Understanding Credit Scores, Sign-Up Bonuses, and Premium Rewards with TPG’s Credit Cards Editor

Aug 14, 2019

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TPG staffers get a lot of questions about credit cards, and not just from beginners. Even experts with wallets packed with premium cards want to know more.

So on this week’s Talking Points, The Points Guy, Brian Kelly, welcomes TPG‘s credit card editor Benét Wilson to get the basics. Wilson is an AvGeek at heart, but she is also a credit-card ninja.  Listen for the lowdown on everything from building your credit, avoiding FAKO scores (yes, FAKO — as in, not FICO), identifying whether you’re getting a good sign-up bonus, and choosing the right premium-rewards card. Plus, she even throws in what she thinks is the number one underdog card.

Key Takeaways:

In this episode, find out the one perk Brian wishes credit cards would offer, learn about the various rules issuers have to limit or control the number of cards you apply for — like Chase’s 5/24 rule, and understand when and why you might consider a balance transfer. Wilson also explains her favorite cards and why she loves the Companion Pass benefit with Southwest’s cobranded credit cards.

“That’s the Holy Grail for me and any other person that flies Southwest regularly. With Southwest Companion Pass, if you fly 100 segments, you will get a pass. And if you time it right, you can stretch it out beyond a year. You will be able to take a travel companion every time you travel and you pay the taxes and fees. I mean, who wouldn’t love that?”

You can play this episode of Talking Points above, or wherever you get your podcasts. Please make sure to subscribe, rate and review!


Featured image by Natalie Roe

Full Transcript:

Brian Kelly: Welcome to Talking Points. This is your host, Brian Kelly, The Points Guy. And today we officially have a Points Girl with us. Benet Wilson is the new head of credit cards content at The Points Guy and she is just a fascinating woman all around. Benet, thank you so much for joining us.

Benet Wilson: I’m so happy to be here. Thank you, Brian.

Brian Kelly: So first and foremost, you manage our credit card content, but you are an aviation geek to the core.

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: You’ve been, since 1992, an aviation journalist. Tell us about how you got into the world we’re in today. Take it back to the ’90s.

Benet Wilson: Ha. Well, I actually have been an av geek all my life, and I was that little kid who would sit and go to the … My parents indulged me and took me to the airport, and I’d track things. And then in ’92 I found out, my roommate said, “Hey, this company is looking for somebody to write about aviation.” And I thought she was joking, like, “Somebody would pay for that?” And I got that first job and never looked back.

Brian Kelly: And so, if you do #avgeek, some people say av geek.

Benet Wilson: Av geek.

Brian Kelly: Some people say Ay-Vee geek … So it’s av geek.

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: For the record. Because your Twitter name, and everyone should follow Benet on Twitter, is AvQueenBenet, B-E-N-E-T. So, for the record it’s av geek.

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: So, you started writing about airlines and then you ended up working for airlines. How did you make that jump to actually working for the airlines?

Benet Wilson: I was minding my own business. In 2001, I went out to visit Mesa Air Group, and I was doing a series of stories and they were asking me questions about the airline and everything, and I didn’t know it was a job interview — and it was. And the company that I had been writing for, they had just been sold to a venture capitalist, and they brought in all these people who knew nothing about aviation. I was like, you know, this time…

Brian Kelly: Yeah.

Benet Wilson: … to make a … And I left DC and moved to Phoenix. In the middle of the desert.

Brian Kelly: So, you worked for Mesa Airlines-

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: In Phoenix.

Benet Wilson: Mm-hmm.

Brian Kelly: And so, you had non rev flight benefits. Did you take advantage of it?

Benet Wilson: Full advantage. I had it for Mesa. We were partners with US Airways, Frontier, and America West. So, yes, I went as far as I could.

Brian Kelly: What was the furthest place that you went when you had those free flight perks.

Benet Wilson: I heard a story on National Public Radio and they had built an ice skating rink on the second level of the Eiffel Tower. One of the people’s like, “Whoa, you know, we heard about it and my girlfriend works for the airlines so we just did it.” I’m like, “Hey, I work for an airline, I’m going to do it.” So yes, I ended up ice skating.

Brian Kelly: Did you connect through Philadelphia on US Airways at that point?

Benet Wilson: Yes. That’s the way. But there were always other…

Brian Kelly: Yeah.

Benet Wilson: When you’re non-rrevving you have to be really flexible, so…

Brian Kelly: Well, I’m sorry you no longer have your non-rev benefits at The Points Guy, but I think we’ve got some pretty good flight perks.

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: Today’s episode, if I haven’t been clear yet, we are going to talk all things credit card with our credit card guru, Benet. So how did you … You went into aviation, and then you got into the credit card world. What was that evolution?

