2017 Credit Card Inventory: Editorial Director James Oliver Cury
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One of the many perks of working at TPG is that we reimburse credit card annual fees, enabling full-time employees to build familiarity with a large variety of products and programs. So, naturally, our editors are ready to pounce on fantastic offers whenever they pop up, in some cases leading to a tremendously inflated wallet — but leaving the team with plenty of opportunities to earn and redeem points, and take advantage of other benefits. Now, in response to feedback received following TPG’s own 2017 inventory post, we’re asking our editors to open up their wallets, detailing which cards they currently have and why. Today, it’s Editorial Director James Oliver Cury’s turn to dig in.
Of all the elucidating concepts The Points Guy has shared with the world, one in particular resonates for me: That we live in a world where frequent spenders — not just frequent flyers — are rewarded. As an editor and manager, I don’t get to travel as often as some of our writers and editors who regularly cover airlines and hotels. But I do spend money daily, like anyone else. So my #1 goal is and always has been to figure out which cards I need to get the maximum bang out of every purchase. Not just bonus points at sign-up. Not just a free room or an upgrade. My credit cards are designed to squeeze every last cent out of every purchase possible.
That said, my secondary goal is to accrue points and perks for travel. So I want cards that offer more transfer partners and cards that give me a free flight, free baggage or priority seating. Thus, my wish list targets co-branded cards like the AAdvantage Aviator Red and the Hyatt Credit Card.
Here’s a look at what’s currently in my wallet:
|Platinum Card from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz||$550||American Express|
|Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card||$450||Chase|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||$0||Chase|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||$450||Chase|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||$95||Chase|
|AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard||$95||Barclaycard|
|Hyatt Credit Card||$75||Chase|
|United MileagePlus Explorer Business Credit Card||$95||Chase|
|TOTAL IN ANNUAL FEES BEFORE CHANGES: $1,995|
|TOTAL IN ANNUAL FEES AFTER CHANGES: $2,260|
Keep reading for a look at why each card earns a place in my wallet.
Platinum Card from American Express Exclusively from Mercedes-Benz
Annual fee: $550
My take: I signed up for this Mercedes-Benz edition of the card, instead of the usual Amex Plat, because I wanted the perks — like access to lounges and hotels in the Fine Hotels and Resorts program — and because I believed that the regular Amex Plat would someday offer 100K bonus points at signup (so I didn’t squander my chance to land 100K if and when it comes back).
The benefits I got included 50,000 bonus points for the sign-up after spending $5,000 in the first three months and the aforementioned access to the highly respected Centurion Lounges. Lucky for me — and other personal Plat users — Amex fattened the benefits list after seeing the success of the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card in 2016. So now my Amex Plat also offers $200 in annual Uber ride credits, 5x Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and 5x points on prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel, among other things.
As a person who spends an inordinate amount of time reading about luxury hotels and fine dining, I was also eager to get access to Amex’s Fine Hotels and Resorts program — a collection of creme de la creme properties — that comes with room upgrades, complimentary daily breakfast for two and guaranteed 4pm late checkout. This card also gets me access to one-of-a-kind experiences like dinners with celebrity chefs (Thomas Keller, Daniel Humm, Stephanie Izard, José André).
Am I a Mercedes owner? No. Does it matter? Not really: If I do end up buying a Mercedes, I will get even more discounts on affiliated merchandise, including a $1,000 certificate each year I charge $5,000 in purchases on the card, good toward the future purchase or lease of a new Mercedes-Benz.
Chase Freedom Unlimited
Annual fee: $0
My take: This is my everyday go-to card for any purchase that doesn’t get better returns with other cards. What I mean is that I’ll use whatever card I need to get 5x or 3x or 2x points on purchases, but if a certain type of purchase (like a six-pack of soda) can’t earn 2x or 3x or 5x points, then I will use the Freedom Unlimited because it offers 1.5% unlimited cash back on all purchases.
Plus, I can transfer my rewards to other Chase cards (like the Sapphire Reserve or Preferred) and redeem them with any of Chase’s transfer partners. That makes this a lucrative credit card; we value each UR point at 2.2 cents, so I’m essentially getting 3.3% back when converting cash back to points.
Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card
Annual fee: $450
My Take: This card has a surprising number of powerful perks — a few of which offset the annual fee handsomely. The biggest perk for me as a first-time user was that after meeting the minimum spend requirement of $4,000 in the first three months, I got six e-certificates: 3 for “Club Level Upgrade Up to 7 Nights” and “3 Free Nights at a Tier 1-4 hotel” (the sign-up bonus is now two free nights at Tier 1-4 properties). Thus, I’m taking my wife to Toronto some time this year where Ritz-Carlton rooms start at $567 or 50,000 points a night. Suffice it to say, I like Ritz-Carlton hotels whether they are domestic (like the beauty in San Francisco) or international (Budapest).
By being part of the Visa Infinite program, this card also gives me a $100 discount on domestic, round-trip, coach airfare. I exercised this perk recently when I flew on Virgin America to Los Angeles with my wife. And I can get a $100 discount as often as I need as long as it’s for purchases of 2-5 people on domestic coach round-trip flights. I also get a $300 annual travel credit for things like upgrades, Wi-Fi, airport lounges and baggage fees. What’s more, I earn 5 points per dollar spent at participating Ritz-Carlton and SPG hotels.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Annual fee: $95
My Take: Before the Chase Sapphire Reserve card came out and became a pop-culture phenomenon, the Chase card with the most enviable perks and low annual fee was the Sapphire Preferred. Just $95 got me 2x points on dining (and I like to eat out a lot) and travel — and 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else. Like the Reserve, it offers no foreign transaction fees and a bunch of other insurance-related perks for travelers.
