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5 ways to earn rewards on your wedding

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Even if you’re trying to keep costs down, hosting a big party for dozens (or hundreds) of your loved ones can be pricey. Here’s one consolation: By using reward cards responsibly and strategically, you can recoup some of the costs – or stockpile miles for your honeymoon.

“There’s not much you can do when you’re fighting with family about the expenses, planning and the hassle,” says Scott Mackenzie, founder of rewards maximization site Travel Codex. “Rewards are a great opportunity to say ‘I put a lot into this wedding, and I’m finally getting something out of it.’”gold rings from Helzberg store

Here’s a rewards road map for the newly engaged.

1. Plan ahead

Long engagements are ideal for maximizing rewards.

“If you’re fortunate enough to have a year or more to plan your wedding, you can take advantage of some long-term strategies, get your credit in shape before you apply and think about which cards you’d like to apply for and in what order,” Mackenzie says.

In addition to sign-up bonuses, some cards give perks or extra points if you spend a certain amount annualy, making them a good fit for a year you’re spending more than usual. The British Airways Visa Signature, for example, gives you a “Travel Together” companion ticket if you hit $30,000 in spending in a year.

You might also consider a card with a category bonus that matches a wedding expense, such as a card that gives extra rewards on dining. Assuming your catering bill is coded as a dining purchase (and it may well be, considering how many caterers also own restaurants), that giant expense will get you a surge of points.

If you’re gunning for extra dining points, here’s a clever trick involving the Chase Sapphire Preferred from Patrick Furlong, who, alongside his wife, Laura, writes about travel rewards strategies at Two to Travel (And Tango): Normally the card rewards you 2 points per dollar on dining. However, you could get even more, thanks to a special promotion Chase has extended through 2015.

“See if you can pay your caterer on the first Friday of the month, when the Sapphire Preferred rewards you 3 points per dollar at restaurants rather than 2,” Furlong says.
Considering that the Chase Sapphire Preferred lets you transfer your Ultimate Rewards points into several airline programs, triple rewards on a catering bill could get you a plane ticket.

In addition to picking the right cards, planning in advance can help you snag a venue that accelerates your rewards. Starwood, Furlong points out, has this promo, which lets you earn extra points for your wedding if you host it at a Starwood property.

2. Account for vendor fees and payment preferences

Don’t expect paying for wedding expenses with a card to be as easy as paying for groceries. For one thing, you’ll need a high credit limit to cover the biggest expenses. For another, vendors might charge you more or refuse to accept cards altogether.

Mackenzie’s photographer, for example, preferred to be paid by check. Others may charge a percentage of the bill for paying by card to cover the interchange fee charged by the bank. That cost could cancel out the rewards you’d earn on the purchase, but it might be worth it in certain circumstances.

“If there’s the context of getting a 50,000-point bonus at the end of the year after reaching a certain spending threshold, then the processing fees might be worth it,” Mackenzie says.

You might even be able to avoid extra fees altogether if you negotiate.

“It never hurts to ask the vendor if there’s a chance to reduce the fees if you’re a big client,” Furlong says. “Yes, they’re offsetting costs forwarded on, but utilize the power of your purchase and at least ask.”

3. Be a rewards power couple

You and your future spouse are in it together, so why go it alone when it comes to rewards? If both parties have excellent credit that can withstand an inquiry, they can double the sign-up bonus by each opening the same card.

“You’re suddenly looking at booking flights in business class perhaps instead of economy,” Furlong says. “And the difference between the two classes for long international flights — we can’t even begin to explain.”

Note: Each rewards program has its own rules about pooling points with another person — and some require you to be married before you pool.

After you’ve redeemed the reward, you can avoid paying two annual fees by cancelling one of the cards.

“With me and my wife, if it’s a card worth having, one person will keep it,” Mackenzie says. “You can make the other person an authorized user, so you don’t have to keep both cards long term.”

4. Get the family involved

  • Funnel their generosity through your card: If family members want to pay for certain expenses, ask if they’d be willing to write you a check for the amount so the vendor can charge your card, Mackenzie suggests.

