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TPG reader Chris tweeted me wondering when it makes sense to pay with a card that incurs extra fees:
@ThePointsGuy — “Can you explain if/why I should use a rewards credit card that adds on a (3%) transaction fee for using the card?”
You can use a credit card to pay for pretty much anything these days, but depending on your purchase, there’s sometimes an added fee. For example, if you pay rent with your credit card, you’ll typically be charged extra.
Try to think of points and miles as money. It only makes sense to pay a fee if the points you earn in the process are more valuable. Points have different values to different people; if you use them for cheap, domestic travel in economy, the value is going to be a lot lower than if you redeem for expensive premium tickets (like using 67,500 AAdvantage miles to fly in first class on Cathay Pacific to Asia).
If I asked for three pennies and said I would give you two pennies in exchange, you would say no, because it doesn’t make sense. You have to think of the credit card situation in a similar manner. A 3% fee means that for every dollar you spend, you’re paying 3 cents extra. If the miles you earn are only worth 2 cents each, it’s not a good deal.
Here are my most recent valuations for points earned on a few different rewards credit cards:
- Chase Ultimate Rewards — 2.1 cents
- Starwood — 2.5 cents
- American Express Membership Rewards — 2.0 cents
If you’re earning one point per dollar, then naturally you wouldn’t want to pay a fee higher than the value of those points. If you’re earning a bonus (like the 2 points per dollar earned for travel and dining purchases on the Chase Sapphire Preferred), then your overall return will naturally be higher.
In general, make sure you’re getting more value in points earned than what you’re paying as a fee. If the transaction fee exceeds these bonus returns, it’s probably not worth using that credit card. There is one notable exception, which is when you risk missing out on a sign-up bonus by failing to meet spending requirements. If the points or miles you’re earning are getting you closer to a huge bonus, then paying a little extra may be worthwhile.
Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards