Consult with Cards: Can't qualify for elite status? Get similar perks from these cards instead
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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.
TPG reader Robert Dwiggins initially reached out to me as he was curious about which elite statuses were the easiest to achieve without traveling often. After some back and forth with Robert, I discovered the true intention of his question: Like many of us, he wants to get upgraded on his future trip to Hawaii but can't afford to pay the fare with cash.
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Robert's come to the right place, and I quickly diverted his attention away from chasing airline elite status to building a repertoire of cards that can help Robert and his wife fly to Hawaii in style. He's aiming for April 2022, meaning he has about eight months to create a master plan. As he becomes more comfortable using his cards (and the points and miles that come with them), Robert can book other long-haul award trips in the future.
Robert and his wife are in their 60s, and they plan on retiring within the next couple of years. Living in St. Louis, they're huge fans of the Cardinals and the Blues and will travel domestically to watch their teams play in new stadiums and arenas.
As the couple looks toward retirement, it's time to start thinking about bigger trips. Hawaii is first on their list, so let's help Robert and his wife nail down a cards strategy that helps them explore the world on a budget.
Travel style and aspirations
Looking forward, they want to travel to out-of-state locations once a year, but as comfortably as possible. In other words, they don't want to spend more than eight hours in a plane, and lie-flat seats are their goal. While Hawaii is first on their list, they hope to visit the Caribbean and Europe in the future.
Before the pandemic, the couple went on leisure trips a few times per year, in addition to regularly visiting their grandkids who live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. They're Southwest Companion Pass holders, but Robert revealed that he likes it for the cost but hates it for "the herd mentality." On his future long-haul trips, he would rather be able to pick his seats and fly in business or first.
Robert loves the world of points and miles and wants to learn more. But as he states, "my problem is I’m not patient and make the wrong decision to achieve what I really want. There are so many options it gets confusing. I prefer ease and convenience but can’t afford to have that. We want the most for the least but will pay somewhere in between for ease and convenience."
If this sentiment resonates with you, keep on reading.
Current credit cards
Fortunately, Robert and his wife both hold excellent credit scores. To assess his card standing (and where he stands with Chase's 5/24 rule), I asked him about the credit cards he has opened in the past 24 months. He has opened The Platinum Card® from American Express, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and, most recently, the Citi Premier® Card.
It's great that Robert already has some solid cards in his wallet, and he's honed in on earning transferable points. I also asked Robert where his points balances stand, and he currently has 200,000 Membership Rewards points and 90,000 Ultimate Rewards points. He just opened his Citi Premier, and he expects to receive 80,000 ThankYou Points (from the current best-ever sign-up bonus after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening).
With a healthy stash of cards, there are many ways he can slice and dice his points and miles for lie-flat seats to Hawaii. One of the best ways to fly first class to Hawaii is by leveraging the Singapore KrisFlyer program. Robert could transfer 138,000 Membership Rewards points to Singapore KrisFlyer and effectively book two United Polaris seats to Hawaii for 138,000 points round-trip (or 69,000 points per person).
An even cheaper way for Robert to fly United Polaris is by booking through the Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles program. Once he earns his 80,000 Citi ThankYou points, he can transfer them at a 1:1 ratio to Turkish, which only charges 25,000 miles round-trip at the saver level. Admittedly, the booking process is a bit more tedious as he'll have to call Turkish to book and hold his award seats — but it can certainly be worth the effort.
Card recommendations for Robert
As there are many ways for Robert to redeem his current points for business-class flights, the one card that really should be next in line is the World of Hyatt Credit Card. Since Robert already has 90,000 Ultimate Rewards points, he can transfer them directly to World of Hyatt at an easy 1:1 rate to get 90,000 Hyatt points. Hyatt is one of the best loyalty programs for its favorable exchange rates.
Ninety thousand Hyatt points can get you a lot. Let's say that Robert and his wife want to stay at the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort in Hawaii. Cash prices in April 2022 are a mind-boggling $1,072 per night. Or, stay for three nights at a rate of 30,000 points per night — an absolute bargain.
Opening the World of Hyatt card also presents a convincing value proposition since you'll get automatic Discoverist elite status, one free night at any Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel each account anniversary, and the opportunity to earn another free night award if you spend more than $15,000 on the card. Plus, the World of Hyatt card has some of the best earning rates: 9x on Hyatt stays; 2x on dining, flights, gym memberships and local transit and commuting; and 1x on everything else.
Since Robert's interested in elite status, Hyatt is the way to go since he'll get free Discoverist status with the card. To make matters even better, Hyatt has slashed the program requirements by half for 2021. As a Discoverist member, he'll only need 10 more tier-qualifying nights to qualify for Explorist (and 25 for Globalist, Hyatt's top-tier status) — which brings me to my final point about this card.
The World of Hyatt card also comes with five automatic elite night credits each year, with the opportunity to earn two additional night credits every time you spend $5,000 on the card.
The benefits start getting really good at the Explorist and Globalist levels, as that's when you'll get access to room upgrades. If he's interested in upgrading to the suite life, Robert should aim for Globalist status, especially since the requirements are easier to get in 2021. With the World of Hyatt credit card, earning the higher ranks of elite status is easy since there are the five free elite-qualifying nights and the opportunity to earn more from credit card spending and your Hyatt stays.
There's a sign-up bonus on the card of up to 60,000 bonus points. You'll earn 30,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening. Plus, up to 30,000 more points by earning 2 bonus points total per $1 spent in the first six months from account opening on purchases that normally earn 1 bonus point, on up to $15,000 spent.
If Robert reaps the full sign-up bonus, that's a few more award nights in Hawaii — like two nights at this property in Waimea.
While Robert has a decent amount of cards already, he'd also benefit from a card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card for utmost simplicity. While Capital One offers the ability to transfer your miles to several airline and hotel programs, some transfer at a lower 2:1.5 or 2:1 ratio.
Forget all those numbers and charge any travel to your Capital One Venture, whether it's a group tour or a rental car, and use your miles to redeem travel charges on your statement at a rate of 1 cent each.
This is the card I always recommend to those who value simplicity and flexibility, as the "travel" category is flexible and covers a whole deal of purchases that don't relate to flights and hotels. While there's a $95 annual fee, the card comes with a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck reimbursement and 75,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. That means 75,000 miles is worth $750 for travel statement charges, or if Robert's willing to put in the work to use transfer partners, each mile could be worth 1.85 cents each (for a total of $1,388 according to TPG valuations).
The final card I'm recommending to Robert is the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card — one of the only cards that offers complimentary upgrades on Delta flights simply by holding the card. You'll enjoy complimentary upgrades for Delta One (within the 50 United States), first class and Comfort+ after Medallion members. However, the card comes with a whopping $550 annual fee (see rates and fees), so Robert will have to assess if it's worth paying for another ultra-premium card on top of the Amex Platinum.
However, if Robert is interested in eventually pursuing elite status with Delta, owning the Delta Reserve makes it a lot easier thanks to its opportunity to earn Medallion® Qualification Miles and Medallion® Qualification Dollars faster. From the welcome bonus alone, you can earn 50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first six months of account opening.
If you're like Robert and want to earn elite status but don't travel enough to reach it, you could still get elite-like perks from your credit cards — or make elite status easier to achieve by holding the right cards. In any event, Robert has three great options for his next cards to pay for his trip to Hawaii using points and miles.
For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve, click here.