Benet Wilson: Well, I got hired in February of 2018 to write for a website called Mile Cards, and it had this perfect blend. I had not done a lot of credit cards. I’d done some freelance, there was also points and miles mixed in. But two months after I got there, Mile Cards was sunsetted and folded into Compare Cards. So I started doing all of the travel stuff because they knew I liked to do that and could get in the weeds and do the credit cards, too.

Brian Kelly: I mean, I’ve been following you on social media for years. I remember when we were hiring for this role and, we’re — you know, we’ve been on a pretty big spree with getting new fresh talent in the organization — and I just remember, “Oh my gosh, she’s an aviation queen that also is passionate about credit cards and helping people get more points through those cards.”

Brian Kelly: Now I really want this episode to be educational. So, I’m going to take this … For people who are not whizzes in credit. Let’s start from the very beginning. You know, especially if someone’s gonna get credit cards, it’s important to know your score. So, what do people need to know about FICO scores versus, you know, all these other free credit scores, which, you know, in the industry we call them fake-o scores. What’s the difference between a FICO and a fake-o score?

Benet Wilson: Well, FICO was the standard. That’s the one that everyone knows. Fair Isaac Corporation has been doing this for decades. And other people are coming into the space, but FICO is the number one. That is the gold standard for credit.

Brian Kelly: And that’s who, if you apply for a mortgage, your bank is going to pull your FICO score…

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: And when you think about a FICO score, so the range is from what? 350 to 850?

Benet Wilson: Yeah. Anything below 580 is poor.

Brian Kelly: Yeah.

Benet Wilson: I mean, you’re probably not going to get an apartment. You’re not gonna get a mortgage. You’ll be lucky if you can get a secured credit card with some really onerous terms. And then it goes up from there. You want to have at least 670 to be able to get some baseline cards.

Brian Kelly: So, the good credit range is 670 to 739, and then very good is 740 to 799-

Benet Wilson: Mm-hmm.

Brian Kelly: And then, I mean, excellent.

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: We’ve always said, you know, at least 700 and up is really where you want to be, but the fact of the matter is, even the upper 600 you can get approved for a lot of different credit cards.

Benet Wilson: Yes you can. You’re not going to get that Platinum Amex, but, you know, there’s some cards on the market that will still get you points and miles to do the things that you want to do.

Brian Kelly: Let’s talk about a FICO score. So what are the things that go into a FICO score? How does someone get, you know … Say you graduate from college, you’ve got nothing bad on your credit, how does one focus on their credit score and increase it. What are the key things you can do?

Benet Wilson: Well, you want to get a starter card. You know, if you don’t have a lot of credit, you can get something with a lower limit, no annual fee, and it’s not as onerous to get. You use the card responsibly. You pay it off when you can do it. Do at least minimum payments, no late payments. And as you build your credit up, that will allow you to get a larger credit limit or go to another card.

Brian Kelly: FICO actually has on their website, they have a pie chart — which I would share if this was a blog post, but we’re talking –but on FICO’s website itself, you know, paying your bill on time is the number one factor of your score. You know, the other parts are the available credit that you have…

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: … and the debt that you have. So as long as you’re paying on time and paying your bills off in full, scores can shoot up pretty quickly. I mean, when can someone reasonably, someone with no real credit history, they get this, you know, a Discover Card. When can they expect the score to keep going up?

Benet Wilson: I mean within six months. And if they do everything right, within a year they can start looking at cards with a little more benefits and a little more perks. And you know, you might have to pay an annual fee to get it, but, you know. But I think the Discover Card is a good starting card.

Brian Kelly: I know at The Points Guy we have an expat who graduated college and was working for us, and he had to get a secure credit card, even though he had a great job, but he had no real credit limit. And I think it was an under six months after getting the secured card … I think he had a $500 balance, he would pay it off right away, and it was less than six months and then he was above 700 and was able to then get the Sapphire Preferred and Reserve and all the good ones that we’ll get to talking about.

Brian Kelly: What are some other tricks? I know if your parents or if your partner have great credit, is it true that becoming an authorized user will immediately boost your credit score?

Benet Wilson: Yes. It doesn’t hurt the person that has it, but you get the authorized card and you do exactly what you would do if the card was your own. You pay it off regularly. Don’t miss any payments. Don’t do late payments. And it will improve your credit score.

Brian Kelly: I know with Amex, if you’re an additional card holder, you actually inherit the length of accounts of that account. I’ve heard stories about 22-year-olds who have a member since 1969 on their credit report because it inherits the original account.

Benet Wilson: Yes. And you want to be responsible, though. I mean, it’s good to get this boost, but think of the person that has offered you this benefit and don’t run up their card and don’t hurt their credit.

Brian Kelly: One of the things I’ve heard is that it makes sense to get a store credit card or a retail card, like a Macy’s charge card. Are they easier to get than rewards cards? Like should someone get one of those cards to start with and will that increase their score?

