In The Cards
Affinity cards--those credit cards that let you collect airline miles and frequent stayer points for every dollar charged on them--are growing in popularity among the jet set. These payment methods let you add to your mileage collection faster than ever--at little or no cost.
But are affinity cards always a good deal? Not necessarily. In exchange for collecting miles, you're sometimes charged a hefty annual fee and higher interest rates. "It's definitely something to consider," says Mati Otsmaa, chief marketing officer for Shelton, Connecticut-based BrandDirect Marketing. "If you don't use the card a lot, you might not be getting a good deal."
That's not to say there aren't any wise buys out there. The editors at InsideFlyer magazine recently weighed in on the best affinity-card deals for business travelers. Pam Lewis, managing editor, advises travelers to read the fine print before signing on the dotted line. "Look at everything--the interest rate, the fees and enrollment bonuses--before deciding," she says.
One of her favorites is the US Airways Dividend Miles Platinum Visa, managed by Bank of America (800-732-9194). It gives customers 1.2 miles per dollar spent on general purchases and two miles per dollar spent on US Airways tickets. Interest rates are relatively competitive, and there's a generous enrollment bonus. The only drawback is the above-average annual fee of $125.
The Sheraton Starpoints Credit Card from American Express (800-678-4629) wins in the hotel category. Not only do you earn Starpoints preferred guest points at the rate of 1.5 miles per dollar spent, but there's no annual fee. In addition, when you hit the 20,000-point level, the company throws in another 5,000 points you can transfer to airline programs. Heavy users can amass miles at much more than 1.5 per dollar.
Diners Club (800-234-6377) wins an honorable mention for offering the most innovative way to spend award points and its outstanding benefits-including access to many Diners Club airport lounges.
Ready to apply for a card? Joy Thormodsgard, chief operating officer for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a network of 1,450 Neighborhood Financial Care Centers throughout the United States, advises travelers to visit www.bankrate.com to compare rates and features. "Be sure to understand the deal," she says. "After you locate the card with the best rewards, compare [it] to a standard card. You might find a better deal with a regular credit card."
Christopher Elliott is a writer in Annapolis, Maryland. Contact him at www.elliott.org.
BrandDirect Marketing, 4 Corporate Dr., Shelton, CT 06489, (203) 447-5000;
Inside Flyer Magazine, (800) 767-8896