    “My in-laws were really generous in paying for parts of my wedding,” Mackenzie says. “They aren’t particularly big fans of credit card rewards, so that actually worked out really well. They could pay us by check, and we got the credit card rewards.”

  • Add co-planners as authorized users: If family members are booking rooms for guests and buying supplies for the big day, consider adding them – if you trust them, of course – to your card as authorized users.

    “It’s a good strategy because you’ve got multiple people making charges and racking up rewards for you,” Mackenzie says. “That’s kind of like a bonus wedding gift.”

  • Reward your loved ones: If traveling for your wedding would financially burden some guests, the rewards you’re accruing via your wedding spending can help them out. To assist out-of-state guests in the pricey trek for his Seattle summer wedding, Mackenzie offered to book flights and hotel rooms with his points. Airline elite status and rewards point re-deposits eliminated the penalties if guests changed their minds.

5. Reward yourself with a free honeymoon

When wedding planning becomes a drag, start making plans for all your hard-won points.

“We’re travel nerds and so we truly had our entire honeymoon figured out before we probably had half of our wedding stuff figured out,” Furlong says. “But it also was a great stress relief.”

Advance planning is key, because you don’t want to get cards until you know your destination. Mackenzie and his wife went to Bali for their honeymoon, a trip that drew on various currencies of airline miles and hotel rewards.

“Think about where you want to go and what miles you need, so you pick a card that gets you those kinds of miles,” Mackenzie says. “I can have the most valuable points in the world, but if they don’t get me where I want to go, it doesn’t matter.”

Wherever you want to go, have some back-up destinations. Furlong and his wife wanted to go to New Zealand for their honeymoon – in December, a popular time to visit and a tough time to find rewards seat availability.

“We got lucky that New Zealand worked at such a popular time of year but we were ready for Vietnam or Peru as well,” he says.

Finally, consider whether you’d like a more luxurious experience for your honeymoon, as credit cards can put that within reach. Mackenzie took advantage of the Fine Hotels & Resorts program that comes with the Platinum card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner). Some hotel cards provide low-level elite status (and the perks that come with it) automatically, Furlong points out. Plus, strategic card applications can get you enough sign-up bonus rewards for international first or business class.

“We like having a seat that turns into a bed when we’re stuck in it for 12 hours, and we enjoy the lounges and everything else that comes with the experience,” Furlong says. “… So when we figure out what trip we want to take, we figure out the strategy to earn the points we need for what matters most to us.”


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Editorial Disclosure: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Before you go: Tips for traveling with a credit card

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view from airplane windowEven if you plan to get by primarily on cash while traveling, packing at least one credit card can save your trip. I learned that when I visited Japan last year. At some point between clearing customs at the airport and catching my train into Tokyo, I lost my passport. The U.S. embassy could get me a new one in a matter of hours – but for a hefty fee.

The cash I had was slated for the inns and hostels I’d booked (which took only cash on arrival), leaving little wiggle room — and my debit card hadn’t worked at both ATMs I’d tried that morning. Luckily, I had a travel credit card that charged no foreign transaction fees. I handed it over and got my new passport:

US embassy tokyo transaction

For every story about a credit card saving the day far from home, though, there are plenty more about declined charges, theft and surprise fees. To keep things running smoothly, read on for our pre-departure checklist –- and our list of cards you might want to consider taking with you.

Before you leave

  • Call your bank: Explain you’re planning on using your card overseas. They’ll know which questions to ask you, from where you’re going, to the locations of your layovers, to which dates you’ll be where. A note will be added to your file so that (hopefully) none of your charges gets flagged as suspicious and declined.
  • Put together an emergency kit: Make note of your card numbers and your bank’s phone number (the collect number listed on the back of your card for out-of-country calls). Or make copies of your cards and store them separately from your actual cards. If your cards are lost or stolen, you’ll then have all the necessary information on hand to report it to your bank.
  • Try to bring a card with an EMV chip: EMV is the norm in many other countries, so pack a card with a chip, if you already have one. If you don’t, call your bank and ask if it will replace your card with an EMV version.

