The Starwood Preferred Guest credit card from American Express offers one Starpoint for every dollar spent on the card, as well as 4–5 Starpoints for money spent at Starwood Properties. The Starwood credit card can also be used to accrue frequent flyer points, with cardholders receiving 10,000 bonus points after the first purchase, which can be used towards hotel stays or airline travel. Put more simply, this is a credit card that is great for people who want to use American Express to save money on travel.
The Starwood Rewards Program
The Starwood Preferred Guest program really does reward you for staying at the Starwood properties – places like Le Meridien hotels, the Sheraton, W Hotels, and St. Regis. Every night you stay you earn rewards points, called Starpoints. The number of points you earn depends on how often you stay with them.
Starwood has different tiers in their rewards program – Preferred Guest, Gold Preferred, and Platinum Preferred. You enter the program as a Preferred Guest and after you’ve stayed 10 times (or 25 nights) you move up to the Gold Preferred tier. Then, if you stay with Starwood 15 more times (or 50 nights) in that same year you’re moved up to Platinum Preferred.
Each higher tier has increasing benefits, one of those is that you earn more points for each Starwood stay. At the base level you earn 2 Starpoints for every night stay and at the Gold and Platinum Preferred level you earn 3 points per night.
Extra Points & Hotel Credits
The cool thing about the Starwood card is that on top of the Starpoints you earn from staying at the hotel, you earn an extra 2 points if you put your stay on your card. In addition, if you are a Starwood cardholder you get a credit every year for 5 nights and 2 stays towards your next Preferred Guest level.
Our old neighbor was in sales and covered an 8 state area so somtimes he’d be on the road for 2–3 weeks at a time. He used to stay at mainly Marriott properties and used their rewards program but switched over to Starwood about 2 years ago. In addition to the consumer card, there’s also a Starwood business card, which is what he was using.
He’d use all the Starpoints he earned in his travels to take his wife and little girl on trips around the country. They’re also big shoppers – since you earn one point for each dollar you spend on the card it was a good card for them.
Starwood Hotel Deals
The best Starwood deals going on right now are the free nights you can get when you signup for the Starwood Preferred Guest card.
You earn 10K Starpoints when you first use the card and 15K more when you use it for at least $5K of purchases in the first 6 months. Depending on which category of hotel you redeem them with those points can be good for 3–4 free nights.
In addition to the credit card offer, Starwood’s pretty good about running promotions on their website for discounted hotel stays. Usually it requires you staying for at least one night and then getting discounted or free nights depending on how long you stay.
Some of these hotel promotions are more short-term and require a Starwood coupon code to take advantage of it. There are some that are more long standing that don’t require a promotion code, for example
Better Tomorrow Promo – For every night you stay at a Starwood hotel and pay the full rate, you save 40% off the next night you stay.
3rd Night Free Promo – If you book two nights in a row, ie Saturday/Sunday, then the third night is free.
No Blackout Dates
Unlike other hotel rewards programs, there are no blackout dates so you can redeem your Starpoints whenever fits into your travel schedule. Obviously, one of the big drawbacks to some hotel rewards programs is that they have blackout during times when you travel most: the summertime or during holidays. The ability to claim your free hotel room whenever you travel definitely helps set this program apart from others.
You do need to be familiar with how Starwood classifies their hotels, by Category levels – the higher the Category the nicer the hotel. You don’t earn more rewards by staying at nicer hotels but when it comes to redeeming your Starpoints they go farther at the lower category hotels. For example, you might use the same number of points to stay one night in a Category 6 hotel that you could use to stay for 3 nights in a Category 3 hotel.
So you can choose whether you want to use all your points in one or two nights at a really fancy place or stretch your free stay out for longer at a different hotel. One thing to keep in mind, the Category 3 and 4 properties are nice hotels, it’s just the 5 and 6 category are far more luxurious.
Redeeming Your Free Room
The free rooms you can reserve with your Starpoints are standard rooms, be aware that a few destinations don’t have regular rooms so you won’t be able to use your StarPoints for free stays at those hotels or resorts.
Something else to keep in mind is that it often takes fewer points to get your free night over the weekend instead of during the week. As you can see in the chart below, your points can go farther over the weekend.
Starwood Preferred Guest Airline Miles
Starwood has relationships with about 30 airline companies that allow you to transfer StarPoints into airline miles, most of them transfer one mile for each StarPoint.
They also have an airline bonus, if you transfer 20,000 points into airline miles, you’ll get back an extra 5,000 points. So let’s take a look at how many airline miles you could get in the first year of your card.
As mentioned above you’ll get 10,000 for signing up and an additional 15,000 bonus points if you spend $5,000 in the first six months. If you transfer those 25,000 points into airline miles to get the additional 5,000 bonus points, that’s 30,000 airline miles. Of course, this assumes that you can exchange 1 point for 1 mile, but many of the major carriers, like United, Delta, Continental, and American Airlines, do give you 1 for 1.
