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:
- Those you get just for the signup bonus, but you don’t want to keep spending on them after you’ve earned the bonus
- Those you get for the benefit of having the card, it’s not great for putting spend on
- 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 Drugstore.com 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.
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.)