To finish up our introduction to travelling with airline alliances, this post is about the way we recommend focusing on building your points for free travel with them these days.
The concept here is simple: Don’t even worry about what flights, routes, ticket class, etc. you take to try and build up your program points, just fly with whatever’s a good deal at the time; get your points by funnelling all your spending you possibly can through an airline affiliated credit card!
The rule of thumb is that a credit card issuer takes about 3% of a transaction, and as you’re no doubt aware there are a near-limitless number of ways that they’ll funnel a percent or two of that 3% back to you as a reward of some sort for using their card. So you have a two-step approach to follow:
1) Identify cards that reward you in a way that ends up with booking travel you want. Many people recommend doing this not by getting cards affiliated with a particular brand but by direct cash back for booking travel with, or points transferable to many airlines’ points programs; however, personally we recommend
2) Identify particular branded cards that accumulate points with that brand’s program only, but come with status or other perks that are worth losing flexibility for.
And there is an advanced strategy, most highly developed in the USA but might apply in your jurisdiction as well; since credit card competition is fierce, there are large signup bonuses offered to get you to apply for particular credit cards, especially ones with a large annual fee. Sign up, get the bonus, cancel the card, rinse and repeat. If you have a credit rating high enough to qualify for the best cards this could be worthwhile, but anything that so blatantly games the system is probably going to come back and bite you sooner or later, so we recommend you be careful if you go that route.
Totally depends on your financial circumstances and your country of residence which cards may make sense to you; when we were based in Canada up to last year our handy goto guide for keeping our card choice optimal was Rewards Canada’s annual rankings, and for our Canadian readers here’s our thoughts on those rankings:
Top Travel Points Credit Card (with fee): Capital One® Aspire Travel™ World Elite MasterCard®
Agree completely — kept it until just before renewal this year, since we’re sure we’re relocating to Thailand for the foreseeable future.
Top Travel Points Credit Card (with no annual fee): Scotiabank More Rewards Visa Card
We stick with the fee cards, since we find the extra rewards make up for the fee.
Top Hybrid Credit / Charge Card (with annual fee): American Express Gold Rewards Card
Occassionally we’ve signed up for these when they have particularly good signup bonuses and a first year fee waiver, but you need to spend more money than we do to make the fees worthwhile, never kept one long enough to pay the annual renewal.
Top Airline Credit / Charge Card: TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card
Agree, have it right now — but not for longer than it takes to finish off that last hurrah of a trip and say goodbye to Aeroplan!
Top Hotel Credit Card: Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
Never had this one, our Canadian hotel card of choice is the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Visa as it’s the only travel card that doesn’t charge you a foreign exchange fee, plus you get Silver status and a free Category 1-5 night’s stay every year, which makes it the best choice far as we’re concerned. So we’ll be keeping that one as long as we have a functioning Canadian bank account. And now that SPG has been bought by Marriott, their program will be going away in a couple years anyways.
OK, that’s it for Canada!
For our Dear American Readers, we don’t have personal commentary for you, but we are given to understand that the NerdWallet recommendations are generally respected. Probably can’t go too far wrong starting your research there.
So, on to the new everywhs.com base in Bangkok:
Credit in Thailand is an interesting exercise, especially if you’re a farang, and most interesting if you’re a farang with less than a year’s stay on your work permit under your belt, as we are for the next month and a half. As in, it’s very difficult to get any credit card at all.
Far as we could find, your only travel credit card option on your own in the first six months of residence is to hike yourself down to your local Bangkok Bank branch and apply for their Bangkok Bank AirAsia Platinum MasterCard Credit Card:
And bring ฿50,000 with you, as you’ll have to put that in a BBL term deposit account as security against your card. Also be aware that you will get a new AirAsia BIG account linked to the card, so don’t sign up for one with your preferred travel email address before applying.
Once you’ve done that, you get 1 point for every ฿20 you charge, and more importantly you get early access to those monthly seat sales AirAsia has, which have really quite remarkable discounts on flights that need filling!
There’s a variety of perks too, by far the most important that you get to use the priority checkin counters. Just trust us here if you’ve never tried to catch a 5 AM flight out of DMK, that’s a massive perk indeed.
Once you have six months under your belt and/or your employer helps you out with the application, options open up a bit. The next credit card we got, as our Gracious Employer assists with Citibank Thailand card applications, was the Citi Royal Orchid Plus Select:
Royal Orchid Plus is the mileage program of Thai Airways the national flag carrier and a StarAlliance member; we’re pretty familiar with StarAlliance already from Aeroplan and all, so we’ll stick with them for planning travel outside AirAsia’s network.
Base earnings are the same 1 point for every ฿20, there’s a few perks but nothing as dramatically worth it as the skip-the-line perk with the BBL card.
There’s a Preferred card as well, but we didn’t think that was worth the cost — the Select card you can spend your way to waiving the annual fee, the Preferred you can’t.
Third and final Thai credit card for now is the KTC – Bangkok Airways Titanium MasterCard:
This one’s definitely optional, Bangkok Airways is a boutique airline with limited partner redemption possibilities — however, it does fly places no other airline visits, the Sukothai World Heritage Site being our personal acquaintance with their delightful service so far; and they have neat birthday deals; and hey, the card’s free!
Once you’ve been working in Thailand a year, options open up quite a bit; looks like pretty much any bank will take a card application then far as we can tell. Priceprice.com looks like it has the most comprehensive card selection guide, so we’ll be going through their August edition of that looking for cards it looks worthwhile to add to our Thai travel credit options, and we’ll let you know of any updates!