    Most major banks have a goal of converting all cards to EMV by October 2015, but there are some stragglers. If your magnetic stripe card is your only option, don’t worry too much — merchants in popular destinations likely have equipment to accept the card, although it might be difficult to navigate a cashiers’ confusion if there’s a language barrier.

    Even travelers with chip cards may run into issues, because the U.S. is implementing EMV differently from other countries; just peruse the varied experiences of commenters under this article. Overall, though, having a chip card will likely smooth out your travel experience — just make sure to bring plenty of cash and fill up your car’s tank to avoid getting stranded at an unmanned fuel pump at night.

  • Take plenty of cash: In the U.S., we often take for granted the ability to buy a pack of gum with a card. Yet plenty of businesses overseas don’t accept cards, let alone for tiny purchases. Those that do might even charge you a fee for the convenience. So make sure you have enough walking-around money.
  • Watch out for dynamic currency conversion: You’re buying souvenirs at a shop with your card. The merchant asks if you’d like to have the amount converted to dollars instead of paying in the local currency. It may seem convenient, but it’s quite a money-making scheme for the merchant (who gets to decide on the exchange rate). Your bank will probably give you a better deal, so just pay in the local currency.
  • Be aware of foreign transaction fees: Some cards tack on an extra fee for using your card outside the U.S, making your trip more expensive than you’d planned. Luckily, plenty of cards waive these charges (more on that below).

Cards to consider taking with you

Planning a trip? These cards each have a number of desirable features for travelers:

Capital One Venture ($59 annual fee) and VentureOne ($0 annual fee): Both cards waive foreign transaction fees, and both have an EMV chip. While these aren’t the most perk-heavy travel cards you’ll find, their rewards structure might make them worth packing. The Venture earns 2 miles per dollar on all purchases, while the VentureOne earns 1.25. You can redeem your points on any travel charge you’ve already made. So, if you use one of these cards for car rentals and other eligible travel purchases while you’re away, you can then use your miles to cancel out some of those purchases when you get home.

Chase Sapphire Preferred ($95 annual fee): The CSP has an EMV chip and no foreign transaction fees. This card is also known for the extra protections it gives travelers. It’s one of the rare cards that offers primary rental car insurance (meaning you won’t have to go through your regular car insurance if the rental is damaged). Also, it has a high maximum for trip cancellation/interruption coverage: $10,000 (compared to the $5,000 or less cards with similar annual fees offer).

The rewards also benefit travelers, giving double points on dining and travel, meaning all the restaurant meals you eat and hotel stays you pay for during your trip will pad your Ultimate Rewards balance. That’s an especially good thing because the card allows you to convert your points directly into several hotel and frequent flier programs (which you might utilize for your next trip).

Barclaycard Arrival Plus ($89 annual fee): This card charges no foreign transaction fees and has an EMV chip. As an added benefit, the chip has PIN capabilities, which allows you to complete transactions at unmanned terminals that require a PIN (at subway stations and gas stations, for example). All your purchases on this card get you 2 miles per dollar, which you can redeem against travel expenses. So, once you get home, you can erase hotel stays, tours and even cab rides from your bill. There’s also a no-annual-fee version of this card, which earns 2 miles per dollar on travel and dining purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else.

American Express Platinum ($450 annual fee): This card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner) is pricey, but it makes quite the travel companion. In addition to the requisite EMV chip, no foreign transaction fees and travel insurance benefits offered by so many travel cards, it has some premium benefits that make travel much more comfortable: Reimbursement for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry; a $200 airline fee credit every year (which you can use for food and drinks in the air); access to a variety of lounges (Delta Sky Club, Airspace Lounges, Centurion Lounges and Priority Pass lounges); and enrollment in American Express’s Fine Hotels & Resorts program (which gets you late checkout, gifts and other privileges at certain properties).


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Editorial Disclosure: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

5 credit tips for expats

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As global as our economy has become, credit customs differ across the world. So if you’re an American considering a long stint abroad, you’re moving back to the states after years overseas, or you’re planning on moving to the United States for the first time, read on for how to ease the credit culture shock.

