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Applying for the right credit cards is just one part of the points and miles equation; you have to know which ones to use when, too. Below, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen takes a look at the cards that give you the best returns on office supply purchases.
A new year means a fresh start — be it a new exercise routine or new commitment to a financial goal. It’s also a terrific opportunity to evaluate what travel-rewards credit cards you’re currently carrying in your wallet to make sure that you’re getting the best value on your everyday purchases. A large part of this strategy should involve bonus categories, and today I want to go through the top credit cards that allow you to earn bonus points or miles on office supplies.
One of the best options for your office supply store purchases is the Ink Plus Business Card from Chase. When you purchase items at retailers like Staples or Office Depot, you’ll earn 5x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent. TPG’s most recent valuations peg these points at 2.1 cents apiece, giving you an overall return of 10.5% on these purchases! Just be aware that this 5x bonus category is only for the first $50,000 in combined spending at office supply stores and on telecommunications purchases (see below). These points can be redeemed directly for travel or transferred to several partners (like United and Hyatt) for even more lucrative redemptions.
Current sign-up bonus: 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening (worth $1,260 based on TPG’s valuations)
Other benefits: 5x points on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV purchases (up to $50,000 in combined purchases each cardmembership year); 2x points at gas stations and hotels (up to $50,000 each cardmembership year); 1x points everywhere else; no foreign transaction fees
Annual Fee: $95
Like its more “premium” cousin, the Ink Cash Business Card from Chase is a terrific choice for these purchases. It offers 5% cash back at office supply stores, though the limit is lower; you can only earn the bonus on up to $25,000 in combined spending each cardmembership year. However, the card becomes a much more lucrative option if you also have a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred in your wallet. Since you can transfer Chase points freely between your accounts, you can move the cash back “points” earned on the Ink Cash to the Sapphire Preferred. This, in essence, converts the points to more valuable Ultimate Rewards points, opening up a plethora of additional redemption options.
Current sign-up bonus: $200 cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening.
Other benefits: 5% cash back on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV purchases (up to $25,000 in combined purchases each cardmembership year); 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants (up to $25,000 each cardmemberhip year); 1% cash back everywhere else
Annual fee: None
A third option is another business credit card: the SimplyCash Business Card from American Express offers 5% cash back at US office supply stores and on wireless telephone services purchased directly from US service providers. This is the same return you’ll get on the Ink Cash, though this particular card doesn’t have any type of conversion option to make the cash back more valuable. Just be aware that you’re capped at a maximum of $25,000 in annual spending (combined with wireless telephone purchases) each “rebate year,” defined as the 12 billing periods starting with the one that includes February 1st.
Current sign-up bonus: A $250 statement credit after you spend $5,000 or more in qualifying purchases on your card within the first six months of cardmembership.
Other benefits: 3% cash back on your choice of purchases from a select category, including airfare purchased directly from airlines; hotel and car rental bookings; or US restaurants in addition to the US office supply stores option
Annual fee: None
A fourth option also comes from Amex: the Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN gives you 3x Membership Rewards points on up to $100,000 of spending in your choice of select categories, one of which is US computer hardware, software and cloud computing purchases made from select providers (a list of these providers is available here). While this isn’t nearly as broad as purchases made at office supply stores, it does give you some nice options for your technology needs. Since TPG pegs Membership Rewards points at 1.9 cents apiece, this is like getting a return of 5.7% on these purchases.
Current sign-up bonus: 25,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of cardmembership.
Other benefits: 2x points on the remaining select categories (including US shipping and gas stations), access to American Express OPEN Savings and no foreign transaction fees
Annual fee: $175 (waived for the first year)
If you’re a regular United traveler, you may want to consider putting your office supply purchases on the United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card, which offers cardholders 2 miles per dollar spent on these transactions. There’s also no limit to the number of miles you can earn through these bonuses. TPG’s most recent valuations peg United miles at 1.5 cents apiece, giving you a decent (if unspectacular) return of 3%.
However, remember that United is a transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards, so unless you really value the other benefits below, you’d likely be better off with the Ink Plus. If you transfer the points you earn on office supply purchases to United, you’re essentially getting 5 United miles per dollar spent, boosting your return to a much more solid 7.5%.
Current sign-up bonus: 50,000 miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open
Other benefits: 10,000 bonus miles when your calendar year purchases reach $25,000; 2 miles per dollar spent on purchases at restaurants, gas stations and with United; 1 mile per dollar spent everywhere else; first free checked bag (if you paid for the ticket with the card); two United Club passes; enhanced award inventory; no foreign transaction fees
Annual fee: $95 (waived for the first year)
Can You Get a Business Card?
Chances are you saw a common attribute for the five cards I list above: they’re all business credit cards. A common misconception about these products is that you must have a formal business to open one. You absolutely do not. Both my wife and I have Ink Plus cards, and we applied (and were approved) for both using our Social Security Numbers as the federal Employer Identification Number (EIN). There are many reasons why you might want to open a business credit card — you might sell items on Ebay and Amazon or freelance as a writer or graphic designer, for example. In all these cases, you can get approved for a business card. For more information, check out TPG’s post on top reasons to get a business credit card.
Other Ways to Maximize These Purchases
Using the right credit card is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to your office supply purchases. There are a few other things to keep in mind:
- Take advantage of reward programs — Both Staples and Office Depot have rewards programs that offer additional benefits for your purchases.
- Click through a shopping portal — One of the easiest ways to make the most of your online shopping is by clicking through a shopping portal, which will award you additional points or miles (regardless of the credit card you use for the purchase). Both Staples and Office Depot appear on many of the popular sites; I suggest using CashBackMonitor.com to make sure you’re getting the best bonus.
- Look for gift cards — A final suggestion is to look for office supply store gift cards in retailers that offer bonuses on other cards. For example, you may be able to find a Staples gift card in a grocery store and use your American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card to earn double Membership Rewards points on the purchase. However, if you spend a decent amount on office supplies each year, I would strongly encourage you to open one of the above cards to save the hassle of the extra step.
Choosing the right credit cards for your wallet and daily purchases is a critical element of a successful points and miles strategy. While bonuses at office supply stores are limited to fewer cards than some other categories, the above cards can give you a nice return on these purchases. Remember, too, that the larger office supply stores carry all kinds of additional items, including electronics, cleaning supplies and even some grocery products. Hopefully this has given you something to think about as you plan for 2016!
What card(s) do you typically use at office supply stores?
Ink Plus® Business Credit Card
|Intro APR||Regular APR||Annual Fee||Balance Transfer Fee||Credit Rating|
|N/A||15.49%-19.49% Variable||$95||See Terms||Excellent Credit|