Reader Question: Best Cards For A Management Consultant

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Million Mile Secrets reader Steven emails in:

Hi Daraius,

I am 22 years old and in a few weeks I am starting a Chicago based job in management consulting.  After my 6 month training period, I will begin traveling 3-4 days a week.  As of now I do not know if I can bill the travels to my credit card or if they are expense directly to my company.  Nevertheless, I am wondering what the best every-day spending credit card is for my situation?

I currently have the Chase Freedom Visa with an 8k line and a perfect credit score.  My average total monthly charges come out to roughly $1k. Many of my co-workers have the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and Chase Sapphire Preferred cards.  However, I have access to government rates at hotels so I do not know if it is worthwhile to use a credit card’s reward reservation program/system?

Do you recommend a Starwood, Sapphire, or different card in my situation? Or should I just keep my Chase Freedom card? I do understand that it can be worthwhile to open multiple credit cards for their opening perks but I don’t have the time to keep chasing offers.

Management Consultant jobs are great for earning lots of miles and points because you travel and eat out a lot and someone else reimburses you for the bills!  Now, if only you could earn points for each slide deck you make.  🙂

Lots of

You Earn Lots of Miles and Points When You Travel for Work!

Credit Card Policy

Steven should confirm if he can use his personal credit card for business travel expenses and get reimbursed for them.  Some companies require employees to use the corporate credit card which usually means less miles and points.

But some companies let you use your personal card and will reimburse you for expenses.

If Steven’s company requires him to use a corporate credit card for his travel expenses, he should check with colleagues and find out if this is another corporate policy which is just on paper.  Or if it is actually enforced.  As always, he should do what he is comfortable with.

I’ve worked in companies which had policies which required you to use the corporate card.  In one company, this was enforced and in another company it wasn’t and many folks used their own card.

If Steven is forced to use a corporate American Express card, he could pay $90 and link it to his personal American Express Membership Rewards account and earn points for his business spending.  However, he should check with his HR department to see if this is okay.

Best Cards for a Consultant

1.  Chase Sapphire Preferred

Link:   Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the perfect card for a consultant.  Steven will earn 2x Ultimate Rewards points for travel and dining.  Consultants do lots of travel and dining  – besides work until midnight! – so Steven should get this card.

Steven will earn 2x Ultimate Rewards points for car rentals, parking, toll, flights, hotels, cabs, and expenses through a travel agency.  It is hard to imagine a better card for someone who will spend most of his time traveling!

2X Points on Travel and Dining Will Add Up When You Travel a Lot

2X Points on Travel and Dining Will Add Up When You Travel a Lot

Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to different airlines and hotels in a 1:1 ratio.

  • British Airways
  • United Airlines
  • Hyatt
  • Southwest
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Mariott
  • Ritz Carlton
  • Korean Air
  • Priority Club
  • Amtrak

But Steven shouldn’t transfer the points unless he has a redemption with a particular airline or hotel because he can’t transfer his points back to Ultimate Rewards.

My favorite transfer partners are United for international business or first class awards, Hyatt for hotel stays, Southwest for domestic US flights and British Airways points for use on short distance American Airlines flights within the US.

Steven can also unlock the value of his existing Chase Freedom card with the Sapphire Preferred card.  That’s because he can now transfer points from his Chase Freedom – which earns 5X Ultimate Rewards points in different bonus categories – to his Sapphire Preferred and from there to airlines and hotels such as United, Hyatt, etc.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred earns 2 Ultimate Rewards points for ALL travel, so Steven doesn’t have to juggle around different airline cards to earn the maximum amount of miles.  Most airline credit cards earn 2 miles per $1 spent with a particular airline.  But Steven will earn 2 Ultimate Rewards points on all travel and dining which he can transfer to different airlines including United, Southwest, British Airways etc.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, so Steven saves ~3% when he uses the card outside the US.

He can convert his Ultimate Rewards points into cash back (1 cent per point) or book travel via the Ultimate Rewards portal at 1.25 cents per Ultimate Rewards point.

2.  American Express Starwood Preferred Guest

Link:   American Express Starwood Preferred Guest

The American Express Starwood card used to be the best all-purpose travel card for many, many years until the Chase Sapphire Preferred.  It is a useful card for a traveling consultant to have if he plans on staying at Starwood hotels, though Steven should wait a few days until the better 30,000 point offer is out.

Steven should have the Starwood card if he plans on staying at Starwood hotels because he’d earn 2 Starwood points per $1 spent at Starwood hotels.  He’d also earn 5 nights and 2 stays towards elite status just by having the card, though I’m sure he’d earn Starwood elite status fairly easily on his own if he is a traveling consultant.

I prefer to use my Starwood points in Starwood hotels, but Starwood points can be transferred to many airlines in 1:1 ratio.  You get an extra 5,000 Starwood points when you transfer points in increments of 20,000, so you’re effectively earning 1.25 airline miles per $1 spent (assuming that you spend enough to transfer in increments of 20,000 points).

1.25 air miles per $1 is a good earning rate, but Steven is better off using the Chase Sapphire Preferred because he earns 2 Ultimate Rewards points for ALL travel and dining.  And 2 Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to 2 airline or hotel points.

That said, if Steven wants to collect American Airlines miles, the Starwood card is better because he can transfer Starwood points to American Airlines.  But he’d earn only 1.25 American Airlines miles per $1 spent for most of his travel expenses.  That’s why he is better off using the Chase Sapphire Preferred for his travel expenses which will earn 2 Ultimate Rewards points per $1.

But he can use the American Express Starwood for stays at Starwood hotels and for non-travel and dining expenses.

Hotel Cards

If Steven stays at Starwood hotels exclusively, the American Express Starwood card would double-up as a hotel card and he wouldn’t need to get a separate co-branded hotel credit card.

If he’ll be staying at a different hotels chain, it could sometimes make sense for Steven to get the credit card for that hotel – like the Citi Hilton Reserve card.  Starwood hotels are nice, but you can’t find them everywhere.

Triple Dipping With Hotels

1.  Using a Credit Card 

Steven asks if he can earn extra points at hotels if he uses government rates.  He absolutely can!

Steven will earn extra points for using any travel credit card (he doesn’t have to use the hotel co-branded credit card) to pay for his hotel stays.

Let’s say that Steven has a $1,000 bill at the Hilton.  He will earn 2 Ultimate Rewards points per $1 if he uses his Chase Sapphire Preferred, so he’d earn 2,000 Ultimate Rewards points ($1,000 bill X 2 Ultimate Rewards Points).

If he pays with his Citi Hilton Reserve card he’d earn 10 Hilton points per $1 or 10,000 Hilton points ($1,000 X 10 points per $1).  He’d earn 12 points per $1 with the American Express Surpass, but the better card depends on how much he spends.  That’s because he earns 1 free weekend night with the Citi Hilton Reserve after spending $10,000 each calendar year.

2.  Using His Hotel Loyalty Number

In addition, Steven could ALSO earn points for the actual stay at the hotel if he has signed up for a hotel loyalty program and included his membership number in the reservation.

Per this thread on Flyertalk, government rates at Hilton earn credit for elite status and points.  Hilton has a special reservations page for government employees.

Government rates at Starwood & Marriott appear to earn credit for elite status and points as there’s no specific prohibition against it.

While the terms and conditions suggest that government (and corporate) negotiated rates won’t earn Hyatt stay credit or points many readers have gotten stay credit and points on a government stay.  However, your miles may vary (YMMV).  I’ve also earned Hyatt points and stay credits when I’ve used my corporate Hyatt code.

3.   Registering for Hotel Promotions

Steven should register for hotel promotions like the Hilton or Starwood promotions to earn even more points.  Here’s a list of current promotions from Loyalty Traveler.

