The Best All-Around Credit Card is Chase Sapphire Preferred

Key Link: Chase Sapphire Preferred

Veterans already know this, although the very experienced will find that they can earn the most bonus points with the Ink Plus® Business Card because it earns 5 points per dollar on telecommunications (cell phone, internet, satellite/cable tv) and at office supply stores (with all the myriad things you can buy there, including online through the Chase Ultimate Rewards mall for even more bonus points). Plus it has a signup bonus of 50,000 points after $5000 spend within 3 months and a $0 fee the first year ($95 thereafter).

But for someone looking for just one card, wanting to know which one is best, I recommend Chase Sapphire Preferred.

I have this conversation on a daily basis, and at events it’s probably the question I’m most asked. I start by trying to understand what people spend money on, and what their reward goals are, but more often than not this is the answer.

And with readership growing at more than 50% per year (and recently at 10% per month), this is a question I get a lot, where some of my more complicated posts are less helpful. It can be useful to a majority of (often less vocal) readers to go back to basics. Put another way, if you’re already a super mileage expert, stop reading. You already know everything in it, and I don’t want you to waste your time. You won’t be able to get your 45 seconds back. If you have 6 or more credit cards open, this post is not for you.

For everyone else, I realize that too much advice can be overwhelming. It’s probably why many of the people I work with think that this ‘crazy frequent flyer thing’ (jetting off in premium cabins around the world multiple times a year) is complicated, something I can do but beyond their reach. And no doubt this blog isn’t written with the broadest audience in my. My writing, my interests, and my recommendations aren’t always the most accessible.

But I’ve tried to work on that at least where co-workers are concerned (and a dozen or so have likely flown international first class now as a result). Sometimes it’s best to give a simple, concrete recommendation rather than the perfect recommendation — because it’s easily actionable, and because it’s much better than what they were doing before.

And in the credit card space that recommendation is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card which has been probably the all-around most lucrative credit cards in the market for the past three years. Back in November 2011 I called it the king of credit cards.

At 40,000 bonus points after $3000 in spending within 3 months, it has one of the richest bonuses of any card. And in fact it’s even better than that because you can get another 5000 bonus points for adding an authorized user to the account and making a purchase.

Furthermore, it earns some of the most valuable points. And it has some of the best spending bonuses as well.

Why the Expert Recommends This Card, and Why Beginners Can Take Advantage of It

I frequently talk about the different kinds of value that a credit card can provide. There are three different reasons for getting a credit card. There are:

  1. Those you get just for the signup bonus, but you don’t want to keep spending on them after you’ve earned the bonus
  2. Those you get for the benefit of having the card, it’s not great for putting spend on
  3. Those that are rewarding for your spend

This card has one of the strongest signup bonuses and also offers some of the strongest points-earning. You get double points on all travel and dining, Visa acceptance (so you can use it pretty much anywhere even the dry cleaners), no foreign currency transaction fees (so you don’t have to swap out for a different card when you leave the country), and the points are as valuable as any currency out there.

Since it’s more or less tops in two of the three areas that a credit card can generate benefits, and since it’s versatile enough to be one of the best choices anywhere and everywhere, it’s a good card that passes the ‘expert’ analysis … and an easy card to use and benefit from as a beginner, too.

A Very Strong Card for Earning Points

In addition to the standard points-earning, you also get:

  • Double points on travel and restaurant spending
  • Visa acceptance, so even my dry cleaner takes it
  • No foreign currency conversion fee and it’s a chip card so offers easier international acceptance
  • Additional points for your online shopping through access to the Chase Ultimate Rewards mall, a mileage-earning shopping portal that often has the most lucrative opportunities to earn extra points for the online purchases you’d make anyway. I love the 2 extra points per dollar on Travelocity purchases, extra point per dollar at Expedia, and I love it when gets up to 10 points per dollar spent.

Making the Most of the Points You Earn

Chase advertises that you can redeem these points at 1.25 cents apiece towards paid travel, that’s not their best use. You want to hold onto them and transfer them to frequent flyer programs most of the time.

I value ‘flexible’ points the most, points where you can choose where to point them at the time you’re ready to redeem for an award. If you accumulate miles in an airline program, then you need that program to have the award you want at the time you want to fly. But with points that transfer to your choice of programs, you increase the odds substantially of getting the award you want — if one program doesn’t have the award, another one likely will.

The transfer options with this card are:

  • Airlines: United Airlines, Korean Airlines, Southwest Airlines, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic
  • Hotels: Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, IHG Rewards
  • Train: Amtrak

The best hotel transfer value is Hyatt in most cases, but it’s really valuable to be able to top off an account towards an award no matter which account of yours that winds up being.

