The Credit Cards I Use For Spend In Each Major Category

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I remember back in the day when the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express was the (almost) undisputed best credit card out there. It’s still a great card, but back in the day this was the card that many points collectors used for a vast majority of their purchases.

That’s because at the time there weren’t many cards offering bonus categories. Over the past few years we’ve seen so many cards introduced or improved with great category bonuses, making it easy to earn an average of multiple points per dollar spent on purchases.

Year after the year the cards I use for each spend category change, given the number of new options we’ve seen emerge.

With that out of the way, here’s a quick summary of the cards I’m presently using to maximize my spend in each major category, ranked by the number of points offered per dollar spent:


I really should figure out the average number of points I’m earning per dollar spent. Based on my purchase patterns, I’d guess it’s somewhere around 2.5x points, give or take.

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

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  1. Unfortunately up here in the Great White North we either don’t have those cards available, or the ones that we can get don’t have the same bonus structures (AMEX platinum, for instance, is simply 1.25 points across the board, thus making the SPG card – despite it’s lack of any bonus categories – the best for day-to-day spend given that AMEX points transfer to SPG at 2:1).

    Some aeroplan cards have good bonus categories, but then you’re tying your points to aeroplan without the flexibility to transfer them to other partners.

    So for me, it’s SPG all the way for now although I’ll probably start moving more to my AMEX platinum given the uncertainty around the future of SPG points.

  2. I get 5x on gas because I always buy at Shell stations and so I get Shell gift cards at Office supply stores with Ink Cash. 5x on Amazon purchases by buying Amazon gift cards.

  3. The AMEX Platinum really needs to bump restaurant spending to at least 3x points!

  4. For airfare, while the Chase Sapphire reserve offers less points (and the Preferred even less than the Reserve) than the AX Platinum, isn’t there a value to the trip insurance that comes with using the Sapphire cards that makes the lower earning still worth it? This is particularly so for an award ticket taxes in my opinion.

  5. @Ben — For everyday, non-bonused spend, why are you using the Freedom Unlimited and Everyday Preferred at 1.5x over your Blue for Business when you would be getting 2.3x?

  6. Also, don’t forget that if you have one of the ink cards that offer 5x at office supply stores, you can therefore get 5x at any place for which they sell gift cards for. Even though the selection is somewhat limited, you can still always get 5x Ultimate Rewards at Target, Amazon, Kohl’s, Home Depot, Lowes, Ebay, several brands of gas, and quite a few of the chain restaurants and big box stores. Of course, that’s only really helpful if you’re shopping at those places anyway, but if you are, with a little bit of strategic gift card purchases, you can earn quite a few extra points each year without much extra effort.

  7. I would agree w/ @ Indian. My very simple version is as follows: Airfare: Amex Platinum. Other travel & dining: Chase Sapphire Reserve. Other non-bonused spend: SPG Platinum Amex. I decided that it’s better to be diversified with Amex MR, Chase UR, and SPG rather than put non-bonused spend on my Chase Freedom Unlimited. I would rather have 1.25x miles via SPG in some of the more obscure programs than more Chase UR at 1.5x. The SPG card opens up some pretty amazing Alaska, Asiana, and other type redemptions that offset the slightly lower earn rate.

  8. I get 4.5x MR points by buying gas at HEB grocery store with Amex Everyday preferred and it helps get to the 30 transactions/month

  9. Ben, I ask this in all seriousness and with respect, do you even buy groceries? Do you even live somewhere? It seems like you don’t have a home as the perception is you are either flying on a plane or staying in a hotel. I can’t be the only one who wonders these things. Again, I ask in all seriousness relating to everyday spend. It just doesn’t seem like you are ever headed over to Home Depot to pick up a new lightbulb or popping into Whole Foods to buy salmon to cook on the grill. I very much sense your everyday spend looks much different than most.

  10. My rule is that I need to be getting at least 3x on a purchase in order to not put it on whatever card I am working on for a signup bonus, which is 99% of the time. So for me that means my spend is on CSR, CF, Amex Plat, or going towards a signup bonus. That Amex Everday Preferred card is definitely on my list though, once I get below the Amex limit.

  11. At this point we are all in on Chase UR. I use my Ink Business Cash to buy $25k/year in Visa Gift Cards. We use $2k/month of those in our normal household budget. Once we go through the gift cards, we “follow the rules”, so-to-speak, on the Reserve, Freedom Quarterly Bonuses, and the Ink Business Cash again for gas. This is all replacing our UR points at about 11k/mo.

    I’m considering the Freedom Unlimited for the “everything else” category, and the new Business Preferred for our phone, cable, and internet (not to mention the bonuses).

  12. For the most part I do the exact same thing you do Ben with the exception of the CSR. Because of the Chase 5/24 rule, I wasn’t able to get that yet so I put my dining spend and non-airfare travel spend on the Sapphire Preferred instead (by the end of the year I hope to get the CSR). I learned from the best!

  13. What would I do w/o you, Ben? (Years ago I was a daily devotee to FTG, but since Rick very rarely posts anything there anymore, that blog is a wasteland. So glad I found yours!)

  14. I like to keep it simpler. Ink for cellular and cable on auto pay (5x), new Altitude for travel only (3x) once I hit the minimum (can’t get Sapphire 5/24) and Barclays Arrival Plus (2.1%) for everything else.

  15. @Lucky. Nice summary. The Citi Prestige is great for entertainment (2X) and hotels (3X) (other than hotels prepaid with the Amex Platinum (5X)) if one has private banking/Citigold with Citibank as it gives a .25/.15 bonus at the end of each year, which would yield 3.25 (3.15 for Citigold) for hotels and 2.25 (2.15 for Citigold) for entertainment. Also, unlike travel, which has a limited definition of what is included, entertainment is pretty broad. Ordinary spend also gets a similar bonus.

  16. @Lucky, you said you get “5x points with the Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card”, but when I went over there to apply, it says the card gives 5% cash back, not UR points. Did you mean 5% cash back not 5x points? What am I missing here?

  17. @Rennnaisance Man

    It’s a cash back card but the 5% can be transferred to UR points in conjunction with a credit card that lets you earn UR points. So it’s really 5X UR points for most of us here.

  18. Visa charges about 1% more on foreign purchases than MC due to the way they process transactions, so I put my intl travel spend on my citi prestige mc.

  19. What office supply store are you buying Visa cards at that don’t have a 6% markup? Seems like a losing proposition. ($25K * .06 = $1500)

  20. @Paul J – As long as you’re buying the $300 denomination at Staples, the fee is only 2.95%. Rough math, I’m replenishing my Chae UR points to the tune of 125K/yr. for $738. I thinks it’s a good deal!

  21. @ Dave Naslanic. Do you not factor in the opportunity cost of spending $25,000.
    If you were to put the spending on citi double cash, you will be getting $500 cash back. Doesn’t that make you total $738 + $500. Thanks.

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