Benet Wilson: Yes. Some of the terms on them are pretty onerous, so you want to read the fine print. I mean, one of the popular ones is the Kohl’s card, but you know, if you miss one payment, you’re going to be paying a much higher interest rate. So, store credit cards are a great option, too. But once you’ve built up the credit, you can close them down because you’re really not getting any benefits.

Brian Kelly: Yeah, yeah. I mean, even if you want to use your rewards for, you know, merchandise or clothes, you’d be much better off getting just a pure cash back card, correct?

Benet Wilson: Exactly.

Brian Kelly: So let’s start getting into the different flavors of credit cards out there. You know, when you have a beginner friend and they say, “Benet, what credit card should I get?” What are the steps that you coach your friends and people on? Where do you start?

Benet Wilson: I did this actually last week. It’s this crazy thing I do. Somebody will pull out a credit card and I will see it and then I will start rattling off statistics and say, “Well, you know, you may want to look at this card instead.” I think about what they’re doing. So, if it’s somebody that travels a lot and they have just like a basic Capital One card — and you know, and there’s nothing wrong with Capital One, they have some good options — but I’m going to tell them to get a Chase Sapphire Preferred to start off because you get broad categories for travel. It’s not just airlines and hotels, which I think is really good. And you get the higher points and you get the 25% more value for your points when you redeem them for travel in the Ultimate Rewards portal.

Brian Kelly: Yeah. You know, the Sapphire, the travel category — especially if you live in the city, I mean, because New York City transit, parking, tolls, you know — it really adds up. I always tell people instead of just getting one point per dollar, which is what so many cards and a lot of them will give you 1 cent for that, you really should be getting a rewards card. But even for cash back. So, how do you look at cash back with the options out there? What are your recommendations for somebody who said, “I don’t want to deal with the points, I just want to stick to cash back.” What are the good options out there?

Benet Wilson: I like the Chase Freedom because they have that program now where you get 3% cash back.

Brian Kelly: Freedom Unlimited.

Benet Wilson: Mm-hmm. In the first year when you spend up to $20,000 and that’s a nice chunk of change. And then 1.5% after that.

Brian Kelly: Yeah.

Benet Wilson: And if you don’t want to worry about, you know, rotating categories and different categories that you spend on, it’s just great.

Brian Kelly: Yeah. And also, I mean, the Citi Double Cash, too, is, you know, as long as you’re paying your bill off in full, because you get 1% when you make the charge, and then another 1% when you pay it off. So, that’s basically 2% back on your spend with no annual fee.

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: But, the one downside to that card is that it does have foreign transaction fees. I remember my dad, before the Gold Card waived the fees, we were on a father son trip, I think we were in Istanbul, and he was hell bent on paying for our meals while we were there, which is very nice, I had covered our flights, but every time he used his Gold Card I was like, “Nooooooo.” Like, “Why are you?” A lot of people say, “Oh, 2.7%, that’s not that much.” But that totally wipes out the value…

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: …of those points that you’re earning. So the key is to pay off your bills in full every month, and also to get a card that has no foreign transaction fees, which most of the top rewards cards waive.

Brian Kelly: All right, let’s take a quick break right here. BRB.

(Commercial break.)

Brian Kelly:  Welcome back to Talking Points. I’m Brian Kelly. And joining me on this episode is TPG’s own credit card editor, Benet Wilson.

Brian Kelly: So, now let’s talk about rewards cards for travel. So, we’ve got your co-branded airline cards and we have the transferable points cards of which there’s, you know, the Capital One Venture, Amex. How do you walk people through which of those cards to get?

Benet Wilson: And I just had this discussion last week. One of my friends was looking at the Delta Reserve versus the American Express Platinum and I was pointing him toward the Amex Platinum until he reminded me that he lived in Atlanta and flew Delta Airlines. And he’s always trying to get status because he doesn’t fly as much as … he flies enough, but not as much. So he wants to get those MQMs. So I said, “Yeah, the Delta Reserve is going to be the one for you.”

Brian Kelly: So I know Delta has a number of cards that offer those elite miles. American Airlines has a couple. United doesn’t.

Benet Wilson: No.

Brian Kelly: That Presidential Plus has since been grandfathered. So, really only spend on airline cards if you really are trying to get those elite miles. Otherwise, it would make sense because, as you mentioned, Amex Platinum has 5x on airfare. So, there’s no single airline credit card out there that’s going to give you 5x, even on that single airline. Whereas Amex … and that 5x, is that every airline?

Benet Wilson: That’s every airline.

Brian Kelly: Yep.

Benet Wilson: And if you don’t want to be tied down, that’s why I think it’s an ideal card.

Brian Kelly: Yeah. Although the one thing is “every airline” — except they have to take Amex. I think Wow Air, may they rest in peace, didn’t accept Amex at the time and I was like, “Oh, I want to earn the 5x.” But, I think I just used a Prestige card.