1. Lenders don’t care if you’re a big deal overseas

Newcomers and repatriating Americans, take note: Credit established in another country will not follow you into the U.S. foreign currency from various countries

“If you want to come into the U.S. and buy a house, even if you have $1 million in the bank, you’ve paid your taxes, and you have a perfect credit rating in Switzerland, the U.S. treats you worse than they would if you were a teenager,” says Jonathan Lachowitz, founder of White Lighthouse Investment Management, a financial planning company specializing in clients living abroad.

Those entering the U.S. (or re-entering after many years overseas) may therefore find themselves barred from cards and loans – or offered less-than-ideal terms, says Lauren Stockard, expat services specialist from The Credit Concierge, which works with lenders and credit unions to help expats get a credit foothold in the U.S. The sting of rejection aside, the concept of being rewarded (via a better credit score) for carrying debt can be a foreign concept, especially for those who come from cash-based societies where debt is frowned on.

“People are coming in, and they’re thinking, ‘I’ve got $200,000 in my bank account, that should count for something,’” she says. “And the U.S., when it pertains to credit, unfortunately it doesn’t.”

2. You may have to start from the bottom

New arrivals aren’t the only ones with a blank credit slate. Americans returning from years overseas may find their credit has atrophied while they were away. For one thing, closed accounts eventually fall off your credit reports. For another, your credit score can wilt without a continuous and current payment history.

So how can you build – or rebuild – your credit? Here are a few routes to take:

  • Use your company’s connections: If you moved to the U.S. for work, see if your company offers credit help for new arrivals. Some large companies do, Stockard says, and some have relationships with credit unions that will be more willing to work with expats.
  • Consider a secured card: These cards require you to put down a deposit with the bank to secure a credit line, making them easier to obtain than regular unsecured credit cards if you have money but no credit. This may not be an attractive option to those with a wallet full of premium cards from overseas banks. In fact, Lachowitz says his wife “felt rather second-class” when she went this route. But it’s a reliable place to start (Stockard recommends asking to be upgraded to an unsecured card after six months of good history). In fact, Lachowitz is surprised that secured cards are often marketed at those with poor credit, but rarely at expats.

    “We have hundreds of thousands of foreign students and executives coming in from overseas every year,” he says. “We have a lot of wealthy people coming in who you’d think these banks would find attractive as customers.”

  • Get a store card: Retailers can often be more lenient with approvals – and don’t worry if the credit limit you’re offered isn’t impressive.

    “You could go to Best Buy and get a $500-limit credit card,” Stockard says. “That’s better than not having any credit, and that card will start reporting to the credit bureaus right away.”

  • Check out options from your brokerage account: Some brokerage firms will issue a credit card with your account, Lachowitz says. And those accounts often come with perks for globetrotters, he says, including debit cards that reimburse you for ATM withdrawal fees.
  • Look into student cards: If you’re in the U.S. to attend university, you have a shot at a student credit card. Several major issuers have student versions of their cards designed for those with a thin credit history.

3. Leaving the U.S.? Don’t cut your credit ties

Americans moving overseas for several years have a unique opportunity that new arrivals don’t – they can keep their U.S. credit history intact until they’re ready to re-enter. That means keeping at least some U.S. cards open.

“If you ever want to return to the U.S., if you let your credit essentially lapse by cancelling all your credit cards, re-establishing credit history takes time,” Lachowitz says. “So I almost always advise people moving overseas to do the best they can to keep at least two credit cards open.”

Keeping multiple cards alive (from different institutions) is vital, Lachowitz points out, because some banks may close your account if they learn you’re living overseas.

“Even big institutions can change from one day to the next, where it’s OK and then all of a sudden, they find out you’re living in France and close your account,” Lachowitz says.

Banks may also close cards due to inactivity, so make sure you use your cards occasionally.

“I would say, at a minimum, use a card four times a year, just to keep it open,” Stockard says.

Having open U.S. credit cards has other advantages, Lachowitz notes. You may need a U.S. card to buy goods from a U.S.-based online retailer, for example. And iTunes won’t allow you to use a foreign credit card with a U.S. iTunes account.

That said, keeping U.S. credit ties intact can raise tax issues. Some states will charge you income taxes, after you return, for all the years you were away – so having a card tied to a bank in that state could be problematic, Lachowitz warns.

