Friends often ask me what credit cards I carry for airline mile accumulation and use abroad. I got tired of answering their questions individually, so here it all is in a wordy blog post/credit card review:
My primary credit card for airline mile accumulation and easy use while traveling abroad (as of March 2014) is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.
If you’re shopping around for a single credit card that gives you good functionality/flexibility for travel, this card should be on your short list. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than most.
This is the point where some people might post a photo of their pretty new credit card, which was one of the stupidest trends ever seen on Twitter and Instagram. I am not that dude.
Also, please note that the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is different from the Chase Sapphire card (the latter offers a lower 10,000 point bonus, but carries no annual fee. But still not necessarily a bad choice!).
WHY I SIGNED UP FOR THE CHASE SAPPHIRE PREFERRED CARD
THIS CARD CARRIES A FAIRLY HIGH SIGNING BONUS: 40,000 POINTS.
Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers a 40,000 point bonus to cardholders that spend $5,000 (US) in the first three months of membership. I found that this was an easy total expenditure amount to hit.
Personally, I won’t consider an airline miles credit card unless it offers at least 40,000 points/miles as a signing bonus. I’d prefer to get a 50-60k initial bonus with each card, really (and these offers do show up from time to time).
NO FOREIGN FEES. NONE!
When I use my Chase Sapphire Preferred card abroad, I don’t get hit with any sort of per-transaction nor percentage-based fees by Chase. It’s just like using the card domestically, at home in the USA. No surprises.
GOOD EXCHANGE RATES ABROAD.
I recently traveled/worked in the Peruvian Amazon, and found that using my Chase Sapphire Preferred card got me better exchange rates than I received when exchanging physical currency.
Here’s how it went down:
- When exchanging US currency for Peruvian Soles (cash for cash) in Lima and Iquitos in late 2013, I got a rate of 2.76-2.77 Soles to the dollar.
- When I used my Chase Sapphire Preferred card for purchases, I got a rate of 2.80-2.81 Soles to the dollar. When you consider that I wasn’t charged any sort of transaction fees or foreign fees by Chase, this is a slight advantage over using cash. Cool, right?
I can’t speak to the exchange rates in other countries – it might be worth calling Chase before your trip to check exchange rates on the card, and/or doing a small sample purchase in whatever country you’re in to make sure transactions process at expected rates.
(By the way, NEVER exchange your money in Lima’s airport – it may be the worst rate you’ll get in all of Peru!)
1:1 POINT TRANSFERS TO MULTIPLE TRAVEL VENDORS.
No, this card doesn’t offer 1:1 transfer to all airlines – which may be a dealbreaker for persons living in major hub cities for certain airlines (for example, if I lived in Atlanta, I’d want 1:1 transfer to Delta). But the Chase Sapphire Preferred card does offer 1:1 transfer to more than just one airline, which is useful to me.
The 1:1 transfer list, current in March of 2014: British Airways Executive Club, Korean Air SKYPASS, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards®, United MileagePlus®, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Amtrak Guest Rewards®, Hyatt Gold Passport®, Priority Club® Rewards, Marriott Rewards® and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards®.
I fly United and Southwest fairly frequently so this works well for me.
QUICK ACCESS TO GOOD CUSTOMER SERVICE BY TELEPHONE.
In two years of card membership, I don’t think I’ve ever waited more than ten minutes to talk to a human when calling Chase’s customer service line for this card, and I’ve never felt like I’m navigating an endless maze of automated menus. Let’s hope this doesn’t change.
END OF YEAR 7% POINT DIVIDEND.
This isn’t a lot to crow about in my opinion, but it’s kind of nice that Chase kicks you an extra bonus of 7% of all your points accumulated in the calendar year.
THE POINTS I EARN DON’T EXPIRE.
THINGS ABOUT THIS CREDIT CARD THAT I COULD TAKE OR LEAVE
FIRST YEAR IS FREE – BUT IT COSTS $95/YEAR FOR SUBSEQUENT YEARS.
Almost every premium credit card available gives you a free first year, then charges you annual fees. This card is the same – $0 for your first year, and $95 for each subsequent year you hold the card.
I know some people think it’s ridiculous to pay money to use a credit card, and they’re mostly right. But I gain ground against this $95/year when I use the card abroad (and thus receive good exchange rates / no foreign fees), and through accelerated point accumulation/retention. For my intended usage, it balances out.
Also – I have seen conflicting pages on Chase’s website that offer the card for $95 OR $125 annually (as of March 2014). Make sure you get the $95/year rate if you sign up!
THIS IS A “CHIP AND SIGNATURE” CARD – BUT NOT A “CHIP AND PIN” (AKA “EMV”) CARD.
“Smart Chip” technology is offered on the current iteration of the Chase Sapphire Card, which means you can insert your electronically-chipped card at points of sale, then sign your name on the receipt to finalize payment.
This is different than the commonly accepted “Chip-and-PIN” method of credit card authorization in Europe – in which one inserts their electronically chipped card into a reader and enter a secret PIN number (as in, no signature).
In my opinion, this “Smart Chip” technology is only HALFWAY THERE in its functionality for travelers. I assume that this method of authorization will be rejected by many vendors in Europe (especially automated points of sale) where a PIN is required, and signing at the end of your transaction is not possible.
Why it’s important to have a Chip-and-PIN enabled card when traveling: some travelers have reported that their magnetic-strip-only cards have been rejected at points of sale in parts of Europe. I definitely got some sideways looks in Finland in 2012 when I needed to swipe my magnetic strip card to issue payment at restaurants and grocery stores. With a Chip-and-PIN credit card, I wouldn’t have had any issues.
