Long-Term Advice: Travel Cards

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Vattené
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Long-Term Advice: Travel Cards

Postby Vattené » Sat Mar 22, 2014 2:18 pm

I got my first major credit card over a month ago with my priority being cash back. I'm in no hurry to get anything else (though don't think I've gone gardening or anything like that ;) ); however, I am starting to think about whether getting a travel card will be worth it in the long run.

My wife and I didn't take a honeymoon (neither of us could get off from work and we couldn't afford it anyway after paying for our wedding on our own), but since the wedding we've been putting aside some money each month to take a delayed one. We're planning on going to London over our third anniversary. Beyond this big trip, there are no major traveling plans (we may take some trips after we are more financially stable, but I doubt it would even be once per year).

Can I get some advice on whether I should even consider a card with travel benefits? It would basically just be to build up rewards for this one trip.

I understand points on travel cards are typically worth more than points on cash back cards, but I am thinking it won't be worth it. Most I've looked into have an annual fee, and I doubt it would be offset by any marginal increase in benefits I get over a cash back card. The Blue Sky from Amex looks the most appealing to me at the moment: there is no annual fee and the rewards appear straightforward.

I haven’t done extensive research into this because I’m not quite sure how to tackle it. There are just so many products with convoluted rewards programs that make it difficult to compare to each other. I’m just hoping to gather info, opinions, and advice to help me decide whether I should pursue this more seriously.

Thanks to anyone that wants to give some input!
-Vattené
FICO-8: EX - 827 (5/17) | TU - 824 (5/17)
My Cards: Barclay Arrival+ | Discover it | Amex ED
AU:: Discover Miles | BofA BBR | Barclay Commence (SD'd)


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djrez4
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Postby djrez4 » Sat Mar 22, 2014 3:42 pm

First question in every "what card should I get" thread should be: how much do you spend per month and on what?
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linuxmachine
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Postby linuxmachine » Sat Mar 22, 2014 9:38 pm

Depends on your spend, but if you don't want to figure out how to transfer to airlines or hotels to use your points, the Barclaycard is a good option. Get the fee version for the 440 bonus and downgrade when fee is due.

Also, depending on what kind of hotel accommodations you'd like, a cobranded hotel card can come in useful. The signup bonuses that give points can get you at least several free nights if you stay at lower tier. Or if you want luxury, Hilton and Hyatt have cards with 2 night promos and 1 night annual bonus

Of course, depending on your spend, you may be able to optimize with other cards

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Postby Vattené » Sun Mar 23, 2014 12:06 am

Thanks, djrez4 and linuxmachine.

Of course I should have mentioned this in my OP. We don't spend too much and will try to keep it that way, though realistically it may change once my wife graduates and we both get jobs in our fields. In my estimates for my initial card shopping, we didn't spend enough to justify getting a card with an annual fee. Our biggest category would probably be restaurants ($200 per month at the high end) followed by groceries (but at Walmart, not a supermarket). We live in a rural area, so gas isn't a large category but that may still change depending on where we end up getting jobs. We have applications in around our home town area and in the best-case scenario at least one of us will be doing a lot of driving. I will likely also put our phone and cable/internet bill on it.

I'm not opposed to transferring points to airlines or hotels but I'm just not familiar with the process, which looks complicated. My biggest worry is not being able to use what I want at the specific time I want to use it. I would also be open to a cobranded hotel card. My previous job required some travel and I have the Hilton HHonors rewards card (I only have about 70,000 points which might get me 1 free night, but I already have the jump start so I might as well cash in some time). We wouldn't opt for the most luxurious hotel (more money to spend on the actual vacation), also.

I do like the Hilton HHonors card from Amex as well, again for the no annual fee. The rewards are better across the board than what the Visa Hilton card Citi offers (5 Hilton points for restaurant/supermarket/gas; 3 elsewhere vs. 3 for supermarket/drugstore/gas; 2 elsewhere - both have no annual fee & a 40,000 point introductory bonus). I think the biggest drawback is the rewards would be limited to the hotel we use, and this is far enough in advance I could build up quite a bit of rewards to use on the flight, too.
-Vattené
FICO-8: EX - 827 (5/17) | TU - 824 (5/17)
My Cards: Barclay Arrival+ | Discover it | Amex ED
AU:: Discover Miles | BofA BBR | Barclay Commence (SD'd)

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Postby samhradh » Sun Mar 23, 2014 7:14 am

Since deciding which card to get is a highly personal choice the only advice I can offer is to make sure you have a Visa or MC with no ForEx fees.

I would first decide if I want to offset the cost of the flight or the hotel and then go from there. Would you be willing to do MS? If you're just talking everyday expenses and your expenses are low than the AF travel cards are hard to justify. I'll be cancelling my Arrival once the AF is due.
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Postby linuxmachine » Sun Mar 23, 2014 9:48 am

Perhaps it's time to do a dry run of your vacation plans. See where you'd like to go and what kind of accommodations there are. I find that if you fly economy during off peak and you keep your flight times flexible, points aren't worth using in general.

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Postby Vattené » Sun Mar 23, 2014 11:48 am

@samhradh - Do you suggest Visa or MC just because they are more widely accepted? Also, forgive me, but can you explain what MS is?

@linuxmachine - I've tried to get a general idea, but it would be good to get more detailed estimates. The trickiest thing is you can't seem to get prices for anything beyond about a year out, so hopefully they wouldn't go up too much. Thanks for the flight tip, too. I would probably rather fly economy, though my wife has never flown before so maybe I shouldn't subject her to that for such a long flight. Hell, I've never even been out of the country so I don't even know what 8 hours in economy would be like.

