The Two Best Credit Cards For My Spend Right Now

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I’m constantly evaluating which credit cards I’m using most for my everyday spend. There are several variables which go into this decision:

  • Which general categories I’m spending the most money in — Lots of cards offer lucrative category bonuses, so as my spending patterns shift, so should the cards I use most. For example, living in hotels full time I get tons of value out of the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card offering triple points on all travel purchases.
  • Which points I’m most in need of — While I have different valuations of points, at times I have more points in one currency than I know what to do with, while I can’t get enough of another currency; it all depends on what my travel patterns look like. For example, right now I have tons of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, while I’m short on American Express Membership Rewards points, which is why the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card is getting a lot of my spend.
  • How the value of different points changes over time — The value of specific points currencies, and even flexible points currencies, can change drastically over time based on award chart devaluations, changes in partnerships, etc. For example, Citi ThankYou points became much more valuable when they began allowing mileage transfers.
  • Card benefits changing over time — In many cases these can be subtle, but over time changes in benefits on cards can shift value propositions. For example, the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card being refreshed earlier in the year and offering triple points on gas and travel really changed the value of the card for many.

With that in mind, 90% of my spend has gone onto two cards as of the past several months. It has not only simplified my credit card strategy, but I also think I’m maximizing my rewards in a vast majority of instances.

So which cards am I using for almost all of my purchases nowadays?

Citi-Amex

Citi ThankYou® Premier Card for travel, gas, dining, and international purchases

This card offers the following bonus categories:

  • 3x points on travel
  • 3x points on gas
  • 2x points on dining out and entertainment
  • 1x point on all other purchases

So the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card offers triple points on all travel and gas purchases, double points on dining, and no foreign transaction fees. Those are the categories of spend I put on this card. It also has a very broad definition of what constitutes travel purchases, including the following:

airlines, hotels, car rental agencies, travel agencies, gas stations, commuter transportation, taxi/limousines, passenger railways, cruise lines, bridge and road tolls, parking lots/garages, campgrounds and trailer parks, time shares, bus lines, motor home/RV Rental and boat rentals

As you can see, that’s a fairly liberal interpretation of travel, as it includes parking, booking through online travel agencies, etc.

Gas-Station

The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card for everything else

This is one of American Express’ newest products, and as far as I’m concerned is one of the most underrated and all around most lucrative cards. What makes this card so awesome? It offers:

  • 3x points at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1x), 2x points at US gas stations, 1x points on other purchases
  • Use your card 30 or more times on purchases in a billing period and get 50% more points on those purchases less returns and credits

Since I easily achieve the 30 transactions per month, this means I’m earning the following:

  • 4.5x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at supermarkets (the first $6,000 per year)
  • 3.0x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at gas stations
  • 1.5x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on everything else

Grocery-apples

4.5x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at supermarkets is huge. Unfortunately I live in hotels at the moment, so don’t benefit all that much from it (though once I settle down and live in one place, I’m sure I’ll maximize that).

But mainly what I love about this card is that I’m basically earning 1.5x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on everyday purchases. I value Membership Rewards points at 1.8 cents each, so that’s like a return of ~2.7% on otherwise non-bonused spend.

As far as I’m concerned that’s by far the best return on everyday spend offered by any card, including the otherwise lucrative  Citi® Double Cash Card or Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express.

Bottom line

Between the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card and the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card, I’m earning:

  • 4.5x points at supermarkets
  • 3x points on travel and at gas stations
  • 2x points on dining
  • 1.5x points on everything else

For two mid-range credit cards, I’d say that’s a pretty incredible return on everyday spend.

Does anyone else have a “two card strategy” for maximizing return on everyday spend? Which cards do you use most?


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Comments

  1. Do you have to call and request the new livery of the Citi Premier card? Mine is still the old design and the newest card they sent me was 2 weeks ago.

  2. @Lucky — Since you value Ultimate Rewards points at 1.7 and ThankYou points at 1.6, is there a reason that you’re using the TY Premier for dining instead of the Sapphire Preferred?

  3. I find the uses of TY Points so limited (to us) I haven’t even signed up for the card. Singapore is great, but its uses are limited. We don’t live at an American hub. You travel so much TY points work for you, but I’m not sure they work for most average travelers.

  4. @David – Walmart and Target do *not* count as grocery stores for Amex purposes. (I believe Target does count as a grocery store for Chase.)

    This selection of “two best cards” is almost exactly what I’ve chosen, except I’m using the Everyday, not the Everyday Preferred: the former only earns a 20% bonus, but you only have to make 20 purchases per month and there’s no annual fee (and there’s a 25k sign-up bonus). Since most of my spend falls under the Citi bonus categories, I’m not sure if I can regularly hit the 30 purchase per month threshold for the Preferred!

    (The hard part about this is explaining to the wife about what card to use when. It’s much easier to give her a card and say “use this”. For a non-obsessive about points, remembering the rules is excruciatingly difficult because it’s excruciatingly boring.)

  5. I’ve been using the AA Citi Platinum Card for the last 3 years should i change to
    Citi Thank You Card?

  6. @ sfmom — It definitely does depend on the person, though given the number of people who redeem their points for cash back or towards the cost of paid travel, I think the card is actually pretty compelling even from that standpoint, given the category bonuses.

  7. @ Kneemuh — Yep, it’s part of being “rich” in one program and “poor” in the other. I have tons of Ultimate Rewards points, while I don’t have as many Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou points at the moment.

