Preparing for Miles

I regularly post schemes for earning points and miles. Often, these schemes require certain credit cards to make them work. It’s also the case that opportunities come and go quickly so you need to be prepared to take advantage of them when they appear. My recommendation is to arm yourself, in advance, with the credit cards that are most likely to be needed for these opportunities.

Other resources: Please also see my best credit card offers page for cards with the best sign-up bonuses.  If you need more, also see my credit Cards page for an unfiltered list of cards.

Best Credit Cards for Earning Points

Someday this may change, but for now, in my opinion, the best opportunities come from Chase. Not only does Chase offer some of the best sign-up bonuses, but they have some of the best opportunities for earning points and miles once you have the cards. All of the cards listed below will give you access to the very lucrative Ultimate Rewards Mall. The Sapphire Preferred® Card will give you an annual 7% dividend bonus for all points earned. And, the Ink cards will give you, among other benefits, 5 points per dollar for office supply purchases. Since big chain office supply stores like Staples, OfficeMax, and Office Depot carry gift cards, it is easy to turn this benefit into 5 points per dollar for virtually all of your spending!

Bonus Categories

Primary Perks

Ink Plus® Business Credit Card

5X office supplies, cellular/landline/ cable; 2X gas and hotels

Free to transfer points to airline and hotel partners; 20% off travel redemptions;

Complimentary LOUNGE CLUBTM Airport Lounge Access (first two visits per year are free).  See “How to sign up for Chase Ink cards

Ink Cash® Business Credit Card

 

5X office supplies, cellular/landline/ cable; 2X gas and dining

See

How to sign up for Chase Ink cards

Chase Sapphire Preferred℠ Card

2X travel and dining

Free to transfer points to airline and hotel partners; 20% off travel redemptions;

Sapphire® Card

2X dining

Chase Freedom®

5X rotating categories

Points can be transferred to Ink Bold or Sapphire Preferred® Card

Note: you will get the most value from the Freedom, Ink Classic, and Sapphire® Card if paired with either the Ink Bold, Ink Plus, or the Sapphire Preferred® Card. By transferring points to either of those cards, you will be able to redeem the points for 20% off travel or (better yet) transfer the points to one of several airline or hotel programs.

Additional point-earning cards, of note:

Signup Bonus

Annual Fee

Bonus Categories

Primary Perks

Capital One® Venture℠ Rewards Credit Card

10K

$59 / first year free

2X everywhere Redeem your miles for any travel expense. Fly on any airline, any time with no blackout dates. No foreign transaction fees
Barclaycard Arrival Plus 40K $89 / first year free 2X everywhere 10% back when points are used for travel; Free TripIt Pro subscription ($49 value)

Best Credit Cards for Earning Points and Elite Status

Several cards from American Express (a Frequent Miler partner) will help you earn airline and hotel elite status in addition to earning points. I’ve also added a new Citi Hilton card to the table because it confers automatic Gold status!

Signup Bonus

Annual Fee

Bonus Categories

Primary Perks

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express 25K $65 / first year free 2X SPG, 1X everywhere else. Gold status with $30K annual spend; 5 elite nights per year, 2 elite stays per year. 25% bonus on transfers to airline miles
Hilton Hhonors
Click here for Frequent Miler analysis
40,000 points Free 7X Hilton; 5Xrestaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations; 3X everywhere else Free Silver status; Gold status with $20K spend
Hilton HHonors Surpass
Click here for Frequent Miler analysis
60,000 points $75 12X Hilton spend; 6Xrestaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations; 3X everywhere else Free Gold status. Diamond status with $40K spend.
Platinum Delta SkyMiles

