TPG reader credit card question: What card should I get based on my priorities?
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Some people — including quite a few of us on the TPG team — are what I'd call "credit card hoarders." We collect them like teenagers used to collect baseball cards. However, that strategy isn't always the best option. It may work for some people to have 19 credit cards but others would rather limit their wallets to a few standout cards to use across all spending while earning points and miles to reach their travel goals.
[pullquote source="Christian Q"]I’m reaching out for advice to select a new credit card as our financial needs have changed. Our priorities for the year are as follows:
1) Optimal card for points/rewards tied to home remodel spending;
2) Optimize our Delta MQMs/status in light of my ability to personally pay and get reimbursed for all business travel;
3) Have a card for Costco usage, and
4) Limit of two total cards, ideally only one card with a high annual fee[/pullquote]
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To be blunt, that's a lot to ask of two cards. However, with so many different rewards credit cards on the market, there are options that fit most, if not all, of Christian's wish list. We need to find a pair of top-notch credit cards that hits as many of his priorities as possible.
Christian provided additional details for his request, including estimates of his everyday spending, that "spending towards status is meaningful to us," and that he switched his airline travel exclusively to Delta Air linesas a Los Angeles-based traveler. The Delta Amex cards (which underwent a large update in 2020) are a great place to start.
Option 1: Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
The Delta Reserve Amex is the airline's top-tier personal credit card. The card is currently offering a welcome bonus of 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
As a Reserve cardholder, he can earn 15,000 MQMs for every $30,000 he spends within a calendar year (up to 60,000 MQMs per year). That combined with the Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) waiver he'd earn after spending $25,000 in a calendar year, and he's 5,000 MQMs short of Platinum Medallion elite status.
The spending thresholds to earn those MQMs are high ($120,000 in a calendar year to max out your MQM-earning potential), but with Christian's anticipated large expenses for a home renovation, he can probably get there.
- The card provides a host of Delta benefits, including lounge access to Delta Sky Clubs and Amex Centurion Lounges; two one-time guest passes to the Sky Club each year; an annual companion certificate (valid for round-trip domestic first class, Delta Comfort+ or main cabin); complimentary upgrades for non-Medallions, and more.
- Enrollment required for select benefits.
- The card comes with a high $550 annual fee (see rates and fees), although you definitely get more than $550 in value from this card every year — especially if you're a high spender who flies Delta frequently (something to consider because Christian told us that he already has the Chase Sapphire Reserve with a high annual fee).
- It's not a great card for everyday spending. I'd certainly put the first $120,000 in spending on the card to get Platinum Medallion Elite status as a new cardholder, but after that, there are other cards that are better for everyday expenses.
Option 2: Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
If the $550 annual fee (see rates and fees) on the Reserve is too high to justify, Christian can opt for Delta's mid-tier Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex, at $250 annual fee (see rates and fees). This card has a welcome offer of 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
You don't get the same level of perks as you do with the Reserve, but the annual fee is more manageable. It's a good compromise if you want the opportunity to use credit card spending to help you earn elite status, but don't want to pay the annual fee on the Reserve — and if Christian is already doing a significant amount of work travel on Delta, he may not need as many MQMs as the Reserve provides.
- Unlike the Reserve, this card is good for everyday spending. Expanded bonus categories include earning 3x miles on eligible Delta purchases and hotel stays and 2x miles at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets. Although there are cards that offer higher returns on dining and groceries, this card does offer a way to earn bonus Delta miles on those expenses beyond a limited time period.
- The Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex comes with a much more manageable $250 annual fee (see rates and fees) compared to its older sibling, the Delta SkyMiles Reserve.
- With this card, you only get two opportunities to earn MQMs from spending — earn 10,000 MQMs after spending $25,000 up to two times annually (20,000 MQMs total). Given Christian's renovation plans, this may be too limiting compared to the MQM earning potential on the Delta Reserve.
- Additionally, the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex comes with fewer perks than the Reserve to make up for the lower annual fee. Cardholders do not receive complimentary lounge access, nor do they receive upgrade priority. And even though it comes with a companion certificate, it can only be applied to an economy fare.