Brian Kelly: So, in addition to the elite perks, like what are the other perks where it might make someone to put a flight on an airline card if it’s not for elite miles? Like, what are the other perks that people should be evaluating on those airline co-branded cards?

Benet Wilson: Oh, definitely you want the priority boarding. Both — you want the priority check-in, you want the dedicated security line, you want the free checked bag. And some of the cards even put priority bag tags on your bags so they come out first.

Brian Kelly:
I know on the Delta cards I think it has up to nine companions or eight companions.

Benet Wilson: Eight companions.

Brian Kelly: Yeah.

Benet Wilson: Yes, it’s ridiculous.

Brian Kelly: So, yeah. If you’ve got a big family and, you know, you use that once a year and that pays for the card many times over.

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: And then in terms of hotel cards, you know with the Sapphire Reserve offering triple on travel, why would someone ever want to put a hotel stay on a hotel-specific card?

Benet Wilson: Cards come with different perks. So for example, I was in Miami last week staying at the JW Marriott, Turnberry Isle. I have Marriott Gold status, so I got a 25% points bonus, I got the late checkout, I got the waiver of some of the resort fees. So if you are tied to a hotel brand, it’s definitely worth it. They put some nice little benefits in there. Got the enhanced WiFi. Depending on the hotels, I can get access to the lounge, which is very nice ’cause it has breakfast and snacks and evening happy hour and that can really be nice.

Brian Kelly: So, yeah. So, basically when it comes to airline and hotels, if you’re loyal to a certain airline or stay at a hotel, the perks alone … I know a lot on the hotel cards, those free annual nights can easily pay for the annual fee.

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: So, the number one thing, though, is even if you’re using those perks when you stay, you don’t have to be using that co-branded card for all of your purchases. You know, you can be earning more value back by using one of the premium cards, so to speak.

Brian Kelly: So, let’s look at the premium cards out there. In last year’s 2018 TPG awards, we voted, or TPG readers voted, the Chase Sapphire Reserve as the best premium card. Amex Platinum, I know, was a somewhat close second. And Citi Prestige as a third. Do you think this year — we’re going to start voting in a couple months for the awards — do you think there will be a change, or could Amex Platinum take the cake this year?

Benet Wilson: It’s neck and neck, but we know that Citi Prestige will not be taking the cake.

Brian Kelly: Yeah, because they’ve had some pretty nasty … I love my Prestige and, you know, they had upped the dining to 5x, which was pretty industry-leading. But bring us through some of the negative changes that they’ve been, kind of, constantly rolling out this year.

Benet Wilson: Yeah, I mean you’re going to be paying $495 for a card that is losing all of its travel and purchase protections. I mean, the points are nice, but when you can get a Chase Sapphire Reserve, or the Amex Platinum that has all these other perks and benefits, why wouldn’t you? I mean, they kind of shot themselves in the foot with this. Even with the higher points; I applauded that.

Brian Kelly: Yeah. If you could only have Amex Platinum or Chase Sapphire Reserve, which would you choose?

Benet Wilson: This was a tough one and I knew this was coming. So, I would go with the Chase Sapphire Reserve and I would go with it because it does have the 50% more value spent on travel in the Ultimate Rewards portal. It also has a really broad and very generous travel definition. I mean ride share, Airbnb, airlines, hotels, car rentals — like you said, parking, tolls.

Brian Kelly: Although not Disney. I just took my nieces and nephews to Disney and they didn’t give me the triple on the theme parks…

Benet Wilson: Not good.

Brian Kelly: I’m sad. So you would go Reserve. I would also go Reserve in general, but I mean, Platinum is so good for airline lounges, the 5x on airfare. And Amex customer service is, I think … Actually, Chase customer service is also really good. But, I think points, the Sapphire Reserve wins. Perks, the Platinum, you know, if you like those premium lounges, which are totally free for you and two guests. But I really do think Amex needs to up the game when it comes to redeeming for hotels. Right now you’ve got less than 1 cent per point.

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: And, you know, whereas Chase gives you 1.5 cents on all travel and hotels. So, I would like Amex to bolster the points program, the redemption side a little bit more. And also add, you know, airfare — yeah, we spend a bunch on airfare here, but 1x on everything else … I would love to see Amex add some other bonus categories in there.

Benet Wilson: Like dining. Like they did.

Brian Kelly: Like dining.

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: You know, like a 4x on the Gold Card, so it’s like, you have to have the Gold Card, and the Platinum Card, all of a sudden those fees add up.

Benet Wilson: And it’s a little disappointing for me with the Platinum for a card that is so travel-tied that it doesn’t have near the travel protections that the Chase Sapphire Reserve does. Trip cancellation, trip delay, baggage, lost luggage, you know, all of those little perks.

