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The 5 Best Credit Cards for a Philadelphia-Based Traveler

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There are plenty of great rewards-earning credit cards to choose from, but depending on where you live and which airlines best serve your hub airport, some of them are better choices than others. Below, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen takes a look at the top options for travelers flying out of Philadelphia.

You should consider a variety of factors when deciding which travel rewards credit cards to apply for and utilize on a regular basis. Some cards offer limited-time sign-up bonuses, while others offer lucrative bonus categories for many common purchases. Geography can also play a critical role as you evaluate which card(s) are best for you, and today I’ll continue my series that identifies the best cards for residents of certain cities. After covering New YorkAtlanta, ChicagoWashingtonLos AngelesSeattleHouston, Dallas, San Francisco and Boston, I’ll now head down the East Coast to the City of Brotherly Love.

To answer the question of which cards are best for a Philadelphia-based traveler in today’s post, I’ll be following a straightforward format that looks at the following characteristics of a given card:

  • Sign-up bonus
  • Earning rates
  • Other benefits
  • Annual fee

I’ll then detail out why that particular card would appeal to Philadelphia residents. Finally, I’ll note another one or two similar options and highlight the key difference(s) you’d notice.

Before getting into the analysis, a few disclaimers. For starters, this list is aimed mainly at leisure travelers who are interested in maximizing their rewards on credit cards. If you regularly travel for business and earn elite status, the calculus may change significantly, as you have additional ways to earn points and miles, and some of the benefits I tout below may be included. Fierce loyalty to a single airline may also lead you away from cards offered by a competitor, though I would strongly encourage you to diversify in the event of a mass-scale devaluation (like we saw with American in March).

In addition, this list represents just one way of looking at the situation and is geared mainly at free flights. You may simply want a card that offers solid everyday value for other rewards (like the Citi Double Cash Card for cash back or the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card for free hotel stays). As always, feel free to adjust the list based on your own situations.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, which cards are best for a Boston-based award traveler? In no particular order:

1. Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard

American-Airlines-plane-over-mountains-featured
American’s large presence in Philadelphia makes the Citi Platinum MasterCard a great option.

Sign-up bonus: 30,000 miles after spending $1,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening
Earning rates: 2 miles per dollar spent on American Airlines purchases; 1 mile per dollar spent everywhere else
Other benefits: No foreign transaction fees; 10% redemption bonus (up to 10,000 miles per calendar year); reduced mileage awards; first checked bag free; Group 1 boarding; 25% off in-flight purchases
Annual fee: $95 (waived for the first year)

Analysis: Philadelphia was a pre-merger US Airways hub, and it remains that way now that the carrier has been formally absorbed into American. You can catch flights from Philadelphia to over 120 nonstop destinations, including multiple flights to Europe and the Caribbean (plus Oneworld partner flights to London-Heathrow on British Airways and Doha on Qatar Airways). Just remember that your miles won’t go as far as they used to before the March devaluation, and the carrier just switched to revenue-based mileage earning scheme as of August 1.

Even though these changes hurt, the card can be a great way to streamline your travel experience on American. You’ll get a free checked bag on all domestic American flights, saving $50 per round-trip flight for you and up to four companions on the same reservation. The card also comes with Group 1 boarding and 25% off in-flight purchases, and you won’t pay foreign transaction fees when you travel outside the US. Possibly my favorite perk is the 10% mileage rebate on all award redemptions (up to 10,000 miles each year).

Other option(s): Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard (includes Admirals Club membership but carries a $450 annual fee)

2. Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

One year of spend on the Chase Sapphire Preferred can give you amazing rewards.
The Sapphire Preferred provides valuable flexibility through its diverse transfer partners.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That’s $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Plus, earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first three months from account opening.
Earning rates: 2x points on travel and dining at restaurants and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide
Other benefits: $0 in foreign transaction fees; primary car rental insurance
Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95

Analysis: Another great option for Philadelphia-based flyers is the Chase Sapphire Preferred, especially if you’re unwilling to commit to a single airline. Every traveler should have at least one card that earns transferable points, and even though Ultimate Rewards points don’t transfer directly to American, you can transfer them to British Airways and redeem Avios for AA flights. The carrier’s distance-based award chart allows you to redeem just 7,500 miles for one-way economy redemptions of less than 1,151 miles, and this covers a large portion of the country:

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 9.47.01 PM

This also doesn’t consider the other airline partners (like United and Southwest), nor does it include hotel transfer options like Marriott and (my personal favorite) Hyatt. Be sure to check out Richard Kerr’s post on Redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards Points for Maximum Value for additional suggestions.

The Sapphire Preferred Card also provides cardholders with great value on spending, earning 2x points on dining and virtually all travel purchases. These categories are quite expansive, including merchants like Uber, toll agencies and bars that don’t even serve food. You’ll also pay no foreign transaction fees and enjoy primary car rental insurance. Both TPG and I use this card for the majority of our purchases, and we’ve both gotten some fantastic value out of the Ultimate Rewards program.

