The 4 Best Credit Cards for a Boston-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 Boston.
There are many things that can influence which travel rewards credit cards to apply for and keep in your wallet. Some cards offer limited-time sign-up bonuses, while others offer lucrative bonus categories for various types of purchases. Where you live can also play an important role in this decision-making process, and today I’ll continue my series that identifies the best cards for residents of certain cities. After covering New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston, Dallas and San Francisco, I’ll now head back to the East Coast and Boston.
To answer the question of which cards are best for a Boston-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 Boston 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 Boston-based award traveler? In no particular order:
1. JetBlue Plus Card
Sign-up bonus: 30,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days
Earning rates: 6x points on JetBlue purchases; 2x points at restaurants and grocery stores; 1x points on all other purchases
Other benefits: No foreign transaction fees; 10% of your points back every time you redeem; 5,000 bonus points on your account anniversary; 50% savings on in-flight purchases; enjoy TrueBlue Mosaic benefits after spending $50,000 in a year
Annual fee: $99
Analysis: Boston is a key hub for JetBlue, with nonstop service to over 60 destinations across the US and internationally. The airport is also an integral part of the carrier’s Mint expansion; the premium class will soon be offered on flights from Boston to Los Angeles (LAX), Seattle (SEA), San Diego (SAN) and Aruba (AUA) to go along with existing service to Barbados (BGI) and San Francisco (SFO). TPG had a terrific flight in JetBlue Mint, and it’s quite competitively priced as well. The carrier is even considering launching flights to Europe within the next few years!
Even if you aren’t interested in these premium redemptions, the JetBlue Plus Card is a great option for Boston residents thanks to the array of perks it offers and the 30,000-point sign-up bonus. You’ll get a 10% rebate on all award flights you book, and the 5,000-point anniversary bonus nearly covers the entire $99 annual fee (based on TPG’s most recent valuations). I’ve also utilized the 50% discount on in-flight purchases several times since I opened the card back in March, and with no foreign transaction fees, you can use the card all over the world. Finally, if you can hit the $50,000 spending mark in a year, you’ll enjoy automatic Mosaic status, including the newly announced free TSA PreCheck.
Other option(s): JetBlue Card (lower sign-up bonus and fewer perks but no annual fee)
2. The Platinum Card® from American Express
Sign-up bonus: 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first three months (be sure to check the CardMatch Tool and alternate browsers to see if you get a targeted offer 100,000 points)
Earning rates: 1 point per dollar spent
Other benefits: $200 airline fee credit; airport lounge access; no foreign transaction fees; Global Entry fee credit; automatic SPG and Hilton Gold status
Annual fee: $550
Analysis: The American Express Platinum may not be the most rewarding card for your purchases, but it does come with many valuable perks. One that should be especially appealing to Boston residents is lounge access, which includes Delta Sky Clubs (when traveling on Delta) and Priority Pass lounges (though neither include guest privileges). This opens up four lounges across three of Boston-Logan’s terminals:
- Delta Sky Club: 2 locations in Terminal A
- The Lounge: Terminal C
- Air France Lounge: Terminal E
You can also transfer the Membership Rewards points earned on the card to one of 17 airline partners, a great way to get maximum value from your points. Many of these partners serve Boston, including JetBlue as well as Delta, which offers extensive service throughout the US and internationally. The card also includes a credit for Global Entry every five years, a perk that should be quite valuable given the wide variety of international carriers with nonstop flights to Boston. Finally, the $200 annual airline fee credit covers incidentals like baggage fees and lounge passes, so that’s a simple way to lower the effective annual fee to just $350.
Other option(s): American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card (3x points on airfare but few added travel perks)
3. 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: Another potentially valuable card for Boston-based award travelers is the British Airways Visa. One of the best redemptions on the carrier’s distance-based award chart is Boston to Dublin on Aer Lingus, a flight that clocks in at just under 3,000 miles long, thus requiring just 25,000 Avios round-trip in economy or 75,000 Avios round-trip in business class. Availability isn’t as great as it once was, but you can still use ExpertFlyer to search award inventory (T for economy and U for business) and set alerts for your desired travel dates.
This card is also great for short-haul redemptions on American-operated flights, as you’ll need to redeem just 7,500 Avios for one-way flights of 1,151 miles or less. From Boston, you have nonstop flights to four of American’s hubs (Philadelphia, Washington-Reagan, Chicago-O’Hare and Charlotte) that fall within this range plus flights to New York, Pittsburgh and several other airports in the northeast.
The card also provides other perks, though the earning rates were changed last year. You’ll enjoy 10% off paid British Airways flights using the code CARDOFFERU at http://www.ba.com/Chase10, and if you spend $30,000 on the card in a calendar year, you’ll earn a Travel Together ticket that allows you to bring a companion along when you redeem your Avios for a British Airways flight departing from the US. With multiple nonstop flights from Boston to London-Heathrow every day, this too can be a valuable perk, though you will need to pay taxes and fees, which can be quite high for premium-class redemptions. Finally, like the others above, the card also doesn’t incur foreign transaction fees.
Other option(s): N/A
4. Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
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: The final card on the list may seem a bit out of place, as many probably view the SPG Amex as ideal for earning free hotel stays. However, the card does offer a compelling value proposition for award travelers interested in free flights thanks to its 35 airline transfer partners (Virgin America was the most recent addition). There’s no doubting that you can get some terrific value from using Starpoints for hotel stays at properties like the W Hong Kong and the St. Regis Bal Harbour. However, 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.
One particularly interesting option is JAL, as SPG is the only transferable point currency to partner with the carrier’s Mileage Bank program. JAL uses a distance-based award chart and offers nonstop flights from Boston to Tokyo. The carrier also partners with Emirates and hasn’t devalued first-class redemptions like Alaska, another SPG transfer partner, so you can take advantage of the two daily flights from Boston to Dubai. Given the length of these two flights, the redemption amounts are actually identical:
- Economy: 55,000 miles (45,000 Starpoints when transferred to JAL)
- Business: 85,000 miles (70,000 Starpoints)
- First (only applicable to Emirates): 135,000 miles (110,000 Starpoints)
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
There are many factors that can help you decide which credit cards to open and utilize on a regular basis, and geography should play at least some role, especially when you’re looking to redeem your points and miles for free flights. Boston may not have one dominant carrier, but there are still some cards that stand out based on the benefits, earning potential and redemption options. As always, it’s critical to evaluate your own spending habits and consider how you want to redeem your points and miles, but hopefully this post has given you some suggestions of where to begin if you are based in the Boston area!
For the Boston-based TPG readers out there, what’s your favorite credit card for award travel?
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.