My 2012 Credit Card Spend Strategy

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Update: This offer for the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express has expired. Learn more about the current offers here.

As 2011 draws to a close, it’s time for me to start thinking about my credit card spend strategy for 2012. This isn’t just a function of getting a “fresh start” with the new year, but rather about taking advantage of all of the bonuses that my preferred cards offer based on calendar years.

To start I should say that I probably spend somewhere around $100,000 per year on credit cards, mostly through reimbursable expenses. With that in mind, here’s my strategy:

Spend $30,000 on the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

While I value Membership Rewards points a lot less than I used to, the bonus categories on this card are worth considering.

If I could manage to put $30,000 of airfare on the card, that would translate to 90,000 Membership Rewards points. Add in a potential 50% transfer bonus from Membership Rewards to Delta SkyMiles, and we’re looking at ~150,000 Delta SkyMiles, or about 5.0 Delta miles per dollar spent on airfare. While they’re “only” Delta miles, that’s still a pretty amazing return on credit card spend.

Hit $30,000 of spend on the British Airways Visa Signature® Card

British Airways massively devalued their Executive Club program back in November when they converted their miles to Avios points. While I would have just written off the program, the problem is I still have about 400,000 Executive Club miles in my household account, and I need to find a way to spend them.

Now that the program is massively devalued, not only due to the fact that the mileage levels have increased for so many destinations, but also that fuel surcharges have been added to many of British Airways’ partners, I’m finding the best use of those points to be for travel on British Airways. And that companion certificate does allow the second passenger to travel without using any miles, but rather only having to pay taxes and fuel surcharges.

For New York to London in first class we’re talking about 120,000 miles for two passengers, plus around $800 per person in taxes/fuel surcharges. Cheap? Hell no, but still better than the alternatives, and certainly better than letting those miles just expire.

Rest of my spend goes on my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

While the card doesn’t have any threshold bonuses, I’ll put all of my dining, hotel stays, and other travel expenses on this card (aside from airfare, which will go on my Premier Rewards Gold card), since those categories earn two points per dollar.

Anyway, that’s my general strategy as far as cards that I actually plan on using over the coming year not for the sign-up bonuses, but for the points they generate for everyday spend. I’ll also be picking up some new cards, though am undecided on which cards yet.

Is anyone else’s spend strategy motivated by threshold bonuses?

Filed Under: Advice, American Express
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  1. I think your thought process on spending more on the BA Visa is way off base. In essence, your logic is to spend more on the card in order to burn down more of your miles. Why not just burn the 400k and be done with it instead of earning an additional 30k in Avios (which could be miles earned elsewhere instead)?

  2. I too don’t get why you want to spend 30K on the BA Visa. Rather spend 25K on the UA Visa and you would get 10K miles extra.

  3. His strategy to spend 30K on BA makes sense. It would double the value of his points if he used them all up in one shot with a companion ticket. Also, the earning rate on the Chase BA is 1.25, so the 30K spend nets an extra 7.5K miles vs. other cards. Unfortunately it has an annual card fee which reduces the efficiency.

  4. So you want to spend $90k before even hitting up the fourth card? That is a lot of spend. Something close to twice the median annual income before tax? Maybe in the mint days this would make sense.

  5. I too like the companion cert on BA, having just earned mine for 2011. Remember that the redemption value for first class remained the same for LAX/SFO-LHR at 150k miles R-T, so I still think this is a great deal at 75k each.

    And I have already done 2 short-haul redemptions since they changed and the value was incredible. But yes, no more JFK-Bali on CX F.

  6. Lucky, are you sure the Amex Business Gold has the 15K point booster after $30K spending? No where on the Amex website suggests that.

  7. I’m surprised you have no comment on the SPG AmEx… They have so many transfer partners and can also be used for SPG hotel stays, and some of those Cash + Points options can be very high value!

  8. Also, Chase Freedom has the quarterly category bonuses of 5 UR points (really 4 points on top of the standard point). The quarterly spend ceiling is $1,500, so at 4 points/$, an additional 24,000 points/year. Stack with certain UR Mall bonuses like I did in 4th quarter, and it can really add up.

  9. Sorry to say, Lucky, as I like your blog, but I’ve been finding way way way too many posts on CCs recently. Before you were receiving commission, there were many less posts.
    The reason this bothers me, as I’m sure it bothers many other readers as well, is because I don’t live in the US and therefor cannot take advantage of any of these offers.

