If the previous cheat sheet was the fucking Cliff’s Notes, this one is the scrawl on your palm. If you want to effortlessly earn the most and best free travel, just do this. Your life will be better.
If you can fly United sometimes, then you want Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which can be transferred to United miles (as well as those of some other airlines). So:
- Get a Chase Sapphire Reserve card and a Chase Freedom Unlimited card. It will cost you $150 per year for both. (Well, $450 up front, but you get $300 credit back for travel purchases every year.)
- Spend $4,000 on the Sapphire Reserve within three months of applying.
- Spend $500 on the Freedom Unlimited within three months of applying.
- Use the Freedom Unlimited for everything; you’ll earn 1.5 points for every dollar spent.
- If you want 3 points per dollar spent when you can get them, use the Sapphire Reserve for restaurants, travel, transportation, and lodging. If you don’t want the hassle, throw it in a drawer.
- If you want bonus Ultimate Rewards points, also pick up a Chase Sapphire Preferred, transfer the signup bonus points to the Sapphire Reserve, and throw it in a drawer; consider cancelling it after a year.
If United’s never a good option for you, but you fly American or Delta sometimes, you want SPG points, which can be transferred to those and tons of other airlines. Therefore:
- Get an American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card. It will cost you $95 per year, first year free.
- Spend $3,000 within three months of applying.
- When you are ready to transfer your SPG points to airline miles, try to do it in increments of 20,000, in order to capitalize on the 5,000 point bonus that you receive for doing so.
- If you want bonus SPG points, also get a Chase Marriott Rewards Premier card, earn the signup bonus, transfer the Marriott points to your SPG account, and then throw the card in a drawer. Consider cancelling it after a year.
If neither United nor American are workable for you (where do you live?), or you can’t spend $3K-5K in three months, and you want to use rewards primarily for international travel, then you want American Express Membership Rewards points, which can be transferred to Delta and some other airlines. Thus:
- Get an American Express Everyday Preferred card. It will cost you $95 per year, and earn you at least 1.5 points per dollar spent, and more for gas and supermarkets.
- Spend $1,000 within three months of applying.
- Make sure you put at least 30 charges a month on the card (that is, make it your regular).
- The only other American Express cards you should consider maybe spending with is the Premier Rewards Gold (for restaurants and airfare), or the Platinum (for airfare). The Everyday Preferred still kicks their asses for every other kind of purchase, so consider the expensive cards for perks and signup bonus points, not for everyday spending.