It’s hopefully no secret that I’m a huge fan of points. I travel a decent amount in my real job and am able to accumulate a large number of points during my travel. I also am a big fan of credit cards, especially those that come with travel rewards. I figured I’d do a lighter post and share what’s in my wallet and explain why!
Annual fee: $95 (waived for first year)
“Double miles on every purchase”. This was one of the first “big kid” credit cards that I got out of college. My parents, wanting me to establish credit early on to help increase my score, got me a “training wheels” card when I was in high school. I kept it throughout college, making all my payments on time. Therefore upon graduation, I was able to qualify for such a card. This was about 10 years ago, and at the time (and up until recently), this was probably the best card on the market for those that like to travel. I was able to earn 2% cash back on all my purchases, redeemable for travel purchases. I loved this card both for how much I “earned” in points, but for also for how easy it was to redeem. I probably got a few thousand dollars of free travel during my time.
Why I like it: 2% back is still solid, and a $59 annual makes this card a solid option. It’s also super easy to redeem for rewards – most travel purchases are eligible for redemption.
Who it’s for: Unfortunately this card hasn’t kept up with other options out there. If you’re looking for an easy to redeem option with a good return, consider the Capital One Quicksilver (1.5% cash back, no annual fee) or Citi Double Cash (1% when you charge, 1% when you pay it off). December update: for full disclosure, I’ve recently closed this card and no longer have this in my wallet.
Annual fee: $95
It’s not often that I get super excited about a new card coming out, but when this one came out, I knew right away that it would get the new top spot in my wallet. At first glance, it’s not an immediate winner; $95 annual fee with only 2% return on travel/restaurants and 1.5% on everything else. If it was just those options, I would have kept the Capital One card.
However, a year or so ago, Bank of America introduced “Preferred Rewards” for account holders. At first the benefits were marginal; no fees for ATMs, checks, free Merrill Edge trades, certain lower interest rates on loans. The 3 tiers (Gold, Platinum and Platinum Honors) were achieved by balances of $20K, $50K and $100K in your accounts. Now Bank of America pays about 0.1% so it would not be wise for me to put a bunch of money in that account just for those perks when I could earn 10x that in my American Express savings account. What I learned though is that your balances within Merrill Edge (a brokerage platform) also count towards your status. So, when I rolled over my 401(k) from my last job, I decided to move it into Bank of America account to keep my money in one place.
Why I like it: What’s also included in the premium rewards program is the credit card rewards boost. Depending on the status level, you can obtain a 25%, 50% or 75% boost. That means you can earn as high as 3.5% for restaurants/travel and 2.6% for all other purchases. Now I’m not at the highest level by any means but even at the lowest level you can still earn nearly 1.9% of all other purchases and 2.5% on restaurants/travel. That alone puts it ahead of Capital One Venture. What’s also nice is that rewards earned can be transferred straight into cash, not just travel purchases like with the Venture card.
Who it’s for: If you currently bank with Bank of America and have more than $20K in your account (hopefully in a brokerage account as that amount in a savings account would not be a good return) then this might be worthwhile to look into. Potentially earning 2.6% and 3.5% is unheard of in today’s credit card game, so definitely worth considering if you bank with Bank of America.
Annual fee: $450
People absolutely lost their minds when this card came out. This card offers 3% on travel/restaurants and 1% on everything else. The kicker is that if you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards you get a 50% bonus. The rewards portal is sort of like an Expedia site and booking through it affords you 4.5% and 1.5%. There are also about 8 or so travel partners that you can transfer points to – which could prove to be a good deal but adds another element of complexity. All in all it’s pretty solid in terms of a return and options for redeeming. The 100,000 point bonus has gone away but 50,000 points as a sign up is still solid ($500 or $750 bonus).
Why I like it: Well the 3% of restaurants and travel is pretty incredible and with a multiplier if you use Chase Portal it’s even sweeter. I’ve actually come to like the redemption options more than I thought I would and so far I’ve used it to transfer to another airline (Singapore Air) and also as cash back for renting a moped in Bermuda. Why I actually really like the card (and why I’m keeping it as really the Bank of America card is equal or better) is for the Priority Pass lounge access. Priority Pass is a network of 1,000 or so airport lounges (independent so typically not affiliated with an airline) found in a lot of big US cities and a lot of international cities. I’ve actually come to LOVE having this perk. It’s come in handy for my international travels that I’ve done since having the card as well as before work flights out of Atlanta (my home base). Often times I’ll have a call before a flight and the lounge is a much quieter place to take the call, and then grab snacks on my way out! You get a $300 travel credit each year making the annual fee $150. I feel like I’ve gotten $150 worth of lounge access out of the card.
