When you’re in the points and miles game, at some point you’re going to have a lot of credit cards. A LOT. Beyond remembering to pay my bills, it can be tough remembering which cards to use at which locations. Even though I have over 20 cards, I rarely carry more than three or four–can you image the back pain from sitting on that wallet! In this post, I’m going to share the four cards I’ll be carrying around in my wallet, and my reasons why.
Determining Where I Spend Money
In any given month, my spending generally occurs in three categories:
- Other (utilities, CSA, other small non-category purchases)
Given this, I got to work determining the three to four best cards for these purchases, based on what I already had in my arsenal (see above). Deciding on the best card isn’t necessarily based on the number of points you earn per dollar on purchases, but also what the value of those points are. Per The Points Guy:
There isn’t a mathematical formula at work here. At some point I’d like to create a system that could calculate a precise value based on award availability, fees, award levels and ease of accrual, but for now these valuations are based on a combination of how much I would pay to buy points if given the opportunity, and the overall value I could get from redeeming them.
He goes on to demonstrate that not all points are created equally–points like Chase Ultimate Rewards and AMEX Membership Rewards are “worth” more because of the flexibility their numerous uses offer. As you’ll see below, most of the cards I plan to carry are these “flexible currency” cards.
This is by far my largest category for spend, and because of that, I want a card that is going to reward me for buying things I need! In this case, the top choice in this category is the American Express EveryDay Preferred, which nets me 3 points for every dollar I spend. For example:
- Spending $100 at my local supermarket earns me 300 AMEX points, which are worth $5.70, or a 5.7% return
My back-up card for grocery stores is the American Express Premier Rewards Gold, which earns me 2 points for every dollar I spend.
I really value AMEX points highly, as I’ve gotten some great redemptions out of them–my favorite being 57,500 points for Turkish Airlines business class ATH-IST-JFK! In order to get that redemption, I transferred points to Air Canada and booked the ticket through Aeroplan. You can also transfer AMEX points to a wide variety of airlines, like Delta, jetBlue, or Hawaiian.
Restaurants / Take-Out
Again with the food. When you think about it, that’s what we spend most of our money on, right? Or is that just me? 🙂
For this category, my top choice is the Chase Sapphire Reserve, because it earns me 3 points for every dollar I spend at restaurants or on take-out (I learned recently that Grub Hub and Seamless qualify for this category–scary!). For example:
- Spending $50 on a dinner with Nick earns me 150 Chase points, which are worth $3.30, or a 6.6% return
My back-up card for restaurants is the American Express Premier Rewards Gold, which earns me 2 points for every dollar I spend.
Much like AMEX points, I really value Chase points highly, as we were able to fly KOA-DEN-LGA in economy for only 22,500 points per person on the way back from our Hawaii trip! Chase transfer partners include United, British Airways, and Southwest, to name a few.
This category is like the kitchen junk drawer–everything that doesn’t earn bonus points in a category ends up here. It could be utilities, a book or movie, a new shirt–really anything! Most of what we buy ends up here.
For this category, my top choice is the Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard, which earns one point per dollar spent. You might be scratching your head, but let me explain. For most credit cards, the “everything else” category is generally one point per dollar, and it just so happens that the Amtrak points are (just barely) the highest value. Additionally, I use Amtrak A LOT, so putting all of my non-category spending on this card helps me earn reward trips quickly! For example:
- Spending $1,000 a month on “everything else” earns me 1,000 Amtrak points, which are worth $25.00, or a 2.5% return
I can usually get a New York-Boston roundtrip for ~4,000 points, so I’m looking at a “free” trip every four months or so.
READ MORE: What can you do with 30,000 Amtrak points?
My back-up card for everything else is the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which also earns me 1 point for every dollar I spend.
With all that said, there are the four cards residing in my wallet this fall, three primaries and one back-up. If you have more than one credit card, it may be a good exercise to figure out which locations or categories earn the most points on each card, and target your spending that way.
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