There has been a really fun and lively discussion on credit cards, hype and promotion of marginal card products recently. Drew wrote about some overhyped cards, Matt and Doctor of Credit dove into Citi’s latest cashback offering, Greg responded to some of the criticism and George did his best to call the play-by-play.
The thing is, these are all good bloggers doing their best to inform (and entertain) readers. Not credit card salesmen pretending to be travel bloggers. And each one is right, up to a point. What’s missing is an understanding of each blogger’s bias which is shaped by his or her own travel needs and preferences. So here’s the factors that make up my bias, in case you decide to read anything else I write: Manufactured spending is pretty easy for us. We travel as a family of 4, from a small airport that Southwest allows a few other airlines to operate out of. We want to go as many places as possible for as few dollars as possible. We don’t care where we sit. We do not ever under any circumstances want room service or any other hotel staff to enter our room while we’re in there. Firefighters are ok if there’s a fire. We carried our bags this far, we can make it to the elevator.
Let’s look at a bunch of rewards cards along with common complaints about them, and the reasons they might be good anyways. After a while, you’re going to need to look at lesser-talked-about ways to fund your travel savings account.
- AMEX Blue Cash complains: The 5% doesn’t kick in until you spend $6500. It’s an ugly, cheap looking card. I’m serious, I saw someone complain about the aesthetics of this card. Solution: Look in the mirror, idiot! It matches you perfectly! Unlimited 5%, you’ve got to be kidding… If MS isn’t for you, the Blue Cash Preferred would be better as long as you get a signup bonus to cover the annual fee.
- AMEX Delta card complaints: Delta miles are worthless. There are no available seats on Delta flights and surcharges on partners. Solution: Alaska is a partner, too. Use Delta miles for domestic travel on Alaska and save your more valuable AA, US and UA miles. Don’t want to go to Alaska? You should. Sure, you’ll have to position to L.A., but Virgin Australia offers the most premium cabin space to Australia and New Zealand. The other good option for business class to down under (Cathay Pacific using Alaska miles) is also likely to require positioning. Delta miles aren’t good for much as a primary program, so use them as a secondary program to stretch and save your other miles.
- AMEX Platinum card complaints: It has a huge annual fee, no category bonus, and most of the benefits are useless for families outside a few airports. Solution: Yeah, the benefits aren’t worth anything to us either. But if you can’t figure out how to get a full $400 back towards travel expenses or in cash, email me and we’ll figure something out. Then it’s 100K MR points for $50. Here’s how to make the most of those from where you live.
- AMEX Starwood card complaints: This one suffers from a small bonus, no category bonus except SPG hotels, no free night like most other hotel cards offer, foreign transaction fees, and slow transfers. Solution: This is the best card for topping off balances in basically every airline program except United and Southwest (that’s what Ink cards are for). Leave it at home when traveling overseas.
- Barclays Arrival card complaints: But I can MS on a 5% card instead and get more cashback. And it’s useless for premium cabin flights and luxury hotels. Solution: Change ‘no, but’ to ‘yes, and’. Do your 5%, get the $440 bonus, and have another cashback option to use when AMEX gift cards are worth ordering through a portal. Use the points for the taxes and fees on your premium cabin redemptions. And open your eyes to lodging options outside the same U.S.-based chains every time!
- Barclays Frontier card complaints: The annual fee isn’t waived, Frontier is an ultra-low service (cost) airline that charges fees for everything with a very limited route network. Solution: Yep, this one is very limited. So don’t apply for it unless it is the best option for travel to Alaska, Costa Rica or Western national park destinations you want to visit.
- Barclays Hawaiian card complaints: The annual fee isn’t waived, the bonus is small, and the award chart is marginal at best. Solution: Also not for everyone, but from Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Francisco and (maybe) New York, Hawaiian has the best availability to Hawaii, and seats are 17,500 miles if you have the Hawaiian card.
- Barclays Lufthansa card complaints: This one features yet another Barclays annual fee, surcharges and a spending requirement higher than most for the 50K bonus when it’s available. Solution: $5000 spend? Really? Yes, these are primarily good within North America, South America and routes served by Air New Zealand. Use them there, save United miles!
- Barclays US Airways card complaints: The annual fee isn’t waived, it has an undersized bonus, no one-way award bookings, and award booking fees are charged on all redemptions. Solution: Don’t get this card. Oh wait, those are my complaints. No bias here! Lots of people put this card to good use, check out the comments on this post.
- Citi AA Platinum card complaints: I can’t find seats to Europe without BA’s
fuelscam surcharges, and it has foreign transaction fees. Solution: Use the miles for other places like reduced price domestic awards, Asia, South America, and learn to search (or just call) for Iberia, Air Tahiti Nui and Jet Airways seats to Madrid, Paris and Brussels. Spend for the bonus and forget the card, it doesn’t need to travel.
- Citi AA Executive card complaints: Another huge annual fee. Solution: Follow the step-by-step instructions in the card’s terms and conditions to avoid the fee. Citi wrote them. Get several of these cards if you need to.
- Citi Double Cash card complaints: It has no signup bonus (Really, Citi, really?), an odd cashback earning structure and vague terms that may mean they don’t pay the second percent on charges paid before the statement posts. Citi charges cash advances on more MS purchases than other issuers. Solution: Please don’t apply for this card. That would be stupid. Instead, downgrade another Citi card that has served its purpose, preferably after getting a retention bonus on that card. Then leave it in a drawer until your wallet gets stolen, all your other cards have been shut down for fraudulent use and you have no other way to get your cashback fix for a week.
- Citi Hilton card complaints: Hilton points are worth just about nothing. Solution: If Hilton is the hotel chain that fits your family’s travel needs, get another card every 33 days or so.
- Citi ThankYou card complaints: The 5X offer is dead, and point values differ depending on which card you have. Some card accounts do not allow transfers to airline programs. Solution: Yes, the lack of consistency stinks and the main public offer for TYP cards requires you to pay a $125 fee to get the full bonus. Check for a better offer in a branch instead, and take advantage of a good offer that’s not another Chase or AMEX application. Just please don’t remind me that I missed out on the 5X TYP because I thought I needed to stick with an AOR schedule.
- Chase United card complaints: Devaluations have gutted the premium cabin partner award chart. Solution: Use United miles for domestic travel, coach travel, filling open jaws, awesome stopovers, or just double down and get enough UR points to get the United miles you need. United is still by far the best program for travel to Europe and Asia in both coach and premium cabins in terms of available seats and surcharge-free travel.
- Chase Freedom and Sapphire Preferred complaints: Hyatt and United devaluations have made UR points worth less than they used to be. There’s no reason to keep the Sapphire Preferred past the first year. Solution: Earn more points! Downgrade your Sapphire Preferred to Sapphire or Freedom and churn the Preferred every 24 months.
- Chase Ink complaints: It’s a business card, and I don’t have a business! Solution: Yes you do. Come on in, the water’s fine!
- Chase Southwest card complaints: The annual fee isn’t waived, no category bonus means UR earning cards are better for earning Southwest points. Solution: So what?! Southwest’s Companion Pass and number of available seats make them by far the best program for family travel basically everywhere they fly. Do the spending, get the companion pass, cancel 11 months later, rinse and repeat.
- Spirit Airlines card complaints: You name it. High fees, miles that expire if you blink twice, ultra low cost carrier service or lack thereof. You have to take your legs off to sit down with the way they squeeze the seats in. Your friends will think you’re broke if you fly Spirit. Solution: Hey, we should get this card! Bonnie can stow her leg in the overhead bin! Deals are awesome from some cities, better seat availability than many other airlines, earn statement credit points for the fees, and put a couple of recurring charges on the card so your miles don’t expire. Also get new friends.
- US Bank Flexperks and Club Carlson card complaints: US Bank hates us churners and won’t give us any cards. Solution: I know. US Bank sucks for us too. Good luck, and freeze your ARS and IDA reports.
Feel free to leave further thoughts on any of these or other cards in the comments, and I might update some of them. Nearly every rewards program can be useful, and you owe it to yourself to do some homework before deciding which ones are best for your circumstances. Bonus points if you know off the top of your head the singer of the song at the top of the page. Also we don’t accept AMEX so you can’t pay your fine with the Fidelity AMEX card and get 2% back. There is a $100 fine for whining about that.
Disclosure: There are no affiliate links for credit cards or anything else in any Miles4More blog post. There are a couple of them on the ‘credit cards’ page. And whatever stuff Adsense and Amazon puts on here. Please do not apply for any of the cards talked about in this or any other post anywhere if you carry a balance on a credit card.