The Credit Cards I Use For Each Major Bonus Category

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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 spend. Having the card that best suits your spend 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 spend category every so often. So, here are the cards I use for my spend, starting with the most points per dollar to the least points per dollar:

When all is said and done, I earn an average of more than 2.5x points per dollar spent, which I’d say is a solid return.

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

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Comments

  1. Do you typically make 30+ transactions with the Amex Everyday Preferred per month? Seems like a lot, especially with all of the other categories where it makes sense to use a different card (travel, dining, etc). Any hacks on this?

  2. @Colin….I thought it would be cumbersome to get 30 transactions with the AMEX EDP but it’s actually super easy if you stop and get a coffee almost every morning. I put my daily $2.82 at Starbucks on the card and that gets me 20 some odd transactions and I don’t feel bad about putting a “restaurant” spend on the EDP vs the CSR for that small of an amount.

  3. That’s exactly why I closed this card. Someone told me to do a $1 transaction every day but it sure seems like a lot of work.

  4. @Colin just split one general payment into several! Easily possible when you go to the self-checkout kiosks at places like target and such, pay for your items in seperate transactions instead of one whole transaction (maybe at off peak hours, so no one’s waiting in queue behind you).
    Or use the card to reload several tiny ($1 for example) amounts to your amazon account in seperate transactions.
    Might take you few extra minutes, but hey- you earn a lot more points!

  5. @ Colin — Personally I have my Amazon account auto-reload gift card balances with the card, so that helps me get most of the transactions out of the way. Assuming you don’t spend a lot at grocery stores and gas stations, the Freedom Unlimited can be an easier option, in conjunction with the Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve.

  6. The “average American” is going to only use two or three cards at most, and won’t want to fiddle around with too many bonus categories, points currencies, etc.

    In 2019, my strategy will be:

    $25,000 spent (non-bonus categories) on Delta Amex Platinum – 10,000 MQM and 35,000 RDM. Depending on how you value MQM, this is a great return (3% or higher)

    $15,000 spent (mainly restaurants/grocies) on Hilton Ascend – free Weekend night and about 90,000 Hilton Honors points

    All airfare on Amex Platinum (5x MR)

    Most other dining on CSP

    Other spending on cashback cards

  7. hey lucky, id like to add to the amex platinum note by saying that its not only airfare that gets 5x points. i paid for a baggage overage charge at the ticket counter at the airport with my platinum cardand got 5x points.

  8. Looks very similar to how I use my cards to maximize my spending. I pay my quarterly taxes with recently opened credit cards in order to just meet the spending minimum requirement to earn sign up bonuses. Then I pay the rest on my American Express Business Blue Plus card up to the 50,000 limit. Then Chase Ink Unlimited or Citi Double cash back card for non bonused spending.

  9. Flights – Amex Platinum (5x) unless I’ve recently opened an AA card and need to hit the bonus spend limit. My work travel is almost entirely domestic but often involves me purchasing flights within 48 hours of departure so buying $1000 domestic flights on my personal card is a helluva boon for my Amex points totals.

    Hotels – Marriott Premier Plus at Marriott & SPG (6x, just hit 1.6m points to go along with 510 nights for Lifetime Gold and trying to hit that threshold before we got the details of the merger). Still hold the SPG Amex for the free night.

    Hold the IHG card for the free night and use it for IHG spend but rarely stay there. Now that I’ve hit Marriott Lifetime Platinum (post-August 18), will focus less on them and maybe look into Hyatts when I’m in a location that has them. Will probably grab the World of Hyatt card.

    Amtrak – Amtrak Mastercard (3x). I travel the Acela DC-NY almost weekly and have been Select Executive the last 4 years…probably spend $20k each year. Love Amtrak points. Also love that Select Executive gets me into United lounges, when I rarely fly them and a Centurion isn’t around. Between this, Admirals Club, and Amex Platinum (Delta), I can access every legacy carrier lounge (lol not that they’re all that special).

    I have an AAviator Red Barclay card that I’m probably going to close soon and switch to the Citi AAdvantage Executive card so I don’t have to use my Amex travel credit on Admirals Club membership. I carry a basic BoA cash rewards card that sits in a drawer for emergencies.

    I live in DC and don’t own a car (rarely buy gas), have a company cell with very lax personal use rules, no kids, so I don’t spend a ton of money outside of those three categories above. I’m going to pick up a Chase Sapphire [reserve/preferred, depending on the current welcome bonus] card for the random stuff sometime soon but haven’t gotten around to it as I’ve been navigating the Marriott/SPG merger and didn’t want to hit a Chase 5/24 issue. Also looking at an Ink card for the free fourth night now that I’ve hit my Marriott lifetime totals.

  10. Flights
    Star Alliance & oneworld (not AA) – Amex Platinum
    AA Flights – Silver Aviator (I live in Charlotte)
    Credit oneworld to AA, Star Alliance to M&M

    Gas/Grocery/Amazon – Everyday Preferred
    -Like others have said I’ll do small “dining” like Starbucks on this too

    For me these three are all I need.

  11. @chris, do you go with EDP instead of the Amazon Rewards visa because you want MR over the 5% back you get with the Amazon Visa?

  12. I believe the ink preferred gives the same 3x on travel as the sapphire reserve, and the category of travel is defined just as broadly, so if you don’t dine out a lot (or mostly eat at hotel room service where it codes as travel anyway), then there is no reason to keep the CSR over the CIP

  13. Another CC post. When are we going back to flight reviews? This CC crap is so incredibly boring and useless.

  14. Easy to get 30 charges on Amex Everyday preferred.

    If you donate to charity each year..divide it up and make monthly charges. I get 10 every month with this.

