The Seven Credit Cards That I Actually Spend Money On

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Yesterday I wrote a post sharing the 21 credit cards that I have open as of now. There are a variety of reasons I’ve picked up the cards in that post, including big sign-up bonuses, generous perks for having the cards that more than justify the annual fees (if any), and great return on spend.

There are some credit cards that I hold onto but don’t actually put much spend on, like the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card (which has a $49 annual fee and offers an annual free night certificate valid at almost any IHG hotel in the world) and The Hyatt Credit Card (which has a $75 annual fee and offers an annual free night certificate valid at any Category 1-4 Hyatt property). In both cases I get outsized value just by having the cards, even without putting much spend on them.

Then there are the cards that I regularly spend money on. While I have a total of 21 cards, there are only seven that I regularly put spend on. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I put spend on other cards as well when there’s a specific reason to do so (like an Amex Offer, a targeted spend bonus, when I’m making a Citi Prestige fourth night free booking, etc.), but a vast majority of my spend goes onto the below cards.

Here’s a quick summary of the seven credit I use, broken down by spend category:

Airfare purchases — 5x points

The Platinum Card® from American Express offers 5x points on airfare purchased directly with airlines, so this is my go to card for airfare purchases. I value Membership Rewards points at ~1.7 cents each, so to me that’s the equivalent of an ~8.5% return on those purchases, which is huge.

The card has a $550 annual fee, though I find the annual fee to be worthwhile even without factoring in the 5x points, given that the card offers a $200 annual airline fee credit, $200 annual Uber credit, Amex Centurion Lounge and Delta SkyClub access, Hilton Honors and SPG Gold status, etc.

Cellular phone, internet, and cable purchases — 5x points (~8.5% return)

The Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card (no annual fee) offers 5x points on the purchase of cellular phone, internet, and cable (on the first $25,000 spent on combined purchases annually). That means I earn 5x points on my monthly T-Mobile bill using this card.

Ordinarily the points earned on this card are worth a penny each, though in conjunction with the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠, those points can be converted into Ultimate Rewards points, for a return that I value at ~8.5%.

Office supply stores — 5x points (~8.5% return)

The Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card (no annual fee) offers 5x points on office supply store purchases (on the first $25,000 spent on combined purchases annually). In addition to office supplies, there are plenty of other things you can buy at office supply stores.

Ordinarily the points earned on this card are worth a penny each, though in conjunction with the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠, those points can be converted into Ultimate Rewards points, for a return that I value at ~8.5%.

Special rotating quarterly categories — 5x points (~8.5% return)

The Chase Freedom® Card (no annual fee) offers 5x points in rotating quarterly categories, on the first $1,500 spent each quarter. This is a great way to pick up additional points for purchases you’d make anyway.

Ordinarily the points earned on this card are worth a penny each, though in conjunction with the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠, those points can be converted into Ultimate Rewards points, for a return that I value at ~8.5%.

US supermarket purchases — 4.5x  points (~7.65% return)

The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express ($95 annual fee) offers 3x points on the first $6,000 spent at US supermarkets annually. However, if you make at least 30 transactions per billing cycle, you receive a 50% points bonus, for a total of 4.5x points per dollar spent.

Since I value Membership Rewards points at ~1.7 cents each, that’s like a return of ~7.65%.

Non-airfare travel purchases — 3x points (~5.1% return)

The Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ offers triple points on all travel purchases, which includes everything from flights to hotels to subway tickets to Ubers to parking. So this is my go-to card for any travel purchase, with the exception of airfare purchased directly from airlines, where I use The Platinum Card® from American Express instead.

I value Ultimate Rewards points at ~1.7 cents each, so to me that’s a return that I value at ~5.1%.

Dining purchases — 3x points (~5.1% return)

The Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ offers triple points on dining purchases.

I value Ultimate Rewards points at ~1.7 cents each, so to me that’s a return that I value at ~5.1%.

US gas station purchases — 3x points (~5.1% return)

The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express ($95 annual fee) offers 2x points on US gas station purchases. However, if you make at least 30 transactions per billing cycle, you receive a 50% points bonus, for a total of 3x points per dollar spent.

Since I value Membership Rewards points at ~1.7 cents each, that’s like a return of ~5.1%. However, I have to say this is a bonus category I don’t value that much, since I don’t remember the last time I bought gas.

Up to $50,000 of non-bonused spend — 2x points (~3.4%)

The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express was introduced last year, and has no annual fee. It offers 2x Membership Rewards points on the first $50,000 spent per calendar year. The catch is that I don’t have this card yet (I’ll apply this year, since I’m currently at the Amex card limit), so I’m only an authorized user on Ford’s card as of now.

All remaining non-bonused spend — 1.5x points (~2.55%)

For any spend not in the above categories I use either the Chase Freedom Unlimited® or The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express. The card that I use depends largely whether I have fewer Chase Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards points at a given point, since I value the two currencies equally.