I think I would rather offset the flight, just because it is such a large expense. However, if the points are not as valuable for the cheap flights, maybe I should commit to staying at a Hilton property and go for a card that will build up points there.
-Vattené
FICO-8: EX - 827 (5/17) | TU - 824 (5/17)
My Cards: Barclay Arrival+ | Discover it | Amex ED
AU:: Discover Miles | BofA BBR | Barclay Commence (SD'd)

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Postby linuxmachine » Sun Mar 23, 2014 5:22 pm

For hotels, you could consider getting an IHG or Choice privileges card.

IHG (known for its holiday inns) runs an 80K points promo which is good for up to 8 free nights at the lower tier, and you get 1 free night on each anniversary. First year is free but annual is 49/year, which easily offset by the free night. It has no foreign transaction fees. it has 2x categories on gas/groceries/dining, although there are other cards that do much better in gas/groceries (like sallie mae or BCE). This card also gives you elite status for other perks. The also do bi-monthly promos called point breaks, which allows you to redeem nights for selected hotels in the IHG portfolio for 5k points/night, but you must redeem within two months of announcement. no good for people who want to book many months in advance, but they are awesome deals.

Choice is a barclaycard with a 32k point promo good for 4 nights at lower tier. no annual fee, but there is a foreign transaction fee if using this card overseas. I dont stay at the comfort suites / clarions often, so can't really say much more. I just know they have a decent presence in europe.

As for flights, I think some research can help you out. not all economy seats are the same. some seats in certain airlines are business class level in terms of comfort/space on other airlines. I've never flown virgin atlantic, but virgin america has some great seats for coach. if their quality extends to atlantic, that might be worth looking into.

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Postby JoDa » Sun Mar 23, 2014 6:49 pm

Given what you've said about your spend and lifestyle, I'd say cash spends everywhere and just get the max cash back you can muster.

One totally free vacation using miles (not points) and catching everything at super-discount prices cost me a little over 100K miles. Because I fly on the regular, spend a lot in restaurants, and spend some on other rewarded categories (hotels, "travel" such as taxi services, etc.), and have been booking my own travel for long enough to know how to get deals, travel rewards make sense for me and people like me (for example, I achieved base FF status on *personal travel alone* last year). Even then, the equivalent is 3-4% back on a good day (double points plus 1.5 cents/mile (point)+ on redemption).

It works for me, but if you can do better with cash back (remember that if you don't spend much on rewarded categories, you're going to be closer to 2.5% back or maybe even less if you don't work the deals), then you have MONEY to spend on those tickets, hotels, meals, and whatever else your heart desires.
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Vattené
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Postby Vattené » Mon Mar 24, 2014 12:52 am

linuxmachine wrote:For hotels, you could consider getting an IHG or Choice privileges card.

IHG (known for its holiday inns) runs an 80K points promo which is good for up to 8 free nights at the lower tier, and you get 1 free night on each anniversary. First year is free but annual is 49/year, which easily offset by the free night. It has no foreign transaction fees. it has 2x categories on gas/groceries/dining, although there are other cards that do much better in gas/groceries (like sallie mae or BCE). This card also gives you elite status for other perks. The also do bi-monthly promos called point breaks, which allows you to redeem nights for selected hotels in the IHG portfolio for 5k points/night, but you must redeem within two months of announcement. no good for people who want to book many months in advance, but they are awesome deals.

Choice is a barclaycard with a 32k point promo good for 4 nights at lower tier. no annual fee, but there is a foreign transaction fee if using this card overseas. I dont stay at the comfort suites / clarions often, so can't really say much more. I just know they have a decent presence in europe.

As for flights, I think some research can help you out. not all economy seats are the same. some seats in certain airlines are business class level in terms of comfort/space on other airlines. I've never flown virgin atlantic, but virgin america has some great seats for coach. if their quality extends to atlantic, that might be worth looking into.


I'm pretty sure I've only ever flown Southwest (which I love for flying somewhere within the county, but something comparable across an ocean might be a different story). So thanks for that, I'll definitely have to look into it. I'll also definitely look into the Choice and IHG cards!

JoDa wrote:Given what you've said about your spend and lifestyle, I'd say cash spends everywhere and just get the max cash back you can muster.

One totally free vacation using miles (not points) and catching everything at super-discount prices cost me a little over 100K miles. Because I fly on the regular, spend a lot in restaurants, and spend some on other rewarded categories (hotels, "travel" such as taxi services, etc.), and have been booking my own travel for long enough to know how to get deals, travel rewards make sense for me and people like me (for example, I achieved base FF status on *personal travel alone* last year). Even then, the equivalent is 3-4% back on a good day (double points plus 1.5 cents/mile (point)+ on redemption).

It works for me, but if you can do better with cash back (remember that if you don't spend much on rewarded categories, you're going to be closer to 2.5% back or maybe even less if you don't work the deals), then you have MONEY to spend on those tickets, hotels, meals, and whatever else your heart desires.


That was kind of my suspicion before I started this: that for my needs, getting a travel card wouldn't be all too beneficial. If I don't get one, we may well use our cash back towards this trip, if nothing else then just in statement credits to offset the spending.
-Vattené
FICO-8: EX - 827 (5/17) | TU - 824 (5/17)
My Cards: Barclay Arrival+ | Discover it | Amex ED
AU:: Discover Miles | BofA BBR | Barclay Commence (SD'd)



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