Photo (cc) by Armchair Aviator
For many credit card users, the lure of a free flight is the most irresistible perk there is – more than points or cash back or free gas. And luckily, those flights are easy to land. Just use your credit card as you normally do, always pay your balance in full, and these miles come without any cost.
Many people live in a city dominated by one airline. So they try to use a credit card affiliated with the carrier they fly most often. This strategy can make sense for people with modest travel and spending habits, but I prefer to keep a diversified portfolio of miles, in the programs from many different carriers. That way, any time I need to redeem a particular award, I have the mileage I’m looking for. A perfect compromise is to pick a card that offers flexible points that can be transferred to miles.
Here are the best for both strategies…
1. Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express. No other credit card offers such flexible travel rewards. Yes, it’s technically a hotel card, but the points you earn can be most valuable when transferred to miles – on more than 30 different airlines. Redeem 20,000 points for miles, and you’ll get a 5,000-point bonus. That means you can earn a free domestic round trip faster with this card than you would with a card issued by the airline itself. There’s a $65 annual fee, but if you travel a lot, it’s well worth it.
2. American Express Premier Reward Gold Card. Like the Starwood card, this American Express product earns points that can be easily transferred to miles with several different airlines. But instead of Starwood points, customers will earn points in American Express’ proprietary Membership Rewards program. Although this card costs $175 a year – the annual fee is waived the first year – you can earn triple points on airfare and double points on gas and groceries.
3. Chase Sapphire Preferred. Chase is the scrappy upstart, trying to challenge American Express when it comes to mileage rewards. To get its point across, this card is made of a metal and plastic sandwich that weighs more than any other card and always draws comments from those you hand it to. This hefty card earns Chase’s Ultimate Rewards points, which can be transferred to miles with United Airlines and others. Double points are earned for all travel and restaurant charges, and members receive a 7 percent annual bonus on all of the points earned each year. There’s a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year.
4. Delta Platinum SkyMiles Card from American Express. You can earn 20,000 elite qualifying miles to reach the next level of status in Delta’s Medallion program. In addition to miles, Delta’s Platinum SkyMiles card offers priority check-in as well as free checked bags. There’s a $150 annual fee that’s waived the first year, but you also get a free domestic companion certificate when you renew your card – which is worth far more than the annual fee.
5. Southwest Rapid Rewards Card from Chase. This is the airline rewards card for those who hate trying to redeem frequent flier miles. Cardholders earn Rapid Rewards points that are worth 1.6 cents toward any of their popular “Wanna Get Away” fares. You also earn bonus points that can put you within reach of one of the most valuable status awards in the industry: their Companion Pass. Holders of the Companion Pass get a free ticket for a designated person each time they purchase a seat – and even when redeeming an award.