APR and Annual Fee
Compared to other travel rewards cards of its type, the American Express Starwood Preferred Card has a relatively low fee of $65. The APR is also low with a low introductory APR for the first six months of the card (the period where you can earn an extra 15,000 bonus points). All of this means that you’ll be able to reap rewards as soon as you get card without having to spend a lot of money to get it. See the chart at the bottom for specific details about current rates and offers.
I asked readers about their favorite credit cards and one guy named Jason had some good things to say about the Starwood card. He covers the credit card industry for another website so he really digs through all the rewards and term and conditions when comparing and using credit cards. I thought the fact that he pointed out this card was a good sign, here’s what he had to say:
For travel rewards, I have found no better card than the Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express. The benefits at Starwood hotels are fantastic – I can book an award stay at any room within their brand, which includes Westins, Sheratons and others, with no blackouts or capacity controls. Awards start at 3,000 points with some Westins going for as little as 7,000.
Your fifth award night is also free, so you can easily save 20% off of those low rates. By comparison, Hilton and Intercontinental group also offer no blackouts and no capacity restrictions on their awards, but their award rates are much higher.
The benefits of the Starwood card goes well beyond hotels. The StarPoints are transferable to dozens of major airlines. They are the ultimate universal currency when you need to top off an airline account for a major award redemption. In fact, you can use the Starwood card to earn more airline miles than the airline’s cards themselves.
Starwood grants a 5,000 point bonus when you redeem 20,000 Starpoints for airline miles. This gives you 1.25 miles per dollar spent rather than the one to one ratio offered by most airline cards. The annual fee is $65, but this pays for itself when you are able to snag a pricey hotel for free or fly in business class after making a transfer of Starpoints to airline miles.
The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card has a tough to beat rewards program, which can then be used at over 30 different airlines or at most of the Starwood hotels around the world. This review didn’t talk much about international travel but Starwood recently announced it’s adding 50 new hotels across the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.
Starwood Preferred Guest is obviously best for people who travel frequently, such as business travelers, but anyone who is interested in staying at Starwood properties can get quality hotel stays for big discounts or for free. The relatively low annual fee you pay for access to their rewards program makes this one of the best hotel credit cards available today.
The Premier Rewards Gold is a rewards card with a fairly generous payout for purchases and some extra bonuses added in. The Premier Rewards Gold card does have some attractive features that help it stand out from other rewards cards; such as triple points on airfare, double points on gas and groceries, and a nice bonus.
Premier Rewards Gold Points
You’ll earn bonus points when you spend a certain amount during the first 3 months of owning the card. The amount you have to spend and the amount of bonus points you earn varies depending on the current promotion. Compared to other cards this card is very generous to start, so long as you spend fairly regularly or for a big ticket item when you first sign up for the card.
Additionally, this AmEx gold card gives you the opportunity to earn 3 times the points on airfare, 2 times the points on gas and groceries, and 1 point on everything else. So the card can almost be seen as a combination of a travel rewards card, a gas rewards card, and an everyday-purchase card. Having an all-in-one rewards card like this doesn’t always maximize your rewards per category but it does make earning usable points easier.
American Express has always been known for having quality rewards programs. Although not every merchant will accept your card because American Express does charge higher merchant fees, you know that when you do use your AmEx you’re earning pretty decent rewards.
I’m a big fan of their Blue Savings rewards but they’re probably best know for their Membership Rewards program, which is the one that the Premier Rewards Gold card uses. The nice thing about the program is that it is pretty flexible, you can use your points to get a wide range of rewards.
For example, using the Pay with Points feature you can redeem them for points on most airlines and not have to worry about blackout dates or restrictions. The way it works is that you buy your ticket using the AmEx Travel site and apply your membership points towards the price of the ticket. You don’t have to wait until you have enough to cover the whole ticket, the remaining cost of the flight will be charged to your card.
I remember when I first signed up for the Gold card years ago they were offering a big bonus and I used my points to pay for a ticket to a conference I was attending. I was actually looking online for flights to Vegas where the conference was held and I saw the ad for the bonus so I signed up for the card.
There is an alternative to booking through American Express – you can also transfer the rewards points you’ve earned to rewards programs at some of the major airlines. The conversion from rewards points to frequent flier programs doesn’t always give you the best bang for your buck so be sure check what kind of value you’re getting out of the transfer.
If you’re not a big traveler you can use your points for discounts on other types of purchases or for gift cards.
One aspect of the Membership Rewards is a site called ShopAmex where you can use your points for purchases. You can see in the graphic the number of items they have available in the different point ranges. Similar to their travel site, if you don’t have enough points accumulated you can put the rest on your Gold card.
If you’re like me then you’re not a big fan of shopping and only buy something when you really need it. I’m not a fan of browsing to buy something just for the fun of it. In that case the gift cards might be a better option for you. You can use your rewards points for dining or entertainment gift cards, AmEx also has retail gift cards available in their program.
Premier Rewards Gold Fees
Like other cards with a high-rebate offer, the American Express(R) Premier Rewards Gold Card does have an annual fee. The fee is higher than some of the other rewards cards you’ll find in the market. The good news is this fee is waived for the first year of the card.