Click here for Frequent Miler analysis
35K miles, 5K MQMs $150 ($195 as of 5/1/2014) 2X Delta purchases 10K bonus miles + 10K MQMs after $25K of spend in calendar year. Another 10K of each after $50K of spend. Total of 20K MQMs will get you very close to the next level of Delta elite status. Complimentary companion coach ticket each year upon renewal.
Delta Reserve
Click here for Frequent Miler analysis
10K miles, 10K MQMs $450 2X Delta purchases 15K bonus miles + 15K MQMs after $30K of spend in calendar year. Another 15K of each after $60K of spend. Total of 30K MQMs is more than enough to get you to the next level of Delta elite status. Free Delta SkyClub access for you and up to two guests. Complimentary companion coach or first class ticket each year upon renewal.
Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card 2 free weekend nights. $95 10X Hilton, 5X airfare & car rentals, 3X everywhere else Automatic Gold status.  Also: Diamond status with $40K spend. No foreign transaction fees. Smart chip.
The Platinum Card® from American Express 40K points(after $3K spend in 3 months) $450 N/A SPG Gold status. Elite status with several car rental companies. Also includes: free airport lounge access; $200 statement credit for airline fees each calendar year; free Global Entry
Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz 50K(after $3K spend in 3 months) $475 5X for Mercedes-Benz purchases SPG Gold status. Elite status with several car rental companies. Also includes: free airport lounge access; $200 statement credit for airline fees each calendar year; free Global Entry

NOTE: For each of the Delta cards described above, there is a corresponding business version of the same card. The business versions usually have identical annual fees and benefits, but the personal cards offer more consumer protections. The great thing about the business cards is that American Express will allow you to hold both a personal card and a business card and therefore you can earn signup bonuses and MQMs for each of them! In order to get to the business applications, start by clicking through to the personal application. When you see “Are you a small business owner? Click Here to find out about the Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card,” follow the “click here” link.

Best Credit Cards for Saving Money

  • Upromise World MasterCard: This cashback card has some good features such as up to 3% back at Exxon and Mobile, but the best feature is that when you shop through the uPromise portal and pay with this Upromise World MasterCard®, you’ll earn an extra 5% cash back at many merchants.  This means that, in total, you can earn 10% cash back for a wide array of online purchases.
  • US Bank Cash+ Visa: Like the Chase Freedom and Ink cards, the Cash+ Visa card has 5X spend categories, but unlike the Chase cards, this one lets you choose the categories.  US Bank limits 5% back to $2000 in spend per quarter.  No annual fee.
  • Blue Cash Preferred: The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is a dedicated cash back card which gives a whopping 6% cash back for US grocery store purchases! One great thing about this is that many grocery stores carry gift cards so you can automatically get 6% cash back for nearly any type of spend by buying gift cards first. And, if your grocery store has its own rewards program you can double-dip!
    NOTE: Beginning Jan 15 2013, the 6% benefit is capped at $6000 per year. If you opened your account before Nov 4th 2012, you’ll have a full year before the cap goes into effect.
  • SimplyCash: The American Express SimplyCash Business Credit Card offers 5% cash back at office supply stores (within the US) and wireless telephone providers.  Also, 3% your choice from list of categories (e.g. airfare, hotels, car rentals, gas stations, restaurants, select media buys, shipping).  3% and 5% rebates are capped at $25,000 per rebate year.
  • JCB’s Marukai card: Available for residents of Hawaii, California, Washington, Oregon, and Nevada. $15 annual fee + $10 membership fee.  This card offers 1% cash back on your first $1K of purchases, 2% cash back on the next $1K of purchases, and 3% cash back thereafter each year.  Earn an addition $50 bonus when you spend $5K or more yearly.  The card acts like a Discover card but it is not accepted everywhere that Discover is.  Details here.
  • Discover: The Discover it™ card is special not just because of its rotating 5% cash back categories, but because of its very lucrative ShopDiscover portal. By shopping through ShopDiscover, you can easily earn 10% to 20% rebates on almost anything you buy online.
  • Barnes & Noble: Barclays’ Barnes & Noble MasterCard® offers 5% cash back on all purchases made at Barnes & Noble in-store or online.  Use this card to reload the American Express Campus Edition prepaid card for an effective rebate of 4.25% everywhere.
  • Chase: The same Chase cards that are great for earning points are great for cash back as well since Ultimate Rewards points can be converted directly to cash! It’s important to note, though, that you can get much more than 1 cent per point value if the points are used for travel with the Sapphire Preferred® Card or Ink Bold cards.

Advertiser Disclosure: FrequentMiler is an independent, advertising-supported web site.  Frequent Miler has financial relationships with many of the cards mentioned here, and is compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.  Frequent Miler has not reviewed all available credit card offers in the marketplace. Advertiser partners include American Express, Barclays, Chase, Citibank, and U.S. Bank.

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this site is not provided by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Regarding comments: Comments posted at the bottom of Frequent Miler pages and posts are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Comments

  1. A while ago I had opted out of receiving targeted and pre approved credit card offers when I wasn’t interested in the miles and points game. I’m wondering how to get myself subscribed again to the targeted offers. I certainly want to apply for some of these cards in the next churn as well as some more cards that make sense for my spending pattern. Do you recommend a website that tracks good credit card offers? I don’t trust that simple google search will give me the best blog.

    I really like that you focus on the program I have been using for a while: Chase UR, but I keep wondering that there must be ways to mix and match Chase UR with the Discover/Amex program/Citi to achieve the perfect balance of cash back and points.

    • Mint Cilantro: Great question! For the cards I do list, I try very hard to make sure that I list only the best offers. For other cards, I think that Million Mile Secrets does a good job of keeping a list of the best current offers for mile and point earning cards. I don’t know who does the same for cash back cards. I agree that mixing and matching between cash back and points is a good idea too. As to how to get the pre approved offers: I don’t know this for sure, but I’d bet if you sign up with a few banks to get mortgage rate quotes (for refinancing, for example) you’ll have a chance to opt-in to mailings. Go to the big guys: Chase, Amex, Citi, etc.

  2. You can OPT IN again to the junk mail offers by going to https://www.optoutprescreen.com/. This is an official joint venture between the major credit bureaus.

    No guarantee this will get you the desired targeted offers. Also note that banks or companies of which you are an existing customer and not bound by your OPT OUT preferences, they can always send you marketing offers of their other services.

  3. do you know if any of the cash back cards have no forex fee? i’m particularly interested in the perkstreet and discover cards.

  4. FM – I’ve been trying to find the best offer for the Delta Platinum Business AMEX. I think I gave you the link that you have in your summary above. It looks like the application for the personal platinum still works, but the application for the business version gives an error.

    Also, I’m finding that your referral links (and other bloggers too) for the Delta Reserve Personal AMEX are no good. It goes to a page that shows all three (gold, platinum, and reserve cards), but when I click “apply now” AMEX sends me to an error page.
    Do you have an updated referral link for the reserve AMEX? would it work for business version?
    I’m looking to get the reserve for myself, and the platinum for the wife.

    • Steve: The links work for me. Can you tell me more about the situation? Which link are you clicking? Is it on this “Preparing for Miles” page? What browser are you using?

  5. well. . . that’s weird.
    Your links work now. (Plat 20k+5k MQM and Reserve 10k MQM).
    Yesterday, when I went to those links, I got an error when clicking “apply now”, but not today (using Firefox 12.0 and IE 8).
    Also, you have the other link for personal and business Delta platinum cards
    “There is currently a better signup offer (for which I do not get referral credit) available here” sends you here: https://www304.americanexpress.com/personal-card-application/apply/jsp/includes/DeltaPlatinumInserts.jsp?ccsgeep=13571&openeep=43607
    yesterday neither the personal nor the business applications worked. Today, the personal app works, but the business app still doesn’t work.

  6. @FM, My wife just got the instant approval for HH AMEX and used your link. Please update the other southwest links. I had to use Darious one instead of your non-working SW…

    • chuck: Thanks for letting me know about that (and for using some of my links)! I’ll look into fixing those Southwest links. Just FYI, neither MMS or I get referral credit for Southwest credit cards. Both of us have a policy of listing the best available offers regardless of whether we get paid from them. If you’re curious about which cards I get paid for, I keep a complete list on this page: http://frequentmiler.boardingarea.com/credit-cards/

  7. @FM: not sure if you ever did a review or discussed about the Amex Business Platinum but wanted your insight on it. Just got an email from AMex with a 50k bonus ($5k within 3 months) and wanted your opinion on it? Or perhaps point me to a review on it? Thanks in advance!

