Chase Sapphire Preferred or AMEX Premier Rewards Gold for a College Grad?

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Chase Sapphire Preferred or AMEX Premier Rewards Gold for a College Grad?

Million Mile SecretsChase Sapphire Preferred or AMEX Premier Rewards Gold for a College Grad?Million Mile Secrets Team

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Million Mile Secrets reader, Nick, tweeted:

I’m soon to be a college grad, and I want points to travel.  Should I apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express?

Good question, Nick!

It’s easy to see why Nick has narrowed down his decision to the Chase Sapphire Preferred and thPremier Rewards Gold Card from American Express.  They’re both excellent cards for earning transferable points which give you the most travel flexibility!

Because Nick is still in college, it may be difficult for him to be approved for these cards.  His credit history may not be lengthy enough for premium credit cards.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Or AMEX Premier Rewards Gold For A College Grad
The Welcome Bonus From Either Card Is Enough for a Round-Trip Award Flight to Ireland From Boston!

I’ll explain the key differences between these 2 cards, and help Nick decide which is the best choice.  And give him other options for his situation of limited credit history.

Which Card Is Best for a Beginner?

Link:   Chase Sapphire Preferred

Link:   Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

The best card for Nick depends on his travel goals and spending habits.

If Nick wants to spend his points on hotel stays, he can transfer the sign-up bonus from the Chase Sapphire Preferred to hotel partners like Hyatt, IHG, and Marriott.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Or AMEX Premier Rewards Gold For A College Grad
With The Chase Sapphire Preferred Sign-up Bonus Nick Has Nearly Enough Points to get 2 Nights at the Park Hyatt Vendome, Worth ~$1,700+

Or maybe Nick wants to visit family and friends in the continental US or Canada.  He can apply for the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold and have enough points to transfer to Delta for a round-trip domestic coach award ticket after he receives the welcome bonus!

Chase Sapphire Preferred Or AMEX Premier Rewards Gold For A College Grad
Transfer AMEX Membership Rewards Points to Delta for Award Flights in the US and Abroad

Each card earns points you can transfer to airline and hotel partners, which are different for each card.  So Nick should consider where and how he wants to travel to decide which transfer partners are best for his goals.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Link:   My Review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is always my first recommendation for someone new to miles and points.  It earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which are my favorite because you can transfer them to terrific airline and hotel partners like United Airlines, Southwest, and Hyatt.

 Chase Ultimate Rewards Airline Transfer Partners 
Aer LingusBritish AirwaysFlying Blue (Air France/KLM)
IberiaJetBlueSingapore Airlines
SouthwestUnited AirlinesVirgin Atlantic

 Chase Ultimate Rewards Hotel Transfer Partners 

Or use them to book paid travel at 1.25 cents per point through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, which can save you points and money!

The current sign-up bonus is 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account.

You’ll also get: 

  • 2X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on travel and dining
  • 1X Chase Ultimate Rewards point per $1 spent on other purchases
  • Primary car rental insurance – Covers damage or theft to your rental car, when you pay for the rental with your card
  • Trip delay reimbursement – Get up to $500 back per ticket when your trip is delayed more than 12 hours
  • NO foreign transaction fees

The $95 annual fee is waived the 1st year.  This makes it easy to evaluate the card for ~10 months without a fee to see how you like it.

Nick will then have a total of at least 54,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (50,000 point sign-up bonus + at least 4,000 points from meeting minimum spending).

That’s worth ~$675 in paid travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal (54,000 points X 1.25 cents per point).

But Nick can get potentially more from his points if he transfers them to airline and hotel partners, such as British Airways and Hyatt.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Or AMEX Premier Rewards Gold For A College Grad
The Sign-Up Bonus From the Chase Sapphire Preferred Is Enough for 6 Nights at the Hyatt Place San Jose del Cabo

Chase has tightened their application rules.  I recommend applying for Chase cards before other card issuers.

That’s because if you’ve opened ~5 or more accounts in the past 24 months, it’s unlikely Chase will approve you for certain cards.

AMEX Premier Rewards Gold

Link:   My Review of the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold

The Premier Rewards Gold card earns American Express Membership Rewards points.  Nick can transfer his points to 20+ travel partners, or use them to book paid travel directly through American Express at a rate of 1 cent per point

 American Express Membership Rewards Airline Transfer Partners 
AeroMexicoAir CanadaAlitalia
ANAAsia MilesBritish Airways
Delta El AlEmirates
EtihadFlying Blue (Air France / KLM)Hawaiian Airlines
IberiaJetBlueSingapore Airlines
Virgin Atlantic
 American Express Membership Rewards Hotel Transfer Partners 
Choice HiltonStarwood

The current welcome bonus for the Premier Rewards Gold is 25,000 American Express Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account.

