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. (Updated October 2017)
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. You can combine these with the Sapphire Reserve card on the Chase web site.
- 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 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 35 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 love Delta, or neither United nor American are workable for you, or you can’t spend $3K-5K in three months, then you want American Express Membership Rewards points. Thus:
- Get an American Express Blue Business Plus card. It costs nothing, and earns 2 points per dollar spent, on everything, up to your first $50,000.
- Alternative choice, if you are disinclined towards a business card: American Express Everyday Preferred card. It will cost you $95 per year, and, if you put 30 charges on it a month, it earns 1.5 points per dollar spent, and more for gas and supermarkets. It comes with a 25,000 point bonus when you spend $1,000 in the first three months.
- For maximum flexibility with redeeming points, consider adding an American Express Business Platinum card. While it’s $450 a year, its perks are nice, but more importantly, it makes each point worth 54% more when using points to buy an economy seat on your yearly selected domestic airline, or business/first class on any airline.