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Hot take: Why doubling down on one rewards program may be better than diversifying

March 30, 2021
14 min read
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The points game is one of strategy. You want to pick loyalty programs that earn the types of rewards you can get the most use out of, and obtain the associated credit cards that offer earning rates and benefits you can maximize to your advantage.

It’s also a good idea to diversify the types of points and miles you earn. That’s because rewards currencies — whether it’s airline frequent flyer miles, hotel loyalty points or transferable credit card points — are subject to significant and sudden changes (and in the worst-case scenarios, devaluations).

By branching out and diversifying, you are protecting yourself a bit against any unexpected shocks that might limit your redemption options after years of focusing your energy and time with one program or another.

However, there are also some good reasons to double down with a particular points program or two.

For example, there might be an increased credit card introductory bonus offer for which you qualify even if you already have another cobranded card with the same program. Or you might want to ramp up your earning for a specific, upcoming trip that is currently out of reach by putting more of your spending on one or two cards. If you already have one credit card with a program, you might find you can earn even more, or enjoy better perks, by carrying additional ones within the same rewards family.

All those are excellent motives to redouble your efforts with one points program or another. Just keep in mind that you should be thinking both long- and short-term about any loyalty strategy and that focusing on a few programs now might mean you’ll need to expand your reach later on, or vice versa.

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A word of warning: We’re going to stick to strategies for earning rewards and perks by optimizing combinations of credit cards. However, no points you earn will be worth much if you’re not responsible with your credit and end up carrying balances and paying late fees and interest. So before you jump into this game feet first, make sure you can pay off your balances on time and in full every month. Then get ready to reap the rewards.

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Here are eight reasons why doubling down on credit cards with a points program may be better than diversifying.

Related: Better together: An ultimate guide to the best credit card pairings

Get in on Elevated introductory bonuses while they last

Although the COVID-19 pandemic severely restricted travel, the past year has been an especially fruitful one in terms of travel credit card offers. We have seen historically high welcome offers on various airline and hotel cards like the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card among others.

In fact, some of these offers have been so good that even if you already had a card with the same rewards program, you might have considered signing up for another just to earn extra bonus points for a flight or stay. And that probably would have been a good move, especially since we don’t know whether offers like these will come around ever again once travel fully returns to previous levels.

Related: The 12 best elevated credit card offers to sign up for in March

You can get around (certain) eligibility rules and exclusions

Most credit card issuers have strict rules about who is and isn’t eligible for specific credit cards. Chase has its so-called 5/24 rule, for instance, where it will automatically turn down most folks applying for a new card if they’ve opened five or more cards (from any and all issuers, not just Chase) within the past 24 months.

Related: The best ways to use your Chase 5/24 slots

So let’s say you’re getting close to that number and are trying to decide among a few different new credit cards from various issuers. Since other banks don’t have the exact same rules, you might opt for a Chase card before you hit the five-card limit, even if it’s with a points program where you already have a card or two, and then apply for products from other issuers and other programs after that.

To take another example, let’s say you have the Citi Prestige® Card and were interested in opening the Citi Premier® Card to continue racking up ThankYou points, but with a card whose annual fee is much lower. According to the Citi Premier’s application terms: "Bonus ThankYou Points are not available if you received a new cardmember bonus for Citi Rewards+®, Citi ThankYou Preferred, Citi ThankYou Premier/Citi Premier or Citi Prestige, or if you have closed any of these accounts, in the past 24 months.”

The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: The ultimate guide to credit card application restrictions

So you could be excluded from the new card’s bonus not just if you already received a welcome bonus on an associated card within the past 24 months, but also if you closed your other account. In order to make the most of your situation, you’d need to open the Citi Premier before closing your Citi Prestige, otherwise, you could be out the bonus. (There are some other good reasons to do it this way, too, including making sure the points from your Citi Prestige don’t expire after you close that account.)

Supercharge your earning

It’s often the case that different credit cards within the same loyalty program earn points or miles at different rates.

For instance, The Platinum Card® from American Express earns 5x points on flights directly with airlines or through Amex Travel, on up to $500,000 per calendar year, as well as on prepaid hotel reservations made through Amex Travel. It earns 1x on everything else.

Related: Does it make sense to hold an Amex Platinum and Amex Gold Card?

The American Express® Gold Card, on the other hand, earns 4x points on restaurants and 4x on up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year at U.S. supermarkets (then 1x after that). The card also accrues 3x on flights booked through airlines or Amex Travel, and 1x on everything else. The card has a $250 annual fee (see rates & fees).

By carrying both these cards, you could ramp up your earning dramatically by accumulating 5x on flight and hotel bookings with the Amex Platinum Card, and 4x using your Amex Gold Card for eligible U.S. supermarket and restaurant charges.

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Related: The best credit cards for each bonus category

Open up more and better redemption options

With certain rewards programs, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou Rewards, there are basic cards that earn simple cash back, and more premium options with points that can be redeemed at higher rates for other things, or transferred to various airline and hotel partner programs. So by carrying a couple of different cards, you can take advantage of any earning differentials, but then combine your points and redeem them for more possibilities.