  8. @ Alan T — That’s odd. I believe they should automatically send them at some point, though it can’t hurt to call and ask.

  9. I have a two-card strategy as well: mine is the Prestige for travel & hotels (3x points) and the Citi Double Cash for everything else.

    The Amex Everyday card is currently intruding, however, since I need to spend for the 25K sign-up bonus already mentioned by a prior poster above.

    And, honestly, the Citi Premier without the Prestige is a waste of time . . . as we all know.

  10. Lucky, do you think I can get Citi to u
    Grade my Thank You Card to the Citi Thank You Premier without a hard pull and include bonus points when I meet the spending requirements?

  11. Well timed post. I’m just about to reevaluate my spend patterns, for two reasons: first, I’m.sittng at LAX for the last leg of my first points and miles aspirational trip (HK, Bali, and Singapore –thanks Alex!), so I’ve already started planning the next trip. As soon as I figure out when and where, I’ll know what types of points to start hoarding. Also, I think I’m about to max out my 6k grocery limit on the EDP Amex, so have to figure out if “just” 1× 1.5 is my best option.

    Also, I did a 3 card app-o-rama before I left so I’ll have some serious minimum spend ahead for the next few months. Oh, and we’ll have new Freedom categories soon, too, which will make a diffetence.

    Thanks Lucky, for all the wisdom, and Alex for the planning. Hopefully, with all I’ve learned from all of you this year, my next email to Points Pros won’t just be “i have x number of these and y of those and want to go to Asia.” This time I hope to be a little more helpful and informed.

  12. @mbh Something smacks pathetic if you are spending $6,000 at grocery stores and you are focused on driving up spend to get bonus points…hahaha You might have control of that money, but you didn’t earn it. hahaha or calling Point Pros….Or, instead of spending $12,000 to get 3% back in points to mess around with..you could just take advantage of deals like the $4oo something going roundtrip to Asia, or go on Priceline and just book the flight there. I often find that Priceline alerts me to the airline with the cheapest price, and then I book it on the airline’s site to get the miles and any advantages they will give me for buying it directly through them.
    Also, some grocery stores have different cash back rates for some Amex cards. That’s what it said for my card, but I haven’t looked at what that means yet. Some grocery stores maybe 5% back and another maybe 2% back. There is a published list I think. 6% is the enhanced, let me sell you a credit card number. Really, buying food I think at the grocery store is a waste of time, and not how I want to spend my time. I’d rather eat out with people, or at least someplace good and fast. I spend more money at grocery stores, and waste lots of time, and I just end up eating everything in three days anyways. Also, anything like fruits and veggies go bad. I just spend a lot to schlep it to my hoarder cave and eat it in the dark alone in a binge. NO. Not how I want to live.
    Restaurants make better food, and they have everything. If you are really savvy, you use groupons and gift cards from restaurant.com or something like that ..if they are still in business…and then you have leftovers for tomorrow! hahaha Oh yes. I’ve cashed in two dinners at once. hahahaha
    It’s a sad, lonely life, but no one else is makin’ all this money to buy gift cards or groupons, and I’ll be damned if I am going to let those expire because I don’t have anyone to go with.
    The up shot is that I spend less money, waste less time, and have more fun and eat better in quality, variety, freshness, complexity, and quantity going to restaurants all the time than making my own food.
    I am growing and catching a lot of my food, so I spend almost nothing on food. hahaha And I eat better. Take that mbh, AMEX, grocery stores, and Lucky talking about all your spend and points.
    (And I’m not in front of a screen all the time.) I’m not plugged into the and your system.
    Which kind of reminds me of something, this site is a little starving.

  13. Nice post Lucky! I am having a hard time figuring out how to best use/maximize the value of my Amex rewards? Transferring them to Aeroplan (I believe is what program for Lufthansa first class) is not ideal because we often cannot leave 14 days in advance. Any other suggestions on how to best use these points? Or if you have written to this in the past and I have missed it, can you reply with the link?

  14. @Lucky how does the coming devaluation of Avios transfers effect your valuation of Amex MR? They have some good transfer partners that help them hold their value but Chase UR and SPG are still going to transfer 1:1.

    There are some ways you can help balance it out, i.e. instead of transferring UR to Krisflyer and MR to Avios, do the opposite. But I still can’t help but feel this is a big devaluation for MR. They need to score another exclusive/semi exclusive hotel or airline transfer partner for them to keep their valuation in my book. I’ve already started shifting some spend that would have gone to my Everyday Preferred over to my Chase UR and Citi ThankYou earning cards because of it. Citi ThankYou even transfers to VX now so the way I see it Amex has no exclusives of any real value anymore.

  15. @jm, addressing the only intelligible part of your post: they’d have to pay ME to sit in the back of the plane I’m in the final hour of a 37 hour trip from singapore to Atlanta, and even with singapore suites and first class domestic all the way, I feel like I’ve been run over. This distance of travel is tough enough in first–I’d never survive it in coach. (But the trip was worth every single minute of ms I had to do for it.)

  16. Well, Ben, I took your advice and I’ve been approved for both of these cards. Had been doing OK, but it was an inefficient, hodge-podge of cards between my wife and me. Looking forward to both the CC simplification and better rewards. Plan to let you know how it turns out. (BTW, I’m a former AE Platinum member for 39 years. Finally, I got so disgusted with them that I canceled my card. Never planned to go back. They have you to thank that I’m even giving them a 2nd chance!)

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