Friday, May 28, 2010

Rewards Credit Cards – Chase Ink Plus Visa

With the new credit-card laws coming into effect, we’ve been watching the transitions going on with reward credit cards. It’s been subtle, but we’re seeing a few more annual fees, combined with a few more incentives.

We just got a solicitation for the Chase Ink Plus Visa. For $60/year annual fee (waived the first year), this “upgrade” from our regular Ink card offers a few more points on some purchases (less on others, see below), a few bonus points for acquiring the card, bonus points at certain annual spend levels, plus two travel benefits that actually seem pretty intriguing.

The Ink Plus comes with a Priority Pass airport lounge account ($99 annual value if purchased separately) and two free lounge visits (worth $54). Secondly, the card is touting the ability to transfer points 1:1 to “some of the industry’s leading frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs.” We can’t yet find out what the specific air and hotel partners are, but we might assume they could be Chase’s current travel card partners – United, Continental & Southwest air; Marriott & InterContinental hotels.

(Our current no-fee Chase Ink Visa gives us 3 points – equivalent to 3% cash back – for gas, restaurants, hardware, office supply, home improvement. The new Ink Plus solicitation says 1 point for every dollar spent, so we’re assuming those 3% categories would disappear. Of course, that may be part of Chase’s reasoning behind the new offer – they can garner an annual fee, while at the same time eliminating those 3% reward categories.)

Nearly every commentator loves Starwood’s American Express card ($45 annual fee) for its ability to transfer points into many airline frequent-flyer accounts. Indeed, very few proprietary points cards allow such transfers. Starwood’s points generally transfer at 1:1, except into United/Continental which are only at half that value.

Hilton’s Surpass Amex also offers the Priority Pass option ($75 annual fee, but without the two free visits). And while we like the Hilton card for its Hilton points earnings used at Hilton properties, the card has abysmal frequent-flyer transfer ratios.

So if you’re a United/Continental flyer, the Chase Ink Plus may offer more benefits (and essentially the same mileage earning) at a lower annual fee than a United or Continental card (both of which are also issued by Chase). Plus you get the Priority Pass membership.

We still are somewhat skeptical of rewards cards (or any credit cards) with annual fees. Still, the Chase Ink Plus joins our short-list of potentially useful annual-fee cards. The lineup (most of these cards also offer some sort of sign-up bonus miles or points):

  • Chase Ink Plus - $60 annual fee; Priority Pass membership plus 2 free visits; frequent-flyer/hotel account transfers.
  • Starwood Amex - $45 fee; many frequent-flyer account transfers; bonus points on some transfers.
  • Hilton Surpass Amex - $75 fee; Priority Pass membership; upgraded Hilton status levels depending on spending.
  • Alaska Airlines Visa - $75 fee; annual $99 companion ticket (anywhere on Alaska metal); Alaska has many OneWorld & SkyTeam partners.
  • United Access Plus Visa - $275 annual fee, but that gives you and a companion a full year of Economy Plus seating (which costs $425 to purchase annually). This one is only for hard-core E+ loyalists (we are, as much as we dislike most other aspects of United). And do keep an eye on the United (and Continental) credit card offerings as the merger progresses.