The only other consideration is that with The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express I try to make at least 30 transactions per billing cycle to unlock the 50% points bonus. Once that’s unlocked, I often use the Chase Freedom Unlimited®.

Bottom line

The above seven cards — four of which don’t have annual fees, do an incredible job helping me earn anywhere between 1.5 and 5x points per dollar spent. Since I value each of those points at ~1.7 cents, that’s like a return ranging from ~2.55% to 8.5%, which I’d consider to be incredibly good. Doing some rough math, the average number of points I’m earning for my spend is somewhere around 2.5x, which translates to a return averaging ~4.25%. Not bad at all, if you ask me.

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

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Comments

  1. SPG/Biz Amex gets no love anymore for non bonus categories?

    Do u value 5x MR on airfare more than the 3x CSR + trip delay insurance on airfare?

    Thanks

  2. The one thing to mention is that while you value MR points equally to UR points, a lot of people value UR points a little higher. With that in mind, Sapphire Reserve earns equivalently to Everyday Preferred, and does so without a 30 transaction minimum.

  3. Have the Uber credits ($15) associated with Amex Platinum been disbursed for January 2018 yet? I have taken two uber rides since January 1 using my Amex card and have been charged outright for them. In December the rides were deducted against the credits they gave. Am I missing something?

  4. @ Alex — That’s certainly true, though I also know people who value MR points more than UR points, so I think it’s very much a case of “your mileage may vary.”

  5. @ nick — I still have both the SPG Amex Personal & Biz Card, but can’t say I’m putting much spend on them nowadays. They’re excellent cards, but I value 1.5 UR/MR more than 1 SPG. And yes, personally I do value 5x MR more than 3x UR plus trip delay coverage. To me it’s an incremental return of 3.4%, and personally I wouldn’t pay 3.4% of my purchase price to get travel insurance, but that’s just me.

  6. If you, your spouse or parents were in the military you can qualify for the USAA cash-back card. You get 2.5% cash-back unlimited with no annual fee. This can easily pay for flights and earn you the miles.

  7. ….and to add a twist to the quarterly spend categories, are you aware that gift cards are considered ‘eligible purchases’? For example, I am a regular shopper at WalMart (for groceries etc.) and on December 30th, noticed I had spent only ~$1,000 on my Chase Freedom card at department stores. So on New Year’s Eve, I walked into WalMart and charged $500 of WalMart gift cards to reach the $1,500 cap before this particular rotating category expired. I just checked my statement on line and sure enough, I’ve earned 2,500 UR points for that transaction. I will certainly use those gift cards on my own regular spending at WalMart in January and February. Essentially “earning 5% forward”!

    Thanks Lucky! You are an inspiration to us all ;o-)

  8. @lucky
    Using your own valuations, wouldn’t you be leaving some money on the table by opting for nonbonus entertainment spend on 1.5x Chase/Amex instead of 2x Citi points (Prestige).

    I get that the category isn’t well defined and it is probably a small part of your overall spend, just wondering if that was an intentional decision or not.

  9. I buy as much as possible on Amazon. I use the INK card at office supply stores to buy Amazon gift cards (5x points per $). Then I go through the JetBlue shopping portal to Amazon for 3x points per $. This really adds up for me. In example I found the TV I wanted via Best Buy but bought it on Amazon. Around $15K points earned.

  10. Given the amount of time Lucky spends outside the US travelling, what is the logic of using/recommending the AMEX Blue Business or Everyday Preferred when a significant portion of non-bonus spending will be in foreign currencies?

  11. As a follow up to my above comment, wouldn’t it make more sense to use the AMEX SPG on non-bonus spend? (as per nick’s comment)

  12. How about for your MS? Never heard you talk about whether you partake in any of that….Other bloggers seem to talk about it openly. 😉

  13. Hey, so I’m a little bit new to the game. I’ve been using a Southwest/Chase card for the last several years and I’ve gotten tremendous amounts of free flights from them, which I love. This summer I added the Chase Sapphire Preferred for everything, but am ready to branch out. It’s all about the travel to me. I live in Nashville and we are added a direct flight to London on BA, so I wondered about getting that card simply for the sign-up bonus? And should I really consider the Chase Reserve? I’m not much of a lounge user in airports…

  14. How come you don’t mention the AAdvantage Aviator Silver card? You’ve mentioned you earn $6,000 EQD from the card before ($50,000 annual spend). That sure seems like a lot of annual spending to me?

  15. There is one very valuable perk that we take advantage of on the Amex Platinum card that is rarely mentioned. On certain cruise lines, if you charge the entire cruise fare on the card, you get a $300 shipboard credit, a bottle of Dom Perignon ($150+/- and a galley tour. If you take one high end cruise per year, that almost pays for the card. If you take more than one cruise, then you are ahead of the game. That keeps me using my Amex Platinum card a lot.

