Best Card Strategy for Beginners in 2017

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New to the world of miles & points?  You have some exciting memories ahead!

You can earn lots of airline miles and hotel points by signing-up for credit cards and using them responsibly.  If you’re just starting out, it can be difficult to figure out which cards will best help you achieve your travel dreams!

Best Travel Credit Cards 2017

Free Travel Is Just an Sign-Up Bonus or 2 Away!

I’ll help you find a credit card strategy based on your travel goals!

Know the Risks Before You Begin

Link:   Beginner’s Guide to Miles & Points

For folks who are beginners in the miles & points hobby, there are a few things you should know!

Read my post on the 5 Dangers of Applying for Credit Cards before getting started.  Collecting miles & points isn’t for everyone.  I only recommend this hobby if you:

  • Pay your bills on time
  • Have a credit score of 700+
  • Pay attention to detail
  • Track your credit card balances

As long as you can manage your money and use your cards responsibly, you’ll do well in this hobby!

Also, the fastest way to get big travel is through credit card sign-up bonuses.  To earn these bonuses, you’ll usually need to spend a certain amount of money in a given time frame.  If you fail to meet the spending, you’re out of luck!

For example, the Chase Freedom card comes with 15,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points ($150) after spending $500 in the first 3 months of opening your account.  And the Chase Sapphire Preferred comes with 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 within the first 3 months of opening your account.

If you know you can’t spend $4,000 in 3 months, do NOT apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred!  Because it will be a long time before you get another chance to earn the sign-up bonus!  Better to sign-up for the Chase Freedom with the lower minimum spending requirement.

Make sure to read my post on 40+ powerful ways to meet minimum spending requirements.

Know the Rules or You Could Miss Out on Big Travel

Just as there is a strategy to maximizing your miles & points to get the Biggest Travel, there is also a strategy to applying for credit cards!

That’s because credit card issuers like Chase, Citi, and American Express have tighter rules that can affect whether you’ll be approved for their cards.  Here’s a quick overview of these rules!

1.   Chase

If you’ve opened 5 or more credit cards from ANY bank in the past 24 months (excluding certain small business cards), Chase will NOT approve you for many of their best travel rewards credit cards, including the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Business Preferred, and Chase United Explorer.  However, there are certain Chase cards that you can still get.

Check out my post on how to easily check if you’ve applied for more than 5 cards in the past 24 months.

2.   Citi

Citi will NOT allow you to earn the sign-up bonus on certain credit cards if you’ve opened or closed a card in the same family of cards in the past 24 months.

For example, if you sign-up for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, you won’t be able to earn the sign-up bonus from the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard for 24 months after you open or close it.  Because they are both American Airlines credit cards, and therefore part of the same “family“.

3.   American Express

American Express restricts folks from earning sign-up bonuses on their cards to once per lifetime, with this possible exception.  So if you’ve previously earned a sign-up bonus from an American Express card, you will NOT be able to earn that bonus again.

Note:   Personal cards and business cards are considered different credit card “products“.  So you can earn the sign-up bonus on both of them, even if they sound like the same card.

For example, if you already received the sign-up bonus for the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, you are still eligible for the sign-up bonus that comes with the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express.  Because AMEX considers them 2 different cards!

If you apply for credit cards from these banks in a certain order, you can maximize the amount of miles & points you earn through credit card rewards!  But what if your travel goals don’t require you to sign-up for EVERY card?

Apply for Chase Cards First!

As a general rule, it’s best to apply for Chase credit cards before you sign-up for cards from other banks.  That’s because Chase has some of the most valuable credit cards for getting Big Travel with Small Money!  And their strict application rules mean you won’t be approved for many of them if you apply for other cards first.

That said, most small business cards will NOT show up on your personal credit report, so won’t count against you if you apply for Chase cards later.

For example, you could apply for the limited-time offer for the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American ExpressYou’ll earn a total of 35,000 Starwood points after meeting tiered minimum spending requirements.

And you could use those points for stays at terrific Starwood hotels around the world.  Or transfer the points to Marriott at a 1:3 ratio for Marriott or Ritz-Carlton award stays.

Because this is a small business card, it will NOT impact your chances of being approved for Chase cards later.  But the personal version of the card will!

Best Travel Credit Cards 2017

Applying for Credit Cards in the Wrong Order Could Cause You to Miss Out on Thousands of Dollars in Travel!

If you are new to the miles & points world, here are some good cards to begin with:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve – 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (worth $1,500 through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal) after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening when you apply in branch before March 12, 2017.  And 50,000 bonus points when you apply online
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.  That’s worth $625 in travel when you redeem through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal
  • Chase Ink Business Preferred – 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • Chase Freedom – $150 (15,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening

When you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Ink Business Preferred, you can transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to airline partners like United Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and Flying Blue (the airline alliance of KLM and Air France).

Best Travel Credit Cards 2017

It’s Possible to Transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards Points to 11 Partners

You can also transfer your Chase points to certain hotels, like Marriott and Hyatt, for terrific hotel stays!  Emily and I transferred our Chase points to Hyatt for a 5-star experience at the Park Hyatt Milan.