Brian Kelly: That’s a really good point because you would think Amex would have those travel delays. They have, like, disaster insurance if you’re somewhere and you have a catastrophic injury, they’ll evacuate you. But I know during the Wow Air shutdown, when the airline just went kaput overnight, anyone who booked on a Chase had $10,000 in coverage.

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: And a lot of our readers took advantage of that. But, you know, if you booked on Amex you had to kind of hope the airline or other airlines offered you those cheap fares, you kind of have to stand in line, whereas if you had the Chase Card, you could rebook yourself, submit the claim. And that is definitely something to take into account when booking airfare — that points are one thing, but those protections are another, and that’s somewhere that Amex could definitely beef up their coverage. Especially since Citi has rolled it back.

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: Now, signup bonuses are obviously a huge, amazing thing.

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: I don’t know how else to say it.

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: We just launched TPG in the UK and the signup bonuses there are 10,000, 20,000, 30,000. Here they’re huge. So, what are the things you need to take into account when evaluating a signup bonus? Is 100,000 Hilton the same as 60,000 Chase? I know a lot of people just look at the highest number, but what do you recommend in really assessing the value of a signup offer?

Benet Wilson: Well, you think about the credit card. So with Hilton, you’ve got 100,000 plus points, but how can you use those points? If you want to transfer them to an airline, the valuation is horrible. You can get some good deals with Hilton, but again, they don’t have (an) award chart. They have a tool, but you just never know. One day the hotel could be 25,000 a night, the next day it could be 60,000. So, you know, you have to think about what is more important to you.

Benet Wilson: For me, as much as I love Marriott, I would prefer to have the flexibility of a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred because that’s one of the partners, Marriott is one of the three hotel partners. So, for me, that’s a better value.

Brian Kelly: You know, in the old days you used to be able to sign up for the same card. It’s called churning, where you’d be able to get the same card bonus the next year or maybe even six months. Some cards would let you sign up over and over. You know, these sign up bonuses cost the credit card companies real money and they’ve been kind of clamping down. What are some of the things credit card companies are doing to clamp down on churners?

Benet Wilson: Right. One of the big ones is Chase. I mean, they’ve got the 5/24 rule where you can only get up to five cards within a 24-month period. If you want to get the Chase Preferred and Reserve, you can’t do it. There are people who are grandfathered in, but you can’t do it anymore.

Benet Wilson: And so wait, let’s just talk. So, the Chase 5/24 rule means that if you’ve had five credit cards with any issuer, not just Chase, within 24 months that they will say no. So, even if you have an 800 credit score, you make a million dollars a year, they will decline.

Benet Wilson: Yes. Because, you know, people like to get all of these cards and, you know, this is what we do. We stack the points and we’re trying to use them for our travel or whatever it is that we’re using them for. And that costs money and they’ve really clamped down on this.

Brian Kelly: What cards do not count towards the 5/24 rule? Do they count business cards…

Benet Wilson: They do not count business cards.

Brian Kelly: Got it. You know, Chase is pretty strict with this. So if you’re new to this game, probably the best card is a Chase Card because they’re the hardest to get down the line.

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: So, you start with the solid Chase card, like the Sapphire Preferred with 60,000 points, which is the highest current signup bonus on a personal card. The Sapphire Reserve only has 50,000 points. So, we always say get the Preferred, get the higher bonus and then down the line you could always upgrade to the Reserve.

Benet Wilson: But you won’t get the bonus.

Brian Kelly: But you won’t get the bonus. Right. So, let’s talk about that, too. So people who want to … Maybe they have a Gold Card, they do want to get Platinum. What do you recommend so that you can still get the sign-up bonus?

Benet Wilson: I would look at the card match tool. I think that is fantastic. You can plug in some information, no hard pull or anything. And it will tell you offers that aren’t always out there to the public. And I just think that’s a fantastic tool.

Brian Kelly: So, a lot of our TPG readers … Actually, if you go to thepointsguy.com/cardmatch it’s a tool from our partner creditcards.com. And Amex will give certain people 75,000, 100,000 points for the Platinum Card — up from the 60,000, which is their public offer. And then, full disclosure, if you apply for a credit card through The Points Guy we receive a commission, in most cases, from the credit card company. So, we appreciate you using our links, because that’s how we pay the bills around here.

Brian Kelly: So, you can look at card match to see if you’re eligible for some rich offers, specifically with Amex. What are some other ways that you can get juicer offers than what the public is being offered?

Benet Wilson: Well, if you have a card, you’re always getting targeted offers. We did one where United was offering extra points if you were a United customer, they wanted you to get the card so you would get more bonus miles if you applied for the card.

Brian Kelly: Yeah. So, logging into your frequent flyer account sometimes you’ll target richer offers.

Benet Wilson: Exactly.

