I often write about how I’ve managed to snag cheap business class flights, score amazing upgrades, and travel the world for free—all thanks to credit card points. But the truth is, I owe all of my expertise to one person: The Points Guy.
If you’re not already familiar, The Points Guy (aka TPG) is a travel website that started as a blog in 2010 and has since become a full-blown empire dedicated to all things points and miles. At the helm is Brian Kelly—my friend and personal points hero—who recently agreed to sit down with me to answer some frequently asked points questions.
Below, Brian discusses the best credit cards for beginners, how to redeem credit card points for travel, and his feelings about getting cash back vs miles. (Editor’s note: this is an abbreviated transcript of our conversation in the video above. The video goes into more detail.)
Q: What is the best card for beginners?
A: Chase Sapphire Preferred. That was my gateway card years ago. The Sapphire Preferred has a big sign-up bonus, and it’s only $95 a year. So you get 60,000 Chase points, which we value at over $1000. When you get sign-up bonuses worth that much money, it makes sense. The cards with no annual fee don’t have as high of a sign-up bonus.
Q: What can you get with a 60,000 Chase point sign-up bonus?
A: When you redeem your credit card points through Chase, 60,000 points are worth 1.25 cents a piece, which means you’re getting $750 in value. However, if you transfer to United, for example, you can get much more than that.
You could redeem your 60,000 points for things like:
- A one-way business class award to Europe, which could easily be $1500-$2000 in value.
- Two nights at the Park Hyatt Maldives, for example. A regular night at that same hotel would cost you $1,000 in cash. But if you’re using points? It’ll set you back only 25,000/night.
Transferring your points takes a little bit of time, but that’s where you get tons of value to travel like a queen.
Q: If someone already has his or her beginner card, what is the next step?
A: Amex Platinum. It has a $550 annual fee, but you get ALL of these perks (and more):
- $200 a year in airline credit
- $200 in Uber credits
- Access to Delta Sky Clubs when you fly through Delta
- Access to Centurion lounges plus two guests for free. (All of the food and drinks in Centurion lounges are awesome and free.)
- Free Priority Pass membership
- Free Global Entry
- 5x points on all airfare
Points are great, but the benefits are also great. Amex has amazing purchase protection. I went to Iceland last year and bought a Moncler jacket, and accidentally left it because we were filming. It was a $2,600 jacket and I called up Amex, and they instantly took it off of my bill because I made the dumb mistake of losing it.
Also, some credit cards offer flight perks. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is $450 a year, but you get a $300 credit for travel right away. Then it’s 3x points on travel and dining. (3x means 3 times the number of points per dollar.)
What I really like is if something goes wrong with your flight, Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders get up to $10,000 worth of travel protection, which includes reimbursement.
MORE: 8 Secrets to Surviving Long Flights
Q: Is it better to book flights through the Chase or Amex portal or transfer them to an airline?
A: When you transfer to airlines, you don’t earn elite miles. So for people who want to get airline elite status, if you book through Chase or Amex travel, most of the time those tickets are the equivalent of paying with cash that you earn miles on.
If it’s a really cheap flight, and you’re tight on cash, then just redeem it through one of those portals. You won’t get the most value for your points, but if it’s a really expensive flight, redeeming through those portals will require a ton of money.
Q: How do you know if redeeming your points is a good deal or not?
A: A good redemption is getting at least 2 cents per point in value, meaning if you’re using 100,000 Chase points, you want to be getting $2,000 in value. Look at the cost of the hotel or flight, and then look at how many miles.
Pro tip: Be on the lookout for when airlines have flash sales and redeem points on business flights and partners. One thing airline sites sometimes won’t show you are all of the partners available, so sometimes you have to search for them online.
Q: What are the best ways to keep earning points?
A: Get a card or two here and there with a big sign-up bonus, and also make sure that every dollar you spend, you’re putting it on a card that’s giving you 2x, 3x, 4x, 5x. Once you start looking at everything you’re spending and getting more than one point per dollar, plus a sign-up bonus here and there…the more credit cards you have, the more available credit you have. The less you use, and if you’re paying them in full every month, your score goes up.
I have 25 credit cards, which I know sounds insane, and I would not recommend anyone doing this, but my score is near perfect because I pay them in full every month.
If you have a small business, or an Etsy shop, you should have a small business credit card to separate that expense and to get rewards. The sign-up on the Chase Ink Business Preferred is 80,000 points. So if you open that as your business card and the Sapphire Preferred as your personal card (at 60,000 points), you’re going to Asia in business class from those two sign-ups.
Q: What are your recommendations for cashback versus using miles?
A: Citi Double Cash is a no brainer if you want cashback. It has no annual fee and you get 2% back when you pay in full.
Chase Freedom Unlimited is also really good at 1.5 points per dollar. If you have a Sapphire Card, you can take Chase Freedom Unlimited points and transfer them into your Sapphire account, and then from there you can transfer to airline.
So the real trick would be to get the Sapphire Preferred or Reserve, which has double or triple on travel and dining, and use a Chase Freedom Unlimited Card that has 1.5 on everything because the Sapphire only gets 1 point per dollar on everything.
So you use a Sapphire card to earn on travel and dining, and use a Freedom Unlimited on everyday expenses because you’re earning 1.5, and you can transfer them to your Sapphire account, meaning its not only cashback and you can use it on airlines if you want.
Q: What about Capital One Venture Card?
A: Capital One Venture actually gives double points on everything, and those points can also be transferred to a number of different airlines. You can also use Capital One points to pay for Uber. If you use the Capital One card, you can even use it to wipe the fees on a flight tickets.
Any travel expense you can wipe off, you earn 2x on the purchase, and then you can use points to pay for that charge or transfer for airlines. Until January 2020, you also earn 10 points per dollar on hotels.com. On hotels.com, you get 1 free night for every 10, plus you’re earning 10 points per dollar on the Venture card. It’s basically 20% back on all of your hotel expenses, which is super, super rich.
Q: Should you use points on hotels or flights?
A: Amex points are the best when you transfer to airlines. Chase points are good for transferring to both airlines and hotels booking through Chase travel. Capital One and hotels.com is probably the best overall for hotels. If you have Chase and Capital One Venture, you are pretty much covered.
Q: Any other tips for redeeming points?
A: At the end of the day, miles and points are currency. It’s like money. Everyone has them. A lot of people let them go to waste, but the minute you educate yourself, you will come out ahead, especially with credit card sign-up bonuses. Banks want to give you money to travel.
Have any more questions about points or miles? Leave them in the comments below!
This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, we may receive a commission.