  10. I plan on getting the UA Explorer card, and going for the 10K miles for $25K spend bonus.

    Am not a fan of AX MR points right now…however, if you have $30-60K to spend on airfare, then that is a value prop that’s hard to turn down. Esp since you plan on making BA and DL redemptions. (I emptied my BA and DL balances in 2011, so don’t feel like starting from zero.)

    But for me, I’m all in on UA (and UR points) and AA when convenient in 2012.

  11. @janyyc

    I have to agree with you. I still like reading all the non-CC posts, but the CC posts have become a bit much for me, too (and I live in the US and can/have taken advantage of them). I feel the same about Gary’s blog. Since the advent of referral links, both blogs have seen a significant uptick in CC-related posts. I don’t mind the referral links or helpful CC post (on either blog), but I wouldn’t mind seeing the number of CC posts fall back to normal levels.

  12. @ I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but at the same time I would use those miles for a 120,000 mile first class ticket to London, so I might as well take someone else along for only the cost of the taxes/surcharges, right? Since I’m stuck with the miles that seems like the best way to maximize them.

    @ Phil — Like I said, mostly reimbursable business expenses.

    @ Sean — Hmmm, I can’t find the benefit listed online right now, though it was definitely a benefit when I acquired the card last year. Let me take a look when I get back home tomorrow.

    @ Carberrie — It’s a great card, one I’ve had in my wallet for years, and as an “all around go to card” is pretty tough to beat. At the same time, they don’t offer any points bonuses for categories other than SPG hotel stays, so you can do better in dining, groceries, gas, airfare, and other travel expenses.

    @ janyyc @ FBKSan — I sincerely appreciate the feedback. I do happen to know a lot of people find the posts useful, though, and fewer than 10% of my posts are about credit cards/have credit card links. If you think that’s too much I’ll certainly take it into consideration, though at the same time I know not every post will cater to everyone. For example, some people hate my bi-weekly photo contest, while other readers go into withdrawal when I don’t post them on-time. But I really do appreciate the feedback.

  13. The personal amex gold bonus is 15K for 30K in spend.

    For the biz card, it’s a 25K bonus for 50K in spend.

    I know because I crossed the line on all 4 (wife & me, 1 of each) cards last night.

    Benefits | Card Benefits | pick a card | See All Benefits | Earn Points or Earn Points Even Faster.

  14. I think Richard’s right: Amex Biz Gold 25K bonus for 50K spend.

    While it does seem like the number of CC posts here and on other blogs has increased, I think it’s in keeping with some of the changes over the last few years: increased sign up bonuses, bump the bonus opportunities, and changes in the way that cards offer rewards. My sense is that we’ll continue to see changes with cards offering rewards for categorical spend while other cards will stick with threshold spend bonuses. And, I think the key to maximizing bonuses will be in the planning. Thus, I find the year end/start of the year “planning” posts especially useful.

  15. Lucky, I just want to remind you and your readers that even with the Amex and BA spend, you can make your purchases through the UR mall and get even more points. For example, book all of your flights thru UR mall and Travelocity to get 2 extra UR points per dollar for all of your flights (on top of the 3 points from your Amex card). Note that you won’t get points for the fuel and tax portions though

  16. I’d like to say I do appreciate these credit card posts. The card are one of the best tools to earn miles quickly…particularly with signup bonuses, for most people. So I don’t see why you all wouldn’t post about them. It does get a bit repetitive, since most of the bloggers have the same core cards, but I think it does help you to remember all the little details and nuances about the cards.

    I think that maybe some people are just looking for a reason to complain, and people getting paid off ads are easy targets. Just about every blogger that posts about credit cards seem to receive these complaints, or comments that readers can’t trust them any more since they are getting paid. But the way I see it, it’s difficult for any of you to be misleading about offers, etc., because there are so many information sources where we can find credit card information.

    Also, right before the new year, there were a bunch of credit card past/future spending/application posts from all the bloggers, so maybe people were getting sick of seeing credit card posts at each turn (I think normally, there aren’t really that many posts).

    Considering that most bloggers reported earning around half a million miles or more from credit card sign up bonuses over the past year…I can’t see why credit cards SHOULDN’T be posted about (I doubt most people earn half a million miles by flying and hotel stays).

  17. “Much like the Premier Rewards Gold card, the Business Gold card offers 15,000 bonus Membership Rewards points if you spend $30,000 in a calendar year”

    Do you know where I can find this information? I’ve put over 40K in shipping and advertising along and no 15,000 bonus points yet.
    I sent a message to amex and they said they will investigate to see if that offer applies to my account. I though this was one of the benefits of the card.

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