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Best credit card for travel

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micvite
Frequent Contributor

Best credit card for travel

I'm looking to start traveling extensively again over the next few years (once covid is over), but what is the best rewards system for transfering points over to get the best value? Amex MR (would get the platinum, already have the gold), Chase (probably get the sapphire preffered) or one of the citi cards? If I'm primarily traveling to asia (Japan, China, Thailand, Taiwon) and pretty much all of Europe what do you guys recommend especially for which airline to transfer to and stuff? I'm completely new to booking travel with points through award trips and stuff so I have no clue what I'm doing. Currently have around  120k Amex MR points in stock, but can quickly stock up on other points as well. Would prefer to apply for at least 2 cards to get:

1) the most coverage for the most travel partners

2)the extra global entry credit for my wife as well as extra priority pass guests for when I'm traveling with other people.

But, I'm here for advice, so not sure if that's the smart thing to do. Currently using AMEX gold for all dining supermarket and flights (have yet to use the **bleep** 100$ yearly credit lol) The platinum makes sense for me for the 5x on airlines, but the Chase saphire reserve looks interesting for the 50% bonus on point redemption. So I'm quite torn. As far as getting more chase points, I'd probably have to look into applying for at least 1 other chase product as well, unless the 3x on dining and the 50% redemption make it better than the gold card for dining?

Ex: 742, TU: 726, EQ: 733 03/31/2021
Discover it cashback: $10900
Citi DC: $13000
WF Propel: closed 2k
Amex BCED: $3000
Amex Gold: $NPSL
Amex Plat: NPSL
Cap1 QS: $3200
Cap1 VX $50k
VS CC: $2900
Kohls: $3000
Synchrony car care: $3000
citi best buy visa: $8500
Message 1 of 40
39 REPLIES 39
FormerCollegeDJ
Frequent Contributor

Re: Best credit card for travel

Others on here are probably more knowledgeable than I am, but in summer 2020 I took a closer look at the three rewards programs you identified (American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Rewards).  The three programs actually have a good bit of overlap in terms of their non-U.S. airline partners (for example, all three programs include KLM, Air France, and Singapore Airlines, among other passenger air carriers).  However, Amex Membership Rewards generally has the most partner airlines in each of the major global airline alliances (Oneworld, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance, which are affiliated in the U.S. with American, Delta, and United respectively); American Express also directly partners with Delta.  Citi ThankYou Rewards has the second-most non-U.S. airline partners, while Chase Ultimate Rewards has the fewest non-U.S. airline partners (though it also directly partners with both United and Southwest).

 

As for how to maximize rewards, if you decide to focus more heavily on Chase Ultimate Rewards, you'll likely want to get what is commonly called the Chase trifecta - either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Freedom Unlimited, and the Chase Freedom Flex.  Both the CFU and CFF are no annual fee cards that provide some benefits the CSP/CSR do not.  More specifically, the Chase Freedom Unlimited provides 1.5% minimum cash/points back on all purchases, 3% on restaurant and drug store purchases, and 5% on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.  By contrast, the Chase Freedom Flex has rotating quarterly 5% cash back categories while also offering 3% rewards for restaurant and drug store purchases and 5% rewards for CUR-booked travel.  Points earned on the two no annual fee Chase cards can then be transferred to the premium Chase card, which provides either 25% point bonus (CSP) or 50% point bonus (CSR) for travel booked using either Preferred or Reserve card.

 

I'm sure other people on here can provide additional, more in-depth information, but what I provided should at least get you started in your decision-making process.

Playing the credit card rewards game since early May 2020.

Current credit cards:
American Express: Hilton Honors
Bank of America: Customized Cash Rewards Visa
Capital One: SavorOne MC
Chase: Amazon Visa, Freedom Unlimited Visa, Freedom Flex MC
Citi: Sears/ThankYou Rewards MC, My Best Buy Visa, Custom Cash MC
Comenity: AAA Travel Advantage Visa
Discover: Cash It
Elan: S&T Bank Max Cash Preferred Visa
FNBO: Amtrak Guest Rewards Platinum MC
PSECU: Founder's Visa
U.S. Bank: Cash+ Visa
Wells Fargo: Autograph Visa
Store cards: Kohl's

