Last week I started talking about why I love using credit card rewards to help fund my traveling. You can read that post here. I pointed out my two “general” credit cards in that post, but I also want to cover my two branded ones since they’ve brought me the most funds by far.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa by Chase
As I mentioned in my first post, the Southwest card was the first credit card that I signed up for because of a sign-up bonus instead of simply for it’s % back potential. To date, it’s still the largest sign-up bonus I’ve ever gotten.
Requirement: Spend $1K during the first three months. This card had an annual fee ($75 I believe) that was NOT waived the first year.
Tip: They usually have their 25K point offer going. If you can’t find the 50K offer, wait for it to come around again. It comes and go in cycles and is worth waiting for.
Sign-up Bonus: 50K Rapid Reward points (this comes out to about $850 worth of points to use toward any Southwest flights). Obviously the $75 annual fee negates from that a tiny bit, but not enough to concern me. Every year on your anniversary you get about $50 worth of points, so most people don’t find the annual fee to be a big deal. It all depends on how much you ongoing use you get out of the card. I currently don’t have this card anymore and I cancelled it right before I would have been hit with the annual fee at the start of my 3rd year.
I used these points to fly to Philadelphia, Chicago and Sacramento. I easily squeezed three round trip flights out of the points by booking the flights when they were on sale.
Marriott Rewards Visa by Chase
My most recent rewards card, and one that I’m pretty excited about, is my Marriott card. Before I go over it I do want to note that the Southwest card and the Marriott card are both by Chase. I didn’t have both of these cards at the same time, and I waited a year in between the first one before signing up for the second. I know that sometimes when applying for cards from the same company you can run into issues with getting the sign-up bonuses for both cards in a short amount of time. There are a lot of discussions about these issues that you can find by Googling specific cards.
Requirement: Spend $1K during the first three months. The card has an annual fee that is waived the first year.
Sign-up Bonus: 70K points and 1 free night stay at any category 1-4 hotel (some of my co-workers managed to get 80K point offers). You also get bumped up to Silver Elite status with Marriott (the equivalent of staying 15 nights) which is an immediate perk.
The 50K points is a very common offer from them, but try not to settle for it.
The free night posted to my account immediately. The 70K points came after I met the spend requirement (obviously).
The cheapest redemption you can do is 7,500 points, so theoretically you could get 9 free nights at a low category hotel plus the 1 free night at a category 1-4. That’s 10 free hotel nights! However, realistically it’s hard to find 10K options, and most of the ones I will use are 15K redemption, so I’d say it’s more like 5-6 free nights. But nonetheless, that’s still a lot of nights!
I plan to keep this card despite the fact that it has an annual fee. Every year on your anniversary you get a certificate for a free night, and the free night is worth more than the annual fee, so I see myself keeping this card. The fact that I always stay at Marriott brands when I travel for work is a huge added benefit as well since I earn extra points by putting those purchases on this card.
Also, being the software engineer that I am I have to say that I love Marriott’s website. It’s really easy to use to look-up redemption options, and everything I book through my company’s travel site links seamlessly with my Marriott account. I give them 5 stars for that.
On a completely random note, this card is thick. THICK! Literally…it’s weighty. Cashiers always comment on it.
I’ve had great experiences with travel rewards credit cards. By utilizing them I’ve been able to travel more often and/or more cheaply than I would have been able to without those points. And while the process requires a little bit of effort, I think it’s more than worth it for the value gained.
If Southwest is an airline that has a big presence at your airport, I’d HIGHLY recommend getting their card. There are similar cards out there for other airlines, but I don’t think there are any that offer as large of a sign-up reward as Chase/Southwest do. But make sure you get at least 50K points, don’t settle for a 25K or other such offer! If you’d rather have hotel rewards than airline rewards, the Marriott card is an equivalent value card in my mind.
If you’re looking for an awesome travel rewards card to use on general travel purchases, the Barclay card is my (current) top recommendation. And there are tons of cards out there, these are just the four I’ve had. Whatever card you go for, make sure to Google around and figure out what the highest offer out there is and don’t sign up for the card unless you can get that amount or close to it! Southwest offers seem to be cyclical and the 50K ones come around every few months.
I think I’m going to do one more post later this week week to list some of the resources I use when researching cards, and probably to cover some random thoughts relating to this that didn’t already get covered. Check back in a couple of days for that!
Anyone else have either the Southwest or the Marriott card? What did you use your points for?