This card is a charge card, not a credit card, which means the balance must be paid off each month. Since you can’t carry a balance, you won’t build up credit card debt and won’t find yourself paying high interest fees month after month. Although this is a deterrent for people who have to carry a balance, it’s definitely a financially smart option for people who can afford to pay off their balance each month in full. There is no pre-set spending limit on the card so as long as you can afford to pay your balance you can put whatever you want on the card to earn rewards.
This American Express Gold card can definitely earn you a lot of rewards if you put a lot of purchases on your card. The first year of the card is certainly the most attractive thanks to the bonus rewards. However, even without the additional bonus points for a minimum annual spend, the 3-2-1 point system is an attractive rebate package for a wide variety of different purchases for the following years.
If you have horrible credit chances are you won’t be approved for this card but if you’ve done a reasonable job keeping up your credit score then you may be able to qualify for the charge card. There’s really only one way to know if you’re eligible for the bonus and the rewards that come with the card; apply for it and see what happens!
Marriot rewards card is a hotel rewards card from Chase that has a good rewards program and lets you earn you a free hotel stay as soon as you sign up for the card. Marriott points can be used at over 3,100 worldwide locations, so wherever you are traveling you can be earning hotel rewards with Marriott. I think this is a good card for the frequent traveler who enjoys Marriott hotels, which may surprise you a little.
I’ve talked multiple times before about the potential disadvantages of earning all your points with one airline or hotel chain and said some good things about cards that let you earn and use rewards independently, like the Blue Sky and Discover Miles cards.
While all the potential negatives I’ve covered in the past still exist, if the rewards program is good enough then it can makeup for those shortfalls. I think that’s the case with this card, if you’re already a Marriott fan then the points you can earn through their rewards program make this a decent option.
Marriott Rewards Free Night Promotion
I suppose I could be a little bias because the Marriott Rewards card was my very first hotel rewards card –- and I signed up for it because it gave me one free nights stay at Marriott. Well times have changed… for the better!
Now the Marriott rewards free night offer has actually turned into four free nights, plus two. After you sign up for the card, you get an e-certificate for a two free night stays, just like before. However, now after you make your first purchase on the card you earn enough bonus Marriott points for another four free nights stay. That’s a nice little vacation break at a Marriott hotel that you can get as soon as you’ve made your first purchase on the card.
Marriott Rewards Program
Your Marriott Rewards card earns you 3 points for every $1 you spend staying at a Marriott and 1 point for every $1 spent on all other purchases. There’s a big list of the types of hotels where you can use your Marriott points, I’ve stayed in a few of them.
For example, we spent our honeymoon in a Renaissance hotel in the Virgin Islands and I stayed at another nice Renaissance in San Francisco when I was there for a conference. We’ve stayed at a nice Marriott on vacation in Boston and St. Louis and I spent another week at a Residence Inn near Sacremento for a work trip. We’ve also stayed at various Courtyard by Marriott and FairField Inn & Suites locations on family trips around the MidWest.
Some of the hotels where I haven’t stayed but you can earn and use points are JW Marriott Hotels, the SpringHill Suites, and the TownePlace Suites. There are a few Ritz-Carlton hotels and Marriott Conference Centers where you can’t use your points so if you’re looking to stay at one of those call ahead and ask first.
The points you earn on your Marriott Rewards card can be used for vacations, hotel stays, or airline miles but the majority of people I know with this card use them for free nights and vacations. A good friend of ours travels a lot for his sales job and he takes his family on two or three trips each year paid for with Marriott points. One cool thing about redeeming your points is that anytime you use them to book a stay of at least 7 nights, you earn another 15,000 Marriott points. I don’t know of any other hotel rewards program where you can earn points for redeeming points.
Frequent Traveler Bonuses
Each time that you stay at a Marriott Hotel using this credit card you will earn credits towards Elite Membership. With 10 nights of stays you’ll get silver level elite status, 50 nights pushes you to gold level and 75 nights gets you up to platinum level. At each level you receive additional bonuses at no extra cost to you as a cardholder. These benefits include discounts, room up grades and even additional opportunities to earn even more bonus points on the card. Plus for every $3000 you spend on the card, you get an extra night towards your Elite status.
APR and Fees
This credit card does have an annual fee that’s pretty low compared to many of the other hotel and travel reward cards with fees. Additionally, that fee is waived for the first year. The APR is competitive for a rewards credit card; see the chart below for specifics. The card is designed for people with excellent credit.
Marriott Rewards vs Premier Rewards
You can actually choose between two different rewards cards from Marriott, the regular card or the Premier card. The downside of the Premier version is that you’ll pay a higher annual fee, the question is are the features of the Premier card worth it?
With the Marriott Premier card you earn 2 extra points per dollar spent at Marriott hotels than you would with the base version. You also earn double the points for travel purchases of airline tickets, dining, or car rentals. For all non travel related expenses you earn the same as the regular rewards card, 1 point per dollar.
You also earn more bonus points when you first sign up for the Premier card. You get the bonus points after your first purchase and the Premier version gives you a sizeable amount more. It can also help you get to bonuses that come with Elite status faster, after 10 nights instead of 15.
