Which Points or Miles Should I Collect If I Don’t Travel Often?

Sep 25, 2017

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“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week — Mondays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.

One of the keys to starting off in the world of points and miles is accumulating enough of them to make worthwhile redemptions. So TPG reader Megan wants to know what to do if you don’t earn a ton of points from traveling…

What’s the best credit card for people who want to gather lots of points but don’t travel often?

TPG Reader Megan

Everyone has different travel goals, and for those who don’t travel on a regular basis, your best bet when it comes to amassing points and miles is to first make a long-term plan for a specific trip you want to take, including where you want to go and how you want to get there. Then it’s easier to know which points and miles you should collect to book that trip.

Now, not everyone has a destination in mind or can plan that far ahead, though if you can round things down even a little bit, that can help you pick a focus. For instance, if you just want points that will let you travel domestically in economy class without worrying about availability or the value of your points, Southwest Rapid Rewards might be a good program to consider. In that case, you could apply for a Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card and for a the 40,000-point sign-up bonus after spending $1,000 in the first three months.

But what if you just wanted to collect a big pot of general-use points or miles without any idea on where you might go or what you could do with them? Without focusing on a specific use, you’ll likely have to forgo getting outsized value for your points or miles, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still get a good return.

Two possibilities are the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard and the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. With both of these cards, you’ll earn 2 miles per dollar on all purchases, and those miles can be redeemed against any sort of travel purchase that you charge to the card, so you’ll have a great deal of flexibility in using them. Both cards have annual fees that are waived for the first year and 40,000-mile sign-up bonuses after $3,000 in spend, which will get you started off with a nice chunk of miles. The Arrival Plus also comes with a 5% rebate on redeemed miles, which means you’ll actually get slightly more than a 2% return on your purchases, but it also has a higher annual fee ($89) after the first year than the Capital One Venture Rewards ($59).

If you want even more flexibility, you might consider a cash-back card. The Citi Double Cash Card comes with no annual fee at all and gives you 1% cash back when you pay and 1% cash back on everything you buy, which means you never have to worry about points or miles at all. Or if you’ve got some resources that you can move over to Bank of America, the new Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card can get you as high as 2.625 points per dollar if you’re a top-tier member of the Preferred Rewards banking program. That’s the best value you can get for points that are completely unrestricted since they can be redeemed as a simple statement credit at a value of 1 cent each, and the card is currently offering a sizable 50,000-point sign-up bonus for spending $3,000 in the first 90 days after opening the account. The information for the Citi Double Cash card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

But if you want to specifically collect points or miles for travel and still keep things simple, the best choice might be to start with a Chase Freedom Unlimited. That card is generally marketed as a cash-back card that earns 1.5% on all purchases and has no annual fee, but what makes it worthwhile as a travel card is that the cash back is actually awarded in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

You can’t transfer those points to airline or hotel partners without one of the other Chase cards from the Ultimate Rewards family, but you can start collecting points now, and then later get another Chase card that lets you make transfers or even redeem the points directly for travel on almost any airline or hotel for as much as 1.5 cents each if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve. And in the end if you decide you just want to use the points for cash back and not get another card at all, at least you’ll have earned 1.5 cents per dollar on all your charges. You’ll even get 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points as a sign-up bonus by spending just $500 on the card in the first three months.

There are undoubtedly other card options that can work for the irregular traveler, but one of these should be a good choice to get you started, Megan. Thanks for the question, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured image by CollinsChin/Getty Images.

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