Once I got the Reserve, however, it became instantly redundant and useless. My options were to stop using it altogether or to replace it with some other Chase card (note: Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program lets users pool points from multiple Chase cards).
The smartest path for me, then, is to downgrade to the Chase Freedom, a cash-back card that offers rotating quarterly bonus categories that let me earn 5x Ultimate Rewards points (provided I have a UR-earning card) on up to $1,500 in eligible purchases. Categories include gas stations, grocery stores, summer fun and holidays. Oh, and the Freedom card is free, which saves me the annual $95.
Verdict: Convert to Chase Freedom
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Annual fee: $450
My take: When this card first launched in August 2016, it raised the bar in many ways. Most dramatically, it came with a 100,000-point sign-up bonus (now only 50k but that’s still sizable). Second, it offered a $300 annual travel credit, which instantly brings down the effective cost from $450 to $150. Third, it offered 3x points on dining and travel — equal to a stellar 6.6% return based on TPG’s valuations. So now this is the card I use at all restaurants, cafes, diners and for most travel, which includes a surprisingly diverse array of situations: hotels, motels, timeshares, campgrounds, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites and operators of passenger trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries, toll bridges and highways and parking lots and garages.
Hyatt Credit Card
Annual fee: $75
My take: As a writer/editor with decades of experience traveling, I have generally pursued the latest and greatest hotels, restaurants, and bars. Loyalty was not as important as getting a taste of whatever was new. Playing the points game now, I realize I was at a disadvantage: I need to double-down on one or two key hotel chains to test and experience their full spectrum of offerings. So soon I will apply for the Hyatt card — if only because there’s a sign-up bonus of 40,000 points (it used to be two free nights at any Hyatt hotel or resort worldwide). I’ll also get a free night at a Category 1-4 property every year after my account anniversary. That’s certainly worth $75 and a little loyalty. Will I seek elite status? Depends on how much travel I do.
Verdict: Wish list
United MileagePlus Explorer Business Credit Card
Annual fee: $95 (waived for first year)
My Take: I have been pining for this United card for a long time because it opens up award availability (space not viewable to everyone) like no other co-branded card. And United has a ton of Star Alliance partners. That means I can find a killer deal to Europe or Asia — through Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines, for example. But instead of signing up for the personal card (which currently offers 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months), I decided I’ll probably apply for the United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card since it offers 50,000 bonus miles. Either one gives me a free checked bag on flights and priority boarding and two United Club passes each year.
Verdict: Wish list
Annual fee: $450
My take: When I first started working at TPG, I was surrounded by smart people who could debate the relative perks and points available on hundreds of credit cards in the United States. And yet, one card — the Citi Prestige — frequently stole the show. Why? One ginormous reason: a fourth night free at hotels. It comes with other good perks too, but this one feature has saved me thousands of dollars every time I booked a hotel for four or more nights. Unlike other hotel programs, Citi Prestige’s works with just about every inn, motel, hotel or resort you can name. There is no pre-qualifying list of “approved” spots. You find the best deal you can get, you call the concierge number on the back of the card, and they tell you how much you save. Yes, the more you spend, the more you save. There is no point of diminishing returns. I would not have been able to explore Miami earlier this year had I not exploited the 4th Night Free feature.
Of course, that’s not ALL the card offers. I like talking to their concierges; they’ve sent me suggested restaurants and museums before I travel to foreign cities (I got Edinburgh recommendations for a recent trip). And the card offers an annual $250 air travel credit, which I can use toward airfare, upgrades and baggage fees.
And now the bad news: As of July 23, you no longer get 1.6 cents per point for American Airlines redemptions or 1.33 cents per point when you redeem trips on other carriers. The company also removed the annual three rounds of golf benefit and Admirals Club access and tweaked the way it calculates the 4th Night Free perk so that it doesn’t include taxes anymore.
Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard
Annual fee: $95
My Take: I don’t have a dedicated American Airlines card yet, which means I don’t yet get preferred boarding or a free checked bag with every trip. And that’s humbling when I’m standing around waiting for my group to be called. With this card I get both of those perks for up to four companions when traveling domestically on an itinerary operated by American Airlines. And while I know that the AAdvantage program does not open up a ton of reasonably priced award ticket availability, it does bring me into a large network of Oneworld partners including British Airways, Quantas and Qatar to name a few. And I get 60,000 bonus miles for the sign-up — my timing was good — with no minimum spend. I just have to buy something within 90 days of opening the account.
Verdict: Wish list
I already exploit some of the benefits of the Chase trifecta, earning 3x on purchases that used to deliver only 2x or 1x for me. And I have premium cards from Amex and Citi, specifically the Amex Platinum and the Citi Prestige. What I need, and will soon have, are cards that grant me excellent immediate benefits — free hotel rooms, priority boarding, no baggage fees — for little to no annual fee. And by signing up for co-branded airline cards, I also get access to expanded award availability and a slew of partner airlines that take my Amex Membership Rewards points and United miles.