Not just for the established elite: TPG millennials and Gen Z staff weigh in on their experience with premier rewards credit cards

Jun 22, 2020

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My first memory of a credit card was in about second grade. At that point in my life, weekend mornings were for cartoons and weekend evenings were for movie nights with my parents and sister, watching ABC Family. One of my all-time favorites was the 90’s classic duo of “Home Alone” and “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.” Between the physical comedy that left us in stitches and the iconic lines that remain quotable to this day, I distinctly remember the scene where Kevin McCallister checks into the Plaza Hotel using his dad’s credit card. 

The Plaza Hotel. (Photo by @alliecandice via Twenty20)
The Plaza Hotel. (Photo by @alliecandice via Twenty20)

While, as a 7-year-old, I didn’t understand the systems and nuances of debt, credit, rewards, and redemptions, I did develop a prototype in my mind based on scenes like this around who, in particular, credit cards were for: the established, the wealthy, and the elite. 

As it does with many, this notion stuck with me even through college, as I made friends with many students from affluent backgrounds who all seemed to come to school either as authorized users on their parents accounts or even with existing credit lines of their own. 

Many beginners in the credit card world – whether from age or inexperience – have felt similar sentiments about the inherent and sometimes intimidating “status” of a cardholder before you’re ready to become one yourself. It can be an obstacle that feels at best aspirational and at worst, exclusionary. While, yes, your credit score is the single most important factor in determining your eligibility to enter the world of points and miles, getting started on the right foot with financial education and responsible spending can help break down nearly any barriers to entry that you might face.

Medium shot of two young men and a young woman riding in a car. (Photo courtesy Uber)
(Photo courtesy Uber)

Since working for The Points Guy, not only have I developed significantly in my own path to being a points expert, but I’ve been surrounded by a cadre of young experts in the field who each have a story and journey of their own to share. Learn from our successes and our mistakes as we, your TPG millennial and Generation Z reporters and analysts, help debunk the myth that premier credit cards are solely for the established, the wealthy, and the elite in this day and age.

Austin Konkle

(Photo courtesy of Austin Konkle/The Points Guy)
Konkle, left, and a friend in Chefchaouen, Morocco. (Photo courtesy of Austin Konkle/The Points Guy)

Age: 23, Gen. Z

Role: Marketing Analyst

First Premier Card: American Express® Gold Card

How did you start your credit card journey?

Unlike many of my college peers, I did not have my name attached to one of my parents’ accounts growing up – mostly because neither of my parents really used credit. Growing up in a generation that didn’t have ready access to the level of rewards and perks that consumers have today, they saw credit cards more as a gimmick sold by department stores that were really only useful if you were a loyalist to that specific business. For that reason, my closest exposure to points and redemptions came from conversations with my mom about her LL Bean card, which she only used every few years to buy my sister and I new boots or a new backpack for school with her “Bean bucks”. 

I opened my very first account in 2018 with my local bank in Columbia, South Carolina. Even then, I didn’t quite understand why the action of having my own credit line was so monumental aside from building credit history for a future loan or mortgage. But in the past 24 months, I’ve joined the TPG team, applied and was denied for my first credit card, applied and was granted my first cash back credit card, and most recently qualified for the Amex Gold

While the existing travel landscape has prevented me from being able to redeem my shiny new Amex Membership Rewards points, I’m taking this time instead to learn about my redemption options and the transfer partners to keep my eye on so that I can plan the perfect trip for 2021.

Advice for a beginner entering the world of credit cards, points and miles

It has been a whirlwind two years since first dipping my toe into the world of credit. In that time, I’ve learned more about the world of issuers, credit, rewards, points, miles, transfer partners, and awards charts than I ever even dreamt was out there. 

For that reason, my advice would be to stay curious and understand that educating yourself about financial stewardship and of the possibilities out there is the most tangible difference between those who can maximize credit cards and those who aren’t ready to yet. If you’re in a hole and need to boost your credit score, apply for a secured card and learn about the tried and true ways to build up to a healthy number over the next few years. And if you do have a solid score but haven’t ventured into the world of rewards yet, evaluate your spending habits and take a stab at applying for a card that will teach you the ropes. 

Related reading: Chase thought I stole my own identity — so I got my first credit card with Amex instead

Chris Dong

Dong in the Faroe Islands. (Photo courtesy of Chris Dong/The Points Guy)
Dong in the Faroe Islands. (Photo courtesy of Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Age: 27, Millennial 

Role: Credit Cards Writer

First Premier Card: The Platinum Card® from American Express

How did you start your credit card journey?

While I’ve always loved travel and transportation, I seriously got the travel bug while in college. As a student, I discovered how to travel on a budget – and earn rewards with credit cards while doing so. Instead of studying abroad, I decided to forge my own travel path by finding flight deals and maximizing points, miles, and cash back.

My first card was the Chase Freedom (No longer open to new applicants) my freshman year of college, and it still has a regular spot in my wallet to this day. Later in college, instead of going to a typical college spring break destination like a Cancun or a Miami, I would get away to New Zealand or Hong Kong. This was all thanks to rewards points earned from my Chase Sapphire Preferred and discovering flight deals.

The information for the Chase Freedom has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Advice for a beginner entering the world of credit cards, points and miles

Start with a small goal in mind, and ignore the dreamy Instagram images of a first class suite – for now. Credit card sign-up bonuses are the best way to accumulate points and miles fast, but start slow and don’t expect to fly Singapore Suites at the very beginning.

My points and miles strategy from card sign-up bonuses? First and foremost – although I am still sometimes guilty of this – try not to spend extra money on things you don’t need just for the sake of earning rewards.

Next, be as flexible as possible and have a general travel goal in mind. Also, you don’t always need to fly first class to enjoy travel, but having one flight, hotel night, or other “premium” experience during the course of a trip really does help to make the entire thing special. Then, you can use the extra credit card points you saved for yet another trip.

Related reading: Why I’m keeping my Amex Platinum even though I’m not traveling

Madison Blancaflor

(Photo courtesy of Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)
(Photo courtesy of Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)

Age: 24, Millennial

Role: Credit Cards Writer

First Premier Card: Chase Sapphire Preferred

How did you start your credit card journey?

I got a Discover It Cash Back Card while I was still in college. But like many young credit cardholders, I wasn’t incredibly responsible and had to pay off debts I had racked up during school. But what I would consider my true card journey started just over two years ago after I landed my first writing role at Red Ventures, TPG’s parent company. 

My first rewards card was the Chase Sapphire Preferred (a card I still love), which I used to fund my first points trip to Croatia last summer. I’ve added a few cards to my wallet since then, but this hobby has opened up so many doors — from a career path at TPG writing about cards to a way to finance trips I otherwise wouldn’t be able to take.

Advice for a beginner entering the world of credit cards, points and miles

Don’t be scared to jump into the credit card game, but be responsible about your card use from the beginning. There’s a misconception out there that credit cards are inherently a bad thing. And don’t get me wrong, if you use them as a crutch to pay for things you don’t have the money to buy, it can lead to a dangerous cycle of debt.

But, when used correctly, rewards cards can help you meet financial goals, save up for amazing trips around the world, protect you from fraudulent charges and more. Do your research (TPG has tons of credit card reviews and comparisons to make that process as seamless as possible), choose a card that works for you and then make sure to pay off your charges every month. Do that, and you’ll be on your way to earning rewards and building an excellent credit score that will serve you well when it comes time to do things like buy a house or car.

Related reading: How I used Chase Ultimate Rewards to book my trip to Croatia

Vikkie Walker

Walker in Amsterdam. (Photo courtesy of Victoria Walker/The Points Guy)
Walker in Amsterdam. (Photo courtesy of Victoria Walker/The Points Guy)

Age: 27, Millennial

Role: Writer

First Premier Card: The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

How did you start your credit card journey?

I had the starter Amex green card that I got after college because it sounded cool to say you had an Amex card back then. I did end up using it a fair bit for work travel that I expensed. But I really got into cards with the Amex Business Platinum

I did the big no-no and started my premium credit card journey without a lot of knowledge about points and miles. I saw a guy who flew first class to the UAE on points. I then opened the Amex Biz Platinum because I saw it had the big signup bonus at that time (100,000 points for $10,000 spent). Unfortunately, I didn’t hit the spending requirement (I was about $2,000 shy) so I missed out on the bonus. But I did like the perks (centurion, priority pass) that it offered. 

I didn’t like that you couldn’t get 5x on flights unless booked through the amex travel portal, which prompted me to open the Amex Platinum, as I was still booking a lot of cash tickets at the time. (Starting Jan. 1, 2021, earn 5x points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year)

Advice for a beginner entering the world of credit cards, points and miles

Don’t just go opening new cards! Make sure you’re opening cards that complement your lifestyle. The Amex Platinum and Sapphire Reserve are great for travel but you might not be someone who travels all the time. My Amex Gold is my day-to-day card because of the 4x on dining/groceries. At this point, I really only use my Platinum and Business Platinum for travel! So make sure you’re knowledgeable enough to get what you want out of your cards.

Related reading: The Amex Gold will need to offer some temporary perks to convince me to renew

Ethan Steinberg

on top of mount huashan near Xi’an
Steinberg and his girlfriend on top of Mount Huashan near Xi’an, China. (Photo courtesy of Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

Age: 23, Gen. Z

Role: Credit Cards Writer

First Premier Card: Chase Sapphire Preferred

How did you start your credit card journey?

When I was a college junior, I got suckered into opening up a Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card. I remember getting excited about my 2,500 point sign-up bonus (after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening), then quickly calculating how many decades of rent and groceries it would take me to actually earn enough points to fly anywhere. Thankfully my dad had added me as an authorized user on his 20+ year old United card before I left for college, in case of emergencies. That allowed me to borrow his credit history and get approved for a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card in my name, despite being a student with no income.

The information for the Citi Rewards+ Student Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Advice for a beginner entering the world of credit cards, points and miles

Building good credit takes a lifetime. As long as you’re confident in your ability to pay your bills on time and use credit responsibly, there is no reason you should be stuck using starter cards while you work to build your own credit score. 

Ask a parent, older sibling or family friend if they can add you as an authorized user on one of their oldest cards. Here’s the thing: you don’t need the physical card for your credit score to benefit from this, and without the physical card there’s no risk of you running wild and spending on the account. That means you can borrow decades of on time payment history with 0 risk, and jump start your own travel rewards journey.

Related reading: Why I became even more loyal to the Amex Gold during the coronavirus pandemic

Alfred Lorenzo Ruiz

skydiving in New Zealand, a trip that I paid with my Amex / chase points points
Ruiz skydiving during a trip to New Zealand paid for with his American Express and Chase Ultimate Rewards points. (Photo courtesy of Alfred Lorenzo Ruiz)

Age: 29, Millennial

Role: Marketing Analyst

First Premier Card: Chase Sapphire Reserve

How did you start your credit card journey?

I started my credit card Journey when I was 18 years old back in college. I got a credit card with a $300 limit from my local bank with my mom’s signature as a co-sponsor. Since I started college, I was interested in building credit and wanted to start traveling. Back then I had no idea points and miles existed, but I did start monitoring my credit at an early age and always paid my credit card on time.

While I was in college, I got a few store credit cards as well (couldn’t reject that 15 % off your total purchase at the GAP store). I think that by the time I graduated, I had more than four store credit cards. Luckily I always paid the balance in full and never accumulated any debt. 

I started my points and miles journey with cash-back credit cards when I graduated from college. My first cash-back credit card was the Chase Freedom, followed by the Chase Freedom Unlimited. For three years, I only focused on accumulating cash back, with no idea how points and miles worked. 

