Airline loyalty programs are notoriously confusing. They are constantly changing the rules, and it’s hard to know what your miles and points are actually worth. Brian Kelly, aka The Points Guy whose website focuses on credit cards rewards, stopped by Yahoo Finance to share some tips on how to maximize your travel experience.
The best credit cards for travel
If you’re an avid traveler, chances are you have a credit card that you prefer. Competition among credit card issuers is fierce, as new cards with big sign-up bonuses and unbeatable travel perks frequently come to market. The question is, which one is the best?
According to Kelly, there are four things to consider when looking for a travel credit card. Consumers must look at points and perks — some cards are strong at one and bad at the other. Users must also look at how rich it is to earn (how much you initially have to spend) and how easy points are to redeem. Taking that into account, Kelly prefers to use the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
“It’s still the king in my opinion. It’s still what I use most for personal spend,” he said.
With this card, users get 3 times the points for every dollar they spend in select categories, and the transferrable points can be moved to another person’s account or a hotel partner program like Hyatt Gold Passport. The Sapphire Reserve does have an annual fee of $450, but it also comes with a $300 travel credit. So, if you plan on spending more than $300 on a plane ticket, train or Uber, then the annual fee is realistically only $150.
That said, finding the right card really depends on what perks you value most. If you seek affordable accommodations, Citi Prestige card holders get the fourth night free at pretty much any hotel. For travelers looking for a pleasant airport experience, the American Express Platinum provides access to some of the best lounges available.
Why you should play the points game
If you’ve been hesitant to get a rewards credit card, there are a few things to consider.
The first, of course, is your financial situation. Many of these cards require you to spend $3,000 to $4,000 over three or four months in order to get the sign-up bonus. If that isn’t doable, or if you don’t think you can pay your monthly bill on time, then this type of card is probably a bad idea.
However, if you can handle the responsibility, there has never been a better time to get into the points game.
“All [cards] are becoming more lucrative, especially towards the millennial market that the credit card companies never really knew how to market to,” said Kelly. “They are taking money away from the TV and print ads and they are putting it into the product, which is good for consumers.”
This strategy was evident with how Chase marketed the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Chase didn’t pay for TV ads; instead, the company set the the sign-up bonus to 100,000 points, which got noticed and ultimately created a viral sensation and attracted loads of new customers. (It has since cut the sign-up bonus to 50,000.)
Kelly also pointed out that most merchants are charged a processing fee for running credit cards, so those not getting into points are subsidizing it for everybody else.
“If you’re not getting points, then you’re paying for me to get points because merchants build in that transaction cost for the price of goods,” he said.
(Article has been edited to reflect that Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 3x points in select categories.)