Today I’m featuring a question I received via e-mail a few weeks ago. Reader RB would love to go visit her boyfriend in North Carolina but she’s a starving student. So how can she use miles and points to make it all the way from Cali to North Carolina for free?!
I was hoping to pick your brain about credit cards with mileage rewards points because I’m wholly unfamiliar with differences in credit cards. I’m currently using a CITI dividend master card but am thinking of switching to a credit card with good mileage rewards points because I have to make monthly cross-country trips to see my boyfriend and they are getting expensive.
I was wondering what your recommendations are for this? Should I get a card that specifically rewards in miles or one that has more general points that can be applied to miles? Do you have any recommendations for which specific cards are better? I don’t know if this would impact your recs but:
-Flight options to north carolina are limited so I normally have to fly US/American or … Delta (which I try to avoid like the plague)
-I always pay off my credit card balance in full at the end of the month so I don’t accrue interest. Once I get to a point where this isn’t feasible I will have to switch to a low interest card but for the meantime I’m not accruing interest)
I love answering questions like this because there are very few things in life that make me happier than redeeming points and miles for free travel. Most people probably don’t believe me when I tell them I have over 20 credit cards, a 799 credit score and close to a million points and miles, but it’s true.
The reason why I like to share this information is because I’m hoping that it encourages you to embark on this journey with me. There’s really no better feeling than sitting in business class on Turkish Airlines on the way back from your honeymoon knowing that you paid less than $100 for the whole flight while everyone else paid thousands!
Ok on to reader RB’s question:
Build A Solid Foundation
I was pretty impressed with this reader’s basic knowledge of points and miles. She knew the difference between a transferable points program like Citi and Amex and a miles earning program like US Airways or American Airlines. It doesn’t take much time, but the first thing you’ll want to do in a situation like this is a little preliminary research. There are a ton of great travel and points blogs out there (Points Guy, Travel Sort, etc) or you can just Google whatever topic you have in mind. Spend an hour or two researching the basics and that will make things a lot easier.
Sign-Up Bonuses >>> Spending Bonuses
Getting 2 or even 3x back on all of your purchases is nice but compared to sign-up bonuses they mean relatively nothing. Most of the cards that I sign up for offer a 50,000 point bonus which means that at 1x back you would have to spend $50,000 per year on your credit card in order to get an equivalent bonus. In this case, reader RB is a student so she likely won’t be able to spend anywhere near that much. So sign-up bonuses are going to be the way to go.
Transferable Points vs. Airline Miles
For those just getting started with the travel rewards, I normally like to recommend transferable points programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) or Amex Membership Rewards (MR) since they have so many great transfer partners. It takes a while to learn the ins and outs of airline and hotel specific redemptions but with transferable points networks you can redeem your points for flights, hotels, cash back and more.
Get 40,000 Points When You Sign Up For The US Airways Mastercard From Barclays
In this case though, since reader RB has a specific route in mind it will be easy to check what the redemption options are like on US Air/AA. It’s always preferable to know where you want to travel or where you want to stay before you apply for a card.
Getting to North Carolina
Reader RB let me know that her three main options are US Air, AA and Delta. Now right off the bat, we can pretty much eliminate Delta. In the travel world, there’s a reason why their points are affectionately referred to as ‘Sky Pesos’. I’ve only redeemed points once for travel on Delta and it was only because I had 15,000 miles sitting in my account forever that I wanted to get rid of.
US Air and AA are merging right now so you should be able to book either airline with either company’s points but first you need to check for availability. US Airways operates a direct flight from Los Angeles to Raleigh-Durham but you can also book this exact same flight through American Airlines. Here’s what I found:
I did a quick search for flights and there was a ton of travel reward availability, all days of the week and all months of the year. You can do the same thing too as long as you have a frequent flyer account with US Airways. You don’t even need to have enough points to actually book the flight to search either.
I already have this card and one of the cool benefits is that you get a 5,000 point discount on flights. So if you’re approved for the card, it would only cost 20,000 points + $36.20 (instead of 25,000 points). Plus you get your first checked bag free so there aren’t any additional fees you’ll have to worry about.
If you were to pay cash for this exact flight it would cost you $480 so you’re getting a great redemption value of 2.4 cents per point. Normally, I’m happy with anything in the 1.5-2 cent range so this is a great redemption deal!
Alternatively if you were to book using AA points, it would cost you 25,000 points + $11.20 in fees. That’s still a pretty good redemption rate considering the flight costs $538.20. You can also see that it’s actually the same exact flight too but it’s operated by US Airways.
The US Airways Barclay Card
In this scenario, I think the best card for reader RB is the Barclays US Airways Mastercard. It comes with a 40,000 point sign-up bonus which will be good enough for two round-trips from LAX to North Carolina. Even after the $89 annual fee, that’s close to $1,000 of tax free travel rewards – a great deal in my book. She’ll also get to take advantage of the 5,000 point discount and the first checked bag free with this card.
Now Barclays is known to be one of the stricter companies when it comes to new card applications but since RB already has an established line of credit, she probably has a pretty high credit score. As a student, it’s tough to get approved for cards because you have no income but there are certain companies that allow you to put your household income and if you’re married you can usually put your spouse’s income too. And if you’re denied, always make sure to call the reconsideration line. Here are some tips for calling.
If the Barclays card doesn’t work out for whatever reason, the next best bet is probably one of the Citi American Airlines cards. It’s much easier to get approved with these cards and they usually offer a 30-50k offer although I’d recommend holding out for a 50k offer.
If you’d like to apply for the Barclay US Airways Card please use our referral link. You’ll get 40,000 points and we’ll get a small commission that helps support the site.
Readers, what do you think about reader RB’s situation and what would you recommend? Isn’t a sign-up bonus the perfect solution to this problem?
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-Harry @ PF Pro