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A year ago I put everything I could on my Starwood American Express card. Since then I’ve made more life more complicated by utilizing a plethora of Chase cards in addition to my Starwood card. You’re still going to just fine by sticking with a Starwood card, but it’s worth using that in conjunction with other cards in order to maximize your rewards and spread your points across more programs to have a greater shot at getting the award you want.
In the front of my wallet is Starwood, Starwood Business, Freedom, Ink Bold, Sapphire Preferred, and Ink Classic.
When and where do I use each of my active cards?
–Starwoood American Express Consumer Card and the Starwood American Express Business Card
Great for signup bonus, points for spending, and card benefits. 10K Starpoints for spending $1 or 25K Starpoints for spending $5K on each card. Free for 1 year, then $65.
American Express has the best benefits in the business by far. Computer or other expensive item break during the bonus warranty year? American Express will give you a full refund. Merchant doesn’t take returns? American Express will give you a full refund. Have a problem with a bad merchant or bad product? American Express will give you a full refund. The card also gets you Preferred Plus status, which gets you 4pm late checkout and other benefits at Starwood hotels.
As Starwood Starpoints are the most valuable point currency out there this is the American Express card to use. The points transfer at 20K:25K ratios with no fees (albeit not instantly like Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards) into American or British Airways in the Oneworld Alliance, Delta or Flying Blue in the Skyteam Alliance, and Air Canada or USAirways in the Star Alliance, or to LAN at a 20K:50K ratio into LAN of the Oneworld Alliance. Plus there are unaligned airlines, like Emirates, where you can book an A380 suite where you can take a shower on board while on your way to stay at Park Hyatt Maldives (but you’ll need Chase for the hotel!). All of those airlines have many partner options and provide the ability to book with no fuel surcharges.
Plus of course Starpoints are also very valuable with the hotel redemption options like unrestricted free nights, cash and point nights, 5th free nights, and the nights & flights combo award.
For right now on my Starwood card I put any purchase that I might want to return to American Express, any high-ticket item that I may want warranty coverage for, and purchases in places like Costco that only take American Express.
On my Starwood Business card I put purchases that qualify for Open Savings (Airtran: 5%. Barnes & Noble: 5%, Fedex: 5%, Flowers.com: 5%, Hyatt: 3%, HP: 5%, Microsoft: 5%, Courtyard/Fairfield/TownePlace/SpringHill/Residence Inn by Marriott:5%) as they earn Starpoints on top of cash back.
I value Starpoints at about 2.3 cents each, so the real key to each card for me is if it can beat a 2.3% rebate.
–American Express Platinum Card (Membership Rewards)
Great for churnable signup bonus and card benefits, but not great for spending. 25K points for spending $1K. $450 per year.
The main point of this card is the signup bonus, and the benefits (The $200 per calendar year airline fee (and gift card) credit, the platinum lounge access, the priority club lounge membership, the regus club membership, the Starwood gold status, the free expedited global entry membership, the car rental benefits, etc, etc)
The only compelling benefit this card gives for spending is that it covers lost items for 90 days, but it sure is great for lounge access, even once you’re done with the card…
–American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card (Membership Rewards)
Decent for churnable signup bonus, points for spending, and card benefits. 15K points for spending $1K. Free for 1 year, then $175.
This card gives 3 Membership Rewards points (which can transfer instantly at a 1:1 to British Airways in the Oneworld Alliance, Delta or Flying Blue in the Skyteam Alliance, and Air Canada in the Star Alliance) for spending on airfare and 2 points per dollar on gas and groceries.
I value Membership Rewards points at about 1.5 cents each right now so this card is nice for the signup bonus and the bonus categories, but that’s about it. Other cards also offer bonuses in these categories, so it’s not worth keeping around after the free year.
-Chase Continental OnePass Plus Mastercard and United Mileage Plus Explorer Visa
Great for signup bonus and card benefits, but not great for spending. 30K points for spending $1. Free for 1 year, then $95.
The main point of these cards is the signup bonus (30K which can be typically be bumped to 50K) and the benefits (primary car rental insurance, annual United club passes, miles that never expire, free baggage on Continental and United, priority boarding so you have room for carry-on baggage, upgrades for elites on award tickets, in-flight discounts, last seat EasyPass availability, and there some other nice benefits like price-drop protection, roadside assistance, delayed/lost/damaged baggage insurance, Trip delay/cancellation/interruption insurance, etc.)
