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Consult with Cards: TPG's recommendations for family travel

Sept. 01, 2021
12 min read
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Editor’s note: Consult with Cards is a weekly series where the TPG cards team helps our readers decide what their next card should be. If you would like to be a part of this series and receive a personalized consultation, email us.

As we return to the skies, we all want to enjoy the enhanced travel experience. TPG reader Nate Gonzales reached out to me asking advice on which credit cards will help his family travel as comfortably as possible.

(Photo by Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

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While Nate likes dabbling into award travel, he wants to avoid any cards that will start to feel like "extreme coupon clipping." He doesn't mind putting in some extra work, but applying for overcomplicated credit cards in the interest of saving a few bucks isn't appealing to him. Let's look at how we can help Nate and his family as they look toward future trips.

About Nate

Nate is in his early forties, living in Boston with his family of three. They travel twice per year: once to the Pacific Northwest and on an annual beach vacation.

The famous Swan Boats in Boston's Public Garden (Photo by Kylie Klein/Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau)

When the price is right, they like to travel in economy plus, business or first class. Since Nate is 6’2 and has several herniated discs in his back, legroom and comfort are essential factors.

Travel style and aspirations

"We just found out on our last trip that lounges really make the difference in traveling, so we are working that into the cost of every trip or when comparing annual fees," said Gonzales.

JetBlue offers the most legroom in domestic economy. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

His family has typical everyday spend, with most of their budget allocated toward groceries, gas and restaurants. Thankfully, putting your spend on the right cards can rack up thousands of points each year, helping offset some of Nate's upcoming travel costs.

Current credit cards

Nate expressed that these are the three cards he's using the most to maximize his everyday purchases:

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CardWelcome offer/sign-up bonusEarning rateAnnual fee
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit CardEarn 60,000 bonus points after you make at least $4,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.2 points per dollar on travel and dining. 1.5 points per dollar on all other purchases.$95
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express CardEarn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in your first six months of account opening.3 miles per dollar on eligible Delta purchases and hotels, 2 miles per dollar on dining and U.S. supermarkets and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.$250 (see rates & fees)
American Express® Gold CardEarn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in your first six months of card membership.4 points per dollar on U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 annually) and dining, 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel and 1 point per dollar on eligible other purchases.$250 (see rates & fees)

Since Nate can justify paying annual fees if the travel benefits are lucrative enough, let's take a look at some cards that he should consider applying for.

Card recommendations for Nate

Since Nate has opened more than five cards in the past 24 months, he's currently ineligible for Chase-issued cards. With that in mind, let's give some non-Chase card recommendations for him and his family.

He opened the Delta Platinum card in June, but he's unsure if it's the best card for him and his family long-term. "I'm not sure if it’s going to do for me what I want," said Gonzales. "So, I am on the hunt for another to either replace or complement it, so your post is perfectly timed."

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

As Boston is one of Delta's hubs, Nate mostly flies to Delta. If he's looking for lounge access, though, his current Delta Platinum card allows him to access the Sky Clubs at a discounted rate of $50 per person (for the cardholder and up to two guests). However, this can get pricey, as a single visit for a family to three would cost him $117.

Since he's already paying the $250 annual fee (see rates and fees) on the Delta Platinum, our suggestion is to downgrade to the no-annual-fee (see rates and fees) Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card to avoid any impact on his credit score. Then, he should apply for the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card. While American Express has one-welcome-offer-per-lifetime limits, Nate should be able to open a separate Reserve card entirely and snag the welcome offer so long as he hasn't had the Reserve in the past.

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

Currently, the Delta Reserve welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $5,000 in purchases on your card in the first six months of card membership.

Now, while the $550 annual fee (see rates and fees) can seem daunting, he'll enjoy free Delta Sky Club access and even Centurion Lounge access on same-day Delta flights. While there's still a $50 fee for up to two guests, he'll get two free Delta Sky Club guest passes per year that will undoubtedly come in handy for his family of three.

Besides, plenty of other benefits will justify the $550 annual fee (see rates and fees) on the Delta Reserve. Cardmembers will enjoy complimentary upgrades for Delta One® domestically, first class and Comfort+ after elite status members. Note that basic economy fares are not eligible for upgrades. As a Delta Reserve cardholder myself, I have been surprised with the number of upgrades that have cleared, even scoring Delta One on my most recent flight home from Phoenix (PHX) to New York (JFK).

