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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 Charlotte.
There are many factors that can help you decide which travel rewards credit cards to apply for and carry in your wallet. Some offer limited-time sign-up bonuses, while others offer lucrative bonus categories for a variety of everyday expenses. Where you live can (and should) 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, San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia, I’ll now head back down south and evaluate the best options for residents of The Queen City.
To answer the question of which cards are best for a Charlotte-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 Charlotte 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 Charlotte-based award traveler? In no particular order:
1. Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
Sign-up bonus: 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening
Earning rates: 2 miles per dollar spent on American Airlines purchases, at gas stations, and restaurants; 1 mile per dollar spent everywhere else
Other benefits: No foreign transaction fees; reduced mileage awards; first checked bag free; 25% off in-flight purchases
Annual fee: $99 (waived for the first year)
Analysis: Prior to finalizing its merger with American, US Airways utilized Charlotte as a major hub, and the combined airline continues to offer extensive service from the city. At the time of writing, you can catch nonstop flights from Charlotte to over 150 destinations throughout the US, Caribbean, Central America and Europe. Just remember that American did undergo a significant devaluation in March and just moved to revenue-based mileage earning scheme as of August 1.
Given the huge presence that American has in Charlotte, the added benefits can easily outweigh the $99 annual fee in your second year (and beyond). You and up to four companions on the same reservation can get a free checked bag on all domestic American flights, saving each traveler $50 per round-trip flight. You can also get early access to overhead bin space thanks to included preferred boarding, and you’ll also enjoy 25% off in-flight purchases. The card also is a great option for spending outside the US thanks to the waived foreign transaction fees. 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. 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: If your primary goal is short- to medium-haul award flights on American, another fantastic option for Charlotte residents is the British Airways Visa. This is due in large part to the carrier’s distance-based award chart, which allows you to redeem just 7,500 Avios for one-way flights of 1,151 miles or less. You can also snag flights of up to 2,000 miles for just 10,000 Avios each way. From Charlotte, the 7,500-Avios range covers virtually the entire eastern half of the country, while the 10,000-Avios range includes cities like Las Vegas and almost all of the carrier’s routes into the Caribbean and Central America:
Remember too that British Airways could be a good option for crediting American Airlines flights now that you’re only earning AAdvantage miles based on the cost of your ticket.
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 (though you will need to pay taxes and fees, which can be quite high for premium-class redemptions). Like the others above, the card also doesn’t incur foreign transaction fees.
Other option(s): N/A
3. Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
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.
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: If committing to earning Avios sounds like a big leap, a better option might be the Sapphire Preferred and the valuable flexibility you’d get with your Ultimate Rewards points, or the new Chase Sapphire Reserve card (once it becomes widely available later this week). I strongly believe that every traveler should have at least one card that earns transferable points, and with the ability to transfer points to British Airways, you can unlock some of the distance-based award gems mentioned above. However, you also have the option to transfer points to other airlines (like United and Southwest, both of which serve Charlotte from several nonstop destinations) as well as hotel transfer options (like Hyatt and Marriott). 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. Like the other two options above, you won’t be charged foreign transaction fees when using the card outside the US, and the primary car rental insurance can be a huge benefit in the event of theft or significant damage. 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 — and things are about to get even better with Sapphire Reserve.
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)
4. Citi Prestige Card
Sign-up bonus: 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: If you’re looking for a premium travel rewards credit card with a ton of embedded perks, consider the Citi Prestige as a Charlotte resident. The ThankYou Rewards program added several transfer partners back in 2014 and has continued to expand, most recently adding Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America. These aren’t the most useful partners for Charlotte residents, but 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 if you open the card now, you’ll have nearly a year to take advantage.
The card also provides a plethora of additional perks that can more than make up for the $450 annual fee. The card allows you and guests traveling on the same itinerary to enter one of two Admirals Clubs in Charlotte, though sadly this benefit will end next year as well. 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 CLT). In addition, you’ll get a $250 annual airfare credit that effectively reduces the annual fee to $200, and the card also includes a $100 credit for Global Entry, three free rounds of golf (also ending in July 2017) and the fourth night free on paid hotel stays.
Other option(s): The Platinum Card from American Express (with access to Centurion Lounges but lower sign-up bonus and no free guest privileges at Delta Sky Clubs and Priority Pass lounges)
Choosing the best credit card(s) to carry in your wallet can be challenging given the array of options out there, but geography should play an important role in this decision and can even help narrow the field a bit. Charlotte remains an American hub, but there are many cards that may make sense for earning free flights if you regularly travel out of the city. As always, it’s essential to evaluate your own spending patterns and consider how you want to redeem your points and miles, but hopefully these suggestions have given you a starting point for making a final decision.
For the Charlotte-based TPG readers out there, what’s your favorite credit card for award travel?
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