TPG reader credit card question: Should I take advantage of higher sign-up bonuses for a dream getaway?
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
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When you're planning a large trip for the future, mapping out a plan for your credit card strategy can help you save hundreds or even thousands of dollars. But is banking large sign-up bonuses on premium cards the right strategy for long-term value?
[pullquote source="TPG Reader Francois S."]I am planning a future round-the-world trip with my family in a few years. I have a good amount of Aeroplan miles but not enough to cover everything. Should I jump on [welcome] bonus offers for premium credit cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express? If so, should I keep it for the year we take the trip? Are the extra benefits worth the extra fees? Would be traveling in Africa, India, and Asia. We would not visit luxury hotels or restaurants. I know they offer better lounge access, but there are constraints and lounge access depends on what airports you fly to and what airlines you fly with.[/pullquote]
When we talk about choosing the best credit card for you, the first consideration is what your goals are and what you need from your credit cards. From the looks of it, Francios is looking for ways to rack up a large point balance but isn't overly interested in the luxury perks that come with expensive premium credit cards.
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For example, the Amex Platinum mentioned above comes with a sizeable 100,000-point welcome bonus after you spend $6,000 in the first six months -- plus, earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the card at restaurants worldwide and when you "Shop Small" in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during the first six months of card membership. That bonus would go far in helping Francois rack up points for a future trip, but keeping the card long term with its $695 annual fee (see rates and fees) may not be justified if the card's benefits, such as lounge access, travel credits, elite status and more, won't be utilized.
Balancing short-term bonuses with long-term value
However, there are plenty of credit cards out there that strike a balance between offering compelling sign-up bonuses and providing long-term value for someone who's primary goal is racking up points and miles as opposed to having access to premium benefits. One primary example is the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
The sign-up offer is currently 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. You're getting at least 2x on all purchases, which also makes it a great card to rake in rewards on every purchase. The card does offer transfer partners (including Aeroplan, which would help make the combining points process easier), but the card also comes with a way to redeem miles at a 1:1 value for other eligible purchases (including travel spending that points and miles normally don't cover). And it doesn't charge foreign transaction fees.The best part? It only charges a $95 annual fee, which makes it a much easier sell to keep long term.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is another card with a solid sign-up bonus and great earning rates, as is the Citi Premier® Card .
If you're more interested in earning points and miles rather than luxury benefits, I'd consider mid-tier credit cards that are offering stellar bonuses and great returns on spending. That way you're still racking up points and miles without charging $500+ in annual fees for each new addition to your wallet.
Earning outside of sign-up bonuses
Also consider how you can earn rewards outside of standard sign-up bonuses and credit card spending. Many major airlines have online shopping portals where you can earn rewards while you shop online. These rewards are earned in addition to any bonus points or miles you get from using a credit card on the purchase. In Francois's case, the Aeroplan eStore might be a good option to use for any online shopping if that's the currency they're hoping to use for the flights on their round-the-world trip with family. However, Aeroplan is far from the only option.
I use CashBackMonitor when I am shopping online to pick the best bonus available to me, and I also have the Rakuten Chrome extension to help me earn Amex Membership Rewards while I shop online when I don't find a better bonus through other portals.
Shopping portals are easy to use and can help you hit your redemption goals much faster — especially as we head into the holiday shopping season when more people will be shopping online.
Related: The beginner's guide to airline shopping portals
There is no one-size-fits-all plan when it comes to earning and burning rewards. While the Amex Platinum and other luxury credit cards may play an integral role in some people's earning strategy as they gear up for a large trip, that doesn't mean it's the best strategy for everyone.
At the end of the day, you want to choose cards that will benefit you both in the short and the long term. In this case, it seems a happy medium would be to look at sign-up bonuses for mid-tier cards that would help Francois continue to earn rewards after the sign-up bonus is earned without charging an arm and a leg in annuals for benefits that may go unused.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.