Traveling for “Free” with my Favorite Credit Card

Written by Brian Callender

One of the questions I have been getting more and more of late, has been, “what is a good travel rewards credit card to start earning points for free flights?” Previously, I wrote about how I stumbled across “travel hacking” by accident back in 2014 and was instantly drawn in to the world of points and miles. Through this newfound knowledge, I booked our flight to Europe for just $88.20 and 120,000 miles. It was an amazing experience made even better by how much we were able to save using our points. If you’re thinking about starting to earn points, here are some reasons why I love my Chase Sapphire Preferred.

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Sign Up Bonus 

The primary reason to sign up for any good travel card is the sign up bonus because it provides you the most points in the shortest amount of time. Currently, the sign up bonus on the Sapphire is 50,000 points (though it is often 40,000, so now is a good time to sign up!) after meeting the minimum spend requirement of $4,000 in your first three months of card membership. You’ll earn an additional 5,000 points for adding an authorized user. That’s the potential for 55,000 points after meeting the minimum spending requirement. A round-trip domestic flight within the United States can typically be had for 25,000 points which means you get two with the sign up bonus. Another option, our round-trip flight to Europe was 60,000 points per person, which means you’re only 5,000 points away, from the sign up bonus alone!

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Ultimate Rewards

One of the best aspects of the Chase Sapphire Preferred is access to Ultimate Rewards. This site provides you with an overview of your points total including a breakdown by category (travel, dining, everything else) you have earned each month. You’ll also see the monetary value of what Chase values your points at. However the three best areas of focus for Ultimate Rewards are purchasing travel through Chase, shopping through their portal, and the ability to transfer points to their partners.

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Purchasing Travel through Chase

For cardholders of the Sapphire Preferred, Chase offers you a 20% savings for booking your travels directly through them. Often, this can be a great savings off what the retail cost is (often, but not always, so it’s important to do your research!) and Chase allows you to pay with both points and cash. For example, I recently helped my friend book her flight to South Africa. She had 69,000 points and the flight through Chase was 73,000 points, round-trip. To book the flight, she used the remaining points available and paid $42.00 cash out of pocket. Flying roughly 20,000 miles round-trip with only $42.00 out of pocket is pretty awesome!

Transferring Points to a Chase Partner

Another great option, and one Julie and I took advantage of when we booked our flight to Europe, is the ability to transfer points to one of Chase’s partners. As a Sapphire cardholder, your points transfer one to one to the following partners:

  • British Airways
  • Air France
  • Korean Air
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Hyatt Hotels
  • IHG Hotels
  • Marriott Hotels
  • Ritz Carlton Hotels

Depending on your goals, these transfer partners present a range of opportunities to spread your points around. Getting creative can really help you maximize your points as well! For example, Southwest has point fare sales where you can fly for as low as 3,000 points one way on shorter destinations. My friend has used this option to fly some domestic routes where she would prefer not to pay out of pocket.

Remember, points are valuable to each of us in different ways. As long as you’re getting to travel for “free” that’s all that matters! 🙂 

Shopping through Chase

I’ve written before about why you should be using airline shopping portals, and the shop through Chase option is essentially the same, so I won’t spend too much time on it. Through the Ultimate Rewards site, you have the option to shop through Chase which means you can search for a particular online retailer, and if available, click through the Chase link and earn additional bonus points on your purchase. To earn a bonus, you do need to click through the link and pay with your Sapphire Preferred. This is a bit different from the airline portals as you can use any card of your choosing and you earn points based on having your frequent flyer number registered. Regardless, it’s an easy way to earn additional points on regular shopping you were already planning to do!

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Category Bonus Spending

The more traditional way you can earn points through the Sapphire are the two bonus categories in which double points are offered:

  • Dining: Anything related to dining out will earn you two times the points on your purchase. This means a trip to In-N-Out, or a night out at Mastro’s , is going to earn you extra points. I love this option when I’m with a group of friends and everyone pays cash. I take this opportunity to scoop up the cash and pay with my Sapphire and enjoy the extra points! 🙂
  • Travel: Flights, hotels, car rentals, train tickets, parking, are all examples of travel related expenses in which you will receive double points.

Additional Benefits

  • No foreign transaction fees: This is great for any international travel you may do as debit cards and other some credit cards will charge a certain fee for usage abroad.
  • Direct customer service access: Though I don’t call in to my credit cards often, this is by far the best customer service line to call. You call and they pick up. No prompts or automated hoops to jump through. It’s fantastic and I wish every customer service system was like it.
  • Annual fee waived the first year: If you’re only interested in the card for its bonus, the annual fee of $95 is waived the first year. While I firmly believe that you can get a ton of value out of this card even with the annual fee, I know that there are some who are strongly against paying an annual fee.
  • Auto rental collision damage waiver: You can decline the car rental company’s insurance and as long as you pay with your Sapphire, you’re covered for up to the actual value of the vehicle in theft and collision.

A full list of card benefits can be found here.

Summary

If you’re looking to get into the world of points and miles, or just interested in earning rewards on your purchases to help you travel, I hope this post shows you why the Chase Sapphire Preferred was the first card I signed up for. I strongly believe that the benefits the card provides you, outweighs the cost of the annual fee. However, I can understand  there will be some who would prefer to earn the bonus and not retain the card. It’s important to note that you should factor your own financial situation when deciding whether or not to sign up for a credit card. Paying off your balance in full each month is crucial for ensuring you get the most out of your credit card (and I learned it the hard way).

Whichever route you choose to take, remember to keep earning rewards for your purchases and keep traveling! 🙂

Full disclosure: I earn nothing from discussing this card and don’t work for Chase (though you can refer people and earn bonus points); it’s simply my favorite “starter” card and has served me well to date. This is my recommendation, but a different card may work better for you based on your specific goals, budget, and credit. I recommend you do your own research and use my recommendation as a guideline. I’m always happy to help in any way I can! 

2 thoughts on “Traveling for “Free” with my Favorite Credit Card

  1. I definitely like the Chase Sapphire Preferred card for travel rewards, but also the Citi ThankYou Premier card and Starwood Preferred Guest Amex. With Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood, it’s probably a good time to take advantage of bonus Starwood points before the program is potentially downgraded.

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    1. Totally agree. I think, when looking at an all around card, and one that we’ve gotten a lot of value out of, the Sapphire fit that bill. We also have the Starwood Preferred Amex and used it last year when traveling. Great benefits as well.

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