So, this “Chip and Signature” technology is kind of a wash. The chip makes the card look up to date, but it’s still not utilizing the system that Europe has embraced. I wouldn’t say this is a win, but it’s better than nothing, I guess. I’ll have to try this chip/signature system out next time I’m in Europe.
Are electronically chipped cards more secure than swipe-and-sign? Well, yes and no. Signatures can be forged, whereas a secret PIN can only be guessed. But this shift isn’t necessarily all about security: consider that the adoption of Chip and PIN technology by banks and vendors may be more about a liability shift from the credit card companies to the vendor, and in the end, to the consumer. No free lunch here.
And to be fair: Chase is not the only bank adopting electronically chipped cards – talk to your bank to see if your current credit card offers this security function. I won’t travel abroad without at least one chipped card at this point!
Chase’s FAQ on Chip and PIN technology on their cards is here.
SUPPOSEDLY-DISCOUNTED TRAVEL BOOKINGS THROUGH CHASE’S WEBSITE.
Chase claims that travel bookings paid in points through its website are discounted by 20% – but I never pay retail rack rates for airfare or hotel anyway and always do exhaustive searches for the lowest rates online before booking anything.
I imagine this works in the card holder’s favor from time to time, but I’d rather just transfer my points directly into a given frequent flier or hotel program and book directly.
HOW I USE MY CHASE SAPPHIRE PREFERRED CARD:
ALL CREDIT CARD PURCHASES ABROAD.
All of ‘em. No foreign fees and good exchange rates, remember?
AUTOMATIC PAYMENTS FOR MONTHLY UTILITIES AND SUBSCRIPTIONS.
My monthly gas, electric and internet bills, my professional subscriptions, and any other rolling charges get applied on my Chase card to help bolster airline mile accumulation. This is quite helpful for pushing through the first $5,000 one needs to spend to get the initial 40,000 point bonus, too.
2x POINTS ON DINING/RESTAURANTS.
Chase gives you 2x points on dining – so I’m always ready to put a split lunch bill on my card when friends want to pay their portion with cash. Sneaky!
2x POINTS ON TRAVEL EXPENDITURES.
Travel expenditures means: airfare, cruises, hotels, taxis, train tickets, rental cars, etc.
Again, if you live in a hub city for an airline not represented in Chase’s 1:1 point transfer list, you might consider an airline-specific card for American, Delta, Lufthansa, etc. This way you can better accumulate airline-specific points that will transfer at more significant ratios.
Like many other cards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers physical damage coverage on rental cars – so you can decline the CDW (collision damage waiver) insurance at the time of rental. CDW usually costs $25/day or more, so this is a nice little savings.
Btw, I wrote a fairly huge post about what to consider when renting a car. Read it here.
SHOPPING THROUGH CHASE’S “ULTIMATE REWARDS” SITE TO MULTIPLY POINT ACCUMULATION.
Certain online vendors offer point multipliers of x1 to x20 when you click through Chase’s “Ultimate Rewards” site after logging into your account. I usually experience x1-x5 points whenever I make purchases after clicking through Chase’s site.
A few of the vendors I click through to via Chase’s Ultimate Rewards (not a complete list, nope!), thus multiplying my points:
- Apple Store
- Best Western
- Holiday Inn
- Holiday Inn Express
- Intercontinental Hotels Group
- L.L. Bean
- Musicians Friend
- Sierra Trading Post
- The Walking Company
- Thrifty Car Rental
- Tire Rack
I wish that B&H Photo, Adorama Photo and Amazon were represented with point multipliers, but alas, they are not. Camera gear-sluts, take note.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card has become my primary card for not only travel expenditures and usage, but also day to day purchases and online shopping.
In two years of personal use, I’ve racked up enough points/miles to fly myself to Southeast Asia (and back) a couple of times. I’ve used it abroad at good exchange rates, and without international fees and without issue. It’s been pretty useful/fruitful! Customer service has been good as well.
I really don’t feel that there’s another travel credit card that’s quite as well-rounded as this one at this point and highly recommend this card to anyone that’s looking to stack points to pay for flights and avoid foreign fees.
THE CHASE SAPPHIRE PREFERRED CARD IS A GREAT PRIMARY CREDIT CARD FOR YOU IF:
- You travel by a wide variety of air carriers (as opposed to just one or two) and want to earn miles that transfer into multiple frequent flier and hotel programs.
- You spent a reasonable chunk of your time outside of the country and need a credit card that will work well abroad with no international fees.
- You want to take advantage of point multipliers available by shopping online through Chase’s website (Chase “Ultimate Rewards“).
- You’re at peace with paying an annual fee of $95 (first year is free).
YOU MIGHT WANT TO CONSIDER OTHER CARDS IF:
- You travel almost exclusively on one air carrier and would prefer to earn/spend points on only that carrier (consider proprietary credit cards from your preferred airline).
- You want a free checked bag on each flight booked through your travel credit card (again, consider proprietary credit cards from your preferred airline).
- You want access to airport lounges via your travel credit card (offered through some proprietary airline credit cards and pricey credit cards like the $495/year Visa BLACK card)
- You can’t facilitate spending $5,000 on a card in the first 3 months of card membership (in order to get the 40,000 point signing bonus).
- You don’t want to pay an annual fee (consider $0 annual fee cards with lower point bonuses but good point accumulation, like the Chase Sapphire card, or the CapitalOne VentureOne Rewards card, among others).
Thanks for reading!
No, I’m not paid by Chase nor any of the other vendors listed in this post (and none of my click-through links on this page put any money in my pockets either), but I am HIGHLY CORRUPTIBLE and LIKE MONEY if anyone’s listening. I blow in the breeze like a tiny, impressionable sailboat. Pay me. Please. Or don’t, and I’ll still probably end up writing 2000+ words about a CREDIT CARD (So this is my hobby? Questionable…).