Credit Card Makeover: Grace Goes to South America

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Grace is a physical therapist in Denver who loves to travel. She’s used her miles for trips to Europe and Asia, but she always seems to have to pay more miles than she expects.

“I’d like to travel to South America next,” she says. “I have a friend in Santiago, Chile. Also, I’d love to hike Machu Picchu in Peru. Perhaps see the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador.”

But can she do it with airline mileage awards instead of her own cash?

Where Grace is at…

“I currently have several cards. I like how my Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express earns airline miles and perks – like a companion ticket, free first baggage checked, and early boarding. But I don’t like the$95 annual fee and the fact that AmEx is not accepted everywhere. I have also had trouble finding Delta awards to Europe at low mileage levels.

“My Discover More Card has no annual fee, 1 percent cash back, and quarterly promotions for higher cash back percentages. But like the AmEx, it’s not widely accepted, and I can only redeem cash back awards in $20 increments.

“My Frontier MasterCard has no annual fee, earns some airline miles, and is widely accepted. But it offers very few miles for this fee-free version of the card.

“Finally, I have the First Bank Visa Credit Card. It has no annual fee and 1 percent cash back. It’s widely accepted, but I only collect a cash-back award once a year.

“I never carry a balance, and most of these cards are set up as automatic online monthly payments. So what can I do to earn more miles?”

What Grace needs to do…

Delta offers some flights to South America from its Atlanta hub, but as you’ve probably discovered on your last trip to Europe, Delta is notorious for offering very few seats at the lowest mileage levels. That’s why I love American Airlines. It always seems to have a reasonable number of awards available at their low-mileage rate. And AA flies to South America from hubs in Dallas and Miami, as well as through its partner carrier LAN.

The American Airlines AAdvantage card from Citi offers 30,000 miles after spending only $1,000 within three months. In fact, this card just added new perks such as free checked bags, priority boarding, and a 10 percent rebate on miles used for awards. Grace can get an award to Ecuador or Peru for as little as 30,000 miles off-peak, or 35,000 miles year-round.

Another way to earn award flights to South America on American and LAN is with the new British Airways card offer from Chase. Cardholders earn 50,000 points after their first purchase and up to 50,000 more points when they spend $20,000 in the first year. Since British Airways is a partner of both American and LAN, its points go very far when going south.

Finally, once she gets all the points she needs for her big trip, Grace might consider one of the top cash-back cards like the Blue Cash Preferred from American Express.

By selecting the right mix of cards to get her where she’s going, Grace can see the sights of South America sooner than she thinks.

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