I’ve been a longtime Delta Skymiles American Express cardholder, since we live in a Delta hub and fly them 95% of the time. The basic card offers free checked bags and an annual $100 companion voucher. You earn miles for purchases, and double miles for purchases from Delta.com. And if you spend $25,000 a year, you earn a bonus of 10,000 qualifying miles, which counts toward medallion qualification.
We recently upgraded to the platinum card. For $150 annual fee (instead of $95), you get a free annual companion voucher. Since we already cover the annual fee with the waived baggage fees, it’s totally worth it.
The “Best All-Around Travel Card”
I’d read a lot about the Capital One Venture Rewards Card, which is constantly voted the best travel credit card (especially for international travelers, because they don’t charge foreign transaction fees). I thought about it, but figured that since we’re so tied to Delta, we were better off with American Express, especially since we use it enough to hit the bonus threshold. Still, I kept hearing about the Capital One card, so I finally sat down and did the math.
Even with the bonus on Amex, Capital One still came out ahead for us. That’s based on a fairly significant amount of travel ever year, and using it to pay bills and large expenses intentionally to get the points/miles. So I switched, because I still get the Delta benefits from Amex just by being a cardholder.
Capital One makes the point earning and redemption process pretty simple. You earn 2 points per dollar. Each point is worth 1 cent. That makes it on of the few 2% cash value cards. There’s a catch with that, though… with the Venture Rewards card, the points only have that value when redeemed for travel-related purchases. There are many other ways to redeem points, including cash back, but those only have a 1% value, or .5 cents a point. So, basically, only get this card if you’re a frequent traveler.
You can book travel directly through their site using points, or you can pay for any travel purchase with your card and then get a credit for it with the Purchase Eraser. That option shows you all of your travel-related purchases in the last 90 days, and you can choose which one(s) to erase. Each item shows you how many points are required to erase it (the calculation is Points * .10, i.e. 10,000 points = $100).
You can’t erase a portion of a purchase; you have to have enough points to cover the entire thing. Airline bookings are a little different: if you bought 4 tickets, the Purchase Eraser will let you choose to erase only one of them if you want. You can also erase multiple items at once. The credit appears within a few days.
You can also use the Purchase Eraser on non-travel expenses, but again, you’re redeeming at half the value. I don’t know why anyone would choose that option.
Further Point-Earning Opportunities
Capital One currently has a signup bonus of 10,000 points ($100) if you charge $1000 within the first three months. They also have a section called Perk Central, where certain retailers offer bonus points. Unfortunately, that’s being shut down as of November 2013, so hurry and book now! My favorite option there is Hotels.com, which offers 6 additional points per dollar. Those points are credited after you complete the travel, rather than when you purchase.
- With an airline card, if you redeem miles for a flight, you don’t earn miles flying it. With the Venture Card, you still earn miles for every flight, even if you got it for free.
- There’s no limit to the number of points you can earn, and they don’t expire.
- Unlike most travel cards, you’re not tied to a certain airline or brand. You can book anywhere and earn points.
- No annual fee for the first year, and $59 thereafter. That’s cheaper than most branded cards.
- Visa is more widely accepted than American Express or Discover.
I feel like we have the best of both worlds with the combination of the Delta Amex and Capital One; all of our purchases go on Capital One now, and I’ve already used the Purchase Eraser for a free flight after just a couple of months. Just by holding the Amex, we still get free bags and the companion voucher, which make up for that annual fee. If you’re not tied to one airline the majority of the time, though, Capital One seems to be the way to go.