The 4 Best Credit Cards for a Seattle-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 Seattle.
There are many factors that can influence the decision of which travel rewards credit cards you should open. Some provide limited-time offers, while other cards offer lucrative bonus categories for everyday purchases. Geography can also play a role in selecting the best cards to carry in your wallet, and today I’ll continue my series that identifies the best cards for residents of certain cities. After starting with New York, and continuing on to Atlanta, Chicago, Washington and Los Angeles, I’ll now shift toward the other side of the country and look at the largest gateway in the Pacific Northwest: Seattle.
To answer the question of which cards are best for a Seattle-based traveler in today’s post (as well as future posts for other major cities), I’ll be following a straightforward format that looks at the following characteristics of a given card:
- Welcome bonus
- Earning rates
- Other benefits
- Annual fee
I’ll then detail out why that particular card would appeal to Seattle residents. Finally, I’ll note another one or two similar options any 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 Seattle-based award traveler? In no particular order:
1. Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card
Sign-up bonus: 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days
Earning rates: 3 miles per dollar spent on Alaska tickets; 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases
Other benefits: Free checked bag; annual companion fare; no foreign transaction fees
Annual fee: $75
Analysis: Seattle is the home city of Alaska Airlines, and the carrier offers an extensive route network to 86 different destinations (including several in Hawaii and three in Mexico). While 30,000 miles doesn’t seem like a lot, Alaska miles are quite valuable, pegged at 1.8 cents apiece in TPG’s most recent valuations. Despite the sudden and unannounced increase in the cost of Emirates first-class redemptions, there are still a ton of valuable award options out there thanks to the carrier’s diverse set of partners, the newest of which is Japan Airlines.
In addition to the sign-up bonus and the increased earning rate on Alaska purchases, the card easily pays for itself if you take even one or two trips on Alaska in a year. The checked bag fee waiver applies to you and up to 6 travel companions on the same reservation, saving each traveler $50 on a round-trip flight. However, my favorite benefit on the card is the annual companion fare, which you’ll get when you open the card and in each subsequent year after you renew it. This allows you to book a paid flight in coach on Alaska and bring a friend or family member for just $99 (plus taxes and fees), and the best part is that it isn’t limited to simple round-trip flights. My wife and I just returned from a trip to Maui which included a four-night stopover in San Diego on the way home, saving close to $700 in the process.
Other option(s): n/a
2. Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
Bonus: 35,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you make $1,000 in purchases on your new card within your first three months plus a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new card within your first three months
Earning rates: 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases; 1 mile per dollar spent everywhere else
Other benefits: No foreign transaction fees; priority boarding; 20% in-flight discount; annual companion certificate at card renewal; free checked bag; ability to earn additional MQMs
Annual fee: $195
Analysis: Delta has become another major player in the Seattle market over the last few years, and many of the carrier’s newest routes compete head to head with Alaska Airlines. Delta currently flies nonstop to 54 destinations, including flights to five Alaskan cities and eight long-haul international flights in Asia (Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong) and Europe (London, Amsterdam and Paris). Despite this heated competition, Delta and Alaska are still partners, albeit not nearly as close as they once were.
The Platinum Delta Amex is a great option for Seattle-based flyers beyond just the bonus and the expanded route map. You and up to 8 companions enjoy free checked bags, saving $50 per passenger on round-trip flights, and the in-flight discount can be nice (though remember that Delta now offers free entertainment to all passengers). However, what really makes this card stand out are the companion certificate and potential for MQMs. The companion certificate is awarded each year when you renew the card and pay the $195 annual fee, and it allows you to bring a friend or family member along for free on a round-trip flight within the contiguous 48 states (you just need to pay the taxes and fee). As long as the base fare of your itinerary is at least $200, you’ll cover the annual fee in one fell swoop!
