The Cards I Am Now Using For Travel Expenses

I have a quandary. I’m no longer sure what card to use for my travel expenses. It used to be pretty clear cut. There was the card I used when I wanted to get travel protection. I had a card that earned the most points for expenses that other cards didn’t cover. I even had a card to use for my tolls and UBER expenses.

Well, things change. Some cards devalue while others become more valuable. So where do I sit right now when it comes to travel charges?

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What Cards Am I Looking At Before The End Of 2019?

We’re more than halfway through September and it’s less than 100 days until Christmas. Christmas music is already playing on Sirius XM if you listen on the app (Note from Sharon: YAY!), and you should because now it’s included with even the cheap select subscriptions.

Besides getting ready to pull holiday decorations out of the attic, it means I have to give a good, hard look at my plans for our credit cards for the rest of the year.

Right now, I’ve finished with all of our spending requirements for new cards and I’ve almost reached the one spending threshold I set to achieve. That only means it’s time to look for new cards.

What’s out there that looks interesting to me? As a preface to my choices, I’m currently at 4/24 and Sharon’s at 5/24. I’m not looking at Chase right now for me because I already have 5 personal cards and 1 business card with them and I’m happy with that portfolio.

So what’s looking interesting for me right now?

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What’s The Best AMEX Card To Add An Authorized User To Open Up Points Transfers To Partner Programs?

As of September 1, 2019, American Express is only allowing cardholders to transfer Membership Rewards to partner accounts of authorized users and those authorized users need to have been added at least 90 days ago. What does this mean?

You still are not allowed to transfer (or pool) Membership Rewards between accounts, even with your spouse, family member or authorized user(s). This rule is more restrictive than Chase and Citi, which both do let you send points between accounts.

What you can currently do is transfer Membership Rewards points to the partner accounts of people who are authorized users on one of your American Express cards that earn Membership Rewards. For example, I can transfer Sharon’s Membership Rewards to my Delta SkyMiles account. I can also send my Membership Rewards to my dad’s ANA Mileage Club account, which is exactly what I did to help them have enough miles to book their trip to Bali and Thailand. When I did this, I added him as an authorized user to my account and a day later I could transfer the points. That’s no longer possible due to the 90-day hold period before you can make transfers to new authorized users.

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Here Are The Best Airlines To Pick For Your American Express Air Travel Credit

One of the benefits of having a premium American Express charge card is a yearly Air Travel Credit. If you have an American Express Gold card you get a $100 credit and cardholders of either the Personal or Business Platinum card you get a $200 credit. These credits have often been touted as an easy to way to offset the high annual fees of these cards but I’ve been leery of doing that as I never felt these credits were the same as cash.

Since for as long as I can remember, it’s been possible to skate around the rules of these credits and find ways to use them as cash, most often by buying airline gift cards or gift certificates. Slowly but surely, American Express has been shutting down those loopholes. Who knows if this is the work of the RAT team or not but there’s been a constant push to make you use these credits as intended.

The first thing to go was the trick to use the credits for United flights (but this might as much been United’s doing as AMEX). Just this year the easiest way to cash these credits out for American went away. At that point, I didn’t want to say I told you so but the writing was on the wall. That day has now come as apparently the gift card workaround is now dead for the remaining two airlines, Delta and Southwest.

So if these methods to use credits are gone, what are they good for and which airlines would those benefits be the best for. Turns out, not the airlines you’d think.

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When You Should(n’t) Use Airline Co-Brand Credit Cards To Pay For Airfare

All of the larger airlines in the U.S. offer co-brand credit cards. These cards, which provide extra benefits to cardholders, range from ones with no annual fee to premium cards costing up to $450 per year. While you’d think that using a co-branded card would be the best choice for earning points with your flight purchase, that’s usually not the case. For most airlines, you don’t earn any extra points for airfare purchases for having a more expensive card either.

In most cases, instead of using a co-brand card, it’s better to use a card that earns flexible points like Membership Rewards, Thank You Points or Ultimate Rewards. These cards provide the opportunity to earn more points as well as the flexibility to use points on multiple airlines. You’re able to transfer points from these programs into your airline mileage account when you need them.

Here are the earnings multiples on airfare for the main flexible points cards from each bank:

American Express (Membership Rewards)

  • Platinum card ($550 annual fee) – 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel
  • Gold card ($250 annual fee) – 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel

Chase (Ultimate Rewards)

  • Sapphire Reserve ($450 annual fee) – 3x points on travel worldwide (including airfares purchased from airlines or travel agencies/websites)
  • Sapphire Preferred ($95 annual fee) – 2x points on travel worldwide (including airfares purchased from airlines or travel agencies/websites)

Citi (Thank You Points)

  • Citi Prestige ($495 annual fee) – 5x points on purchases at airlines and travel agencies
  • Citi Premier ($95 annual fee) – 3x points on purchases at airlines and travel agencies

The AMEX Platinum and Citi Prestige both offer 5x on airfare but the AMEX card only counts purchases direct from the airline or their website. When I had both cards, I used the Citi Prestige because I valued the additional travel insurance coverage but I know people would rather earn Membership Rewards than Thank You points. Of the $95 cards, the Citi Premier earns the most points on airline purchases at 3x.

So how many miles will you earn by using an airline co-brand card to purchase airfare and when does it make sense to do so? I’ve indicated which airlines are partners of one (or all) of the flexible currency cards so you can compare earnings potential between cards.

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