Next target credit cards: Wells Fargo Bilt Mastercard (probably), Truist Enjoy Travel Visa (maybe)
Message 2 of 40
micvite
Frequent Contributor

Re: Best credit card for travel


@FormerCollegeDJ wrote:

Others on here are probably more knowledgeable than I am, but in summer 2020 I took a closer look at the three rewards programs you identified (American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Rewards).  The three programs actually have a good bit of overlap in terms of their non-U.S. airline partners (for example, all three programs include KLM, Air France, and Singapore Airlines, among other passenger air carriers).  However, Amex Membership Rewards generally has the most partner airlines in each of the major global airline alliances (Oneworld, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance, which are affiliated in the U.S. with American, Delta, and United respectively); American Express also directly partners with Delta.  Citi ThankYou Rewards has the second-most non-U.S. airline partners, while Chase Ultimate Rewards has the fewest non-U.S. airline partners (though it also directly partners with both United and Southwest).

 

As for how to maximize rewards, if you decide to focus more heavily on Chase Ultimate Rewards, you'll likely want to get what is commonly called the Chase trifecta - either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Freedom Unlimited, and the Chase Freedom Flex.  Both the CFU and CFF are no annual fee cards that provide some benefits the CSP/CSR do not.  More specifically, the Chase Freedom Unlimited provides 1.5% minimum cash/points back on all purchases, 3% on restaurant and drug store purchases, and 5% on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.  By contrast, the Chase Freedom Flex has rotating quarterly 5% cash back categories while also offering 3% rewards for restaurant and drug store purchases and 5% rewards for CUR-booked travel.  Points earned on the two no annual fee Chase cards can then be transferred to the premium Chase card, which provides either 25% point bonus (CSP) or 50% point bonus (CSR) for travel booked using either Preferred or Reserve card.

 

I'm sure other people on here can provide additional, more in-depth information, but what I provided should at least get you started in your decision-making process.


So to confirm, even a cashback card from chase will allow me to get points instead of cashback? I did have a freedom unlimited they closed out 2 years ago, so chase may or may not be a no go. Will try to have it reopened now that my scores are high 700s and I've basically paid off the whole balance on the card except for a little tidbit to keep that possibility (when they closed it they told me I could ask to have it reconsidered as long as it was not PIF)

Ex: 742, TU: 726, EQ: 733 03/31/2021
Discover it cashback: $10900
Citi DC: $13000
WF Propel: closed 2k
Amex BCED: $3000
Amex Gold: $NPSL
Amex Plat: NPSL
Cap1 QS: $3200
Cap1 VX $50k
VS CC: $2900
Kohls: $3000
Synchrony car care: $3000
citi best buy visa: $8500
Message 3 of 40
FormerCollegeDJ
Frequent Contributor

Re: Best credit card for travel

RE: Chase no annual fee cards and Chase Ultimate Rewards points

 

Yes - both the Chase Freedom Unlimited and Chase Freedom Flex earn rewards that can be used as cash back but can also be used towards Chase Ultimate Rewards redemptions.  With the latter they count on a 1 to 1 basis (i.e. 100 rewards points earned on either the CFU or CFF count as $1 regardless if it is redeemed as cash or used as part of a CUR redemption).  The benefit of those cards is they sometimes earn higher points rates on some types of spending than the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve do.  Conversely, points from the CFU and CFF can be moved to either the CSP or CSR, and points used in the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal on either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve have 25% (with the CSP) or 50% (with the CSR) more value compared to when they are used for cash back.

 

Let me note one other important thing, and I say this as someone who has not (at least at this point) used Chase Ultimate Rewards for travel redemptions - based on playing around with the CUR site and also from what I've read at various credit card and travel rewards-focused websites, I think in many cases you can only really get bang for your Chase Ultimate Rewards (or for that matter Amex Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou Rewards) buck on flights IF you redeem them for premium tickets (often first/business class seats) on international flights.  (The real value of the programs comes when you transfer your credit card rewards program points to an airline or hotel chain and convert them into airline or hotel rewards points when making a credit card program rewards redemption.)  In the majority of cases, the Chase UR and also Amex MR and Citi TYR do not provide significantly more than 1 to 1 value (or in CUR's case, either 1.25 or 1.5 to 1 value when using the CSP or CSR) when you use them for domestic flights and/or non-premium seats.  The rewards programs' value really comes from using the points for "premium" tickets/experiences.  Others who have used one or more of the three rewards programs for travel can provide more detailed and accurate information.

 

The above is why it is important to understand airline and hotel programs' point valuations, so you can get a better handle on how much those points are really worth when you transfer credit card program rewards points to an airline or hotel partner.  An airline or hotel rewards program can award lots of points, but if the points themselves have a low valuation, then you aren't getting as much bang for your buck to use the credit card rewards programs as it might initially appear.  Sites like Upgraded Points shown below are very helpful in giving you a better idea of the average point valuation for rewards programs.  Having said that, in many cases the actual program point values will be lower and in some cases they will be higher when you redeem rewards points in a real world situation.  (One related tip - IMO you should NEVER trust reward program valuations on The Points Guy site; they always give overly high point value estimates, especially for hotel rewards programs.)

 

https://upgradedpoints.com/points-and-miles-valuations/

 

Hopefully other people will chime in and provide additional input and if necessary correct any misleading statements I may have accidentally made.

Playing the credit card rewards game since early May 2020.

Current credit cards:
American Express: Hilton Honors
Bank of America: Customized Cash Rewards Visa
Capital One: SavorOne MC
Chase: Amazon Visa, Freedom Unlimited Visa, Freedom Flex MC
Citi: Sears/ThankYou Rewards MC, My Best Buy Visa, Custom Cash MC
Comenity: AAA Travel Advantage Visa
Discover: Cash It
Elan: S&T Bank Max Cash Preferred Visa
FNBO: Amtrak Guest Rewards Platinum MC
PSECU: Founder's Visa
U.S. Bank: Cash+ Visa
Wells Fargo: Autograph Visa
Store cards: Kohl's

Next target credit cards: Wells Fargo Bilt Mastercard (probably), Truist Enjoy Travel Visa (maybe)
Message 4 of 40
micvite
Frequent Contributor

Re: Best credit card for travel


@FormerCollegeDJ wrote:

RE: Chase no annual fee cards and Chase Ultimate Rewards points

 

Yes - both the Chase Freedom Unlimited and Chase Freedom Flex earn rewards that can be used as cash back but can also be used towards Chase Ultimate Rewards redemptions.  With the latter they count on a 1 to 1 basis (i.e. 100 rewards points earned on either the CFU or CFF count as $1 regardless if it is redeemed as cash or used as part of a CUR redemption).  The benefit of those cards is they sometimes earn higher points rates on some types of spending than the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve do.  Conversely, points from the CFU and CFF can be moved to either the CSP or CSR, and points used in the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal on either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve have 25% (with the CSP) or 50% (with the CSR) more value compared to when they are used for cash back.

 

Let me note one other important thing, and I say this as someone who has not (at least at this point) used Chase Ultimate Rewards for travel redemptions - based on playing around with the CUR site and also from what I've read at various credit card and travel rewards-focused websites, I think in many cases you can only really get bang for your Chase Ultimate Rewards (or for that matter Amex Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou Rewards) buck on flights IF you redeem them for premium tickets (often first/business class seats) on international flights.  (The real value of the programs comes when you transfer your credit card rewards program points to an airline or hotel chain and convert them into airline or hotel rewards points when making a credit card program rewards redemption.)  In the majority of cases, the Chase UR and also Amex MR and Citi TYR do not provide significantly more than 1 to 1 value (or in CUR's case, either 1.25 or 1.5 to 1 value when using the CSP or CSR) when you use them for domestic flights and/or non-premium seats.  The rewards programs' value really comes from using the points for "premium" tickets/experiences.  Others who have used one or more of the three rewards programs for travel can provide more detailed and accurate information.

 

The above is why it is important to understand airline and hotel programs' point valuations, so you can get a better handle on how much those points are really worth when you transfer credit card program rewards points to an airline or hotel partner.  An airline or hotel rewards program can award lots of points, but if the points themselves have a low valuation, then you aren't getting as much bang for your buck to use the credit card rewards programs as it might initially appear.  Sites like Upgraded Points shown below are very helpful in giving you a better idea of the average point valuation for rewards programs.  Having said that, in many cases the actual program point values will be lower and in some cases they will be higher when you redeem rewards points in a real world situation.  (One related tip - IMO you should NEVER trust reward program valuations on The Points Guy site; they always give overly high point value estimates, especially for hotel rewards programs.)

 

https://upgradedpoints.com/points-and-miles-valuations/

 

Hopefully other people will chime in and provide additional input and if necessary correct any misleading statements I may have accidentally made.


Good to know. Now with the CSR, does transferring the points to another airline still get the 50% bonus? Because you're right I'd mainly be using points to book double round trip first class tickets to either Asia or Europe. 

Ex: 742, TU: 726, EQ: 733 03/31/2021
Discover it cashback: $10900
Citi DC: $13000
WF Propel: closed 2k
Amex BCED: $3000
Amex Gold: $NPSL
Amex Plat: NPSL
Cap1 QS: $3200
Cap1 VX $50k
VS CC: $2900
Kohls: $3000
Synchrony car care: $3000
citi best buy visa: $8500
Message 5 of 40
Shooting-For-800
Senior Contributor

Re: Best credit card for travel

Navy Fed Flagship is 3% back on travel and 2% on everything else.

Simple and straight forward.

Rebuild started in 2014  -  $100k unsecured credit in 2017  -  $500k unsecured credit in 2024.

DON'T WORK FOR CREDIT CARDS ... MAKE CREDIT CARDS WORK FOR YOU!



Message 6 of 40
TampaBAY86
Regular Contributor

Re: Best credit card for travel


@micvite wrote:

@FormerCollegeDJ wrote:

RE: Chase no annual fee cards and Chase Ultimate Rewards points

 

Yes - both the Chase Freedom Unlimited and Chase Freedom Flex earn rewards that can be used as cash back but can also be used towards Chase Ultimate Rewards redemptions.  With the latter they count on a 1 to 1 basis (i.e. 100 rewards points earned on either the CFU or CFF count as $1 regardless if it is redeemed as cash or used as part of a CUR redemption).  The benefit of those cards is they sometimes earn higher points rates on some types of spending than the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve do.  Conversely, points from the CFU and CFF can be moved to either the CSP or CSR, and points used in the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal on either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve have 25% (with the CSP) or 50% (with the CSR) more value compared to when they are used for cash back.

 

Let me note one other important thing, and I say this as someone who has not (at least at this point) used Chase Ultimate Rewards for travel redemptions - based on playing around with the CUR site and also from what I've read at various credit card and travel rewards-focused websites, I think in many cases you can only really get bang for your Chase Ultimate Rewards (or for that matter Amex Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou Rewards) buck on flights IF you redeem them for premium tickets (often first/business class seats) on international flights.  (The real value of the programs comes when you transfer your credit card rewards program points to an airline or hotel chain and convert them into airline or hotel rewards points when making a credit card program rewards redemption.)  In the majority of cases, the Chase UR and also Amex MR and Citi TYR do not provide significantly more than 1 to 1 value (or in CUR's case, either 1.25 or 1.5 to 1 value when using the CSP or CSR) when you use them for domestic flights and/or non-premium seats.  The rewards programs' value really comes from using the points for "premium" tickets/experiences.  Others who have used one or more of the three rewards programs for travel can provide more detailed and accurate information.

 

The above is why it is important to understand airline and hotel programs' point valuations, so you can get a better handle on how much those points are really worth when you transfer credit card program rewards points to an airline or hotel partner.  An airline or hotel rewards program can award lots of points, but if the points themselves have a low valuation, then you aren't getting as much bang for your buck to use the credit card rewards programs as it might initially appear.  Sites like Upgraded Points shown below are very helpful in giving you a better idea of the average point valuation for rewards programs.  Having said that, in many cases the actual program point values will be lower and in some cases they will be higher when you redeem rewards points in a real world situation.  (One related tip - IMO you should NEVER trust reward program valuations on The Points Guy site; they always give overly high point value estimates, especially for hotel rewards programs.)

 

https://upgradedpoints.com/points-and-miles-valuations/

 

Hopefully other people will chime in and provide additional input and if necessary correct any misleading statements I may have accidentally made.


Good to know. Now with the CSR, does transferring the points to another airline still get the 50% bonus? Because you're right I'd mainly be using points to book double round trip first class tickets to either Asia or Europe. 


No, the transfer rate for UR will be 1:1, unless they are running a promo at that time.  Same for MR.  Not sure about TYP.

Message 7 of 40
Loquat
Moderator Emeritus

Re: Best credit card for travel

"Best" is subjective.  It comes down to what do you want in a travel card?  Do you only care about the card providing travel benefits or are you looking for something that has other categories to complement travel?

 

As far as transfer partners, Citi, Chase, and Amex all have them.  Amex clearly has the longest list.  With that being said, each of the ecosystems has access to OneWorld, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance partners which will allow for international booking.  The value of each currency will be dependent upon where you want to go, when, and the comfort level you want enjoy as travel.  

 

All of the best Amex earners typically require an annual fee..and the really good cards come with expensive annual fees.  Same to be said for Chase and Citi.  In my opinion Amex ecosystem has more options but is the most expensive because it's very difficult to get a lot of coverage with just one card.  The same can also be said for Chase.  You'll need to carry at least 2 of their products to get the most coverage but at least Chase can be achieved with just one expensive AF card and can be complemented by something such as the Freedom Flex.

 

Citi has a few cards that will work but the one thing Citi lacks that the others have is travel protections if that means anything to you.  Where Citi lacks in travel protections they make up for having a few cards that cover a lot of ground.  For a total of just $95 you can get a lot of coverage with Citi by way of the Premier that earns 3x in a lot of useful travel categories, a Double Cash that allows earnings from thar car to be converted into ThankYou points as needed, and the Rewards+ that has points round up and 10% rebate on redeemed TYPs on the first 100k each calendar year.  

 

Determine where you want to travel and what carrier/alliance is the best option for getting there.  Build your selection around such.  But just asking which card is better...well you're going to get a lot of answers from a wide variety of perceptions.

 

Best of luck to you as you narrow down your search. 

Message 8 of 40
Remedios
Credit Mentor

Re: Best credit card for travel

If Chase closed your account only two years ago as a result  of AA, they might be a no-go for a while. 

Unfortunately, the only way to find out is to apply. 

I'd focus on other reward programs, or try Chase first so at least they can be eliminated from your list in case you get "previous unsatisfactory relationship" letter from them. 

 

Message 9 of 40
notmyrealname23
Established Contributor

Re: Best credit card for travel

It's much easier to app spree AMEX in conjunction with other cards (after your first card, everything is a soft pull) than Chase (5/24 and some limits on acquisition speed), if you're diving into a heavy card acquisition phase to bulk up on miles and points. This isn't to say that Chase would be a bad choice, it just means more planning.

The AMEX Platinum (100k, 125k occasionally on offer) + CSP (80k) signup offers are as high as they will likely be for a while, so it's a good time to get those top-end cards.

 

Citi Premier or Prestige + Citi Double Cash is probably a combination you don't want to ignore either, since the DC is a 2x card on unbonused spend in conjunction with one of those cards (you don't have to do "hacks" like the Amex Blue Business Plus as a business card). The Premier card is a pretty broad category earner (3x flights, dining, groceries, gas, only $95). Prestige is more expensive ($495) and is a premium travel card with broader earning than the AMEX Platinum: 5x airfare, dining, 3x hotels, cruises + a $250 general travel credit, Priority Pass. (The one other thing these Citi cards don't have is any rental car insurance, if that's important to you, along with no travel protection.) ThankYou doesn't have as many partners as AMEX and Chase do, but they'll do the trick.

First Tech FCU Choice Rewards World MC 35k | AMEX Hilton Aspire 17.5k | Chase Southwest Priority Visa 15.5k | AMEX Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant 15k | Bilt Rewards MC 14k | Capital One Venture X 13k | Fidelity VISA Signature 11.5k | Citi AA Platinum Select 11.9k | Charles Schwab AMEX Platinum NPSL | Amex Platinum (I know) NPSL | Amex Gold NPSL | Citi Premier 8.9k | Chase Fredom Unlimited 9k | SoFi MC World Elite 8k | Capital One SavorOne 7.5k | PayPal Synchrony MC 6.4k | Citi Custom Cash 6.9k | DiscoverIt Cashback 5k | Amazon/Synchrony 5k | Hotels.com 5k | AMEX Delta Gold 3k | Apple Card 3k | Target 800 | Ch 13 filed 12/13 discharged as paid 1/19
Message 10 of 40
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