Guys, Jimmy has prepared a monster post for you travelers! Below, he shells out the details of what is in our pockets when we travel and how we maximize our spending to help our (not inexpensive) traveling hobby. This is the follow up to a previous post on understanding points and credit and how we use them, so be sure to check that out as well!
So without further adieu, I give you Jimmy, the keeper of the cards and points planner extraordinaire!
Hi there! I am excited to be sharing with you about something that has developed into a bit of a hobby of mine. The travel credit card field has grown increasingly competitive over the past few years. Nearly every credit provider offers a viable option for maximizing travel and/or minimizing cost. In this post, I’ll go over the cards that we have and give a quick breakdown of why we have each one. Bear with me if the numbers get a bit tedious- I have tried to make everything as digestible as possible.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
First on the list and definitely the card I use most is the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. This card was released last fall and quickly became one of Chase’s most popular. I know that the majority of my co-workers in Finland have this card in their wallet and for good reason. The Sapphire Reserve card offers 3 points per dollar on all travel and dining expenses. For Amy and I, this makes up the bulk of our expenditures outside of rent. When we signed up for this card, Chase was offering a sign-up bonus of 100,000 points for making $4,000 in purchases in the first 3 months (the sign-up bonus has since dropped to 50,000 points). Points can be used to purchase airfare, hotels, rentals cars etc. at a rate of 1.5 cents per point, meaning that the 100,000 point sign-up bonus that we got was worth $1,500 in free travel. These points are also transferrable to 11 frequent traveler programs including Southwest RapidRewards, United MileagePlus, and Marriott Rewards.
Now, there is a pretty steep annual fee of $450 associated with this card, but the real kicker is that you get $300 in travel-related expenses refunded automatically each year. If you take a $50 cab ride once a week, that’s 6 weeks of free cab rides. For me, I bought flights to Asia for Amy and I which totaled around $1,000 and $300 of that was refunded as soon as it posted on my statement. It really doesn’t get better than that!
In addition to these benefits, the Sapphire Reserve also gives you a free application for TSA Precheck or Global Entry. It also gives you a free Priority Pass membership. Priority Pass is a network of over 1,000 airport lounges worldwide. Your membership allows you and two guests to enter the lounge for free. Supposedly lounges in US airports are not the best, but since most of our travel is international, this is a huge benefit for us. Partaking in some complimentary G&T’s or beer and snack before your flight is beautiful. If you haven’t tried it yet, lounge access transforms the airport game making it oh-so much more enjoyable.
American Express Platinum
The second most useful card in my wallet is the American Express Platinum card. With a heavy annual fee of $550, this is a big hitter. However, you get money back with perks such as $200 in Uber credit. The Platinum card also allows you to choose a single airline and covers up to $200 in extra fees such as baggage. This can be used for most things charged by the chosen airline except airfare. This card also offers the same Priority Pass membership as the Sapphire Reserve except that you are not allowed to bring guests in for free which means that I usually just use the Sapphire Reserve’s Priority Pass membership.
This card is also extremely useful to Delta loyalists as you are able to get into Delta SkyClubs when you are traveling on a Delta flight. This can be a very nice perk as my experience with SkyClubs has been very positive. In addition to SkyClubs, you can also use Centurion Lounges which are a small selection of premium airport lounges run by Amex.
I love having this card because it provides mid-level Elite status at Hilton, Starwood (and Marriott thanks to their merger), Hertz, National, and Avis. This status doesn’t always help out much, but usually means free breakfast and a room-upgrade which is a nice perk.
I don’t tend to spend a lot of money on this card and mainly keep it for the aforementioned benefits. I do however charge any airfare charges that I can to this card because this card offers 5 points per dollar spent on airfare. Similar to the Sapphire Reserve, you can either use points for travel but at 1 cent per point or transfer points to 20 frequent traveler programs such as Hilton, Starwood, and Delta.
American Express offers a Platinum Concierge service with the ownership of this card. They can be used for travel recommendations, dining reservations, hotel bookings, etc. We have used this service in the past for dining suggestions in Rome, travel guides for Malta and booking our Hot Air Balloon flight in Cappadocia, among others.
One last extra from this card that I find quite valuable are their Amex Offers. This is a selection of coupons essentially and can provide some real savings. Some of the offers that I’ve used in the past year are “$50 off of $250 spent at Brooks Brothers”, “$100 off $1000 spent on Delta”, and “20,000 points for spending $1000 on AirFrance”.
The next card on this list is one that I really only have for one single perk. The IHG Rewards Club Select credit card from Chase bank comes with an annual fee of $49 and that will get you 5 points/dollar spend at hotels under the IHG umbrella which include Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, and Intercontinental. It will also get you 2 points/dollar at grocery stores and 1 point/dollar elsewhere.
These are nice things for a credit card to offer, but the main reason to have this card is that every year after your cardmember anniversary, you get a free night to use at any IHG hotel in the world. You can use this for your standard mid-week stay at a Holiday Inn Express to easily get your $49 value back, or you could use this for a Friday night at the Park Lane Intercontinental in London which can easily run 400 GBP if you were to pay cash! Obviously, there are many ways to utilize this benefit, but you would be very hard pressed to find a way in which you would not at least get the annual fee’s worth of value.
Unfortunately, this card has been discontinued and is no longer available for new accounts, but Chase has since released a similar new product called the IHG Rewards Club Premier card. This new card offers 10 points/dollar at IHG hotels, 2 points/dollar at grocery stores, gas stations, and restaurants, and 1 point/dollar for everything else. It also offers a free night each year for any room costing 40,000 pointsor less. All of this comes for an annual fee of $89
All of the above cards are ones that I would recommend to pretty much anybody, regardless of your travel and spending habits. The Ritz-Carlton card, however, is one that I would really only recommend for Marriott loyalists and/or people who stay at a Ritz at least once a year, but the more the better. This would be the main target group because this card offers rates where you can get free upgrades to the club level for 3 stays per year or $100 credit to be spent during your stay as long as you pay with the card. I’ll say that I had this card before I had the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Amex Platinum and that my main reason for carrying it was that it offers a Priority Pass membership like the other two do. However, I will likely be getting rid of this card in the near future as the other cards offer many duplicate perks and I don’t find the return on spend to be very compelling for this card anymore.
Even if you don’t need a Priority Pass membership or stay at Ritz-Carltons, this credit card offers one perk that is very unique. It is branded as a Visa Infinite card and, as such, opens up a program by the same name which can be extremely lucrative to those who regularly travel with a companion. Through this program, you can book round-trip tickets within the US and get $100 off, every time you book. If you and a companion are regularly booking round-trip tickets within the US, you could make massive savings by using this card.
Many people don’t think about the credit cards that they use and simply use one that they have had in their wallet forever. It’s not that this is a bad thing, but by putting a bit of thought into which cards you spend on, you can easily get rewarded in ways that you want. The credit cards in your wallet have the potential to turn your regular spending into discounted or even free hotels, flights and perks for your next vacation. Be wary of annual fees, but also understand how you can get that money “back” by maximizing the card’s benefits. Establishing your loyalty with certain brands also has its advantages if you travel and sleep away often. Start slow and within your means and enjoy redeeming the points you earn when you spend! And remember, if you can’t pay off your balance every month, no amount of reward will make up for the interest you pay!
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