One of the questions that I’m frequently asked is: “So which credit card should I get?”. Beyond that first credit card, there’s a long way to go if you’re looking to play the miles and points game long term. If you intend to travel longer and farther, then you need to put in the hard yards have a sound long term plan.
This is the big dreaded word. We were all nice and cozy sitting atop our stashes of miles and points. All of a sudden, the unfathomable happened. Well, not quite that unfathomable but definitely something unfavorable for us travel aficionados. Loyalty programs have been giving us one gut punch after another in reducing the value of their miles and points.
In spite of these frequent changes, they’ve still not gotten better at communicating these changes with us. Given such a volatile scenario where the value of miles/points that you hold keeps changing, what should be your next move?
If you are looking to build a sizable chunk of miles and points, then it would be prudent to not store them all in one bucket. Co-branded cards can provide value if you travel frequently on a particular airline or stay at a particular hotel chain. Beyond that, I really do not see any merit in signing up for co-branded cards just for earning the miles.
A simple case in point being the repeated ‘limited time offers‘ appearing this year on the Delta co-branded credit cards. Unless you fly Delta frequently, you’d rather be holding the American Express Platinum (5x on flights) or American Express Gold Card (3x on flight) for booking flights.
You would earn Membership Rewards points instead of Delta SkyMiles. This way you’d be free to transfer these miles to Delta or any of the other Airline or Hotel partners based on your travel needs. Conversely, once you have a co-branded card you’re stuck in that currency.
Flexible points currencies
As loyalty programs undergo rapid changes, we’ll gradually see savvy travelers shift their strategy to building a stash of flexible points currencies. This is a wise strategy to hedge against a devaluation. I have a significant chunk of points in my Membership Rewards and Ultimate rewards accounts. I see these points as a great way to have a lot of flexibility when I travel. Also, I’m not stuck to one particular alliance or partner due to the diversity of transfer partners.
For example, I’ve transferred Chase points to Hyatt to stay at their wonderful all-inclusive properties. While planning a trip to Cancun, I found no availability at any of the Hyatt properties for my dates. I transferred a handful of Amex points to Hilton in order to top off my account and booked the all inclusive Hilton Playa del Carmen.
The Pundit’s Mantra
- Start with a flexible points currency and put your recurring expenses. You can start with the American Express Gold Card or the Chase Sapphire Card as your first card, depending on your preference.
- Ensure that the flexible points currency cards have bonus points categories beneficial to you. Look for simple categories like restaurants, groceries or streaming services. The key here is to find a card to spend money on things you are already spending anyway. For example, I pair my American Express Gold Card with the Amex Everyday Card in order to further bolster my Membership Rewards account balance.
- Apply for a co-branded credit card only if you frequently fly a particular airline or stay frequently at a hotel chain. In my case, I carry the Hilton Honors Card due to my loyalty to the Hilton brand. Since I’m not a hub captive and not loyal to any domestic airline, I don’t carry a co-branded airline card.
- Finally, review your travel goals and see how a particular credit card or cards fit into the mix. I’ve found a great deal of satisfaction in using my miles and points credit cards to get to places where I want to travel.
Has your credit card strategy changed over the years due to devaluations? Do you still see value in holding on to co-branded credit cards? Let us know in the comments section.
Never miss out on the best miles/points deals. Like us on Facebook to keep getting the latest content!