Airline card miles versus Capitol One, Barclay's, etc. miles

Discussion in 'General Discussion | Credit Cards' started by disambiguous1, Oct 15, 2013.  |  Print Topic

  1. disambiguous1

    disambiguous1 Silver Member

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    I'm a newbie to mileage/rewards cards, etc. In fact most of the flying I've done was when I hitched rides with friends who owned planes and I pitched in for gas, so I've never worried about airline points and miles before.

    Last year I took a trip to Italy with my daughter, and I've got a little under 10,000 miles with United. They expire at the end of November. I could get a United Visa card, and if I do the miles won't expire.

    In the spring of 2015 when my daughter graduates, my wife wants to take her on a trip to the ancestral home in Ireland. We spend scads of money now, between credit union Visa and Amex and etc., but I don't have any rewards programs in place. I'm considering getting either the United Visa or the Capitol One, or the Barclay's Card, to earn credits toward that trip.

    My question is, the "generic" cards say you earn so many miles for this and that and there are no blackout dates, but how do their miles compare to the credit cards from the airlines? IOW, if I get 25,000 miles on the United card, is it worth more than the 25,000 miles on the Capitol One card? Or the same? Or does the comparison vary?

    AND-- if I am worried about bumping into credit limits and get several cards, like an Amex to go along with whatever Visa I choose, is it possible to combine the mileage credits? And can airline credit card miles be combined with "generic" travel rewards card miles? What problems would I run into with this?

    Many thanks for all info, and suggestions welcome. -DA1
     
  2. moongoddess

    moongoddess Silver Member

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    Welcome to MilePoint!

    "My question is, the "generic" cards say you earn so many miles for this and that and there are no blackout dates, but how do their miles compare to the credit cards from the airlines?"

    Chalk and cheese. Most of the "generic" cards are really just cash-back cards in disguise, with the cash back being confined to use in booking airline tickets. That's fine if you want to travel domestically in economy class, as domestic tickets are fairly cheap. That is not true of international tickets, and you'll need a hellacious number of Capital One points to book even one economy class trans-Atlantic ticket (never mind the three you're looking for).

    Airline frequent flyer miles work differently, depending on the particular airline program - but all the programs generally offer better values for the number of points used as the trips become longer and the class of service becomes higher. For instance, on American Airlines (the program I am most familiar with), an off-peak MileSAAver one-way economy class ticket to Europe costs 20,000 points, a one way high season economy ticket costs 30,000 points, and one way business class is 50,000 points. So you can get to Europe in a higher service class AND using fewer points than you'd need for a ticket earned with one of the "generic" travel cards. Of course, there's a catch: the least expensive awards are capacity-controlled (meaning you'd have to plan your trip around when you could get flights). You can fly on any date if you select a more expensive award, but it would cost you double the points. And airline frequent flyer points generally can't be combined with points from "generic" cards, although there are a few exceptions: some Chase cards offer Ultimate Rewards points that can be transferred to United Airlines and British Airways (as well as several other airlines), and American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints can transfer to many different airlines frequent flyer programs.

    FYI, you don't have to get the United VISA card to keep your miles from expiring - any activity on the account will do that.. So you could use the UA shopping portal or dining club, or just buy a few miles, to keep your current miles from expiring. But if you want to accumulate United miles, obtaining the United VISA together with the Chase Sapphire Preferred VISA, Chase Freedom, and (if you can qualify for a business card), Chase Ink Plus or Ink Bold is a great way to get the points you need. Both you and your wife should sign up for the cards, as this will double both your bonuses and your earning power. Be sure you can meet the minimum spend for each card, so you don't lose out on the signup bonuses!