Other option(s): Ink Plus Business Card (higher sign-up bonus and 5x bonus categories but 2x category only applies to gas stations and hotel accommodations)

3. Citi Prestige Card

admirals club featured american aa
Though it’ll only be a benefit through July of next year, access to one of Philadelphia’s four Admirals Club is included with the Citi Prestige.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus points after $4,000 in purchases within three months of account opening
Earning rates: 3x points on air travel and hotels; 2x points on dining and entertainment; 1x points everywhere else
Other benefits: $250 annual air travel credit; three rounds of golf; fourth night free on paid hotel stays; no foreign transaction fees
Annual fee: $450

Analysis: Another terrific option that provides flexibility for Philadelphia travelers is the Citi Prestige. The ThankYou Rewards program added several transfer partners back in 2014 and has continued to expand, most recently adding Qantas, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America. While these may not be the most useful partners for Philadelphia residents, you can also redeem your ThankYou points to pay for American flights (at a rate of 1.6 cents apiece) or for flights on any other airline (~1.33 cents apiece). Unfortunately these redemptions will be dropping to a flat 1.25 cents apiece on July 23, 2017, but you at least have nearly a year to take advantage.

Of course, the benefits of the card go well beyond the sign-up bonus and point redemption opportunities. I love the Admirals Club access, and with four locations in Philadelphia, you (and guests traveling on the same itinerary) can get some terrific use out of it. Unfortunately, though, Citi recently announced that this benefit will end next year, so if you don’t already have this card, make sure to factor that into your considerations. The Citi Prestige also comes with Priority Pass membership, so you and your guests/family members can still gain entrance into other lounges around the world (though sadly none are in PHL). In addition, the $250 annual credit will automatically post when you complete a qualifying transaction, and the card also includes a $100 credit for Global Entry, three free rounds of golf at certain courses each year (also ending in July 2017) and the fourth night free on paid hotel stays.

Other option(s): The Platinum Card from American Express (same annual fee with access to Centurion Lounges but lower sign-up bonus and no free guest privileges at Delta Sky Clubs and Priority Pass lounges)

4. Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

Use the Starpoints you earn from these cards' sign-up bonuses to stay at properties across the globe, like the W Retreat & Spa Maldives.
The SPG Amex can unlock valuable redemptions like the W Retreat & Spa in the Maldives but can also be a great option for flights thanks to its numerous airline transfer partners.

Sign-up bonus: 25,000 bonus Starpoints after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months
Earning rates: 2 points per dollar spent at SPG hotels; 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else
Other benefits: No foreign transaction fees; 2 stays and 5 nights toward SPG elite status every year; free in-room premium internet; Boingo Wi-Fi
Annual fee: $95 (waived for the first year)

Analysis: It may be strange seeing a hotel co-branded card on this list, but the SPG Amex is a great option for award travelers interested in free flights due to its 35 airline transfer partners (Virgin America was the most recent addition). You can definitely get great value by booking award stays at properties like the W Hong Kong and the St. Regis Bal Harbour, but transferring points to airlines can be quite lucrative, especially when you factor in the 5,000-mile bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer. Keep in mind too that American is currently giving you an additional 20% bonus through September 14, 2016, making it a great time to transfer those points to your AAdvantage account.

Of course, there are many other possible transfer partners, giving you valuable flexibility when it comes to your redemptions. The card also provides other perks like unlimited Wi-Fi hotspot access through Boingo and no foreign transaction fees, both of which were added back in 2015.

Other option(s): Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express

5. Amtrak Guest Rewards World MasterCard

You'll also enjoy a companion ticket and one-way upgrade certificate each year when you renew your card.
Amtrak may not get you in the air, but from Philadelphia it can open up additional airports for award flights.

Sign-up bonus: 20,000 points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases within 90 days of account opening
Earning rates: 3 points per dollar spent on Amtrak purchases; 2 points per dollar spent on all other travel; 1 point per dollar everywhere else
Other benefits: 5% rebate on Amtrak redemptions; complimentary companion coupon each year
Annual fee: $79

Analysis: This final option may seem a bit strange given that this list is geared towards airline travel. However, if you are based in Philadelphia, utilizing this card may unlock additional award options from nearby airports. From the city’s 30th Street Station, you can get to Newark International Airport (a United hub) in roughly an hour, while you can head south and reach Baltimore-Washington International Airport (a Southwest hub) in roughly 90 minutes. The two airport stations are just a short ride from the airport, so this card can allow you to get to either one without incurring any out-of-pocket expense, as the sign-up bonus is worth roughly $500 (based on TPG’s most recent valuations).

There are many additional benefits on the card, including a 5% rebate on all point redemptions and triple points on Amtrak purchases. The travel category may not be as expansive as other cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, but it too can help boost your return. You’ll also get three added perks when you open the card, the first two of which continue as a yearly perk when you renew: a companion coupon, a one-class upgrade certificate and a single-day club pass (with a location in Philadelphia, though you might want to save it for the newly upgraded Chicago Metropolitan Lounge).

Other option(s): n/a

Bottom Line

There are many factors that come into play as you decide which credit cards to carry in your wallet, and where you live can be an important part of this decision. Even though Philadelphia International Airport is dominated by American, there are many cards that may make sense for earning free flights, but as always, be sure to evaluate your own spending patterns and desired redemptions. Hopefully this post has given you a framework to use as you approach a final determination!

For the Philadelphia-based TPG readers out there, what’s your favorite credit card for award travel?

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

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  • 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
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A 16.24%-23.24% Variable Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95 0% Excellent Credit