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Reader credit card question: Should I keep a travel credit card when I already fly for free?

Feb. 17, 2020
11 min read
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TPG reader Randolph recently emailed us to ask if he should (or shouldn't) keep his Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card along with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card he already has. He said:

[pullquote source="Randolph P."]I am a pilot for a major airline, so I fly for free. I have the Bonvoy Boundless card that I’m using whenever I stay at any of the Marriott family of hotels (that also earns 2x at restaurants), and I just got the Sapphire card that has a $95 annual fee. But I am thinking of returning the Sapphire as I don’t think it’s going to do anything for me. Do I need the Chase Sapphire card?[/pullquote]

Randolph is in an enviable and unique situation of not having to pay for flights with either miles or cash. He is justifiably unsure if the Sapphire Preferred can do much for him because a big part of its value is the ability to pay for flights with Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Randolph has both the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card but is thinking about closing the Sapphire Preferred, so let's compare the cards to see if one or the other makes more sense for him — or if there is a real argument to be made for keeping both cards.

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Chase Sapphire PreferredMarriott Bonvoy Boundless
Annual fee$95$95
Points value2 cents per point*.8 cents per point*
Earning rates5x Ultimate Rewards points on travel when book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal

3x Ultimate Rewards points on dining

3x Ultimate Rewards points on select streaming services

3x Ultimate rewards points on online grocery purchases(excluding Walmart and Target

2x Ultimate Rewards points on travel

1x Ultimate Rewards points on all other purchases

Up to 17 Bonvoy points per dollar spent at over 7,000 participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels

3 points per dollar on the first $6,000 spent in combined purchases each year on gas stations, grocery stores and dining

2 Marriott Bonvoy points per dollar on all other purchases

Rental car insurancePrimarySecondary
Other valuable perks5x Ultimate Rewards points on Lyft rides (through March 2022); at least one year of complimentary DoorDash DashPass membership (normally $9.99/month) (if activated by March 31, 2022)Annual free night certificate (valid at hotels costing up to 35,000 points per night) every year you renew the card; 15 elite night credits every year
Other travel coveragesTrip delay, lost luggage, baggage delay, trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance, travel accident insuranceTrip delay, lost luggage, baggage delay

*Points value is calculated by TPG and is not provided by the issuer.

Because Randolph is mostly interested in a credit card to use for hotel stays, let's look at how these cards stack up when it comes to getting rewarded for hotel and dining purchases and how easy it is to redeem those rewards for free nights with each card.

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Earning rewards

The Sapphire Preferred card earns 2x Ultimate Rewards points on all travel and dining purchases. The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card earns 2x Marriott points on all purchases, except at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, where it earns up to 17 Marriott points per dollar and 3 points per dollar at gas stations, grocery stores, and dining (up to $6,000 per year).

At first glance, the Bonvoy Boundless may seem to have a much better rewards rate, but it's important to look at the value you're getting from each point currency. We consider Chase Ultimate Rewards points much more valuable than Marriott points because they are easier to use on a wider range of redemptions.

According to TPG's valuations, an Ultimate Rewards point is worth more than double that of a Marriott Bonvoy point (2 cents per point vs .8 cents per point respectively). To put that in perspective, you're getting a 4% return on all travel and dining purchases with the Sapphire Preferred, compared to a 1.6% return from the Marriott card, outside of Marriott properties where it returns 4.8% in points.

Of course, a large reason why TPG values Chase points at 2 cents each is because you can transfer them to valuable airline partners. Since that's not something Randolph needs, let's look at a couple of other examples of what you can do when it comes to booking hotels with the earnings from each card.

Westin Denver Airport (Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Using the Marriott Boundless for award nights

If you have Marriott points and you want to redeem your rewards for a hotel stay, you're tied to using the Marriott award chart. Award nights with Marriott are divided into eight categories and each category has peak and off-peak prices.

Hotel CategoryOff-peakStandardPeak

Every year, Marriott adjusts which hotels fall into each category and this year 22% of the hotels are increasing in price with only 7% dropping in price. Furthermore, it can be difficult to find award nights during high-demand events or popular times of the year. Marriott Bonvoy Boundless cardholders do get an annual free-night certificate valid at hotels that cost up to 35,000 points per night, which is a nice benefit that the Chase Sapphire Preferred does not provide. When it comes to justifying an annual fee, the free-night certificate can easily make the $95 worth it all on its own.

