The Credit Cards I Use For Each Major Bonus Category [2019]

Filed Under: American Express, Chase
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For the average American, the single best way to maximize travel rewards is to make sure you’re applying for the best credit cards, and using the right credit cards for your daily spending. Having the card that best suits your spending patterns can be the difference between earning a single point per dollar on a purchase, and earning five points per dollar on a purchase.

Over the past few years we’ve seen the introduction of so many great new cards that can really help you maximize every dollar you spend. I remember that back in the day I’d typically only earn around one point per dollar spent, while nowadays I’m averaging multiple points per dollar spent.  I do travel a lot internationally, so for me, it’s always worth having a couple options of cards with no foreign transaction fee.

Given how many credit cards we’ve seen introduced lately, I think it’s worth sharing the cards I’m using for each major category every so often. So, here are the cards I use for various categories, starting with the most points per dollar to the least points per dollar:

Airfare purchases

I use the Citi Prestige Card, which offers 5x ThankYou points on airfare purchased directly with airlines or with travel agencies.

Until recently I used The Platinum Card® from American Express, which offers 5x Membership Rewards points but doesn’t offer great travel protection, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, which offers 3x Ultimate Rewards points and offers great travel protection.

However, the Citi Prestige wins since it offers 5x points and great travel protection. You really get the best of both worlds.

Dining purchases

Until recently I used the Chase Sapphire Reserve® for these purchases, as the card offers 3x Ultimate Rewards points.

However, the Citi Prestige Card now offers 5x ThankYou points on dining globally, so it’s my go to card.

Cellular phone, internet, and cable purchases

I use the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card, which offers 3x Ultimate Rewards points, and has a great cell phone protection plan.

Until recently I used the no annual fee Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card, which offers 5x points but doesn’t offer any sort of travel protection.

This is a category where I’m not maximizing the points earned, and am forgoing some points for coverage.

Office supply store purchases

I use the no annual fee Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card, which offers 5x points. You can buy a surprising number of things at office supply stores, so I find this to be quite useful.

In conjunction with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardChase Sapphire Reserve® Card, or Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card, these points can be turned into Ultimate Rewards points.

Special rotating quarterly category purchases

The no annual fee Chase Freedom® Card offers 5x points in rotating quarterly categories, on up to $1,500 of spending per quarter. For example, this quarter the card is offering 5x points at grocery and home improvement stores.

In conjunction with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardChase Sapphire Reserve® Card, or Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card, these points can be turned into Ultimate Rewards points.

US supermarket purchases

The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express offers up to 4.5x Membership Rewards points on purchases at US supermarkets. Specifically, you earn 3x Membership Rewards points on the first $6,000 spent annually at US grocery stores, and then you get a 50% bonus when you make at least 30 transactions per billing cycle.

Food delivery purchases

I use Postmates a lot, so I feel like in my case that’s worth putting in a separate category. What’s interesting is how different credit cards categorize food delivery services, as some view them the same as restaurants, while others don’t.

I use the Citi Prestige Card , which not only offers 5x ThankYou points and treats Postmates as a restaurant, but also offers $5 off every offer of $25+ order on account of being a World Elite Mastercard.

Non-airfare travel purchases

I use the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, which offers 3x Ultimate Rewards points, on all travel coded purchases (this even includes things like Ubers, taxis, parking, etc.).

The only two exceptions to this are that I use The World of Hyatt Credit Card for my Hyatt purchases (so that I earn 4x World of Hyatt points), and the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card for my Hilton purchases (so that I earn 14x Hilton Honors points).

US gas station purchases

The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express offers up to 3x Membership Rewards points on US gas station purchases. Specifically, you earn 2x Membership Rewards points at US gas stations, and then you get a 50% bonus when you make at least 30 transactions per billing cycle.

Everyday, non-bonused personal spending

For personal spending, my go to card is the no annual fee Chase Freedom Unlimited®, which offers 1.5x points.

In conjunction with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardChase Sapphire Reserve® Card, or Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card, these points can be turned into Ultimate Rewards points.

Everyday, non-bonused business spending

For business spending, my go to card is the Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express, which offers 2x Membership Rewards points on the first $50,000 spent every calendar year.

Beyond that I use the no annual fee Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card, which offers unlimited 1.5x points that can be converted into Ultimate Rewards points.

Bottom line

When all is said and done, I earn an average of around 3x points per dollar spent, which I’d say is a solid return. While I’m not suggesting that everyone have as many credit cards as I do, I do think there’s a lot of value in strategically getting a few cards that have big bonus categories for the things you spend most on.

How does this compare to the cards you use to maximize your spending?

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Comments
  1. 1) You seem to not spend a lot on the Reserve any more – does it make sense for you to downgrade to the Preferred?