You can generally do better for spending with other Chase cards, but if you do spend $25K in a year then you get 10K bonus points, which basically bumps up the earnings from 1 mile per dollar to a more respectable 1.4 miles per dollar.
The Continental card will be going away very soon, grab it while you can!
-Chase Hyatt Visa
Great for signup bonus and card benefits, but not great for spending. 2 free nights at any Hyatt worldwide. $75 annual fee.
The main point of this card is the great signup bonus which gets you 2 free nights that are good at top-tier hotels around the world that can go for $1,000 per night without any blackouts or restrictions. Plus you get other benefits. Non-elites get the 2 free nights for spending $1,000 on the card and they get Platinum status with free internet, bonus points, upgrades, guaranteed avaialbility, expedited checkin, and late checkout. Platinums earn 2 free nights at any Hyatt worldwide without blackout dates for spending just $1 and earn 2 suite upgrades on paid stays of up 7 days each. Diamonds at the time of application (including those who status-matched to Diamond) earn 2 free nights in a suite at any Hyatt worldwide without blackout dates for spending $1.
You can generally do better for spending with other Chase cards, and even stays at Hyatt hotels which earn triple points may be better served by using your Starwood card for Starpoints+Open Savings.
A nice new benefit is the annual free night certificate at category 1-4 hotels, good at hotels like the Hyatt 48LEX in Manhattan.
-Chase Freedom (Ultimate Rewards)
Great for spending, especially if you have a Chase checking account. 20,000 points for spending $500. No annual fee.
5 point per dollar spent in rotating categories is great..
For 2012 these rotating categories were:
Q1: Amazon.com and Gas stations
Q2: Grocery stores and movie theaters
Q3: Gas stations and restaurants
Q4: Hotels, airlines, Best Buy, and Kohl’s
Where the card really gets sweet is when you have a Chase checking account. Once linked up you get the Chase Exclusives Bonus: 10 bonus points for every transaction (even on a transaction of just 1 cent!) AND 10% bonus points for each $1 spent! And that’s all on top of the 5 point categories!
While this card on it own can’t transfer Ultimate Rewards points to airlines and hotels which give the best values, if you (or anyone else you know) also have a Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold card you will be able to transfer those points to airlines and hotels. Freedom will keep all points alive though even if you close Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold.
I personally consider my Ultimate Rewards points to be worth about 1.9 cents each. When the Freedom card with Chase Exclusives faces the Starwood card head on that means that Freedom beats Starwood on purchases of $90 or less and on all purchases in the rotating categories up to $1,500. On purchases above $90 Starwood has the advantage over Freedom even with the Exclusives bonuses. You do need to keep in mind that you do lose out on the American Express protections though.
-Chase Sapphire Preferred (Ultimate Rewards)
Great for churnable signup bonus and points for spending. 50K points for spending $3K. Free for 1 year, then $95.
Sapphire’s great benefit is the 7% annual point dividend on all points earned. That even includes a 7% on top of the awesome signup bonus (making it 53,500 points) and bonus categories.
Freedom with Chase Exclusives eclipses Sapphire on regular purchases, as Freedom gets 1.1 points per dollar plus 10 points per transaction and Sapphire gives 1.07 points per dollar.
However Sapphire gives 2.14 points per dollar for dining, airfare, car rentals, hotels, and more, so Sapphire will beat Freedom on purchases of $11 or more in those categories.
Sapphire also has no foreign transaction fees, so is a great card to used outside of the US.
The card is made from metal and just looks awesome and customer service is top-notch and you’ll never have to talk to a phone tree as a human always picks up right away!
The Sapphire Preferred card also allows you to transfer points earned on the Freedom card into airlines/hotels.
-Chase Southwest Visa
Great for signup bonus and points for spending. 25K points for spending $1. $69 annual fee.
I got this when it was offering 50K points for signing up, but even 25K points is worth about $475 of Southwest flights.
Plus a 1.9% value towards Southwest flights for all spending and 3.8% on Southwest spending is a nice spending rebate. And credit card points count toward the 110K needed for a free companion pass that even works on free tickets!
Every year you get another 3,000 points worth about $57 towards Southwest flights.
-Chase British Airways
I got this card when it was offering 100K points. Not worth spending on though. $95 annual fee.
-Chase Continental Presidential Plus
Great for benefits. $395 annual fee or $100 annual fee for lifetime club members.
