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Here’s a window into my personal credit card strategy – and whether I’m walking the walk.
I’ve cleaned out my wallet and I’m not carrying nearly as many credit cards on a daily basis any longer. Still, my wallet is a great window in the spending choices I make every day. What gets a wallet slot, and what cards I have but keep in a drawer, go a long way towards illustrating how I put my mileage and spending strategies into practice. Sharing this also adds a bit to my transparency to my credit card strategy as I cover credit card rewards.
Here’s a peek into what’s really going on behind the scenes of my daily spending life.
My Wallet Credit Card Strategy
I don’t have any cards I’m trying to meet minimum spend on at the moment, so the cards I’m carrying are meant to (1) maximize return on my spending and (2) be available to swipe or show to obtain benefits.
What do I spend money on? Airfare, hotels, restaurants and groceries. I have other spending items, but those are mostly online purchases or recurring ‘set it and forget it’ expenses that don’t require the most rewarding card to be in my wallet (we’ll get to cards I have in a drawer next).
- The American Express® Gold Card is really underappreciated. It’s probably the best Membership Rewards-earning card overall: 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X) and 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com. This is my favorite card for restaurant spend (though haven’t been using it that way lately) and for grocery spend – my wife and I can maximize spending in that category.
- I have been putting restaurant spend on my Bilt Mastercard, though, because even though its 3x on dining is less than the 4x I could be earning with the Amex Gold this helps me to diversity my points, since I’m working with a seven figure Chase and Amex balances already.
Bilt is the only card that transfers to both American AAdvantage and United MileagePlus, and also has programs including Aeroplan, Hyatt and Turkish – so they’re valuable points – and this diversification nis why it makes sense for me even though I am not a renter and can’t take advantage of the truly unique selling proposition for the card which is earning up to 50,000 points per year paying rent at no fee (something that would cost $1425 per year using a service like Plastiq.com).
- A majority of my hotel nights are with Hyatt and so I carry the The World Of Hyatt Credit Card which earns 4x on Hyatt stays. I love that every $5000 spend on the card earns two elite nights, and that the card not only comes with an annual category 1-4 free night but a second one after $15,000 spend each year. That makes $15,000 of spending on the card super rewarding (free night and 6 elite nights) especially when the spending is in bonus categories. Not my bag as such but this is also the only card I can think of that bonuses fitness and gym memberships.
- For non-Hyatt hotel spend I’m carrying the Citi Premier® Card which offers 3 points per dollar, and I also like it for when I fill up the gas tank at 3 points per dollar. I’m favoring this card because I want to build up my Citi points balance, because I’m already overweight both Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards points. (I got the card when there was an offer to earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening – and that limited-time offer is back.)
- For airfare I find The Platinum Card® from American Express to be a no-brainer, 5 points per dollar for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year).
I also carry the card for access to American Express Centurion airport lounges; access to Delta lounges when flying Delta same-day, and Plaza Premium and Escape lounges. The card gives me Hilton Honors Gold (I don’t use the Marriott Gold from the card because I’m currently Marriott Titanium).
And I make the economics of the card work – this is a $695 annual fee card (see rates and fees) – because I make real use of the statement credit benefits it comes with to cover expenses I’d really otherwise incur.
I’ve been using the $200 airline fee credit with Southwest Airlines quite successfully; the $240 Digital Entertainment Credit has been covering my New York Times online subscription and SiriusXM subscription; $200 Uber Cash is something I’d spend anyway; The CLEAR® Credit covers me and my wife (my toddler comes with us through CLEAR free); $50 Saks credit semi-annually buys my toiletries. That doesn’t even count the $200 Fine Hotels & Resorts credit offer or $155 Walmart+ Credit, which have terms and details to look at.
- For unbonused spend I’m using my Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card which earns unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel, plus unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases and lets you transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs, and offers a premium rewards card at a lower annual fee than several other cards in its class.
