Category: credit cards

Travel insurance can be pretty amazing – but that doesn’t mean you have to pay extra for it (or, how I used it for a 2-day all-expense paid vacation)

Travel insurance can be pretty amazing – but that doesn’t mean you have to pay extra for it (or, how I used it for a 2-day all-expense paid vacation)

We’ve probably all been in that situation where we’re about to purchase a flight, and then an error message pops up reminding you that you didn’t select whether you want to add on travel insurance. At that point, you then wonder if it may be worth it to spent just a little bit more to be covered in all sorts of situations if something goes wrong. After all, you don’t want to be wishing you had spent just $20 more when you’re out $5,000 for a big expense, right?

Of course, this is the principle of risk, and how insurance companies make their money. The good news is, you usually don’t need to buy it because some form is likely already included with your credit card.

While I’ve wanted to write about this for quite some time, I only recently felt compelled to do so, when what could have been a disasterous 48-hour flight delay turned into a wonderful two-day vacation at a beach resort with all meals included, thanks to my credit card travel insurance.


This lobster cobb salad that I got during my trip was worth the $20 it cost on the menu, but it tasted even better knowing that it was free.

I recently went to Charleston, South Carolina for a quick weekend trip with my family. Seeing as it was much cheaper to fly nonstop from Boston into Myrtle Beach, rent a car, then drive instead of flying nonstop into Charleston, I opted for the former.

The trip down was relatively uneventful. But when I woke up on Sunday morning, I received an email telling me that my flight back to Boston that evening had been cancelled due to the snowstorm, and to call the airline to figure out my next steps. Unfortunately, this was a once-a-day route (not uncommon for Spirit), and the next day’s flight was completely sold out. I was told that I could either be placed on the Tuesday night flight, or receive a voucher for the cost of the flight.

Knowing that I had excellent travel insurance from booking the trip with my Citi Prestige card (as well as the fact that the few flights operating that day were absurdly expensive since everyone was trying to get home), I opted to be placed on the Tuesday flight (I also had smartly brought my work laptop with me and am able to work remotely, which I realize is not the case for everyone). However, I could have used this benefit to book an earlier flight, but given the chance that that too could be cancelled, as well as the prospect of going back to cold weather, I was not very inclined to do so.

I called Citi to advise them of my situation. They confirmed that it did indeed qualify (as I had paid for the flight with my Citi card and it was delayed more than 5 hours or cancelled), and let me know that I had up to $500 dollars in “immediate expenses” for lodging and food, with a total claim amount allowed up to $3,000, which I did not have to put on the same card.

This is very important. In order to be eligible, you must have paid for a portion of the airfare with the card that you have insurance with, it is not enough to just have the card. You do not have to pay for the actual expenses that you will submit for your claim.

I then proceeded to look up Marriott (my chain of choice for earning points) beachfront hotels in Myrtle Beach, and booked a two-night stay at the Marriott OceanWatch Villas at Grand Dunes for $250. It was aptly named, as I could indeed watch the ocean from my room:16649264_817023895974_8082171755378146430_n

I treated myself to a very nice dinner the first night at an excellent nearby gastropub, dining on duck confit nachos, pork belly, and corn creme brulee (sounds weird, tastes amazing):


Unfortunately things got very crazy with work the next two days so I didn’t have a chance to explore other restaurants, but thankfully the hotel restaurant was quite excellent, as you can see by the picture of the lobster Cobb salad further up.

The aftermath

After I got back, I then called Citi again to move forward with next steps, after which they proceeded to open up a claim for me, and gave me an email address to submit documentation to. I sent in receipts for the hotel stay, the restaurants, the Uber rides to and from the airports, the email notifying me of the cancellation, proof of the statement showing that I paid for the trip with my card, proof of the actual flight cancellation, and proof of my original and rebooked flight. I’m not sure if I needed to quite submit all of this, but several days later, I received an email letting me know I could expect a check in the mail for the amount I claimed.

But what if I don’t have this card?

I intentionally didn’t want to make this a post comparing the different travel insurance cards out there (as quite a lot of them already exist), but rather a firsthand account of why it’s useful to have travel insurance. I would highly encourage you to look at the policies on all your cards, and then use whichever card is most generous to pay for your flights moving forward. While most do not cover flight delays and cancellations like in my case, nearly all cards will cover you for if something happens to you on your trip, or you need to cancel your trip for an unavoidable reason. Again, while I’d encourage you to read up on the benefits of each one, a general rule of thumb is that the higher the annual fee is, the more benefits you’ll receive (after all, credit card companies can’t pay premiums to the insurance companies off interchange fees alone). In my case, the Citi Prestige, which has a $450 annual fee (which is reduced to $350 with a Citigold account and has a $250 airfare credit, essentially becoming $100), is considered to have some of the best coverage around, though you’ll also find similar coverage with the new Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450 fee, $300 travel credit).

