What's the best credit card for saving for a trip to France?
March 8, 2014 12:47 PM   Subscribe

In summer 2016, we'd like to take a major trip to France, probably a month to three months. We have about 2.5 years to save up. What's the best credit card for accruing miles? (and any other tips you have for saving, besides sticking $20 in a jar every week…)

That's about it. We were thinking of getting the Delta SkyMiles card and putting literally everything on it for 2.5 years and seeing how many miles we could accrue in that time. Any experience with that credit card? Any better ones out there?
posted by Ollie to Travel & Transportation around France (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
What airline card you should get depends on your location. If you're in/near a Delta hub than that makes sense. I have carried a United card for the last few years because I lived in Denver. In addition to the miles I've earned flying I've probably earned about 150k in miles by putting pretty much everything on my card. I even have the benefit of using it for work expenses and getting reimbursed.

Check out FlyerTalk.com for tips on how to maximize miles/signup bonuses, etc.
posted by FlamingBore at 1:19 PM on March 8, 2014

Delta's program ("SkyPesos") is already mostly worthless except for seating upgrades and they are changing their SkyMiles in 2015 to make it even less worthwhile. I'd just save a lot of cash and try to book your trip slightly out of season, like April-June or Sept-November.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 1:35 PM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for answers so far. I should say we're in NY, so any major airline that flies to France will do, and that the trip has to be in the summer (school schedule). Thanks!
posted by Ollie at 1:37 PM on March 8, 2014

If you're banking on points to get you miles to get you free tickets, keep in mind that in order to redeem those points for international travel, you still need to pony up the fees- sometimes over $500 a ticket. At that point you might as well pay for the ticket and use those earned miles on a domestic fare.

American Express used to have a pretty good card where you could use points for ANY travel related expense - it was BlueSky maybe?
posted by ista at 1:43 PM on March 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

The changes in SkyMiles definitely make it less attractive in the long term, and the general problem with airline reward miles when thinking about 2+ years ahead is that reward miles often expire unless you log a qualifying flight each year -- and you don't want to have to book a flight just to keep any accrued miles from expiring.

The AmEx Starwood card is considered pretty decent in terms of being able to do something useful with the rewards, and that gives you a bit more flexibility.

But I'd be more inclined to go with a cash rewards card and squirrel away the cash.
posted by holgate at 2:08 PM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

You may well do better if you just get a card with a high cash back value and use that instead. The one I have from my bank gives me at least 1.75% on everything, with more on certain items. I also have an Amazon card which gives 3% back on Amazon purchases. I think you'll find it's hard to do better than that with airline miles, especially as there are so many attendant fees, conditions, and expirations involved. Cash you can spend on anything too, so you don't have to limit yourself in terms of travel options.
posted by valkyryn at 2:56 PM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Capital One Venture card gives 2% that can be redeemed (as I understand) as statement credit against travel-related purchases (not just airline tickets), and Capital One cards don't charge foreign transaction fees, which is super awesome.
posted by The Michael The at 3:00 PM on March 8, 2014

Starwood points are great, and can be transferred (often with a bonus!) to other programs. Were it not for the uncertainty related to the merger, I would tell you that by far your best bet is to earn Starwood points at 1 per dollar and convert them in 20,000 point batches to AA miles for your award redemption, as you get an extra 5,000 per 20,000 you convert. AA does not currently charge (significant) fees for travel using AA miles on an AA flight unless you are booking less than 21 days in advance. Many of their partners do charge several hundred dollars worth of YQ, however. (YQ being the code for "miscellaneous nontaxable fees", aka the fuel surcharge)

Spent wisely, even the worst airline miles earned at only one mile per dollar will get you far more than 1% of your spend worth of value. 3-4c a mile redemptions aren't very difficult to find for international travel. If you're willing to spend lots of miles and go business or first class, you will get even more. Spent unwisely, they will be far worse, although it's getting to the point where it's hard to get less than 1% because domestic flights aren't very cheap any more.
posted by wierdo at 3:20 PM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Chase Sapphire card gets you Chase points, which can be used to buy all manner of things—including air fares, if you use Chase's website. The advantage to that is that when you sign up for the card, you get a one of big point bonus. Usually, you earn 1 point/dollar spend (I think), with 100 points getting you $1 of purchasing power—but there are a ton of bonus ways to earn more points.

Since the rewards are through Chase rather than a single airline, you can book through any carrier, or multiple, or whatever.