The other great aspect of the card is the Miles Boost that you can earn. When you spend $25,000 in a calendar year, you’ll earn 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 bonus miles. When you reach the $50,000 mark in the same calendar year, that earns you another 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 bonus miles. If you can hit that second threshold every year, you are 80% of the way to Silver Medallion status without setting foot on a Delta plane. And if you can earn the additional 30,000 MQMs to reach Gold Medallion status, you’ll unlock additional benefits when traveling on Alaska, including preferred seats and unlimited complimentary upgrades (though you would be below all Alaska elites on the upgrade priority list).
Other option(s): Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express (lower annual fee but no companion certificate and MQMs)
3. Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Bonus: $100 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in the first three months. Plus, an additional $100 statement credit after your first purchase at participating SPG or Marriott Rewards hotels in the first six months.
Earning rates: 2 points per dollar spent at SPG properties; 1 point per dollar everywhere else
Other benefits: 2 nights and 5 stays toward elite status each year; no foreign transaction fees; free in-room premium internet; Boingo Wi-Fi
Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)
Analysis: If you can’t decide between Delta and Alaska, another great option would be the SPG Amex. The Starwood Preferred Guest program allows you to transfer your points to 30+ airlines, and both these carriers are included on that list. In addition, for every 20,000 points you transfer, you’ll get a 5,000 mile bonus. This is a key reason why Starpoints regularly appear at the top of TPG’s monthly valuations.
Of course, this also opens up the flexibility to use your points for free hotel stays, and even though the SPG footprint isn’t a wide as its merger partner Marriott, there are some fantastic properties for award redemptions. I’ve had terrific stays at the St. Regis Bal Harbour, and I’m incredibly excited to visit the Westin Palace Madrid in November. Many of the added perks were just added last year, so there are a lot of ways to get value out of the card.
Just keep in mind that American Express typically bumps the welcome bonus to 30,000 Starpoints during the summer, though we did see a 35,000-point offer back in March, so there’s no telling what the future holds!
Other option(s): Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express (essentially the same perks plus Sheraton Club access and Amex OPEN Savings benefits)
4. British Airways Visa Signature Card
Sign-up bonus: Earn up to 100,000 bonus Avios. Earn 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Plus, an additional 25,000 bonus Avios after spending $10,000 total within the first year and an extra 25,000 Avios after spending $20,000 total within the first year.
Earning rates: 3 Avios per dollar spent on British Airways purchases; 1 Avios per dollar everywhere else
Other benefits: No foreign transaction fees; Travel Together Ticket; 10% discount on British Airways flights
Annual fee: $95
Analysis: A final card that’s a great option for Seattle travelers is the British Airways Visa. There are two main reasons why it earns a spot on this list: the carrier’s distance-based award chart and its partnership with Alaska Airlines. Even though you can no longer book flights for 4,500 Avios within North America, you still need just 7,500 Avios for one-way flights of 1,151 miles or less. Here’s a map that shows which areas fall within 1,151 miles of Seattle:
As you can see, you can book award flights at this level to all of Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Utah plus most of Arizona and Colorado. It even includes almost all of Southeast Alaska. Unfortunately, British Airways’ website doesn’t display Alaska award flights, so you’ll need to either find the flights you want on AA.com or use ExpertFlyer to search award inventory and then call to book.
In addition to using Avios for Alaska flights, you also can use your Avios for British Airways’ nonstop flight from Seattle to London-Heathrow. I’ve found that this flight offers pretty good award space in premium cabins, and traveling nonstop from the West Coast to London is a very nice luxury. This can also be a great use of the Travel Together Ticket that you’d earn by spending $30,000 on the card in a calendar year. This is essentially a Buy One Get One Free award redemption for round-trip flights departing from the US, though you would need to pay the carrier’s notorious fuel surcharges on both tickets. If you can travel during off-peak times, you’d need just 125,000 Avios for two round-trip business class award tickets. Sounds like a great redemption to me!
Other option(s): n/a
There are many things that go into deciding which credit cards are best for your wallet, and as you can see, there are quite a few that could be particular valuable to those readers living in Seattle. As always, I encourage you to analyze your own situations and how you want to redeem your points and miles to identify the best card(s) for you, but hopefully this post has given you a framework for guiding that analysis and eventual decision.
For the Seattle-based TPG readers out there, what’s your favorite credit card for award travel?