Earn 1,000 flexible elite miles for every $5,000 you spend. However effective in 2012 you can’t get top-tier 1K elite status if you have used any elite miles and flexible elite miles will start expiring. These changes have pretty much killed this once great card.
Waived expedite fees on award tickets and 2 free checked bags.
A United club membership comes with this card.
-Chase Ink Bold (Ultimate Rewards)
Great for signup bonus and points for spending. 50K points for spending $5K. Free for 1 year, then $95.
The version that I have came with Chase Exclusives benefits for having a checking account. That gave 1.2 points per dollar spent. Spend $25K and get a 7,500 point bonus (1.5 points per dollar spent on average), spend $50K and get another 15K point bonus (1.65 points per dollar spent on average), spend $100K and get another 25K points bonus (1.675 points per dollar spent on average).
That meant for higher value purchases it would make sense to use this card instead of Freedom and it’s a toss-up between this card and Starwood. For high spenders this was an excellent card.
Now the card gives new applicants 5 points per dollar spent on telecom (landline and wireless phone+internet), cable, and office supplies, 2 points per dollar and gas and lodging, and 1 point per dollar elsewhere.
There is no foreign transaction fee.
With the new card the bonus categories are great, but Starwood, Freedom, and Sapphire beat it for other purchases.
The Ink Bold card also allows you to transfer points earned on the Freedom and Ink Classic cards into airlines/hotels.
All versions of this card come with 2 free airport lounge uses per year.
-Chase Ink Classic (Ultimate Rewards)
Similar system to the new Ink Bold, but you need Ink Bold or Sapphire Preferred to transfer the points earned to airlines/hotels.
5 points per dollar spent on telecom (landline and wireless phone+internet), cable, and office supplies, 2 points per dollar and gas and lodging, and 1 point per dollar elsewhere.
Ink Classic will keep all points alive though even if you close Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold.
Great for spending in rotating categories. $150 cash back for spending $1K. No annual fee.
5% cash back in rotating categories for up to $1,500 per quarter:
Q1: Gas and Entertainment
Q2: Restaurants and Movies
Q3: Gas, movies and theme parks.
Q4: Department stores, electronics stores and toy stores.
No annual fee.
Great for building credit and use at Gap Inc Stores.
One of my first credit cards and an easy one to get to build your credit. Gives about 5% back in rewards for use at Gap Inc stores and many coupons requires a Gap card.
-Banana Lifetime Luxe Card:
No annual fee.
Great for building credit and use at Gap Inc Stores.
The Luxe program used to be for life. If you got it back then you are luxe for life, but otherwise you need to requalify yearly with $800 in spending. It gets free shipping on all Gap Inc orders from stores and online with no minimum purchase and gets you free alterations at Banana.
No annual fee.
My Northwest cards were converted into these cards which I downgraded to fee-free cards that I keep open so I don’t hurt my credit utilization. With Chase and American Express it’s easy enough to move credit around as there are other cards that are worth opening, but these just gather dust.
No annual fee.
More dust-gathering cards since the 2% program was eliminated.
Good for free museum access the first weekend of each month.
-Key/Chase Continental Debit Cards
RIP, was great while they lasted, especially for money orders.
-Bank Direct Debit Card
Earn 1.2 AA miles for each $1 in the account and unlike with cash you pay no interest on miles earned, but a $12 monthly fee kicks in for 2012.
Citi has finally closed the sale of Diners to BMO and AA was lost as a partner. Not much value left here, especially since Continental/United added primary car rental insurance to their cards.
Can’t stand these guys as they hit your credit 3 times as opposed to just once like every other bank does to get a credit card. But it was hard to turn down $2K to open up 2 cards.
Now the cards just gather dust.
Other decent cards I don’t have right now?
-Costco American Express, no annual fee, 3% cash back on gas and dining and 2% cash back on travel.
-American Express Blue Cash. 3% cash back on the free card or 6% cash back on the paid card at supermarkets. Great if you have a supermarket that sells lots of gift cards to other stores, and even better if they also run promotions to buy the gift cards from them!
-American Express Simply Cash Business Card No annual fee, 5% cash back on wireless and office supplies. 3% cash back on gas. AMEX Open Savings.
-Chase Slate, No annual fee. Zero balance transfer fees for 60 days and 0% APR for 15 months!
-Chase Marriott Premier, 50K bonus points and a free cat. 1-4 night certificate for spending $1,000. Annual free cat. 1-5 night certificate. 15 night elite credit. No Foreign exchange fee. No fee first year.