Delta Air Lines, General

Should you even use a miles earning credit card? (The answer may surprise you.)

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The number one question I get from my friends is “What credit card should I get?”

Of course the answer always begins with “Tell me about your spending habits” so I can intelligently recommend the card or cards best suited for earning related to their lifestyle.  There is no one best card. There are better cards and there are limited-time amazing signup bonuses, but there is no best card for everyone.

For this post, though, let’s focus on if your everyday spend should be on a miles earning card – and forget about signup bonuses.

Here’s my golden rule on spend:

You need to be able to get a return better than 2 cents per mile, after any credit card fees (annual spend/interest/foreign transaction fees)

If you can’t, I’ll tell you what you do:

For personal use:

  • Get the Alliant cashback card for 2.5% cashback or get the Citi Double Cash card and earn 2% cashback.
  • Get the Chase Freedom Unlimited card for 1.5% cash back, optionally transferable to Ultimate Rewards points if you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Business Ink Plus card.
  • Fidelity brokerage customers can also get a 2% card that deposits the rebate directly to their account.

For business:

  • Capital One has a flat 2% cash back credit card called Spark.
  • American Express has a Blue Business Plus card that earns 2% in Membership Rewards on all purchases up to $50,000 a year.

I can also refer you to a variety of other Cash Back Credit Cards. (<– my referral link)

Now, do I put all my spend on these cards?  No, of course not. I collect points and miles. I collect miles of all kinds and a boatload of Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi Thank You points.  But I also live and breathe miles and I’m always making sure my redemption yield greater than 2%.

So look at it this way: If you currently put $100,000 in yearly spend on a Delta card (especially one that doesn’t earn MQMs and only the Platinum and Reserve cards do) you are earning 100,000 Delta miles. (If you have a Delta Platinum card then at least after $50k in spend you’ve earned 20,000 bonus MQMs and 20,000 bonus miles making the miles yield 1.2% plus your value on the MQMs).

A 2% cash card would net you $2,000 in cold hard cash that you can invest and grow – unlike the miles that DEPRECIATE (yes, I said it and it’s true) with time.

So what are those Delta miles worth?  That depends a bit on your redemption strategies. But know this: Delta is moving more and more towards your miles being worth right around a penny each. The more expensive a flight is with cash, the more expensive it will be with miles.  The big exception now is redemption on partners like Air France, KLM, Korean Air, Air China, Aero Mexico and other Skyteam partners where you can still beat 2c per mile – especially if you find premium cabin availability.

But if you are doing what Delta wants you to do and are redeeming 32,500 miles for a $310 domestic flight, or (and I’d be sad if you did this) spent 375,000 miles each way to get from the US to Australia in Business Class), then for heaven’s sake, just pocket the cash.

The bottom line is that you do need to work for the better redemptions. You need to be willing to travel on different days than you may have wanted and perhaps add in a layover to get that business class flight across the pond. If you are, go ahead and earn the miles (although you are still better off with transferable currency like Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi Thank you points or even Amex Membership Rewards that you can transfer to the best redemption partner at the time than locking yourself into one airline’s currency).

Agree? Disagree?  Let me know here, on Twitter, or in the private MilesTalk Facebook group.

New to all of this? My new “introduction to miles and points” book, MilesTalk: Live Your Wildest Travel Dreams Using Miles and Points is available now.