Probably the best feature of the Premier Rewards version is that every year you get free night at a category 1–5 Marriott hotel if you’re a cardholder. Once a year, about a 6 weeks after your anniversary month you get a certificate in your rewards account that you can use to book a free night. While the free night basically pays for the annual fee, you do have to make sure you use the certificate and not lose it because its not redeemable after 6 months.
From what I can tell if you stay at Marriott hotels frequently, or even just a few times a year, the benefits of the Premier card will outweigh the higher annual fee.
The Marriott Hotel rewards card by Chase gives you several different ways to earn a good amount of Marriott rewards. The more you use it, the more rewards you get. The annual fee is low so it’s an appealing credit card for the people with excellent credit who can qualify for it. Like I said, if you’re a fan of Marriott hotels then this could be the hotel rewards card for you.
The Chase Freedom(SM) Credit Card is one of the better rewards credit cards available. While most rewards cards offer one or two percent in cash back rewards, the Freedom card offers 5% cash back or 5 points per dollar on gas, entertainment, groceries, airlines, department stores, and other things that make up your seasonal purchases. This is what makes the Chase Freedom card especially good for cardholders: you earn back more on those purchases you make.
5% Cash Back Schedule
The way that this rewards program works is that you receive the 5% cash back rewards in rotating categories that change every three months. Here’s the cash back schedule for the Chase Freedom rewards card for the rest of 2012:
- January – March: Gas stations & Amazon.com
- April – June: Grocery stores & Movie theaters
- July – September: Gas stations & Restaurants
- October-December: Hotels, Airlines, Best Buy, & Kohl’s
One thing to note about this schedule is that Chase Freedom tries to offer you the most cash back on the items that you are especially likely to buy in a particular season. For example, there are gas rewards in the summer when people tend to drive most and shopping rewards as well as travel rewards during the winter holidays.
Some people actually use this card in conjunction with other rewards cards, and only put purchases on the Freedom card that are earning the bonus. Of course, the downside of this approach is that you have to keep track of the categories and juggle mutiple cards.
This approach can help to maximize the amount you get back but to me it’s more work than it’s worth. It really depends on how much you spend on your card and how easy it is for you to keep track of the bonus categories. You also have to keep in mind that if you open too many cards it can negatively impact your credit score.
Chase Cash Back
You will earn 1% cash back rewards on all purchases you make that don’t fall into one of the seasonal categories, which means you get a 1% rebate for each $1 of purchases.
Also, as part of the Ultimate Rewards program, Chase has a trip planner where you can search for flights, hotels, and rental cars. The functionality is okay, they let you filter by price, schedule, city, etc – like most major travel sites. If you book and pay for travel using the site you earn an extra point for every dollar you spend.
You won’t earn cash back for transactions on your card that aren’t purchases. For example if you do a balance transfer or something like a cash advance don’t expect to be earn any rewards since Chase doesn’t credit them on that type of activity.
Bonus Cash Back for Online Shopping
Chase has an online shopping tool that allows you to search for even better cash back deals when making online purchases with select retailers. It is possible to earn up to an additional 10% cash back on the purchases that are made through this online shopping tool.
Cash Back Bonus Offers
Chase Freedom somtimes offers the opportunity to earn an additional cash back when you first start using the card. You just need to spend a certain amount within the first three months of opening the card and then that money is available for you to redeem. For example, for their $100 bonus offer, if you put $500 on the card during the first 3 billing cycles then they put a credit on your card for $100.
Redeeming Cash Back Rewards
It is possible to start redeeming your rewards for cash as soon as you’ve earned the low amount of just $20 (and you can then continue redeeming in $20 increments). However, there are also other ways that you can redeem these rewards:
- Pay yourself back using the cash back that you’ve earned to pay for a recent purchase on the card
- Get gift cards with your cash back rewards
- Redeem for travel rewards with no blackout dates or restrictions
- Exchange the cash for points and redeem the points for merchandise
Flexible Repayment with Chase Blueprint
Chase Freedom is one of the cards that is part of the Chase Blueprint program, a program designed to allow you many different repayment options for your spending. Those repayment options include:
- Full payment each month in specific spending categories that you select so that you never pay interest on items purchased in those categories
- Set a goal date for when you want to pay off a large purchase and split the payments evenly until that date
- Set a monthly amount that you wish to pay on a large purchase until the item is paid off
- Set a target date and create a plan for paying off an entire balance
The Chase Blueprint program is free and is linked to your online Chase account. You can make changes to your payment plan at any time.
Chase Freedom Fees
There is no annual fee for the card and a relatively low APR compared to other cash back cards. Chase Freedom does occasionally offer introductory 0% APR on balance transfers as well as purchases; see the chart below for more details.
Blue Sky from American Express is one of the top travel rewards credit cards because of the freedom its membership rewards program offers cardholders to choose how you can redeem your points.
Top Travel Rewards Card – One of the problems that can come with using a rewards card with a certain airline or hotel chain is that you might spend years building up rewards and then have them suddenly change the program on you.