Have a question or a good travel insurance-related story to share? Feel free to contact me or post in the comments below.

Remember to set a PIN on all of your credit cards

Remember to set a PIN on all of your credit cards

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I find that Charles Schwab offers the best checking account for frequent travelers, due to their wide acceptance at ATMs all over the world, no foreign transaction or withdrawal fees, and excellent customer service. But there are times when even they cannot get the job done.

Yesterday in Jordan I needed to fill up my car with gas, and I was out of local currency and most gas stations there don’t accept credit cards. I tried to make a withdrawal with my Schwab card at an ATM and received an error message. I called the international collect number on the back of my card, and they told me that they had not received any request to withdraw funds. I then tried to make a withdrawal with my Capital One backup card, and had the same issue; apparently this particular ATM doesn’t like US debit cards.

Thankfully, I then inserted one of my credit cards, entered the pin I had set up for it, and processed a cash advance for just enough money to get me by. Now, I of course don’t normally recommend cash advances, as the fees on them can often be in the 20-25% range (and no, you don’t earn points on them and they don’t count toward your minimum spending requirement to earn a bonus). But in a pinch, especially when traveling in countries with less developed banking systems, it can be critical.


How to set this up varies by issuer, but you’ll generally either be prompted to set one up when activating a card, or be mailed one separately when you set up a card.


Note that this is different from chip + PIN technology, which is an obviously beneficial anti-fraud technology widely used throughout Europe that requires the user to enter a pin when making a credit card purchase. Alas, the US lags behind in this, having only implemented regular chip technology last year. If you are interested in having this though (as it can be useful at gas stations and ticket machines in Europe which only allow chip + PIN purchases), many credit cards from Barclaycard have this.


Don’t hoard your miles and points!

Don’t hoard your miles and points!

The Chase Sapphire Reserve has quickly become one of the most popular credit cards of all time, so much that Chase actually ran out of metal cards.

And now that many people’s 100,000-point Ultimate Rewards bonuses have started to post, I’ve talked to many people who are treating this like some untouchable emergency reserve (no pun intended), only to be used for the absolute best travel experiences, and paying cash for everything else.

The thing is, these 100,000+ points (currently worth $1,500 in travel) are not like putting $1,500 in a savings account, the value of which will grow slowly over time, or an investment account, the value of which will likely grow relatively quickly over time, with the potential for losing value. The value of these 100,000 points will only decrease the longer you hold off on using them.

Why? Because unlike in a savings account, when $1,500 is worth $1,500 no matter whom you bank with, the value of your points is determined by the company issuing them, in this case Chase.

So right now, while each point is worth 1.5 cents when redeemed for travel, Chase could easily decide at any point that they are worth 1.3 cents when redeemed for travel, which would instantly decrease the value of your 100,000 points by $200. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Citi recently made similar changes to its competitor Citi Prestige card, decreasing the value of points redeemed for American Airlines flights from 1.6 cents per point to 1.25 cents per point. Thankfully, they gave almost a year’s advance notice when doing so, but companies are not always as generous when making changes, such as when Alaska Airlines overnight raised the price to redeem MileagePlan miles for first class flights on Emirates.

Furthermore, with Chase announcing that they lost $200 million in profit due to Chase Sapphire Reserve signups, some analysts are already speculating that this is a sign that it is not sustainable for Chase financially.

But furthermore, even if Chase keeps the value of their Ultimate Rewards points for Reserve cardholders at 1.5 cents per point when redeemed for travel, there’s no guarantee that its transfer partners won’t make a change to their chart.

Right now 100,000 points transferred to United could get you four roundtrip nonstop flights between the East Coast and West Coast, at 25,000 per roundtrip flight. But United could suddenly decide to raise that to 35,000 per roundtrip flight, meaning that those 100,000 points wouldn’t even get you three flights anymore. Or maybe United doesn’t change the price of its awards, but rather negotiates a 5:4 transfer ratio instead of 1:1, meaning that 100,000 Ultimate Rewards gets you 80,000 United MileagePlus miles instead of 100,000.

Another popular redemption is transferring to Singapore Airlines for their amazing first-class Suites product, which tend to run for just under 100,000 KrisFlyer miles (which can also be transferred 1:1 from Ultimate Rewards) one-way plus taxes and fees. But it’s also one of the hardest awards to find availability on. And Singapore could also take the route of Air France at any point, deciding to no longer allow award redemptions for their first-class product anymore.

