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 MarriottRitz-Carlton, and Starwood hotels.  Or transferring points to one of ~30 Starwood airline partners.

Others might prefer to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which are my favorite flexible points.  Because you can redeem them for travel on multiple airline AND hotel partners.

Of course, you can earn transferable points with both programs to have more travel flexibility when you’re ready to book a trip.

Evaluate A Credit Card Offer
Earning Points With More Than One Flexible Program Can Make It Easier to Book Travel to Places Like Cape Town, South Africa

I’ll share tips for evaluating a credit card offer to get Big Travel with Small Money!

How to Compare Credit Card Offers

Link:  Beginner’s Guide to Using Flexible Points for Big Travel With Small Money

Link:   The Trick to Travel Flexibility: Transferable Points

Link:   What Are Your Favorite Ways to Use Miles and Points?

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.

Evaluate A Credit Card Offer
Not Sure Where You Want to Go? Consider a Card That Earns Transferable Points for More Travel Flexibility

One of the top cards I recommend for beginners is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.  Because you can earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after meeting minimum spending requirements.

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.

Evaluate A Credit Card Offer
Singapore Airlines Is a Fantastic Transfer Partner for Folks Who Collect Flexible Points Because They’re a Partner With All 4 Major Programs!

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.

Evaluate A Credit Card Offer
Transfer Starwood Points to Alaska Airlines and Book a Business Class Award Flight on Partner Airline Icelandair!

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.

For example, there are several hotel credit cards which offer a complimentary night on your card anniversary, including:

Evaluate A Credit Card Offer
The Free Night on the Chase IHG Card Anniversary Easily Makes It Worth the $49 Annual Fee. Because You Can Redeem the Free Night Certificate at Wonderful Hotels, Like the Intercontinental Hong Kong

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.

For example, American Express has strict rules for receiving welcome bonuses for both personal and small business cards.  You can only get the bonus for a particular card ONCE per lifetime.

So if you’re interested in an AMEX card, you might hold off until there’s a limited time increased welcome bonus.

Evaluate A Credit Card Offer
Wait for Limited-Time Offers With AMEX Cards Because You Can Only Earn the Welcome Bonus Once per Lifetime!

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.

Bottom Line

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:

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! :)

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