A “points expert” and dad of six shares his top credit card picks
There I was…. the summer of 2013, looking at an impending family reunion in Lake Tahoe. As a father of six kids, I knew that eight cross-country plane tickets were likely to cost $3000 or more. As much as I wanted to see my extended family, I knew that spending that much money on a vacation was going to be a problem for our family’s budget.
I had heard of the idea that you could use credit card points and airline miles to travel, but that Lake Tahoe trip was the impetus for finally digging in and seeking to understand exactly how to do it. Fast-forward about a year later, I used 170,000 Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards points that I had gotten mostly from credit card welcome offers to fly our family of 8 from Chicago to Reno, round-trip, for almost nothing out of pocket.
I also realized that collecting points and maximizing on perks can get addictive — and have found some tips and tricks along the way. I also know that every family has different needs, and what works for our family may not be the best option for others. Here’s my take on, some great options for all types of spending patterns and reward goals.
Card to consider for building credit
Discover It Miles
Why it may be a good option to consider: If you’re just starting out and have fair or no credit history, I’ve heard that Discover may be easier to get an approval than from some other card issuers.
Other things to know: Offers 1.5% cashback which is doubled for the first year, meaning for the first year it earns 3% cashback on all purchases.
Card to consider using for regular gas and grocery purchases
Blue Cash Everyday
Why it may be a good option to consider: Earns 3% on grocery purchases (up to the first $6000 / year) and 2% on gas purchases.
Annual fee: $95 a year
Other things to know: Currently comes with a welcome offer of $200 back after spending $1000 on the card in the first 3 months.
Card to consider if you order (and re-order) everything through Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card
Why it may be a good option to consider: Earns 5% back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods when you have a Prime membership, 2% on restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores and 1% on all other purchases.
Annual fee: $0 but you have to have an active Prime membership for many of the benefits ($119)
Other things to know: Customers who sign up receive a $70 gift card bonus, as well as benefits from the Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection, including complimentary Wi-Fi and other perks from participating members. In addition, the card includes some travel protection, such as a rental car damage waiver.
Card to consider for most family-friendly perks
IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
Why it may be a good option to consider: The Chase IHG card has a welcome offer of 100,000 IHG points and also offers a free night (up to 40,000 points) each year on your anniversary.
Annual fee: $89 a year
Other things to know: A good credit card can be a good card for a variety of reasons – the welcome offer (if any), the category bonuses (like bonus points on gas and grocery) or for the ongoing perks it has. This IHG card is one of several cards that offer a free night on your anniversary but also offers the fourth night free on stays you book with points.
Card to consider for maximum travel points
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Why it may be a good option to consider: If you’ve got good credit and are looking to get started with miles, points and travel rewards, you might want to look in to, the Chase Sapphire Preferred. While this just reflects my opinion, in my experience, Chase Ultimate Rewards points are one of the more valuable points out there, and from my experience, a 50,000 point welcome offer may be worth over $500 in travel.
Annual fee: $95 a year (waived for the first year)
Other things to know: Having a premium Chase card like the Sapphire Preferred also lets you transfer 1:1 to travel partners such as Hyatt, United, Southwest, Marriott and more, which can often get you even more value. I always pay attention to the travel partners affiliated with the card, which can help make our family vacation dollars stretch even further. This flexibility can give you more options for travel.
Card to consider for earning points
Barclays Advantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®
Why it may be a good option to consider: It earns 60,000 American AAdvantage miles after your first purchase and payment of the $95 annual fee (no additional spending requirement)
Annual fee: $95 a year
Other things to know: Of course, you’ll need to fly American Airlines to use this option. Other airlines and hotels have co-branded cards as well if your loyalties lie elsewhere.
Remember: smart spending habits are key, no matter which card you choose
For all of these cards, the most important thing to keep in mind is that it’s best to start with a plan first of where you want to go. Then figure out the miles and points that can help you get there – it doesn’t make sense to get a Hilton card if your trip has you stay at a Marriott! Once you figure out which miles and points will help you on your trip, then make a plan to apply for those cards.
Above all else, make sure that you have the financial ability and discipline to stick to your financial budget and pay off your credit card bills in full every month! If you don’t, then any rewards, points, miles or perks will be quickly eaten up by late fees, interest charges and the like. If you have outstanding credit card debt, most experts would probably say focus first on paying that off before looking into the world of credit card rewards.
Dan Miller runs PointsWithACrew.com – a travel site focusing on helping families (especially larger families) travel for free/cheap. Since 2013, he has used miles and points to travel with his wife and 6 children to California, Yellowstone, Puerto Rico, Disney World, Sweden, Greece, Peru, and more.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own. Haven Life Insurance Agency offers this as educational information only. Haven Life Insurance Agency is not affiliated with, and does not endorse the companies discussed here, or offer the products, services and/or strategies discussed here.
The offers, terms and conditions outlined here are for your information only and reflect publicly available information at the time this article was published. Credit card offers, terms and conditions can change at any time so be sure to verify with the respective credit card company(ies) prior to making any travel arrangements.