What Are Your Travel Goals?

Link:   How to Decide Which Miles to Collect for Your Trip

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to miles & points.  The best kind of miles & points for you depends on your travel goals! 

Do you want to travel across the ocean for an international festival, or just across the country for the holidays?  Do you want to stay at conveniently located hotels along Route 66, or at a 5-star resort in Thailand?  The way you answer these questions will help you determine the best credit cards for you.

Flights

Link:   Which Miles & Points Should You Collect for Award Flights?

1.   For Domestic Flights

Link:   Best Ways to Use Airline Miles for Domestic Award Tickets

Link:   Southwest Companion Pass

If you prefer more flexibility, consider credit cards that earn transferable points, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi Prestige, or Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express.

You can use the points you earn with these cards to either buy airfare, or transfer them to certain airlines and book award seats.  The cheapest way to save on your ticket will depend on things like:

  • Where you’re flying
  • How far you’re flying
  • Which class you fly
  • The cash value of the ticket

But the best way to get Big Travel within the US (and a several areas south of the border), is with the Southwest Companion Pass.  With the Southwest Companion Pass, a friend or loved one can fly with you for (almost) free for up to 2 years!

To get the Companion Pass, you need to earn 110,000 Southwest points in a calendar year.  And the sign-up bonus you earn with the Chase Southwest cards counts!  Just make sure you do NOT make these 3 mistakes!

Currently, the sign-up bonuses on the Chase Southwest cards are:

  • Chase Southwest Plus –  Earn 50,000 Rapid Rewards points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account.

Best Travel Credit Cards 2017

Emily and I Consider the Southwest Companion Pass to Be THE Best Deal in Travel

So, if you apply for 1 Chase Southwest personal card and 1 Chase Southwest small business card, you’ll have enough Southwest points to qualify for the Companion Pass after you meet minimum spending requirements!

Note:   Many folks may qualify for small business cards even if they don’t think they do.  If you have a for-profit venture, like selling items on Etsy, tutoring, or freelance writing, you can likely get approved for a small business card!

2.   For International Flights

Link:   Beginner’s Guide to Transferable Points

Link:   The Trick to Travel Flexibility Is With Transferable Points!

If you want to travel outside the US, I recommend starting with Chase Ultimate Rewards points earning credit cards, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with a 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening when you apply in branch before March 12, 2017.

Note:   You can also apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve online.  But the sign-up bonus is only 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

You can do lots of fun things with Chase Ultimate Rewards points, because you can transfer them to valuable airline transfer partners.  For example, you can:

Best Travel Credit Cards 2017

Transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards Points to Singapore Airlines and Fly to Dubai in Business Class for 57,500 Miles One-Way!

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with a $450 annual fee.  But its great travel benefits more than make up for it!

You’ll get a $300 annual credit (which you can receive TWICE before your 2nd annual fee is due) for travel purchases like flights, Airbnb, Uber, etc.

And you’ll receive a Priority Pass Select membership, which gives you and your travel companions free access to over 1,000 airport lounges worldwide!

Best Travel Credit Cards 2017

Airport Lounges Usually Have Free Snacks and Alcohol

Hotels

1.   For Convenience

Link:   Best Hotel Card for US Travel

Again, if you want the most flexibility, consider credit cards that earn transferable points, like the Chase Ink Business Preferred or Citi ThankYou Premier.  You can transfer your points to different hotels, like Hyatt, Marriott, and Hilton.

IHG Hotels is one of the biggest hotel brands in the world.  You can find them in almost any town, near any airport, and along any highway.

If your travel goals are things like visiting family for the holidays, road-tripping, or staying in smaller cities, you’ll appreciate the convenience of IHG hotels!

The Chase IHG credit card currently comes with 60,000 IHG points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account.  And a $50 statement credit after your first purchase.

60,000 IHG points is enough for 4 nights at a category 2 hotel.

Best Travel Credit Cards 2017

Spend 4 Free Nights at the Candlewood Suites Wake Forest Raleigh Area With the Chase IHG Card’s Sign-Up Bonus

And, each quarter, IHG chooses certain hotels to participate in their PointBreaks promotion, where hotels around the world cost only 5,000 IHG points!

The Chase IHG card also comes with 1 free night at ANY IHG hotel each year you’re a cardmember.  I gladly pay the $49 annual fee each year because of this great benefit.

2.   For Luxury

If being pampered is more important than convenience, the Chase Hyatt card might be a better fit for your travel goals!

Hyatt is my FAVORITE hotel chain, because I think it’s a great value for the amazing quality of hotels.  However, Hyatt hotels are NOT on every street corner like IHG.  You’ll usually find them in big cities, like Los Angeles, or beautiful destinations, like Hawaii.

The Chase Hyatt comes with 2 free nights at ANY Hyatt after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account  That includes their most expensive hotels, like the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome, where Emily and I stayed a few years ago.  Or the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek in Colorado!