Delta 757-200 (Delta One cabin)
Delta 757-200 (Delta One cabin)

If not upgraded to Delta One or first class, getting upgraded to Comfort+ to snag extra legroom is possible on many flights. Plus, earning elite status is made easier by opening the Delta Reserve to snag better upgrade opportunities, as you can get the Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) requirement waived by spending $25,000 on the card in a year.

Last but not least, the companion certificate on the Delta Reserve is much better than of the Platinum. It's good for first class, so he can fly to Portland (PDX) or the beaches in Florida or California and bring his partner for just the cost of taxes and fees. Meanwhile, Nate can pay or use SkyMiles for the child's ticket.

With their annual trip to the Pacific Northwest, opening a card with Alaska Airlines may make sense since they operate hubs in Portland (PDX) and Seattle (SEA).

If Nate can qualify for a business card (and there are many ways without owning a brick-and-mortar store), he should pick up the Alaska Airlines Visa® Business Card for its offer of 50,000 bonus miles plus a $100 statement credit plus Alaska's Famous Companion Fare; from $122 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $23) with this offer. To qualify, make $3,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account

Alaska miles are some of the most valuable in the points and miles game, and TPG values them at 1.8 cents each (making this bonus worth $1,000- includes the statement credit). These bonus points are worth more than 10 times the low $70 annual fee. Plus, the annual companion fare will come in handy for savings on family travel on their trip to Portland each year.

While the earning rate isn't the best (3 miles per dollar on Alaska Airlines purchases, 2 miles per dollar on eligible gas, shipping and local transit including rideshare purchases, 1 mile per dollar on everything else), you'll get free checked bags for you and up to six guests on your reservations. Nate and his family will also find value from the discounted inflight purchases (20% back as a statement credit).

If Nate is ineligible for a business card, the consumer Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card is still a compelling option. New cardholders will get a limited time offer of a $100 statement credit, 50,000 bonus miles and Alaska's Famous Companion Fare; from $122 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $23) with this offer. To qualify, make $2,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.

The discounts and annual companion fare are the same as the business version, but there's also a slightly higher $95 annual fee on the personal version. Still, it shouldn't be hard to maximize either card from Alaska Airlines.

Finally, Nate mentioned that he wants to stay at nice hotels. He's flexible when it comes to hotel chains, though he told me, "I used to like Marriott, but they seem to be going downhill, so we tend to lean more towards Hyatt and sometimes Hilton or IHG if need be."

While the World of Hyatt Credit Card is one of our favorite hotel cards out there, it's a Chase-issued card. Fortunately, we've seen some great offerings from the Hilton Honors American Express Card — not to mention some fantastic welcome offers.

The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card with a $95 annual fee (see rates and fees) seems to be a solid choice for Nate and his family. For starters, new applicants will earn 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points and a Free Night Reward after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership If Nate earns the welcome bonus, he's looking at $780 in value (based on TPG's valuations).

The earning rate is 12x on Hilton hotels and resorts, 6x on U.S. supermarkets, U.S. gas stations and 3x on all other purchases. Since Nate currently doesn't have a card that earns bonus points on gas, earning 6x will help Nate and his family rack up Hilton points in no time.

Nate will enjoy complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status thanks to the card, with the opportunity to upgrade to Diamond by spending $40,000 on the card per calendar year. Gold status starts to unlock space-available room upgrades, among other perks, improving the overall experience for Nate and his family.

By spending $15,000 on the card each calendar year, Nate will also get a free night award that can be used for one of Hilton's luxury properties to outsize the value.

Finally, the Hilton Honors Surpass offers 10 Priority Pass lounge visits each membership year. There are more than 1,300 lounges worldwide, so if Nate and his family can't visit a Delta Sky Club or an Alaska lounge, there will surely be other lounges to visit for free. (Enrollment required for select benefits)

Bottom line

In many cases, it's worth downgrading the card you have first and then applying for an ultra-premium card with better benefits. For Nate's family of three, these three cards all offer lucrative benefits that aren't overly difficult to maximize.

Thanks for reaching out, Nate! If you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a consultation of your own, feel free to email us for a chance to be featured in this weekly series.

Official application link: Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card.
Official application link: Alaska Airlines Business Card.
Official application link: Alaska Airlines Visa Credit Card.
Official application link: Hilton Honors Surpass.

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum, click here.

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve, click here.

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Blue, click here.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Surpass, click here.

For rates and fees of the Amex Gold Card, click here

Updated on 06/05/2023.

Featured image by Getty Images/iStockphoto
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.