Should I Use a Balance Transfer to Earn Points?
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week by TPG Associate Editor Brendan Dorsey.
You can earn points and miles in all sorts of ways, from credit card sign-up bonuses to renting a car. However, TPG reader Fernando noticed he could earn points on balance transfers on his new Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card…
Having the lowest APR that this card offers, I have no problem in moving the current balance on my Capital One card to this card for the points I would earn from it. Sure there’s a balance transfer fee, but the earned points greatly outweigh the small fee I’d incur.TPG Reader Fernando
First off, it’s important to note that it’s quite rare to find a balance transfer offer that earns points. Additionally, if you’re thinking about earning points while carrying debt, don’t. Any smart player in the miles and points game will focus on decreasing their debt first. Interest payments from carrying balance on a credit card can quickly negate the value of any points you’ve earned.
Under the terms and conditions of the Southwest Priority card, there’s indeed a bullet point that reads: “1 Rapid Rewards Point for every $1 of eligible balance transfers made within the first 90 days your account is open (up to $10,000).”
So, is this a good deal? Should Fernando complete a balance transfer to earn Southwest points? Fernando said he had the lowest APR the card offers and that he’d be willing to transfer the balance from a Capital One card to earn the points. Still, it likely wouldn’t make sense to do this.
Even if he transferred the maximum amount of balance, $10,000, he’d only earn 10,000 Southwest points for paying off his balance — worth $150 according to TPG’s valuations. A balance transfer on this card would cost 5% or $5, whichever is greater, so $500 in the case of a $10,000 balance. That’s already outweighing the value of any points earned. And again, if you’re also paying interest on a credit card then you’re even deeper in the hole.
If you are considering a balance transfer, you’re going to get the most value by applying for a card that doesn’t charge a balance transfer fee and offers a temporary 0% APR — that puts you much further ahead than you’d be with any points earned on a balance transfer that comes with an APR. This way you’ll be able to pay off debt without incurring any interest or fees (at least for a little while).
The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express is probably your best bet, since it ticks off those two boxes. It offers 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months and doesn’t charge a balance transfer fee for the first 60 days of account opening (then a variable APR of 14.99% to 25.99% applies). You’ll also earn 10,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $1,000 in the first three months.
This is a reminder that even in the points and miles world, in this case saving cash is still king. All opportunities to earn rewards are not created equal — make sure to do the math and see if you’re coming out ahead or behind. And don’t carry debt if you want to reap the full benefits of travel rewards credit cards.
Featured image by Emily McNutt / The Points Guy.