4. Watch out for ID and data thieves

Credit monitoring services will flag new accounts opened under your Social Security number. You can also check for new accounts by pulling your credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. The other half of protecting yourself comes from watching for strange charges on your current cards – which could indicate your account information has been stolen.

“You absolutely want to check your transactions online,” Lachowitz says. “These days, it’s so easy to do that. One of the fastest ways to stop a card problem is to see a pending charge and question it.”

Banks are also concerned about data theft, so if the card is tied to a U.S. address, your bank may actually reject charges in another country – which can be an annoyance if the charge is legitimate.

“If you know you’ll be in a certain country, let your card company know, “Lachowitz says. “Or be prepared to call them when your card is refused, so you can say, ‘Yes it’s really me. I’m buying a meal in Paris.’”

5. Be prepared for credit cultural differences

Americans using their U.S.-issued cards in other countries should prepare for some hiccups. For one thing, there’s the EMV issue. Chip technology is standard in many other countries, and if your card doesn’t yet have an EMV chip, you might encounter confusion or push-back from merchants overseas.

It may also be more expensive to use your credit card abroad.

“In the states, we’re very used to merchants not being able to charge you more for using a credit card,” Lachowitz says.

In other countries, however, expect to see signs at some businesses and attractions listing various surcharges for using American Express, MasterCard, etc.

Finally, if you decide to get a card from a local bank in your new country of residence, anticipate different policies. For example, the lengthy grace period Americans enjoy when paying their credit card bills may not exist (or may be much shorter) on cards issued from foreign banks.


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Editorial Disclosure: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

No-annual-fee cards that still pack value

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Cards with annual fees can often end up paying for themselves, considering the lavish perks and accelerated rewards they offer.

But that doesn’t mean no-annual-fee cards can’t hold their own. In fact, you can get the following benefits without paying a yearly fee.

Up to 5 percent back

Discover it: Like the Freedom, this card gives you 5 percent back on up to $1,500 each quarter in rotating categories (1 percent on everything else). Especially lucrative is the Q4 “holiday shopping” category, which encompasses online retailers and department stores.

Discover also recently launched its Discover Deals program (which is tied to all its cash-back cards). It’s a streamlined rewards portal that can get you savings on the spot or extra cash back. Unlike the traditional credit card shopping portals that get you a kickback only when you shop online, Discover Deals lets you do so in-store as well. Just use the app to find the best deals.

US bank cash+U.S. Bank Cash+: This card comes with a warning – it’s been diluting its benefits over the past year or so, by eliminating restaurants as a 5 percent category and by reducing its redemption bonus. Even so, this card has the unique benefit of letting you pick your 5 percent cash-back categories and a 2 percent category, too.

You’ll earn 5 percent on the first $2,000 you spend, combined, in your selected categories each quarter. Your earnings in your selected 2 percent category are unlimited, and you also get an unlimited 1 percent back on everything else. The 5 percent categories include some unique options, including sporting goods, bookstores, charity and electronics stores. Because you can choose your categories each quarter, this card can be a good way to make extra cash back on large, planned purchases.

Airline and hotel transfer partners

The EveryDay card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner): The ability to transfer your points into travel programs (for airlines and hotels) is usually the territory of annual-fee cards. The American Express’s EveryDay card is the exception, since it gets you into the American Express Membership Rewards program. Before this card came along in 2014, you had to pay a cover charge via an annual fee on one of AmEx’s charge cards.

Another thing that makes this card special is its rewards scheme. If you hit 20 purchases in a billing period, you get a 20 percent bonus on all points earned during that billing period.

A little extra on all purchases

Capital One QuicksilverCapital One Quicksilver: If 5 percent back on certain purchases just isn’t worth tracking quarterly bonus categories, you can get a flat 1.5 percent back on everything with this card. Your points are worth 1 cent each when you cash them in, and there are is no redemption minimum. As with all of Capital One’s cards, the Quicksilver charges no foreign transaction fees.