    2) You earn Thank You points on most travel and dining, UR points on everyday and business spend and MR points on Supermarkets, person and business spend. You obviously have a lot of spend, but others may not. Do you recommend normal people “split” their earnings in three like this?

  2. The Sam’s Plus (Mastercard) pays 5% on gas purchases and 3% on all restaurant purchases. I use it for both of those. Some time Discover or Freedom pays 5% on gas purchases on rotating schedule.

  3. I sort of do the same. I’m not too able to get new Chase cards because of 5/24, but I use the IHG and Hyatt cards when I am at those hotels. Generally I use the AMEX Blue Business Plus so i can get the double points through the first 50K. I may be bypassing some other AMEX points but really want to max out the BBP before going on to another card. I’m working towards a 6 nighter at a JW Marriott next January and am wondering if I’m better off using the Bonvoy Brilliant once the BBP is maxed out. Perhaps the AMEX gold would be better and then transfer the point?

  4. Thank you Lucky, have forwarded this to all my buddies and family who ask me where to use what.
    AMEX Gold from website offers: Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at US supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X). Without having to do the 30 transactions in 30 days (as in the Everyday Preferred, which I still carry as a “backup” when I exhaust other bonus options.)

  5. Why not use the new Amex Gold Business card at Gas Station – 4x points and the regular new Amex Gold for supermarkets – 4x points as well?

    I have completely stopped using my Saphire Reserve with the new Amex Gold and Amex Business Gold giving 4 points on Gas Stations, restaurants, supermarkets etc. And the Citi Prestige paying 5x points on travel and restaurants as well. What suggestions do you have Lucky? Downgrade? I also have the Chase Ink Business Preferred

  6. So, is there anyajor reason to have the AMEX Platinum card? The other cards seem to cover everything, and do it better…

  7. I have 4 exactly credit cards in my wallet:

    — The CSR: earns 3X on dining and travel, very broadly defined, at home or ***abroad***, where AMEX cards don’t go.
    — The Ink Business Cash: earns 5x on cellular phone, internet, and cable purchases. Big ticket items for me.
    — The CFU: earns 1.5x on everything else.
    — The AMEX Biz Plat: as a status symbol mostly, but also used to pay for wi-fi during flights for which I get reimbursed up to $200.

    I now earn nearly of my points in a single currency: Chase UR points, which avoids me “currency dilution” (to have a lot points in many different currencies, but not enough in a single currency to afford a *good* redemption) and, because there is no daylight between Chase and United, seamlessly integrates with UA miles that I earn through flying — a biggest source of my points.

    The rest of my cards, which are co-branded hotel loyalty cards, are in my travel organizer and used to maximize the earning of various hotel points currencies, especially on revenue stays. The HH AMEX Aspire, which comes HH Diamond status and awards industry-leading 14x bonus points on Hilton revenue stays, is the card I use most among these ‘other’ cards.

  8. @Anthony —> Clearly I’m not Lucky, nor do I pretend to be, but I hope you won’t mind my throwing in my own 2¢…

    I was one who was “locked out” of getting the Chase Sapphire Reserve card due to 5/24. (FWIW, one of the five was the Chase Sapphire Preferred, obtained prior to the introduction of the Reserve card.). When I came out from under 5/24, I could have applied for the CSR, but something else always came up. Bottom line: I never acquired it.

    That said, my “go to” cards are the Citi Prestige for airfare and restaurants (5x), and Citi Premier for gas, tolls, public transport, and parking (3x). Hilton stays go on the Hilton Aspire card (14x from the card, plus another 20 points per $1 as a Diamond Elite), while “Marriwood” stays go on my Chase Marriott or Amex SPG-legacy card for 6x (plus the added points for being Platinum). I should point out that I hate revolving bonus categories, so non-bonus spend goes on the others (CSP, Alaska Airlines, Barclays Arrival+, etc.) to keep the cards active.

    As for your second question (“Do you recommend normal people “split” their earnings in three like this?”)…

    I do not have an Amex card which earns MR points, but my wife does. We continue to “split” our earnings among the three transferable “currencies” — MR, TPY, UR — precisely because not every transfer partner is a partner of all three “currencies.” This way we have access to the most transfer partners possible, and yet there’s enough overlap that — should we need to shift additional points, there’s usually a second card to draw from…

  9. I find myself moving more and more to cash back cards as frequent travel programs continue their downward spiral and I find credit card portals problematic as a means to spend points. Cards that are getting a bunch of spend:

    US Bank Altitude Card — 4.5% cash back on travel and all mobile purchases (huge).
    Uber Visa — 4.0% cash back on dining worldwide
    Fidelity Visa — 2.0% cash back used when other two cards don’t work. US Only.
    CapOne World MC (same as Quicksilver) — 1.5% back used like Fido Visa outside US.
    Ink Plus – 5 UR points at Office Supply — use primarily for gift cards at Staples (Safeway/WholeFoods). Use Safeway Gift Cards to buy Amazon Gift Cards at Safeway.

