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Update: The offer mentioned below for the Platinum Card from American Express has expired. View the current offer here.
TPG reader Mark has some big changes on the horizon – with some big expenses – and wants to know how to maximize his spending either with his current credit cards, or new ones.
“We are about to move to a new house and we have a number of pretty large expenses coming up (new kitchen appliances, moving costs, etc). Whenever putting a lot down on a credit card I always look for the best miles/points offer out there and try to get a new card, but right now I am not sure what I want to sign up for.
I currently have the Starwood Preferred Guest Amex, Amex Platinum, US Airways MasterCard and the United MileagePlus Explorer card (also I just cancelled the American Advantage card so I could get the US Airways card and I will go back and get the new American card once that is introduced post-merger).
I have miles on a number of different airlines so I don’t need to build up on a particular airline and we are about to have another child so I don’t plan on any big international trips for a couple of years. Any thoughts on the best deal running right now that might suit my needs?”
Evaluating the current cards that Mark has, if he wants flexible, valuable points, I would probably say to go for the Starwood Amex. Starwood points transfer to over 30 different airlines for a lot of flexibility, and every 20,000 miles you transfer to many different partners, you get 5,000 bonus miles – a 25% bonus. You can also use SPG points for really valuable redemptions. For example, I just used mine for Cash & Points in Santiago, Chile, for over 5 cents per point in value.
The United MileagePlus Explorer card is another option, however, since it gives you a 10,000-mile bonus for spending $25,000 every calendar year. I don’t know exactly how much in expenses you’ll have, but if you have a huge amount you might think about going for that bonus. I actually think that United miles are the most valuable miles since you can use them for awards on United’s Star Alliance partners and can book one-way awards with them. Although you can transfer Starwood points to United, it is at a terrible 2:1 ratio so if you want United miles you should definitely get the United Explorer or a card that earns Ultimate Rewards points from Chase.
Looking at new cards, the Chase Freedom actually has Lowes as one of its bonus categories this quarter – but just until June 30 (today!). If have the card but didn’t mention it, and you’re looking to pick up some appliances there, you can max out that bonus category by spending $1,500 and earn get five valuable Ultimate Rewards points per dollar while doing so.
The next most sensible card to get is the Chase Ink Bold or Ink Plus if you have a business. You’re going to get 50,000 points after spending $5,000 over three months, which it looks like you’ll be able to do pretty easily. The great thing here is when using an Ink card you get 5 points per dollar at all office supplies stores so you can buy moving supplies or buy gift cards to places like Home Depot or a bunch of other retailers to buy paint and things like that, and you will get 5 Ultimate Rewards dollars per dollar spent. That sure beats the 1 point per dollar that you are going to get on your United Explorer card. Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United as well as a bunch of different partners like Southwest and Hyatt.
There are a number of cards out there that will give you big bonuses when spending big thanks to calendar year spending threshold bonuses:
American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card: Spend $30,000 in a year, earn 15,000 bonus Membership Rewards points.
Citi Executive American Airlines AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard: Spend $40,000 in a year, earn 10,000 elite-qualifying miles.
Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express: Spend $30,000 in a year, earn 15,000 MQMs. Spend $60,000 in that same year, earn an additional 15,000 MQMs.
Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express: Spend $25,000 in eligible purchases in a year, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles. Spend $50,000 in the same calendar year, earn an additional 10,000 MQMs.
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card: Spend $10,000 in a year, earn 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points for every $10,000 in purchases. Get up to 15,000 Tier Qualifying Points annually.
United MileagePlus Explorer Card: Spend $25,000 in a year, earn 10,000 bonus redeemable miles.
US Airways MasterCard: Spend $25,000 in a year, earn 10,000 Preferred Qualifying Miles.
US Bank FlexPerks Visa Signature: Spend $24,000 in a cardmember year, earn 3,500 bonus FlexPoints.
Virgin Atlantic American Express: Spend $25,000 in a year, earn 15,000 bonus miles. Earn one tier point per $2,500 in purchases (maximum of 2 per month).
The bottom line is it really just depends on what you want. If you want to go for valuable, flexible points I would definitely recommend getting in on an Ultimate Rewards card, if not, banking up between the United Explorer and Starwood Amex would probably make the most sense. One last tip, always try to shop using an online portal and then pick up your purchase in the store rather than buying goods there. You are not always going to get the extra points – but a lot of times I have so it can’t hurt to try!