BankAmericard Travel Rewards: Aimed at travelers, this card gives you 1.5 points on every dollar spent, which amounts to 1.5 percent back, as your points are worth 1 cent each when you cash them in. With this card, you can redeem toward the full or partial cost of any travel expense (from flights to baggage fees) as long as you pay for them with your card.

The card also has an EMV chip, making it a good traveling companion if you’re visiting a country where EMV is the norm. This perk is quickly becoming ubiquitous on U.S.–issued cards, but no-annual-fee cards are a bit behind premium cards in this regard. So if you’re in a hurry for a chip card but don’t want to pay for it, consider this one.

Redemption bonus

Barclaycard Arrival no AFBarclaycard Arrival: Getting some of your miles back each time you redeem can ease the pain of parting with them. This card (the no-annual-fee version of the Barclaycard Arrival Plus) gives you 10 percent of your miles back each time you redeem. That little kickback is important, considering that, by opting for the no-annual-fee version, you’re sacrificing the ability to earn 2 miles per dollar on all purchases.

BankAmericard Cash Rewards: You get a 10 percent bonus each time you redeem into a Bank of America account (checking or savings). That bonus can increase to 25 percent or more if you have high balances in your accounts, but the baseline 10 percent is still respectable – and lucrative, considering the card lets you earn 2 percent back on groceries and 3 percent back on gas.

The bottom line

Even though you’re avoiding a yearly cost, weigh your no-annual-fee card options carefully. If the rewards are lackluster, the benefits slim, and the redemption structure complicated, you may be saving money only to waste time.


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Editorial Disclosure: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Barclaycard releases Aviator cards ahead of airline merger

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US Airways and American Airlines have been glacially merging for more than a year now. The resulting giant carrier will be called American, and US Airways will be but a memory.

The two airlines’ reward programs will merge officially on March 28. So what does that mean for those holding a US Airways Premier World MasterCard? Barclaycard (which issues the US Airways card) recently announced what cardholders can expect in Q2 of 2015.Barclaycard Aviator red

What’s happening

Barclaycard will be switching US Airways MasterCard cardholders over to a new “Aviator” line of cards, which will earn American Airlines AAdvantage miles:

  • Aviator MasterCard ($0 annual fee)
  • Aviator Blue MasterCard ($49 annual fee)
  • Aviator Red MasterCard ($89 annual fee)
  • Aviator Silver World Elite MasterCard ($195 annual fee)

(See the table below for more details).

You can’t apply for these cards directly. Instead, they are replacement products for current US Airways MasterCard cardholders. So, if you want one, you’ll need to apply for a US Airways MasterCard while it’s still available (before the end of March, according to the Barclaycard spokesperson we reached out to).

If you already have a US Airways co-branded card, expect an Aviator card to arrive in an envelope sometime between April 1, 2015 and June 30, 2015. Until then, you can still use your US Airways card to earn miles in the Dividend Miles program. When the shift happens, all your Dividend miles will automatically become AAdvantage miles.

So which of the four new Aviator cards will you get in the mail? Cardmembers have already been notified which card they’re going to receive, according to the Barclaycard spokesperson. Their replacement will be determined by which US Airways product they currently have. Those with the $89 US Airways Premier World MasterCard can probably expect the Red. Other versions of the card exist, including those with lower and no annual fees, and those cardholders will be matched with the Aviator and Blue versions.

While some cardholders (such as The Points Guy) have already been offered the chance to get the Aviator Silver, invitations aren’t being sent out at this time, Barclaycard’s spokesperson says. However, all cardholders (after receiving their new card) can call customer service to ask about switching to any of the other Aviator cards — and even ask if they’re eligible for a Silver upgrade, regardless of whether they’ve received an invitation.

A closer look at the Aviator cards

Use this table to compare the original US Airways Premier card with the four new Aviator cards.

