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What’s your favorite credit card to earn points for travel?
I get asked this question a lot. At first, my response tends to be, “Well, it depends.”
I get it, though. People understand you can earn points and miles with a travel rewards credit card, but want the BEST one. Beginners might even feel hesitant about applying for too many credit cards. Instead, they’re looking for 1 or 2 multi-purpose cards, particularly as they get started with miles and points.
My delayed reaction to answering this question is for 2 reasons.
The best practice for applying for travel rewards credit cards is to choose a card to help you meet a specific travel goal. Everyone’s travel goals are different so giving a blanket recommendation is not as simple as it seems.
I also get stuck on the word “favorite.” If I signed up for a credit card because of a lucrative welcome bonus and those miles and points helped me to book a trip to an incredible destination, but the card, in the long run, didn’t offer generous bonus categories or perks, is it my favorite because of the fantastic trip?
Or do travel rewards credit card bonus categories and perks determine which one is the favorite?
I’d like to rephrase the question.
Let’s imagine the person asking is just getting started with miles and points and is looking for a credit card to earn travel rewards points for the bills and spending.
Which credit card should I apply for to start earning miles and points AND could keep in my wallet for the long haul?
(This is the first question anyone new to points and miles should ask instead.)
My answer is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. This card has gone through some changes, but it remains a strong choice. I started with this card and used it for countless free flights, before eventually getting the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Why the Chase Sapphire Preferred?
Aside from card benefits discussed below, credit cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points like the Sapphire Preferred are subject to Chase’s 5/24 rule.
This rule says, Chase will deny you for any of their travel rewards credit cards if you have 5 or more new credit cards in the last 24 months from ANY bank. This also includes merchant credit cards like a Macy’s store card.
Business credit cards from other banks don’t factor into your overall 5/24 count. However, Chase business credit cards are subject to the rule even though they won’t add to your count if you’re approved.
So this means, when you apply for a Chase business card like the Ink Business Preferred, the bank will look at whether or not you have 5 or more new credit cards in the last 24 months. If not, you’d hypothetically be approved and your “5/24 count” would stay the same because business cards don’t add to your number of cards.
For anyone getting started with miles and points, it’s important for the first credit cards to earn Ultimate Rewards points so as not to be locked out of earning this valuable rewards currency.
The Sapphire Preferred is a perfect choice. Here’s why.
The Sapphire Preferred is a great combination of an attractive welcome bonus, solid earning potential, and easy-to-redeem travel rewards.
Not only does this give your Ultimate Rewards account a points boost, but those 60k points can also be used to book a round trip economy ticket from North America to Europe. It’s also enough for 2 round trip domestic tickets.
Even if you redeem those 60k Ultimate Rewards points for 1.25 cents per point in the Chase Travel Portal, that’s a $750 return value.
More on redeeming Ultimate Rewards earned with Sapphire Preferred below.
Sapphire Preferred earns 2x the points for restaurants and travel and 1x the points on all other purchases. Chase’s definition of travel is quite generous. Buses, tolls, parking meters, taxis, commuter trains and buses all count as travel and earn 2x the points, as well as the typical hotels, flights, and rental cars.
Even everyday shopping in the Ultimate Rewards portal or through airline portals will earn multiple points per dollar.
Chase Sapphire has a $95 annual fee, which is standard for a card in its class.
Annual fees are absolutely worth paying when the card earnings and benefits offset the fee. In the case of Sapphire Preferred, the welcome bonus and on-going annual benefits make it easy to get value from this card, even if you travel 1-2 times a year.
With no foreign exchange fees, Sapphire Preferred is a great card for you to keep in your wallet for international trips.
Being a Visa Signature card, things like emergency card replacement, travel and emergency assistance in the form of logistical help and medical referrals, and even in some places, rental car discounts are available to cardholders.
Sapphire Preferred comes with primary collision insurance on rental cars when the vehicle is paid for with the card. This means you can decline the CDW or collision damage waiver.
In case of damage to the rental vehicle, this insurance would cover it. However, keep in mind, this doesn’t include injuries to others or damages to another vehicle if an accident is found to be your fault.
Rental car companies add on a per-day charge for CDW coverage so declining this coverage becomes a legitimate money saver if you rent a car even just a couple of times a year.
Chase Sapphire also comes with trip delay and cancelation coverage, as well as insurance if your bags are delayed or lost anytime you use your Sapphire to pay for part or all of your trip.
Redeeming Ultimate Rewards Points
One of the unknowns for anyone getting started with points and miles is understanding what a card’s welcome bonus is actually worth.
Starting with 60k points is already enough for 1 round trip ticket to places like Hawaii, the Caribbean, and Central or South America.
The great thing about Chase Ultimate Rewards points is they’re a flexible points currency that can be redeemed in the Chase Travel Portal or by transferring them to 14 different airline and hotel transfer partners.
Points transfer at a 1:1 ratio. And, these partners can elevate the value of your points by giving you access to premium seats on flights that would normally cost thousands of dollars.
This would be far above the 1.25 cent per point redemption value when redeeming your Sapphire Preferred points in the Chase Travel Portal.
Whichever makes the most sense for booking your award travel, you’ll undoubtedly find Ultimate Rewards points a more beginner-friendly option when redeeming for travel rewards compared to other programs like American Express Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou points.
The travel portal and many of the transfer partners offer straightforward ways to use the points earned with your Sapphire Preferred for solid value.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Bottom Line
Chase Sapphire Preferred is my favorite credit card for anyone new to miles and points! It’s also a great card for earning Ultimate Rewards points if you’re hesitant about taking on the higher annual fee of the more premium Sapphire Reserve.
With no foreign exchange fees, access to transfer partners, 2x on travel and dining, as well as primary rental car insurance and trip protection, it’s the best card to start with AND can be kept in your wallet as part of your miles and points earning strategy.
The Ultimate Rewards points I earned with my Sapphire Preferred were invaluable in booking award travel to places like Paris, Patagonia, and Thailand. Used for your everyday expenses and maximized to earn the most possible points, your Sapphire Preferred will inevitably earn a solid place in your wallet.
What’s your favorite travel rewards credit card?
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