It’s crucial in my view never to earn just one point per dollar on spend. I think of the Citi Double Cash Card‘s no annual fee and 2% cash back as the opportunity cost of spending – if you earn just one point per dollar then you’re effectively buying that point for 2 cents and no mileage currency is worth two cents in my opinion. But 2 Capital One miles? I value each one at 1.6 cents, so I consider the lowest rebate eon my spending I achieve to be 3.2%.
- Finally I’m also carrying a Priority Pass card, my Texas Drivers License, and my office swipe card even though I don’t travel to my office in DC twice a month anymore.
My Desk Drawer Credit Card Strategy
These are cards I have that I don’t use often, but have a strategic purpose, or cards I may have already gotten value out of but don’t plan on keeping.
- My Ink Business Cash® Credit Card is a long-term keeper but not one I pull out regularly.
This no annual fee card has an offer to earn $750 bonus cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Think of that as 75,000 points, which – if you have an Ultimate Rewards card whose points transfer to airline miles and hotel points – can be combined into one of Chase’s annual fee Ultimate Rewards products, and then transferred to a variety of loyalty program partners.
Ongoing earn includes 5% cash back (again, potentially transferable as 5 points per dollar) on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year. This covers my internet and cell phone spend which is on auto-pay. And, of course, I’ll use it at Staples and Office Depot.
- I have the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card and it helped earn a Southwest Airlines Companion Pass at the start of the year good through the end of 2023. I don’t need to put any spend on a Southwest card again until the start of 2024.
- I’ve had the Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card since it was a Starwood card. I don’t spend much on this card but I keep it for the 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month and 15 annual elite nights.
- I also have the Marriott Bonvoy BrilliantTM American Express® Card. This dates back as my oldest credit card, since the account was originally a Starwood American Express card that I opened over 20 years ago. I have used the annual $300 in statement credit opportunity each year at hotels participating in the Marriott BonvoyTM program and the annual 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. And it gives me 15 annual elite night credits. Between this card and the Marriott small business Amex that’s 30 elite nights a year.
Note that effective 9/22/22, the $300 Marriott Bonvoy statement credit benefit will no longer be available. It will be replaced with a NEW benefit of up to $300 in statement credits per calendar year (up to $25 per month) for eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide.
- This one will surprise some folks but I have the Miami Marlins Credit Card which I opened last summer, it has no annual fee and offers great baseball experiences inexpensively. I wanted a Cardless card to directly experience their product, and I pulled it out over the holidays when they ran a 10,000 point promotion for $1000 card spend.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has an offer to earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver Mastercard if the 2022 loyalty points threshold bonuses at $20,000; $40,000; and $50,000 spend levels don’t carry over into 2023 there likely won’t be a reason to keep the card, but I do use its annual $99 companion ticket (for two companions) and the one which comes after $20,000 spend on the card as well.
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard for Admirals Club membership, though I now have access for a year through my Royal Air Maroc Safar Flyer Gold status.
- Chase Freedom Unlimited® earns 1.5x on spending and has no annual fee, and was my go-to for otherwise-unbonused spend until I got Venture X.
- Chase Freedom FlexSM I originally picked up from product-changing another Chase card. It offers rotating 5% back bonus categories that you activate, which are frequently useful to me.
What I Need To Do Next
There’s not a lot on my long-term credit card strategy want list at the moment. I have myself well-covered both in terms of maximizing points-earning for the kind of spend that I do and in terms of the benefits that I value.
If I were under 5/24 I’d look to the Aeroplan® Credit Card though t I don’t really need Star Alliance Gold status from spend and don’t fly Air Canada enough to take advantage of Aeroplan’s status.
I can even get myself under 5/24 while getting new small business cards from American Express and Citibank, and I’ll soon be eligible again for the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® which is offering 65,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 4 months of account opening. This card has a $0 annual fee the first year (then $99).
My credit card strategy also involves waiting for the next big thing!
For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy BrilliantTM American Express® Card, click here.