    Interesting that most of these cards are not on your list…..

  10. I find myself moving more and more to cash back cards as frequent travel programs continue their downward spiral and I find credit card portals problematic as a means to spend points. Cards that are getting a bunch of spend:

    US Bank Altitude Card — 4.5% cash back on travel and all mobile purchases (huge).
    Uber Visa — 4.0% cash back on dining worldwide
    Fidelity Visa — 2.0% cash back used when other two cards don’t work. US Only.
    CapOne World MC (same as Quicksilver) — 1.5% back used like Fido Visa outside US.
    Ink Plus – 5 UR points at Office Supply — use primarily for gift cards at Staples (Safeway/WholeFoods). Use Safeway Gift Cards to buy Amazon Gift Cards at Safeway.

    Interesting that most of these cards are not on your list…..

    And note that there are not a lot of fees. Altitude Reserve is net $75 after travel credit. Uber has no fee but pays me $50/year for streaming. Fido Visa no fee. Ink Plus $95 and I may not renew or may downgrade to Ink Cash.

  11. Robert – I think I may try out a “cashback year” in 2020. Right now, I have these cards in my wallets (I carry two – one in back pocket and smaller one up front)

    Chase Sapphire Reserve – most dining and travel
    Chase Freedom Unlimited – 3X on everything (first year bonus)
    Freedom (grocery for this quarter)
    Capital One Venture (other spend)
    Amex Delta Platinum (other spend – aiming for $25k)
    Hilton Ascend (some grocery and dining spend – aiming for $15K)
    Square Cash Debit (coffee, etc)
    Chase Debit

  12. Citi Sears – 11x TY Points on Dining, Gas, Groceries
    Citi Premier – 3x TY Points on Travel
    Amex BBP – 2x MR Points Else

  13. For spending…
    Amex Plat – Airfare
    CSR- Travel and any spending abroad (best card for travel outside of US)
    Amex Gold- restaurant and groceries
    Costco Citi card – Gas at costco
    Biz Blue- Everything else

  14. I’m in a similar boat to Lucky. Here’s my spending:

    Online: BoA Cash Rewards x2, Citi AT&T Access More
    Dining/Airline: Citi Prestige, I put my 4 night hotels on this too (which is most, otherwise it’s usually only 1 night).
    Gas: I buy at Costco buy purchasing Cash Cards online with above cards.
    Groceries: Rotating 5x card, Square Cash, Costco. BackUp for odd case: CNB Crystal Infinite
    Odd Expenses: Blue Business Plus or BoA Premium Rewards (2.625%).
    Office/Cable/Internet: Ink Cash
    Cell Phone: Ink Preferred
    Target: Target Red Debit

    I’ve been thinking lately, in all honesty, if someone doesn’t want to put forth all this effort and you’re able to get the CNB Crystal Infinite, it’s hard to beat because of the -$600 AF. Combine this with a BBP/BoA Premium Rewards(Platinum Honors)/2% card (I’m partial to SDFCU Premium Cash+) and you’ve set a floor at 2%, and you’re getting anywhere from 2-3.9% on many things. (Say you can get reliably get 5-6% on a specific category such as a CSR, you still need quite a spending because of the negative $600 AF + 1-2% difference. If you manage an extra 2%, you need to spend $600/.02 = $30,000 not including any additional annual fee you may be assessed.)

    If you want to juggle 3+, I’d add either Uber or a 5x card(s). This all is YMMV depending on specific spend. If you’re a truck driver, you may prefer Ducks Unlimited for unlimited 5% on gas. If you’re a home chef, you may prefer a Blue Cash Preferred, Amex EDP, or OBC. Again, though, assuming you can get a CNB Crystal Infinite, the extra 1-2% is likely not worth the time and trouble if you’ll use your points on flights at 1.3 cpp. This doesn’t include the $100 Visa Infinite flight benefit.

    I find myself using my online cards, Citi Prestige, and BoA Premium Rewards/BBP almost all the time now (assuming no min spends).

  15. I have my regular spend down to four cards – the CSR for non-hotel travel and restaurants; the Ink Business Cash for my cell phone, internet, and gas; the Ink Business Preferred for postage and eBay seller fees (I sell on eBay as a side business, and their fees are at 3x), and the CFU for everything else. (I have the Amex Aspire and the Amex Bonvoy for hotel spend at Hilton and Marriott, respectively, and I have an Aviator Red MC for the chip+PIN, which I’ll probably ditch and replace with an Uber Visa when the AF comes up.)

    I’m sure I could do better with my card portfolio, but I don’t want to carry thirteen cards, either.

