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If You’re Only Getting One Travel Rewards Credit Card, This is the One

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Looking for your first travel credit card?

I was talking to a friend this weekend – he and his wife plan to do more travel in the future and are making the switch from a retail rewards credit card to one oriented to travel. He had done extensive research on his own, and was leaning towards the Capital One Venture card, but wanted to know my thoughts.

If you’re looking for a card you’re going to keep for longer than the sign up bonus, make sure of the following:

  1. the points are worth a minimum of $.01 each
  2. the points can be easily and immediately redeemed

Otherwise, you might as well get a cashback card, save that money, and purchase the exact flights or hotels you want when you want them. Ex: For general rewards cards many have a tier system. $0-150 of travel spend costs 15,000 points, and $150.01-250, costs 25,000. Your hotel/rental car/flight needs to come in exactly at $150 or $250, otherwise you’re getting far less than a 1% return. Like spending 25,000 (= $250 cash back) united miles on a flight that only costs $200.

But back to my friend. I talked to him about how his family travels and for what things they’re most price sensitive.  For them it was hotels, with domestic flights a close second.

For general vacations, most of us have some flexibility on our travel dates and can fly on cheaper dates to save money. However, we don’t always have that flexibility with hotels, and we know from Jeanne that a hotel can make or break your experience, even if everything else is great.

So I countered the Venture card with a suggestion to look into the Starwood Preferred Guest card or the Chase Sapphire.

After doing more research, he observed, and I agree, that the Starwood card is under marketed. The amazing value of its benefits are almost a secret.

  • Cheaper redemptions than any other hotel chain. 3,000 points gets you a free weekend night at numerous hotels around the world – nice ones too, not just a Four Points by the interstate. So the equivalent of $30 cash back gets you a room that might be going for over $100.

That alone is enough for me, but there’s more:

  • Cheap annual fee. For many, a travel rewards card doesn’t seem worth it since they charge an annual fee and many basic credit cards don’t. At $65 a year, the Starwood card is one of the least expensive options out there.
  • Points transfer at least 1:1 to many airlines and you get a 25% bonus on every transfer of 20,000 points.  For LAN points, that can be extremely valuable, with flights for 2,400 points or less.
  • A wide range of properties and locations, with more added every year.
  • Credit for 5 nights and 2 stays toward SPG elite status each year and automatic Gold Status if you spend $30,000 on the card a year.
  • Comes with all the great American Express benefits automatically included like speedy dispute resolutions, Car Rental Loss & Damage Insurance, and Extended Warranty.

This card is my core travel card, one I will never get rid of. The only catch is because it’s an AMEX, I need a Visa or Mastercard for the few times it won’t be accepted. Thank goodness for the Chase Sapphire!


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  1. One other thing to consider is sign-up bonuses… they can be a huge deal with these higher-end travel cards. I got well over $600 worth of sign-up bonus rewards with Chase Sapphire Preferred for doing just about nothing. Maybe a good follow-on post?

  2. Good call, James! There’s actually a story along with my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card… so we’ve been holding talking about that until the story finishes playing through (in a good way!) Stay tuned.

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