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We love hearing from new readers who are curious about this whole miles and points travel thing! You may have found our blog by searching for ways to travel for free, or you heard about us from a friend who recommended this site. Maybe you have a New Year’s Resolution to travel more in 2017. However you got here, welcome!
This post is geared for newbies who are interested in dipping their toes into the miles and points travel world with a new credit card. For our more experienced readers, please keep reading, as we would love your input at the end!
Back in November, I wrote about two fantastic cards that are great choices for first-timers: Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) and Barclaycard Arrival Plus. While I still think those two cards are great choices, I’ve received feedback from several people that they don’t want to pay an annual fee for a credit card.
Without a doubt, the CSR is the best travel credit card available right now if you are willing to fork out the annual fee. Just look at what you can do with 100k points! (Update: the bonus on the CSR is dropping from 100k to 50k as of 1/12/17. See this post for more details.)
But what if you’re not comfortable paying a high annual fee for a credit card, and not even sure you should risk starting this new miles and points hobby? Are you out of luck? No way!
I’m so knee-deep in this miles and points hobby that I sometimes forget how daunting it is to get started in the first place, let alone apply for a card with a high annual fee to start. Even some experienced miles and points hobbyists object to paying a fee this high. I get it.
With that in mind, CSR’s older sister, Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP), is a solid choice for newbies.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa
Update: The standard bonus on CSP is now 60,000 bonus points, the annual fee is not waived.
Bonus: Spend $4000 in the first three months, get 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards points.
Additional 5000 points for adding an authorized user who makes a purchase within the first three months. Note: Additional bonus for adding authorized user is no longer available. (Note: If you are a Chase Private Client (CPC) with over $250,000 in deposits, check with your private banker to see if you are targeted for a higher bonus).
Annual fee: $0 the first year, then $95 for subsequent years
Points earning: 2X points on travel and dining purchases, 1X points on all other purchases
Total points potential after meeting minimum spend: 54,000 points (or more, if your purchases fall in travel or dining categories)
Spending $4000 in the first three months is about $1333 per month, which many families probably spend on groceries, gas and activities. Read our Beginner’s Guide before starting.
For newbies just starting out in this hobby, it’s a good idea to apply for a Chase card first. Why? Chase is stricter than other banks about the amount of credit cards you can have in order to be approved for a new card. If you have opened five or more new credit cards within the last 24 months, Chase will deny you for most new credit cards (Chase’s 5/24 rule).
Ultimate Rewards points are extremely flexible. Redemption options include:
- Cash back at 1 cent per point (59,000 points = $590)
- Hotel and airline travel bookings through the Chase travel portal at 1.25 cents per point (59,000 points = $737.50 in travel)
- 1:1 point transfers to several airline and hotel programs. My favorite transfer partners are Southwest Airlines, British Airways and Hyatt. You can get a lot more value from your points through these transfer partners, as you will see below.
If you need inspiration on how to spend your points, I’ve got several ideas for a vacation in June!
Trip Idea #1: Ultimate Texas Road Trip
This trip option involves transferring 59,000 Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt. If you don’t already have a Hyatt Gold Passport account, you can create one online for free.
Drive to Corpus Christi and stay for three nights at the Hyatt Place Corpus Christi. It costs 8000 Hyatt points per night, for a total of 24,000 points for a 3-night stay (cash price for Hyatt Gold Passport members at the end of June is $457.01). Rooms fit up to six people, and breakfast is included.
Corpus Christi has some of the best beaches in Texas. Check out the Padre Island National Seashore, Mustang Island, Port Aransas or these other beaches. You can also chill out at the new Schlitterbahn Waterpark.
Next, drive to San Antonio for three nights and stay at the Hyatt Place San Antonio Airport/Quarry Market. One room fits up to six people with a free breakfast. The cost is 5000 points per night for a total of 15,000 points. Cash price for the end of June is $489.22.
One night costs 20,000 Hyatt points for a room with two queen beds. The cash price without using points is $577.86. In my experience, the hotel is flexible with extra children sharing the room when you request a rollaway or a palate of sheets/blankets.
There is tons to do at this resort! Horseback riding, zip lining, spa, adults-only pool, lazy river, beach pool, bike riding, movies on the lawn, s’mores, etc.
Grand total: 59,000 Ultimate Rewards points converted to Hyatt points, 7 nights of free lodging, 6 free breakfasts, cash equivalent of $1524.09. Not bad for one new credit card, right?
Trip Idea #2: Fly to Universal Orlando Resort in Florida
For this trip, you will need to transfer points to Southwest and Hyatt. If you don’t already have a Southwest Rapids Rewards account or Hyatt Gold Passport account, you can create them online for free.
Southwest Airlines has some great deals on both cash and points. I find the best deals about ~3 months before departure.
Since we are more than 3 months away from summer, I’m going to use April fares as an example. One-way tickets are as low as $48, although I’ve seen them lower at $36 each way. You won’t see these rock-bottom fares during peak times, but I still see low fares during the summer months.
Let’s assume we can find fares for $78 each way in June. The flights cost 4269 Rapid Rewards points (+ $5.60 tax) per ticket. Round-trip tickets for a family of four would require 34,152 points + $44.80 in tax. The cash price without points is $624.
Across the street from Universal Studios is the Hyatt Place Orlando/Universal. It costs 8000 Hyatt points per night for a room that fits up to six people. The hotel has free breakfast, and you can save money by taking the hotel’s free shuttle to Universal instead of paying for parking at the park.
Three nights at this hotel cost 24,000 points, so you are saving $484.82 (the hotel’s cash price) at the end of June.
My older kids are dying to see the Harry Potter stuff at Universal, so this trip is definitely in our future!
Grand total: 58,152 Ultimate Rewards points converted to Southwest and Hyatt, 4 round-trip plane tickets from Dallas to Orlando, 3 nights at the Hyatt Place across from Universal Studios. Cash price without points is $1108.82. And all for just opening one new credit card with no annual fee the first year!
There are tons of free travel opportunities with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. I built those two sample trips from my hometown, but these points can be used all over the world!
Keep in mind that points only cover hotel and/or airfare in my sample trips. Food, car rental and especially entertainment costs can really add up! However, free hotel and airfare take a big chunk out of vacation expenses.
If this is your first new credit card in a while, start slowly. Make sure you can meet the minimum spending that triggers the sign-up bonus comfortably before applying for your next credit card.
If you are new to this blog, please note that the writers make a commission when readers apply for credit cards through our affiliate links (see this post for more information). We appreciate your support! Also, we welcome your questions about everything miles and points related. You can comment on any post, or ask a question here.
For our experienced readers: Please share in the comment the first card you used for a miles and points trip, and which card you would get first if you could do it all over again.
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.