  16. Jules – Use cards where you are trying to reach an annual spend number for some benefit or cards that give you good bonus on all spend that have no FTF. For me that would be Capital One Venture, PayPal Cahsback Mastercard, Amex Delta Plat and Hilton Ascend.

    My cards are:

    CSR (most dining and non airfare travel)
    Freedom (groceries this quarter)
    Freedom Unlimited (3X on unbonused spend in year 1)
    Amex Platinum (airfare, some unbonused spend)
    Cap One Venture (some unbonused spend)
    Hilton Ascend (dining and groceries)
    Amex Delta Platinum (unbonused spend)

  17. Jules CSR is my choice for everything when abroad. You earn at a minimum 1.5% on all spending (as UR points) with no foreign fees.

  18. You don’t address foreign transaction fees with which card to use. I’m based in Florida, but spen 5 months a year in the Bahamas, and 3 in Italy. My property taxes, home and car insurance are paid with credit cards, so foreign transaction fees are a deal breaker. I would love to pay these “every day” expenses with a card returning multiple points per dollar, but the ones that I’ve looked at like Chase Freedom Unlimited have foreign transaction fees. Since I spend two thirds of each year outside the US, any suggestions for “every day” cards?

  19. For everyday expenses without a foreign transaction fee, CapitalOne Quicksilver Card. No annual fee, No foreign transaction fees, 1.5% cash back on everything. Like Chase’s Freedom Unlimited card but better. Very easy to get cash back — no minimums — deposits right into any checking account or get a statement credit.

    I think you don’t hear as much about CapitalOne cards as Chase because Chase gives bloggers big referral bonuses for sign-ups. Can’t prove this, but….

  20. @David A lot of Citi Sears cardholder has been consistently getting this offer every months. In my case, I can earn maximum of 15,000 extra ThankYou Points per MONTH. (All I need to do is to spend up to $1,500 on Gas, Dining, Groceries every month and I earn the base 1,500 TY Points plus the extra 15,000 TY Points).

    https://3ie87c2dond928rt2e2zzo8o-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/sears.png

    This is essentially 198,000 TY Points for me annually without paying annual fee lol.

    In conjunction of TY Rewards Plus and TY Premier ($ 95 Annual Fee), I can transfer 100,000 TY Points to Virgin Atlantic with 30% bonus currently, getting 130,000 VA Miles and 10,000 TY Points back. Netting 130,000 VA Miles and 108,000 TY Points a year. And all I am doing is just put spending on this card for 1,500 per month on Gas, Groceries and Dining, which are the things I need.

    RoS analysis:

    Let’s value VA miles and Citi TY Points at 1.5 cpp to simplify the model, I am getting (130,000*1.5+108,000*1.5)*0.01 = $ 3,570 in value and paying $ 95 annual fee on total spending of 1,500 * 12 = $ 18,000

    RoS = ($ 3,570 – $ 95) / $ 18,000 = 19.3%

    This is even stronger than a lot of sign up bonus (e.g. Chase Sapphire Reserve, 50,000 Points on $ 4,000 spent with effective annual fee $ 150. Valuing CSR at 1.5 cpp, that would be netting $ 600 / $ 4,000 = 15% in RoS).

  21. How much does one have to earn to reach a break even point for cards that charge an annual fee? Whether its a $95 fee, a $250 fee or $550 fee?

  22. How much to break even on annual fee? Here’s one example I recently calculated. I recently got the US Bank Altitude Reserve — annual fee $400 with a $325 travel credit which is very easy to get so the net real fee is $75. What is unique for this card for me is a 3% cash rebate for mobile payments (for me Samsung Pay or Apple Pay) for purchases outside of bonus categories on other cards. On top of this, you get a 50% bonus if you spend the rebate on travel so it is essentially 4.5% rebate on non-bonus spend. Before this card, I was using a Fidelity Visa with 2% rebate for non-bonus spend so the incremental rebate is 4.5% – 2.0% = 2.5%. Within the 2.5% extra rebate I need to cover the net $75 fee. $75 divided by 2.5% = $3000. I know I will have more than $3000 of mobile pay on this card so it is in the money and I got the card.

    Moreover, the first year I get 50000 bonus points (worth $750 on travel) for spending $4500 in 3 months. This covers everything and more for year one. At the end of the year, I’ll look at spend and if over $3000 on mobile pay for stuff without category bonuses on other cards, it will be a keeper for sure. Unless someone comes up with something more lucrative.

    I also look at ease of using the rewards. This card is as easy as it comes. Earn the rewards, make a charge for travel, and then get a statement credit. Easy. And if plans change and the travel cancels, I still keep the statement credit. Before this, I had been using a lot of Chase cards and found it very complex to maximize value — need to transfer points to a partner or buy travel on their lousy portal (which is often overpriced as well). With Altitude Reserve, I just buy travel at the airline or hotel site and then get a statement credit. Easy.

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