Part 2 of 3 part series. Part 1 | Part 3

Credit Cards for Fancy Travel

I used to be TOTALLY against paying yearly fees for credit cards, but that was before I actually used credit card points to my advantage. The two main types of points are the Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards systems. I use a total of three different cards that work in these ecosystems: American Express Platinum, American Express Gold, Chase Sapphire Reserve. Here’s a quick run over of why:

American Express Platinum

The heftiest of all membership fees ($550/year) BUT I find the advantages to be well worth the price. There are a ton of benefits, but these are the ones I use the most:

  • I have access to all Delta Sky Clubs in airports (comes in handy when you want food and a not-terrible bathroom). The caveat is that you have to be flying Delta, but as I said earlier, this is usually one of the airlines we fly the most.
  • Access to Priority Pass lounges and clubs in airports when I can’t get into Sky Club
  • Access to most Centurion lounges in airports (I’ve heard there are a few that are black card only, but haven’t run across those). Mr. actually ended up using his Platinum to access the Centurion lounge at the Barclays Center!
  • a $200 credit to the airline of my choice for incidentals (though, to be totally transparent, I rarely get to use this, so sometimes I just use it to buy gift cards)
  • Membership into their Fine Resorts and Hotels (which now can be paid for with Membership Rewards points) which picks up a lot of slack from the previously-awesome Marriott Gold Elite status. We get breakfast daily and occasional special deals like $100 credit to the hotel (spa treatments!) and a free night
  • Automatically enrolled in Marriott’s “Gold Elite” status, which gets me room upgrades and late checkout
  • 5x Membership Rewards points when booking travel with my Platinum card
  • $10/month credit for Uber (especially great getting to and from airports AND Uber partnered with Delta, so I get SkyMiles on each trip)
  • No foreign transaction fees, so I can use this out of the country and not get hit with conversion fees


American Express Gold

This one has a $250 fee, and I was thinking of closing it for a while, but I think I’ll keep it if for only the ability to earn crazy amounts of Membership Rewards points through normal spending. These are the benefits I use, though there are way more:

  • 4x points on groceries and restaurants (HUGE)
  • $10/month credit to GrubHub
  • $10/month credit to Cheesecake Factory
  • I seem to get a rebate back on food purchases, too, though I never noticed this in my agreements. But you know, it’s nice to see that if I hit up a vending machine or Starbucks, I get some moolah back.
  • Another $100 credit to an airline
  • No foreign transaction fees


Chase Sapphire Reserve

This one has a $450 yearly fee but is my knight in shining armor when it comes to perks.

  • $300 yearly travel credit, with very few questions asked. We have our EasyPass linked up to this card, so most of our tolls are taken care of.
  • 3x points on restaurants
  • Travel insurance on travel booked through them (oh, how I wish Amex did this)
  • Access to Priority Pass lounges (yes, we’ve ended up with 2 memberships to this)
  • Primary insurance for car rentals, so I never have to use the rental car company’s sometimes-shitty system.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • They also have a bonus points system when you book travel through their portal, though I rarely do it since it’s through Expedia (and that means very rarely are points accrued).


In Addition

I also hold a Marriott Bonvoy Business card (was formerly the SPG business American Express). I almost dropped this card because of the status perks downgrades and the increased yearly fee ($95 > $120), but holding this card gets us 1 free night at Category 5 and below Marriott properties + 15-night credits towards Platinum status. This means we need to stay 35 nights at a Marriott to achieve Platinum, rather than 50. At first, I balked at that because who is staying at hotels a month a year? Now, it’s us…we are starting to become those people.

I also have a United Mileage Explorer card from Chase, but I think I’ll probably drop that as we just end up moving credit card points over to them.

For my business, I have a Chase Ink Preferred card which I also use to accumulate points. The perks to this card make it my primary go-to for business purchases:

  • Insurance for my cell phone, as long as I pay my bill with the card
  • 3x points on shipping purchases (I usually drop ~$800 a month on shipping so this comes in hands)


Cards I’ve had but gotten rid of:

Delta Platinum

I got it for the companion certificate that gets doled out once a year, but there are so many restrictions that it ended up being less of a value than anticipated. I don’t care about the checked bag waiver as I either use that

United Business Card

Got this for the sign-up bonus, then downgraded it. Don’t need to have all of the United cards, all the time.


Part 3: Using credit card points for free travel