The Top Card for Beginners? Yeah, the Chase Sapphire Preferred

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I’m sure it’s happened to you at some point. A friend asks, “How do you do it?” Take all these trips to places like Hawaii, Tokyo and Osaka, Dublin, Barcelona, and more. How do you get free hotel rooms that cost hundreds of dollars a night?

“I want to travel like you do,” they say. “Where do I start?”

Chase Sapphire Preferred. You can stay at the Hyatt at the Bellevue in Philly with Chase Ultimate Rewards points

You can stay at the Hyatt at the Bellevue in Philly with Chase Ultimate Rewards points

And you have that moment where you’re thinking inside, “Well for starters, using that debit card for everything you buy isn’t helping anything.” *cough* Kierstin *cough*

You ask about their spending habits. “Do you shop online?” Definitely use a shopping portalget free miles for clicking a link.

And sign up for dining rewards while you’re at it because you never know when you’ll get some extra miles in your account – especially if you live in a mid-sized to large city.

As far as cards go… where to begin?

Part of me is tempted to say, Discover It ’cause it’s so easy to earn cashback. Or Citi ThankYou Premier because it earns 3X on all travel including gas (but the transfer partners are obscure and points take days to post). Or even Citi Prestige if I know the person books a lot of hotel rooms or buys a lot of flights on American – I can argue why the annual fee is worth it.

Getting Chase Freedom is kind of pointless with the Sapphire Preferred… so I always trace my steps back to the same place.

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Going on 5 years with this bad boy

Dammit, the best card to start with really is the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Why I recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred

Here’s what it comes down to:

  • Easy, daily bonus categories (2X points per $1 spent on travel and dining)
  • Great sign-up bonus
  • Easy to rack up points with ongoing spending
  • Excellent shopping portal (and only one of its kind – Amex, Citi, and Starwood don’t have one)
  • Useful transfer partners with instant transfers – *this is KEY*

To start, you earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months of opening your account. And the $95 annual fee is waived the 1st year. Stick with me here.

The sign-up bonus is already worth $500 in statement credits. Or $625 on travel. Or even more when you transfer to travel partners.

Chase Airline Transfer Partners

Chase Airline Transfer Partners

Chase Hotel Transfer Partners

Chase Hotel Transfer Partners

Not only that, but they have useful transfer partners:

  • 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth ~$700 toward Southwest flights
  • Lots of United award flights are easily bookable on United.com
  • Booking a Hyatt award night couldn’t be easier – just tick “Hyatt Gold Passport” to see how many points you need for a free night
  • British Airways is a good level 2
  • From there, you can learn Flying Blue and Singapore when you have a sec

Basically, this card is good for peeps who know nothing and need to have it easy. AND for those who don’t mind really geeking out and digging around in award charts.

I flew to Dublin in Business Class by transferring my points to British Airways

I flew to Dublin in Business Class by transferring my points to British Airways

Southwest, United, and British Airways and more than enough if you want to travel domestically.

Important: Don’t even bother applying for this card if you’ve opened for than 5 other cards in the previous 2 years. But if you’re a beginner, this shouldn’t be an issue – and it’s a good place to start.

That 1st transfer

My friends ask, “So I just transfer the points? And they show up on the other side?”

Ah, I remember my first award booking with points. Still so unsure and skeptical it would actually work.

Then, when I booked the flights, I felt somehow the flights weren’t “real” – that I’d be found out and have them taken away. How could that be possible? Free flights? Yeah right. Where’s the scam?

We stayed in Boston with Hyatt points - then flew back to New York on a free American Airlines flight with British Airways points - all transferred from Chase

We stayed in Boston with Hyatt points – then flew back to New York on a free American Airlines flight with British Airways points – all transferred from Chase

It wasn’t until the 3rd or 4th award trip that I started to gain confidence in booking awards.

And having instant transfers is really so nice. You transfer to United, refresh the page, they’re in the account. Same for Hyatt, British Airways, Southwest, and the whole lot.

You can even call to book the award and transfer while you have someone helping you on the other end.

If you want “points training wheels”, this is an excellent place to begin – with a lot of power left over.

Extra points for everyday spending

Most of my friends eat out too much and frequent too many bars. Sound like your friends? For the love of god, earn bonus points on it!

The travel category is very broad and includes airline tickets, hotel stays, tolls, train passes, bus fare, parking, and lots of other incidentals.

Plus you’ll earn 1X point per $1 spent on other stuff. It’s not a lot, but it’s also a lot better than what you’ll earn with a debit card: nothing.

New Orleans is dead cheap with Chase points - getting there and finding a hotel is very easy

New Orleans is dead cheap with Chase points – getting there and finding a hotel is very easy

The biggest objection I hear is: $4,000?!?! I can’t possibly spend that in 3 months (to meet the minimum spending requirement). So that’s $1,333 per month for 3 months.

How much is your rent? Put it on a card and eat a small fee once or twice.

Use it when you have a big purchase coming up, like a new appliance, upcoming move, or big party to plan. I even bought a car with credit cards.

Or, take your friends out, pocket their cash, and run the bill through your card.

There are plenty of ways to hit the minimum spending requirement.

Bottom line

So I wrote this to share with my friends – I won’t name names lol. 😉 Does this help to explain a little why I like this card so much for beginners?

The other thing I hear is “Oh, it’s all too much to keep track of.” Is it? In my view, I don’t mind “keeping track of it” because I know what it gets me – free travel! That’s really what it comes down to.

Travel is my life’s passion, my ultimate dangling carrot. So hell yeah, I will track the crap out of some points and miles.

Click through here if you want to see and compare lots of current card offers. Those are my referral links – and I thank you for using them. But before you apply, please Google the offer to make sure it’s the best. Something like “[Name of card] best offer” in the search field works quite well.

And here’s the link to the Chase Sapphire Preferred application if you know you want to apply – it is the best current offer at the time of writing.

I promise redeeming the points with travel partners isn’t too difficult. Just sign up for a loyalty account, copy and paste the number, and press “Transfer.” It will feel awkward the first time – but it’s easier as time goes on.

And doing that over and over is the answer to the question of, “How do you do it?” That’s how I do it, since day one and up through to now.

So feel free to ask any questions. I had so many questions when I started out with all this.

And to my regular peeps, what card do you recommend when someone asks, “How do I travel like you do?” 

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About Harlan

Just a dude living in Dallas.

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Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post. The opinions of the commenters are not necessarily the opinions of this site.

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  1. Most folks would have more money in their pockets at years end with a 2% no annual fee cash back card. Please do the math and account for point earning bonuses (points per dollar spent), point redemption values ($ per point redeemed), total annual spend, the percentage of total annual spend on dining and travel, and the annual $95 fee. This card is touted heavily in the blogosphere because it generates big profits for Chase. Please note the financial analysis in comments of the The Points Guy pitch for the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Freedom Unlimited card combination.

    • Do you have a link to that post?

      Rough math tells me if you spend $5,000 in a month, you’d get $100 back with a 2% cashback card.

      Even at 1 point per $1 spent, that’s 5,000 Ultimate Rewards points – already enough for a night at a Hyatt Category 1 hotel – which is likely worth more than $100. It’s also a healthy start toward a free short-haul one way on American thanks to British Airways – those flights tend to be expensive, so you’d do better with the CSP, even for a coach flight.

      And, if your goal is a nice international trip in Business or First Class, there’s really no comparison to a cashback card, even with the $95 annual fee considered.

      Again, this is ONLY is your goal is to get more travel. If you don’t want that, sure, go with a 2% cashback card. Still better than nothing.

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