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If you’re new to using credit cards to earn rewards, be sure to check out our Beginner’s Guide to Miles & Points. Start slow, with 1 or 2 cards.
As soon as I get approved for a new card, I set up auto-pay and put it at the front of my wallet (and add it to my LastPass account), so that I can immediately spend on it. If I don’t have any minimum spending requirements to meet, I use my other credit cards to rack up points.
Don’t Turn Down a Card Just Because of the Annual Fee
At first glance, the annual fees on some cards seem like it’s not worth it. I’ll pay an annual fee if I get more out of the card in a year than it costs.
For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve has an annual fee of $450. But its ongoing benefits, like 3X Chase Ultimate Rewards points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit) & dining, as well as the $300 annual travel credit (not to mention free Priority Pass lounge access), make it well worth the cost for me!
The real value of many credit cards lies in the ability to easily transfer points to airline and hotel partners. This alone can unlock huge benefits that are worth way more than the annual fee!
Credit Cards Can Be Great for Your Credit Score
When I first got into this hobby, my credit score was between 650 and 700. I signed-up for a credit card in college, did NOT sign-up for auto-pay (because I didn’t have reliable income), and got smacked with tons of interest fees.
I’ve since paid off that card and cleaned up my credit, mainly by keeping my oldest credit cards, applying for new cards, and spending responsibly.
The most important aspect about this hobby is to pay off your credit card bills in full each month. Essentially, treat your credit cards like debit cards! Today, my credit score is near 800, and I use free websites like MyBankrate to regularly check my credit score.
You Don’t Need a Million Dollar Business to Apply for Business Cards
Several of my favorite credit cards are small business cards. By applying for small business cards as well as personal cards, you can rake in hundreds of thousands of points.
I have an Airbnb side business. When I apply for new business cards, I use the revenue I’ve earned to help me get approved for a business card. My Airbnb business is small and is linked to my social security number.
Lots of other small businesses have incorporated business credit cards into their spending strategy, which have earned them lots of valuable points for Big Travel with Small Money! If you earn money doing things like like providing child care, tutoring, freelance writing, or selling items on eBay, you might qualify for a small business card!
My Current Miles & Points Stash & Strategy
My travel goal is to take 1 or 2 international trips, and 3 or 4 domestic trips, each year. I love using my miles to visit my family and friends around the US, so I get cards that earn miles towards those goals.
And lately, I have been using miles to book family and friends to join us on trips, which doubles the amount of miles needed. We’ve been flying in coach to make our miles last longer and be able to take more trips.
As of this post, I have ~500,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, 150,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points, and almost 1 million American Airlines miles.
Here are my favorite cards to keep in my wallet to help me increase my balances in those programs.
Why Chase Is My Favorite Points Program
I LOVE collecting Chase Ultimate Rewards points because of their flexibility. I can very easily transfer Chase points to lots of airline and hotel partners. My favorite partners are Southwest for domestic flights and United Airlines for international flights. And if I’m in the mood for a fancy hotel or want to treat my family and friends, I love transferring my points to Hyatt.
- Southwest – You can usually find Southwest flights for ~7,000 to 9,000 Southwest points, depending on where you’re going. And even if the points required to fly my desired dates are higher than I would like, they are effectively half price if I add my partner to the flight itinerary. That’s because with the Southwest Companion Pass, any companion flies free on paid or award flights. The fees for most mainland US fares are just ~$11 round-trip per person, making Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to Southwest an incredible value!
- United Airlines – I recently flew my cousin and his wife one-way from San Francisco to Paris in coach. It cost 60,000 United Airlines miles total (30,000 miles X 2 people), and a whopping ~$6 per person in fees!
- Hyatt Hotels – It costs 5,000 Hyatt points for a low-category Hyatt hotel, and up to 30,000 Hyatt points for super fancy hotels, like the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome. The standard rate of that hotel can start at nearly $900, making it an excellent value for your Chase points!
Chase won’t approve folks for most of their cards if they’ve opened more than 5 cards in the last 24 months. This is referred to as the “5/24 rule”. So if you plan on applying for lots of credit cards, it is wise to get the Chase cards you want first, and then apply for cards from other banks.
The Best Credit Cards to Keep in Your Wallet
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Chase Sapphire Preferred (best card for beginners)
- Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card
- Chase Freedom®
- Chase Freedom Unlimited®
- The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express
1. Chase Sapphire Reserve
You’ll receive 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening the Chase Sapphire Reserve. That’s $750 in travel when you redeem through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal, and potentially much more when you transfer to airline and hotel partners.
You can also earn 3X Chase Ultimate Rewards points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit) and dining. And each cardholder year, you’ll get up to a $300 statement credit for travel purchases (including hotels, airfare, car rental, etc.). I used my statement credit within a month of receiving my card, and the credits were automatically applied to my credit card, making it a great no-hassle perk!
You’ll also receive Priority Pass Select membership for access to airport lounges, and up to $100 statement credit for Global Entry that you can use for yourself or others. I love using airport lounges between layovers (or if I arrive at the airport super early)!
The annual fee is $450 (NOT waived for first year), which seems high for some. But I’m happy to pay this fee because of the $300 travel credit and the 3X bonus on travel and dining purchases!
2. Chase Sapphire Preferred
You’ll earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. That’s $625 in travel when you redeem through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal. And again, potentially much more when you transfer them to airline and hotel partners.
You can also earn 2X Chase Ultimate Rewards points on travel and dining. The annual fee is $95, waived the first year, making it more attractive to some people than the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
3. Chase Ink Business Preferred
You’ll earn 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from opening the Chase Ink Business Preferred. I pay my monthly cell phone bill with the Ink Business Preferred, because I automatically get up to $600 in cell phone insurance.
