TravelSort reader Jim writes “Which travel credit card is best if you use only one card? I'm not asking for myself, since I use the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card for airfare, Sapphire Preferred for travel and dining, Hyatt card for Hyatt spend, and Starwood Preferred Guest card for otherwise non-bonused spend, but my wife really only wants to use one credit card. She maintains she doesn't want to carry a bunch of different cards around and have to remember which one to use when.”
Jim, great question, and one that resonates with me, since I'm still trying to convince my husband to use different cards, depending on the spend category. In fact, just yesterday, he was about to refill a pharmacy prescription at the drugstore, and I asked him which card he was going to use. “The Sapphire Preferred” he answered, “the one you told me to.” I quickly handed him a gift card that I'd earned over 7x on–much better than just 1x! Anyway, on to your question. I'm going to divide each one into earning points and using points, for clarity.
1. Ink Bold Business Card
If your wife has any kind of small business and is willing and able to buy gift cards and put substantial spend on those, the Ink Bold or the Ink Plus should be the one travel credit card she uses (the only difference between them is that the Ink Bold is a charge card that must be paid in full every month and the Ink Plus is a credit card–which you should still pay in full in order not to incur high interest charges). Currently, by clicking through the Ultimate Rewards Mall to Staples, she can get 5x points, and then another 5x points since the Ink Bold bonuses office supply store purchases at 5x. The Visa $100 gift cards cost $5.95 each, so that means she's getting Over 7x Points Everywhere with the Ink Bold and Staples on all purchases made with the gift card (assuming you value Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents each) after you factor in the $5.95 fee per card.
Another good aspect of the Ink Bold is that there are no foreign transaction fees on purchases made abroad or with a company based overseas. The Ink Bold bonuses 2x for hotel spend, but for all other travel and dining spend you'll want to use your Sapphire Preferred card, assuming it's not a solo business trip for her and the two of you are traveling together.
Also see our Ink Bold Sign Up Tips
Ultimate Rewards points, as you know since you have the Sapphire Preferred, transfer 1:1 to United, Hyatt, British Airways, Korean Air, Southwest, Marriott, Priority Club and Amtrak. United and Hyatt provide the best value in terms of transfer partners, although I've also topped up my British Airways account when there wasn't any Membership Rewards transfer bonus. You can also transfer Ultimate Rewards points to another person's frequent flyer or loyalty program account, which can be very useful when you need to top up a family member or friend's account in order to redeem for an award. What you don't want to do is to use the Ultimate Rewards booking tool or redeem for cash or merchandise. Instead, to get the greatest value for your points, you want to transfer to United and redeem (ideally) for international business and first class, or to Hyatt and stay at top-tier Park Hyatt or Grand Hyatt properties, for 22,000 Hyatt points per night.
2. Sapphire Preferred
The Sapphire Preferred Visa was my favorite all-around travel credit card until I got the Ink Bold and started purchasing so much with 5x-7x gift cards. If your wife doesn't have any kind of small business or doesn't want to deal with gift cards, your best route is likely the Sapphire Preferred, since it gives 2.14x bonus (2x points, with a 7% annual dividend on all points, including bonus points) on all travel and dining. Travel includes flights (although of course you're best off purchasing these yourself, with your AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card, for 3x points), rail travel, rental cars, tolls, mass transit. Dining includes everything from fine dining to cafes, Starbucks, etc. So for anyone who doesn't have the Ink Bold or has it but doesn't want to buy gift cards, the Sapphire Preferred is arguably the best travel credit card, and there are no foreign transaction fees when using the card internationally, so great for travel and dining spend abroad as well.
Since the Sapphire Preferred is also linked to Ultimate Rewards, it has the same transfer partners I described above with the Ink Bold.
3. Chase Freedom Visa
If your wife has a Chase bank account and can take advantage of Chase Exclusives, and especially if she can remember the quarterly 5x bonuses, the Chase Freedom is a better bet than many give it credit for, and it has no annual fee. This quarter, through end of June, the 5x bonus is for grocery stores and movie theaters, and at least for my family, we've just about maxed out the 5x bonus on grocery stores alone (you're limited to the first $1500 in spend for the 5x bonus). Q3 is restaurants and gas stations, and Q4 is airlines, hotels, Kohl's and Best Buy. So these are good travel categories coming up for the rest of the year.
Meanwhile, Chase Exclusives gives an extra 10% bonus on the base points, and 10 bonus points per transaction, so it's a go-to card for any small denomination spend, especially if you're not using gift cards. Think cheap cup of coffee, snack from the grocery store or cafe, parker meters, library fines, etc. See Chase Exclusives Bonuses: Maximize Chase Freedom Ultimate Rewards Points
My main caveat to this card is that you need to have the Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold to turn these Freedom points into Ultimate Rewards points so you can transfer them to United, Hyatt, and other Ultimate Rewards partners. So ideally, you'll be able to convince her to apply for and use two travel credit cards: the Chase Freedom and the Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold. With Chase, you can apply for both a personal card and a business card at the same time, so if possible I'd persuade her to apply for both the Ink Bold and Chase Freedom.
4. AMEX Premier Rewards Gold Card
While I haven't been using my AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card lately, due to the Chase Freedom 5x grocery bonus, it could be worthwhile to have this be your wife's main card if a lot of her normal spend is on grocery (2x bonus) and you can't persuade her to get the Ink Bold to use for gift cards. The other reason I mention this card is that if your wife isn't already an AMEX card holder, or only has a card that uses AMEX by license (such as the Fidelity Rewards AMEX card) she may be eligible for a 75,000 signup bonus. See 75,000 Bonus Points for AMEX Premier Rewards Gold Card.
As you know from already having this card, AMEX Membership Rewards points aren't quite as useful as they used to be, since Continental/United is no longer a transfer partner and Aeroplan gutted its award chart and now imposes fuel surcharges on most redemptions. The best use is transferring points to British Airways or Delta when there's a transfer bonus. Right now you can transfer Membership Rewards points to British Airways with a 50% transfer bonus. See 50 Percent AMEX Transfer Bonus to British Airways – Best Deals.
- Even if you can't persuade your wife to get the Ink Bold, I'd recommend that you do, if you have any kind of small business, such as selling things on Amazon or eBay, consulting, etc. That way you can earn 5x-7x points on gift cards, and give them one by one to your wife to use on purchases that her one travel credit card doesn't bonus. Most people can keep track of a couple categories, e.g. AMEX Premier Rewards Gold for groceries, gift card for everything else.
- If it's simply a matter of forgetting which card bonuses what, you could try putting a little dot sticker on each of her cards with the spend category, e.g. travel/dining for Sapphire Preferred, airfare/groceries for AMEX Premier Rewards Gold etc.
- Not a credit card tip, but it could be that your wife is feeling overwhelmed in other areas, perhaps her job, family responsibilities if you have kids, etc. May want to see if together you need to focus on what can help her to feel less overwhelmed in one of these other areas (along with planning your dream couples or family trip together). She may then be more able and willing to consider using more than one credit card.
- If all else fails, just try to put as much of your household spend on your cards, in order to maximize your spend bonuses.
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