Consult with Cards: TPG’s recommendations for a freelancer living abroad
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Editor’s note: This article is part of a weekly series where the TPG cards team consults with our readers on their next card. If you would like to be a part of this series, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook, or email us at email@example.com.
Every Wednesday, the TPG cards team is helping our readers figure out what their next credit card should be in our new weekly series, “Consult with Cards.” As we return to travel, mapping out a robust credit card rewards strategy can help you land the award flights and nights you need for your next trip.
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This week, we’re highlighting Kathleen O’Donnell — a TPG reader who happens to be a digital nomad living in Greece and Croatia (we’re just as envious as you probably are). She already carries a trusty Chase Sapphire Reserve card, enjoying perks like Priority Pass lounge access.
Let’s take a look at Kathleen’s travel goals and then give her our expert recommendation, Consult With Cards style.
Kathleen is a freelance writer, originally from Boston but now living in Greece and Croatia. Although she resides in Europe, she visits the U.S. from time to time.
Kathleen holds just a single travel rewards card — the Chase Sapphire Reserve, heralded as one of TPG’s best stand-alone credit cards. Sure, Kathleen could keep using this card for simplicity’s sake, but she should really hone her cards strategy to maximize her purchases and earn points for her next award trips even faster.
Travel style and aspirations
Intra-Europe travel is easy and convenient for Kathleen, as budget carriers abound. But when it comes to transatlantic flights, she wants to make them more comfortable by using points and perks. Thankfully, she’s come to the right place, and opening a new credit card could help make this dream come true.
As she’s based in Greece and Croatia, Kathleen has several carrier options for nonstop travel between Europe and the U.S. In this post, we’ll help her figure out the best ways to use her points to score that sweet business-class seat — like United Polaris, pictured above.
Card recommendations for Kathleen
Because the only card Kathleen has opened in the last few years is her Chase Sapphire Reserve, she’s well under Chase’s 5/24 rule. If you’re unfamiliar with this restriction, it means you likely won’t be eligible for any Chase-issued credit card if you’ve opened five or more credit cards — from any issuer — in the past 24 months.
Related: The best ways to use your 5/24 slots
If you’re in a similar situation as Kathleen and have plenty of slots open, we recommend considering new Chase cards first since they’re subject to this stringent rule. Once you get all the Chase cards you desire, we start looking at other issuers and seeing if they fit into your long-term credit cards strategy.
With that being said, Kathleen should build out the cards in her Chase Trifecta, which includes the Chase Sapphire Reserve (or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card), the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card and the Chase Freedom Unlimited (or the Chase Freedom Flex).
Before we begin, let’s note that the Chase Trifecta may not be the ideal combination for everyone, especially Kathleen who’s living abroad. Owning the no-annual-fee Chase Freedom Unlimited or Chase Freedom Flex won’t do her much good since these cards charge a 3% foreign transaction fee, making them expensive to use while abroad.
But as a freelance writer, she should be eligible to apply for a business credit card. A common misconception many consumers have is that you must own or operate a registered business to be eligible for a business credit card, but that’s often not the case. Even if you don’t have a brick-and-mortar store, you can open a business card, expanding the possibilities of cards you can apply for (and thus bonuses you can earn).
Related: Best credit cards for freelancers
Since she already owns the Sapphire Reserve, Kathleen should consider opening the Ink Business Preferred, specifically. This card charges a $95 annual fee and offers a substantial sign-up bonus of 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $15,000 in the first three months of account opening. These bonus points are worth $2,000 according to TPG’s valuations, thanks to all the great ways there are to redeem Ultimate Rewards points.
Kathleen can also combine the points she earns on her Ink Business Preferred with those from her Chase Sapphire Reserve account to unlock potentially even more value from them when booking travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal. That’s because Ultimate Rewards points earned with the Ink Business Preferred are worth 1.25 cents apiece when redeemed this way, but those earned with the Chase Sapphire Reserve are worth 1.5 cents each — a pretty substantial premium.
The Ink Business Preferred is a great earner, too. It accrues 3x points per dollar on shipping purchases; advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines; internet, cable and phone services; and travel, and 1x on everything else. With her existing Sapphire Reserve that offers 3x on travel and dining, she’ll be able to cover many more purchase categories and earn bonus points that can be pooled into one Chase account.
Kathleen expressed to me that she’s a fan of flying Emirates, namely because they offer nonstop flights from Athens International Airport (ATH) to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). Thankfully, Chase is a partner of Emirates Skywards at a 1:1 rate, meaning she could score a saver flight in Emirates business class for 62,500 Skywards miles one-way.
The downside of the Ink Business Preferred is that its spending threshold for the sign-up bonus is quite high. Hitting $15,000 in three months may not be realistic for freelancers like Kathleen.
Thankfully, there are several new options (besides Emirates) for carriers flying nonstop from Athens to the East Coast, including all three major domestic legacy carriers — American, Delta and United. While she can fly business class on any of them, it’s important that Kathleen considers another card that earns transferable points to put toward award flights on multiple carriers and programs. But we don’t want to necessarily recommend a card like The Platinum Card® from American Express, as it comes with a $695 annual fee (see rates and fees) that may not be worth paying (especially on top of her $550 annual fee on the Chase Sapphire Reserve).
Our recommendation? A mid-tier card will do just the trick, and in this case, we especially like the Citi Premier® Card. Currently, this card is offering a sign-up bonus of 80,000 ThankYou points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. TPG values ThankYou points at 1.8 cents each, meaning that you’re looking at $1,440 of value from the sign-up bonus alone.
It’s not just the intro offer we’re a fan of, though. The Citi Premier comes with terrific rewards-earning potential that complements her Sapphire Reserve nicely. She’ll earn 3 points per dollar on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels, and 1x on all other purchases. Opening the Premier will unlock bonus points on supermarkets and gas stations — expenses she likely has, even as a digital nomad.
The Citi Premier also offers the opportunity to enjoy $100 off a single hotel stay of $500 or more (excluding taxes and fees) booked through Citi ThankYou once per calendar year, which should be easy for her to use when traveling throughout Europe. And, of course, there are no foreign transaction fees with this card.
Now, let’s talk about how she can use her points. Citi has 15-plus airline transfer partners, with the vast majority being international airlines — perfect for someone who lives abroad. Here are some initial ideas on how she can use her ThankYou points to fly business class between Europe and the U.S.:
- Avianca LifeMiles: Transfer ThankYou points to Avianca at a 1:1 rate and spend a flat 63,000 miles to fly business class one-way on United.
- Flying Blue: Transfer ThankYou points to Flying Blue at a 1:1 rate to score business class on Air France starting at 53,000 miles. Note: There will be a few hundred dollars in taxes and fees, and Air France doesn’t fly directly to Athens from New York-JFK, for example.
Above all, the Citi Premier is a fantastic choice since it opens up plenty of options for Kathleen to transfer her hard-earned points to several of Citi’s airline partners and pick the best redemption choice from there.
Because Kathleen lives abroad and wants to travel comfortably across the Atlantic, her priority should be to keep on earning transferable points. This will give her the flexibility to transfer her points to various airline loyalty programs and score the business-class seats she desires.
Since she’s already earning Ultimate Rewards points, our recommendation for Kathleen is to boost her balance even further by opening up an Ink Business Preferred card. Alternatively, Kathleen could diversify what’s in her wallet and obtain a card like the Citi Premier, which comes with a reasonable $95 annual fee and the ability to transfer to programs like Avianca LifeMiles, American AAdvantage (for a limited time) and Air France-KLM Flying Blue.
Application link: Ink Business Preferred with 100,000 points after spending $15,000 in the first three months.
Application link: Citi Premier with 80,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months.
Featured photo by Avi Richards for Unsplash.
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