    Buy 1/2 tank gas 2x each week instead fill up once weekly.

    Any non-bonus charge under $100 goes here and over $100 goes on Blue business 2x up to $50K

    When I got this card, I never thought I could make 30. Now get 40 – 60 every month.

  15. Same as you, Lucky, except I use the 3x CFU for gas, groceries, & non-bonus spend. When 3x is up in April, I will likely revert to the AMEX Ascend for 6x gas & groceries & (then) 1.5 CFU or 2x Citi CB for non-bonus spend.

  16. After we spend for status ($30k each on DL AMEX Reserve, $25k each on AA Silver Aviator MC, and $15k on Hyatt VISA), there isn’t much left to charge elsewhere, so we generally ignore these category bonuses. We do, however, use my PLAT AMEX for 5x on airfare! If I didn’t have my own business, no way we could accomplish these spend levels without investing tons of time in MS.

  17. Airfare: Business Platinum or Ink Preferred
    Cellular phone, internet, and cable purchases: Ink Plus
    Office supply store purchases: Ink Plus
    US supermarket purchases: Amex PRG/Costco. Don’t want to deal with the whole transactions promo with the EDP.
    Non-airfare travel purchases: Ink Preferred
    Dining purchases: Amex PRG.
    US gas station purchases: Amex PRG/Costco card
    Everyday non-bonused spend: Blue Business Plus up to 50K; Amex Business Platinum for purchaes over 5K, Blue for Business after that; CFU for personal spend. With category bonuses and spending tiers to hit, I often don’t put much spend here.

  18. I think a very overlooked card is the Barclay Uber Visa. This card gives 4x on dining, 3x on airfare, and pays $50 on my Netflix bill, plus cell phone insurance. We use Uber on almost every trip we take and getting nearly free Uber rides is not bad at all.

  19. Similar but discover card too. It’s no annual fee and you get rotating discounted categories (including warehouse clubs).

  20. My local library allows paying fees $0.01 at a time via credit cards… easy to hit 30 per month when I have some big Everyday card purchases that I want the extra 50% points on.

  21. Why don’t you write about higher paying cards, like the Alliant Visa that pays 3% cash back in the first year?

  22. The problem for me is that, when the CSR was first introduced with its 100k signup bonus, I was over 5/24 — the card that put me over was the Citi Prestige. Before I was under 5/24, Chase cut the bonus in half (50k), and then decided you couldn’t hold both the CSR *and* the CSP (which I already had in my portfolio). Needless to say, I wasn’t really happy about any of this, and so I still haven’t applied for a CSR.¹

    I get 3x on all travel using my Citi Prestige, including the 4th night free benefit, *except* for: a) travel on Alaska, where I use my Alaska Visa to get 3x points plus free bags (and the annual companion fare); b) car rentals, which go on the CSP for primary insurance coverage; c) gas, which goes on my Citi Thank You Premier card for 3x; and d) hotels (see below). Dining and entertainment is 2x on my CSR or either of the Chase cards.

    The exceptions have to do with where I’m staying. Up until now, the SPG Amex was my go to card for everyday, non-bonused spend, *and* when I would stay at an SPG property, my “chain-of-choice,” if you will. That stops as of 8/18, when the new rules for “Marriwood” take full effect, as that advantage disappears with the merger. Although I hold both the SPG personal Amex and the Marriott Premier Rewards Plus Visa, I’ll probably switch to using the Citi Prestige or the Marriott card depending upon the length of stay. As Tom mentioned above, I am also keeping the SPG Amex — both for the annual free night certificate, and because of the longevity of my account (only one or two cards in my wallet have I held longer than SPG). When staying at a Hilton property (typically my second choice), I use my Hilton Aspire Amex for 14x (plus the base points, plus the 100% bonus as a Diamond elite). If I’m flying an airline that charges me for checked bags, I put those fees on the Hilton Aspire card to take advantage of the $250 airline credit.

    Other cards basically remain in the proverbial sock drawer, and are rarely used. For example, I have the Virgin Atlantic Visa from BofA, but that’s simply so my VS points don’t expire before I can use them for something — probably by transferring over some points into my account and then flying on ANA, or — worst case scenario — flying domestic on Delta just to use them up.

    _______________
    ¹ My current plan with Chase is to either downgrade to Chase Freedom, wait the required time (which I really don’t want to do), and then apply for the CSR, *or* have my wife get the CSR. I also want her to get the Ink Business Cash or the Ink Business Preferred card for her office spend (internet, cell, office supplies, etc.). In the latter case, I’ll keep my CSP and apply for the Chase Freedom or, more likely, the Freedom Unlimited card. (I hate keeping track of quarterly bonus categories, and I’m thinking that this card will take the place of my SPG for everyday, non-bonused spend.)

  23. Here’s what I”m considering as an upcoming strategy. I place more value in Citi’s transfer partners for my own personal travel needs, and also frequently travel to countries where Amex is not widely accepted (e.g. Eastern Europe):

    Citi Premier: 3x travel, gas, 2x dining and entertainment
    Amex Everyday: 2x US supermarkets
    Amex Blue Business: 2x everywhere else
    and alternating between the Amtrak card for travel and the Citi 2% cash back card on everything else in countries/places where Amex isn’t accepted.

    And of course I have a few hotel CC’s for the annual free night. Also have the Amazon visa that I occasionally use – it’s my oldest card and no annual fee, so not going to cancel that one.

  24. Writers have a responsibility to use proper language and grammar. Your use of the word “spend” throughout this article is improper. The correct form of word is “spending”.

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