Brian Kelly: I know some people have gotten huge offers in the mail. So, even though it’s 2019, snail mail can still contain really juicy offers. What about in flight and in airports — those people who are, “Hey, want a free flight?” Even flight attendants these days have gotten pretty savvy as credit card marketers. Are those in flight offers ever better than what you’re going to get on the ground?

Benet Wilson: They’re really not. And that’s not the kind of decision I want to make when I’m sitting on my flight or I’m going through an airport and they’re hocking these cards, The cards aren’t going anywhere. So, those are two places that I might take a brochure, but I don’t think I would actually apply in either place.

Brian Kelly: And it makes sense to look at what the public offers are, do some Googling around, of course, check out our top cards page. You may be targeted for an offer that we don’t have, and I always tell people, “Go for it.” Always go for the highest offer, but not really when you have poor WiFi in flight, and you feel pressure trying to catch your flight, and filling out a form. So, I think that’s a really good tip because, you know, with Amex, with sign-up bonuses, a lot of times you only get one chance.

Benet Wilson: Mm-hmm.

Brian Kelly: With Amex, what’s their rule with their Delta cards?

Benet Wilson: It’s the same as the Amex Card. You get that one bite at the apple.

Brian Kelly: Per lifetime.

Benet Wilson: Mm-hmm.

Brian Kelly: And, you know, with Citi AA Platinum it’s 48 months between bonuses, and the Citi Executive Advantage is 24 months. B of A now requires 24 months, so …

Benet Wilson: They’re tightening down, because you people did this.

Brian Kelly: You have to strike while the iron’s hot. Let’s talk about minimum spend. So, I think what’s important to note though, too, a lot of credit card companies will start the clock the minute you get approved. And also, the annual fee does not count. We’ve got reader mistakes where they say, “Oh my God, I’ll miss out on a huge sign-up bonus cause I came (up) $10 short.” So, I always recommend, you know, overshoot it. Don’t come in right at the wire at that exact dollar amount. Because if there’s a refund or anything, that can really throw your sign-up bonus in a tailspin. And these credit card companies will not bend the rules. You can cry and complain…

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: But, you know, if you don’t hit it or if you spend on something that’s not a qualifying offer, like, you know, a balance transfer, then you are not getting that bonus.

Brian Kelly: Speaking of balance transfers, I know that’s not really our space, but if you do have credit card debt and you want to pay it off, do you recommend transferring a high interest balance to a card that’s offering 0% APR?

Benet Wilson: Yes, I actually do, but with a caveat. I tell people, you know, this is not a cure-all. So when you transfer that balance, make sure that you pay it off within that time. It’s usually between 12 months and some even go up to 24 months. Pay it off — because if you don’t, you’re going to be in the same situation you were before.

Brian Kelly: Yeah, I think that’s really sage advice because I was in credit card debt in college, and even when I moved to New York I was like $6,000 and all of a sudden it was $7,000, and I wasn’t making a lot of money, and it was like, it’s like quicksand. So as much as I’m The Points Guy and I love points, if you’re paying 24%, you know, on a charge — yes, even if you redeem for business class — like, chances are you’re going to pay for that many times over. So for people who want to get in on this game and are in debt, don’t feel guilty, it happens to a lot of Americans, but the number one tip should be to neutralize that balance, get it to a no-interest card, and then pay it off.

Benet Wilson: And also, some cards, if you don’t pay it off within that time period, the balance goes to the higher rate. So you have … That’s another, you have to read that fine print, because…

Brian Kelly: And there also is a fee to transfer to a card. Usually it’s like 3% balance transfer fee on the balance, which can be pretty significant. I know years ago the Chase Slate Card actually had 0% interest and 0% balance transfer on non-Chase balances. I don’t know if that’s the case anymore. I doubt it.

Brian Kelly: While at The Points Guy we talk all about rewards cards, we don’t recommend moving around balances to avoid paying interest. Our tip is to get yourself into a place of financial freedom so that when you do get your points you can travel and enjoy it and not be struggling with credit card debt, which can be crippling.

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: So, let’s just do some rapid fire. What are some underdog credit cards that maybe you think don’t get enough credit, whether on The Points Guy or in general, that you think people should take a look at?

Benet Wilson: I wrote the story when Wells Fargo came out with the rebranded Propel Card. And this is a free card, people. And I loved it. I mean, 3 points for everything from travel to hotels to dining and food delivery and Airbnb and streaming services. And I mean, three points. That’s pretty nice…

Brian Kelly: And no annual fee.

Benet Wilson: And no annual fee.

Brian Kelly: You’re the second guest in recent history … Richard Kerr, who is our points guru, he also loves the Propel Card because it gives him flexibility to buy … You know, he has a family and he buys his flights using, basically, the cash back from it.

Brian Kelly: Do you have the Wells Fargo Propel?

