Best Credit Cards

A Side-By-Side Comparison of Flexible Points Programs When it Comes to Family Travel. Part Deux.

  1. Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards
  2. SPG and Citi Thank You Program

As you’ve probably guessed, this a second installment of my analysis of all 4 flexible points programs and how they relate to a middle-class family. Without further ado:

SPG

Best credit card combination: Amex Starwood Preferred Guest (and that’s it!)

Pros:

1) Some fantastic hotel redemptions, especially when it comes to Category 1 and 2 properties. Those cost 2,000 and 3,000 points on weekends. See my post for just a  few examples.

2) Huge partner list. It’s the only program that partners with AAdvantage. For those who are hub-captive, this is important since you get access to standard level awards. After December 8th, when Chase loses Amtrak transfer option,  that loyalty program will also be added to SPG monopoly list.

3) When it comes to most (not all) airline programs, you get 5,000 mile bonus if you transfer 20,000 miles at one time.

4) Amex SPG card gives you access to special savings program in Amex profile. So, with some effort, you should be able to offset the annual fee if you choose to renew it.

5) Amex SPG no longer has foreign transaction fees, and comes with various perks like Boingo passes. Under the right circumstances, those could come in handy. Business version of Amex SPG comes with complimentary Sheraton Club access. Free food!!! Also, since it’s an Amex, you get superior warranty and purchase protection.

6) You don’t have to have Amex SPG card open in order to keep your points in a state of flexibility. As long as your account has some sort of activity within 12 months, your stash will be safe. You can transfer few points to your spouse (for free) as long as you share the same mailing address.

7) Occasional transfer bonuses, specifically AAdvantage.

8) Possibility to redeem points for valuable gift cards like Amazon at a somewhat favorable rate. There is also a way to redeem for exclusive access to special SPG-sponsored events.

Cons:

1) Transfers to airlines are not instant. This is a huge factor for a family that has very little flexibility and needs to find 4 award seats on one flight. Sure, you can put your AAdvantage award on hold for 5 days, and the transfer should go through in time. But it’s not a guarantee. When it comes to foreign programs, the transfer can take up to 3 weeks. I recommend you do it only if you are super flexible with your plans.

2) Terrible earning rate. You get 1 SPG point on all purchases, and there are no bonus categories. That’s  pathetic! See my post for more on this topic If you are mostly looking to collect SPG points for mileage transfers and happen to be a low spender, look elsewhere.

3) The annual fee was recently  increased from $65 to $95. Sure, it’s no big deal for high spenders. Low spenders should absolutely pay attention. Of course, some benefits were added to justify it. See my post Is Amex SPG still worth renewing?

4) Small sign-up bonus on Amex SPG compared to other offers on the market, especially if you  plan to transfer points to miles. The offer is usually increased to 30K points in the summer, but that amount isn’t going to do a  whole lot for a family of four when it comes to airline redemptions. One possible exception: Avios program, but once again, the transfer may take up to 3 weeks.

5) One bonus/per lifetime rule on Amex SPG. You better think twice before you decide to part with your precious stash. There ain’t no other way to earn SPG points other than “butt in bed” in their hotels. And who wants to do that when IHG program is practically throwing points at you via various promos?

Citi Thank You Program

Best credit card combination: Citi Thank You Premier for long-term spending, Citi Prestige for sign-up bonus

Pros:

1) Ability to transfer points to Air France (for redemptions on Delta), Singapore (for redemptions on United) and Qantas (flights on American). That covers all three major airlines in USA.

2) If you have Citi Thank You Premier, you can get 1.25 cents towards any travel redemption. Citi Prestige will let you get 1.6 cents towards American and codeshare flights. You can combine points between the accounts.

3) Decent sign-up bonuses on all Citi Thank You points- earning credit cards. Check my Best Credit Card Deals for Family page to read more on Citi Prestige and Citi Thank You Premier card. Citi Thank You Preferred currently comes with 20K points bonus.

4) Bonus categories could be lucrative for everyday spending. Citi Thank You Premier earns 3 points per dollar on travel purchases including gas, and 2 points on dining. I can’t imagine many families would benefit from this card more than they would from Amex Everyday Preferred or Sam’s Club MasterCard, but I’m sure they exist.

I see Premier card mostly as a competitor to Chase Sapphire Preferred. And honestly, it just might beat CSP for some. Don’t laugh! Chase is stingy with giving retention points for CSP, but with Citi, you are almost guaranteed to get some sort of a “carrot” to convince you to renew Premier. For those who are mostly after domestic Delta and United flights redemptions, Air France and Singapore programs will do the trick.

5) Occasional transfer bonuses.

Cons:

1) Where to begin? It’s Citi, enough said. General ineptitude rivals that of IHG. Read about my transfer to Flying Blue to see what I’m talking about. Additionally, this program is in its infancy, so expect glitches galore.

2) Transfers are not instant even if everything goes without a hitch.

3) An annual fee of $95 on Premier, steep for low spenders. Citi Prestige is worth getting for sign-up bonus, but I can’t imagine a regular family who would benefit from renewing it.

4) No savings program similar to Amex.

5) No American frequent flyer programs represented so far. That means no access to standard level awards.

6) If you cancel a card, you have 30 days to redeem your points. No way to save them even if you transfer them to your spouse.

Bottom line

As I’ve mentioned in my first installment, neither program IMO measures up to Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards. The biggest reason? Mileage transfers are not instant. To me, it’s a deal breaker, especially when you accumulate points via everyday spending. That said, it’s definitely worth getting all of these cards for sign-up bonus alone. Check CardMatch tool to see if you can get a 30K offer on Amex EveryDay Preferred. You may be able to access this offer on Amex website by opening the link in incognito mode. Check this post on DoC

If you are choosing a program for your everyday spending, it’s important to compare apples to apples. First, consider your needs. Do you even need to accumulate flexible points? Would cash back be  a better fit for your situation? Dollars can be used to pay for travel too!

You don’t have to do what miles and points bloggers are telling you to do. For many “cash” is a four-letter word. I respectfully disagree. There are several lucrative cash back cards you can look into, so do your own math. Don’t be afraid to be a contrarian. Consider the categories where you spend the most, then try to find  a perfect match. I’ve put together a list of possible 2-card combinations for family here

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

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