Best Travel Credit Cards 2017

The Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Sells Rooms for ~$1,000 per Night During the Winter Season!

Note:   No matter which style of travel you’re planning, I STILL recommend applying for Chase Ultimate Rewards points earning credit cards first.

That’s because the Chase IHG card and the Chase Hyatt card are not restricted by Chase’s “5/24 rule”.  So you can still be approved for them after you’ve opened Chase Ultimate Rewards points earning credit cards.

Plus, you can use Chase Ultimate Rewards points at both IHG and Hyatt and save a LOT of money!  For example, 1 night at the Park Hyatt Maldives can cost $1,000+ per night.  But you can transfer 25,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt and get the same room for free!

Have Limited Flexibility or Imminent Travel Plans?

If you plan to travel in the next couple months, you need to earn rewards that won’t let you down!

You’ll often get the best value for your rewards by redeeming airline miles for flights from cards like the Chase United Explorer, or Citi American Airlines Executive.  But the problem with airline miles is that you can only use them if there are available award seats.

If your trip is in the near future, or if you need to travel on certain dates, it may not be a good idea to apply for a credit card that earns airline miles.

Best Travel Credit Cards 2017

You’ll Usually Get the Best Value When You Book Your Flights With Airline Miles

That’s because with most of those cards, you must complete minimum spending requirements on your credit card and receive the sign-up bonus before you can book your travel if you want to use your miles & points towards reducing your travel costs.

Depending on how quickly you can complete your minimum spending, it could be a long time before your miles deposit into your airline account.  And there’s no telling how many award seats will be available once they do!

1.   Barclaycard Arrival Plus

Link:   Barclaycard Arrival Plus

If you have limited flexibility, or if you’ll be traveling soon, I recommend applying for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus.

With the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, you can use the sign-up bonus for travel purchases you make from the very first day you have the card, long before you receive the sign-up bonus!  

You have 120 days after you make a travel purchase to redeem your Arrival Plus miles.  This means you can purchase your travel immediately upon receiving your card, and reimburse the cost later, after you complete the minimum spending and receive your bonus miles.

Best Travel Credit Cards 2017

You Can Use the Barclaycard Arrival Plus Miles Towards Airfare, Hotels, Car Rental, Even Airbnb!

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus currently comes with 50,000 Arrival Plus miles after meeting minimum spending requirements, worth $500 in travel.  You can redeem your Arrival Plus miles for travel purchases of $100+.  Travel purchases include things like airfare, hotels, Airbnb, and more!

2.   Chase Ultimate Rewards Points Earning Credit Cards

Link:   Chase Sapphire Preferred

Link:   Chase Sapphire Reserve

Cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve, are also good cards for folks who have limited flexibility or imminent travel dates.

That’s because Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be used as airline miles (by transferring them to Chase’s travel partners).  But they can ALSO be used to to buy a ticket through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal.  So if there are no available award seats by the time you receive your points, you’ll still be able to use your points to purchase a ticket!

At the very worst, you can redeem your Chase Ultimate Rewards points for a statement credit at a value of 1 cent per point.  So if you apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred for its 50,000 point sign-up bonus, you’ll get at LEAST $500 in value, same as the Barclaycard Arrival Plus.

Signing-up for Chase Ultimate Rewards points earning credit cards will ensure you get discounted travel for your upcoming trip.

Bottom Line

No matter what your travel goals are, Chase Ultimate Rewards points earning credit cards are a terrific way to begin your miles & points journey!

It’s a good idea to apply for Chase cards first, because Chase won’t approve you for some of their best cards if you’ve opened 5+ cards (excluding certain small business cards) from ANY bank in the past 24 months.

I recommend signing-up for cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve before anything else.  They earn flexible points that can work with any travel goals.  You can use them for airfare, hotels, rental cars, and more!

I also recommend applying for 1 Chase Southwest personal card and 1 Chase Southwest small business card in order to earn the Southwest Companion Pass, for folks who want to travel around the US.

And for folks who want to travel internationally, I recommend the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

If you don’t have much travel flexibility (firm dates, times, etc.), consider applying for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, or Chase Ultimate Rewards points earning credit cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

What’s your credit card strategy for 2017?  Let me know in the comments!

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Editorial Disclaimer: Neither the responses below nor the editorial content on this page are provided or commissioned by the bank advertisers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertisers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank advertisers. It is not the bank advertisers’ responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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4 responses to “Best Card Strategy for Beginners in 2017

  1. Not trying to nit-pick or be a jerk, but I wanted to point out that the suggestion “Transfer 25,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Korean Air for a round-trip coach ticket to Hawaii on Delta” should be under domestic, not international flights. Thanks again for all of the tips!

  2. Great details that I will cherish for a long time now that I have started applying for credit cards. I wish I had read your notes a few months ago but at lest I will be able to follow your guidance and suggestions from here on, for sure!

  3. Great post!! Thanks 🙂

  4. You say that the problem with airline cards is that you can only use the frequent flyer miles if an award seat is available. This is not a problem with the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card because cardholders can book “any seat, any time with your miles.”