- Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa
- Starwood Preferred Guest American Express
- American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card
Over at Conde’ Nast’s Daily Traveler I wrote a basic piece on rewards credit cards.
It’s the first post of a three part series. This one focuses on the best cards to put your spending on. The other two focus on the best signup bonuses and cards with the best benefits for carrying the card (as opposed to actually using it).
The basic principles I offered were:
The first piece of advice is to pick a reward goal. If you want to fly to South America, your best bet is American miles. If you want to fly to Europe or Asia then United or US Airways miles are best, followed closely by American miles. For Australia and French Polynesia, I often recommend Delta (because Delta’s partner Virgin Australia has the best business-class award availability down under, and Delta partners with both airlines flying from Los Angeles to Tahiti).
Second piece of advice: Ignore the “proprietary bank rewards programs” like Capital One’s, especially if you’re interested in premium-cabin international awards. In these bank programs, the points do not transfer into actual miles; instead, the banks value the points at about a penny each (at the most), and then charge you in points for the ticket, based on its retail value. That means that a $5,000 ticket will cost you half a million points.
The third piece of advice is to know your spending habits, because different cards provide bonuses for different categories of purchases, including airline tickets, hotel spending, office supplies, gas, and groceries. So, if you spend most of your money eating out, it makes sense to pay with a card that awards double points on restaurant purchases.
The fourth principle is that flexible points are best—you want to be able to pick where you will use your points after earning them.
Those principles led me to recommend, for most folks interested in premium travel rewards:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa offering 40,000 points after $3000 spend within 3 months, no fee the first year, double points on all travel and dining, and transfers to United, British Airways, Korean Airlines, Southwest, Hyatt, Marriott, Priority Club, Ritz Carlton, and Amtrak. And no foreign currency transaction fees.
- Starwood Preferred Guest American Express as a great all-around card with the ability to either use points for hotels (Westin, Sheraton, W, St. Regis, Le Meridien, etc.) or transfer to airline miles in a wide array of mileage programs. And with the 5000 point bonus for every 20,000 miles transferred, that’s like earning 1.25 miles per dollar instead of 1.
For folks who spend a lot on airfare, gas, and groceries, it’s worth considering the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card because that gives triple points on airfare, double points on gas and groceries, and Membership Rewards points are flexible (though many partners add fuel surcharges to awards) and they run frequent transfer bonuses as well.
In sum, my advice is:
If you’re going to pick a single credit card, it’s hard to go wrong with the Sapphire Preferred, and add the Starwood American Express if you’d like a second card. My suggestion: Use the Sapphire Preferred card whenever you’re abroad, making travel or restaurant purchases, or at a store that only accepts Visa. Everything else can go on the Starwood American Express card. If you spend a lot on airline tickets, gas, and groceries, substitute the Starwood American Express with the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card.
(Links to credit card applications in this post will provide me with referral credit, while you don’t need to use my links per se for these cards I certainly appreciate it when you do.)