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Which Credit Cards Reduce the Risk of Losing My Miles?

SmarterTravel

Dear Tim,

Are there any credit cards that allow you to transfer miles to multiple airline programs?

Shobis

Dear Shobis,

Yes, there are two. And if there ever were a time to consider them, this is it.

With airlines facing the prospect of bankruptcy and, in some cases, the possibility of outright liquidation, such cards are more attractive than ever. Beyond their usual claim of flexibility, they can now justifiably profess to offer consumers a considerable safety net—a significant advantage over cards that reward users with miles on a single airline.

The cards in question are issued by American Express and Diners Club. Following are brief profiles of both, including their respective strengths and weaknesses.

American Express

American Express cardholders earn one or two Membership Rewards points for every dollar purchased with the card. Points can then be redeemed for miles in the programs of 12 airlines, including Continental, Delta, Southwest, and US Airways.

The classic entry-level green card now comes in two versions: Rewards (for an annual fee of $65) and Preferred Rewards ($110).

With both cards, users can earn one Membership Rewards point for every dollar in purchases, and two points per dollar spent on so-called “everyday purchases” at selected supermarkets, gas stations, and drugstores, and at the U.S. Postal Service.

The difference between the cards lies in the points-to-miles conversion rate. With the more expensive Preferred Rewards card, one point is redeemable for one mile in most airline programs. With the cheaper card, two points equal one airline mile.

Pros and cons:

  • Although accepted by fewer merchants than the ubiquitous MasterCard and Visa cards, American Express cards are accepted by more merchants than Diners Club.
  • Double points gives the Amex offering a competitive edge over most other rewards cards.
  • At $110 per year, the annual fee for the more desirable Preferred Rewards card is one of the highest among rewards cards.

Diners Club

Holders of most Diners Club cards are automatically enrolled in the Club Rewards program, which awards two Rewards points for every dollar in purchases using the card. Rewards points can be redeemed for various merchandise awards, or for miles in the programs of 26 participating airlines, including all the largest U.S. carriers.

The basic card has an annual fee of $95.

In most programs, the points-to-miles conversion rate is 2:1, so consumers are effectively earning one airline mile for every dollar they spend.

Pros and cons:

  • Diners Club takes the convenience factor of American Express and super-sizes it with 26 airline programs and nine major hotel programs participating in points-to-miles exchanges.
  • Club Rewards also features a miles-to-points option, allowing cardholders to exchange miles in either American’s or United’s program for Diners Club points.
  • The Diners Club card is not accepted by as many merchants as Amex.

In an upcoming SmarterTravel.com series, we’ll be looking in considerable detail at the credit card options available to frequent travelers. Stay tuned.

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