How TPG staffers helped family members choose a credit card
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Earlier this summer, I had to take my dad, Bennie Wilson, to Bank of America to order new paper checks (don’t say it — I already know). As we were going through the process, the customer service agent told my dad that, since he was a Preferred Rewards Platinum Honors member, he was eligible to apply for the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card.
Dad had no idea he was a top-tier Preferred Rewards member, nor did he know the perks that come with it. A big one is that Preferred Rewards Platinum Honors members receive a generous 75% rewards bonus every time they swipe their Bank of America credit card.
To quote TPG loyalty and engagement editor Richard Kerr, “If you can qualify for Platinum Honors, Preferred Rewards needs to be in your loyalty portfolio, and arguably at the top of it.” That’s why I recommended that my dad take the offer and apply for the card.
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As a retired Air Force Colonel — and like most military members — he is very loyal to his USAA Rewards™ Visa Signature® Card in particular, and all things USAA in general, even though that card only offers a 2,500-point sign-up bonus (gasp), along with 2x points for gas and dining and 1x on everything else. Plus, Dad is a firm believer in TPG’s 10 commandments for credit cards, especially pay off your card in full every month.
This is why having a daughter who is TPG’s senior credit cards editor is handy. I explained the perks that came with the card, and showed him how he could earn more points on travel and dining. And the points he earns can be redeemed for that Mediterranean cruise our family is taking in 2022, or could be transferred to the 529 college accounts he opened for my daughter and my niece. That was enough to convince him.
So I decided to poll my TPG colleagues to see how they convinced their family members to make a card switch. Here’s how they did it.
Jonathan Eves, a strategic analyst associate, helped his mom Debbie choose a new card in 2019 after discovering with horror that she was using an archaic Discover cash-back card and the USAA Signature Visa (like my dad, Debbie is a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel).
He had his mom dive right into the deep end with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. She took the plunge because she loved all the benefits that came with the Reserve — plus, she loved having a metal card. Eves explained that, with all of the perks, the card practically pays for itself.
While Debbie hasn’t been able to use her points a lot since the pandemic, she has become a Chase evangelist, even convincing Eves’ sister, Caroline, to get the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Although she’s not a big spender, Caroline loves her Preferred and has gotten value out of it already. Debbie plans on using her points to travel somewhere warm and tropical when the pandemic subsides, while Caroline will redeem hers to visit her boyfriend in Sweden.
TPG’s director of travel content Summer Hull (aka Mommy Points), convinced her dad, Grandpa Points, to sign up for his first rewards credit card in 2011, at the ripe old age of 62. He was reluctant to sign up for credit cards after seeing his own parents hit with way too many overdraft charges, bank fees and overdue notices, along with the burden and strain that came with them. He also saw many of his contemporaries fall into the credit card death spiral.
But Hull’s talks about the positive aspects of credit cards and how to leverage everyday spending into trips (by paying off the balance each month) didn’t hit home until Spirit Airlines had a promotion introducing new flights out of Houston, where her grandparents reside. Spirit was handing out hundreds of complimentary certificates valued at 20,000 miles each on a first come, first served basis at a local travel agency.
Grandpa Points and his wife are frequent visitors to Las Vegas, and realized they could each make four round-trips to Vegas with those if they got the Spirit Airlines™ World Mastercard®. Shortly afterward, they were airborne on the first of many such flights and got their first true taste of what miles and points could do.
Zach Honig, TPG’s editor-at-large, got his entire family to sign up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card when it was offering 100,000-point sign-up bonuses. They’ve all managed to use the card’s $300 travel credit every year, but his sister is the only relative who regularly takes advantage of some of the other perks, such as Priority Pass lounge access.
Still, everyone was able to redeem their sign-up bonus points for $1,500 in travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, with the exception of his mom — who fell victim to an Amazon email suggesting she redeem her Chase points there. She ended up ordering a couple of folding plastic tables at a less-than-stellar redemption rate. But, she still ended up ahead overall, since the bonus was so significant.
The card is currently offering 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Ariana Arghandewal, TPG’s points and miles editor, is responsible for all of the credit cards in her dad’s wallet. He used to have an old Bank of America card that earned him around 40,000 points every year. He just cashed his points out for $400 in cash back until Arghandewal realized he could instead transfer those points to Aeroplan.
When Arghandewal came upon this information, she also realized his points were about to expire, so that was two disasters averted. The Aeroplan option went away, so he now has a Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Freedom Unlimited combo in his wallet to make things simple and rewarding.
Before his daughter, Becca Manheimer, helped him see the credit card light, David Denenberg was strictly a cash and debit card guy. But after Manheimer, TPG’s director of marketing and communications, showed him all the benefits and perks that came with having credit cards, Denenberg ended up with two — the Chase Ink Business Preferred for his business — the law firm Abramson and Denenberg — and the Chase Sapphire Preferred as his personal card.
He managed to rack up a generous 160,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points in sign-up bonuses and redeemed them for a lovely stay at Hyatt’s Miraval Berkshires. Because Denenberg follows TPG’s number one credit card commandment, he still pays off his card every month. But, unlike paying with cash or a debit card, he’s earning points that can go toward future travel.
Mitchell Stoutin’s parents had been quite loyal, and had held Gold or Platinum status with the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) loyalty program — depending on their yearly travel — since he was young. They also put large amounts of spend on the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express card (which is no longer available).
But around the time of the Marriott Bonvoy launch, they were traveling less. His parents also weren’t super sophisticated about points and miles, but that was what was great about SPG — you didn’t have to be. All they knew was they always had points for a free stay when they wanted to.
They had a couple of airline cobranded cards — the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card and Alaska Airlines Visa® Business card — mostly for the free checked bags on the Delta and Alaska flights respectively. When Chase launched the Sapphire Reserve with the 100,000-point sign-up bonus, they signed up for it, understanding that the points were transferrable to airline and hotel partners, and that it added up to a free trip to Europe. But when Stoutin (a director of engineering) would go home and grocery shop with his mom, he’d still see her charge purchases to her SPG Preferred Guest card out of habit.
Mitchell started showing them the Chase Freedom (the Freedom card is no longer available for new sign-ups and was replaced with the Chase Freedom Flex), since you could get 5% cash back in quarterly rotating categories (up to $1,500 each quarter you activate) for that, and the points are worth a lot more when paired with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Ink Business Preferred.
The thing that really connected the dots for his parents came later. Alaska Airlines cut its route to his hometown of Lewiston, Idaho, and the Alaska Airlines Visa Business had always been his mom’s card for business spend. She asked what business card she should get, and Mitchell pushed her toward the Ink Business Preferred. She actually had a separate Chase log-in for business, but the day he showed her how to transfer points from her business Ultimate Rewards account into her personal Chase Sapphire Reserve was the moment his parents suddenly got it. COVID-19 canceled his parents’ French Polynesia trip, but Stoutin is sure they’re hooked on points-earning credit cards from here.
If your loved ones are anything like my dad, many of them are set in their ways when it comes to the credit cards in their wallets. I have utterly failed to drag my dad away from writing paper checks to pay bills, despite setting up his online account and showing him how he can automate his bill paying.
But, I was able to get him to apply for the Bank of America Premium Rewards card by showing him that the points he would earn could be redeemed for two things he was interested in: his granddaughters and travel. Now may be a great time to do an audit of a family member’s credit card(s) and show them how they could also be doing better.
Featured photo by Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
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