So while I know it’s tempting to save up your points for an “aspirational” flight or redemption (no doubt made popular by all the bloggers talking about such flights), the reality is that by the time you have the chance to use them that way, they might no longer be worth as much (or even be able to be used in that way).

In other words, if you have a chance to use your points (within reason obviously), just use them.

The importance of doing your own research before determining the best credit card offer

The importance of doing your own research before determining the best credit card offer

I just got approved for a credit card with a $600 airfare credit, $85 annual fee (which you can offset by redeeming 5,000 points)  $25 in-flight credit per airline ticket, a Global Entry credit, triple points on restaurants, double points on gas stations and airfare, and a free rental car day every year. Best of all, I only have to spend $2,000 in four months to get all of these perks (while I’m not saying this is insignificant, it’s much better than the $3,000-$4,000 in three months required by other great credit cards).

While some of you at first may have thought I was referring to the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you probably realized later that it was a different card.

But unless you follow credit card offers very closely, you probably don’t know about it, even though it’s issued by a major financial institution. It’s the US Bank FlexPerks Gold American Express card (it’s processed on the American Express network, but issued by US Bank).

Why doesn’t this get more attention? Well, in short, unlike other cards (such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred), blogs don’t make any money if they get people to sign up for it. Next time you read a major blog with a link to signup for a credit card, look carefully at the URL it immediately redirects to. Most of the time, it contains the site name in it, and clicking on it will eventually redirect you to the signup page for the credit card, but not without first notifying the bank which page they came there from. This is known as an affiliate link, which banks will give (either directly or indirectly) to sites with a certain amount of monthly traffic.

While the amount that a blog makes every time someone signs up through their link is a tightly guarded secret, it’s generally rumored to be in the low hundreds of dollars, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred yielding a payout rumored as high as $350 per signup.

Not surprisingly, despite claims of impartiality by bloggers, anyone who knows the industry can easily find examples where a particular card (which pays a commission) is being promoted over a better card that does not pay a commission. On top of that, it also does not always lead to the best signup bonus for the card (for example the publicly available link to the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card will lead you to an offer for 25,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 in three months, whereas doing a little bit of research can get you to an offer that will give you 50,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $1,000 in three months).

Full disclosure: Given how infrequently I update my blog, I don’t generate enough traffic to receive affiliate links, but even if I did, I still wouldn’t accept them, unless I one day get corrupted by money and power).

On top of that, accepting affiliate links also gives the financial institution the power to threaten to remove your links if you post content they don’t like. (As it is, I already have received a letter from Barclaycard threatening legal action against this blog if I spell Barclaycard any other way, such as removing the “-card” suffix and replacing it with an “s”).

So where am I going with this? First, I don’t dislike the Chase Sapphire Preferred. I think it’s an excellent card (and for most people, even better than the US Bank FlexPerks Gold Card), though not as good as the Citi Prestige or American Express Preferred Rewards Gold. One card it certainly is better than is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, which essentially gives you a bonus of $420 with few of the other perks. But due to the commission that Barclaycard pays bloggers who get people to sign up for this card, you’ll see this card promoted much more heavily, as US Bank does not pay commissions (and for what it’s worth, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card is roughly on par with the Capital One Venture, which also does not get promoted nearly as much for the same reason).

So what’s the solution? First, try not to use affiliate links to sign up for cards unless you can’t find the offer anywhere else (which does happen from time to time), and instead try to find a friend who can refer you for the card, so s/he earns money. Second, try to follow blogs (the amazing Doctor of Credit blog is my personal favorite) which don’t accept affiliate links and only focus on the absolute best offers out there. The excellent r/churning thread is also a great resource, especially their frequently updated database of best card offers.

And may you earn many great future signup bonuses in the future!

Why everyone should have and keep at least one hotel credit card (even if you don’t plan on using it)

Why everyone should have and keep at least one hotel credit card (even if you don’t plan on using it)

The picture above is from the InterContinental Hotel in Bora Bora, Tahiti. If you had to take a guess, how much do you think it costs to stay there for one night? $300? $500? $800? Try $1,000 (one dollar equals roughly 105  CFP Francs).


What if I told you that you could stay there once a year for $49? You might think I was crazy. And I probably would have too before I started getting into the credit card game. After all, that’s cheaper than getting a private room at a hostel in Tahiti:


But unlike airline credit cards, which are rarely worth keeping after the annual fee hits following the signup bonus, most hotel credit cards are actually worth keeping and paying the annual fee on every year, given that every year often comes with a free hotel night.


