Smart savings: How to pick the best credit card for airline miles, points, cash back

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Wednesday, October 30, 2019
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Credit card offers promise free stuff, and who doesn't want free stuff? Some even give you miles or points or cash. But it can be a little tricky to figure out which give you the most bang for your buck.

Every day, we're bombarded with offers for credit cards. They all promise free stuff, and who doesn't want free stuff? Some credit cards even give you miles or points or cash! But it can be a little tricky to figure out which give you the most bang for your buck.

Anyone who knows me will tell you: I'm pretty frugal. My friends and family say it's actually beyond frugal, I'm cheap.

But I just like to get my money's worth. So when it comes to credit cards - I like to look at every credit card offer to see if I can benefit. And I'm passing my knowledge on.

Start with your interests. If you like to travel, the sign-up bonus is the most important thing to look for in any card. Most airline cards usually offer bonuses of 50,000, sometimes 100,000 miles.

"Fifty-thousand miles will get you at least two tickets to the East Coast if you can do it off-peak," said travel expert John DiScala, better known as "Johnny Jet."

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DiScala travels the world and writes about it on his website, figuring out ways to save people money and make flying more pleasant.

"Sometimes the credit card companies are offering these really incredible deals that give you almost $700 in travel if you can pay it off every month," DiScala said.

And that's where it gets tricky - paying it off every month. Because, if you don't, the charges start adding up.

David Fleming, known as "The Miles Guy" on his website, analyzes how to best use your frequent flier miles.

"You want to be the person that does not revolve credit. You want to be the person that pays off the credit card every month. Otherwise all these interest rates keep accruing," Fleming said.

For those who don't travel enough to make it worthwhile, take a look at a card that gives you cash back. It might be a better deal for you.

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"At the end of the day, say you're getting 2% cash back, which would be a lot. On $100,000 spending, you're going to get $2,000 back," said Fleming.

Now, if you have frequent flyer miles and you want to use them to get in the air, first you have to follow the rules. First, to get a good seat, and second, to get a good deal.

Experts say the airlines are making it tougher. Sometimes, they only make a few seats available on each flight at the cheapest rate.

"You end up using more points than you need to. You end up getting flights that aren't that great," Fleming explained.

It's a complex puzzle and if you don't know the intricacies of the puzzle, it's very hard to figure it out.

If you're not a frequent traveler but still want to earn toward airline rewards, Fleming says look for credit cards that are not tied to any specific airline.

DiScala suggests looking at cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, because he says you can transfer your miles and points to dozens of airlines or hotels or car rentals so you have a lot more flexibility.

Two more tips: Always look for low or no annual fees, and stay within your budget. Don't overspend just to earn points.

All week long at 4 p.m., ABC7 will bring you some simple solutions for saving here in Costly Southern California.