Compare US Airways MasterCard with Aviator cards
US Airways Premier World MasterCard (current card)Aviator SilverAviator RedAviator BlueAviator
Annual fee$89$195$89$49$0
Rewards2 miles/$1 with US Airways and American Airlines

1 mile/$1 on other purchases
3 miles/$1 with US Airways and American Airlines

2 miles/$1 on hotels and car rentals

1 mile/$1 on other purchases
2 miles/$1 with US Airways and American Airlines

1 mile/$1 on other purchases
2 miles/$1 with US Airways and American Airlines

1 mile/$1 on other purchases
1 mile/$1 with US Airways and American Airlines

1 mile/$2 on other purchases
Elite-Qualifying Miles (EQMs)--5,000 EQMs for each $20k spent per year (up to 10k EQMs/year)------
Free checked bagsFirst bag free for you and up to 4 companionsFirst bag free for you and up to 8 companionsFirst bag free for you and up to 4 companions----
Priority boardingZone 2 on US Airways-operated flightsZone 2 on US Airways domestic flights

Group 1 on American Airlines domestic flights
Zone 2 for US Airways domestic flights

Group 1 on American Airlines domestic flights
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Companion ticketAnnual certificate for up to 2 guests at $99 eachAnnual certificate for up to 2 guests at $99 for each year you spend $30,000------
Redemption bonus--10 percent of redeemed miles back10 percent of redeemed miles back----
Foreign transaction fees waived?YesYesYesYesNo
Annual bonus----$100 flight discount after spending $30,000 in a year----
Global entry--Reimbursement for $100 application fee------

Are the new cards an upgrade – or a downgrade?

The Aviator Red card (to which many current US Airways Premier cardholders will likely be converted) mirrors a lot of the perks current Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select cardholders get. But it axes one of the most unique benefits the US Airways card had: the companion pass. Instead, cardholders get a 10 percent refund of all redeemed miles and a chance at a $100 flight discount (if they spend $30,000 a year, anyway). Solo travelers who are also big spenders and frequent redeemers might find that a fair trade, but the loss of two $99 companion tickets on a card with a reasonable ($89) annual fee will be hard for current US Airways cardholders to swallow.

The companion benefit lives on in the Aviator Silver (although you have to spend at least $30,000 a year to get it). And this card comes with lots of perks that might make the heftier annual fee worthwhile. Frequent fliers will enjoy getting 3 miles per dollar on airline purchases. Plus, getting 2 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars makes the card an all-around strong rewards generator for travel expenses. In fact, there’s currently no other co-branded airline card on the market that offers 3 miles per dollar for affiliated-airline purchases AND 2 miles per dollar for hotel and rental car purchases. EQMs, reimbursement for Global Entry and the 10 percent redemption bonus sweeten the deal, making this a card to covet for those who are loyal to American.

The bottom line: Those who get the Aviator Red card may mourn the loss of the companion pass, while those who can get the Silver may welcome the new Aviator line.

Strategy suggestions

The US Airways/American merger presents a unique opportunity for stockpiling rewards, if you time things right and your credit can handle a couple extra inquiries:

  1. If you don’t have it already, apply for the US Airways Premier World MasterCard while you still can. Collect the sign-up bonus (50,000 miles as of March 2015) after paying the annual fee and making a purchase. Those miles will become AAdvantage miles after the switch, and the card will transform into an Aviator card when the time comes.
  2. Apply for one of Citi’s AAdvantage cards. For example, the AAdvantage Platinum Select card offers 50,000 miles after you make $3,000 in the first three months.

Completing both steps gives you 100,000 AAdvantage miles when the programs fully merge. If you don’t want to pay two annual fees, choose the card that benefits you the least and cancel it before the first year is up.

Alternatively, if the merger has you questioning the value of airline loyalty, you might consider a flexible travel card as a replacement. For a comparable annual fee ($95), the Chase Sapphire Preferred allows you to earn extra rewards on most travel spending and lets you transfer your rewards to multiple airline partners.

If you were considering an upgrade to the Aviator Silver, check out the Premier Rewards Gold card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner). It’s not quite the same as the Aviator Silver, but you get 3 points per dollar on airfares purchased directly from airlines (not just American), bonus points on everyday purchases like gas and groceries, and some premium benefits like roadside assistance. Plus, starting June, you’ll get a $100 airline fee credit, which you can use for baggage fees. You also get access to the Membership Rewards program, which comes with its own set of airline transfer partners.

Updated March 24, 2015


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