Who it’s for: For frequent travellers, or those who enjoy redeeming their points for travel, and for those that don’t bank with Bank of America, I’d definitely recommend this card. It may take a little more work to redeem your rewards but it could definitely be worthwhile. If you see yourself using the lounge more than once or twice (you can check lounge locations on their website) that could definitely make it more worthwhile.
Annual fee: $85
I’m a frequent traveller for work and up until recently, was able to use my personal cards for all my business expenses (definitely a huge perk, very sad to see it disappear.) My hotel chain of choice is Marriott. There are typically Marriotts everywhere and they are always within the budget. I also like them because their rewards are very rewarding, and I’ve had dozens of very nice nights in very nights Marriotts.. The Marriott credit card offered a nice boost (5x) on dollars spent at Marriott, so it definitely made sense when I could use it for all my business travel. Without that perk (now I have to use a corporate card), it’s significantly less valuable. Most personal stays at Marriotts are paid with points, so I won’t have many opportunities now to get the 5x multiplier. It does have 2x on travel/restaurants, but my Chase Sapphire Reserve gives me 3x on those same purchases so it doesn’t make sense. Also, Marriott is a Chase transfer partner so I could still transfer 3x points over to Marriot on travel/restaurants.
Why I like it: The one reason I keep the card is for the 15 status nights each year (which count towards earning elite status) and for the free night that comes with the $85 annual fee. I feel like a free night is worth $85 and then the 15 elite nights can help out. Although I normally achieve the highest status level, I like the extra 15 nights as they count towards my lifetime status, which is something I’m trying to achieve. All in all I may consider letting it go in a year or two assuming all things stay the same (still have to use a corporate card and still easily obtain the highest status level), for now it’s still got a spot in my wallet.
Who it’s for: Frequent travellers that stay at Marriotts, especially if you can use your own personal card for travel. Or if you’re on the cusp of achieving the highest status level, but honestly I’m not sure if $85 is worth it or not! It does have the highest sign-up bonus I’ve ever seen at 80,000 Marriott points so if you’ve considered getting this card, it might be the time!
Annual fee: $195
I’ve had this card for about 5 years year, and have held onto it for various reasons. When I first got it, I got it for the sign-up bonus, which varies from time to time (currently 35,000 which should be enough for most domestic US trips). I was looking to take a vacation and the sign-up bonus provided the much needed Skymiles boost that I was looking for. After that, I held onto it for the free checked bag perk and the Zone 1 boarding perk. At that time I was traveling a fair amount, but not enough to get elite status so the Zone 1 boarding was nice to get on early (or maybe I was just conditioned to think it’s nice…ha!) and the free checked bag was nice on vacation. Now that I have elite status with Delta as I’m traveling more, I got those perks with elite status so didn’t really need the card. I kept it though for the elite status boost potential – if I spent $25K I’d get 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs). I fully realize it’s all a game and it’s just a trap to get me to spend more money on Delta and be more loyal but I am hooked! At that time I kept the card because I could use my personal credit card for work expenses so I found it helpful to get the elite boost. Recently however, work requires me to use a corporate card for all work expenses so that’s a huge loss for me and my credit card rewards. Now I just keep it for the annual companion pass which is a buy-one-get-one (BOGO) for a domestic (lower 48) flight.
Why I like it: Over time I’ve held the card for various reasons, as explained above. It’s certainly been valuable at different times in my travel career for various reasons. Right now I’m just holding it for the companion ticket which is somewhat helpful. My wife and I travel a fair amount so it’s not bad to get a free ticket (although I’m paying $195 for the annual fee).
Who it’s for: This card in particular is great for someone who is in a serious relationship, likes to travel and is near a Delta hub (it’s very popular in Atlanta!). The free checked bag and Zone 1 is nice if you don’t get the perks from elite status and the sign-up bonus is certainly a nice perk (will be a free flight, or almost a free domestic flight).
I hope that’s a helpful summary of what’s in my wallet! I love travelling and credit card reward programs are a big help! Feel free to leave some comments agreeing/disagreeing – I love a good credit card points debate. Also – I’ve included links to each of the card’s application and I may get a referral bonus if you choose to sign up for them (thanks in advance!). Of course remember that credit cards must be used responsibly, I carry no balance on any of these cards and pay no fees aside from the annual fee. Best of luck in your credit card pursuits!