Even after United’s devaluation it’s still a highly useful partner because of one-way awards, generous routing rules, no fuel surcharges, and because the price of most awards in economy and business class remain reasonable — it’s international first class on partner airlines that’s gotten out of hand.

But transferring to British Airways Avios can be a good use of points, especially for short-distance non-stop flights (think as low as 9000 points roundtrip for a coach award). And while many awards on BA involve fuel surcharges, if you use those points to fly American Airlines or Alaska Airlines domestic or American or LAN to South America, there are no fuel surcharges. (Also quite reasonable intra-Asia on Cathay Pacific and Aer Lingus Boston or New York to Ireland.)

Meanwhile, not only do you get Star Alliance awards via United and oneworld awards via British Airways, you have coverage of the third alliance — Skyteam — as well. You get access to the same Skyteam award space as if you had Delta miles. And in some cases there’s a favorable award chart.

Plus the ability to redeem for international first class through Korean and not just business class, something Delta doesn’t allow.

I actually value these points the most, probably for transfers to Korean since I used Chase points for Korean first class one-stop back from Kuala Lumpur on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.

But its strong earning and redemption flexibility make it a winner across the board. You can optimize on top of it with different cards of course, but for the person looking to start, looking for a simple best solution, this one is a good bet.

(Note that cards in this post offer credit to me if you’re approved using my links. The opinions, analyses, and evaluations here are mine. The content is not provided or commissioned by American Express, by Chase, by Citibank, US Bank, Bank of America, Barclays or any other company. They have not reviewed, approved or endorsed what I have to say.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. the negative I see for this card is the now inflated rate of flight redemption value for over seas flights ( and with BA flights the bogus charges for flights)

  2. I agree – I was just having this conversation with my mom and came to the same conclusion.

    For someone who is not that tech-savvy, and doesn’t have the ability (or interest or time) to track 4 or 5 (much less 10 or 20) different credit cards, with different spending cycles, payment options, annual fees, etc., I would just recommend getting the Sapphire.

    Unless you are detail-oriented enough to be able to track multiple cards, getting a ton of cards is just asking for trouble.

  3. Nonsense to pick CSP as the best all around card for someone without the mental capacity to carry more than 1 card in their wallet. As if they would be able to tweak the value of UR. It’s like picking a best “all in 1” shampoo for someone without hair.

  4. “you can get another 5000 bonus points for adding an authorized user”

    Does this have to be done at sign up, or within the first few months thereafter? I’ve had the card a year, but somehow missed this option. Can I still do it?

  5. I know this card is not churn able but I think I read somewhere (perhaps it was Darius)that he was able to get another card after cancelling it with full bonus points. Can anyone confirm this?

  6. My argument against this is that people who are unable to maximize multiple credit cards are generally unable to maximize frequent traveler awards too. What’s the use of having points when they’re just going to redeem standard awards anyway? Better off with a travel or cashback like the Barclays Arrival

  7. I honestly think Barclay Arrival is a BETTER ALL AROUND credit card, for simplicity, ease, and BETTER overall value compared to UR.
    It’s good for novice and veterans a like, and doesn’t DEVALUATE every so often.

  8. @Andy I don’t think “people who are unable to maximize multiple credit cards are unable to maximize awards” — I work with folks all the time with tons of Amex points and help them get premium cabin awards..

  9. Im with John K on this one. If you are only carrying one cardm you likely arent that into the points game. If so, you are unlikely to get more than 2 cents per point from UR. At that point, better to just get the barclays card.

  10. I think the best card for people who don’t care about credit cards is the Fidelity Amex, since it’s 2% cash back with no annual fee. The CSP is defensible if you’re talking about a card for somebody who wants to dabble in travel rewards.

  11. @Nick @ PFDigest – yes, travel rewards. As I’ve written elsewhere if you have no interest in premium cabin international travel then you should do fidelity 2%.

  12. I have a quick UR question, that I haven’t seen discussed in a couple of years. Specifically, is it possible/allowed to transfer points from one person’s UR account to another person’s FF account (say UA) if the two people aren’t spouses/household members. I remember that Chase was cracking down on people doing UR to UR transfers if they weren’t spouses, but didn’t seem to be doing so if one person transferred from their UR account to another person’s FF account. Anyone have recent experience/advice? I’m 3K miles short of a ticket I want to book and thinking of having my business partner transfer 3K of his UR points to my UA account. Then later, I would transfer 3K of my UR points to one of his FF accounts. Thanks!

  13. Time for a full disclosure, Gary: How does this card’s commission bonus for you stack up against other decent cards (Southwest, Hyatt, AA, Club Carlson, Barclay Arrivals, etc.)?

