Nerd alert – today’s post is all about credit cards. I can’t claim to be an expert on all of them like some other bloggers out there whose sole craft is dedicated to credit card travel, but I do know pretty much all there is to know about Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve cards.
So how do you get a travel card anyway?
You don’t need 15 years of credit to apply for these cards. What you do need is a healthy credit history (a score of 725+ would be my guess). To build that, start off with a simpler credit card by whoever it is you bank with (in my case it’s Chase, so the Freedom card). After a year or two of paying all your bills on time, you will hopefully be ready to upgrade to a travel card. Don’t treat your credit card any differently than you do a debit card. That’s been my only rule so far and it’s served me well. Sure, it’s tempting when you’re 22 and they hand you a piece of plastic and say, “Ok, your credit limit is $25,000.” Cool, I don’t even have $25,000 to my name yet. Ignore stuff like that – it only helps get people into debt, spending money they don’t actually have. APR? That shouldn’t matter in the slightest. Just pay your bill every month on time, and don’t even worry about what that acronym means.
Without getting into too many boring details, though, the reason why these credit cards are absolutely amazing for travelers is the sheer amount of points you get back on every purchase. Basically, the Sapphire Preferred gives you 2 points to the dollar on anything travel related and the Reserve gives you 3. You may be thinking, why not just get the Reserve if it gives you more points? I have that one now and I absolutely love it, but the catch is there’s a higher annual fee for keeping the card.
Let’s break down the details…
-“Travel Related” purchases vary from card to card and bank to bank. For Chase, it even includes things like Uber rides, taxis and my MetroCard. And, obviously, anything abroad.
-In addition to travel, there’s 3x extra points on eating out at any restaurant. This is simply amazing. Only thing is, Seamless doesn’t count.
-There are no foreign transaction fees. AKA – you can buy anything while you’re traveling for the market value exchange rate. If you use a typical credit card that doesn’t have this feature, you’d probably pay an extra 2 or 3% on every purchase, just so the bank can convert your USD into local currency.
-The cards come with a Chase Ultimate Rewards travel website, sort of like an Expedia search engine, that gives you a discount when you book a flight or hotel with them. Also, you can transfer your travel points from Chase’s website 1 to 1 with dozens of other airlines and hotels. This is huge because Chase partners with lots of airlines. And with a lot of other CCs, you often have blackout dates. You can’t travel over the holidays, typically, if you transfer most travel points to an airline partner. For Chase, it doesn’t matter 🙂
-There’s travel protection built into the cards. If your bags get lost, you get sick and can’t make the trip, or you run into any problems on the road, the Sapphire card reimburses you quite generously (but you have to prove it via a long claims process. Otherwise that’d be too easy…I’d be getting “sick” every chance I get!).
-The Sapphire Preferred (CSP) charges a $95 annual fee. The Reserve card (CSR) charges $450. Told you it was a big difference…
Now I know what you’re thinking – why would anyone who’s not a mega-millionaire pay $450 a year just to have a credit card? Total waste of money right? Actually, it’s so worth it. The CSR gives you a $300 travel credit – literally, they just put money back into your account once you spend $300 worth on travel expenses. Every year. Do you know how easy that is to do in a place like NYC? Uber rides add up. Or, one plane ticket to the other side of the U.S. will probably get you there. So really, that alone takes the fee down to $150.
And what about the travel part?
The CSR is also worth it for your time spent in airports. Seriously, it’s a breeze to get through JFK with the benefits of this card. The CSR comes with a reimbursement if you apply for TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry. If it sounds like I’m speaking a foreign language, it’s okay – it did to me too, at first. Pre-Check lets you skip the lines at security, keep your shoes on and your liquids in your bags, making the departure process so much smoother. It’s for domestic or international flights in the U.S. Global Entry, on the other hand, only applies to international flights when you’re returning to the US. After a long-haul flight, the last thing you want to do is wait in an hour-long line just to get your passport stamped and tell people you don’t have anything illegal in your suitcase. Global Entry lets you cut some more lines. You give them your fingerprints, smile and go home without ever having to wait for more than 10 minutes. Having access to both of these services has made my time at airports so much smoother, faster, and I feel like a 45-year-old businessman breezing through customs and security.
Actually though, the real reason I feel like a middle-aged millionaire is because of another CSR perk – lounge access. I kid you not, quick anecdote, I excitedly brought my family to a lounge in the Dominican Republic on Christmas when I first got the pass. My Step-Dad said, “I think we need a membership to get in here.” I, like a 6th-grader bragging to her elementary school friends about how cool it is to have finally have a locker, excitedly said, “Yes I know!” I loved the look on his face when I whipped out my Priority Pass lounge card. Definitely was a #baller moment. The lounge access is great for layovers – I sit there sipping on beer, eating snacks (sometimes even meals) – all without paying a dime. Some of them even have nap pods! And for the technologically addicted among us (@ our whole generation), there’s ample space to charge your phone and eat up their free, fast WiFi. You also meet some interesting characters in airport lounges.
Like most credit cards, the CSR comes with a promo for spending a lot in the first few months. It’s currently 50,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months. I know that sounds daunting, but I just put everything I ever bought onto the card (legit even a $2 bottle of water) to make it. You can also get someone you trust to help you meet the spending goal (Thanks, Mom!). Or when you go out to eat with friends, be the one who puts it on your card and have everyone else Venmo you. There’s lots of little tricks that should help. Pay attention to those sign-on promos, too, because they change a lot. When I got the card it was a 100,000 point promotion. That’s literally enough to go to Australia in Business Class (aaaaand that’s what I’m saving it for)!
Once you do accrue a lot of points, a great place to spend them is the Chase portal. I mentioned it above, but when you cash out your points with Chase you can get almost double, or if you transfer them to any number of their preferred partner airlines you also cash out quite well. I once got a direct flight to Switzerland somewhat at the last minute for 60,000 points. I spent about $600 to earn those points. The math can be kind of complicated, but because the portal gives you more bang for your buck, I got a great deal. I transferred my Chase points to United Airlines, which is a partner of Swiss Air. So I got a Swiss Air flight for a priority member price, without being a priority member. Had I bought the exact same flight using a search engine or Swiss Air’s website, it would’ve cost me almost double – around $1,100.
For full transparency, I’m showing you my Chase portal above. If you do the math, 190k points would theoretically mean I spent $190,000 to get them (assuming none of the 3x points benefits). HELL NO. I have never made anywhere near that amount of money. I ain’t no investment banker. I got 100k points for spending $4k during the promo, and probably 3x the points on 80% of the things I’ve bought. Realistically, I must’ve spent $10k to earn those points. Sure, it didn’t happen overnight. But I’m telling you – it adds up, and it adds up FAST. So for spending ~$10k, I get about ~$3k of that back to spend on traveling how I see fit. Not bad, huh?
Lots of people get so into this that there are Reddit threads devoted to “churning,” and people open up dozens of credit cards just to take advantage of the high points value for spending X amount in a few months. This is one of those things that weirdos like myself can talk about for an hour because it’s like a game. Once you figure out the rules, tricks, and how to play, essentially, you can reap the benefits in lots of ways.
Have you gotten any great deals using credit card points? Comment below if so! And if you want me to recommend you for a CSP or CSR card, I can do that too…cause we both get more points 😉