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My card strategy without an ultra-premium card

Oct. 14, 2020
5 min read
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Fun fact: I do not have an ultra-premium credit card. As someone who spends a considerable amount of time talking about how many amazing premium credit cards are out there, a lot of people are surprised when they learn I don't have a card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or The Platinum Card® from American Express. While there are plenty of excellent premium credit cards out there, I haven't applied for any yet. So far, my focus has been on establishing an earning strategy that helps me hit my travel (and overall financial) goals.

Here's a peek at my cards strategy and why I've avoided ultra-premium credit cards right now.

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My focus is on earning rewards, not premium benefits

At this stage in my life, my travel goals are about seeing as many places as possible by spending the least money possible. I'm a budget traveler and my credit card portfolio mirrors that. Lounge access, elite status with hotel chains – those aren't currently large priorities for me. Instead, I'm more interested in building up my Membership Rewards points balance with my American Express® Gold Card and my Ultimate Rewards balance with my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and new Chase Freedom Unlimited, along with an assortment of other low-annual-fee credit cards.

This will likely change as I visit more places and mark destinations off my bucket list. I'll start revisiting places I've already been to and I'll want to upgrade my travel experiences. But for now? I'm a young budget traveler who would rather use credit cards for earning and burning points than luxury perks.

Pairing cards for maximum value

A large part of my credit card strategy is pairing credit cards. I try not to overlap too many earning categories, and all of my main spending habits are covered by a card that earns rewards in those categories.

My two largest expenses each month are groceries and dining, followed closely by assorted online shopping. I use my American Express® Gold Card (which is my most expensive card at a $250 annual fee — see rates and fees) for U.S. supermarket purchases and dining at restaurants since it earns 4x on those expenses (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x at U.S. supermarkets). Since I use Doordash for most delivery, and they have a partnership with Chase, I put my food delivery purchases on my Chase Sapphire Preferred. Any broad travel purchases go on my CSP, too. Drugstore and online shopping purchases go on my new Chase Freedom Unlimited since it earns 3% (which I will convert into 3x Ultimate Rewards points by transferring rewards over to my CSP) on drugstores and 1.5% on non-bonus spending such as online shopping.

Right now, those three are the primary cards I use for pretty much everything, and they ensure I'm racking up points to spend on travel at a solid rate.

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Other earning strategies

As I said before, my primary focus is on earning rewards. While some mid-tier cards offer a great return on some of my top spending categories (looking at you, Chase Freedom Unlimited and Amex Gold), they don't always hold up against the potential earnings from top-tier credit cards. That's where other earning strategies such as online shopping portals, referral bonuses, and Amex and Chase offers come into play.

Related: How to refer friends and earn points, miles or cash credits

I sift through my Amex Offers and Chase Offers at least weekly (it's currently part of my Sunday evening routine) and add any I think I might use. That way, I make sure I'm earning across every purchase possible. I also send friends and family members my referral codes when they ask for recommendations on which cards to get. Then I make sure to check CashBackMonitor for any shopping portal bonuses when I'm shopping online.

(Photo by Tashdique Mehtaj Ahmed/Getty Images)

Bottom line

Now, none of this means I won't ever get a premium credit card. In fact, I have one on my wish list for 2021. Back when the Chase Sapphire Reserve first added Lyft and Doordash benefits earlier in 2020, I'd planned to upgrade my CSP. I put that plan on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. Still, I will eventually add that card to my wallet (barring another card announcing some serious changes that make me reevaluate). This is simply my current strategy without a premium credit card and how I'm making my cards work for me without paying a $500+ annual fee.

Premium cards can be a great tool for frequent travelers. The annual fees are worth it for many people, and there is a lot of love about the benefits that come with most of these cards. But premium credit cards are not the only way to be successful in the points and miles game. With so many excellent mid-tier and no-annual-fee credit cards out there, you can build a solid strategy for earning travel rewards without adding any luxury cards that cost hundreds of dollars in annual fees.

For rates and fees of the Amex Gold Card, please click here.

Featured image by (Photo courtesy of Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
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TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023