This thread has been so interesting...thanks to everyone that has chimed in. I hope others out there have learned as much as me from reading this stuff!
After the wealth of info I've taken in over the past couple of weeks...I'm still left wondering what is the best strategy for a type of family like myself and DW. We travel (any combo of some or all: fly, rent a car, stay in a hotel) just 1-2 times a year. We like to take an annual trip for our anniversary that typically involves a hotel and car rental, sometimes a flight and sometimes not. Maybe another flight to visit friends or family...without the hotel stay. We have aspirations to take another really nice trip in a few years for our 10th anniversary. I have
to believe there are many many more people that fall into this category out there.
I just picked myself up a CSP for the 50k points, and another 5k for making DW an authorized user. We will use this card exclusively for our upcoming trip to Toronto (no foreign transaction fee and 2% on dining and travel) and we'll easily spend enough to hit the minimum spend by simply paying DW's fall tuition bill with it (about $3500).
I feel like we had a good strategy to maximize cash back, until everyone opened my eyes here about the upsides of travel rewards. But I can't help but wonder...for those of us that travel 1-2 times a year...is cash back still best?
Even if...say...all of the cash back is simply saved to use towards travel expenses on those 1-2 trips a year?
Or would it be beneficial to just say the heck with it, and start dumping everything into Chase Ultimate Rewards rather than messing with all the different cash back cards? Can this yield the best result when we're simply using our credit rewards to help pay for our annual trip?
I feel like I've learned a ton but I'm still as confused as when I started. Maybe more-so!!
I think you're in the same boat I was 4-5 years ago. I used to do all cash back and thought it was the best redemption option. But knowing what I know now about travel reward redemption, I'll never go back to just straight cash back. Like you, wife and I take 1 and sometimes 2 trips a year. We don't need to stay in fancy hotels or fly in first class, so for us Hyatt Places and Southwest are good enough for us. The Chase Ultimate Rewards works well for us towards this.
Wife and I are currently on a trip to Atlanta right now and transferred 40,000 UR points to my Hyatt account. That, combined with a free award night included with my Hyatt card netted us a 6 night stay that was going for $200/night so that's a savings of $1200 right there for $400 worth of cash back points. That $1200 figure is not including the room and occupancy taxes added on. We also flew down via Southwest when they had a sale so each way is only costing us 3700 points. So for about 15,000 points, roundtrip airfare is covered for 2 people.
In 2012 we decided to splurge and do a trip to London with a Baltic Cruise afterwards.
For our flight to London, I was pricing out costs of $3500 USD for two round trip tickets that summer. However, I was able to use 70,000 points to transfer to Virgin
Atlantic, book an awards flight for 2 and only paid about $900 in fuel surcharges and fees (Unavoidable when flying to Heathrow). Saved us well over $2600 for that flight.
Additionally, I had just signed up for the Chase Hyatt card which included 2 free nights to any Hyatt. Using those free nights, and 40,000 points let us stay 4 nights at the 5 star Hyatt Regency Churchill in London. At the time the rooms were going for 399 GBP per night. With the exchange rate of 1.6 USD to 1 GBP at the time, it came out to around $600 USD per night. So I saved another $2400 right there, again not including savings on taxes/fees.
If I didn't have the ability to transfer points to other travel programs, I would never have been able to take that London trip. After that trip, I was sold on travel reward redemption as my sole credit card strategy, and in particular on Chase Ultimate Rewards.
It is great that you've gotten the CSP already. If you're going all in with UR points, make sure you get the Chase Freedom, and Chase Freedom Unlimited as well. If you are using Hyatt as your sole hotel, like I am, make sure you get the Chase Hyatt card.
For us, the travel rewards option opened up a big new world of travel that we would've never thought possible. If you go the travel rewards route, I hope it does for you too.