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If you don’t spend much of the year traveling, you might be wondering what the best rewards credit card is for the “average,” non-road-warrior traveler like yourself. There are seemingly endless choices when it comes to rewards cards, from those that earn airline miles to those that get you hotel points to options that net you transferable points.
With this in mind, we wanted to cut through the noise and share what we think is the best rewards card for the average traveler who wants to start using points and miles to travel.
Our answer: The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
To reach this decision, we considered annual fees, the points that would be earned, how the points could be redeemed and more. Let’s dive into some of the reasons why we think the Sapphire Preferred is a great first move for the average traveler.
1. Reasonable Annual Fee (Waived the First Year)
One of the first things people want to know when considering a rewards-earning credit card is the annual fee. The Chase Sapphire Preferred carries a reasonable $95 annual fee, but that fee is waived your first year with the card. It’s particularly nice to be able to use the card for a year without concern for the annual fee while seeing how it can help you travel.
2. Strong Sign-Up Bonus and Earning Potential
The Chase Sapphire Preferred earns Chase Ultimate Rewards, which are some of the most versatile points out there (more on that later). When you sign up for this card, you’ll earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $4,000 within the first three months. That’s $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
The sign-up bonus gives you a great start toward earning the points necessary for your next vacation. The sign-up bonus isn’t the only way to earn points, though. You’ll earn 2x points on all dining and travel purchases. Other purchases will earn 1 point per dollar.
The travel category is quite broad, so paying for Uber, Lyft, taxis, train tickets and reloading some metro cards will earn 2x points. Of course, hotels and airline tickets will also earn 2 points per dollar.
3. Transfer Points to 13 Partners
Here’s what really makes the Chase Sapphire Preferred valuable: the ability to transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to both airline and hotel partners. Chase has nine airline partners and four hotel partners:
- Aer Lingus AerClub
- Air France/KLM Flying Blue
- British Airways Executive Club
- Iberia Plus
- Korean Air SkyPass
- Singapore KrisFlyer
- Southwest Rapid Rewards
- United MileagePlus
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
- IHG Rewards Club
- Marriott Rewards
- The Ritz-Carlton Rewards
- World of Hyatt
Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer to each of these partners at a 1:1 ratio, and many of these transfers process almost instantly.
The ability to transfer your points to airline partners is particularly useful if you want to fly business or first class internationally. Each of these airline partners has some sweet spots, but here are a few to give you an idea of the possibilities.
You can transfer 90,000 Ultimate Rewards points to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club and book a round-trip business-class award ticket on All Nippon Airways (ANA) from Los Angeles to Tokyo. For 110,000 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles, you could fly the same itinerary in first class.
If you’d like to visit Europe, you could transfer 62,500 points to Air France-KLM Flying Blue to book a one-way business-class ticket. Even better than that, Flying Blue runs promo awards every month. Awards from select cities, including US cities, are often 25% off, which means you could book the same business-class flight for 46,875 Flying Blue miles.
If flying economy class is more your style, Air France-KLM Flying Blue also offers a solid redemption of 25,000 miles for a one-way economy ticket between the US and Europe.
If you make the journey to Asia, Australia, Europe or South America and want to see several cities in a region, transferring Ultimate Rewards points to British Airways Executive Club could be a great move. Flights that are 650 miles or less only require 4,500 Avios for an economy ticket.
4. Points Are Worth 1.25 Cents for Ultimate Rewards Portal Redemptions
The Ultimate Rewards travel portal also offers an intriguing opportunity for those who want to book hotels or economy-class flights. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, each point is worth 1.25 cents in the travel portal. This means the 50,000-point sign-up bonus alone is worth $625 toward travel.
While transferring Ultimate Rewards points to airline partners can be a great way to book flights, you’ll want to compare the redemption rates of partner airlines to the travel portal rate when booking economy tickets.
If you find a great cash fare deal, the travel portal might actually require fewer points for flights to your destination — sometimes for the exact same flight — thanks to the redemption rate of 1.25 cents per point. While you’re redeeming points this way, portal bookings are actually paid fares rather than awards.
This very, very rarely works the same way for international business and first-class flights because the cash prices are so high.
Additionally, if you want to book a hotel stay, you might find that the points required in the travel portal will be less than if you transferred to one of Chase’s hotel partners. Make sure you check both before you book to ensure you get the best deal.
One thing to keep in mind with hotel bookings through Chase is that elite status benefits are unlikely to be recognized, and you probably won’t earn hotel points from the stay. Fortunately, this is not the case when booking flights. If you have elite status and book through the Ultimate Rewards portal, your status will be recognized. You’ll also earn miles on these flights like you would with any other cash ticket.
5. It’s a Great Card to Use Abroad
When traveling abroad, the Chase Sapphire Preferred serves as a nice go-to card as there aren’t any foreign transaction fees. On top of that, the dining and travel bonus categories are very useful when traveling.
When you consider where people spend most of their money abroad, you’ll quickly realize restaurants, hotels, trains, taxis, etc. make up the bulk of the purchases. Earning 2x points all of these purchases helps you work toward your next award trip.
Bonus Tip: Pair It With the Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited
The Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited cash-back cards technically earn points, but don’t allow you to transfer your points or even receive 1.25 cents per point in the travel portal. However, you can move the points you earn from either of these cards to the Chase Sapphire Preferred so that you can take advantage of transfer partners or the increased portal redemption rate.
The Chase Freedom has rotating quarterly bonus categories that earn 5x points on the first eligible $1,500 you spend, while the Chase Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5x points on all purchases. Neither card has an annual fee.
While earning 2x points on travel and dining purchases with the Sapphire Preferred is great, it’s even better when you can pair it with a card that earns bonus rewards on other spending categories.
The points and miles world isn’t just for those who travel for work or spend all of their free time on the road. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the less-frequent traveler can still earn valuable points that can turn into flights and/or hotel stays for a much-deserved vacation. Having the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great first step to learning how you can explore the world thanks to award travel.
Featured photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy
With great travel benefits, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game. Here are the top 5 reasons it should be in your wallet, or read our definitive review for more details.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards