Will I regret my first credit card with an annual fee?
I just took the plunge and signed up for a credit card with an annual fee.
After avoiding such costs all my life, I decided the Chase Sapphire Preferred card's lucrative travel rewards are worth $95 a year. Or at least I hope they'll be worth $95 a year.
When I'm not writing about personal finance, I'm a travel writer. I take more than a dozen trips a year and book flights, trains and hotel rooms along the way. Even if the magazine reimburses me for those expenses, I can still earn points on them.
I've never been into the credit card point game. I've always taken most of my rewards in the form of cash and applied them to the balance on my Discover card.
But here's what I'll get from the Sapphire Preferred card:
- Two points for every dollar spent on dining, from quick meals at Panera (average Jen bill = $10) to a multi-course dining experience at the Ebbitt Room in Cape May, N.J. (average Jen+1 bill = $300).
- Two points for every dollar spent on flights, hotels, car rents and time shares.
- Three points if that airfare or hotel is booked through the Chase Sapphire Ultimate Rewards site.
- One point per dollar spent on anything else.
- An annual 7% dividend on all new points I've earned that year.
- A 20% point discount when booking travel through the Ultimate Rewards site.
And here's the kicker that got me to sign up: If I spend $3,000 in the first 90 days, Chase gives me 50,000 bonus points.
That's the point spending equivalent of $500, which is enough to cover five years of annual fees.
There are no caps or expiration dates on these points as long as the account isn't in default, and no blackout dates when booking travel through Chase, either.
Then there's the fringe benefits.
The Sapphire Preferred card charges no foreign transaction fees (which would have saved me a boatload if I'd had this card when I was in Vancouver for a week).
I can also transfer points to other frequent traveler programs like Marriott and Amtrak on a one-to-one basis in 1,000-point increments.
I'm about that close to a free Acela train ride through Amtrak's rewards program. I could move some of these Chase points over to seal the deal.
Chase is promoting the Sapphire as a high-end credit card.
It's heavier than the typical credit card, much like Barclays' Black Visa Card, and the number and Visa logo are on the back, not the front.
The woman at the register of my salon commented how "neat" it was, and two postal workers stopped ringing up transactions to admire its heft.
But this isn't really a high-end card.
The $95 fee (which is waived for the first year) isn't anywhere near the $495 a year you'll pay to carry a Barclays Black Visa Card.
Nor does it offer the luxury perks -- 24-hour concierge service, access to over 500 airport lounges -- or high spending limits of a Barclays Black Visa.
My credit limit is only $6,000, which is more than $11,000 less than on the Chase Freedom card I already have.
The annual percentage rate (APR) is slightly higher than my other Chase card, too: 15.24% for Sapphire vs. 13.24% for Freedom.
So, other than the generous point offering and the potential to wing the card like a ninja star if I'm in trouble, this seems like a regular credit card to me.
I'll be interested to test booking a trip through Ultimate Rewards, too.
I use a combination of a travel agent and kayak.com to find the best deals on my own, and I'm not sure if Chase is going to offer better deals, even if I am using points.
But I figure that if I don't like the card, I can cash out all those points, putting them toward Amtrak points or turning them into a check through cash back.
I'll post over the next year about my experiences with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card -- especially when I finally book travel and can compare their prices to what I can find on my own and through my travel agent.
Until then, I'll be tallying up those purchases to make sure I hit $3,000 in 90 days -- without overspending to get there.