Option 3:The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
The final option is The Business Platinum Card from American Express. With the Amex Business Platinum, you'll get 5x on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com and 1.5x on all large purchases over $5,000 (up to 1 million additional points per calendar year). Plus, you're getting a ton of great benefits with the card if you are a frequent traveler.
- That 1.5x bonus category for larger purchases could be quite lucrative for someone who plans on making significant renovation purchases, many of which will likely fall above the $5,000 threshold. Based on TPG valuations, that's a return of 3% on all purchases over that amount.
- The Amex Business Platinum offers an array of perks for cardholders: You'll get up to $200 in annual statement credits with Dell on eligible U.S. purchases; an up to $200 airline fee statement credit; complimentary Gold Elite status with Hilton and Marriott; a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit; unparalleled lounge access privileges, and more. Enrollment required for select benefits.
- Delta is a direct transfer partner with Amex, which means you can easily take the Amex Membership Rewards Points that you earn and transfer them at a 1:1 rate to your Delta SkyMiles account.
- New perks make it easier to offset the cost of the annual fee, even if you aren't traveling.
- This card charges a high annual fee of $595 (see rates and fees).
- This card does not offer MQMs through spending, so if earning Delta Elite status is important to you, the Amex Business Platinum will not help.
- Like the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Amex, this card is not the best for everyday spending. You're getting a great return (5x Membership Rewards points is a 10% return on spending) on airfare and prepaid hotel stays through Amex Travel, but that's the only bonus category aside from the 1.5x on large purchases. It's not the best card for spending on things like groceries, gas or dining.
The ultimate pairing
I could make a good argument for Christian to switch from the Chase Sapphire Reserve to any of the cards listed above and keep the Chase Freedom Unlimited as a card for everyday spending.
But if he isn't opposed switching to two new cards, this is my recommendation:
Delta SkyMiles Reserve Amex + Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
The Delta Reserve is the best card option for anyone who wants to rack up Delta miles and use card spending to help reach Medallion Elite status. I suggest using the Delta Reserve for all future Delta flights and any renovation costs up to $120,000. This would trigger the welcome bonus (100,000), all four Status Boost opportunities (up to 60,000 MQMs) and the MQD waiver in the first year.
Then you have the Capital One Venture card, which earns 2x across all purchases. This makes it a great companion credit card for everyday expenses. You can then redeem Venture Miles at a fixed rate (1 mile = 1 cent) as a statement credit for a wide range of travel purchases (and temporarily even some non-travel purchases) or transfer to one of Capital One's airline or newly added hotel partners.
Although Delta is not a direct transfer partner, SkyTeam alliance members Aeroméxico, Air France, and KLM are.
The Delta Reserve comes with a $550 annual fee (see rates and fees), and the Capital One Venture comes with a $95 annual fee.
Based on the estimates he gave TPG, Christian expects to spend around $54,000 per year on everyday expenses ($4,000 per month on household expenses and $500 per month at Costco). With the Venture card, he gets at least 108,000 miles. At a minimum, that's $1,080 in value per year, which far outweighs the cost of both annual fees.
Of course, once the renovation is finished, spending enough on the Delta Reserve to warrant its cost may not be feasible. In that case, he can always switch to the Delta Platinum after the first year. Then, he'll only be paying a total of $345 per year in fees for a dynamic credit card duo.
These options hit most, if not all, of Christian's priorities for 2020. He can work toward Delta status by maximizing his home renovation purchases, and he'll enjoy an array of perks every time he flies. He'll also have a credit card with a simple rewards structure for his everyday spending at Costco and for other purchases -- and he'll do it with only two cards.
With the Delta Amex cards now offering revamped benefits and limited-time bonuses on groceries, it is an excellent time for Delta flyers to apply for one of those cards. But if you want a more flexible premium credit card that will still help you earn Delta miles, Amex is the only U.S. issuer with Delta as a direct transfer partner.
When you want to limit your overall number of credit cards, it's important to focus on having one card that will give you any perks, benefits or bonus categories you want. The second card should then be an everyday spending card that earns rewards on every purchase. Although most of us at TPG still subscribe to the notion that "more is merrier" when it comes to credit cards, there are many opportunities to pair two or three cards to create a powerful earning system for most needs.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum card, click here.