In this particular case, I’m talking about the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card, which for a $49 annual fee (waived the first year), gives you one free night every year at any IHG property in the world. On top of this, there is a signup bonus that often ranges from 60,000 to 80,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three months (though it’s not always publicly available and may require some research to find this offer), which is good enough for two nights at a reasonably nice hotel, or one night at an extremely nice hotel. On top of that, you’re instantly granted Platinum status (the second-highest tier) as long as you have the card, which increases your chances of receiving an upgrade.

Of course, in the interest of not bankrupting IHG, it’s not as if you can get this and then use your free night at any property in the world on whatever date you want. IHG does limit the amount of free nights it allows per night per hotel, so if you want to use it at a place that regularly goes for $1,000/night, you might have to be prepared to book it almost a year in advance. That being said, hotels that don’t quite regularly go for quite as much often can be booked with less advance notice.

While the IHG credit card is the only hotel credit card that offers a free night every year at any property in the hotel chain, several other hotel credit cards offer more restricted free nights that can still come in handy.


While the Hyatt credit card also offers a free night every year (though it has a slightly higher annual fee of $75), this is limited only to Hyatt properties in Categories 1-4. Of course, if you’re familiar with the Hyatt brand, you know that unlike other hotel chains, it exclusively focuses on higher-end offerings. In other words, while you may not be able to stay at the absolutely nicest Hyatts in the world, you’ll still get to stay at a really nice hotel for free. Thankfully if you do want to experience one of the top tier Hyatts (select Category 7), this card usually comes with a signup bonus of two free nights at any Hyatt in the world (I recently got this card and am currently looking at using my free night at the Hyatt Andaz in Tokyo, where rooms can go for $1,000/night). It also offers Platinum status as long as you have the card.


Like the Hyatt and IHG cards, the Marriott Rewards Premier credit card also offers a free night every year, in any Marriott property in Categories 1-5. Unlike Hyatt though, Marriott propertiets span a much wider gamut, and most hotels in Categories 1-5 in the US tend to be in suburban areas, or very cheap urban areas (though obviously in countries with a lower cost of living you’re more likely to find something in a major city). The signup bonus often runs as high as 80,000 points (usually after spending $2,000) with a $85 annual fee waived the first year, which is nice enough to redeem at any Marriott property in the world, as well as a free night certificate at any hotel in Categories 1-4. It also offers Silver status as long as you have the card.



Unless you spend a lot of money a particular hotel chain every year, I wouldn’t recommend making a hotel card your primary card, but if that is the case for you, there are several more hotel credit cards that offer a free night every year after spending a certain amount of money in the year, like the Best Western, Choice Hotels, Hilton, and La Quinta credit cards. The Wyndham credit card will also give you almost half the amount of points needed for a free night every year with no spending threshold.


Have a question? Story to share? Feel free to post in the comments below or email me.


While I have yet to set up my site with credit card referral links that will pay me a commission if you sign up for a credit card through my links (as is often common on these sites), if you’re interested in getting on of the cards mentioned here and want me to get something for it, let me know and I’d be happy to refer you.


If you travel to or from the East Coast once a year, the new JetBlue credit card is a good idea

If you travel to or from the East Coast once a year, the new JetBlue credit card is a good idea

Last year, American Express lost two key credit card partners: JetBlue, and Costco. While the Costco loss was more concerning to most people, I was personally more concerned with the loss of the JetBlue partnership, being based in Boston.

Thankfully, the new JetBlue card from Barclaycard is even better than the previous one from American Express.

There are three cards available: a personal card with an annual fee of $99 and a signup bonus of 30,000 TrueBlue points after spending $1,000 in the first three months, a business card with the same benefits, and a personal card with no annual fee, but only a bonus of 10,000 TrueBlue points.

Now, even if you’re not planning on making it your primary card (which I wouldn’t recommend), the personal card with the annual fee is still worth applying for and holding on to, thanks to its other benefits.

But first, what does the signup bonus of 30,000 points get you? As JetBlue’s award travel is directly correlated to the cost of the flight, it’s worth roughly $400-$500 of JetBlue flights, enough for at least a roundtrip coast-to-coast flight plus maybe an additional one-way flight back.

For example, after you spent the $1,000 on the card to get the bonus, you’d have 31,000 TrueBlue points, which could buy the bottom flight in the image below for 10,400 points (normally $179) almost three times. (For more on their relatively easy award booking process, go here).


But wait, there’s more! If you get this card, you also 10% of your bonus points back. So if you were to use 10,400 points to buy the flight above, it would essentially only cost you 9,360 points, as you would have 1,040 (10%) points returned to your account. This means that the signup bonus of 30,000 points is essentially closer to 33,000 points, which can get you as much as $567 of flights! Not a bad deal for a $99 fee.

“But why should I keep paying the fee after the bonus?”

Definitely a legitimate and understandable question. On most of my cards, I often will downgrade them to a no annual fee card once the annual fee hits for the next year (for more on this, go here).

However, this is one of the rare co-branded cards where it might be worth paying the fee, as you get an anniversary bonus of 5,000 points every year (which essentially becomes 5,500 points with the bonus).

5,500 points, while much less than 33,000 points, is still more than enough to get you a free one-way flight on shorter routes, such as Boston to DC (normally $84) or SF to LA (normally $72)


Now, if you wouldn’t normally make one of these flights in a year, the no-fee card might be a better option. But if you already were, then it makes sense to continue paying the annual fee every year in exchange for a free short-haul flight.

On top of that, if you like to check your bags, the savings increases, as you and up to three others get your first checked bag free, a value of $60! And if you want to get the party started on board, the card also gives you 50% off in-flight purchases.

As I mentioned earlier, you should almost never make an airline card your primary credit card, as they tend to have little to no bonus categories. But considering that this card will also give you double points for purchases at restaurants and grocery stores (as well as 6x points on JetBlue purchases), this might actually be worth considering. The only other way to accumulate JetBlue points through credit card spending would be through the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card (but always try to find a link for 50,000 points), which, while it has a slightly higher signup bonus, only transfers to JetBlue at a 5:4 ratio, meaning those 50,000 points are only worth 40,000. The cards are equal in that they both have double points on restaurants and groceries, though the PRG also offers triple points on airfare and double points at gas stations. But in the long run, putting all of your spending on the JetBlue card will yield more TrueBlue points.

And given that JetBlue still offers the best domestic in-flight experience of any carrier, who wouldn’t want that?

The 1,000% cash back credit card that no one ever talks about (or, an easy way to make $100 a year)

The 1,000% cash back credit card that no one ever talks about (or, an easy way to make $100 a year)

OK, so I admit the title may be slightly misleading (is this what the kids are calling “clickbait” these days?)

While this is technically correct, it does take some explaining. Several years ago, Bank of America launched the Better Balance Rewards credit card, a card presumably intended to reward people for managing their credit better (certainly a big issue in America). The premise is pretty simple: For every quarter (three statement periods) in which you make more than the minimum payment on your balance in every month, you get $25 (and $30 if you have a Bank of America checking account).

Well, if you’re one of those people who already manages their credit responsibly and pays their balance in full every month, you may be wondering why this is of use to you. Well, the good news is that everyone is available to earn this bonus, and all you have to do is charge $1 to your card every month and pay that dollar off by the time your statement is due (it may be possible that you can get it for charging even less than $1, but I haven’t chanced it and haven’t found reports of other people doing it either).

In other words, if you charge $1 every month for three months ($3) to this card and have a Bank of America checking account, you’ll get $30, or 1,000% cash back. Of course, this isn’t a truly 1,000% cash back card as the reward is fixed. If you charge $30 in it to three months, it becomes a 100% cash back card. If you charge $1,000 to it in three months, it becomes a 3% cash back card, and so on. In other words, I wouldn’t recommend charging any more than you have to. If you’re worried you might forget to manually make a charge every month, you might consider using this card to make automatic payments on a utility bill every month so you don’t have to think about it. Just make sure you also set up automatic payments to pay the balance in full on your credit card!

The credit will usually post a few days into the statement period following the third month:


However, as Bank of America continues to impose all sorts of fees on their checking account customers without offering competitive interest rates, it’s more likely than not that like me, you’ve switched away from your Bank of America account that you opened up your freshman year of college (if you even did open up one). If this is the case, it will yield $25 for you every three months, or $100/year. If you’re looking for ways to make $100/year with minimal effort, it’s hard to beat this (on the contrary, to earn $100 in interest from your checking account, you’d have to keep $10,000 in it for a whole year at 1% APY, or $1,000,000 at 0.01% APY, which is closer to the rates most banks are offering these days).

If you really want to get as much out of this as possible and open up a Bank of America checking account to get the extra $5, you can avoid the $12 monthly fee by either having an average daily balance of $1,500 or more, monthly direct deposits of $250 or more, or being a Preferred Rewards client (which requires 3-month combined average balances of at least $20,000 between your Bank of America checking account and Merrill Lynch/Merrill Edge investment accounts). For most people (including me), this isn’t worth the effort.

I honestly don’t know why Bank of America would offer a credit card that allows it to lose so much money from their customers who use credit responsibly (and it’s possible they may discontinue it if they’re losing more than they’re making), but in the meantime, I’m not complaining. While $100/year may not seem like much, at this rate, if I hold on to it until I die, that’s an extra $7,000 or so I’ll make (of course, whether credit cards will be around in that many years is another story for another post).

