Happy New Year! I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays as much as we did. We flew down to Tampa to spend some time with family. Both of our parents met us and we went to Busch Gardens for Christmas Day. I love that place. In terms of roller coasters, it’s one of the best and I’m surprised it doesn’t get more attention. I miss the Clydesdales, though. They left when Budweiser sold the park. Anyway, we all had a great time!
After a few days in Tampa, we stayed in Clearwater for a few days. The Hyatt Regency Clearwater is beachfront and in walking distance to a marina, Pier 60, and several restaurants and shops.
For the first post of 2020, I’m going to discuss a few things to consider so that you can maximize your earning potential this year:
- Southwest Companion Pass
- Best card if you’re brand new to award travel
- 2 player mode
- 0% APR card offer
- Over 5/24? Time to start earning Amex Membership Rewards points
- Double dipping by using shopping portals
If you are brand new to award travel, read our comprehensive guide for beginners and start earning miles and points today. Your very first credit card should be either a Chase Ultimate Rewards earning card or a Southwest co-branded card. There is only one reason to open Southwest co-branded cards over an Ultimate Rewards earning card: Companion Pass.
Southwest Companion Pass
Do you want a Southwest Companion Pass? Of course, who wouldn’t? Let me rephrase that. Do you qualify for a Companion Pass? If you’re under 5/24 and you qualify for a business card, January is the best time to start working on your Companion Pass. The sooner you earn it, the sooner you can start using it. The Companion Pass will be valid through 12/31/21 no matter when you earn it in 2020.
Two credit card welcome bonuses puts you at 116,000 points, which is just short of the 125,000 points needed. Earning the remaining 9,000 is easy. You can read all about how to earn a Companion Pass here.
Update 1/6: An increased welcome bonus offer is available on Southwest’s personal cards. You can now earn up to 75,000 points (up from 40,000 points) when you open a Southwest personal credit card. See the current offers page for more details.
For everyone else, I suggest opening a transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards earning card first. There are 3.
Transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards cards
Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Southwest, plus 9 other airlines. So unless you’re trying to earn a Southwest Companion Pass, it’s better to have these transferable points. You can read a comparison of Southwest and Chase Sapphire here.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card has a welcome bonus of 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points. 60,000 points is worth at least $750 via the redemption portal, but you can get even more value with transfer partners. Check out the list of 25 valuable redemptions, many of which are worth well over $1,000. Over $1,000 worth of travel for a card that has a fee of 95$ is a no-brainer. If you qualify for business cards, the bonus on the Chase Ink Business Preferred is even better at 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points.
Due to the Chase 5/24 rule, you want to open these cards before opening cards from American Express and other banks. Click here to learn about the Chase 5/24 rule.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Current offer: Earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.
Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for anyone, but especially beginners. The welcome bonus is worth at least $750 in travel, the annual fee is reasonable, and the rewards (Chase Ultimate Rewards) are easy to earn and redeem.
Earn 2 points per dollar on travel and dining, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. The annual fee is $95, but the welcome offer alone is worth a lot more than that. You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to 10 different airline frequent flyer programs or 3 different hotel loyalty programs. You can also redeem the points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards redemption portal.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Current offer: Earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in 3 months.
This premium card comes with a Priority Pass membership which gives you access to Priority lounges worldwide. The bonus categories on the Chase Sapphire Reserve (3 points per dollar on travel and at restaurants) are a little better than our other favorite premium travel card, the Amex Platinum Card.
The annual fee is $550, but, you receive a travel credit of $300 each year. That brings the fee to effectively $250, but there are other credits and benefits that may help offset the fee.
You will receive a $100 credit for Global Entry (or $85 for TSA precheck). Also, a few new benefits were recently added to the Chase Sapphire Reserve: Free Lyft Pink for a year (which normally costs $19.99 per month). Notable benefits are 15% off of Lyft rides and priority pick ups at airports; 10 points per dollar on Lyft rides when you pay with your Chase Sapphire Reserve; $60 credit per year in 2020 and 2021 with DoorDash; A free year of DashPass (normally $9.99 per month.)
You cannot have this card if you already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred. But if you’re trying to decide which one to open, it really depends on how much you travel and how much you value the premium benefits.
Chase Ink Business Preferred
Current offer: Earn 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $15,000 in 3 months.
If you own a business, I highly recommend Chase Ink Business Preferred. 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points are worth at least $1,250, and the annual fee is very reasonable at $95.
The earn rate makes it easy to accumulate Chase Ultimate Rewards points on business and travel expenses. You’ll earn 3 points per dollar on the first $150,000 spent each year in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, and on advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines. After you hit $150,000 on these categories, the rate is 1 point per dollar. All other categories are 1 point per dollar.
2 player mode
If you have a spouse or partner, each partner should be opening his or her own cards. This way you each earn a welcome bonus. Of course, this means you’ll have double the min spend requirements, so you may not necessarily want to apply at the same time.
The beginner’s guide covers this in more detail.
If you and a partner each open a Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you’ll have 120,000 Ultimate Rewards points total. That’s at least $1500 worth of travel.
0% APR offer
Honestly, I am a little hesitant to include this section. I do not want to give the impression that I’m encouraging this practice on the regular, but I understand that it’s post-holiday season. To help get your finances back in order, this offer is helpful.
If you regularly carry balances, award travel may not be for you. Travel credit cards tend to have high interest rates, so carrying a balance over time will probably offset any rewards earned from credit cards.
Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Currency earned: Chase Ultimate Rewards, but they are not transferable unless you also have a CSP, CSR, or CIBP. Instead, these points can be redeemed as cash. Click here for more info.
- Earn rate: 1.5 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on all purchases. No bonus categories.
- Annual fee: $0
- Welcome bonus: $200 (or 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 in the first 3 months. Also, earn 5% cash back (or 5 points per dollar) on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited card has an intro offer of 0% APR on purchases made in the first 15 months.
Also, you can transfer a balance from another credit card or loan with a 0% interest rate for 15 months. (UPDATE: This offer has expired. 0% APR still applies to purchases made in the first 15 months, but the 0% balance transfer offer no longer applies).
Purchases made with the card do earn points. In fact, the earn rate on this card actually makes it one of our favorite cards for everyday spending.
Once you’re over 5/24, American Express Membership Rewards is a great currency to start earning. Amex Membership Rewards has 19 airline transfer partners. This is probably the best currency if your goal is long haul international flights in premium cabins. There are several American Express Membership Rewards earning cards; you can read about the Membership Rewards program and the different card options here.
The holidays may be over, but there’s no reason not to continue to use shopping portals. This is a great way to earn even more points on your every day purchases. You can read more about shopping portals here.
Start earning your first free trip today! You can find a list of our top travel credit cards for January 2020 on the current offers page. It’s updated at least monthly. If you’re a beginner, here is a list of 5/24 cards that you’ll want to start with.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
The Chase Sapphire Preferred earns 2 points per dollar on travel, and the lower annual fee and higher welcome bonus make it a more appealing card than the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The welcome bonus is worth at least $750 in travel, the annual fee is reasonable, and the rewards are easy to earn and redeem.
- Currency earned: Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Earn rate on travel: 2 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on travel and dining, 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
- Annual fee: $95
- Welcome bonus: 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
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