Use these underrated tactics to leverage points and perks in 2017.
You want to pick a loyalty credit card with generous perks. You value elite-status benefits such as free checked bags, airport lounge access and the chance to collect award hotel stays and free flights quickly. And you want to be rewarded for your spending habits. But you're not about to pay a steep annual fee or risk lowering your credit score for just any lucrative loyalist privileges and redemption options. Well, while there's no ideal card that's well-suited for every traveler, happily, there are plenty of ways carrying the right card can (still) pay off. Follow these clever, expert-approved strategies to get the most out of your credit card in 2017.
Prioritize flexibility over program fidelity.
The most lucrative cards are those that allow you to transfer points to a variety of programs, says Gary Leff, author of frequent-flier site View From the Wing. By earning Chase Ultimate Rewards Points with the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which can be redeemed with partners (think: Southwest, United and Marriott), you can yield a greater value, says Daraius Dubash, who runs the travel advice site Million Mile Secrets. Dubash also suggests earning American Express Membership Reward points through the American Express Platinum Card to easily transfer points to different programs, such as Delta SkyMiles and Hilton HHonors without devaluing points or locking yourself into one program.
Consider your travel patterns, preferences and spending habits.
Leff advises evaluating three factors before committing to a card: the benefits of the card, how easy it is to earn and transfer points to different programs and the sign-up bonus. "Make sure your needs match the benefits of the card," he says. While co-branded airline credit cards with major carriers such as United, Delta and American don't allow you to reap rewards as quickly, they may still be worth having for privileges like priority boarding, he explains. If you don't travel often, you may even consider a cash-back card like the Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature card, which allows you to earn 2 percent back on all purchases, Leff adds.
Opt for double or triple points.
When comparing cards, consider those that allow you to earn a greater number of points per dollar spent on travel and dining, says Zach Honig, the editor in chief of the points-and-miles site The Points Guy. The Chase Sapphire Reserve card, for example, earns you 100,000 points for spending $4,000 in the first three months, a $300 airfare credit and three points per dollar on all travel and dining expenses, Honig explains. This is in addition to PreCheck reimbursement and 1-to-1 point transfers with 11 partners, he adds. Competing banks are taking notice and upping the ante with similar cards, Honig explains. The American Express Personal Platinum Card offers five points per dollar on airfare purchases, he adds.
Choose a card with a lucrative sign-up bonus.
If you're itching to invest in a new card in 2017, you'll find plenty of enticing sign-up offers. The American Express Business Platinum Card is offering a 100,000 point sign-up bonus, while the Chase Ink Business Preferred card is offering an 80,000 point sign-up bonus, Dubash explains. The catch: To get the bonus, you'll need to spend $5,000 in the first three months after creating an account with either provider. Still, experts agree, if you're saving up for an expensive vacation in 2017, such as a honeymoon, and you want to collect points easily and quickly by regularly using a premium card, snapping up one of the current sign-up bonuses is an advantageous move.
Don't forget to meet the minimum spending requirements.
Use your credit card for everything, Leff says. Instead of mailing checks, rely on sites like Plastiq.com, which allow you to pay your bill with your credit card for a 2.5 percent transaction fee and work toward meeting the minimum spending threshold, he explains. The clock starts ticking when your application is approved, rather than when you activate the card, he says, so make sure to keep track of your points and ensure you have the financial resources available to use the card frequently. Another easy way to reach the spending requirement: make purchases through affiliated online shopping and dining portals, such as the Chase Ultimate Rewards shopping portal.
"What I hear a lot from beginners is they tend to redeem their points for redemptions that don't return the maximum value," Honig explains. The key is diversifying where you collect points, he says. Earn points in programs that allow you to easily transfer points, such as Starwood Preferred Guest and Chase Ultimate Rewards, he adds. Certain cards also offer favorable transfer rates. The Citi ThankYou Premier and Citi Prestige cards give cardholders the option to transfer points at a 1-to-2 ratio with Hilton HHonors (through Feb. 8, 2017). What's more, aside from optimizing your rewards by diversifying where you accrue points, you can also mitigate the effects of program devaluations.
Don't let trip delay coverage and other perks go to waste.
Premium cards come with significant benefits, Honig says. With the Citi Prestige card, which requires a $450 annual fee, you'll receive a $250 air travel credit, he explains. And with the Platinum Card from American Express ($450 annual fee), you'll get a $200 airline credit and lounge access, Honig adds. Aside from these perks, cards often offer insurance products that typically go to waste, Leff says. The Platinum Card, for example, offers coverage for car rental damage. And with the Citi Prestige card, you can receive up to $500 for a delay of three hours or longer. Review your cardholder's policy to familiarize yourself with the coverage available to you.