For example there were some major changes made to the Southwest Airlines Rapid Reward program not long ago when they overhauled how customers could earn and redeem flight rewards. Many customers and industry experts thought the changes were an improvement but not everyone felt that way. The customers who had been flying Southwest for years and felt they were being mis-treated had little they could do about it other than leave complaints on the customer blog.
Regardless of whether you thought the Southwest Airlines rewards program improved or got worse, the point is that using a specific airline credit card does expose you to that risk. That’s one of the reasons that Blue Sky from American Express is one of the best travel rewards credit cards you can apply for today. With no blackout dates or travel restrictions plus rewards points that can be used for any airline, hotel, cruise, or car rental – the card doesn’t limit you to a specific airline, or even method of travel.
Earn Reward Points Easily – Another nice benefit of American Express Blue Sky over some of the other cards from airlines like Delta, United, and Continental is that the card has no annual fee. The fee for most airlines cards isn’t that high, but no fee is certainly better than even a low fee. With no charge to use the Blue Sky card, you start earning rewards right away without having to worry about making up the annual fee.
The Blue Sky also has no purchase limitations on where you can earn travel points. As a card member, you earn one point for every single dollar that you spend and there is no earning limit on your rewards. Expiring points are not an issue either, the points you earn will be available as long as your account is active and in good standing.
Not to complain about the airlines again but I’ve had so many frequent flyer miles expire over the years, it’s nice to know that the rewards you earn when traveling will be there for you to use them. If you’re not a frequent traveler and are trying to save up rewards for a big vacation a few years off, then this is a great feature for you.
I don’t know how many offers I saw come in the mail to use my frequent flyer miles to buy magazine subscriptions. It was a prett inefficient way to redeem the miles, I wasn’t getting a very good conversion rate when it came to mone spent on flights vs rewards, but once or twice my miles were expiring so I opted for the magazine. I’m glad I don’t have to mess around with that anymore because of cards like Blue Sky.
Blue Sky Travel Savings – The Blue Savings program is a good way to earn discounts on travel. You can find deals from 5–20% off hotels (like Marriott), rental cars (like Hertz), and restaurants when you pay with your Blue Sky card. It’s a nice perk – the Blue savings program was setup for the Amex Blue and Blue Cash cards but since Blue Sky is in the same card family, you can take advantage of the savings as well.
Blue Sky Protection – Another thing people like about the Blue Sky card is that it offers travelers protection against unexpected problems while on a trip. Card holders can call the American Express Global Assist Hotline for help with coordination of emergency assistance for medical, financial, and legal matters. They also offer a lost wallet service, which does cost extra, that will rush you a new card and will help expedite getting a new passport or ID if you’re overseas and lose your wallet.
Blue Sky from American Express also provides the Purchase Protection Plan, which can cover items you buy while traveling. It protects eligible purchases made with the Card against accidental damage and theft for up to 90 days from the date of purchase. The Blue Sky card also offers auto insurance for rental cars but make sure you understand the rules of the credit card rental insurance and what it does and doesn’t cover before you start driving.
You can review the features and benefits of the card listed below and see if the Blue Sky travel rewards credit card will save you money on your next trip.
Travel rewards cards can help you do something that many of us spending hours daydreaming about, travel! If you ask a group of people what they would do if they won the lottery, one of the answers that you are sure to get is, “see the world”.
We all want to see new places, visit old favorites ,and just generally get a chance to vacation more. Although your chances of winning the lottery are pretty slim, it’s definitely possible for you to do more traveling if you can pay for part of it with a rewards card.
The best travel rewards credit cards cards not only allow you to earn points that you can apply towards the cost of travel – they also let you earn bonus points on travel purchases. Which often means that the more you travel, the more free travel you can earn.
Types of Travel Rewards Credit Cards
There are many different types of travel rewards credit cards. Within each category there are some that will be better for you than others based on your specific needs from a travel rewards credit card. Before you can determine which credit card makes the most sense for you, you’ll need to gain a better understanding of the different types of travel rewards cards that are available to you.
Here is a look at the most common types of travel rewards credit cards:
Airline Rewards Cards. Some of the most popular rewards credit cards tend to be airline cards, such as Blue Sky from American Express that earn points for each plane ticket you buy, based on the number of miles that you fly.
Hotel Rewards Cards. The benefits of hotel branded credit cards, like the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit card, have long been known by travelers that prefer certain hotel chains. These cards are often used along with member programs that can get you discounts on the price of a hotel room.
Gas Rewards Cards. Gas rewards cards are becoming more popular as the price of gas continues to rise. Any rebates or cash back a traveler can earn by using a gas credit card are helpful during times of high fuel costs.
General Travel Rewards Cards. Whether you’re going on vacation or traveling for business, using a rewards card to pay for your trip has the eventual benefit of saving you some money on travel simply by booking your flight, paying for gas, or reserving your hotel room with your credit card.
