Points, points, points. We live for points. An important strategy to collect as many points as possible is to have the right credit cards, and use the right ones for the right purpose.
So here's what's in MY wallet. Note that some of these cards are only going to be available to Canadians. But Zak has already posted about his recommended card for Americans.
The favourite card in my wallet, and the one that I use for most places that take American Express, is the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express. Why is it my favourite? Because Starwood (SPG) points are the most versatile points out there. You earn 1 SPG point for every dollar that you spend on the card. SPG points can be used at for rooms at Starwood Hotels (e.g. Westins, Sheratons, W’s), or can be transferred to a whole slew of different airline programs, including Aeroplan, American and British Airways (but there are many more). And as a bonus, for every 20,000 points you transfer you get an extra 5,000 miles (i.e. 20,000 SPG points transfer to 25,000 Aeroplan). So that’s like earning 1.25 miles for every dollar spent if you plan to convert them over to airline points. The card is $120 a year, but I find it worth it for the SPG points that I’m able to rack up. If you are interested in getting the card, if you use the following link you will get an offer that is usually more than signing up without the referral — depending on the month’s offer it’s either a bunch of points for signing up (right now it’s 21,000!), or the first year free. Disclaimer, I also get bonus points if you sign up using this link: http://amex.co/1h3VHNi
I also carry the American Express Gold Card. I wrote about this last year. With this card you earn American Express Membership Rewards points. These points aren’t nearly as “valuable” on a point-per-point basis as an SPG point, but they are still pretty valuable since they can be transferred on a 1 to 1 basis to Aeroplan and British Airways Avios, and on a 1 to .75 ratio to Alitalia, Cathay Pacific, Delta and Etihad. You can even transfer to SPG points, but since it’s at a 1 to 0.5 basis it’s not the best. However, where this card excels is that you get 2 Membership Reward points for each dollar spent in certain categories: almost everything travel related, plus gas stations, groceries stores, and drug stores. So I use this card when making any Canadian dollar purchases in these categories. I of course have a referral link to this card too, and if they are still having their “first year free” promotion when you click through, it’s almost a no brainer to apply just for the free miles you get for getting the card and making a minimal spend (as I write this the offer is 25,000 miles). If you don’t want to pay the renewal fee after the first year ($150), you can transfer the Membership Rewards points to another program like Aeroplan and then cancel the card. If you want to apply, here is my referral link: http://amex.co/1dJ6Pe5
I actually currently have a THIRD American Express in my wallet - the Platinum Card. With it’s current $699 fee it’s a hard card to recommend unless you travel a LOT and will make use of the lounge and concierge benefits. It does come with a $200 travel credit per year which makes the fee a little more palatable, but for most people (myself included) it’s hard to defend keeping it at that price without any sort of bonus. (I got it a few years ago when it was a few hundred dollars cheaper. With the $200 credit and the signup bonus at the time, the lower price made some sense. When it comes up for renewal in a few months at the higher price I will not be renewing). That said, if you ARE interested, the current signup offer (through my referral link of course) is 60,000 Membership Rewards points. Given that the $200 travel credit is per CALENDAR year, and the $699 fee is per membership year, if you use the credit both this year and next and only hold the card for one year, your net cost is $299 for 60,000 points. That’s not a bad deal (plus you get the other benefits of the card, including 1.25 points for every dollar spent). If I’ve managed to convince you to go for it, my referral link is: http://amex.co/1ivQnlH
Alas, the world is not perfect, and not every place accepts American Express. So it’s important to also have a Visa and Mastercard in your wallet as well. There are of course a lot more options out there for Visas and Mastercards, but here’s what I’m currently holding.
Most of my non-American Express Canadian spending is going on the new TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite card. I’ve already blogged a lot about my hatred for Aeroplan, so it may come as a surprise that I’m still collecting Aeroplan miles. Well, they still do have SOME value (especially while the ability to move them over to US Air Miles through points.com is still an option). Plus my TD advisor offered it to me for free for the first year with 15,000 sign up miles, so I’m not going to say no to free miles!
You probably noticed that above I made clear that I was only using the previously mentioned cards for Canadian dollar spending. All of the cards mentioned are terrible for non-Canadian denomination spending because of the 2.5% to 3% surcharge that they tack onto the exchange rate. Losing that extra percentage does not make up for the points earned by charging. So what to do? Do I pay cash when I shop out of the country? Don’t be silly! For that I carry the Chase Canada Marriott Rewards Card. Chase does NOT charge the extra foreign transaction fee, so purchases end up converting to 2.5% to 3% cheaper than using the other cards. Plus I earn Marriott points in the process. Since you only earn 1 Marriott point per dollar spent, and one Marriott point doesn’t have nearly the value of an SPG point (or even an Aeroplan mile!) I don’t use the card for Canadian spending. There is an annual fee for the card ($120), but it is waived for the first year, and you get a certificate for a free stay every year, so that almost pays for the card if you use it. While I don’t have it, Chase Canada also has an amazon.ca card which also has no foreign transaction fees. It’s a free card and earns 1% back in Amazon credit — again it’s a good card to use for non-Canadian spending.
I also have the Alaska Airlines MasterCard from MBNA Canada (which is actually owned by TD now). This seems like an odd card to hold for someone in Toronto, where Alaska doesn’t fly, but Alaska miles are actually pretty good since they can be redeemed on a number of different airlines across different alliances. I’m not using the card much now and I probably won’t renew it when it comes up for renewal (it’s $75 a year), but for a while it was my main non-American Express card that I used, and I’ve racked up over 200,000 Alaska Miles. I’m hoping to use those points to fly me and Steven one way to Asia, through Dubai, First Class on the Emirates A380. Gosh darn it we want to have a shower in the sky before we die!!! Alas I don’t have enough points for a return flight in First for both of us, and Steven would kill me if I went without him, so we’ll have to find other points to redeem to make our way home.
A card that I DON’T hold, but which Steven does, and that I think is a pretty good card for many people, is the Capital One Aspire Travel World Mastercard. Personally I don’t use this card because I want to collect points to be able to travel places in business and first class (experiences that I would never pay for out of pocket). But if you are looking for the best return in terms of reimbursement of normal travel expenses you would make, then this is a great card. If you redeem your points wisely, each dollar you spend on the card gives you 2 cents back toward travel purchases. The card is $120 per year, but you get $100 worth of travel credit as a renewal bonus each year, so really the net cost is $20 (plus in the first year you get $350 worth of travel credit!). Steven really likes the card because when unlike when you redeem Aeroplan points, with these points you purchase a regular plane ticket and then get reimbursed. So not only do you not have to worry about limited points ticket availability, you GET the miles (and more importantly for Steven, you get the STATUS miles) for the flights taken (he’s gotta keep up his United Platinum status somehow!). So while it’s not the card for ME, I recommend it as a good everyday card for most people.
So that’s it. That’s all the cards I hold - 3 Amex’s, 2 Visas and 1 Mastercard. But I’m always on the lookout for the next best card! Let me know in the comments what’s in YOUR wallet (and why!)
This article is in the category: Credit Cards.