That's what you'll get with the Marriott Boundless, but keep in mind that there are drawbacks to having all your eggs in one points basket. Marriott points are not as flexible as Chase points; your redemption options are limited with the Bonvoy Boundless.

Related: Review of the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card

Using the Sapphire Preferred for award nights

There are a few ways you can use the Chase Sapphire Preferred for hotel award stays.

First, you can transfer the points you earn to Marriott at a 1:1 ratio. But if that is your main use of Ultimate Rewards points, the Bonvoy Boundless card is a better deal in most cases as it offers 2x Marriott points on everyday charges whereas the Sapphire Preferred only offers 1x point outside of the travel and dining category.

But then there's Hyatt, which is also a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. And when it comes to redeeming for free lodging, Hyatt points are a different ball game. Let's compare luxury and more economical hotels with Hyatt and Marriott for a moment.

If you wanted to treat yourself to a trip to the Maldives, you could book the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa for 30,000 Hyatt points per night. The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort would cost you 85,000 Marriott points on standard award nights. Both of those bookings could be accomplished with transfers from Ultimate Rewards, but obviously one costs much more than the other. Hyatt's award chart only goes up to 40,000 points per night (all of those are from the program's partnership with Small Luxury Hotels of the World), while Marriott's chart goes more than twice that high.

Related: Review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred

Park Hyatt Maldives. (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)

Transferring Ultimate Rewards points to hotels isn't the only way you can use Chase points to book award stays. You can also book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and get 1.25 cents per point in value. The Ultimate Rewards portal is powered by Expedia, so the booking process through the portal is similar to any third-party travel booking site.

Related reading: Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal guide

This gives you the opportunity to save points by booking cheaper accommodations. For example, let's say you wanted to use your points to stay in San Diego. The cheapest Hyatt hotel in the city currently costs 12,000 Hyatt points a night and the cheapest Marriott hotel costs 25,000 Marriott points on standard dates.

But you can book hotel rooms for under 5,000 points a night through the Ultimate Rewards portal by targeting budget brands.

Granted, with the cheapest hotels you may get what you pay for.

But even if you only want to stay with Marriott, the Chase site can help you get free nights more easily than with Marriott points. Looking at these Marriott hotels available on the same day, this first screenshot is what you'd need to pay if you used Marriott points:

And here's how many points you'd need to book the same rooms through the Ultimate Rewards portal:

You'll notice that even though the cash prices are higher when booking through the Chase portal (for three of the hotels), you're using fewer points if you're booking that way. Also, when you book through the Ultimate Rewards portal, there are no blackout dates. So if the hotel has a room, you're able to buy it with points.

The main drawback to using the Ultimate Rewards portal is that it is considered a third-party booking site. That means you won't earn elite-night credits, and you might not have any Marriott Bonvoy elite-status benefits recognized.

Bottom line

For most people, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a much stronger overall travel credit card than the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless. This is mostly because Ultimate Rewards points give you more flexible redemption options than Marriott points. But Randolph is in the unique position of not having to pay for flights, so it makes sense for him to focus his credit card strategy on earning free hotel nights.

The Bonvoy Boundless comes with an annual certificate for an award night of up to 35k points, valid at participating Marriott hotels around the world. That benefit alone can make the card a keeper. The Boundless is also more rewarding for purchases with Marriott. But for all of your other spending, the Sapphire Preferred is a better option and will allow to you to earn free nights much faster and with fewer restrictions.

Personally, I could justify keeping both cards (and I actually have both), but if you can only keep one, the deciding factor is how loyal you plan on being with Marriott. If you only want to stay at Marriott hotels and value Marriott Bonvoy status, then keep just the Bonvoy Boundless. However, if you want to rack up points for award accommodations as fast as possible and want additional flexibility for your rewards, you should hang onto the Sapphire Preferred.

Featured image by Use your points at Category 5 properties such as the Boulder Marriott Hotel & Spa. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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