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

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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.

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 no annual fee Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card, which offers 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.

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.

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 gas stations, drugstores, and on tolls.

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 supermarket purchases. 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.

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 UnlimitedSM 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. the Amex Everday Preferred requires 30 transactions per billing cycle for the 50% bonus. Do you reach those 30 transactions per billing cycle? Maybe as a business, but as a person with 3 credit cards I don’t make 30 transactions on each every billing cycle, you have many more credit cards, so do you actually manaeg.?

  2. It seems like that the Sapphire Reserve is no longer necessary based on the cards you have. You can use the Citi Prestige for 5x on airfare and Dining, co-branded hotel cards for their respective hotel, and the Ink business preferred for other travel, which also gives 3x like the Sapphire Reserve, and the “premium” ultimate rewards points. Do you have any plans to cancel it or something?

  3. Since you mentioned in your United cooking post that you don’t cook much, how much use do you actually get out of the EDP at supermarkets (assuming Target/Walmart don’t count)?

  4. @ Moose — While I don’t cook a lot, I do buy a fair amount of prepared food, fresh fruit, etc. Liquor stores also often code as grocery stores. 😉

  5. @ Penny — Yeah, for the most part I hold onto them for the benefits, but I don’t actually put much spend on the rest of the cards.

  6. @ Bob — It’s a fair point, and a downside to the card for many. In my case I auto-reload my Amazon account pretty frequently, which takes care of a lot of the transactions.

  7. @ Chaz — For Marriott I use the Sapphire Reserve. The card offers 3x points, and I value those points at 1.7 cents each, so that’s a 5.1% return. For Marriott the best co-branded card offers 6x Marriott points per dollar, and I value those at ~0.8 cents each, so I don’t consider that return to be quite as good.

  8. Must spend really a lot to earn enough points in three different points currencies (AMEX Membership Rewards, Citi Thank You, Chase Ultimate Rewards) to be able to afford a nice (read: costly) ‘aspirational’ redemption, considering that the three currencies are not interconvertible, and some, like the Citi TY, have limited transfer partners.

    To avoid a pitfall associated with the above, which I call “points currency dilution and self-anointed travel gurus don’t mention because it would get in the way of the commission they earn from getting you to get more cards, I now carry just three cards in my wallet: the CSR + the Ink Biz Cash + the CFU, which earn me points only in a single and increasingly powerful transferable points currency: the Chase Ultimate Reward.

  9. @DCS how is the Chase currency “increasingly powerful”? I like chase points and all, but theyve been losing partners (i.e. Korean) more recently than adding relevant ones.

    In addition to the value of the points, theyve lost the edge over Amex/Citi in speed to accumulate as Lucky pointed out.

  10. “Increasingly powerful” because, with the competition twisting itself in pretzels to outdo the CSR, it is diluting itself in the process (5x AMEX or 5X Citi Prestige for air travel, anyone), so that just sticking with the UR allows one to do much, much more, whether by redeeming points for awards through chase for a 50% higher cash value, or by transferring to “mainstream” partners like UA or SQ or Hyatt… I feel the powa!

  11. @Evan – Here’s the question succinctly: speed of accumulating in different points currencies vs. earning everything in a single points currency with a very broad definition of “travel”…which is faster?

  12. If you have a Samsung phone for which mobile pay works at more places than Apple Pay, there’s the US Bank Altitude card. 3x points worth 1.5 cents toward travel on any mobile pay purchase. Great for otherwise non-bonused spending.

  13. @brodie – Au contraire. It is a move that one who plays the game with a “full deck” and is immune to ‘sales pitches’ by self-anointed travel gurus to get the ‘latest and greatest’ or ‘flavor of the week’ credit card, would make. Believe me: it is a move a seasoned player would make. I will be back in touch when I get to 1,000,000 UR points+UA miles points later this year by following my ‘rookie’ strategy… 😉

    G’day.

  14. Great post and I am following the same strategy exactly with the exception of the Chase SR. Bonused spend is like driving a Tesla when the old guy next to you is still at the red light in a Corvette. Luxury comes to those who seize the day!

  15. It seems from reading your blog over time, Lucky, that most of your travel is out of the country and that most of your travel budget is for airfare. I can see where you value the Prestige for its non-US airline transfer partners you are able to extract maximum value from your TYPs. Earning TYPs quicker thru travel and dining on the Prestige then makes sense for you.

    You write a lot about Hyatt as well, so it also seems you rarely book hotels thru the Chase portal where the extra .25/UR the CSR provides is of tremendous value. You are only using the partner transfer feature that your CIB already provides (along with trip coverages/rental car protection, etc).

    Since you now have the CIB and you are shopping a lot of foreign travel, it does seem like the CSR is an expensive sock drawer card for you! Not sure your situation actually applies to a whole lot of your readers, but I also see where the Prestige more fits your needs and travel habits.

  16. DCS,
    Anytime someone says “believe me,” I do not. Trump is famous for using those two words.

    Having $1m Chase points is nice, and you can do some amazing travel with the points alone, however you handcuff your options with only one currency. You current or not so distant needs might not require the diversity, however things do change and the option of multiple currencies will always outweigh a single currency.

    Now if your spend is chump change, or slightly more, one currency makes more sense. Any decent spend will net far more options when diversified. I balance my miles just as I balance my investments, and that is diversified.

  17. @Brodie — Trump is a known and certified liar; I have presented my evidence here and elsewhere, so you are way off base. Nevertheless, it is simply silly to characterize my approach as that of a ‘rookie’ until you can show that you can afford to do YEAR AFTER YEAR the type of 4-week, multi-country, multi-city redemptions that I have been able to afford effortlessly every year over the last 8 years, and, thanks to my new exclusive ‘CSR + Ink Biz Cash + CFU’ strategy, it looks I will be able to afford even more effortlessly.

    Think of the UR as the USD — a currency that nearly the entire world wants to earn their money in and park their savings into. It is a single currency, but it is dominant because of its wide acceptability, and versatility. The CSR is the same way: I can redeem award flights on every single member of the 27-member *A network by instantaneously transferring my UR points to my UA account (I can do the same by also transferring points to Chase partners in other global alliances), or book Hyatt or Marriott award or revenue stays by transferring UR points to those programs or booking their hotels or others through Chase for a 50% higher monetary value. That’s the full power of the UR point, which means to use my approach is to play the game with a “full deck”; do you play the game with a “full deck”?

    As they say, put up your evidence that your strategy is better, or just sh… (well you know the second half that saying).

    G’day.

  18. Dear OMAAT: Someone addressed me, so I just responded. Would please stop your sudden ‘moderation’ of my posts so many years after my posting style is already well-known?

    Thank you for releasing the comment I just posted, which appears to have been held in ‘moderation’ and has been happening with increasing frequency to my comments, for whatever reason.

  19. Put up the evidence that you play the game in the same top major league as some of us have been for year, and you’ll have some credibility; otherwise, you’re just blowing hot air.

  20. DCS,
    I owe you nothing. And why share? I have no intention of getting freshman to graduate. Please do stay committed to your play.

  21. Like I said, all hot air. There is absolutely nothing I need from you.

    Goodbye and have a nice self-delusional life.

  22. What is with the online hate? How about we just accept different viewpoints on point accumulation without ad hominem arguments?
    Lordy.

    From the ancient latin phrase of the early 90’s, “Can’t we all just get along?”

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