Choose the Welcome Bonus That’s Right for You!
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Million Mile Secrets reader, Michael, commented:
Unless you plan to stay at a Starwood or Marriott hotel, I don’t think the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is that valuable. Yes, you earn flexible Starwood points. But there are other flexible bank point cards, which have bigger welcome bonuses, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve. What am I missing?
Reader Michael makes a great point. Not all bonuses and points are equal.
That said, the best offer is the one that helps you achieve your travel goals. For some, that might mean earning Starwood points to use for free stays at Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, and Starwood hotels. Or transferring points to one of ~30 Starwood airline partners.
Of course, you can earn transferable points with both programs to have more travel flexibility when you’re ready to book a trip.
I’ll share tips for evaluating a credit card offer to get Big Travel with Small Money!
How to Compare Credit Card Offers
Folks in the miles & points hobby have a variety of travel goals. Some prefer to splurge and use points for luxurious once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like an around-the-world honeymoon. And others like to stretch the value of points to make family travel possible, like Emily’s mother-daughter trip to Portland.
There’s no right or wrong way to book award travel. From our trip reports, you’ll see Emily and I have used miles & points for many different types of vacations.
Similarly, when it comes to credit card deals, the best offer is the one that helps you achieve your goals! The welcome bonus and perks on a card might be fantastic for one person, but not so attractive to another.
I’ll share 4 tips for evaluating an offer.
1. What’s the Welcome Bonus Worth to You?
Earning a new card welcome bonus is the easiest and quickest way to get Big Travel!
For example, I shared how you can use the 40,000 Hyatt point sign-up bonus from The Hyatt Credit Card for up to 8 free nights at Hyatt hotels. Or splurge on a night at the pricey Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa!
But if you’re not planning an upcoming Hyatt stay, you might rather earn a sign-up bonus that gives you more travel flexibility.
Then, when you’re ready to book a trip, you can transfer points to airline and hotel partners like Southwest, United Airlines, and Hyatt.
Or you can book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal where your points are worth 1.25 cents each. So 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth $625 in paid travel (50,000 points X 1.25 cents per point)!
2. Will You Redeem Points With the Transfer Partners?
There are 4 major flexible points programs:
And each has different travel partners. Although a few airlines are a partner in all 4 of the programs, such as Singapore Airlines.
While getting a card that earns points with any of these programs increases your travel flexibility, you should consider if you plan to make an award booking with any of the program partners.
For example, if you fly Southwest, you can NOT transfer Starwood points to the airline. But you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest.
Starwood points come in handy, though, because you get 5,000 bonus miles for every 20,000 points you transfer to their ~30 airline partners (with a 1:1 transfer ratio). For example, you can transfer 40,000 Starwood points to Alaska Airlines, which gets you 50,000 Alaska Airlines miles. That’s enough for a Business Class award flight to Iceland on partner airline Icelandair!
3. Annual Fees
I’ve written why even thrifty folks like me should think about getting annual fee cards. Because many times the value of the perks can offset the annual fee expense.
- Chase Hyatt – Receive a night at a Category 1 to 4 Hyatt hotel each year on your card anniversary (annual fee $75, comes with Hyatt Discoverist status)
- Chase IHG – Receive a night in ANY IHG hotel each year on your card anniversary (annual fee $49, comes with IHG Platinum status)
- Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card – Receive a night at a Category 1 to 5 Marriott hotel each year on your card anniversary (annual fee $85, comes with Marriott Silver status)
Or consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which as a $450 annual fee. But you get an annual $300 travel credit, which automatically reimburses you for for airfare, hotels, taxis, and lots of other purchases. This means the annual fee is effectively $150 ($450 annual fee – $300 travel credit).
4. Application & Welcome Bonus Rules
Most banks have rules tied to earning welcome bonuses, which might affect your decision to apply for certain offers.
So if you’re interested in an AMEX card, you might hold off until there’s a limited time increased welcome bonus.
And with Chase, it’s VERY UNLIKELY you’ll get approved for any of their Chase Ultimate Rewards earning cards if you’ve opened 5 or more credit card accounts (from any bank) in the past 24 months (excluding certain business cards).
That’s why I recommend folks to new the hobby apply for Chase cards first. Because they have some of the best travel cards!
As reader Michael points out, he thinks the Chase Sapphire Reserve is better than other cards that other flexible point cards. But lots of folks might have trouble getting approved if they’re impacted by the stricter Chase application rules.
The best credit card welcome bonus is the one that helps you achieve your travel goals!
Here are the aspects of a new card offer I recommend evaluating:
- The value of the welcome bonus
- Ability to earn and transfer flexible points
- If the card has an annual fee and if any ongoing perks offset this expense
- Any bank application or welcome bonus rules
What do you consider when applying for a new card?
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! :)