    In addition to United, you might also consider British Airways for your Ireland trip, if you're willing to fly out of Boston. Redeeming British Airways Avios points on Aer Lingus from Boston to Dublin requires only 25,000 Avios points for an economy class round-trip ticket, which is a true bargin. The Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Freedom cards can be used to earn Avios points, as can the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card. And British Airways has a VISA card currently offering a 50,000 point bonus. Again, you'd probably want one of each of these cards for both you and your wife, and you'd need to be sure you could meet the minimum spend in order to get the Sapphire Preferred and BA VISA signup bonuses, but you'd be able to rack up enough Avios points to get the three of you from Boston to Ireland pretty quickly.

    Hope this helps! No doubt others who are more experienced will also soon be giving you advice.
     
  3. moongoddess

    moongoddess Silver Member

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    Oh, one thing I forgot to mention: to use the Chase Freedom to earn airline frequent flyer miles, you MUST have either a Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Plus, or Chase Ink Bold card as well. Chase Freedom points can't be transferred to an airline - but they CAN be transferred to the Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus/Bold card accounts, and from there to an airline. It's a two-step transfer process to move Freedom points to frequent flyer programs. So don't get the Freedom card by itself, or it will be useless for your purpose!
     
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  4. disambiguous1

    disambiguous1 Silver Member

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    Moongoddess-- Wow, such great information and so very quick! You must be an outstanding typist, as well as an expert in rewards points. Many thanks for the great info.

    We are located in the DC area, so we can fly out of Dulles or BWI for international flights and Reagan for domestic if required. Boston would be a bit of a trek, so would not be convenient.

    I'm juggling enough financial stuff that I think the simpler I keep this the better, so the Chase system looks a little intimidating right now. From the sign-up bonuses it looks like the best deal would be to get separate accounts for myself and my wife on the UA card, and an extra card for my oldest daughter, who is 18, on one of our accounts. Only my wife and my youngest would be going to Ireland, so would only need two seats from here to there. Thanks again, and any more suggestions would still be welcome. -DA1
     
  5. moongoddess

    moongoddess Silver Member

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    And another thing I forgot to mention is that there is a significant difference between cheap Saver awards and double-points Standard awards (besides the points needed). Airline frequent flyer miles can generally be used to book a Saver award on any partner airline. Standard awards, on the other hand, can only be booked on the airline that's issuing the frequent flyer miles; they CANNOT be booked on partner airlines.

    Why does that matter? Well, the one airline you don't want to book using British Airways Avios points is (wait for it,,,) British Airways! BA is notorious for charging ridiculously high fees on their frequent flyer tickets ($700 or more - half the cost of a round-trip economy class ticket!). You want to use Avios points to book flights on other partner airlines like Aer Lingus, Iberia, or American Airlines. But those bookings will have to be Saver awards, which have blackout dates. So only collect Avios points if you can be extremely flexible on your flight dates. If you can't be very flexible, go for United points instead. United doesn't charge ridiculous fees, so if you had to, you could pay double the miles to get tickets on the dates which work for you if you couldn't find any Saver awards that would work out.
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2013
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  6. disambiguous1

    disambiguous1 Silver Member

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    Oh, one other thing. I made the extremely educational decision to book all my Italian hotels and in-country travel (via train) myself last year, and from that experience I realize that if you don't have your first choice of accommodations booked by January for June travel, you're going to be scrambling to find good hotel rooms. For us, not getting a first choice of airline travel dates on a cheap ticket won't be a big deal, as long as those dates can be reserved far enough in advance. So if we use the "cheap" 30,000-point tickets, can we get the solid seat reservations far enough in advance (November or December) to reserve our hotel dates for June or July?

    That way I might have enough points to sneak off to Italy again after they get back!
     
  7. moongoddess

    moongoddess Silver Member

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    Don't be intimidated by the Chase cards! Transferring points from a Sapphire Preferred account or Ink account to United Airlines is a one-step process, and the transfer is usually instantaneous. It's only the Chase Freedom which is a bit cumbersome.

