How the TPG Maximizer Can Make You a Travel Rewards Pro
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I started TPG to help people make their travel dreams a reality. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen looks at a tool designed to make my help more readily available.
I used to think that fixed value or cash back credit cards were the only ones worth having (and if you've seen Jennifer Garner's incredibly misleading Capital One commercials, you can see why many feel that way). If you're reading this, chances are you want to get the most out of your points and miles, and an important step is to look at how you earn those points and miles in the first place. While getting a decent return from your spending isn't rocket science, in this post I want to remind you of a tool that can help your daily purchases take you even further: the TPG Maximizer.
The premise of the program is simple. By inputting the travel rewards credit cards you currently have and answering a few questions about your travel plans and spending habits, the Maximizer identifies which cards would make good additions to your wallet. To do this, it uses TPG's monthly point valuations to figure out your current return on spending, and compares it to your potential return if you opened the recommended cards. Think of it as a personal travel rewards credit card adviser.
TPG wrote about the Maximizer when it first came out, so I won't rehash every detail. However, there are a few important features that really allow you to make the most of this tool.
Linking Accounts and Personalizing
For starters, I strongly recommend that you link your bank accounts to each card. You'll see this option during the initial set-up process when you indicate which cards are currently in your wallet:
This is an important step, as the tool will then be able to use your real-time spending (including an analysis of the categories in which you're making purchases) to identify potential new cards for your wallet. This is 100% secure, as the site uses the same security used by banks to protect all of your information.
However, you can still get some great personalized recommendations from the tool even if you're wary of sharing these details. You'll just want to adjust your settings to capture your typical earning and spending habits. You can do this from the Recommendation page by clicking on Update Your Profile at the bottom.
This will take you back through the questions you answered at the outset, including your preferred airlines and hotels (if applicable) and any upcoming travel plans. The Maximizer will then ask you to specify your annual household income, which sets a baseline for your monthly expenses based on national averages.
The next page is the most important part of this process, as you can use the sliders to change from the baseline to your actual spending habits. When you're finished, click the Get Recommendation icon at the bottom to recalculate which cards should be added to your wallet. While this isn't as effective as linking your actual accounts (and purchasing behavior) to the Maximizer, it still changes the calculus so you can get a better recommendation.
Once you've set it up for your own devices, there are a few important ways it can help you get the most from your spending.
The tool points out where you're doing well.
Everyone likes getting compliments, and I love that the Maximizer quickly identifies where I'm already making the most of my credit card spending. One of my favorite cards in my wallet is the Chase Ink Plus Business Card, which offers 5x Ultimate Rewards points for purchases at office supply stores, and with internet, phone, and cable/satellite TV providers. As shown in the chart above, the Maximizer lets me know that I have no room for improvement in those areas!
The tool identifies gaps in your current earnings.
On the flip side, a great aspect of the Maximizer is that it identifies where you're missing out with your current spending patterns. In some cases, it can make you question long-held beliefs. For example, I have had the regular Hilton Honors Card from American Express for several years, and I typically use it at US supermarkets to earn 5 Hilton Honors points per dollar spent (except the last three months, when the Chase Freedom (No longer open to new applicants) gave me 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent).
I've been following this strategy for years; however, the Maximizer recommended that I get the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express and showed me that I'm missing out on significant earnings at grocery stores. Here are the calculations for my (roughly) $2,500 in grocery purchases last year:
- Hilton Honors points: 12,500 (worth approximately $62.50)
- Potential Membership Rewards points: 6,000 (worth approximately $120)
My robotic decision to pull out the Hilton Amex every time I shop at Publix costs me almost $60 each year!
The tool gives you mathematical recommendations for new cards.
This hobby is all about maximizing the points and miles you earn from traveling and spending, but what exactly does that mean? The array of choices we have can be mind-boggling, and I can't tell you the number of times I've heard comments like these:
- "My Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card gives me double miles on everything, so why would I want a card that only gives me double miles on certain purchases?"
- "The Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card gives me 3 points per dollar on all purchases, so it's much better than the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, which only gives one point per dollar."
- "Wow, the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature comes with a welcome bonus of 85,000 points. That's so much better than the 60,000 points on The Platinum Card® from American Express!"
Experienced readers can immediately see the problems inherent in these rationales, but it takes some time to get there. The Maximizer (and the calculations it utilizes) provide the necessary guidance to prevent you from falling victim to Jennifer Garner's marketing spin — no spreadsheet or advanced mathematics degree required.
The tool is a great complement to the TPG To Go app.
Setting up your account in the Maximizer is an important first step for downloading and utilizing the TPG To Go app, which is available for both Apple and Android devices. This boosts the Maximizer by adding even more features:
- Pay With This tells you which card from your wallet offers the best return at nearby merchants.
- TPG Hot Deals integrates the best application links right into the app.
- TPG Now offers links to current blog posts.
- Where's TPG allows you to follow TPG on his travels, and connect with him on social media.
You can also upgrade to the Pro version ($3.99 annually), which includes the ability to track your progress toward sign-up or annual spending thresholds. Never miss another bonus again!
The tools are constantly evolving.
One of the best things about both the Maximizer and app is that they use feedback from TPG readers to improve over time. You'll see a blue bar with the word Feedback on the left side of the Maximizer page, and the Settings section of the app also includes a link to send feedback. In addition, you can help keep the Pay With This section updated by sharing any changes to merchants, indicating when they take MasterCard, or even disagreeing with TPG's recommendations for which card to use. All of these things help sharpen the tools to make them more precise for future users, including yourself.
I'm a big fan of technology, especially things that make my life easier. Both the TPG Maximizer and the TPG To Go app were designed with that goal in mind. If you haven't already, take them for a test ride and see if they can help boost your earnings.
What have been your experiences with the TPG Maximizer and TPG To Go?