New to Points and Miles? Here Are the 2 Cards You Should Get Right Now

Sep 26, 2018

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The top travel rewards credit cards come in many different flavors, and if you’re just getting into the world of points and miles, the choices can be overwhelming. The questions and considerations seem endless: Do I open a card with an annual fee? Should I earn miles or cash back? Would I be able to use the perks of a co-branded card from my preferred airline or hotel chain? And what in the world are these “transferable points” that you guys are always preaching about?

While we’ve written about the best starter cards in the past, these analyses typically considered opening just a single new card. Doing so is a great way to unlock valuable rewards (and can result in some meaningful differences between paying in cash or swiping a debit card), but it also restricts you to one earning scheme, one redemption plan, one set of perks. If you’re new to points and miles and are looking for a solid duo of cards to add to your wallet, you’ve come to the right place! Today I’ll highlight why the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card are a perfect combination to get started.

Before getting into the details of why these cards make such a potent combination, let’s quickly review the key characteristics of each one:

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Sign-up bonus: 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That’s $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards. It’s also worth $1,200 based on TPG’s most recent valuations)

Earning rates: 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining; 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else

Redemption options: You can redeem points directly for travel at a rate of 1.25 cents per point through the Chase Travel portal. You can also transfer your points to multiple airline and hotel partners, including Hyatt, United, Marriott and British Airways.

Additional perks: The Sapphire Preferred is one of a handful of travel rewards credit cards to offer primary car rental coverage. You’ll also enjoy additional under-the-radar perks like trip cancellation/interruption protection, trip delay reimbursement and baggage delay coverage. It also waives foreign transaction fees, making it a great option for your purchases abroad.

Annual fee: $95

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

If you value a simple credit card rewards scheme, the Venture Card is a great fit.

Sign-up bonus: 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months you open an account.

Earning rates: 10 miles per dollar spent on purchases booked and paid through a dedicated link; 2 miles per dollar spent on all other purchases

Redemption options: You can redeem your Venture miles for statement credits to cover eligible travel expenses at a rate of 1 cent per mile (see this post for full details on how to do this). You can also receive cash back through a general statement credit, though the value from this redemption is just 0.5 cents per point, as my fellow Editor-at-Large Zach Honig recently discovered.

Additional perks: As a Visa Signature card, the Capital One Venture has some protection and coverage, including lost luggage reimbursement and travel accident insurance, though the Sapphire Preferred comes out ahead on most of these benefits. However, like the Sapphire Preferred, it too waives foreign transaction fees and also added a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credit every four years back in mid-2018.

Annual fee: $95 (waived for the first year)

What makes these cards such a powerful combination?

There’s no “one-size-fits-all” model when it comes to travel rewards credit cards. Whenever my friends or family members ask for my help in determining the best card(s) for their wallet, I always ask them a few basic questions:

  1. What do your typical spending patterns look like? By figuring out where they spend their money, I can identify which cards offer the highest bonuses for purchases in those categories.
  2. What type of rewards do you want? Travel rewards credit cards provide a variety of different redemption schemes. If you’re solely interested in cash back and don’t want to mess with travel rewards, I’d never recommend The Platinum Card® from American Express (for example), even though it can offer some incredible value. You’d be much better off going with a card like the Citi® Double Cash Card.
  3. How complicated of a redemption scheme do you want? A related question involves the level of complexity of the card’s reward program. The Citi® Double Cash Card is about as simple as it comes; a card that accrues Membership Rewards points is on an entirely different level. Sure, you can get outsized value from transferable points, but only if you’re willing to invest the time in learning the ins and outs of the applicable program.

The answers to these three questions can help guide your selection of one or more cards to open and then keep in your wallet.

So why do I think the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card are a perfect duo to jumpstart your points and miles engagement? Here are my key reasons:

1. There’s no up-front cost

When I first graduated from college, I absolutely refused to pay an annual fee on my credit cards, though this quickly changed once I saw the incredible amount of value I could get from higher-end cards. However, what if you could take advantage of these perks and bonuses without actually incurring a fee? That’s exactly the case with both of these cards, as the annual fee is waived for the first year on both of them. This essentially gives you a risk-free trial for your first 12 months as a cardholder. When the annual fees come due in year two, you can decide then whether it’s worth incurring one or both of them or decide to downgrade to a card like the Chase Freedom Unlimited or the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card.

