“When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time.” Creighton Adams
My friend Trevor and I were recently discussing how intimidating starting out collecting miles and points can be. With that in mind I present a new series: Today’s To-Do. Each post I’ll lay out one task that will get you closer to traveling more for less.
Get a Convertible Credit Card (CCC)
1st, a definition. A CCC is a credit card that earn rewards that you can use in many ways. It’s not just cash back or earning points in a specific program. It’s NOT a card that lets you book travel only through one website or that rebates travel purchases. Those cards have value, but I don’t suggest them first. If you’re just starting out, a Convertible Credit Card lets you transfer points into a variety of programs at a competitive rate. I have three CCCs to recommend. I have all some version of all three, but since we’re keeping it simple here, pick one.
To make sure you’re getting the best signup offer at any given time, check this Flyertalk forum. If a better offer than the one you’re seeing publicly exists, you’ll find it in there.
- American Express Membership Rewards: AMEX Membership Rewards cards come in variety of types. If you’re just starting out I’d recommend the no-fee everyday version. MR allows you to redeem points on British Airways (OneWorld including American Airlines), Delta (Skyteam), Virgin America, Jetblue and other airlines, and Choice, Best Western and other hotel chains. I consider MR most valuable for airline transfers. They offer frequent transfer bonuses to help your points go farther: last year I got over 50,000 free points from the transfer bonuses alone.
- Chase Ultimate Rewards: UR points track to BA (OneWorld), United (Star Alliance), Southwest and other airlines, Hyatt and other hotel chains, and you can also use them for travel bookings with a 25% bonus. I consider Chase UR points most valuable if you travel in coach domestically OR if you love Hyatt. Chase has the added advantage of an online shopping portal to rack up rewards more quickly.
- Starwood American Express: On the face, the Starwood card is good for just that: Starwood hotels such as Sheraton or Westin. However, I like this card for 2 reasons: 1. Starwood hotel rewards (especially at the lower levels) are great value. 2. Once you collect 20,000, you can convert them to 25,000 miles on many airlines.
The CCCs are basic building blocks and I wouldn’t suggest any other cards until you have at least one, if not all three. Once you start, you can augment your credit card collection in many ways. You can add a cash back card or specialize in one specific alliance or hotel chain. You’ll have a better idea which direction to go after you figure out your own travel goals. In the meantime, the CCCs are an easy way to get started traveling more for less.
One more note: I do NOT recommend going into debt to travel. I also don’t recommend a rewards credit card of any type unless your balances are zero. Lots of cards offer low to no interest transfers and you’re better off doing that until your balances are paid off.
What do you think of my list? What else would you find helpful in the “Today’s To-Do” series? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
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