Plus, I earn 3X Chase Ultimate Rewards points on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, advertising purchases made with social media sites, and search engines (up to a maximum of $150,000 in combined purchases per account anniversary year). These bonus categories are a boon if you have a small business!
The annual fee is only $95, which makes the Ink Business Preferred a steal!
4. Chase Freedom
With the Chase Freedom, you’ll earn a $150 bonus (15,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months of account opening. I’ll be keeping the Chase Freedom forever, because it has NO annual fee. It’s also one of my oldest cards, so hanging onto it helps my credit score by increasing the age of my credit history.
The Chase Freedom is a regular card I keep in my wallet because of its category bonuses. Each quarter, you can earn 5% cash back (5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points) on up to $1,500 in combined spending in categories folks often spend a LOT in. Like grocery stores, Amazon purchases, and gas stations!
You’ll have to remember to activate the bonus, but once that’s done, the extra points add up quickly! To help me remember the current category bonus, I write it in a section of a Post-it note and tape it to the card. Otherwise I forget what the category is, and tend not to use it, losing out on valuable points!
And if you have either the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Ink Business Preferred, you can transfer the points you earn from the Chase Freedom to travel partners like Southwest and Hyatt!
5. Chase Freedom Unlimited
The Chase Freedom Unlimited is in my wallet because it earns 1.5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points on all purchases. I love this card because it has a simple rewards earning structure, and I use it for all my spending where I won’t earn bonus points, such as paying for a doctor’s bill.
And just like the Chase Freedom, if you have either the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Ink Business Preferred, you can transfer the points you earn to travel partners, like Singapore Airlines and United Airlines!
The information for the Chase Freedom Unlimited® has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
6. Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express
Currently, the AMEX Starwood Business card has a welcome bonus of up to $200 in statement credits. You’ll earn a $100 statement credit after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account. Plus an additional $100 statement credit after your first purchase at participating Starwood or Marriott Rewards hotels in the first 6 months. The annual fee is $95, waived the first year.
Starwood points aren’t as easy to earn as other points. But they can be incredibly valuable! And because I don’t do a lot of paid hotel stays, my primary way of earning Starwood points is by spending with my AMEX Starwood Business card.
When you transfer Starwood points to an airline partner with a 1:1 transfer ratio in increments of 20,000 points, you’ll get a 5,000 mile bonus. This makes it more useful for non-bonus spending than many airline cards!
7. The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN
When you open the AMEX Business Gold Rewards card, you’ll earn 50,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. You can also earn 3X AMEX Membership Rewards points when you choose 1 out of 5 categories:
- Airfare purchased directly from airlines
- US purchases for advertising in select media
- US purchases at gas stations
- US purchases for shipping
- US computer hardware, software, and cloud computing purchases made directly from select providers
You’ll earn 2X AMEX Membership Rewards points on the 4 remaining categories. The annual fee is $175, waived the first year.
I like having lots of points to use in different programs. This increases my flexibility when I have a trip I’m planning for, and I love having an emergency stash of points to use as a backup.
I use Chase Ultimate Rewards points most of the time, which I transfer to Southwest or United Airlines for domestic or international flights. But American Express Membership Rewards points can be extremely valuable, because you can transfer them to 19 airline and hotel partners or use points for gift cards at popular stores (though I don’t recommend that option).
Delta and Air Canada Aeroplan are a couple of my favorite transfer partners. My mom lives in Traverse City, Michigan, and there are lots of Delta flights available. And I used Aeroplan miles to book Business Class flights to Europe for my family of 4, making them a valuable alternative to using my prized Chase Ultimate Rewards points!
Honorable Mentions for the Best Travel Credit Cards
1. Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
With the Capital One Venture, you’ll earn 50,000 Capital One Venture miles (worth $500 in travel) after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. You will also get 10 Venture miles per $1 you spend on hotel stays booked and paid for with your card through this Hotels.com link (through January 31, 2020).
I’ve booked through hotels.com in the past, and I like it because if you stay 10 nights, you get 1 free! But you will NOT earn points or elite night credits for your stay, or have your elite status recognized by the hotel.
You can use your Venture miles for nearly any travel purchase, like taxi rides, hotels, room service, and free flights. All without having to worry about searching for available award seats or hotel nights!
To redeem your miles, just buy travel like you normally would with your card. Then you’ll have 90 days to sign-in to your online account, find the travel purchase, and “erase” it with your miles!
The annual fee is $95, waived the first year.
2. Citi Prestige
The Citi Prestige currently doesn’t offer a welcome bonus. But you’ll receive a $250 statement credit for airfare & baggage fees each calendar year, and a $100 Global Entry application fee credit every 5 years. You can earn 3X Citi ThankYou points for airfare & hotels, and 2X Citi ThankYou points for restaurants & entertainment (including amusement parks & movie theaters).
Team member Keith and his wife have saved over $2,800 with this card. He advises to always book via the Citi Concierge and NOT online. That way you still earn hotel points, stay credits, and elite perks.
My credit score has increased over the years, thanks to responsible credit card spending.
Credit card rewards can be VERY lucrative if you know how to use them. And cards with annual fees can be the best way to accomplish your travel goals! The annual fee is worth it if you save more than you spend on the fee.
My travel goal is to take at least 3 trips per year to visit family and friends around the US, as well as 1 or 2 international trips. The credit cards in my wallet help me to earn the points necessary to achieve those goals.
What are the favorite cards you keep in your wallet?