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Joining point plans can be rewarding

MCT - Squirreling away credit card points has one major difference from “extreme couponing,” says the card expert who has earned himself the moniker The Points Guy.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>MCT</em></div>Squirreling away credit card points has one major difference from “extreme couponing,” says the card expert who has earned himself the moniker The Points Guy. - Brian Kelly
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em></em></div>Brian Kelly

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Best credit cards released its list of the best Travel Credit Cards for 2013, selected from more than 1,000 offers.

Best Initial Rewards Bonuses

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Spending at least $3,000 during the first three months your account is open will trigger a 40,000-point rewards bonus, which can be redeemed for $500 in travel accommodations booked through Chase's Ultimate Rewards program or a $400 statement credit. This card does not charge an annual fee during the first year ($95 thereafter) and does not assess foreign-transaction fees for purchases processed abroad.

Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard: Spend $1,000 during the first 90 days for a 40,000-mile rewards bonus, which is redeemable for a $400 statement credit attributable to any travel-related charge. Does not assess foreign-transaction fees and its $89 annual fee doesn't take effect until the second year.

Hilton HHonors Surpass Credit Card: 40,000 bonus points with the first purchase, and an additional 20,000 points after charging $3,000. The combined 60,000 bonus points are redeemable for one to eight free hotel nights, depending on how your hotel of choice is classified. This card has a $75 annual fee as well as a 2.71 percent foreign-transaction fee that makes it better-suited to domestic travel.

Club Carlson Premier Rewards Card: 50,000 bonus points with the first purchase and 35,000 additional points for spending at least $2,500 within 90 days. You can redeem the 85,000 points for up to 18 free hotel nights, depending on the category of hotel and the number of consecutive nights. There is a $75 annual fee and a 3 percent foreign-transaction fee. 

Best Ongoing Rewards

Capital One Venture Card: While the Venture Card does offer a $100 initial bonus for spending $1,000 during the first three months, that's not what has allowed it to remain one of the best travel-rewards credit cards. Rather, this card offers the miles equivalent of 2 percent cash back across all purchases as long as you redeem for anything travel-related, thereby representing a great deal of long-term value to frequent travelers. The Venture Card's $59 annual fee doesn't kick in until the second year, and it doesn't charge foreign-transaction fees.

Blue Cash Preferred from American Express: Offers 6 percent cash back on groceries, 3 percent on gas and department-store purchases and 1 percent on everything else, making it a great card for everyday spending as well as road trips. While it charges a $75 annual fee and a 2.7 percent foreign-transaction fee, you also get a $150 initial rewards bonus for spending at least $1,000 during the first three months.

PenFed Platinum Rewards Card: This Pentagon Federal Credit Union product offers 5 points per $1 spent on gas, 3 points/$1 on groceries and 1 point/$1 on everything else. Points can be redeemed for a statement credit at a 1 percent rate. There's no annual fee, but you might have to pay a one-time $10 membership charge if you don't initially meet PenFed's eligibility requirements.

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By Bob Karlovits
Thursday, April 25, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Squirreling away credit-card points has one major difference from “extreme couponing,” says the card expert who has earned himself the moniker “The Points Guy.”

“You get to fly first class instead of loading your basement full of paper towels,” Brian Kelly says.

Kelly, a 2005 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, left a career as a Wall Street recruiter in 2010 to become a full-time blogger and travel consultant. Besides being the master of a website — — he shows up on broadcast news and in print media as a vacation source and expert on the use of credit-card points.

He is on the road these days for Barclaycard, the London-based financial-payment firm, advocating credit-card use.

“When I'm in a Starbucks and see someone paying in cash, I say, ‘You're throwing money down the drain,' ” he says.

He gets irked at that manner of spending, he says, because by using cards, a Starbucks customer — or any other spender — can build up points that will give him hotel rooms, flights, upgrades in both of those areas, or car rentals and meals.

“When you have to travel for a living, point use can take some of the sting off being away from home,” he says.

Of course, wisdom on such use and steady payment of credit-card balances are the keys to such spending, he warns. He says he has 19 credit cards, five of which he uses steadily, but he makes sure they all are paid each month. He says there are any number of software programs that can help direct such payments, but it can be just as easy to set up a spread sheet.

Like any other financial system, points-gathering from credit cards requires strategy, he says. The best ways to go about getting maximum rewards are:

• Build up as many points/airline miles by using your cards as much as you can, but always remember to put away the money to pay for that credit spending.

• Decide what is the most effective points/miles program. If hotel bills come into play more that air tickets, focus on a hotel-loyalty card.

• Don't worry about annual fees for cards — the benefit from steady use pays for them in the long run.

• Credit-card use and monthly payment of balances actually bolster a credit rating, so such spending does not weaken a financial reputation.

• Diversify card use and “don't put all your points in one basket” because increases can weaken the value of points. If a hotel chain raises the price for a stay from 50,000 to 95,000 points, it can derail the point-gathering process.

“Make sure loyalty goes both ways,” he says about the loyalty-card programs.

Because of his advocacy for diversification, he promotes the use of fixed-value cards, such as those gathered in Barclay's new Arrival card or the Capital One Venture card.

With those, he explains, points can be used to pay for any travel-related expense. Rather than having to book a flight with a certain airline or in a certain hotel chain, he says, a consumer can arrange a flight or stay any way possible and then use the points to pay off the credit-card bill.

Whatever direction a consumer heads, he urges a thorough check on the amount of points/miles that are awarded and the blackout dates or restrictions on use.

“There are an awful lot of bad cards out there,” he says.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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