Benet Wilson: I love it. And, also, it comes with travel protections. I mean for a free card, I mean, lost luggage. I mean, it’s just amazing. All the perks that you get for a card with no annual fee.

Brian Kelly: I have the Propel as well. Yeah, it’s solid. Now, I know you love Southwest.

Benet Wilson: I do.

Brian Kelly: How do people navigate… ? What are the best cards for Southwest flyers?

Benet Wilson: Well, if you had asked me this a few months ago, I would’ve said the Priority. I remember I was really happy when the Priority came out, although I was disappointed that they still only offered two points for airline and then car and hotel rental spending, because a lot of the airlines are boosting it up and including things like dining and other things. So, I was disappointed that they didn’t add that. But it’s got the four boarding — priority boarding — passes a year. And it comes with a $75 credit, which makes it cheaper than the Premiere.

Brian Kelly: That’s interesting.

Benet Wilson: With the credit.

Brian Kelly: I will say that with credit cards, cheap is expensive. Often…

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: … you pay on a premium card, but then all of a sudden you’re getting hundreds (back) in fees. I know a lot of the Marriott cards, the premium Marriott cards, now offer ridiculous perks, so. Even with the Sapphire Reserve, it’s $450, but you get $300 off the bat in travel. So, you’re really paying $150 a year for a card that gives 3x, priority pass, etc. And the Sapphire Preferred is only 2x and $95. It can be confusing, but doing the math, even though the Preferred does have a higher sign-up bonus, after year one it might make sense. Even if you forgo the sign-up bonus to get the Reserve Card.

Brian Kelly: Now, if you have a small business, business credit cards can be really lucrative. What exactly qualifies, or who qualifies, to get a small business credit card?

Benet Wilson: Well, you’d be surprised. You can have a small business, you can have a side hustle, you can be a freelancer. I mean, I had an Ink business card when I was 100% freelancing. So, you don’t have to have a gigantic conglomerate to get these business cards.

Brian Kelly: If you are a freelancer, what do you … You use your social security number as a sole proprietor?

Benet Wilson: Oh, actually I have an EIN…

Brian Kelly: Oh, okay.

Benet Wilson: I didn’t want to use my personal…

Brian Kelly: Yeah…

Benet Wilson: So I got an EIN, which is free. Anybody can pretty much get one, so.

Brian Kelly: Interesting. And so, business credit cards … And the real benefit there is that they sit on a business credit report.

Benet Wilson: Exactly.

Brian Kelly: So, even though they’re guaranteed by you personally, the balances and everything don’t mess with your personal FICO score…

Benet Wilson:

Brian Kelly: … on a monthly basis.

Benet Wilson: And they have some pretty good perks. So, if you’re buying office supplies … you know, of course, the travel, and the car rental, that’s really good because it’s primary instead of secondary.

Brian Kelly: And that can add up quickly.

Benet Wilson: Mm-hmm.

Brian Kelly:
People assume that the Sapphire Reserve is how I earn most of my points, and it’s actually not true. I actually earned the most points by putting our Facebook, Twitter, all of that spend, on my Ink Preferred, which is 3x Ultimate Rewards points. And then the Amex Business Gold now offers 4x, up to $150,000. Especially every January 1 when those categories reset, it is a points bonanza. So, you know, mixing your business and your personal spend is how you can really ramp things up pretty quickly.

Brian Kelly: So, in general, someone who’s getting into this, there’s really rich sign-up bonuses out there, there’s really great perks. What are some of the resources you recommend to people as they start to get into this credit card and understanding the credit card game?

Benet Wilson: Well first, I mean, follow us. I mean, get the newsletter because things are always changing and we are updating the credit card content constantly. So we know all of the latest deals. We have a great staff of people who really know how to use these cards and give great advice on how to do it. So, I mean, we’re the home for you. I mean, you will learn everything you need to know.

Brian Kelly: And we work with the credit card companies and we know what’s coming down the pike, often months in advance. So speaking generally, how do you see the second half of 2019? For people listening, should they be excited about new offers? Do you think there’s going to be many juicy credit card launches or promotions coming down? Or do you think it’s … Because it’s king of fizzled out a little bit since Citi Prestige kind of devalued some of its perks. You know, there have been some enhancements as well, it hasn’t been all bad news. But, what do you see, not even just 2019, into 2020, (in) the rewards credit card market?

Benet Wilson: I mean, I remember how excited everyone was when Amex re-did the Gold Card. And then in the spring they added dining around the world and people just went nuts. And they went crazy for the Rose Gold Card. I mean, it was just, you know.

Brian Kelly: It is a pretty card.

Benet Wilson: It is beautiful. And I see more of that. I don’t see big revamps. I just see people adding benefits and targeted things. So, I think that’s what we’re going to see coming.

Brian Kelly: What is one perk on a credit card that you’d like to see? And while you think about that, because I’m surprising you with that question, I would love to see CLEAR added to a credit card. I have so many credit cards that offer Global Entry and PreCheck and it’s like, once you have it, you know, you only need that once every five years. I have, I think, seven cards that offer it. I would love to see either passport Visa services or CLEAR would be really great additions, instead of having yet another Priority Pass or Global Entry.

Benet Wilson: I’m a huge fan of CLEAR. I started writing about that when it first came out and I was highly skeptical. I’m like, “Why do I need this? I have PreCheck.” When I came up here and flew up here this morning, the lines at BWI were ridiculous. CLEAR is always open and it takes … I time it. It took me 2 minutes and 12 seconds to get through security from the time I scanned my fingers…

Brian Kelly: Yep.

Benet Wilson: … to the time my bag came out of the machine.

Brian Kelly: Yeah, same with at JFK Terminal 4. The PreCheck line was, like, 100 people long, and I almost feel guilty. There was actually a New York Post article that came out recently saying that CLEAR is not fair. What would you say to that in terms of having to pay to get through security quickly?

Benet Wilson: For me, time is money. And I do see the people glaring at me and I am always telling people — I’m in a lot of Facebook groups for travel — and I was like, “You can get CLEAR if you join Delta SkyMiles for free.” I mean, I’m paying $100 a year for CLEAR and I can take my kid with me. And it’s the best money I spend.

Brian Kelly: You heard it here. And if you want to listen to our podcast with the CEO of CLEAR, make sure to listen to our episode with Caryn Seidman-Becker.

Brian Kelly: Benet, I know you’re a Southwest fan. The Southwest Companion Pass, I think we’d be remiss to not tell people. Probably one of the most amazing credit card, well, airline perks that you can get through credit card spend. Real briefly, why should people who fly Southwest pay attention to those co-brands and the Companion Pass perk.

Benet Wilson: That’s the Holy Grail for me and any other person that flies Southwest regularly. With Southwest Companion Pass, if you fly 100 segments, you will get a pass. And if you time it right, you can stretch it out beyond a year. You will be able to take a travel companion every time you travel and you pay the taxes and fees. I mean, who wouldn’t love that?

Brian Kelly: That’s amazing. And just to sign up on it, you know, you need a 110,000 Companion Pass qualifying points and the sign-up bonuses count towards that, so.

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: Even though we’re in August, so if you were to attain it today, it’s valid through the year that you get it and then the entire following year. So, if you time it in January, you can have it for almost two years, this Companion Pass status. You can change your companions. We have all that info if you just Google “The Points Guy Southwest Companion Pass.” FAQ and how to get it, we have all of those details. And the best way to get it, instead of flying 100 flights, that’s a lot of work, you can just get some credit cards and put your spend.

Brian Kelly: Benet, final question. Are you an aisle or window seat?

Benet Wilson: Aisle. I cannot…

Brian Kelly: You’re an aviation queen. Don’t you like sitting at the window in the plane …

Benet Wilson: I cannot be trapped. I cannot be trapped. Now, I will sit at the window if the plane’s empty because I’ll take pictures. But, no, I am an aisle person.

Brian Kelly: Aisle person. All right. Well, one final final question. Where are you desperate to visit?

Benet Wilson: I’m going there in February. I’m going to Morocco.

Brian Kelly: Morocco.

Benet Wilson: Yes.

Brian Kelly: Oh, are you going on the inaugural … When American Airlines starts flying there?

Benet Wilson: No, I just found out about that because that happened while I was out last week. I’m actually going to take TAP Portugal. I’m going to stop off and do the stopover …

Brian Kelly: Yeah

Benet Wilson: The free stopover, I’m going to Porto…

Brian Kelly: Oh, nice.

Benet Wilson: … for three days.

Brian Kelly: Do you like port wine?

Benet Wilson: I do. I went to the Algarve last year. So, it was wonderful. And I discovered white port wine. Have you had that?

Brian Kelly: I’ve never had it.

Benet Wilson: I had never had it either. It’s wonderful.

Brian Kelly: I usually only have it on planes. They’re like, “Do you want a Tawny Port?” I’m like, “Sure.”

Benet Wilson:
White port is fabulous.

Brian Kelly: White port is fabulous. The more you know. Benet, thank you so much for joining us. And if you missed her Twitter account, make sure to follow her @AvQueenBenet. Thank you so much to our production here at TPG, Caroline Schagrin and Margaret Kelley. Our music is by Breakmaster Cylinder. And thanks, as always, to my amazing assistant, Christie Matsui.

Brian Kelly: That’s it for this episode of Talking Points, I’m your host, Brian Kelly. And, once again, a huge thanks and safe travels to our aviation queen, Benet Wilson.

Benet Wilson: Thank you.

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