Have questions about something here? Feel free to e-mail me or post in the comments below.

“What is the best credit card for people who like to travel?”

“What is the best credit card for people who like to travel?”

Well, the short answer is, it depends on your needs. However, one thing is for sure, and that it’s going to be a card directly issued by a bank, and not a co-branded airline card, as I explained earlier.

I’ve broken down the main ones into a few categories:

High annual fee, high benefits: Citi Prestige, American Express Platinum (the VISA Black Card also falls into this category, but I don’t know anyone with one, and it’s so terrible it’s not worth discussing).

The American Express Platinum has long been the gold standard of premium travel cards. And it’s easy to see why. With the card you get dedicated concierge service, a one-time Global Entry application fee credit,  a $200 per calendar year airline fee credit that can be used on most domestic airlines (it’s not supposed to be used on actual airfare but there are workarounds), access to their high-end Centurion lounge (plus two guests), Delta Sky Club lounge access when flying Delta, Priority Pass membership (which gives you access to 600+ airport lounges around the world), and many others that I won’t list here. On top of that, the points you earn from spending (though no bonus categories) go to the very useful Membership Rewards program, which you can transfer to a wide variety of partners.. Though it varies depending on the specific card (the Ameriprise one comes with no annual fee the first year), the annual fee is generally $450 per year, not waived. If the airline credit is used correctly, it brings it down to essentially $250 per year. Given the benefits, it’s not terrible.

However, my allegiances are with the Citi Prestige card. Like the Platinum, it has a fee of $450, dedicated concierge service (supposedly not quite as good), and a Global Entry credit. But not only does it have Priority Pass membership, but the membership comes with free access for up to two guests (the Platinum Priority Pass membership is $29 per guest). Unfortunately, Citi doesn’t have their own lounge like the Centurion Lounge, but it does allow access to American Airlines Admirals Clubs when flying American. But moreover, it also gives triple points for travel spending, and double points on dining and entertainment.

While their Thank You points program isn’t quite as valuable as Membership Rewards, it will still allow you to book award flights in Star Alliance (via Singapore Airlines), oneworld (via Qantas), and SkyTeam (via Flying Blue). Furthermore, your points are worth 1.3 cents when redeemed for airfare, and 1.6 cents when redeemed for American Airlines airfare. But best of all, the Citi Prestige gives you a $250 per calendar year airfare credit. There are no restrictions on its use; you just buy $250 or more of airline tickets in a year with the card and you’ll get $250 back. On top of that, if you have a Citigold checking account (which you can close later), the annual fee drops to $350. So if you do it right, you’re essentially getting all of the benefits I mentioned above for $100/year. Not a bad deal for a frequent traveler. I also didn’t even mention that there’s a buy three hotel nights get the fourth one free perk (which I haven’t taken advantage of, as I usually stay in hostels or airbnbs), as well as a free round of golf per year!

While the Platinum card may make more sense if you’re frequently flying out of airports with Centurion lounges, or if you’re a frequent Delta flyer, or if you value the Membership Rewards transfer partners far more, overall, the Citi Prestige wins out in my book. And given that it’s essentially a $100/year card if you do it right, I often feel it really competes with the cards in the next category.


Small fee, good airline rewards: Citi Premier, American Express Premier Rewards Gold, Chase Sapphire Preferred

If you’re getting the Citi Prestige for $100/year as I detailed above, there’s really no reason to get the Citi Premier, as it’s $95/year after the first year, without any of the great benefits. So it essentially comes down to the Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. American Express Premier Rewards Gold.

While it may be heresy to say so in the blogger community, if you can live without the plunk factor (the CSP is metal, the PRG is plastic), I honestly feel that the Premier Rewards Gold is a better choice. Both have no annual fee, but the Chase Sapphire Preferred is $95 after the first year, and the Premier Rewards Gold is $175 after the first year. However, it also comes with a yearly airline fee credit, which again, if used correctly, can be used for airfare, bringing the fee down to $75.

The PRG also offers slightly better bonus categories, offering triple points on airfare and double points on gas, dining, and supermarkets where as the CSP only offers double points on travel and dining. While United is a very important Ultimate Rewards transfer partner for booking Star Alliance flights (in addition to Singapore), Membership Rewards will let you transfer to Air Canada’s Aeroplan frequent flyer program in addition to Singapore  Airlines, as well as Delta, Virgin America, JetBlue, and Hawaiian. Though if you want Southwest points, the CSP might be better.