  14. @Ben which card are you arguing is better than this one out of the above you list? If you’re going to impugn my motives, at least make your case.

  15. I think making the points to be worth more than 2.2 CPP is much more advanced than keeping track of several creditcards, especially after you deduct the compromise of schedules and hours spent on finding availability and not earning elite qualifying award miles on awards. Barclay arrival is the one to go.

  16. Yes, prob Sapphire is the best cad to get for its new account bonus. But what about when renewal time comes ’round? I’m in that boat shortly, and the wuestion I’m asking myself is will it be worth the $95 AF? sp considering I’d mainly be using the card for the transfer options. I’ve used it to move points to Amtrak. And a couple car rentals where I did save a few $$. Never transferred points to an airline tho, other than SWA. So I’d be interested in thoughts on renewing (and paying the AF).

  17. I agree with Scott. It would be good to know your views, Gary, on when to keep a card and when to cancel them.

  18. Scott, IMO if you are after Amtrak points, you should get Chase Freedom. That combo would probably be your best bet, since you can pool the points. Freedom has rotating 5 percent categories on drug stores, gas, et cetera. The 95 dollar annual fee would be justified in this case, but you need to make sure, you are getting at least 2CPM(cents per mile or point). Amtrak points can beat that number quite often.

  19. @Gary – some examples of other cards that could be considered equal or better:

    -Barclaycard Arrival. 2.222% cash back on everything vs. 1-2 points per dollar with the Chase card. Annual fee is a hair less, and you aren’t beholden to devaulations that most of the frequent flyer programs under Chase have recently implemented (United, Southwest, IHG, Hyatt, etc.).

    -Hyatt or Club Carlson. While you are tied to one program, these cards offer bonuses that offset the annual fee, something the CSP doesn’t offer (7% bonus on points means you need to spend $50,000/year+ on just dining and travel to make up the annual fee) as well as continuous perks, such as second night free (Club Carlson), and elite status (both cards). Additionally, Club Carlson earns 5 points per dollar, making the most expensive hotels require $14000 in spend and most hotels $7600-$10,000 for a 2 night stay.

    So back to my original point – do you earn a higher commission on the CSP than most other ‘decent cards?’ I’m not interested in a long debate about which is better, just if you earn a higher commission on the CSP so there is a full disclosure.

  20. I will happily disagree with you that Hyatt and Club Carlson cards are better than Sapphire Preferred. Arrival is a good card but will not help you with premium cabin international travel. And no Sapphire Preferred doesn’t offer better credit to me than most.

  21. @Gary – I actually disagree with you slightly. Where you say Arrival “will not help you with premium cabin international” travel.

    First, your title of the post is “BEST ALL AROUND” card. By your own point, CSP is better just for premium cabin international travel. MOST people don’t fly premium cabin international.

    Second, you can STILL purchase premium cabin international out right with Barclay, even though it may NOT be at the 2.2c/mile exchange rate. In some instances, PREMIUM cabin international can be purchased outright for under the 2.2c/mile exchange rate, though that’s not always the case. And since the United devaluation, THAT value is pretty much good on United metal only.

    Lastly, many have argued that UR points are about 1.5-1.6cents a piece…..
    So, while CSP is a GREAT card, I don’t believe it’s the “Best All Around credit card” as you have proclaimed.

  22. We disagree, that’s fair, although I value Chase points more highly than you do and I expect you’re overly discounting the bonus points-earning of the card. It’s cool to disagree, but not everyone who disagrees with you is evil or stupid. My reason for disagreeing with you had nothing to do with self-interest, where you immediately went with your comment.

  23. @Gary I think you got me mixed up with someone else. Never said you were stupid or evil, or brought up a self serving interest. In my TWO previous posts, I just brought up the validity of my points and never made any accusation or slandered you in any way.

    It’s okay to disagree.

    Overall, your post are very informative and all around great read.

  24. @John K – apologies for the misunderstanding, my note was meant to be a reply to Ben’s comment above yours.

    I should have edited my first comment to add the additional thought and make it clearer.

    And I should have been clear as I usually am with an “@” who I was replying to.

    I opened things before your comment was there, but added my reply after you commented. Hence the confusion.

    Did not mean to impugn you, appreciate your comment.


  25. Could you write something about how long you can keep your bonus miles after you cancel a card and how long after you cancel it can you re-apply for the same card and get the bonus miles. I am running out of cards to apply for and want to try this with Aadvantage Visa, United Airlines Mileage Plus, Chase Sapphire, US Airways Barclays, Delta Blue [changed from AMEX because didn’t want to pay annual fee] and British Airways Chase.

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