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The best credit cards for Houston fliers

by on Wed July 13, 2016 • No Comment
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In Houston, the biggest games in town for flying are United and Southwest by a long shot. And your best bet for earning miles might not be the cards that say Southwest and United on them.

Here’s our take on the cards that are uniquely useful if you’re flying out of Houston – whether you want to earn miles that build on what you’ve earned from flying or want access to exclusive lounges to make your time at the airport more comfortable.

Most flexibility

Chase Sapphire Preferred

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Bonus offer: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Annual fee: Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95

United and Southwest are the two biggest airlines in Houston, and there’s one card that lets you earn points you can turn into real miles with both – the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

It earns Ultimate Rewards points, and these are special points you can transfer into real airline miles with partner programs at an even exchange any time, for no additional fee. So every 1,000 points you earn with the card can be turned into 1,000 airline miles with United MileagePlus, Southwest Rapid Rewards, or 7 other airline and hotel partner programs.

That makes it easy to add to the miles you already earn from flying, and it saves you the stress of deciding whether to put all your loyalty eggs in the United basket or the Southwest basket. With the Sapphire Preferred you don’t need to choose – you have the option to use both, and can wait to decide when you’re ready to book a trip.

Even better, you earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred also gives you access to some pretty great travel protection benefits built right into your card, including coverage in case you need to cancel your trip for illness and primary car rental collision coverage good in any country.

If you’re a small business owner, consider the Chase Ink Plus Business Credit Card, which earns the same kind of points, which are also transferable to United MileagePlus and Southwest Rapid Rewards.

For luxury lounge access

The Platinum Card from American Express

amexplat170Bonus offer: Varies, you might get lucky and be offered 100,000 points

Annual fee: $450

The Platinum Card from American Express gives you access to both the American Express Centurion Lounge and 2 Priority Pass affiliated lounges at Bush (there are over 700 of them around the world).

The Centurion Lounge, which just opened this summer, is the premier lounge at Houston Bush, with free premium cocktails and hot food available all day that give the United Club a run for its money.

It’s located in in Terminal D, accessible via an elevator near the Duty Free Shop at Gate D6, which is a 5 minute walk from United’s Terminal E, and about 10 – 20 minutes from the Terminal C gates. There’s also a shower and tranquility area to rest, but it does close at 9pm, so it’s not great if you have a really late flight, but you’ll be bragging to your neighbors about this lounge.

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There are also Centurion Lounges at these airports available to you with a Platinum Card in hand: Dallas, Las Vegas, Miami, New York – La Guardia, Seattle, and San Francisco.

Guests: You can bring up to two guests, or your spouse and all your children under 18.

If that’s too crowded, you can also utilize the Priority Pass membership that comes along with the Platinum Card and gives you access to the KLM Crown Lounge in Terminal D, as well as an Air France lounge. Both offer light hot food and self-service bars. The Yelp reviews aren’t fantastic, but the Crown Lounge is a nice way to recharge and grab a snack.

klmcrownloungehouston

Unfortunately there are no options in the more distant Terminals A or B, though you could take the Skyway train from Terminal D, which at least is on the same side of security so you don’t have to go through a second checkpoint in case you desire to visit the clubs.

And when you’re not in Houston, there are Priority Pass affiliated lounges at most major airports around the world, though in the U.S. most of these lounges tend to be in the international terminals. You can see a directory of them here.

Guests: You will have to pay $27 for each guest you bring, including children.

The Platinum Card does come with a hefty $450 annual fee, but you can easily recoup $200 because the card gives you the opportunity to get $200 worth of airline fees credited each year.

Just designate an airline you frequent at the start of the year like United or Southwest, and your charges for things like baggage, inflight meals, and change fees will be credited back to your account, up to $200 worth each year.

It also gives you access to all the Delta SkyClubs when you’re traveling on a Delta Air Lines flight.

If you fly a lot with United, and tend to want to use their clubs in other cities, then the United Club Card is your bet. It costs a full $450 a year, but will give you access to all United Clubs (including 5 in Houston) with guest privileges, as well as Star Alliance Business Class lounges for yourself when you are flying a Star Alliance Airline the same day.

If You’re Really, Really Loyal to Southwest or United

United MileagePlus Explorer

united170Bonus offer: Start with 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

Annual fee: $0 Intro for the First Year, then $95

The United MileagePlus Explorer card doesn’t have the same dining and travel category spending bonuses of the Chase Sapphire Preferred, but if you are loyal to United, it might make sense because of one benefit: a free checked bag for both you and a companion booked on the same reservation. That can save you $100 on a roundtrip flight. The catch is you have to use your card to pay for your ticket, otherwise the free bag benefit won’t apply.

You also get Group 2 boarding on United flights, in case you want to stow your bag a bit sooner.

And, if you’re trying to earn United Premier status the Explorer has a perk.

You’ll be exempt from the Premier Qualifying Dollar requirement for United Premier status if you spend $25,000 on the card in a calendar year.

Regular purchases count, not just United tickets. So all you’ll need to do is fly enough miles to hit Premier status – no need to hit the  recently added requirements to buy thousands of dollars worth of United tickets. This benefit is good for earning all the way up to Premier Platinum status, but not top level 1K or Global Services status.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Visa

southwestpremier170Bonus offer: Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open

Annual fee: $99

There are two Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa cards (the Premier and Plus), and they’re worth considering if you are very loyal to Southwest or are trying to qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass.

The only key advantages to holding the Southwest cards over the Sapphire Preferred are an annual anniversary bonus (3,000 points for the Plus, 6,000 for the Premier) and the ability to earn Southwest Companion Pass status via your spending, and in the case of the Premier, the ability to get to A-List elite status faster. The Plus has a slightly lower $69 annual fee, so if you’re looking to keep fees to the lowest you can and still earn Southwest points, that’s the way to go.

What if you fly American or Delta?

Delta and American are big airlines, but not so big in Houston.

For Delta, there are tons of cards that earn SkyMiles, but you probably don’t know about the one with no annual fee -the Amex Everyday. It earns Membership Rewards points you can transfer to Delta SkyMiles anytime, so it’s a great way to add to your SkyMiles balance.

For American, you’re pretty much stuck with the American Airlines credit cards, though starting in January you’ll be able to apply for a new set of cards from Barclaycard.

But if you want the most flexibility in Houston – get to know the Chase Sapphire Preferred. It lets you turn your points into real miles with United and Southwest. And there are easy ways to use your points to book American and Delta flights too.

There are a lot of different reasons to consider getting a credit card to aid your travels including your travel needs and even which airline you fly most frequently and where you usually fly from.

These are our favorite credit cards for Houston flyers, what are yours?

 

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Miles dont expireas long as card is open
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Partner Offer

50,000 bonus points

Intro Offer

$0 introductory annual fee, then $95

Annual Fee

$0

Foreign Transaction Fee Waived

Yes

Points Can Transfer to Airline Miles ?

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