Different card issuers have rewards programs that allow you to mix and match travel rewards. For example Citibank has the ThankYou program with cards like Citi ThankYou Premier and Chase has the Ultimate Rewards program with cards like Chase Sapphire. American Express is also known for their Membership rewards program that lets you earn points across their family of charge cards, that can be used used for rental cars, hotel, or flights.
There are also some cards, such as the Starwood Preferred I already mentioned, that let you earn points for one type of travel like hotels, but also have a decent program for letting you transfer your points to partner companies in other travel industries, like airlines.
Comparing Travel Cards
Once you have figured out which type of rewards credit cards is best for you, you’ll still need to determine which card in that category is the best one. For example, you may know that you want an airline rewards card that will provide you with free flight miles for your shopping but you still need to decide which specific airline rewards card will be benefit you most. This means that you need to do some research into each card.
Some of the factors to consider when deciding on a travel rewards credit card include:
1) The way that points are earned. For example, do you earn one mile per dollar spent on the card or can you earn more than that? Some cards offer higher rewards rates after a certain amount is spent annually on the card.
2) If there are bonus points available. For some travel cards allow you to earn up to 25,000 bonus points in the first two years of membership if you spend $1000 per month on the card.
3) Terms of redeeming rewards, especially if there are blackout dates or expiration dates on your rewards.
5) Whether your rewards can be redeemed only for travel purchases or for other items (like cash back and gift cards) as well.
6) What type of travel insurance is available on the card.
7) Additional travel perks card membership, such as access to airport lounges.
Rates and Fees
You’ll also want to make sure that you consider the costs of the card that could eat into the rewards you earn, such as:
- The APR
- Annual fee
- Late fees
- Balance transfer fees
Hopefully, this gives you a little help when reviewing and comparing the benefits and features of the top travel credit cards. Check out the cards listed below to see if any of them can save you some money or earn you some points on your next trip.
The best gas credits card for you can vary based on comparison factors such as total monthly purchases on your rewards card, how much money you spend on your gas credit card each month, and whether you use a separate card for gas purchases. Picking the top card can save you a considerable amount more than choosing one of the cards with lower rewards, the good news is there are several cards that stand out.
Gas Rewards & Gas Prices
Sadly, gas credit cards and the rewards you can earn from them may be the only good thing about the rising price of gas. Although earning cash back on your card doesn’t bring back cheap gas it at least takes a bite out of more expensive fill ups. Choosing the right gas card for your spending patterns can help stretch that cash back a little farther.
Cash Rewards and Interest Rates
One important point is that using a credit card for gas purchases and carrying a balace on it will wipe out any rewards you earn on your purchases. If you really want your gas credit card to make a dent in your gas costs make sure you don’t end up paying interest on your purchases.
If you find yourself putting all your purchases on one credit card, along with your gas, and can’t afford to pay it off each month – you could consider getting a rewards card that’s just for gas and paying for everything else with cash or some other card that features a low interest rate.
How Much Cash Back?
So how much cash back can you expect to earn when you use a rewards card? The percentage back will depend on which card you qualify for and how you use it.
For example, the Costo True Earnings card pays 3% cashback on purchases, one of the best out there. Of course you can only qualify for the card if you’re a member of Costco wholesale and the 3% cash back rate has an annual cap of $3,000 in gas purchases. So if you’re not member you can’t take advantage of it – and if you do belong to Costco, after you spend over $3K in a year the cash back rate goes down to 1%.
Another example is the Pen Fed Platinum Cashback card that pays a whopping 5% at the gas pump. This is another card with a caveat. You have to join the Pentagon Federal Credit Union to qualify for the card and take advantage of the high cash back payout. The good news is that if you want use the card there’s a way you can become a member but it’s one more hurdle to earning top cash back rates.
I really like the Blue Cash card from American Express because it has a cashback structure that fits how we spend our money. They recently updated the card so that now you actually have two options, the Blue Cash Everyday and the Blue Cash Preferred card.
The differences between the two are the card fee and the cashback rates. Although you pay an annual fee with the Preferred card, you earn the highest cash rebate on groceries and gas. So you have to look at your history and see how much you spend on those two categories to determine if you make enough purchases to make the Blue Cash Preferred worth it. It makes sense for our family but it might not for you.
Cash Back Categories
Both the Discover More and Chase Freedom offer 5% cash back on gas purchases but they operate a little differently than the other cards mentioned above. These cards have cetain categories of spending that they pay 5% cash back on during the year. The categories change every quarter and typically use a seasonal approach. For example, they might offer 5% back on gas during the summer months when people tend to do the most driving.
Cashback Always & for Everyone
So far we’ve talked about cards that mostly earn 5% cash back but each of them has certain things that might not make them the best card for everyone – membership cards, spending tiers, cash back categories. Not to say that these aren’t good cards, it’s hard to pass up 5% cash back on gas, but they may or may not be the best fit for you.
There are cards that pay more than 1% cash back on gas every month of the year, don’t have an earnings cap, and are available to a wider audience. Although the cash back rate on those cards typically isn’t as good, they can still be a good gas card.