Bottom Line

Steven can look forward to lots of travel, dining, long hours, and miles and points!  It is hard to go wrong with the Chase Sapphire Preferred & the American Express Starwood card and 1 other hotel credit card if Steven won’t be staying at Starwood hotels.

Steven can also extra points for paying his hotel bills with his credit cards & his discounted government rates may earn him extra points.

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20 responses to “Reader Question: Best Cards For A Management Consultant

  1. As a government employee, I wonder if it’s really worth to get a hotel card. The reason I ask is because gov employees already get a huge discount on stays and often free breakfast and internet as part of the stay (every Hilton I’ve stayed at does this). So, aside from the 2 free nights you’d get with the Hilton Card, I am not too sure it’s worth the credit pull and annual fee. As for points, I’d just use the Sapphire to book the rooms. Thoughts?

  2. @NM: If you stay in Hilton, get the Hilton card. Earns 3pts/$ general spend and upwards to 10pts/$. You can’t get close with any other card. To boot, you’ll get Diamond at $40,000 spend if you don’t get that on stay by itself. Hilton compliments the cards above nicely to fill in the Starwood/Hyatt gap. Between the three programs, you should be well covered and optimized on all travel plans. That said, I do add one more: Amex Platinum. For $250 (after the $200 travel credit), it’s a the cheapest concierge + protection + widely recognized travel card to have with no limits on it.

  3. NM,
    As a government employee I can assure you it is worth it, of course with the standard caveats unless you need to use your credit score soon because you are buying a house, etc (but a 22 who travels a lot probably isn’t buying a home anytime soon). The Hilton Card, besides giving you gold status which alone gives you upgrades and 25% bonus on points, also gives you an extra 10 bonus points per dollar spent. If this person stays 15 nights a month and is spending the minimum CONUS rate of 77$ per night (I am sure they will often times be above this) will get about 14,500 extra points a month. If the average rate is 125 a night, then it will be over 23,000 extra points a month.

    Assuming that after all this work travel they want to travel for pleasure, the gold status alone probably makes up for the fee, but certainly a minimum of 174000 points (14,500 * 12 months) is worth it. That is two nights at a tier 10 hotel (on top of the regular base points they would have earned)

  4. If staying at Hilton properties frequently, I’d get the AMEX card over citi for 12 points per $. I also personally have determined that hotel loyalty hopping (based on current promos) is a better strategy in the long run than staying loyal to one brand. I earn more free nights for personal use due to promos, and I diversify my hotel points collection meaning I have more redemption options if one chain is not represented where I want to go. Plus, I find hotel status nearly worthless, especially for a business travele.

    • @NM – It depends on which hotel chain because not all hotel points have the same value.

      @ANC RED-EYE – It depends on how much you spend. I prefer the Hilton Reserve because you get 1 free weekend night each year after spending $10,000 and no forex fees.

  5. So this 22 yr old, just out of college, can’t show income, might have big student loans so it’s hard to give this person advice unless they disclose everything. But I don’t think this person should burden themselves with lots of CCs. He has a freedom card, then a Chase Sapphire (not the preferred) would work well and maybe one airline card. Later hey can move up to the Preferred card and get the bonus for that card.

  6. Thanks for your comments everyone. Highly appreciated. I have more questions, but not sure it’s appropriate for this post here. Darius, do you plan to offer a forum on your site so we can discuss this even further?

  7. Club Carlson Premier Rewards card all the way. If Steven gets this card he’ll earn 10 points per dollar spent when he stays at Club Carlson properties plus 5 points per dollar spent on everything else. By holding the card he can redeem his CC points for effectively twice as much since cardholders get a free night on any redemption. He should redeem his points two nights at a time and he’ll only have to pay for one night each time. Even if he redeems his points for a 10 night stay, he should book 5 consecutive 2 night trips. By doing this, he can easily get over 2 cents per point. He’ll get the most value if he stays at Club Carlson properties (earning 20 points per dollar for being a Premier Rewards member) and pays with his Club Carlson credit card (earning another 10 points per dollar spent) and then redeems his points two nights at a time. That’s like getting a 60% bonus!