Small fee, good cash rewards: Capital One Venture, Barclaycard Arrival Plus (again, the US Bank Flex Perks Travel Rewards and Wells Fargo Propel cards also fall into this category, but aren’t really worth discussing).

Both of these cards give you a bonus of $400 after spending $3,000 in the first three months, both of these cards will give you 2% cash back on all purchases when you redeem them for travel, and both have no foreign transaction fees. There aren’t many differences, but there are a few: For one, it’s generally easier to get approved for Capital One cards, though they will pull your credit report from all three bureaus. The Barclaycard card is also the only card that has chip and pin technology (most only have chip), which can be useful in Europe. It also gives you back 5% on all your redemptions. Notably, you can redeem your rewards for cash back at any time with the Venture card, whereas the Arrival card requires you to redeem in quantities of at least $25.

They both have the annual fee waived the first year, and Capital One assesses a $59 fee the next year, whereas Barclaycard’s is $89. However, Capital One will almost always waive this fee if you call them, whereas Barclaycard rarely does this. For this reason alone, if you have to choose just one, you’ll probably get more value out of the Capital One Venture over the long-term, though this could change based on your needs.

No fee: Capital One Venture One, Barclaycard Arrival, Bank of America Travel Rewards, Discover IT Miles. The Venture One and Arrival are identical to the cards described above, except that they both have no annual fee, signup bonuses of $200, and the Venture One is 1.25% cash back, and the Arrival is 2% cash back on travel and dining, and 1% for everything else. In this category, unless more than half your spending is on travel and dining, you’re probably better off going with the Bank of America Travel Rewards card, as it has the same high signup bonus $200, and a flat 1.5% cash back. on everything, and still no foreign transaction fees. The Discover IT Miles also offers a flat 1.5% cash back on everything as well as no foreign transaction fees, but there is no signup bonus, not to mention Discover has limited acceptance outside the US, so it’s hard to recommend it as a travel card (though there are some other good uses). The $30/year in-flight wi-fi credit is nice, though.

Of course, for maximum benefit, you’re best getting all of them, so you can make nice pretty pictures of airlines with your credit cards, as I did in the top image.

Have a question about something? Feel free to post in the comments below or e-mail me.



Why your primary credit card (probably) shouldn’t be an airline credit card

Why your primary credit card (probably) shouldn’t be an airline credit card

Co-branded airline credit cards seem to be all the rage these days, as airlines promote them very heavily, and so do many bloggers. For those of you who don’t know, a co-branded airline credit card is one where a bank (such as Chase) partners with an airline (such as United) to offer a credit card that can be used anywhere (different from a store card which can only be used at certain merchants), and instead of receiving cash back like one might on a traditional card, they receive airline miles, usually 1 mile per dollar spent, with bonus miles on airline purchases.

Now, it’s easy to see why this is an attractive proposition. While it’s hard to place an exact value on airline miles (since an award flight on United that cost 25,000 miles to book may cost $300 to book as a paid fare, or $500 to book as a paid fare), a conservative estimate is generally 1.5 cents per mile, effectively giving you 1.5% cash back (for frequent flyer programs like Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America, it’s a little easier to calculate the value of miles since they correspond directly with the cost of the flight, i.e. if a flight costs twice as much in dollars, it will cost twice as much in miles).

So what’s the problem? Well, your primary credit card (assuming you’re not trying to meet the minimum spending bonus) should be one that gives you lots of opportunities where you can earn bonus points or miles. But with a few exceptions, most airline credit cards will only give you bonus miles for purchases with the airline. Unless you’re constantly on the road for work, it’s unlikely that most of your spending will be with an airline (and even if it is, it’s probably on the corporate credit card).

So how can you earn miles while still taking advantage of bonus categories? Thankfully, several of the big credit card companies allow you to earn points directly with them in a variety of categories that will allow you to then transfer those points (often at a 1:1 ratio) to many leading frequent flyer programs.

A classic example is the United MileagePlus Explorer Card vs. the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. The former gives you double miles on all United purchases and 1 mile for every dollar spent on other purchases. The latter gives you double points on all dining and travel purchases (including United purchases), and 1 point for everything else. These points can then be transferred 1:1 into your United account (or a number of other accounts). The annual fees ($95 after first year) and signup bonus (50,000) are identical.

To put this into perspective, if you spend $12,000 in a year, $3,000 of which is on dining or travel (with a $500 purchase on United), then you would earn 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points, which you could then transfer into 15,000 United miles if you wanted to, but you’d also have the flexibility to convert them into 15,000 Southwest miles (or British Airways miles, or a number of other programs). If you spent that same $12,000 in a year, then you’d earn 12,500 United miles. It isn’t hard to see why cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a better bet.

