- Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards
- SPG and Citi Thank You Program
When it comes to flexible points, there were once the big three. And now we have the big three plus medium size fourth participant created by brilliant minds at Citi. You can see overview of Chase Ultimate Rewards program here, Amex Membership Rewards here, SPG here, and last but not least, Citi Thank You program here
Yes, a lot has changed in one year since these posts were written, but the principles are still the same. So, make sure to take a look (after you read my post), especially if you are a beginner. Side benefit: You are unlikely to fall asleep reading “Devil’s Advocate” series.
What I want to do here is highlight strengths and weaknesses of each program when it comes to family travel. And then I’ll pick a winner (cough, Ultimate Rewards, cough). I decided to break up this post in two parts. Today we are starting with Chase and Amex. Without further ado:
Best credit card combination: Chase Ink Plus and Chase Freedom
1) Points instantly transfer to Southwest, probably the best program for most middle-class families in America. It’s revenue-based, which means every seat is available on points. If you can book far ahead, you can usually get 1.6 cents per point. And let’s not forget Companion pass.
2) Points instantly transfer to Avios 1:1. Avios has a distance-based program where some flights cost only 4,500 points one-way. It also lets you pull miles into one family account, which helps to efficiently use up your stash.
3) Points transfer to Hyatt. I wrote a post on some Category 1 redemptions (cost only 5,000 points).
4) You can combine points with those earned from Chase Freedom. That card doesn’t have an annual fee and offers 5 points per dollar in rotating categories throughout the year. This lets use supercharge your earning potential. There have also been some interesting developments as of late: Staples.com is now selling $300 Visa gift cards and you may be able to buy $500 Visa gift cards with Chase Ink Plus at Office Depot, though this is probably the case of YMMV
5) You can get 1.25 cents per UR point when you redeem for travel.
1) No transfer bonuses, ever.
2) No special savings offers in your credit card profile, ever.
3) An annual fee of $95 on a premium card (Chase Ink Plus or Chase Sapphire Preferred) which allows you to transfer points to airline and hotel programs. While some have had success with getting bonus points to offset the fee, generally, it’s a “hit or miss” kind of thing. For high spenders, the cost of this annual fee is probably negligible, for low spenders it absolutely matters. And let’s face it, not too many busy families will have the time or energy to deal with retention calls.
4) Too few partners, which will be even more pronounced with the loss of Amtrak in December.
5) Weak program for Delta lovers (yes, they do exist). The only way to redeem on Delta is via Korean Sky Pass and Virgin Atlantic programs. Both require roundtrip redemption, and Virgin Atlantic usually will not show connecting flights (see my post). If you mostly want to focus on miles redeemable on Delta, look elsewhere.
Best credit card combination: each spouse gets an Amex EveryDay Preferred
1) Points transfer instantly to most programs, including Avios, Air Canada, Delta and Jet Blue. Those will likely be your main uses of MR points. I wrote about some other good options for family here
2) There are transfer bonuses on a regular basis, which let you extract more value out of your stash.
3) There are quite a few partners, and all three airline alliances are well represented. You can transfer to Singapore program to redeem for flights to Hawaii on United metal (at a cost of 35K miles roundtrip) Programs like Air France and Iberia open up many possibilities if you want to fly to Europe.
4) Amex EveryDay Preferred earns Membership Rewards points and happens to be one of my top long-term picks for family. Amex card gives you an access to special savings program. So, with some effort, it should be possible to offset your annual fee.
5) You don’t have to have a credit card with an annual fee in order to preserve your points. You can get Amex Everyday (or downgrade it from Amex Everyday Preferred).
1) Recent cut in transfer ratio to Avios. Instead of getting 1,000 Avios in exchange for 1,000 MR points, it’s now 800 Avios per every 1,000. This is a big blow, but hopefully, they will have some sort of transfer bonus to make up for it.
2) Somewhat weak revenue program option compared to Southwest. MR partners with Jet Blue, but transfer ratio isn’t all that great and value per point is less compared to what you would get with Rapid Rewards. While Jet Blue may be preferable to those who live near one of their hubs, in general, Southwest shines by comparison when it comes to family travel.
3) Delta is the only domestic program out of the big three (Delta, American, United) that is represented. Award availability has improved, but it’s nowhere near compared to what you would find on those other airlines. While there is a way to redeem MR points on United and American, you will not have access to standard level awards in those programs. That could be problematic if you need to fly last minute.
4) One point is worth only 1 cent toward travel.
5) Many international routes come with fuel surcharges which can make your search complicated. While there are ways to get great value out of MR points without paying exorbitant fees, it will take time and effort. By comparison, if you have United miles transferred from UR program, you can just look for seats and book them online. There are no fuel surcharges, ever. Easy peasy!
6) Very weak hotel partner list. Sure, there is Choice. But you can purchase Choice points for 1.1 cents each, so you will most likely want to preserve your MR stash. It’s an option, of course, but not near as lucrative as Hyatt.
I’ve mentioned at the very beginning that I think Ultimate Rewards program is the winner. Why? I don’t like suspense. OK: they partner with Avios (1:1 transfer), Southwest and Hyatt. Those three programs will be a good fit for most families in America. Hyatt footprint isn’t great, but they do have decent presence in tourist destinations.
If you can redeem your points at a category 1 or 2 property, you will do very well, especially during holidays. Pay cash or use hotel points from sign-up bonuses at other times. If you love Hyatt brand, you should also look into Chase Hyatt credit card, especially if you plan to stay in one of their fancy hotels soon. It earns 2 points per dollar on dining, certain travel purchases, and each year you get a certificate good at category 1-4 property after you pay an annual fee of $75.
That said, I stand by my original statement that Amex EveryDay Preferred is the most lucrative card overall when it comes to flexible points. This is especially true if you are looking to redeem miles for flights to Hawaii and Alaska. But it really does depend on your preferences. If you love Southwest and Hyatt, MR program isn’t going to do much for you. And life is about living and enjoying things, right?
In the second installment, I will analyze SPG and Citi Thank You programs. Neither one IMO measures up to UR or MR programs when it comes to family travel. But they are definitely worth considering, if only for sign-up bonus alone.
P.S. Check out my guest post on Enza’s Bargains site. The original title was “Can travel hacking save you money?” However, it accidentally morphed into “Can travel hacking save you?” Well, it’s official, I am in a cult.
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