  16. Lucky- You really use the Amex everyday cards? Hard to believe you put 30 charges on each of those cards each month. I have the Amex EP card and it basically sits in my wallet when traveling. I use it for groceries but it doesn’t warrant using it anywhere else.

  17. Since you’re always traveling, how much could you possibly be spending at grocery stores and gas stations? What’s the point of your keeping the Amex EDP? (I could understand having the no-annual fee version, I suppose, although I would think Blue Business Plus would be less hassle while giving up very few marginal points.)

  18. Out of curiousity- if you don’t use the SPG Amex often, how do you get collect enough SPG points to cover stays?

  19. Do you have to wait until the end of the year to get your 5% from the no annual fee Ink Business Cash Credit card or do you get it each statement period? Also, how do you convert the cash from the Ink Business Cash Credit Card to Ultimate Rewards as the website only refers to cash. This sounds confusing, so appreciate help on these two questions. Thank you.

  20. My Capitalone Mastercard gives me double points on every purchase. The annual fee is $39. Plus they have great customer service. They really stood by me when I had a dispute with Sears (don’t shop at Sears!)

  21. @Jetagain, seriously? if you like 2% return then CITI double point has no annual fee. And why do you visit this website again?

  22. Since youre always abroad, how on earth do you earn so many points, specially since many countries dont take Amex anywhere, and also if you dont spend $ on groceries, gas, etc….how does that work?

  23. In your post about earning American AAdvantage Executive Platinum status for 2018, you said you put $50K of spend on the Aviator Silver Mastercard. How come you didn’t list it? $50K is a lot!

  24. Lucky,

    Could you do a blog post about the best credit cards for everyday spend while traveling overseas? I live abroad and while I would love to use Chase’s Freedom Unlimited and/or Amex’s Everyday Preferred cards they both charge foreign transaction fees. What cards do you use when purchasing items in exotic locales that aren’t travel or dining related? Are Barclay’s Arrival and SPG Amex the only decent options? And even then, Amex has a limited, global acceptance rate. Help!

  25. @Jessica I’ve been dealing with the same issues since relocating to France and I’ve concluded that in the places where it is accepted, SPG Amex is about as good as you’re going to do for non-bonus spend. The unfortunate reality is that living overseas your options are much more curtailed (FTF fee cards are out, category bonuses restricted to US purchases, etc). That said, I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised at how many places take Amex here as I read a lot about the limited overseas acceptance before moving; sure many small shops don’t accept Amex, but my grocery store, clothing stores, etc have all taken it no problem. Heck, my local kebab shop takes Amex!

    The combo that I’ve found sits in my wallet everyday is SPG Amex/CSP/my French bank card. Basically if a purchase is small enough I’ll just use contactless on my French card, if a store takes Amex I’ll use SPG, and if not just get 1 UR on the CSP. I used to carry around my Amex Plat but concluded I’d rather carry one fewer card and just focus my 1x earning on UR. I also try to keep opening new cards–I apply using my parents’ address in the US then call in asking for a replacement to be mailed to me overseas where I am traveling. I get asked some identity verification questions but have had no issues getting Chase or Amex to send me cards at my French address. I then use whatever card for my everyday spending to meet min spend, which is a much better return than 1 SPG/MR/UR.

    Some people suggest the Cathay Pacific Visa because it earns 1.5x miles for purchases outside the US, but I don’t recommend this. The card is issued by Synchrony and they are very hard to work with if you have any problems and you’re not located in the US. They even tried to tell me I wasn’t allowed to close my card unless I was physically located in the US at the time. I’d rather earn slightly less of a more valuable/flexible currency and not deal with a bank that just isn’t set up to deal with global customers.

  26. Since there are some comments on the 30 purchases/month required on the Amex Everyday Preferred to reach the 50% bonus… I have my Amex EP set up to auto-reload an Amazon gift card, $5/day. This automatically gives me my 30 purchases/month to reach my bonus. I easily spend $150 a month on Amazon, so this is money I would be spending anyway. Using my gift card $$ thru the JetBlue portal gives me the 3 points/dollar as well.

    Sorry if this was mentioned elsewhere.

  27. @Rob P. You summarized the same strategy I use since I am also living in Europe now (CSP/Amex SPG whenever I’m not going for min spend on new card). The only thing I can add is that for convenience, I use ApplePay whenever possible to avoid signing receipts and so I can use automated grocery store checkouts.

  28. @Rob P. Regarding the Amex Platinum, I downgraded to the PRG because I’m not able to use all the benefits (e.g. $200 Uber credits only for the US, no Centurion lounges here) and cannot justify the high annual fee. The PRG, however, still provides 3X MR points on flights which I spend a lot on.

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