The information for the Chase Freedom Unlimited has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

It wasn’t until Chase released the Chase Sapphire Reserve (I think I got targeted by email) that I signed up and discovered how valuable points and miles can be. Since then, I took advantage of my Chase trifecta and started using my cash-back for travel. For a full year, I only used my Chase points through the travel portal and it wasn’t until I got my first Amex card, the Amex Gold, that I learned the value of transferring your points, especially when there are transfer bonuses.

Advice for a beginner entering the world of credit cards, points and miles

The most important advice I could give you is to always pay your credit cards in full. Before you start opening accounts, get into the mindset of paying your bill every month; there’s no point in earning rewards if you have to pay interests. My other advice is to start as early as you can, get a student credit card to start, but credit takes time to build, and the earlier you can start, the better.

Related reading: One year of earning and burning with Chase Sapphire Reserve

Zach Griff

(Photo courtesy of Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
(Photo courtesy of Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Age: 26, Millennial

Role: Travel Analyst

First Premier Card: Chase Sapphire Reserve

How did you start your credit card journey?

Getting into the credit cards was an easy decision for me. I’d seen family and friends redeem credit card points for unbelievable redemptions, so I knew I had to get involved. As such, my first move was opening a student Discover It card when I was in college. And then I waited.

I wanted to build my credit history, establish an on-time payment record and let my credit score grow. After two years of monitoring my monthly scores, I knew it was time to pull the trigger. Timed perfectly with the Sapphire Reserve launch promotion, I decided to apply — and I was approved!

Advice for a beginner entering the world of credit cards, points and miles

Looking back on my experience, the most important thing I’d recommend for others getting started is the importance of going slow and steady, and building up their score history before starting to apply for all the fancy cards.

Related reading: 6 things to do to improve your credit in 2020

Liz Hund

(Photo courtesy of Liz Hund/The Points Guy)
(Photo courtesy of Liz Hund/The Points Guy)

Age: 23, Gen Z

Role: Reporter

First Premier Card: Chase Sapphire Preferred

How did you start your credit card journey?

My first card was technically the Nordstrom Visa Signature Card, but I still have yet to use it. I was pressured into applying by the salesperson and to my surprise, I got accepted. I’ve kept it open since it has no annual fee and closing it could do more harm than good.

Advice for a beginner entering the world of credit cards, points and miles

At 23, I have almost seven years of credit history under my belt. There are certainly things I wish I had known earlier, like the value of earning rewards, but luckily things worked out pretty well despite my initial stubborn attitude and cluelessness. All together, I now have four credit cards in my wallet! 

Getting into credit cards, points and miles can be overwhelming and even a bit daunting, but with a little patience and research, you’ll find that they can take you far if managed responsibly. The moral of my story is to not let past mistakes and misunderstandings hold you back; there’s clearly always room for improvement.

Related reading: From no credit to free flights: An inside look at a 23-year-old’s credit journey

Sam Rosen

Rosen in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo courtesy of Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)
Rosen in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo courtesy of Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

Age: 27, Millennial 

Role: Lifestyle Editor

First Premier Card: Chase Sapphire Reserve

How did you start your credit card journey?

I got the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express right after I graduated from college, but didn’t really “get it” or use it much. Once I started working at TPG three years ago, I quickly got a Chase Sapphire Reserve, since my new coworkers looked at me like I had two heads when I told them I mostly used a debit card. Since I was managing TPG’s social channels when I first started here (nope, not an intern!) it was really important that I learned the ins and outs of our little world — and fast. It was my job to “translate” our language to reach new audiences and grow our brand.

The information for The Amex EveryDay card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Needless to say, there was a very steep learning curve, but I’m so thankful for my “Personal Google” aka my amazing coworkers for helping me learn the ropes.

Moral of the story: If I can learn about credit cards while managing social channels with over 4 million followers — and explaining said credit cards — anyone can. Trust me.

Advice for a beginner entering the world of credit cards, points and miles

Talk yourself into it and be patient with yourself. It’s not going to click overnight and just when you think you’re starting to grasp it, something new will pop up that will make your head spin. That’s ok! It’s part of the process.

Thankfully, we have a ton of resources for you here at TPG to get your footing. Check out our Beginner’s Guide and Glossary for starters, and start reading as much as you can.