Of course, that doesn’t mean airline credit card should be ignored. They’re great for boosting your mileage accounts with their often-generous signup bonuses (I’ve received over 500,000 miles in signup bonuses on airline credit cards), and if you regularly check bags, they tend to allow you to waive checked bag fees for you and a partner, which could save $100 or so on a round trip. Another common benefit is priority boarding. Furthermore, as long as you have one open, it means your miles will never expire (though there are other ways to extend the life of your miles. They also sometimes will come with companion passes. In other words, feel free utilize airline cards for their perks, just don’t put any more spending on them after you hit the bonus.

Below, I’ll run through some of the more popular airlines and their cards, explaining other cards which will get you more miles, but why the airline’s credit card still could be useful to have:

United: As I mentioned earlier, the Chase Sapphire Preferred will give you double points on travel and dining, which can then be converted to United miles. However, the United MileagePlus Explorer is probably one of the better airline cards out there, as in addition to the generous signup bonus (50,000) it can give you access to more award seats and two lounge passes a year.

(The card featured in the image is indeed a real card, which I put $2,000 on to meet the requirements to earn 50,000 miles plus a $50 statement credit, and plan on never using again).

American: American is a bit trickier, as none of the major credit card programs (Citi ThankYou, Chase Ultimate Rewards, AMEX Membership Rewards) allow you to transfer points to American. However, you can transfer from a Starwood Preferred Guest account, which is extremely valuable because of the wide range of partners you can transfer to from it, and you can get a 25,000-point signup bonus with their co-branded AMEX card (though the impacts of the upcoming merger with Marriott are unclear). Of course, American does have some good co-branded cards, and the Platinum World Elite, in addition to a 50,000-mile signup bonus, will also give you 10% off award flights (from time to time you might also see a 100,000-point bonus for the Executive version of the card, which has a $450 fee but gives you access to the Admiral lounges).

Delta: The AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card earns bonus points in number of different categories like travel and groceries, and allows you to transfer points at a 1:1 ratio into your Delta frequent flyer account. The standard Delta co-branded card (Gold Rewards) occasionally offers 50,000-point signup bonuses, but doesn’t really offer much else beyond the standard priority boarding and free checked bag.

Southwest: The Chase Sapphire Preferred mentioned above will also allow you to transfer your points at a 1:1 ratio to Southwest. That being said, both Southwest cards do give you an anniversary bonus after payment of the annual fee, and can be a good way to work toward the companion pass, not to mention it often offers signup bonuses as high as 50,000 points, about $625 in travel.

JetBlue: Again, the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card will allow you to transfer JetBlue points though at a 5:4 ratio (e.g 50,000 Membership Rewards points equals 40,000 TrueBlue points). There currently is no JetBlue card to apply for, as it is being transitioned from American Express to Barclaycard.

Virgin America: And yet again, the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card will allow you to transfer points, though at a 2:1 ratio (though if you transfer by March 10, it goes up to a 4:3 ratio). If you have the Citi Premier or Citi Prestige card, you can also transfer ThankYou points at a 2:1 ratio also, both of which have good bonus categories on travel and entertainment. While 2:1 may sound like a bad deal initially, given how valuable Virgin America points are (roughly worth a little over 2 cents each), it’s actually not that bad in reality. Of course, given how valuable they are, if your main goal is to accumulate Virgin America Elevate points, their co-branded VISA card with Comenity may not be a bad option, other than the fact that Comenity is by far the single-worst issuer I’ve ever dealt with.

Alaska: Similarly to American, the only way to transfer in miles to your Alaska account at a 1:1 ratio is through Starwood Preferred Guest, which I would again recommend over the Alaska Airlines co-branded card for the flexibility. That being said, the Bank of America Alaska card is a nice way to get a quick 25,000 miles, as there is no minimum spending bonus, though the annual fee of $89 is not waived the first year. There is also a good deal for a companion certificate with this card.

Hawaiian: I’ve never seen anyone besides myself with the Hawaiian Airlines co-branded card, but just in case you’re thinking about it, you’ll again do better transferring in points from the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card. The 35,000-mile signup bonus on the co-branded card is still a nice way to get a free roundtrip flight to Hawaii from the West Coast, not to mention there are companion certificate benefits too, though the annual fee is not waived the first year.

Spirit: Other than flying Spirit, there’s no other practical way to earn additional Free Spirit miles besides the Spirit Airlines credit card. But if your primary goal is to accumulate miles to use on Spirit, I question your life choices.


Did I miss something? Have a question about something? Feel free to e-mail me or post in the comments below.