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It’s no secret that credit cards are the best way to rack up miles and points. We have it so good here in the US — with a competitive credit card industry that offers lucrative sign-up bonuses, rich category spending bonuses and great perks that are worth more than the annual fees. It can be dizzying to put together a credit card strategy that serves your needs and rewards you the most for your spend, but there are plenty of tools to help you figure out what cards work best for you, like TPG to Go which will analyze your spend and show you where you’re missing out on rewards based on all available category bonuses on almost every US credit card available.
People always ask me how many points I have and the answer is always “so many I honestly don’t know.” But today, I’m giving insight into my points and how I earn them. FYI just checked and currently have:
- 472,000 Amex Membership Rewards (with 400,000 pending)
- 1.6 million Chase Ultimate Rewards
- 749,000 SPG Starpoints
- 22,000 Citi ThankYou Points
How do I have so many points? Simply put, business spend. TPG now has almost 25 full-time employees and over 20 frequent contributors and consultants — and we spend millions a year on online advertising (I’m earning 3x points on those Facebook and Instagram ads you see!) and we travel a TON. All of the company’s spend gets put on my arsenal of cards and we then we use points to pay for employee travel. As you know we pay for all travel ourselves (with the exception of special airline delivery flights or charity trips with an airline sponsor).
I am fully aware that the average reader does not have this level of spend and my point is to not brag, but to educate and be honest with you all about how we get our points. Some people think the credit card companies and airlines give us free points and miles, but that isn’t true. We get paid a commission when you all get approved for a credit card using one of our links. We thank you for supporting TPG and that support has allowed us to expand and add new voices to the team (and also donate a lot to charity — we gave over $500,000 last year to a variety of causes).
The point of this post is to also show that I still practice what I preach — albeit at a higher level than when I first started. Even though I make a very good living now and can pay for any flight I want, I still get that same rush when booking an amazing award trip — like Emirates first class, the Etihad Apartment and even the inaugural Delta A350 flight. Being savvy about points for my business adds to our bottom line and even though the points game is changing, with airlines increasing amounts needed for most awards, I’ve been able to counteract that with earning more points than ever by maximizing every dollar I spend.
High level — I currently have 20 credit cards and a 795 FICO score. I’ve decided to trim 4 from the pack as I shift my spend away from co-brand cards and focus on the key transferrable points programs, American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points and Starwood Preferred Guest points.
Before you go out and get a bunch of credit cards, it is critical that you understand how credit works and also know your FICO score (many credit cards will give it to you for free):
- 5 Things to Understand About Credit Before Applying for Cards
- Your FICO Score and Which Credit Cards Offer it for Free
For simplicity I’ve separated all 20 cards into three categories:
- Cards I Can’t Live Without
- Cards I Like for the Time Being
- Cards I’m Going to Cancel or Downgrade
I also put together a wish list of cards I don’t currently have and why I might get them. The Chase Ink Business Cash, the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select, the US Bank Altitude Reserve and the Amazon Prime Visa Signature.
Here’s a look at what’s currently in my wallet:
|Card||Annual Fee||Points Earned||Annual Value of Rewards||Issuer|
|Cards I Can’t Live Without|
|Chase Ink Business Preferred||$95||3x points on $150,000 = 450,000 Ultimate Rewards||$9,450||Chase|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||$450||3x points on $100,000 = 300,000 Ultimate Rewards||$6,300||Chase|
|Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN||$175||3x points on $100,000 = 300,000 Membership Rewards||$5,700||American Express|
|Platinum Card from American Express||$550||5x points on $50,000 = 250,000 Membership Rewards||$4,750||American Express|
|Business Centurion Card from American Express||$2,500||N/A||$45,000 in benefits||American Express|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||$0||1.5x points on $25,000 = 37,500 Ultimate Rewards||$788||Chase|
|Cards I Like for the Time Being|
|Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express||$95||2x points on $30,000 = 60,000 Starpoints||$1,620||American Express|
|Capital One Venture Rewards||$95||10x points on $25,000 = 250,000 points||$2,500||Capital One|
|Citi Prestige||$450||N/A||$10,000 from 4th Night Free||Citi|
|Chase Ink Bold||$95||5x points on $10,000 = 50,000 Ultimate Rewards||$1,050||Chase|
|Chase Freedom||$0||5x points on $6,000 = 30,000 Ultimate Rewards||$630||Chase|
|Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card||$95||2.625% back on $50,000 = $1,310||$1,313||Bank of America|
|JetBlue Plus Card||$99||1x points on $50,000 = 50,000 JetBlue points||Mosaic benefits worth $5,000, $650 in points||Barclaycard|
|United MileagePlus Explorer||$95||N/A||N/A||Chase|
|IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card||$49||N/A||$300 from Free Night Certificate||Chase|
|Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express||$95||N/A||10,000 Starpoints from retention offer (worth $270)||American Express|
|Cards I’m Going to Cancel or Downgrade|
|Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card||$95||N/A||N/A||American Express|
|Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card||$450||N/A||N/A||Chase|
|The Hyatt Credit Card||$75||N/A||N/A||Chase|
|Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard||$89||N/A||N/A||Barclaycard|
|Chase Ink Business Cash||$0||N/A||N/A||Chase|
|Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card||$0 (Requires $99 Amazon Prime membership)||N/A||N/A||Chase|
|US Bank Altitude Reserve Card||$400||N/A||N/A||US Bank|
|Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard||$95||N/A||N/A||Citi|
|TOTAL IN ANNUAL FEES BEFORE CHANGES: $5,647|
|TOTAL IN ANNUAL FEES AFTER CHANGES: $4,938 ($709 in savings)|
|TOTAL VALUE RECEIVED FROM POINTS AND BENEFITS: $95,321|
Cards I Can’t Live Without
These cards are the best on the block and I use all of them constantly. They all earn valuable, transferable points and most have amazing perks or travel credits that make them even more useful.
