Reader Chris L. asked the following question in the Ask Lucky forum:
I hold a MileagePlus Explorer card from Chase, and today I received my letter about the upcoming benefits changes slated for 1 June. I also received an offer for a Delta branded Amex (Gold?) card, offering 60K miles after spending $1K in “eligible purchases” in the first three months. ($0 introductory, $95 annually thereafter.) I currently have about 85K miles banked with United. I don’t get to fly that much – a couple of trips to Europe (mostly the UK) every year, and an occasional flight elsewhere. Is it time to switch from United to Delta?
I’m guessing that to many readers, the below advice will be pretty obvious, so by all means skip this post if you’d like. However, I get questions along these lines all the time. People generally seem to assume:
- Because they mostly fly one airline, they should have the credit card from that airline
- If that credit card isn’t as good as it used to be, they should switch to another airline credit card
This advice hopefully goes beyond Chris’ specific issue — a vast majority of people shouldn’t be using an airline credit card for their everyday spend. You can easily get a card that’s more rewarding and also offers more flexibility without paying a higher annual fee.
I think Chris is largely right to want to ditch the United Explorer Card, but the solution isn’t to get a co-branded Delta Card. In these situations I try to give pretty specific advice so I don’t overwhelm people, and I think there’s a pretty easy solution here.
Does the Chase Sapphire Preferred make sense?
In my opinion Chris’ best bet here is to get the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. He can earn more points for his spend, and most importantly, earn points that are more flexible. Here’s how:
- The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers double points on dining and travel, which is a better rewards structure than United’s card offers
The other benefit of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card isn’t just that you’re earning more points, but also you’re earning more valuable points. Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to any Ultimate Rewards airline or hotel partner. So you can continue to transfer those points to United MileagePlus if you’d like, though you can also transfer those points to other useful partners, like Air France KLM Flying Blue, Singapore KrisFlyer, World of Hyatt, and more.
The flexibility goes beyond that. Redeeming miles can be complicated at times, so rather than converting those points into airline miles or hotel points, you can just use the points as cash towards the cost of a ticket, at the rate of 1.25 cents per point. That’s not something you’d be able to do if earning United miles directly.
To me this is an absolute no brainer. For more on this card, see this post.
Also consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card was introduced just under two years ago and has been extremely popular, as it’s the premium version of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. I don’t want to overwhelm Chris here, and also don’t want there to be any sticker shock, because the card has a $550 annual fee. However, I think it could be well worth it in his case. What differentiates the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card?
- It offers a $300 annual travel credit that will automatically be applied towards any travel purchase
- It offers triple points on dining and travel (rather than double points)
- In addition to being able to transfer points to the same partners, you can redeem points for 1.5 cents each towards the cost of a travel purchase (rather than 1.25 cents each)
- You’ll get a Priority Pass membership with unlimited guesting privileges, meaning you’ll have access to over a thousand lounges around the world
The $300 travel credit should more or less be worth face value to anyone who has the card, meaning the real out of pocket for the card is $250 per year ($550 minus $300), or $155 per year higher than the Sapphire Preferred. For that I think it can make a lot of sense to pick up the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card so that you earn triple points, get a Priority Pass membership, and earn more valuable points.
For more on this card, see this post.
Navigating the credit card world can be complicated, and it’s only natural to assume that if you usually fly a particular airline that you’re best off having that credit card. However, I’d argue that’s usually not the case, especially when it comes to maximizing the value you get out of credit card spend. Nowadays the best way to earn points with a credit card is to use a card earning transferable points. Not only do these cards often award points at a faster rate than airline cards, but the miles themselves are also more valuable.
If Chris just wants a card with the same annual fee he’s paying now that’s better, then I recommend going for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. If he’s willing to spring for a card that will cost him slightly more (while the annual fee is $550 you do earn a $300 travel credit, so I view the real cost of this card as being $250 per year), then the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card would really help with not only earning as many points as possible, but with making those points as valuable as possible. The lounge access is the icing on the cake.
Does anyone have different advice for Chris in this situation?