    • Thomas: I haven’t specifically reviewed it, but I got the card myself thanks to a 100K targeted offer last year (requiring $10K spend). It’s a great card for the perks (lounge access, $200 airline credit per calendar year, SPG gold status, etc.). I wouldn’t sign up right now. Reason: if you sign up more towards the middle of the year (March thru Oct, for example), you can get the $200 airline credit twice: once in the year you apply and again in the next calendar year. If you sign up now, it might be a challenge to spend $200 within one airline before the end of 2012.

  8. Can I open an Ink Plus and Ink Bold at the same time (through the reconsideration line) using 1 hard pull by saying that I want to have 1 charge card and another card that allows me to carry a balance?

    I suppose it would work like this: apply for Ink Bold online, then immediately call the reconsideration line, answer their questions, and then say that you also want to apply for the Ink Plus because you want to carry a balance (and of course get 2 bonuses!).

    Has anyone done this?

  9. Chris: I haven’t tried it, but it might work. You could apply for both of them online and then call the reconsideration line to explain why you need both. If you try it, please let us know what happens!

  10. The American Express offers in particular always say that you can’t get a sign up bonus if you’ve had a gold/plat card in the last 90 days. What’s your success with getting the bonus while having the card, 100%? Is all it takes is a kind disposition on a phone call?

  11. Shawn: personal and business cards are treated as separate. So, you can get a new platinum/gold signup bonus if you already have the business version but signup for the personal (or vice versa). In my case, I already had a platinum business card and I signed up for 2 personal cards. My understanding is that the platinum Mercedes card is treated as a separate product from the regular platinum card so I should be OK (will find out in a month or so)

  12. The AmEx offers say that you can not get the Gold bonus if you have the platinum and vice versa. Which card would you recommend we get as you can get the bonus for only one?

  13. Cyclotron: I believe that you can get both the Mercedes Platinum and the Premier Rewards Gold bonuses, so that’s a good option. If you want to pick just one, I would go with the Gold since it has no first year fee and it has bonus points for grocery and flights.

  14. FM – do you have a link for the Biz Delta Reserve? I am going to get both reserve cards and go for $120k via the gift cards to get Platinum and would like to use your links

  15. Hi, FM,
    Please know, very likely it’s your typo, the New Barclays Arrival MasterCard 40K Miles Bonus NOT 20K, first year $89 waived.

  16. FM – found some more old info.. On the US Bank Cash+, you have “And, unlike the Freedom and Ink cards, category bonuses have no quarterly or annual caps.” Which is no longer true.. and on the Best Category Bonuses page, you have the caps listed as $2500 per quarter.. according to their website, it’s now down to $2000 per quarter.

    https://www.usbank.com/credit-cards/cash-plus-signature.html

    Still, thanks again for a great resource. :)

    • afterbang: Thanks for the corrections! The Cash+ card used to have no cap, but as of July it will have the $2K cap. I remembered the details incorrectly when I wrote “$2500″. Thanks again.

  17. The California version of the JCB Marukai card is also available to residents of Washington, Oregon, and Nevada. You should also mention the $25 annual fee ($15 for card, $10 for Marukai membership, both waived first year) in addition to the rewards which you’ve described accurately. It’s a really good card to have, but not as good as it sounds. They are frustrating to deal with as they seem to be very conservative about credit limits and have no internet banking, but you can check your balance by phone and pay via bill pay (including Bluebird). I have also found that the card does not always work at merchants that accept Discover, even when the card is swiped (Discover/JCB partnership does not apply to card-not-present transactions, but some online merchants like Amazon take JCB directly). You also can’t use it to buy Amex GC online, so you can actually do better buying them through TCB with a 2% card.

    Some lucky people are still grandfathered in to unlimited 5% cash back on the US Bank Cash+. I’ve been waiting for
    my letter informing me of changes to my account but it hasn’t arrived yet so I think I’m in at least until December 31 as category choices have already opened for Q4. The cap definitely hasn’t taken effect for me for Q3 as I received almost $1k in cash back (implying almost 10x the quarterly cap of 5% purchases) on my last statement alone.

    • Bill pay? What do you mean you can pay with Bluebird? What type of bill pay service? Can this card be paid with any debit card?

  18. I am looking for any comments you might have made related to transferring airline miles to hotel points. Such as transferring HawaiianMiles to Marriott Rewards. I thought I had seen such a post but can not find it now.

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