|by Jason Steele|
A reader asks:
I am trying to decide which card to get for me and my wife. we only fly to California once or twice a year, but it would be nice to have those tickets paid for.
We always fly out of DFW or DAL and we use the cheapest airline possible. The price always varies greatly but we tend to fly during spring break or holidays because we are both students. We typically pay anywhere from $350-600 per person, and we generally check two bags per person. I an average month, we would spend anywhere from $1500-4000.
I know there are a lot of different airline credit cards and that each one has its perks. With this in mind, which cards would you recommend with the best per annual fee, points earned, miles earned per miles flown, and per point, dollar value?
Great Question. You don’t have to be a globe trotting jet setter to get real value out of a frequent flier program and an affiliated credit card. Flying to California from the Dallas area with two people twice a year is costing you around $2,000, and that is real money, especially for a student.
First, you might want to consider if you are willing to fly to California with a stop, or if time is such an issue, you are only willing to consider non-stop flights. Due to a peculiar piece of legislation called the Wright Amendment, you cannot fly non-stop on Southwest Airlines from Dallas (Love Field) to California, at least not until it is scheduled for repeal in 2014. So if you are devoted to a non-stop flight, you will find plenty of options on American Airlines, and a few flights to LAX and SFO on United.
Of the two, American is, by far your better bet than United. Since you are only spending a modest amount each year, your sign up bonus will be key to your value. Currently, there are offers out there for American Airlines credit cards from Citi with sign up bonuses of up to 75,000. Just one of those cards will earn you enough miles for three round trip flights, albeit with restricted availability. For 50,000 miles, you could get an unrestricted award on American. Like most airline credit cards, you will earn 1 mile per dollar spent, and you are eligible for a standard, domestic award for 25,000. In my experience, American has better award availability than other major airlines like Delta, United, Continental and US Airways.
The cards have an annual fee of $85, but it is waived the first year. Many people just cancel after a year if their bank won’t waive the annual fee.
If you are willing to consider a flight with stop, Southwest Airlines offers services to all major California airports from Dallas Love field (DAL). Many of these popular flights out of Love field have just a brief stop to comply with law, and no change of plane, so they add a very minimal time your trip and no risk of a mis-connection. Southwest may be particularly well suited to your needs as they let you check two bags each for no cost.
Southwest currently has an unbeatable offer for a free round trip plus up to $500 in Southwest Gift cards. I am currently enrolled in this program where I have to spend $5,000 in the first three months. That is an unbeatable value as sign-up offers go. Furthermore, under the new Rapid Rewards program that goes into effect on March 1st, you will essentially earn 1.67 cents, as a credit to a flight on Southwest, per dollar spent on their Chase credit card. The Chase card has a $59 annual fee, but again, it is waived after the first year.
If it wasn’t for the great sign up bonuses, you would be best off getting a Capitol One Venture card. It offers a relatively meager sign up bonus, 10,000 miles once you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months, worth $100. It does give you 2 cents per dollar spent as a credit towards any travel expense. You can pick the best fares on the best airlines, and even earn frequent flier credit when you fly. The Venture card has a $59 annual fee that is waived the first year.
Your best bet seems to be to get as large a sign up bonus as possible, either from Southwest, American, or both. Your spending will help you get further, but it is the initial bonus that will earn you almost $1,000 in free travel.