Friday, July 5, 2013

Reward Travel

A credit card offer came in the mail for me the other day. Most of us are familiar with direct mail marketing from banks, credit card companies, airlines, etc. Businesses spend thousands of dollars to send out hundreds of thick envelopes filled with fancy fliers and booklets detailing all the great perks that come with signing up for this checking account or joining that frequent flier program. This is all done in the hopes of getting some return on investment, which, for many companies, could be as few as one person per 50 mail pieces. (Yes, that's considered a successful campaign.

Like most people, I usually toss these in the trash without even bothering to break the seal. But this one made me stop. It was from United Airlines--of which I am a frequent flier member--and it was for their MileagePlus Club Card. The special offer was, if I signed up now, I could get the card for a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year. The perks: A United Club membership, which grants unlimited access to all United Club locations and Star Alliance lounges; 50% mileage bonus, which means earning 1.5 miles per dollar spent and two miles per dollar spent on tickets purchased from United; Premier Access services, allowing for priority check-in and boarding; two free checked bags for me and a companion; and no foreign transaction fees. A pretty sweet deal, if you ask me.

Now, I already have a really good rewards credit card--in fact, it ranks in the top 10 best airline credit cards on Bankrate.com--which gets me points and rewards that I can redeem for travel whenever I want. However, it does not offer these kinds of travel privileges. So I thought to myself, maybe it's time to get a dedicated airline card that gives me some bonuses? My parents have the platinum card from United, but they fly all the time and my dad has a ton of miles earned from his days as a loyal Continental flier. I don't travel as often, usually about three or four times a year on average. However, the fact that those few times I do travel could be made better with this card definitely made it more appealing. Another aspect I like is that this card was named "best credit card" by Global Traveler Magazine in 2012.

Then I read an article on CNN with tips to savvy travel. One woman talked about using miles to get where you want to go, and using a rewards credit car to help earn and save up miles that can be put towards more expensive trips down the road. She used a Delta Skymiles card, which works well for her, but every person is different. While the sign-up bonus is nice, and the priority boarding and club access definitely sweeten the deal, it's the mileage earnings that are really important. Since I don't travel as often as some other people, the fact that this card gives me extra miles for daily purchases is certainly helpful.

The only off-putting part of this card is the annual fee--a whopping $395! The offer gets me the first year free, but once that time has expired, I would have to decide if the card is worth the price or decide to give it up or downgrade. Luckily, there is a perfectly good downgraded option, the MileagePlus Explorer Card, with an annual fee of $95--much more reasonable. Perks: first checked bag free; double miles on tickets and one mile per dollar spent on other purchases; priority boarding privileges; no foreign transaction fees; miles don't expire; and two one-time passes every year to the United Club. Obviously not as great as the Club card, but still decent.

And so this one time, I decided not to throw away the offer.

I'm not suggesting that you sign up for every deal that arrives in your mailbox, because that would not be smart, and could seriously hurt your credit history. And, let's face it, some are not all that good when you think look at the fine print. Some can sound like total scams--and might actually be scams. However, if you're looking to sign up for a good credit card that gets you nice travel rewards or other perks, definitely keep your eye on the mail, as many of these great deals can slip through the cracks--and into your trash. If you want a good list of top reward and travel cards, check out bankrate's website.

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