Of course, it isn’t just a fee-free first year…

2. You’ll get a large haul of points in a short period of time.

Instant gratification has become the norm in today’s tech-driven world, and sign-up bonuses on credit cards are a reflection of that. The major issuers know that providing a large incentive to open a card will hopefully result in you keeping the card in the long-term. If you open both the Sapphire Preferred and Capital One Venture cards and meet the aforementioned minimum spending thresholds, you’ll wind up with the following point balances at a minimum (travel or dining purchases on the Sapphire Preferred will boost this even higher):

  • 64,000 Ultimate Rewards points
  • 56,000 Venture miles

3. You can start simple but have the opportunity to go deeper.

As described above, the redemption scheme on the Capital One Venture card is relatively straight-forward. As long as you redeem your miles to cover travel purchases, you’re getting 1 cent of value per mile you use. The same holds true for using your Ultimate Rewards points to book travel directly through Chase, though these awards are a slightly more lucrative redemption, as points are worth 1.25 cents apiece. And in both cases, the flights you book on the Venture card that are then “erased” using miles as well as those booked directly with Chase points are eligible to earn miles and credit toward elite status.

However, you’re not limited to these simple redemptions. They’re a good starting point, but you can choose to extend the value of your Ultimate Rewards points even further. When you’re just getting started, it may be totally overwhelming to read something like this on our site: “I transferred Chase points to Singapore’s KrisFlyer program to book a one-way business class flight home from South America on Avianca, since the award rate was better than transferring Chase points to United.”

(Side note: I just did this very thing for a trip next year.)

That being said, everyone starts somewhere. Since Ultimate Rewards points are inherently flexible, you can decide to go deeper into redeeming those points for maximum value at any time.

4. You’ll have a simple yet rewarding combination for earning points.

It took some time for me to get comfortable with managing multiple credit cards, and to this day, my wife still relies on the little cheat-sheet that lives in her wallet to remember which card should be used where (it’s even updated quarterly to reflect the rotating bonus categories on the Chase Freedom). (No longer open to new applicants) Navigating two cards may seem like a daunting task, but it’s really quite simple:

  • Use the Sapphire Preferred for all dining purchases.
  • Use the Sapphire Preferred for all travel purchases (other than Hotels.com).
  • Use the Sapphire Preferred for online purchases with bonuses at the Ultimate Rewards shopping mall.
  • Use the Venture for Hotels.com.
  • Use the Venture for all other purchases.

The first two bullets result in a return of 2.5 – 4%, depending on how you’re using your Ultimate Rewards points, and the third one could be even higher, depending on how high the bonus is (my recommendation: check a shopping portal aggregator to quickly compare earning rates). At Hotels.com, you’ll earn a return of 10% by using the Venture card plus an additional 10% by leveraging the Hotels.com Rewards program. Finally, all other purchases that don’t fall into the first four categories will get you a flat 2% return on the Venture.

Bear in mind that since both cards waive foreign transaction fees, you can swipe either one when you travel outside the US.

One Important Caveat

Be sure you crunch the numbers to see if the Sapphire Reserve might be a better fit for your wallet.

All that being said, there is one important caveat to this recommendation: Instead of the Sapphire Preferred, you may be better off with its more luxurious “cousin” (the Chase Sapphire Reserve). Even if you’re initially scared off by the $550 annual fee, the card does provide a $300 annual travel credit along with a host of additional perks that can easily be worth the small premium over the Sapphire Preferred (just $55 per year when you factor in the $300 credit).

Even more importantly, Chase recently revamped how it awards Sapphire sign-up bonuses, extending the minimum timeframe between the two cards to 48 months. As a result, if you start with the Sapphire Preferred now and later want to pick up the Sapphire Reserve, you’ll have to wait at least four years from when you received the sign-up bonus for one to be eligible for a sign-up bonus on the other. There are still cases where the Sapphire Preferred could be the better option, but be sure to compare them closely before jumping on one vs. the other.

Bottom Line

Getting started with points and miles can be very challenging, especially when it comes to selecting a new travel rewards credit card (or two or three). If you’ve been using cash or swiping your debit card, it’s hard to go wrong with any card, but there are some that can offer superior value right off the bat. That’s certainly true of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, a powerful duo that can unlock lucrative earning rates and valuable redemption options. If you’re looking to dive in to this world, I hope this post has given you some food for thought!

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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