted for the Wells Fargo Propel ($0), which is still a fairly underrated card, but it’s best when paired with the Wells Fargo Visa Signature. Similar to my CSP and Unlimited, the Wells Fargo cards can combine points. When using points from the WF Visa Signature to book flights through the portal, the points are worth 1.5 cents a piece. The problem is the the Visa Signature card is so painfully boring. Propel offers a 20k points sign on bonus and 3x points on travel spend, including gas stations, and streaming services. It’s a great free card, but it’s power comes from the combo. I was thinking of just taking the Capital One Venture card in this spot and I think I should have. This pick brought my draft confidence level from a 10 to an 8. I’ll survive.
I made a pre-draft declaration that I would avoid business cards, but I was on tilt from the Propel pick, so I pulled an audible and I chose the United Business card ($99) to fill my final slot. The 100k sign on is solid. I can use my Aspire credits for AA charges and transfer my Chase points to Southwest if I really have to, so much of my domestic travel out of Chicagoland is covered at this point. The 25% discount on in-flight purchases is a thing and the 5k anniversary points are nice, but I’m just here for free bags and a sizable SUB. I should note that this card also offers a $100 credit if cardholders book 7 United flights that cost over $100 each, so it’s got that going for it, which is nice.
The Propel pick is my biggest hang up, but I’m fairly happy overall. My travel dictates that I place a much higher value on Ultimate Rewards than Membership Reward, so I was happy to pick up the Chase combo. I’m sitting happy with status, lounge access, and enough points to quite a few gambling destinations for the foreseeable future.
As someone who has been saying Citi ThankYou Points are underrated for a few years, I turned having the last pick in the first round into a positive. With back to back picks, I guaranteed that I could grab the Citi Prestige and the Citi Double Cash and did just that.
As someone who spends about 3 months of the year abroad and at least a couple weeks traveling within the states, 5x on flights/dining + 3x on hotels with the Prestige was huge for me. Throw in the Double Cash and I have a guaranteed 2x on all purchases. Not to mention, ThankYou Points provides access to all three major airlines alliances + Etihad Guest.
My third pick was the Amazon Business Amex since I can earn 5% on Amazon purchases with my Prime membership. This will work nicely when I buy products for buying groups.
For my fourth pick, I grabbed the Hilton Surpass knowing that it has a strong grocery store bonus category and comes with Gold status which means free breakfast at Hilton brands. Additionally, $15k spend gets a free weekend night award and $40k spend get you Diamond status – lounge access and a better earn rate on cash stays.
Finally, with my last choice, I picked up the Rakuten Cash Back Visa. However, Rakuten has partnered with Amex so you can choose to convert the cash back to Membership Rewards points. Since I do a lot of shopping online, I can now get 3x Amex points on this card when I go through the Rakuten shopping portal in addition to the points I’d get just for using the portal.
With my lineup, ThankYou Points will be the main focus but I also have cards with lucrative bonus categories to provide plenty of Amex points, Hilton points and cash back.
And there you have it. Who do you think wins the our inaugural travel credit card draft? What would you have done differently with the benefit of hindsight?
Also, where should we host a live draft next year?