Yes, you’re on the right website – this is Management Consulted, not the “Live Your Best Life Now Blog.” So why are we dedicating an entire post to the two travel cards that should vy for the top spot in every new consultant’s wallet?
Strange as it may sound, the answer goes all the way back to why I even became a consultant in the first place. Now, there were lots of reasons why I pursued consulting, put myself through the agony that is the case interview, and joined Bain. For one, I was intrigued by the way consultants thought about problems, and how this framework was different to the way others around me approached big issues. For another, I wanted to get as much exposure to as many different industries and businesses as possible. In addition, I wanted to learn as many skills as I could – skills I could take with me wherever I went.
But finally, what did it for me: I wanted to travel. As much as I loved the idea of the work of a consultant when I decided to make a career of it, the thing that most drew me in was the lifestyle the work allowed.
In the spirit of working smarter, today we’re focusing on something every consultant needs to know about: the best travel credit cards.
Why credit cards? On top of the tens of thousands of air miles you’ll be racking up as a consultant, the right credit card (or two) is the best way to compound the benefits of the travel you’re already doing. Make the right decision here, and the money your firm is already spending for you on everyday life will lead to a whole new world of possibility – exponential gains in points, miles, upgrades, free trips, and more.
One key note: these cards are not the only ones we recommend. There are others we’d suggest if you have longer credit history and bigger bank balances to draw on. But…these are great for starting out your points journey, and that’s why we’re highlighting them today.
Also, disclaimer – we serve international clients, but this will be a U.S. focused post. For more info about international cards, stay tuned – we have more articles coming your way soon!
First thing, how do travel cards work?
Simply put, credit card companies offer you sign-up rewards if you open a credit card with them, and ongoing points earnings on purchases. Broadly speaking, there are two main types of credit cards; cash-back cards, where you can expect to get somewhere in the region of 1-2% cash back for every dollar you spend (1% cash back would mean 1c back for every dollar spent). There are also travel cards, where you can expect to receive airline miles and hotel points in exchange for every dollar spent.
There are tons and tons of travel cards out there, but we’ve done the research for you and picked our two favorites (based on 10+ years of playing the game) so you can start racking up the benefits.
1 – Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) comes out as our big winner for best travel card. We’ve seen firsthand the benefits of going with the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
First, there’s the signup bonus. Spend $4,000 on this card within the first 3 months, and you’ll earn a 50,000 point bonus, putting you well on your way to earning a free international flight in business class. Not bad, huh?
But perhaps more important for us is that ongoing points earnings are the most valuable for any credit card out there (see here for a monthly points valuation from our friend The Points Guy).
Why are these points so valuable? Two reasons.
First, you earn 1 point for every $1 in spend, and earn double points in the travel and dining categories. What’s important for consultants is that Chase is quite liberal in its definition of travel. Need an Uber home after a night out on the town? Pay with the Sapphire, and you just earned double points (not to mention double points on those martinis you downed).
Second, we love the fact that Chase has partnerships with multiple major airlines, and that points transfer to different airline partners on a 1:1 basis. Have 120,000 Chase points? Then you have 120,000 United miles or 120,000 Southwest RapidRewards points. We love the flexibility to choose multiple different partners to use those hard-earned points – in so doing, you can get the most bang for your point. Book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, and Chase will ensure your points are worth 25% more just for booking through them. So while 50,000 points would ordinarily be worth $500 in travel, that same number of points turns into $625 of spend via the Chase portal.
In addition to all this jazz, the CSP provides some great additional perks, including rental car insurance, zero international transaction fees, a concierge service, and travel accident insurance.
At a $0 first year fee and only $95 each year after, this card will become your new best friend.
2 – Capital One Venture Card
When it comes to travel cards, it’s common to find the Capital One Venture Card (COV) and the Chase Sapphire Preferred vying for the top spot across lists just like ours.
Much like the CSP, the COV is a great card for the flexible traveler because it gives you the option to fly on any airline at anytime and stay at any hotel at anytime, all without having to worry about those pesky blackout dates.
We like this card for a few reasons. First, the signup bonus for the COV is a little bit easier to attain than the CSP: $3,000 in spend over the first 3 months will get you 50,000 bonus miles.
With everyday purchases, each dollar you spend will give you 2 miles on any airline and, thanks to an agreement between Capital One and hotels.com, 10X miles when you visit eligible hotels (to find out which hotels, go to hotels.com/venture). Those hotel points earnings can be ba-zinga for you if you’re traveling 3-4 nights every week.
Like the CSP, the COV comes with a range of special features like zero international fees and a complimentary concierge. One thing the COV offers that the CSP does not is a $100 credit toward your Global Entry or TSA Precheck application (hint: apply for Global Entry, and you’ll get TSA Precheck thrown in).
However, the biggest difference between these two cards is that, unlike with the CSP, you do not transfer points at a 1:1 ratio to bulk up existing airline miles balances. Instead, you charge a ticket to your card, and the miles you have in your Capital One account can be applied to either partly or fully subsidize the cost. Charge a $500 plane ticket to your card? If you have 50,000 miles in your account, you can apply them to the ticket and be done. Charge a $40 cab fare? You can even apply 400 miles to that, as it’s technically a travel expense.
So why is the COV #2 on our list? Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Portal puts it over the top for us – Capital One offers nothing like a unique travel booking portal that gives your points 25% in additional value. In addition, transferring miles to partner airlines allows you to book business and first class tickets. For example, a one-way domestic first class ticket may cost you 80,000 miles, but $1500. For tickets like these, you always come ahead paying with miles directly – something the COV does not allow you to do.
Like the CSP, the COV has a $0 annual fee for the first year, which jumps up to $95 per year afterward.
Whichever card you pick, you’re well on your way to earning reward miles and free trips. It’s impossible for us to play judge and jury in this matchup in a way that makes sense for everyone, so reach out with specific questions regarding your situation and we’d love to answer your questions!
Do you have one of these cards? What do you love/hate about it?
Is there a card we should have included, but didn’t? We’re writing more about travel in the next few weeks and months, so tell us why in the comments section below!