Why the Chase Sapphire Preferred Is the Best Starter Travel Rewards Credit Card

Why the Chase Sapphire Preferred Is the Best Starter Travel Rewards Credit Card

BY Shep McAllister ON
READ IN 5 MIN

Travel rewards credit cards are confusing. Sure, free flights are great, but not everyone has the time or patience to take a masters-level class on airline alliances and points valuations and status tiers.

That’s what makes the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card so great: it offers solid earnings and a dead-simple travel redemption option for beginners, but also offers the flexibility of transfer partnerships for people that want to wring every bit of value they can get from their points.

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The Basics

The Chase Sapphire Preferred carries a $95 annual fee, which is fairly modest as far as travel rewards cards go. New cardholders can also get a 60,000 point welcome bonus after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. Those 60,000 points alone are worth at least $750 in travel (for reasons we’ll get to shortly), so as long as you hit your minimum spend threshold, you’ll come out well ahead of the annual fee.

When you use the card, you’ll earn 2 points per dollar on dining and travel purchases, the former including everything from dive bars and fast food to Michelin starred restaurants, and the latter encompassing everything from Taxi and Uber rides to plane tickets and hotel rooms. You’ll also get 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

It should be noted that you’d earn 3 points per dollar on the same bonus categories with the $450/year Chase Sapphire Reserve, which we’ll cover in depth in a future post.

The Points

The points you earn by spending with the Sapphire Preferred are called Chase Ultimate Rewards points, and there are a lot of different ways you can use them.

You can convert them into cash back on your statement at a rate of $.01 per point, but you shouldn’t. You can redeem them for gift cards at a similar rate, but again, you shouldn’t. No, there are only two things you should use Ultimate Rewards Points for: booking travel through the Chase Travel Portal, or transferring them to a hotel or airline partner.

Chase Travel Portal

If you’ve used Kayak, Expedia, or any other travel booking search engine, you’ll be right at home with Chase Travel. You can use its search tools to book almost any flight, hotel room, or rental car worldwide. There are a few outliers (ultra low-cost carriers like Allegiant and Spirit don’t show up, nor do Disneyland or Disney World hotels), but for the most part, this is a one-stop shop for all of your travel needs.

Best of all, when you use your points book anything through the portal, they’ll be worth 1.25 cents each, rather than the standard 1 cent, which is why that 60,000 point sign-up bonus is worth $750 in travel. And if you don’t have quite enough points to pay for a booking, you can use any combination of points and cash that you wish; the value of the points you redeem will just be subtracted from the total that gets charged to your card.

If you don't have enough points to complete a booking, or just don't want to drain your balance, you can divide Chase Travel Portal purchaes between points and cash, in any ratio you want.
If you don't have enough points to complete a booking, or just don't want to drain your balance, you can divide Chase Travel Portal purchaes between points and cash, in any ratio you want. 

If this was the only way you used your Ultimate Rewards points, you’d be getting a solid value, with no fuss. But if you’re willing and able to do a little more legwork, you can sometimes get even more value by transferring your points to a Chase transfer partner.

Transfer Partners

Chase allows you to move your Ultimate Rewards points in 1,000 point increments to any of the following airline or hotel chains’ reward programs, at a 1:1 ratio:

Airlines

  • United
  • Southwest
  • JetBlue
  • Aer Lingus
  • British Airways
  • Emirates
  • Air France/KLM
  • Iberia
  • Singapore
  • Virgin Atlantic

Hotels

  • IHG
  • Marriott
  • Hyatt

Need 5,000 more Southwest points to book a certain flight? Just send 5,000 of your Ultimate Rewards points to your Southwest Rapid Rewards account, and they’ll be available within minutes. It’s that simple.

Where it gets less simple is figuring out when it makes sense to transfer points. For example, if there’s a $200 United Airlines flight that costs 10,000 MileagePlus miles, you should transfer to United since your points would be worth $.02 each ($200/10,000 = $.02).

If, however, that same $200 flight cost 20,000 MileagePlus miles, you’d be better off using the Chase Travel Portal, since your points would be worth 1.25 cents there, vs. 1 cent if you converted them to United miles ($200/20,000 = $.01). It’s not complicated math to figure out, but it is an extra step you have to take if you want to get the most out of your points.

But transferring is where you’re going to get the most value, especially for higher end redemptions like first class seats on international flights, or private villas at the Park Hyatt Maldives (just 30,000 points per night!). Many people, myself included, love hunting down redemptions like these and squeezing every bit of value from our Ultimate Rewards points. It’s like a hobby, and you may find that you enjoy it too. And if not, the Chase travel portal is always there as a no-hassle backup option.

Why To Apply

If you’re looking for a first travel rewards credit card, the Sapphire Preferred is the best place to start your journey. Point redemptions can be as simple or as complicated as you want them to be, but you’ll get great value towards travel no matter how you use the points.

It can also serve as your beachhead for the entire Ultimate Rewards ecosystem. If you want to upgrade your card to a Sapphire Reserve later on, or add an Ink business card, or earn more points with the no-annual-fee Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited, your Ultimate Rewards balance will follow you wherever you go within the Chase family. It might not be your forever card, but it’s a great way to learn the ropes (and maybe enjoy a free vacation or two) with a low annual fee.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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