Credit Card Bonuses for Budget Travelers
I’m Matthew, a travel writer and business owner. Over the past three years, I’ve acquired airline miles & hotel points via credit card bonuses, plus an array of online opportunities, from simple promotions to register a new account, to dreadful surveys. If you enjoy this article, follow my blog, or find me on Twitter, Facebook, or at www.matthewriter.net. Check out www.englishlanguageinstruction.org for details of an online business I own. Tread lightly…
Initial Questions to Consider
What’s your credit score? Slowly building credit often presents the first step in reaping credit card rewards. 700 and above will reportedly qualify for certain applicants on specific applications. Annual Credit Report offers one free report per year. Maintaining current status with banks fosters the ability to generate miles & points, or cash back.
Upon pursuing an application, other considerations arise. A card with a large bonus frequently includes a variable APR, and its rate regularly exceeds that of a card with no bonus. Is the gamble worth the risk? Next, determine the annual fee, if applicable, and whether the fee is waived the first year. Additionally, what are the spending requirements to receive the initial bonus? Requirements range from making one purchase to spending $5000 or more. After meeting this threshold and receiving the bonus, how can you use the miles & points? With partner airlines or hotels? Does the airline allow one-way awards? Each bank, and its affiliated partner(s), has a set of rules, and customer questions perpetually arise. The following is a list of cards that appear most favorable to a budget traveler’s wallet:
Airline-Affiliated Credit Cards
- Alaska Airlines Visa Signature (Bank of America) = 30k miles upon approval for Bank of America customers (25k for new clients) + an annual companion pass. One-way awards are available, and can be booked with partner airlines (including Delta, American, & Cathay Pacific). The ability to book one-way awards, and on a partner, both occurred recently. Avid mile collectors apply for this card and its business equivalent for the adaptability of Alaska miles. As well, each bonus could eventually be tied to a robust spending requirement. Cardholders receive 3x points for purchases with Alaska. The $75 annual fee is not waived the first year.
- Citi Platinum AAdvantage World MasterCard (Citibank & American Airlines) = 30k miles after spending $1k in the first 90 days. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year, and cardholders receive a 10% discount on award flights with AA. The value of AA miles depends upon the itinerary. The airline does allow one-way awards, as well as awards with partners (One World Alliance).
- British Airways Visa (Chase) = 50k avios (BA’s equivalent of miles) after spending $2k in the first 3 months. One-way awards are allowed, and can be booked with partners (One World Alliance). Fees for award flights are unusually high (though exceptions exist). There are no foreign transaction fees, and patrons receive 1.25 avios per $1 spent, and 2.5 avios per $1 on purchases with British Airways. Chase will waive the $95 annual fee the first year.
- United Mileage Plus Explorer Visa Signature (Chase) = 30k miles after spending $1k (50k miles after spending $2k occasionally surfaces). One-way awards are allowed, and can be booked with partners (Star Alliance). Flight availability is rather simple to piece together on the United website. The card includes 2 annual United Club Lounge passes. There are no foreign transaction fees, and cardholders receive 2x miles on purchases with United. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year.
- US Airways Premier World MasterCard (Barclays) = 40k miles after first purchase + an annual companion certificate, and a yearly US Airways Club pass. Cardholders receive 10k bonus miles after each anniversary. US Airways requires round-trip awards, but allows booking with partners, and has a sometimes-generous award chart. If the US Airways/American Airlines merger goes through, these miles will become more valuable. The $89 annual fee is not waived the first year.
Hotel-Affiliated Credit Cards
- Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature (US Bank) = 50k points + Club Carlson Gold Elite status after first purchase. Includes 35k additional points after spending $2500 in the first 3 months. The crème de la crème transpires upon booking 2 or more award nights. In that case, the last night is free. At the lowest award level, it’s possible to book 9 free nights after one purchase with this card! The card also includes 40k points at each anniversary. A last perk is 5x points on groceries and 10x points on Club Carlson purchases. The $75 annual fee is not waived the first year.
- Hilton HHonors (American Express) = Spend $750 in 90 days and receive 50k HHonors points. 50k hotel points rarely compares with 50k airline miles, and Hilton recently downgraded the value of its point system. Nonetheless, the annual fee is $0. The card offers 3x points for goods & services, 5x points at restaurants, supermarkets, and for gasoline, and 7x points for purchases with Hilton!
- Marriott Rewards Premier Visa Signature (Chase) = 50k points after spending $1k in the first 3 months + 1 free night upon approval, and another free night after each anniversary. There are no foreign transaction fees, and Marriott Silver status is included. Chase waives the $85 annual fee the first year. The card includes 5x points with Marriott, and 2x points for travel.
- Starwood Preferred Guest (American Express) = 10k points after first purchase + 15k points after spending $5k in 6 months. Hotel rooms start at 2k points per night. Customers can trade 1 x 1 with a healthy list of airlines, including Etihad, Singapore, United, Delta, & American. An extra windfall ensues after transferring 20k Starpoints. Starwood tacks on an additional 5k points for the transfer. 20k Starpoints thus equates to 25k airline miles, a rarity in the industry. The $65 annual fee is waived the first year.
A Final Option
- Chase Sapphire Preferred = 40k points after spending $3k in the first 90 days. Points transfer 1 x 1 with United & British Airways, among other airlines, and 1 x 1 with certain hotels, including Marriott, Hyatt, & Ritz-Carlton. There are no foreign transaction fees, and cardholders receive an annual 7% points dividend (example: earn 10k points over a year and receive an additional 700 to close the year), as well as 2x points for dining and travel. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year.
Use your new card(s) for any and all qualifying purchases. Rent or a mortgage payment can quickly erase a spending requirement. Carry a balance, if at all, on the card with the lowest percentage rate. Make everyday purchases with 1 or 2 cards, to ensure ease of tracking expenses. But if a card offers 3x, 5x, or 10x the points in a category, take advantage.
Finally, don’t apply after seeing an offer for the first time. Offers do expire, but another perpetually takes its place. Uncover the opinion of a mile & point guru. Do a bit of homework to get the best offer on that card. Credit card companies often target individuals with a better promotion than the public offer. Chase branches recently offered customers superb bonuses not available to the general public. Research reveals whether a company repeatedly serves up the same bonus. If so, don’t rush to apply. If you discover an irresistible offer, fill me in!
(Disclaimer: this article presents my perspective only)