Although the Business Centurion Card from American Express comes with a huge $2,500 annual fee, the perks it comes with are unmatched. Also known as the Amex “Black Card,” it gives me complimentary Delta Platinum Medallion, Hilton Diamond status and my own personal concierge, Ray. I wrote here why the card is worth it — I probably get about $20,000 of value just from Ray alone plus I get a 50% points rebate on all airfare, which gives my Amex points a minimum value of 2 cents apiece. It’s a great tool if we can’t find award availability and need to pay “cash” for a flight.
I use the Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN probably more than any other card in my wallet, thanks to the 3x points it earns me on up to $100,000 spent per year in one of five categories. I select US purchases for advertising in select media (as mentioned above) since our business spends significantly on Facebook advertising. By maxing out the 3x category, I earn 300,000 Membership Rewards points per year, worth a whopping $5,700 based on my valuations. READ THE REVIEW HERE
The Platinum Card from American Express is another one of my favorites because of the strong perks and the 5x points it earns on purchases directly with the airline. While the Business Centurion gives many of the same benefits as the Platinum, I also get a $200 airline credit and $200 in Uber credits a year. But this card really shines for myself and the company with the 5x on flights. Combine that with the Business Centurion’s 50% points rebate and I’m getting at least 10% back on flights. I also added my parents as authorized users, which only cost $175 dollars for up to three but each cardholder gets lounge access benefits. READ THE REVIEW HERE
Another fantastic business card, the Chase Ink Business Preferred gets 3x points on up to $150,000 spent on travel, shipping, internet, cable and phone services and social media and search engine advertising. I solely use this for social media advertising since the business spends a lot on Facebook and Instagram ads — quickly maxing out the $150,000 limit which nets us 450,000 Ultimate Rewards points, worth $9,450. READ THE REVIEW HERE
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a no-brainer for most people, including myself. I use this card for the bonus categories that get you 3x points on travel and dining. I put all dining spend and all other general travel purchases (Uber, Airbnb, car rentals, tolls) on this card. The 3x categories will have you racking up points FAST. READ THE REVIEW HERE
I put a lot of my non-category bonus spend on Chase Freedom Unlimited since it earns 1.5 points (or 1.5% cash back) per dollar on any purchase. If you’re a Sapphire cardholder, you can transfer your points from the Freedom Unlimited to the Sapphire Reserve. I’m getting at bare minimum 2.25% back to 3.1% back in value on every dollar spent with the Unlimited. So when I go to a workout class, need to buy some clothes or have to take my dog to the vet I’m using this card. It’s a key player in the Chase Trifecta too.
Cards I Like for the Time Being
Although these cards aren’t rockstars, they all hold their own. They’re a bit more niche than the transferable points-earning cards with big category spends, but they have solid perks and fill out my wallet where other cards fall flat.
As mentioned before, earning valuable and transferrable points are important. The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express earns Starwood Starpoints, which are the most valuable of any point currency. Plus, Starpoints have the most transfer partners out of any program, and it’s another way to diversify points in case another program is devalued. Even though I’m not chasing status with SPG anymore, I still do earn elite credits for being a cardholder.
I don’t use this card a lot for regular spend, but the one thing I love about the JetBlue Plus Card is that you earn Mosaic status after spending $50,000 in a year. Mosaic gets me free flight changes which I use all the time — saving me from thousands of dollars in fees.
The Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card launched back in September and it instantly became one of the best cash-back cards on the market. If you’re a Platinum Honors client at Bank of America you can earn 3.5% back on travel and dining purchases and 2.625% back on everything else. So whenever I’m focusing on earning cash back, I’ll go with this card. It’s so good that you can actually make money paying your taxes with this credit card. READ THE REVIEW HERE
The Capital One Venture Rewards card recently added an awesome benefit of 10x points on Hotels.com purchases. Since I’ve been staying at more luxury and non-chain hotels over the last year, I like to book through Hotels.com to earn 20% back when stacked with the Hotels.com rewards program. Points can be redeemed against any travel purchase too, so they’re great to erase charges against things like Airbnbs or train tickets. READ THE REVIEW HERE
While I find the rotating categories a bit annoying to use, the Chase Freedom is still a solid card since it earns 5x Ultimate Rewards points (on up to $1,500 a quarter in eligible purchases). I was considering cancelling this but since it’s a no annual fee card there’s not much of a reason to.
