Maximize Your Return on Credit Card Spend 2017

BestCashCow Guide To
Credit Card Travel Rewards
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Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are those of the author, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any bank advertiser, card issuer, airline or hotel.

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Why You Should Focus on Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Why You Should Focus on Travel Rewards Credit Cards

At BestCashCow, we get asked a lot why we focus our credit card section so heavily on travel rewards cards, and less so on cash-back cards (and not at all on no-interest cards, etc).

We believe that travel rewards cards are exciting and enable people to make vacation travel more accessible.  They are also aspirational, making a higher class of service or nicer hotel rooms more within reach.  In 2017 alone, I have traveled to Europe for work multiple times in first class when I might otherwise have been in coach.  I have also taken my daughter on vacations in New Mexico and Hawaii, again flying in first class and staying in the nicest Starwood and Hyatt hotels.

It is our view that there is tremendous value to be achieved by people of all generations by focusing their spend on those cards that are most valuable to them and their needs.  Within this framework, BestCashCow’s tables can guide you to the best cards for your needs without needing to spend hours trying to leaf through information that is designed for people obsessed with abusing the system that is found on some of the leading travel card blogs.

Importantly, there are three ways to win with travel rewards cards.

First is the sign-up bonus.  While BestCashCow does not encourage flipping or abusing the credit card system, sign-up bonuses are simple and easy ways to get started in an airline’s program, a hotel’s program or a bank’s transferrable point program.  BestCashcow makes it easy to find and compare the best sign-up bonuses here.

Second is the reward for ongoing spend.  Here is where travel rewards credit cards can really sing.  Anyone who has even been a member of a loyalty program knows that it is easy to redeem miles for much than one cent (we list our values of hotel points here and our value of airline points here). Where things really become interesting is that there are multiple cards that on their face reward more than one point per dollar of spend.  For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve cards, for example, give 2x or 3x, respectively, in certain travel and dining categories.   A Chase Ink Cash card gives you 5x on telecom and office supply store spend.  A Chase Ink Preferred card gives you 3x on internet ad spends.  A Chase Freedom Unlimited card gives you 1 and 1/2x spend on all else.  These cards all deliver Chase Ultimate Rewards points which – through many of these cards – can be transferred to United, Hyatt, British Airways or Singapore Airlines where they are easily worth over 2 cents a piece (we provide further detail on the strategy around Chase here).  With the best cash back card delivering only 2 cents per dollar, we think finding a strategy involving one or more travel rewards cards from our list of the best cards for spend yields more value.

Third is the benefit for having the card.  Most Delta Amex cards give you a free checked bag, as do most Chase United cards and those American Airlines cards issued by Citibank and Barclays.   Citibank and Barclays cards also give you 10% of your American Airlines miles redeemed each year (up to 10,000 miles each year).  The Chase Hyatt card gives you a free category 1-4 night each year on renewal.  The biggest benefits, of course, come from the highest end cards.  We find the Amex Platinum card compelling enough to cover its $550 annual fee with its $200 airline credit, Uber credits, lounge access at Centurion, Delta, and Priority Pass, and access to great benefits at Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts.  The Chase Sapphire Reserve card and the Citi Prestige cards, likewise, are cards with $450 annual fees with their own sets of benefits that many will find compelling.

When you consider all of the opportunities in the above, we think travel and rewards cards are your best bets.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are those of the author, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any bank advertiser, card issuer, airline or hotel.

Advertising Disclosure: This site may be compensated for hosting offers.


Marriott Merger Opens Up Opportunities for Great Starwood Redemptions in Hawaii

Marriott Merger Opens Up Opportunities for Great Starwood Redemptions in Hawaii

If you are like me and most Starwood customers, you probably did not greet the Marriott acquisition with great pleasure.   While Starwood has great properties outside the US, Marriott is a pretty uncomfortable place to stay just about everywhere.  To boot, Starwood’s SPG rewards program has been the gold standard in loyalty programs since it was set up two decades ago.   Marriott has never measured up; I once stayed at the Hamburg Marriott for months and earned almost enough points for a half-night stay at a Courtyard. 

After the acquisition of Starwood was completed, Marriott immediately stepped in and guaranteed a conversion ratio of Starwood-to-Marriott points of 1-to-3, adopting a corporate recognition that Starwood points are three times as valuable as those from Marriott.

The generous exchange ratio does not necessarily mean that you should redeem with Marriott instead of at Starwood properties.  Starwood continues to extend great 5th night free benefits.  For example, I’ve stayed in Hawaii for 5 nights at the Sheraton Kona Resort for 40,000 points. 

Marriott, however, offers 7-night hotel and air package redemptions that now make redemptions there especially appealing.  I have just returned from a 7-night trip to Maui where I stayed at the Wailea Beach Resort for 120,000 Starwood points (360,000 Marriott points).  I also received 132,000 United points, which – in spite of United’s recent devaluation – can still get two roundtrips from the mainland in coach class or one way in business class.   The Wailea Beach Resort is a category 8 Marriott and an outstanding hotel (so good that it is dropping the Marriott name).  Depending on how you value United points, you can make an argument that this is basically a redemption at under 10,000 points a night. 

This same deal can also be done at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Big Island and at the Kauai Beach Marriott in Kauai.  While those islands are both more interesting that Maui, I’d personally tend to stick with the Wailea Beach Resort for their new waterslide.

See the best cards for racking up travel rewards.

Image: Courtesy: Wailea Beach Resort

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are those of the author, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any bank advertiser, card issuer, airline or hotel.

Advertising Disclosure: This site may be compensated for hosting offers.


Timeshares Are Wholly Inappropriate Investments for Anyone

Timeshares Are Wholly Inappropriate Investments for Anyone

I was in Maui, Hawaii last week and had an opportunity to pick up a few hotel program points by attending a 90-minute timeshare presentation.  Since I could use the hotel points for my next Hawaii trip, I scheduled the presentation for the middle of the day when it was too hot to stay outside.

It was my first timeshare presentation, and it will be my last.

As I began listening to the spiel, the first thing that I discovered is that major hotel chains have sales pitches refined to an art, especially when it comes to this product.  They put the strongest salespeople imaginable in front of you, and they deliver the strongest possible sales presentation.

Yet, no matter how strong the salespeople are, the reality is the reality. 

First, these places are not that nice.   The timeshares in Ka’anapali in Maui are not at all exclusive.  In fact, they aren’t even places where I would want to spend a single night; the hotels in Wailea are. 

Second, these programs are terribly structured, limiting your options and obligating you to vacation in a certain way and time and at a certain cost.

Third, you are buying into a point program, and one that isn’t very good.  Buying loyalty points very rarely makes sense and should never be done without a specific redemption in mind, and they can be devalued or rendered worthless very quickly. More importantly, you can get into a better point programs that generates better and more flexible rewards with your loyalty to Starwood/Marriott or Hyatt and by opening and by using the right credit cards

Fourth, you don’t even need to know how to run an Excel spreadsheet to realize that these are just terrible investments. 

At the end of my sales presentation, the salesman opened up and said that he would never recommend that someone with hotel status who can rack up a substantial amount of points with that chain each year should buy into this program.

Bottom line: Do not buy hotel timeshares. They are point programs.  Get the right credit cards and use them.

Image: Courtesy: Marriott

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are those of the author, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any bank advertiser, card issuer, airline or hotel.

Advertising Disclosure: This site may be compensated for hosting offers.