One example is the Discover Open Road card. This card pays 2% back on gas and at restaurants, so if none of the other cards is a fit for you, this could be an option. They are a litle more strict on who they accept for this card based on your credit history. If you have a poor credit score you might not be approved or may have to pay a higher interest rate
Hopefully this has been a helpful look at the different types of gas credit cards available, how much you can earn, and things to think about for each one. You can review the benefits and features of these top gas rewards credit cards listed below and hopefully find the right gas card that will save you the most money.
American Express Blue Cash is a popular card among people who want to earn cash back on their purchases; it’s one of our favorite cards, we use the Amex Blue Cash for most things we buy. The Chase Freedom card is another one of the best cash back cards because it gives you higher rewards on your top spending categories for the month. So if they’re both so good, how do you decide which to sign up for?
Card Fees and Bonuses
The main purpose of both cards is to earn cash back on your purchases. Neither the Freedom or the Blue Cash Everyday has an annual fee, which is good since you get to keep more of the cash back that you earn. There is a Blue Cash Preferred card that charges a fee but in return you earn higher cash back rates at supermarkets and gas.
Both the Blue Cash and Chase Freedom have offered signup bonuses in the past – with the Freedom card historically having higher bonuses. For example, the Blue cash sometimes offers $25 to new customers, which is paid as a statement credit. The Freedom card has offered $50 and even $100 as a bonus to new members, their come in the form of rewards points. You can use the points as part of the Ultimate Rewards program or redeem them for cash.
Most rewards cards won’t pay you the rewards you earn during a period in which you don’t pay your bill. This is the case with both of these cards, if you’re in default on your payment then you aren’t credited your cash back for any money spent during that billing cycle.
Earning Cash Back
Both the Blue Cash and Chase Freedom can earn you cash back on your purchases but they go about it in diffrent ways.
The Freedom card pays 1% cash back on all purchases, then has certain bonus categories that can earn you an additional 4%. The categories rotate each quarter, here’s the cash back calendar for this year:
- January – March : grocery stores and drug stores
- April – June : home improvement, home furnishings, lawn and garden
- July – September : gas, airlines, hotels
- October – December : dining, department stores, movies, charities
So the nice thing about the Freedom card is that you can start earning 5% right away if your purchases fall into one of the bonus categories. The categories are typically based around the areas that people tend to spend the most in during those months.
One other thing to note is that the Freedom card does have a cap each quarter on the amount of spending that’s eligible for the 4% bonus. You may not reach that cap, but if you do then the remainder of purchases go back to earning 1%.
The Blue Cash also has a form of bonus categories that they call “Everyday Purchases” – grocery stores, department stores, and gas stations. Unlike the Freedom card, these categories are the same all year round.
You earn 3% back at supermarkets and 2% on gas and in department stores – 1% back on everything else. If you go with the Blue Cash Preferred, you earn 6% back at supermarkets and 3% on gas and in department stores.
Redeeming Cash Back
As I mentioned earlier, the Chase Freedom card earns you rewards points for your purchases. You can either use them in the Ultimate Rewards program or you can convert the points to cash. The conversion rate is 1 point equals $0.01 cash – so 10,000 points could be turned in for a $100 check.
With the Blue Cash card, your cash back is paid in the form of a statement credit. It used to be that you could only redeem your cash back once a year but American Express has changed the rewards program so you can request the credit anytime you’ve accumulated $25 or more in cash back.
The Freedom card is eligible to participate in a program called Chase Blueprint that’s designed to help you pay off your balances and reduce the amount of interest you pay. Of course, if you’re paying interest on your charges those will wipeout any cash back you earn so in that case the Freedom card may not be the best for you. There is a card called Slate from Chase that’s designed to work inside the Blueprint program and focus on paying down your balance.
If you use the Blue Cash card, you’re eligible for the Blue Savings program. It’s actually available for any of the cards in the “Blue” family, like Amex Blue, Blue Sky, and Blue Sky Preferred card. The program gives you discounts on hotels, car rental, dining – anywhere from 5–20% off your purchases.
There are a few other perks you get with the Blue Cash, like a free credit score and report from Experian once a year. They also feature occassional deals – for example they offered free iTunes songs for a while and 35% off of tax software through TurboTax.
Hopefully, this look at the two cards has helped compare the features and give you an idea which might work best for you.
Getting a cash back rewards credit card can be one of the savviest financial moves that you make. However, you have to select the right cash back card for this tool to be useful to you. That would be easy if there were only one top card in the market. However, the top cash rewards cards for your wallet depend largely on how you use your credit card, pay your bills, and want to cash in on your rewards.
For example, even the best cash back cards won’t earn you enough rewards to make up for interest fees if you carry a credit card balance. In order to select the best cash back rewards credit card, you really need to know yourself as a credit card holder.
Questions to Ask Yourself when Choosing a Cash Back Card
Ask yourself the following question to make it easier to compare different cash back rewards credit cards with an eye towards those that will be best for you.
What do you spend the most money on? The types of things you spend the most money on and where you shop can make a big difference; a lot of cash back cards pay higher rewards at gas stations, drug stores, and supermarkets. For example, the Citi Dividend Platinum Select and Chase Freedom cards both offer 5% interest back on certain rotating spending categories including restaurants, car rentals and hotels.
How much money do you spend on your credit card each month? Each year? Some cash back rewards cards offer bonus points if you spend a certain amount of money each month. Other cash back rewards credit cards offer a higher rate of cash back after you spend a specified amount on the card each year. If you’re a big spender then these cards can benefit you greatly. There is another important factor for big spenders to look at, though, and that’s whether or not there’s a maximum on the amount of cash back that can be earned each year. A big spender won’t benefit optimally from a card that has such limitations.
Will you be making a large purchase on the card right away? In some ways, this relates to the last question. If you are then you may want to get a credit card that offers bonus points for spending a large sum when you first get the card. However, this question is important in another way as well. If you’re going to spend a lot of money when you get the card and won’t be able to pay it off immediately then you should look for a cash back credit card that offers a 0% or low interest promotional APR. An example of a cash back credit card with a 0% intro APR offer is SimplyCash from American Express.
Are you likely to carry a balance on the credit card? If you are then you are going to want to look for a credit card that has a low APR even if the cash back rewards program isn’t as strong as that of another card with a higher APR.
Do you only want cash back or do you wish for other rewards as well? Most people who get a cash back rewards card are primarily interested in actually getting cash back. However, some cash back rewards cards also offer the opportunity to redeem the rewards for merchandise, travel and other rewards. For example, some cards allow you to redeem cash back for gift cards that sometimes have double the value of the cash amount. If you want flexible redemption options then this would be something to consider.
How do you want to receive your cash back rewards? The wide variety of rewards programs available today allow you to redeem points for cash, get a reward check, redeem gift cards, or even sign up and get paid via direct deposit.
Is there a credit card brand that you prefer? All of the major credit card companies offer at least one cash back credit card so if you have a company that you prefer over the others then it may be worth it to you to check out what they have available. Don’t forget to compare them to other brands to make sure that they do offer the best deal, though.
Do you fall into a specific consumer category? There are student credit cards that are cash back cards designed specifically for college students that have good credit.
Review the benefits and features of the top cash back cards listed below to figure out which cash back rewards card is the best one for you.
The Citi Dividend Platinum Select credit card offers higher rewards than many other rewards credit cards on the market although it does have a cap on the amount that you can earn. You have to stay on top of the cash back categories in order to get the best rewards but if you’re smart about using the Citi Dividend Platinum Select then you can potentially make more money with this card than with other rebate cards.
The Rebate Plan
The Citi Dividend Platinum Select offers 1% for purchases made on the card. These rewards are called “Dividend Dollars”. Occasionally this card comes with special promotions that allow you to earn double cash back on purchases for the first 6 months, allowing you to kick your use of the card off with a really great start. This is a nice perk of the card’s rewards.
Like the Discover More and Chase Freedom this card also offers 5% back on specific types of purchases during different quarters. The good news is that the rewards categories are usually based around what you’d be spending the most on during that time.
The bad news is that it’s necessary to enroll in the program every quarty – it doesn’t just change automatically for you. So if you don’t enroll, you’ll only be eligible for the 1% rate. This means that you really have to stay on top of the card to get the best rewards.
Cardholders of the Citi Dividend Platinum Select are eligible for additional cash back year round by shopping through the card’s online shopping portal called the Citi Bank Shopping Center. This gives you an average of 5% additional cash back at 400 merchants. If you do a lot of shopping online on credit then this card could be a good choice.
Earn Rewards on Various Transactions
Many rewards credit cards do not allow you to earn rewards on balance transfers, cash advances and other various transactions. That is not the case with the Citi Dividend Platinum Select credit card. With this credit card you’ll earn 1% on cash advances as well as your use of convenience checks. You can also earn a small number of Dividend Dollars on balance transfers if they are for amounts of $1500+.
The main drawback of earning rewards on this credit card is that you are capped at a maximum of $300 in rewards annually – payable in $50 increments. If your earnings would exceed $300 annually then this card may not be for you. Alternatively, you might want to use it in conjunction with another rewards credit card to get maximum use out of both cards. You could focus on using this card only for online shopping and the 5% back categories – and use an another card that doesn’t have a limit for other purchases.
APR and Fees
The Citi Dividend Platinum Select has no annual fee, which is very attractive for a rewards card that offers 5% on certain purchases. In addition, the card may offer a 0% APR on balance transfers, so it has the potential to be an effective balance transfer card as well. After the initial period, the APR goes up to a competitive rate. Check the chart below for the length of the 0% balance transfer and current card APR.
The Citi Dividend Platinum Select is as a credit card that is as good as the you wants to make it. If you use this card without ever checking your account, you won’t be getting everything you can from the card. But if you enroll in the quarterly bonus programs and time your purchases so you buy items that receive 5% cash back then you can really make the card work.
If you go further and use the Citi Bank Shopping Center effectively then this card offers higher rewards than many other rewards credit cards on the market. The $300 annual cap on rewards is a deterrent, although this card can be combined with another rewards card if you’re a big spender.