Points for Business Travelers: Credit Cards

February 15, 2013

Points for Business Travelers is a new weekly series aimed at helping business travelers maximize miles and points without a lot of effort. Have a suggestion or question? Email roadwarriorette @ gmail.com.

It’s easy for business travelers to get lots of points without doing much extra work. So far we’ve talked about setting goals and loyalty programs. This week the topic is credit cards.

Credit Cards

There are about one million credit cards available, all with different hooks. Cash back, bonus points, airline affiliations, charitable giving, and more. If you are looking for the easiest, fastest way to get points, the answer is credit card bonuses.

(Note: Before you start applying for credit cards, check your credit score and credit report. If you plan to utilize credit card sign-up bonuses as part of your strategy, make sure your report is accurate and your score is as high as it can be.)

The strategy. I’m not going to tell you which card to get—there are tons of blogs that do that already. What I will say is that you need to be strategic about it and look for the card that aligns with your goals. For example, if you are saving up points for an international first class trip, the Southwest Chase card is not for you (since Southwest does not fly internationally). But if you want the Companion Pass, it’s a great card! If most of your travel is in the car, you want a card that gives bonus points for gas. If you have lots of airline points, you may want to diversify—look into a card tied to a hotel, or get a non-specific card like the Chase Sapphire.

Sign up bonuses. Bonuses are the best way to easily get lots of points very quickly. They almost always have corresponding spend requirements, so watch those carefully. (I didn’t realize there was a minimum spend for my first reward card, and so didn’t get the bonus. So it does happen!) However, even if a spend sounds like a lot ($2k or $3k in a few months), it can be attainable if you plan for it. We have transferred all of our spending to credit cards—bills, groceries, gas, etc., so that we can maximize the number of points we get. With the Southwest Chase cards we had to spend $4k in 3 months, which we easily did.

Bonuses change often, and there are usually better ones offered than what is on the credit card website. For example, if you go directly to the Chase Southwest website the bonus is 25k miles with a $1k spend in three months. If you use the link on Mommy Points’ website the bonus is currently 50k with $2k spend in three months. So don’t just settle for the first offer you see—look around to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Or the most points for your spend. Or whatever.

Bonus points on certain purchases. Another great way to get points with credit cards is to take advantage of bonus points per purchase. For example, many travel-focused cards give 2x points for flights, car rentals, or dining. Some business cards give bonuses for office supply stores, cell phone payments, and internet. So make sure you know where your cards offer bonuses and use them accordingly.

Use it for everything. I mentioned above that the Home Warrior and I have transferred all of our daily spending from debit cards to credit cards. We started this about a year and a half ago, and it has really helped rack up the points. We pay all of our bills (except mortgage), buy groceries and gas, and give money to charities on our cards. Of course, as business travelers we are in a unique position to really take advantage of points credit cards. I usually spend thousands of dollars every month on business travel. I get reimbursed for the money spent, but get to keep the points! We pay off our balance every month so we don’t accrue any interest.

Other perks. There are plenty of non-point perks to credit cards as well. Many offer lounge access, free checked bags, priority boarding, and other non-travel related items.

A few things to keep in mind. Many rewards cards have an annual fee, so make sure to account for that. Also, remember that every time you apply for a credit card it can ding your credit, so make sure that you space your applications out. (I haven’t gotten into credit card churning yet, but certainly there are plenty of bloggers who can tell you how to do it.) And finally, if you don’t pay off your balance every month there will be interest charges, which are no fun.

A note on the Companion Pass. I’ve gotten several emails asking me exactly how I got it, so I wanted to spell it out. I signed up for both the personal and business Chase Southwest card in November. Each one had a 50k point bonus with $2k spend in three months. Between the two card bonuses and what we spent in January, I got 105,000 points. I also took one Southwest flight in January, which gave me 2,000 points. A shopping portal purchase got me 1,000 points, and a points transfer from Marriott got me the last 3,000 points I needed. Because the CP is good for the year that you earn it and the following calendar year, we were very careful not to complete our $2k spend requirement until January, to make sure the sign-up bonus credited in 2013.  Now we have it until the end of 2014!

Readers, any other credit-card related advice for newbies?

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