    The benefit of the Chase cards (besides the very generous signup bonuses on the Sapphire Preferred and Ink cards) is that they offer more than 1 point per dollar in several spending categories, which allows you to amplify your rate of earning miles significantly. Sapphire Preferred offers 2x points on dining and travel (as well as charging no fees for foreign transactions, which is nice). The Ink cards offer 5x on office supply and telecommunications spending. Chase Freedom has categories offering 5x points which change quarterly (right now, those categories are Amazon.com and department stores, in the past they've included gas stations, drugstores, and restaurants). The United VISA, in contrast, only offers 2x points when you purchase a United airlines ticket; for everything else you get only 1 point per dollar spent. 5x beats 1x, so you'll probably want to get the Chase cards eventually. But there's certainly nothing wrong with starting with the UA VISA!
     
  8. moongoddess

    moongoddess Silver Member

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    As for booking hotels - generally you want to start looking for Saver frequent flier tickets about 330 days in advance. So yes, you should have enough time to get the hotels booked.
     
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  9. disambiguous1

    disambiguous1 Silver Member

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    I cannot thank you enough for all this great info.
     
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  10. moongoddess

    moongoddess Silver Member

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    You're welcome! I think you're going to find this whole points/miles game very addictive. I certainly have!
     
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  11. traveltoomuch

    traveltoomuch Silver Member

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    Using airline miles can be tricky -- limited seat availability (especially if you want people on the same planes), fees (BA's fuel surcharges, phone booking fees, etc.), and the like could make it a frustrating experience. Similarly, you typically can't combine points from multiple accounts, so even if both you and your wife got enough miles for one ticket each, the travellers would be on separate records, which is less than ideal.

    Unless you're hoping to get premium seats -- first or business class -- I'm tempted to suggest sticking to pure cash back cards and then buying your tickets with cash. The FIA Fidelity Amex offers a flat 2% on everything for no annual fee. The downside to that is missing out on the very generous sign-up bonuses some of the miles and points cards offer.

    If you're committed to using miles or points, perhaps the chase sapphire preferred card (+ Freedom) is a good way to go? Those points transfer to UA. You could transfer 1000 soon to keep your account active but otherwise hold off until it's time to book the award tickets.
     
  12. traveltoomuch

    traveltoomuch Silver Member

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    Many of us would fly to/from Boston. Paid tickets IAD-BOS and DCA-BOS are inexpensive. That makes it no more of a trek than any other layover city, though you will likely need to switch terminals and clear security again at Logan, both ways. The idea of using Avios on Air Lingus from Boston is a stellar one. You can transfer Chase UR points to BA...
     
  13. moongoddess

    moongoddess Silver Member

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    One advantage of the Chase Ultimate Rewards card is that Chase currently allows transfer of UR points between spouses or domestic partners. So the OP and his wife could each have a CSP, Chase Freedom, and possibly Chase Ink Plus/Ink Bold card and use them to earn separate signup bonuses and accruing separate spend, but later pool the UR points to one account and transfer them to a single UA ff account., so the tickets could be purchased from one account at the same time, thus sharing a single record locator and ticketing number.
     
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  14. moongoddess

    moongoddess Silver Member

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    For safety's sake, though, I'd recommend flying to Boston the day before the international flight is scheduled to depart if the Washington DC-Boston leg is booked as a separate ticket (which it would have to be for the BA Avios round-trip BOS to DUB for 25,000 miles trick to work). That way if something goes wrong with the DC-Boston flight, you have time to resolve the problem and are less likely to miss the much more expensive and less frequent international flight. Remember, when flying on two separate tickets if you miss flight #2 because of an issue with flight #1 it's YOUR problem, not the airlines'! So toss in a separate inexpensive Priceline hotel room (and with luck, a free day of sightseeing in Boston) when figuring the cost of that option. I'd certainly do it, but the OP may be more risk-adverse than I am.
     
  15. traveltoomuch

    traveltoomuch Silver Member

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    Good point. On the other hand, Boston can be a terribly expensive city for hotels. Maybe plan on a morning or mid-day flight to Boston, giving yourself 6+ hours before the redeye leaves? With the frequency of the IAD-BOS and DCA-BOS flights, I'd risk that.
     

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