The Chase Ink Bold was discontinued in 2014 but my account was grandfathered in. It’s still worth holding on to, since it earns me 5x points on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases on office supplies and phone, internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year.
I don’t put much spend on the Citi Prestige, but its 4th Night Free perk is what makes this card worth keeping around. Using the 4th Night Free just once can pay for the $450 annual fee — myself and my staff have received insane value from it. The $250 air travel credit is easy to use and cuts down the cost of holding this card even more. If I have complicated itineraries, I’ll put my flights on the card since the Prestige offers fantastic flight delay protection. READ THE REVIEW HERE
I wrote last year that the only reason I keep the United MileagePlus Explorer open is that it offers expanded award availability. That’s only on United flights and I usually try to avoid flying the carrier anyway, but I’m still keeping this open for the time being, though I may still cancel it in the future.
I don’t spend on the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card, and I don’t receive much value from the perks, such as free Platinum Elite status. However, I need to get better at using the free anniversary night, which can be super valuable since you can use it at virtually IHG property in the world, like Intercontinental Sydney.
The Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express is similar to the Personal SPG Amex and earns extra elite credits toward Starwood status. I was going to cancel this card since I since it’s so similar to the personal version, but when I called in Amex offered a 10,000-point retention offer to keep my account open. This card survives another year.
Cards I’m Going to Cancel or Downgrade
As I mentioned before, I’ve continued to find less and less use for co-branded credit cards and that’s why these cards are on the chopping block. I”ll most likely cancel or downgrade these unless I receive any more retention offers when calling the bank to close my accounts.
I was converted to the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card from my Citi Hilton Honors Reserve back in January. I rarely stay at Hilton’s and there aren’t many reasons for me to keep the card. I already receive Hilton Gold status through the Amex Platinum, and to get the weekend night award from the Ascend card I’d have to spend $15,000 on it — which could be put on other cards where I’d earn more valuable points. READ THE REVIEW HERE
Another card I rarely use is the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card and honestly the perks are just ok. The Club Level upgrades are decent and the $100 Visa Infinite airfare discount isn’t bad but I really just don’t use them often enough to justify holding on to this card. Since I don’t put any spend on the card and it has a high $450 annual fee, it’s on the chopping block. READ THE REVIEW HERE
I haven’t been staying much at Hyatts as of late and the minimal perks from The Hyatt Credit Card make it hard to justify the annual fee. I don’t spend on this card either since I’d rather have transferrable points. While it does offer a free night at any Category 1-4 property or resort every year, it’s hard for me to use since I’m usually staying at higher-category Hyatts — it’s not transferrable so I don’t find much use for it.
The benefits for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus have been watered down over time and frankly I can earn more cash back from the Bank of America Premium Rewards card. The Arrival’s points are similar to the Capital One Venture’s, but it doesn’t have any bonus categories like 10x points on hotels.com purchases. I don’t need to hold onto a card with an $89 annual fee that brings me no value.
I’m still eyeing the US Bank Altitude Reserve that gets 3x points on mobile wallet purchases, a 50,000-point sign-up bonus worth $750 and $325 annually in travel credits. The Amazon Prime Rewards card is also attractive, with 5% back on all Amazon purchases and now 5% back at Whole Foods — plus there’s no annual fee if you have an Amazon Prime account.
Our business spends a decent amount on office supplies, so the 5% back/5x offered by the Ink Cash is another great way for me to boost my Ultimate Rewards account balance. It’s offering a sign-up bonus of 30,000 points ($300) after spending $3,000 in the first three months. I’m finally under 5/24 (Chase’s rule that prevents you from being approved from new cards if you’ve signed up for five or more cards with any issuer over the last 24 months) so now’s a great time to add this card to my lineup.
While I no longer value holding AAdvantage elite status (although I’m still an Executive Platinum), I still can use American miles. The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select card offers 10% of your redeemed miles back up to 10,000 miles per calendar year. Plus, the card’s currently offering an elevated sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles after you spend $2,500 in the first three months. READ THE REVIEW HERE
I’m paring down my inventory even more than last year and really focusing on cards that can easily earn valuable and transferrable points. Co-brand cards continue to be less valuable with low returns on spending and perks I rarely use — plus I’ll save nearly one thousand dollars in annual fees from closing the cards. I’m looking forward to seeing what new cards and perks are announced over the next year.
If you missed our Facebook live outlining these cards, you can view it here:
With great travel benefits, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game. Here are the top 5 reasons it should be in your wallet, or read our definitive review for more details.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel.
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards