What’s The First Flexible Points Card You Should Get?

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Reader Rob asked the following question on the “Ask Lucky” page yesterday:

Despite your best efforts, multiple articles, and excellent advice, I am still a bit undecided on which credit card to go for to best meet my travel goals. In the end, I could probably just go with one and not try to be perfect and not worry about it, but thought I would ask for your help anyway.

To give you perspective, I am already heavy in Delta and Marriott points, so definitely would like to diversify away from those and currently use Amex for just about all spending, so a Visa/MC would be helpful. (I think that rules out Starwood and similar)

Travel goals would be first class on long routes (business class if I have to) – to Europe, Eastern Europe/Russia, Australia, and after that, maybe Far East.

Also seems like better to go with a flexible card that would be good for hotel stays as well as airline.

Your Beginners Guide says to go with Chase Sapphire, but you don’t mention the Citi Thank You there which also seems like a good option.

Any thoughts and advice?

Kudos for trying to diversify, Rob, especially since your primary programs are Delta SkyMiles and Marriott Rewards. 😉

With that in mind, the way I see it, there are four cards which most efficiently accrue easily flexible points:

And no, my advice won’t simply be “get the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card,” as I’d recommend to many other people. With that in mind, let’s look at each of the above cards based on Rob’s circumstances.

Citi ThankYou® Premier Card

This is one of the most compelling new credit cards for accruing transferable points, and it’s only getting better as of April 19, 2015, as the card is undergoing some benefits changes.

Citi-ThankYou-Premier-10

As of April 19 you’ll earn:

  • 3x ThankYou points on travel & gas
  • 2x ThankYou points on dining and entertainment
  • 1x ThankYou point on all other purchases

That’s just about the best earnings rate of any card out there. So why am I not recommending the card more for Rob? Because I think the transfer partners aren’t right for you if you just want one card to diversify with. While they certainly have a nice quantity of airline partners, there are only a couple that offer truly exceptional value, like Singapore KrisFlyer.

Singapore-Business-Class-777
Redeem KrisFlyer miles for Singapore Airlines business class

So while it’s a card to consider if you have a lot of other useful cards or already have very diversified points currencies, it’s not the first card I’d get if you’re looking to diversify points.

My hope is that American AAdvantage will eventually be added as a transfer partner, which would add a ton of value. But I have no clue if/when that will happen.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the all around best credit card out there, in my opinion. It’s the card I use the most for everyday spend, as it offers double points on dining and travel, no foreign transactions fees, primary CDW coverage on car rentals, etc.

The transfer partners are great as well. My favorites are British Airways Executive Club, Hyatt Gold Passport, Korean Air SkyPass, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, United MileagePlus, and Hyatt Gold Passport.

Korean-Air-First-Class
Redeem Ultimate Rewards points for Korean Air first class

If you’re looking to travel first class to Asia then Korean Air and Singapore are tough to beat, given that they both release a good amount of first class award availability to members of their own programs.

Furthermore, for hotel stays, Hyatt Gold Passport is a great program.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

I know Rob said he preferred not getting an American Express, but I do think this card has to at least be mentioned. While it doesn’t have many category bonuses, Starpoints can be converted into airline miles at a 1:1 ratio, and for every 20,000 points you transfer you get a 5,000 point bonus — that’s like earning 1.25 miles per dollar when transferring in the right increments.

But the real selling point of Starpoints is that they have over two dozen airline partners, and the points can also efficiently be used for hotel redemptions.

So whether you want to redeem for a Starwood hotel stay, transfer to American AAdvantage for an Etihad award, transfer to Alaska Mileage Plan for a Cathay Pacific award, etc., there’s not a currency you’d be more diversified in than this one.

Etihad-A380-First-Class-55
Transfer Starpoints to AAdvantage to book Etihad’s A380 first class

Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card

This is a card I finally picked up in my last round of credit card applications, and one I’m very excited about. In the near future this is what most of my spend will be going on, since I’ve kind of become Chase Ultimate Rewards rich and American Express Membership Rewards poor.

This card offers:

  • 3X points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases
  • 2X points at U.S. gas stations
  • 1X point on other purchases
  • 50% more points when you make at least 30 purchases per billing cycle

That means if you make at least 30 purchases per month you’re earning 1.5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on everyday spend, in addition to the bonus categories.

Also, aside from SPG, Membership Rewards has the most transfer partners of any major transferable points currency. Most valuable are Air Canada Aeroplan, ANA Mileage Club, British Airways Executive Club, and Singapore KrisFlyer, in my opinion.

Frontier-Membership-Rewards-1

The downside is that the card isn’t quite as well rounded as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, for example. It has foreign transaction fees and doesn’t have primary CDW auto rental coverage.

This card is probably the best balance between a high earnings rate on everyday spend and a flexible points currency.

Bottom line

As always, there’s not a single right answer, even when you precisely lay out what you’re looking for. To sum it all up:

  • While the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card is awesome, I wouldn’t use it as the first card with which you diversify due to the lack of transfer partners
  • There’s not a more well rounded card accruing a flexible points currency than the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card — if you spend a lot on dining and travel it’s a no brainer
  • The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is going to accrue the most flexible points out there, given that they can efficiently be redeemed for Starwood stays or transferred to over two dozen airline partners; you’re slightly sacrificing potentially higher earnings rates by using this card, though
  • The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit  will offer the highest return on base spend if you have at least 30 transactions per billing cycle; it’s not the most well rounded card, though, given that it has foreign transaction fees and is an American Express (which you’d like to avoid for your flexible card)

Hopefully that at least gives you a good base from which to decide.

Which credit card would you go in if you were in Rob’s situation?

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Comments

  1. Chase Sapphire sux. My annual dividend still has not posted… and the first quarter is basically over. What are they waiting for?

  2. Rob didn’t say WHICH American Express Card he uses. Maybe he should sign up for a new American Express Card in addition to getting a Visa/MC.

    Rob did mention international flights, one of the few areas where a flexible points plan is going to beat one of the flat 2% cards (Cap1, Barclays or Citi).

    So, if the choice is limited to TY Preferred vs. CSP, those cards are pretty even. Personally, I am not a fan of the CSP flat metal card, but my mother carries it and loves the CSP live customer service.

    When I have to stoop to comparing cards based on one being flat metal, one being embossed plastic, you know they are pretty close. 😉

  3. Lantean, I had to call them and they did it manually. Then I changed it to a Freedom (my second) and added myself to my wife’s CSP as an AU. I’ll apply for another of my own when the signup bonus goes back to 50k, or when her annual fee comes due. Can’t have enough UR points IMHO.

  4. Thanks Lucky – as usual, great article and advice – and Joseph N, I currently use a regular Plat Amex to accrue Membership Rewards, but I do also plan to add one of the new Amex Everyday cards to take advantage of the bonus categories – although I might rethink this some and go with the Starwood card and just not accrue MR for awhile. For now though, looks like all of my spend is going to go toward a new Chase card! There is probably a magic algorithm that takes into account what partners I already have access to with Membership Rewards/Delta/Marriott, what hotels are located where, how many points it takes for hotel/airline versus how quickly you can accrue points based on spending habits and bonus categories, how difficult it is to find award space on a partner, what color hats elephants in Peru are wearing this year, etc etc. – but I just couldn’t quite come up with the formula! Thanks again!

  5. has AX Membership Rewards re-up’d with Asia Miles (see pic above)? I thought it was discontinued a while ago.

  6. @JosephN: Keep in mind Chase will send you a regular plastic embossed CSP card if you ask them to.

    One thing Ben didn’t mention with the CSP was to pair it with a Freedom or INK card and get 5 points per dollar on the categories. Freedom has the rotating categories of 5 points per dollar up to $1500/quarter, so that’s an easy 30,000 points for $6000 spend. INK gets you 5 points per dollar on office supply stores (read: gift cards) and telecommunications (phone/cable/internet/cell).

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