This spending requirement is $2,000 lower than the Chase Sapphire Preferred.  But the welcome bonus is also much lower.

You could use 25,000 AMEX Membership Rewards Points towards $250 in paid travel booked through American Express at 1 cent per point.

But you’ll usually get a better deal transferring points to partners like British AirwaysFlying Blue, and the newest partner of Membership Rewards, Etihad Airways.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Or AMEX Premier Rewards Gold For A College Grad
Etihad Has Lots of Airline Partners to Choose From, Like Air Berlin and ANA. You Can Use Etihad Miles for Partner Award Tickets

With the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold, you’ll get:

  • 3X points per $1 you spend on airfare purchased directly from airlines
  • 2X points per $1 you spend at US gas stations, US supermarkets, and US restaurants
  • 1X point per $1 you spend on everything else
  • $100 per calendar year in airline incidental fee credits (baggage fees, change fees, etc.)
  • NO foreign transaction fees
  • Transfer points to participating frequent traveler programs
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $195
  • Terms and limitations apply

Keep in mind, there are sometimes higher targeted offers available for this card.  You can only receive the welcome bonus on American Express cards once per lifetime.  You can check the CardMatch tool to see the best offers for you (it does not result in a credit pull).

What If You Aren’t Approved?

Link:   Chase Freedom

Link:   Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Sapphire Preferred and Premier Rewards Gold are considered premium cards.  If Nick doesn’t have a long credit history, these cards may be difficult to get approved for at first.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Or AMEX Premier Rewards Gold For A College Grad
You Can Still Earn Points While You Wait for Your Credit to Mature

There are a number of other cards that earn travel rewards for those who haven’t had a chance to grow their credit.

Like the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited, which each have a sign-up bonus of $150 bonus (15,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account!

These cards earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points.  But you can’t transfer them to airline and hotel partners unless you also have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Plus, or Chase Ink Bold.

Until you have one of those 3, the Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited are effectively cash back cards.  But are great cards to help you establish a relationship with Chase.  They have no annual fee, so you’ll never have to cancel!

Applying for both may not be a good idea because of Chase’s new strict application rules.  There are better Chase cards to apply for once your credit has evolved.

Here are my top recommendations for college students who have limited credit history.

Bottom Line

Choosing the right card depends on Nick’s travel goals.  Each card has unique transfer partners.  But the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a much larger bonus than the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold.

Because Nick is still in college, he may not have the credit history to be approved for a premium card.  But there are cards that are easier to get if you don’t have a long credit history.

Which card would you recommend for a beginning points traveler?

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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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the banks do not verify your income . you can put whatever reasonable # you would like on there. Obviously, 200k for a new grad will not work but incomes along the lines of 30k even while in college should not be that crazy. then again, i didn’t start applying for the premium cards long after i had steady reasonable income.

My daughter is in the masters program, is a teaching assistant, and interned at Price Waterhouse over the summer of her senior year. I applied for the Chase Sapphire for her in Feb and she was turned down. I called reconsideration (pretending I was her) and they added income from her TA job and we got it up to $18K/year. They still denied her. We offered to send Chase the PWC contract for her job offer this Fall – of $60K and they profusely apologized but said since she wasn’t making that income currently there was nothing they could do. On the other hand, she was approved for an Amex her freshman year in college with about $6K of income. So I would try that first. If someone hears otherwise I would love to know what we did wrong. Otherwise she will re-apply in August when she starts her job.

I think you can probably update the chart that says “Chase Ultimate Rewards Hotel & Rail Transfer Partners” and remove “& Rail” since it no longer has a rail partner (though it used to have Amtrak) and leaving it on there might confuse someone wondering where the rail partner was.

@josh – thanks for the reply. I had wondered if she would qualify under household income like my wife and she is 22 so I am going to have her apply. Although since I still pay all the bills I don’t give her the cards. She only has the first one from 4 years ago and knows it’s for emergency purchases only. In 4 years she has never used it (I’ve made purchases on it to show activity though).

Also thanks for the link above. Went down a rabbit hole and looking to add my 11 year old as an authorized user to start building her credit. No I will not give her the card it’s just to show credit history. I did this 4 years ago for my older daughter yet her average credit history still show poor – just under 4 years since I added her to my Saphire when I got it.

Thanks again!

@ John H — If she’s over 21 and has “reasonable expectation of access to this (household) income” then technically she could still apply and be approved using your income. If the offers you’re getting are for 50k membership rewards points or more personally I’d go for it!

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