That’s what makes the combination of a card like the Chase Freedom Unlimited with the Chase Sapphire Reserve so powerful. The Freedom Unlimited earns 5% (5x) on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% (3x) on dining including takeout and eligible delivery services, 3% (3x) at drugstores and 1.5% (1.5x) on all other purchases. If you don’t have one of the Chase Sapphire cards, those points are only good for various cash-back redemptions at 1 cent apiece.

However, if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can pool the points you earn on it with the Freedom Unlimited and redeem them for travel through Chase at a rate of 1.5 cents apiece (already a value boost of 50% over the Freedom), or transfer them to the Ultimate Rewards program’s 13 airline and hotel partners, expanding the possibilities exponentially.

Related: The power of the Chase Trifecta: Sapphire Reserve, Ink Preferred and Freedom Unlimited

You can take advantage of a similar play with the Citi Rewards+® Card and either the Citi Premier or Citi Prestige.

Layer on the benefits

Just as earning rates with assorted cards from the same family may vary, many also field different perks from one another. So you might want to carry one for certain benefits and another for still more.

For example, the United Club Infinite Card earns bonus miles in a variety of categories, including United purchases, travel and dining. Thanks to its $525 annual fee, it also offers two outstanding features. First, cardholders receive United Club membership so time in the airport before and between flights will be more pleasant than hanging out with the crowds in the terminal. Second, cardholders receive a statement credit of up to $100 for either a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application once every four years.

United Club. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Related: The best credit cards for United Airlines flyers

Even with all those benefits, you might also want to open the United Business Card. First, it is currently offering 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months you account is open. Except for club access, it offers similar day-of-travel perks as the United Club Infinite, such as free checked bags and priority boarding.

However, in addition to bonus earning categories that include gas stations, office supply stores and local transit and commuting, the United Business Card comes with a 5,000-mile anniversary bonus — but only if you also have a personal United credit card, such as the United Club Infinite. You also receive two United Club one-time passes each year that you can use to bring extra travelers with you into the club, or hand out to friends and family.

Make more of a trip with multiple nights or flights

Banks seem to figure most folks are only interested in a single credit card from a particular airline or hotel, so they tend to offer similar benefits across their product lines. If you’re willing to double down on cards with a specific loyalty scheme, though, you can stack certain benefits for even more (nearly) free travel. There are two really great examples of this.

Both the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex and the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card come with an annual companion certificate that can be redeemed for a second ticket on the same reservation as the cardholder for round-trip travel within the contiguous United States (residents of Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands can originate there and travel to the 48 continental states). You just have to pay the taxes and fees on the second ticket.

The Platinum version’s is good for travel in economy, while the Reserve lets you redeem it for economy, Comfort+ or even first class. So if you had both cards, you could expect to save either on two trips for yourself and a companion, or if you’re a family of four (or more), the parents could fly up front while the kids could sit in coach, and you’d be enjoying nearly half off your vacation flights.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Related: Your guide to airline credit card companion tickets

To take a hotel scenario, let’s say you have the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, which comes with an annual free weekend night each year of cardmembership (and a second one every year you spend $60,000 or more on purchases). You could also get The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card and put $15,000 of spending on that in a calendar year to earn a second free night reward to use either on the same stay, or a different one.

By leveraging benefits that seem to overlap, you can actually combine things like companion tickets or anniversary nights to extend whatever trips you intend to use them on.

The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: 7 of the best hotel credit cards that come with an annual free night

Get to elite status faster

In the case of hotel credit cards, specifically, carrying more than one product from the same loyalty program could put a higher echelon of elite status within reach.

For instance, if you have the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card, you are credited with 15 elite nights per card per year toward status with the program. That amounts to 30 nights each year — five more than you need for mid-level Gold status, and just 20 nights from Platinum, all before you’ve even set foot in a hotel.

Related: The best credit cards to jump-start elite status in 2021

Counteract recent devaluations

Following a series of consolidations within the airline and hotel industries, the last few years have been brutal to travel rewards programs. Major airlines including Delta and United have completely revamped (some might say gutted) their frequent flyer schemes and increased the number of miles you need for reward tickets by multiples.

The major hotel chains including Hilton, Hyatt, IHG and Marriott have raised their award prices to various degrees, too, as well as introducing more dynamic peak and off-peak pricing.

The Conrad Bora Bora. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

On the surface, all that uncertainty might seem like an argument in favor of avoiding concentrating on a single airline or hotel points program — and you’d be right from a top-level perspective. But unless you’re a frequent traveler who puts a lot of spending on various points-earning credit cards, chances are it takes you a while to earn enough points or miles for award travel.

If you think a little more short-term, by getting and using several credit cards within a single loyalty program, you can reap introductory bonuses and spending categories to unlock awards more quickly. Once you do and have taken your trip, you can think about moving on to another program.

Bottom line

When it comes to points and miles, diversifying the number of loyalty programs in which you participate is a tried-and-true strategy that will help you weather any sudden devaluations.

However, it’s sometimes a good idea to go all-in with one or two individual points programs for a specific time frame. Doing so allows you to take advantage of any short-term bonuses that arise, to enjoy stackable benefits and to rack up the rewards you need for an imminent redemption even faster. Take a look at your current card lineup and see if there might be any opportunities to double down with one or two points programs so you can rack up the rewards even faster.

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

Featured image by (Photo by Summer Hull/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.