But what really sells the Sapphire card for international travel is that you get free travel insurance with it, and there are no foreign transaction fees if you use it overseas.
posted by themadthinker at 5:18 PM on March 8, 2014

Wierdo is right if you had the time to build up the miles, but depending on how many people you are looking to take you probably don't have that long. The problem with using miles is that if you can't get seats for everybody, you might be stuck buying the additional seats with cash, often paying more and flying an airline that is not your first choice. E.g., let's say you do get enough miles to get two roundtrips on American, but then you have to buy the remaining seats at $1600 when Air Berlin is charging $950 (these are July 2014 fares). That's not cost effective.

The card I like for buying seats with cash is the SDFCU EMV Visa, which gives $.02 per dollar spent to be redeemed for travel on pretty much any airline. It also has the advantage of having a Chip-and-PIN (not Chip-and-Signature) for use at unattended kiosks in Europe, as well as no foreign transaction fee.

If you do think you can book everything with miles, typically by far the most economical way is to book literally the day the flights are released, which is often (but not always) 330 days out. This option involves lots of time studying flight options with AA and partners and lots of time on the phone (to be fair, the international reservations agents are almost uniformly the nicest people I've dealt with on the phone).

Since you have some flexibility on dates, you would make reservation holds for the seats you can get but not purchase them. (If, for instance, you were able to get three seats on the same flight but not four). The reservations can then be modified if availability the next day allows getting all four seats (hypothetically). Then you call back when the return flights are released. Repeat until you get what you want or the process drives you insane. The folks on the Flyertalk forums can be very helpful with this, as they know what partners have flights but are not listed on the AA web search. For example, AA partner Brussels Airlines flies nonstop JFK-BRU (Brussels), and you can book that with AA miles, even though it won't show up on an award travel search on aa.com. That's just an example, I don't know if AA is the right choice, that just happens to be the program I'm most familiar with. The advantage of the AA program is that you can book a 1-way, and also that for 60K miles each way you can take any available seat to Europe. Flyertalk would probably be able to better advise you based on the number of seats, route, and amount you plan to spend on the credit card.
posted by wnissen at 5:27 PM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

American Express Starwood or Membership Rewards. Even more so now.
posted by Dansaman at 10:46 PM on March 8, 2014

If you set about it, you can mint miles with things like AAdvantage Dining (getting to the 5 mile per dollar tier is not hard, and you still earn the credit card's rewards), the magazine, flower, hotel, and rental car promos, and all the other ways you can essentially buy miles or things that are convertible into miles at a decent rate.

The point being, that depending on what "everything" entails, there are lots of opportunities to earn miles for buying things. Depending on your charge volume, it may make sense to get the Starwood card and a Citi AAdvantage card, which have 50,000 or 100,000 mile promos for spending $3000 or $10000 in the first 3 months, depending on which AAdvantage card you choose.
posted by wierdo at 10:48 PM on March 8, 2014

Seconding both the Amex Blue Sky and the Amazon card. I have and use both.

Amex Blue Sky gives you points for all purchases that can be redeemed for statement credits for travel purchases (air fare, hotels, and rental cars). 7500 points for $100 credit, so 1.3% reward rate. I've never had a travel purchase turned down for eligibility.

The Amazon card (actually a branded card managed by Chase) is my primary card. 1% on most purchases, 2% on...ummm... gas, groceries, and drug stores? don't remember... and 3% on Amazon purchases. The points can be redeemed on Amazon (at 100:$1) but it's more cost effective to get statement credits instead (because if you use points to pay on Amazon, you're giving up on the 3% return). 10000 points for $100 credit (so if you really want to maximize return on the two cards, you use Amex for standard purchases and the Amazon card for categories that get extra return). The nice thing is that if you don't have enough for the statement credit, you can use any amount of points to pay all or part of an Amazon purchase.

Neither card has an annual fee, and I've been completely happy with the customer service on both. Either or both make sense. Statement credits are a lot easier than trying to book award travel through some credit card site.
posted by yggdrasil at 9:07 AM on March 10, 2014

Worth noting that Delta's brand-new 2015 award chart is up. The lowest mileage and highest mileage levels didn't change, so you could be as low as 60K roundtrip per person, or as high as 130K. There are three levels in-between. The general feeling is that there will be only token quantities of seats at the lowest level, mostly at dead-of-winter, midweek times, but no one really knows until the calendars open up to see availability. Summer is by far the most expensive time to travel to Europe, so I would expect you'd need on the higher end of that scale.
They did introduce one-way awards, which is essentially all good. Some (though not all) carriers have reasonable one-way fares, so check and see if you could maybe get everyone out there on Delta and then book a return on someone else.
posted by wnissen at 9:56 PM on March 13, 2014

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