It’s ok to be intimidated, but with a little persistence and patience you’ll get the hang of it before you can say “award availability.”

Related reading: I’m planning my dream trip to Italy after the coronavirus outbreak

Nick Ellis

Ellis in Porto, Portugal. (Photo courtesy of Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

Age: 27, Millennial

Role: Travel Editor

First Premier Card: The Platinum Card® from American Express

How did you start your credit card journey?

I signed up for a Discover it® Miles while a student in college, and put my groceries, gas and a few other expenses on the card. It had a low limit — $500 per month — but I paid it off in full each month to build my credit score. 

Then, when I wanted to visit friends who were studying abroad for spring break during my junior year, I applied for a Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card. My parents had to co-sign because I didn’t have a lengthy history, but I was approved and then used the sign-up bonus to book myself a round-trip flight with SkyMiles from Detroit to Paris. From there, I knew that using credit cards wisely could help me do things I would have never thought possible before.

The information for the Discover it® Miles has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.       

Advice for a beginner entering the world of credit cards, points and miles

Make sure you educate yourself on how to responsibly use a credit card before you apply. Set a plan for yourself so that you build good habits from the very beginning, and remember to pay your bill off in full every month. Then, once you’ve built a solid foundation, you can use credit cards to your advantage, selecting ones specifically to help you achieve a travel goal.

Related reading: Ten commandments for travel rewards credit cards

Kelley King

On Mount Pilatus in Lucerne, Switzerland
On Mount Pilatus in Lucerne, Switzerland. (Photo courtesy of Kelley King/The Points Guy)

Age: 26, Millennial

Role: Marketing Analyst

First Premier Card: The Platinum Card® from American Express

How did you start your credit card journey?

In college, my parents gave me a credit card but the payments were out of sight and out of mind, so I didn’t really have any experience with one until about a year and a half after graduating. My old roommate, Kate, had me use her link to sign up for my first credit card, a Discover It Cash Back Card. I signed up because it was a card with no annual fee, the rotating cash back categories, and the amazing cash back match after the first year. It wasn’t much longer after signing up that I started working on a financial website and my love for credit cards really spread its wings.

Advice for a beginner entering the world of credit cards, points and miles

Do not let the fear of striking out (i.e. unbearable debt) keep you from playing the game of points and miles. Credit cards offer so many different things like rewards, cash back, points, and miles that not a lot of people take advantage of because there has been a growing misconception that credit cards are “bad”.

A misconception that started from the first time someone was irresponsible with their spending. Credit cards are simple – pay your bill each month and you can never go wrong. They are a great way to build credit, which then opens up new doors to exciting and much larger purchases like cars, boats, and houses, which all require a form of a credit check.

Related reading: How credit scores work

Benji Stawski

(Photo courtesy of Benji Stawski)
(Photo courtesy of Benji Stawski)

Age: 21, Gen. Z

Role: Writer

First Premier Card:Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express

How did you start your credit card journey?

I had my mom add me as an authorized user on her credit cards before I was even old enough to open my own credit cards so that I could start establishing credit early. Once I turned 18 and had a decent credit score, I applied and got approved for the Discover it Student Cash Back Card. I made sure to keep my balances low and pay my bills on time. 

After 1-2 years, I was approved for the Hilton’s top-tier Aspire card. Although I don’t use the card that often anymore, I’ll always keep the Discover card since it’s one of the oldest accounts in my credit profile and has no annual fee.

Advice for a beginner entering the world of credit cards, points and miles

Don’t be afraid of rejection. Before getting the Discover card, I was rejected for the Chase Freedom Unlimited, a card that’s known for being easier to be approved for. However, I was able to quickly bounce back and now qualify for nearly any Chase card. Also, in case you are rejected for a card, know that you can call the bank’s reconsideration line and try to appeal the decision.

Related reading: How bad is it to get denied for a credit card?

Featured photo courtesy of Bruce Konkle.

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Intro APR on Purchases
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Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
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Balance Transfer Fee
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