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Travel Reward Cards: Capital One vs Chase Explorer vs Chase Sapphire vs ?

I know this question comes up somewhat frequently but it seems that the criteria for collecting miles and converting them into free seats changes just as often. Any suggestions on what is currently the best credit card/mileage program to travel Business Class? I've been using Chase United Mileage Plus for the last 7 years or so when traveling to Europe (using their partner airline Lufthansa) but I'm finding that there are way fewer seats available and I need more miles to get that Business Class seat. Two years ago my husband and I were able to travel in March business class going and 1st class returning. I haven't been able to find a deal like that since yet my cc spending is the same or more.

**I am also posting this in the General Europe section.

Posted by
478 posts

I've been on the point guy site all morning. Lots of info. Thanks!

Posted by
101 posts

I used to have the Chase United card, and switched to Chase Sapphire. I like it better because I can transfer points earned to a variety of airlines (though so far I have just transferred to United, because as you already know, they let you book flights on Lufthansa and Swiss). My only reason for staying with the United card would have been for the priority boarding and other perks, but I don't personally fly United too often. My reasons for preferring the Sapphire card:

  1. Great customer service. Someone answers right away when I call.
  2. Ability to transfer points to a variety of airlines.
  3. Works well all over the world. The two cards may be equivalent in this respect, at this time. When I made the switch, the Sapphire card was offered with a chip, and the United card was not, so that factored into my decision-making.
  4. Premium-looking card that always gets comments, though I can't actually afford a true "premium" card :)

So I have reasons to prefer the Sapphire card, but both are probably equivalent in terms of getting those seats. One tip: a friend of mine with the same card gets some terrific deals by booking trips far out, right when they become available. (I think 9 months, but I am not sure of the exact timing.) He is flying business class to Japan for less miles than I spent getting coach tickets to Germany.)

Posted by
518 posts

I currently have all three cards you've mentioned. I've used the United Mileage Plus card on several occasions to redeem flights and you're right, even with advanced booking (more than 7 months in advance) the seats available for purchase using miles (not "upgrades" but full purchase) are very limited. They are especially limited for seats on Star Alliance partners (for example, Lufthansa) and are less limited for actual United flights, since the miles are actually United miles after all.

For most programs, the points or miles value are about $1 = 100 points/miles, meaning, 50,000 points/miles equals about $500 dollars worth of purchasing power, whether you choose to redeem them for products from the program's online mall or travel (such as flights, hotels, car rental, etc.). Just checking United's mileage redemption chart, a round trip flight in economy from the US to Europe costs 60,000 miles (this is their "Saver Award", which is their cheapest award ticket), which when translated to dollars, is $600. A round trip flight in business costs 115,000 miles (140,00 miles if on a Star Alliance partner airline), which translated to dollars is $1,115. So while mileage-wise, business costs a little over double the cost in miles, in reality if you were to pay cash for a business class ticket, it would cost a lot more than double. Just checking Lufthansa's website, a round trip business class ticket between San Francisco and say, Frankfurt, STARTS at $5,000-6,000.

So where the United Mileage program really shines is when using the miles to redeem a seat in business class. Because while I can personally afford a $600-$1,000 ticket in economy rather than use my miles, I couldn't afford a $6,000 business class ticket, nor would I be able to find a business class ticket for $1,115 (or $1,400 for a partner airline).

As for the Chase Sapphire and Capital One cards, the miles are not tied to any airline mileage program. Instead, their miles can be used to: reimburse travel expenses you've incurred on that card, purchase goods from their online mall, transfer to a mileage program, or used to book travel through the cards own online booking website. For Chase Sapphire when you book through their online website using your miles, there is a discount of I think 20%.

I think it's good to have both a card that earns miles directly for an airline program and another one that is not tied to any program.