The First Card
First, get a Chase Sapphire card. EITHER the Sapphire Preferred card or the Sapphire Reserve card.
The Sapphire Preferred is the longstanding Ultimate Rewards card. With it, you get 2x points on dining and travel.
Chase uses a generous definition of “travel” - it includes rental cars, air fare, airline taxes, baggage fees, parking, parking meters, hotels or motels (including airbnb), tolls, trains, Uber, taxis, limos, ferries, etc.
“Dining” is anything from a 5-star restaurant, all the way down to the Taco Bell dollar menu.
You also get primary car rental insurance through the Sapphire Preferred when you use it to book a rental car.
The Sapphire Preferred card has an annual fee of $95. It also has a sign-up bonus of (currently) 50,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 on it within the first three months.
For this and every credit card that offers a sign-up bonus, KEEP TRACK OF WHAT YOU SPEND AND MAKE SURE YOU HIT THIS LIMIT! These huge point bonuses are how I racked up 3/4 million miles in one year.
If you don’t typically spend an average of $1,334 a month on credit cards, there are other ways. You can buy yourself gift cards to use in the future - Amazon, grocery stores, gas stations, etc. You can use a site like plastiq.com to pay any bill (including
rent, mortgage, utilities - any bill that usually requires a check). There’s a processing fee for sites like plastiq, but the return of a sign-up bonus outweighs a 2% or even 3% processing fee.So that’s the Sapphire Preferred Card.
On to the ultra-premium Sapphire Reserve. I’m going to capitalize RESERVE, so you visually know I’m talking the big-baller card.
The Sapphire RESERVE credit card has an annual fee of $450. Before you dismiss it immediately as too expensive, this is the card I would have gotten if I had it to do over again. In a heartbeat.
What on earth could justify a $450 annual fee.Let’s start here - a $300 annual travel credit. Remember those travel categories I described above? Up to $300, Chase will just reimburse you those expenses every year with automatic account credits. So if you think you spend AT LEAST $300 on travel-related expenses every year, and you throw it on the Sapphire RESERVE, that annual fee is actually only $150.
Offer to pick up the hotel bill if your travel companion pays for the meals. Rent out your apartment for a week and stay in an equivalent-priced airbnb for $300. Or just buy freaking gift certificates from an airlines or hotels or AirBnB and give them as gifts to the travel lovers on your Christmas list. You’re giving those gifts out anyway … Get your $300 back!
So what do you get for that (effectively) $150 fee? Well, you get 3x points for dining and travel. You get the primary car insurance, AND you get complementary access to Priority Pass-branded airport lounges. You get a $100 credit for US Global Entry, which you should totally take advantage of to fast-track your re-entry to the US and breeze past Customs and Immigration. Plus, the Sapphire RESERVE is a Visa Infinite card, a classification that previously existed mostly in foreign markets that includes a bunch of hotel perks. I probably wouldn’t use this much, but you never know …
As for the sign-up bonus, for spending $4,000 in the first three months you get 100,000 bonus points. How about them apples.
If you decide down the road that you’re not getting your moneys’ worth out of a Sapphire RESERVE card, you can always downgrade it to a Sapphire Preferred card.
Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed in a number of ways, but the most lucrative way is to transfer them to one of Chase’s frequent flier transfer partiers, which you can do instantaneously, in denominations of 1000, on a 1:1 basis. I consider their most useful transfer partners to be United, Southwest, and British Airways, but the other airline partners may have their advantages as well.
If you have the Chase Sapphire RESERVE, however, you get an added perk - you can use Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase Travel Booking web site at a rate of 1.5 cents per point. Usually it’s only 1 cent per point. 1.5 cents isn’t a bad valuation for a frequent flier mile, and if award flight availability is limited, it could represent the best deal on a flight you really need need. Huge increase in flexibility. Plus, booking this way allows you to use miles on the flight, AND EARN MILES FOR THE FLIGHT. Booking typical award flights with miles does not earn you more miles.
THE MILES AND POINTS HOBBY
BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO BOOKING AIR TRAVEL LIKE A BANDIT