How One Parent Saved $4K on Travel in a Year With Just Five Cards
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I have two young kids, so I don’t really want to spend time thinking about which card is best to use where or what stores have the highest bonus rewards this quarter. I just want to maximize returns on stuff I already do anyway and do so with as little effort as possible. Is that too much to ask?
Much to my relief: No, it’s not.
I might not have the roughly two dozen cards in TPG’s wallet or the 40 (!) in Editor-at-Large Zach Honig’s, but the five I do have saved our family of four nearly $4,000 this past year in travel costs and discounts — and with minimal exertion. Here’s the breakdown of this lazy parent’s card inventory.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Three of the five cards in my wallet are Chase cards. Why so many? Frankly, the Chase “ecosystem” works great for us because we already do most of our regular banking there. That means I only have to log onto one site to see what’s happening with checking, savings and rewards accounts. Booking my travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal was just icing on the cake.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve was the first and only annual fee card I had ever signed up for, so I was both nervous and a bit skeptical that it would be worth $450 a year. After having the card for a little over a year now, I've been pleasantly surprised. The 100,000-point early sign-up bonus (no longer available) softened the blow a bit, and with the $300 travel credit and $100 Global Entry fee waiver, the card easily paid for itself this first year.
One of the things I love most about this card is that it allows me to consolidate all of my Ultimate Rewards points onto my Reserve and redeem points from my two other Chase cards at higher rates — 1.5 cents per point vs. 1.25 cents — through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Plus, it essentially converts my cash-back cards to rewards cards, giving me more points to use for travel.
Ink Business Cash
I’m self-employed and work from home, so I got the Ink Business Cash Credit Card to keep my work expenses organized and get a little something back in the process. This card is one of the best cash-back and no-fee business cards, in part because it earns 5% cash back on typical business expenses like internet and phone services, at least for the first $25,000 in combined purchases each account anniversary year. Phone and internet are by far my biggest business expenses, and I don’t even come close to reaching that cap. I just set up those services to auto-pay from my Ink card, and my bank to auto-pay my Ink. I get the rewards, and the card rarely leaves my wallet. The information for the Ink Business Cash has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Chase Freedom Unlimited
My Chase Freedom Unlimited rounds out my own Chase trifecta and is what I use for everything else — especially things like groceries, medical costs and our Netflix subscription. With no fee and 1.5% cash back on all purchases, it’s my go-to card to use for anything that’s not a restaurant or a business expense — with the exception of Target and Amazon, which I’ll get to in a minute. The 1.5% cash back isn’t the highest out there, but since I also have the Ultimate Rewards point-earning Reserve, it's essentially 2.25% back (using the 1.5-cent valuation you'll get for each point through the travel portal), which is great for a flat “everything” rewards rate.
Thanks to some sign-up bonuses and the ability to consolidate everything into points on one card, these three Chase cards combined have scored us enough Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book roughly $3,000 worth of travel in 2017 alone — including some much-needed flights for grandparents — with points to spare heading into 2018.
Amazon.com Store Card
As both a millennial and a parent, I do most of my shopping on Amazon. Roughly two-thirds of our discretionary spending happens on the platform, and it's where we get the bulk of our key baby supplies like diapers and wipes purchased through the Subscribe & Save program. The “Amazon Family” program also juices up baby-related Subscribe & Save deliveries with an additional 5% savings.
While I could put those charges on one of my Chase cards to keep racking up points, it makes a lot of sense for me to just take the 5% statement credit offered by the Amazon.com Store Card from Synchrony. This effectively results in a 5% discount for everything we buy on Amazon. Stack that 5% credit with the 15-20% subscription discount, and Amazon becomes competitive for everyday stuff you wouldn’t normally get delivered, like toilet paper and endless baby wipes. And let me tell you — having monthly deliveries pre-scheduled for tons of household staples is a serious load off. All I have to do is enter the card once into the system, set it as my default method of payment, and it’s done. I don’t even have to keep it in my wallet.
Amazon's co-branded card from Chase, the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, offers similar benefits along with some extra versatility to use outside of the Amazon marketplace and cash back on other purchases like gas. Both cards, however, are really only worth it if you're already an active Prime member. Otherwise, you're better off sticking to a solid, all-around cash-back card like the Chase Freedom Unlimited for household basics and discretionary spending.
I don’t know what it is about Target, but spending $200 more than I planned is pretty much a foregone conclusion every time I go. Unfortunately, Target runs are too convenient to write off altogether, so to offset some of the damage the store can do to my bank account, I signed up for the Target Redcard debit card. A credit card option is available, too, and both cards give a 5% discount off the total price tag, as well as free shipping and exclusive discounts on rotating items. The Target Redcard and Amazon.com Store Card combined saved us roughly $700 this year alone. It was seriously easy money for places we already shop at anyway.
Families who prefer Costco over Target or Amazon, however, might want to consider the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi, which earns you 2% cash back on Costco purchases and 3% cash back on restaurants.
Chase offers a nice combination of rewards and cash-back options, as well as a way to consolidate all of our rewards in one spot for easy redeeming, and the Amazon and Target cards give us a chance to save a little money at the stores where we spend the most. While every family’s needs are different, these five cards hit the sweet spot for us to maximize return without having to juggle or adjust spending habits.