3 Questions to Answer Before Your Next Credit Card Application!

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When it comes to collecting miles & points, there is no perfect credit card for everyone.

The best credit card for you will depend on your travel goals and spending habits.  Because all points are not the same.  And credit cards come with variety of spending bonuses.  So some cards are great for dining expenses, while others are better for paying your cell phone bill.

With so many choices, it can be overwhelming!  I’ll help you figure out which credit card, or combination of credit cards, is best for your situation!

3 Questions To Answer Before Your Next Credit Card Application
When It Comes to Choosing a Credit Card, How Do You Know Which One Is Best for You?

Million Mile Secret Agent Seth asked:

I currently charge ~$15,000 a month to my Capital One card and earn 2% cash back.  It has been great.  I also have a bunch of Marriott points.  But I would like to get airline miles from an airline that flies internationally.

Should I keep up with the 2% cash back and just purchase flights?  Or is there a better way to use my monthly spending to get miles?  What’s the best choice?

Great question, Seth!  The best card for your situation will greatly depend on what type of expenses you have.  Because many credit cards offer bonuses for certain purchases.  But if you want to travel internationally, you’ll have the most flexibility if you earn transferable points.

So let’s review what you should consider when choosing a card.  And then, we’ll look into the best options for earning transferable points!

How to Choose the Right Credit Card(s) for Your Situation

When you’re deciding between credit cards, you should ask yourself the following:

  • Can I be approved for this card?
  • Will I be able use the rewards I’m earning to travel where I want to go?
  • What categories do most of my expenses fall into?

If you can clearly answer those 3 questions, making a decision will be much easier!

Seth is earning 2% cash back on $15,000 of spending a month.  So we’ll look for cards that can potentially earn him more than $300 a month in rewards toward airfare ($15,000 spending X 2% = $300)!

3 Questions To Answer Before Your Next Credit Card Application
Choosing the Right Credit Card Is a Piece of Cake If You Ask Yourself the Right Questions

Seth will have the most success in booking international award flights if he earns transferable points.

There are 4 major transferable points programs:

Let’s take a look at options for earning points with each of these programs.

Which Chase Cards Could Work for You?

I love Chase Ultimate Rewards points because they transfer a lots of great airlines and hotels.  And Chase has some of the best travel rewards credit cards, so it’s easy to collect Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

But Chase doesn’t have a credit card that will guarantee you more than 2% in rewards on every purchase.  But they do have the perfect combination of cards that can do even better.

3 Questions To Answer Before Your Next Credit Card Application
The Chase Freedom Unlimited & Chase Sapphire Reserve Cards Can Be the Ultimate Money Saving Force

The Chase Freedom Unlimited card earns 1.5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points on all purchases.  These points are worth 1 cent each when redeemed for cash back or various other rewards.  And they can NOT be transferred to airlines.

But you can increase the value of your Chase Ultimate Rewards points by pooling them with a Chase Sapphire Reserve card.  This is because you’ll be able to transfer them to Chase’s travel partners.  And then they’ll also be worth 1.5 cents each (50% more) when used to book travel through the Chase Travel Portal!

So with this combination of cards, Seth could be earning at least ~$337 a month toward travel ($15,000 spending X 1.5 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 + 50% bonus)!  And these Chase Ultimate Rewards points could be worth many times that amount if you transfer them to Chase’s travel partners.

You could earn even more rewards, because the Chase Sapphire Reserve card earns 3X Chase Ultimate Rewards points on all travel and dining purchases.

But Chase has one of the tougher application rules.  They will NOT approve you for most of their cards if you’ve opened 5 or more credit cards (from any bank) in the past 24 months (NOT counting certain business cards, including Chase business cards).

So if you’re over the Chase “5/24” rule, this will be a tough option to pull off.   If you’re not sure how many cards you’ve applied for in the past 2 years, you can check with Credit Karma.

Get Rewarded for Your Travel Expenses With These AMEX Cards!

There are good AMEX Membership Rewards points earning cards, especially for folks who spend a lot on travel expenses like airfare or hotels.

The The Platinum Card® from American Express earn 5X AMEX Membership Rewards points on airfare purchased directly with the airlines or on airfare and hotels booked through the AMEX travel portal.  And 1X AMEX Membership Rewards points on all other purchases.

AMEX Membership Rewards points are worth 1 cent each toward airfare using AMEX’s Pay with Points feature through the AMEX travel portal.

So to earn more than $300 a month toward airfare (30,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points) booked through the AMEX travel portal, Seth will need to spend at least $3,750 on qualifying airfare and hotel purchases.

Spending CategoryAmount Spent per MonthPoints Earn per $1Total AMEX Points Earned
Airfare Purchased Directly From the Airlines & Airfare or Hotels Booked With AMEX$3,750518,750
All Other Purchases$11,250111,250
Total AMEX Points Earned per month:30,000

But AMEX Membership Rewards points can be worth MUCH more than 1 cent each when you transfer them to AMEX’s airline partners.  And if you qualify for business cards, The Business Platinum® Card from American Express comes with a 35% points rebate on certain Pay with Points airfare redemptions!

AMEX restricts folks to earning the bonus for each of their cards to once per lifetime.  So if you’ve had this card before, you won’t be able to get the welcome bonus again.

Earning Rewards With Starwood

Starwood points can be very valuable because they transfer to 30+ airlines at a 1:1 ratio.  And for every 20,000 Starwood points you transfer to airlines with a 1:1 transfer ratio, you’ll get 5,000 bonus miles.   So each of your Starwood points can be worth up to 1.25 airline miles.

For most folks, the best cards for earning Starwood points are the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express or the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express. With both cards, you’ll earn 2 Starwood points per $1 spent at Starwood or Marriott hotels and 1 Starwood point on all other purchases.

So unless Seth spends a lot with Starwood or Marriott hotels, he’ll earn 15,000 Starwood points a month.  But because of Starwood’s great transfer partners, these points could end up being more valuable than cash back.

3 Questions To Answer Before Your Next Credit Card Application
You Can Get Amazing Value From Your Starwood Points By Transferring Them to Partners Like Alaska Airlines!

For example, 40,000 Starwood points will convert into 50,000 Alaska Airlines miles, which is enough for a one-way Business Class partner award flight on Cathay Pacific from the US to Asia.  And Alaska Airlines allows 1 free stopover on awards.  So you could fly from the US to Singapore with a free stopover in Hong Kong for a few days.

With only 40,000 Starwood points you’d be getting a flight that can costs $1,000s!  Which is a much better value in airfare than earning $800 in cash back for the same $40,000 in spending ($40,000 X 2% cash back).

The Starwood cards are issued by AMEX and follow their bonus rules.

Note:  Because of the Marriott-Starwood merger, you can transfer Marriott points to Starwood at a 3:1 ratio (and vice versa).  So the Chase Marriott personal and business cards indirectly earn Starwood points.  But because of the unfavorable transfer rate, you’ll end up earning fewer Starwood points per $1 spent.

Getting the Most From Citi ThankYou Points

You can earn transferable Citi ThankYou points with the Citi ThankYou Premier or Citi Prestige cards.  And if you have either of these cards, you can redeem Citi ThankYou points for 1.25 cents each toward airfare booked through the Citi travel center.

The Citi Prestige card earns:

  • 3 Citi ThankYou points per $1 spent on airlines, hotels, and travel agencies
  • 2 Citi ThankYou points per $1 spent on dining & entertainment
  • 1 Citi ThankYou point per $1 spent on all other purchases

And the Citi ThankYou Premier earns:

  • 3 Citi ThankYou points per $1 spent on airlines, hotels, rental cars, gas stations, commuter transportation, ferries, commuter railways, subways, taxis, passenger railways, cruise lines, tolls, parking lots & garages, and much more!
  • 2 Citi ThankYou points per $1 spent on dining & entertainment
  • 1 Citi ThankYou point per $1 spent on all other purchases

The spending bonuses between the 2 cards are similar, but the Citi ThankYou Premier card’s travel category is MUCH broader.  So it will be more useful in most situations.  Plus, the Citi ThankYou Premier card currently has a 50,000 Citi ThankYou point bonus after meeting minimum spending requirements, while the Citi Prestige card currently doesn’t come with any bonus. 🙁

To earn at least $300 a month in airfare, you’ll need to earn 24,000 Citi ThankYou points per month (24,000 Citi ThankYou points X 1.25 cents each).  Depending on how much you spend on travel & dining, this could be easy to reach.

3 Questions To Answer Before Your Next Credit Card Application
You Can Use Citi ThankYou Points to Book Partner Awards to Great Vacation Destinations, Like Hawaii!

But you could get more value from your Citi ThankYou points by transferring them to Singapore airlines and booking flights to Hawaii on United Airlines or Alaska Airlines.  Or you could transfer to Flying Blue and book awards with SkyTeam airlines.

You can NOT receive a Citi a bonus if you have opened or closed any Citi card in the same brand within the past 24 months.

Bottom Line

When it comes to finding the best credit card for your situation, it’s worth putting in a little extra effort.  And if you know what points you want to earn, what categories you spend the most in, and the banks application rules, the decision will be much easier.

Earning transferable points will give you the most flexibility and travel optionsChase Ultimate Rewards pointsAMEX Membership Rewards points, Starwood points, and Citi ThankYou points are great for booking award flights.

For example, You can earn 1.5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points on all purchases made with Chase Freedom Unlimited card.  And you can make those points at least 50% more valuable by combining them with a Chase Sapphire Reserve card!

Or if you spend a lot on travel, you might be better off with the AMEX Platinum or AMEX Business Platinum cards.  Because they earn 5X AMEX Membership Rewards points on certain airfare or hotel purchases.

Starwood points offer great flexibility because they transfer to 30+ airlines at a 1:1 ratio.  And you’ll get 5,000 bonus miles for every 20,000 Starwood points you transfer.

Or redeem Citi ThankYou points for 1.25 cents each for travel booked with the Citi travel center.  You can also transfer them to great airlines like Singapore Airlines, KLM, and JetBlue!

Thanks for the question, Seth!

Million Mile Secrets features a team of points and miles experts who have traveled to over 80 countries and have used 60+ credit cards responsibly to accumulate loyalty points and travel the world on the cheap! The Million Mile Secrets team has been featured on The Points Guy, TIME, Yahoo Finance and many other leading points & miles media outlets.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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