  8. Who would hire a 22 yr old as a “management consultant”? I find that thought hilarious.

  9. Maybe, I missed it somehow, but I think it largely depends, on what his goals are. Is is flying in business class, getting hotel points or just cash back? I think, Chase Sapphire Preferred is a good choice, especially in combination with Freedom. Also, Barclay’s Arrival with 40000 points, good for 440 cash back with rebate. Both cards have a good bonus upfront and flexible points, which can be redeemed for many things. I would argue, that the upfront bonus is the most important thing to consider, because of the credit hit.

  10. Unless you are an independent contractor (which I assume Steven is not since he will be receiving company training), the likelihood of a company hiring you as their employee and allowing you to book your expenses on your own personal credit card is HIGHLY UNLIKELY. There is a reason corporate credit cards exists, and that’s for the company to gain the benefits of the expenses, not the employee. Additionally, it streamlines the expense reporting process.

  11. And to follow up on my last comment…if the unlikely circumstance that the company does allow employees to run their own expenses holds true, then I question how a management consulting company, of all companies, would not have been “consulted” on the many benefits of implementing a corporate charge system.

    • @NM – I don’t have any plans for a discussion board on the blog.

      @Rodney – Emily and I have both worked for large Fortune 500 companies which let us use our own credit cards for business expenses. But, using the company card does make it easier when it comes time for expense reporting.

      @Matt – That’s true, but AMEX’s transfer partners aren’t as strong as Chase’s transfer partners.

  12. A case can be made for the AMEX PRG with 3x airfare and 2x gas

  13. @Nathaniel
    You’re a government employee? I hope you don’t mean the federal government because if you are, why are you NOT using your government-issued travel credit card? You are required to do so unless you are exempt.

  14. NM: When on work travel, government employees are required to charge their hotel rooms to their government credit card, which doesn’t earn any rewards at all for the spender. Having the Hilton CC still benefits you due to the gold status if you don’t already have it though.

  15. I worked for two years for a big4 accounting firm. This was before I was super into miles and points. Anyway we were given corporate Amex cards if we wanted and it was expected you got one and use it whenever Amex was accepted, def required when booking travel through travel agency. The pros to this arrangement were that expense reimbursement was far easier than if you didn’t use the corp Amex.

    Our T&E system would fetch all Amex charges which could be added to trip reports. When using the card it was rare to need to submit a receipt unless the expense was less common charges, but travel and meals (two most common) didn’t need a receipt no matter the amount. However if you used your own card you’d need to submit receipts for all expenses over $25. If the OP is traveling every week, the number of receipts would be excessive and a huge pain.

    Additionally there be ones the issue of getting reimbursed. My company was great about getting on the next pay period for all Amex charges submitted but it took longer for your own card purchases. So if you had to shell out a lot for airfare you may need to pay your own bill before getting reimbursed.

    Fortunately my former company offered employees the ability to pay a fee $75 or $95 I can’t recall to be able to earn MR points. As I rarely traveled and didn’t spent all that much on it, I didn’t do it but others who traveled loads earned a lot of points. So given the hassles of submitting expenses I’d recommend going this route if possible, so at least he’d earn Amex points without the headaches of expense reporting and floating money.

  16. Jason
    I am going to assume you work for DoD. DoD is the only federal agency that I am aware of, and only parts of it at that, that routinely issues travel cards to to its employees. My agency has decided that government travel cards are more hassle then they are worth. The amount of money it takes monitoring them, and the potential for abuse is not worth it. It is much easier to make me front the money, and examine my voucher what it comes time to reimburse me.

  17. Wouldn’t AmEx Platinum for a consultant be a no brainer? Lounge access, SPG gold, $200 airline credit, Global Entry/TSA Precheck? They’re great benefits for someone starting with no status.

  18. we need a c card consultant
    happy to pay for on tele

    example do we get marriott card or ritz hotel card ??
    earn apprx 2 million milee per yr