Getting Started in Miles and Points With the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

I gave just a few people in my office one-on-one consultations about getting started in miles and points. I’ve also helped several of those people book award tickets with their points.

Usually the first actionable thing my co-workers take away from those conversations is to sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

I tell folks that they want to start with understanding their reward goals — that both motivates them and helps them pick the right program to earn points in. For most goals, though, Chase Ultimate Rewards points are the best place to start.

And to track their points, using a site like Award Wallet.

What’s interesting is that once people get this advice, get the card, and use the points the advice seems to spread like wildfire. How did you do that? Well, I got this card, earn the bonus for it and maybe a second card, and pretty quickly was redeeming for awards.

So I find that folks I work with that I’ve never even had conversations with have plenty of Chase points, and are ready to redeem.

This isn’t a post for experts, I’d guess very very experts have not already signed up for Sapphire Preferred. But for beginners, when I’m asked for frequent flyer advice, and I’m able to resist the temptation to overwhelm and go on for an hour (I can easily run off at the mouth), when I’m trying to give simple, concrete recommendations, I’m generally suggesting Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

It has been probably the all-around most lucrative credit cards in the market for the past couple of 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. There’s a $0 annual fee the first year. It earns some of the most valuable points. And has some of the best spending bonuses as well.

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

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 near the top in both signup bonus and points-earning, 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
  • 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 use it for my Drugstore.purchases.

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, Korean Airlines, Southwest Airlines, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic
  • Hotels: Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, Priority Club
  • 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.

Usually I think of United as the best value for points transfers, since the award chart is reasonable and available on Star Alliance partners is really pretty good in business class to Europe and Asia.

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. And one-way awards, also not offered (except at the same price as roundtrip!) by Delta. 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. (I also want to fly first class on the China Southern A380 and first class on Saudia Airlines as well.)

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers referral credit to me if you apply and are approved using my link, which I greatly appreciate.

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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. I agree that the CSP is a great card, but for a beginner you should just stop at the bonus. Post-bonus-qualifying spend is wasted spend for a beginner. There is such a universe of cards out there. All spend should be going towards bonuses IMO. Double points in dining is great and all but that spend would be better used somewhere else to target their point goals.

  2. I agree completely with CW. I would recommend Citi AA card with 50000 miles sign-up bonus as the best card to get right now. CSP bonus has been at this level for some time, no rush.

  3. At 50K miles, and a waived AF, Citi used to be my advice for a first card. But now that United still has premium cabin availability to Europe, and AA simply doesn’t anymore, I feel like I should apologize to everyone that took my advice on the AA cc.

    And yes, forget the points from spending beyond the minimum when you get the Sapphire. Instead put those $ on meeting minimum spend for the up to 50K United card, and the 30K with transfer bonus SPG card. In short order you now have 120K United points. Just spend them quickly while you still can, and before the next devaluation.

  4. @ Robert Hanson Maybe I’m not understanding you correctly, but SPG does not transfer to United at a good rate to make it worthwhile. Also, United 50000 miles offer does not pop up for everyone, at least it didn’t for me. But even if it did, I still would go with AA card. Why?
    The off-peak redemption to Europe in economy. Not for most people in this hobby, I know, but still. Also AAdvantage mile is a bit harder to acquire. You only have Citi AA card, which earns 1 mile per dollar and SPG card with its measly bonuses. With United you have a plethora of Chase cards and 5 percent bonus opportunities through Freedom card as well as INK and BOLD. But it is a personal choice.

  5. Great advice getting started with this card! I made the mistake when I started of having about a dozen cards a dozen programs. Spread wayyyy too thin.

  6. @leana Mea Culpa I didn’t realize that UA was the one airline that doesn’t have a good SPG transfer rate. Thanks for letting us all know, or be reminded, about that.

    And yes, the 50K offer is not always easy to get. First of all you have to have a few thousand miles in your United account. I got mine from online offers of few hundred miles at a time for doing trivial things. And from shopping thru the United Shopping Portal, which has a 1K bonus mile deal running right now for a mere $50 purchase {registration required}. And you don’t need to have a United card, just a United member number, as it stacks with the Freedom card quarterly bonus. A $50 purchase from Sears or Nordstrom gets you an additional 5 UR points per $ spent.

    Then you have to try, and try, and try again over time. I too couldn’t get it to work at first, and I don’t really know why it finally did, maybe the Travel Gods taking pity on me?

    “off-peak redemption to Europe in economy”

    OMG, They Do Exist 🙂 I thought it was an Urban legend. But yes, if one does have family members to bring along, and they are too young to get their own ccs, that really changes the equation.

    I take exception to the description of SPG as “measly” though. Lousy for hotel rooms, yes. But 25K bonus points, becomes 30K with minimum spend. If you have vanilla bean fields nearby, $10K spent brings you up to 40K points. Those 40K points transfer as 50K miles {except with United}. First year fee waived, so $80 in vanilla fees gets you 50K miles. And yes you can use them for coach awards on AA.

  7. @Robert Hanson I honestly think it depends on what you prefer. If you don’t live near AA hub or don’t care for their award program, than United card should be your choice. But I stand by my claim that AA mile is a considerably harder to acquire= more valuable. I personally would rather lock in AA card, but its an individual choice.
    As far as SPG card bonus, I meant it is measly compared to other offers on the market, not that its not valuable. We have 50000 points offers on INK, Bold, 40000 points on SPG. Also it seems Amex Gold increases its bonus to 50000 points on a regular basis and their business card is at that level currently. With AAdvantage you only have AA card and SPG.

  8. @Leana The SPG offer IS 50K. 55 actually, since the minimum spend is $5K. So 40K signup bonus, 5K spend, 5K + 5K extra for transferring in increments of 20K at a time = 55K. Just not to UA.

    Funny that you seemed to think I’m a fan of United. I haven’t flown UA once in the past 20 years. I’m Lifetime Gold with AA, my wife and I each have a couple hundred thousand miles in our AA accounts.

    We are ticketed n/s on an AA 777-ER to LHR next July 1st, the only date that AA has released in FC for the past 6 months. But there is not a single day, not a SINGLE day, that AA will let us return F or J in the following 3 months, which is the end of booking right now. 🙁

  9. Nope I was missing that the site I looked up for the SPG deal is out of date. Or maybe just plain wrong.

    So yeah, to get 50K points you do have to do some $10K of MS, at a cost of $80, even assuming that vanilla beans do grow in your area. So the easy, no extra spend bonus, is a measly 35K. Turns out you were right about that.

    I’m going to end this discussion while I’m behind. Lest I become even “behinder”. 🙂

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