The 5 credit cards The Points Guy is using the most in 2020
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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 U.S. in terms of earning and redeeming points and miles, thanks to a competitive credit card industry that offers lucrative welcome bonuses, rich category spending bonuses and great perks that are worth more than the annual fees.
“What credit cards do you have?” is probably one of the most common questions I get asked.
It’s a long list, some I use regularly while others I don’t. But today I’m walking through what’s in my wallet and how I’ve been using my cards so far in 2020.
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How my spending habits have changed throughout the coronavirus pandemic
Just like many travel enthusiasts, my spending habits have changed quite a bit in 2020 because of COVID-19. Before I dig into what are normally my top cards, let’s walk through my wallet in the current coronavirus world.
Historically, my top spending categories have been travel and ad spend, but the pandemic has shifted a lot of that.
Normally, much of TPG’s Google and social advertising spend is put on my cards, but we’ve greatly reduced those budgets in recent months. And of course, I’m not traveling nearly as much as I was in 2019, so that expense category is down as well. This means I’ve been able to save a lot of money, but it also means I’m not earning as many points and miles as I would in a typical year.
What cards have you turned to most during quarantine?
I have been spending more on groceries lately since I’ve been at home. The temporary bonus category for groceries on the Chase Sapphire Reserve was great while it lasted, but the American Express® Gold Card’s 4x on U.S. supermarkets has been my “quarantine winner,” so to speak, along with dining at restaurants.
Related reading: Best cards for groceries during the pandemic
As mentioned, I’ve also been putting more money into home improvement. I built a little kid village for my niece and nephew in my backyard, and I’ve been shopping a lot at Wayfair. Sadly, Wayfair isn’t currently on any online shopping portals to double-dip on rewards, but I was able to get 1.5x with my Chase Freedom Unlimited. That is still a solid 2.25% return when I transfer my points to the CSR to book hotels through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal — which is actually what I did on my recent trip to Antigua.
My overall top 5 credit cards
With 20 cards currently in my wallet, it would be impossible for me to use all of them frequently. But here are the top five cards that generally get the most use:
- American Express® Gold Card
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
Annual fee: $250 (see rates and fees)
Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months. (though you may be targeted for a higher offer through CardMatch).
Why it deserves a top slot: The Amex Gold has been my most-used credit card in 2020 while I’ve been staying home more. Earning 4x points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases per year, then 1x points) is its major selling point for me. As my grocery spending has increased and my travel budget has decreased this year, the Gold has become my top card for spending.
Of course, it also comes with some solid perks, including up to $120 in dining credits annually (which includes food delivery service GrubHub and online wholesale seller Boxed)
It’s been disappointing to see the Amex Gold left out of Amex’s cards that have received temporary benefits, especially since the benefit of the card are 3x on flights booked directly or through Amex Travel – of which is likely underutilized by most cardholders while travel is on hold.
However, this card still has a top spot in my wallet right now for a large portion of my monthly spending.
Annual fee: $0
Sign-up bonus: $200 bonus (or 20,000 points when you have an Ultimate Rewards card) after you spend $500 in the first three months.
Why it deserves a top slot: The ultimate goal of a good rewards-earning strategy is to never earn just 1x on any purchase, and the Chase Freedom Unlimited helps me accomplish that when purchases don’t fit into any bonus categories offered by my other credit cards. This card gets a lot of my non-bonus spend (including online shopping at Wayfair, as I mentioned earlier) since it gets unlimited 1.5% (or 1.5x) on all purchases. Because I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, I can pool the points earned with the Chase Freedom Unlimited into my CSR’s Ultimate Rewards account. Those points can then be used with transfer partners (or the new Pay Yourself Back feature if I ever decide to try out non-travel redemptions with my UR points).
I also use the Chase Freedom Unlimited for a lot of charitable donations, since it earns 1.5x when I use the card to donate. It would be great if I could use my points at a decent value to donate to more causes, but issuers offer incredibly limited opportunities to use points, miles and cash back to donate to causes cardholders are passionate about. My sincere hope is that this will change in 2020, but we’ll see.
Annual fee: $550
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months
Why it deserves a top slot: The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a great all-around travel credit card — which is why it’s been a winner at the TPG Awards the past two years. The $300 travel credit is a great perk that I use every year, and 3x across all travel and dining is a solid earning rate considering the value of Ultimate Rewards points.
I also utilize this card frequently for travel because of its travel protections. The card comes with trip cancellation/interruption insurance, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, travel and emergency assistance, travel accident insurance, emergency evacuation and transportation coverage, emergency medical and dental coverage, roadside assistance and car rental insurance. The fact that the CSR offers primary coverage for car rentals (rather than secondary coverage like most travel cards) is a huge advantage to the card in my eyes.
Of course, Chase has also been one of the pack leaders in terms of offering new perks and benefits during the coronavirus pandemic to help cardholders maximize benefits even while travel has slowed:
- The $300 travel credit has been extended to also cover groceries and gas through the end of 2020.
- Annual fees for cardholders that post after July 1, 2020, have been lowered to $450 (replacing the $100 statement credit offered earlier in the year).
Finally, those who are interested in non-travel redemptions can also utilize a new Pay Yourself Back feature with a temporary 50% redemption bonus when you use it to pay for grocery, home improvement store and dining purchases through April 2021. While I’m personally using this time to stock up on points, it’s still a great redemption option right now for those who aren’t traveling.
Annual fee: $95
Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening.
Why it deserves a top slot: Even though some hotel benefits have been discontinued, this card is still a frequently used card. While the Chase Freedom Unlimited gets the vast majority of my non-bonus spending, I do still regularly use the Venture. I’m earning 2x on every purchase, and those miles can be used by transferring to partners or by using the purchase eraser. I personally use my miles through the purchase eraser feature to cover travel expenses such as private jets that aren’t eligible for redemptions with other cards. Capital One recently added the temporary ability to use the purchase eraser for some non-travel redemptions, too, although I’ve yet to use my miles for any non-travel purchases.
It charges a low $95 annual fee, so it’s easily remained in my wallet year after year.
Annual fee: $95
Sign-up bonus: 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $15,000 in the first three months
Why it deserves a top slot: I generally use the Ink Business Preferred for its 3x bonus categories across a number of business expenses, including shipping, internet, cable, and phone services and advertising across social media sites and search engines. Just like with my Chase Freedom Unlimited, I can pool my points with my Chase Sapphire Reserve if I so choose to get the 50% redemption bonus through the portal. The card also comes with cell phone protection, which is a solid perk for a $95 annual fee card.
The card does cap bonused earnings at $150,000 annually, so I typically don’t use this card as much after I hit that threshold. The American Express® Business Gold Card does offer 4x on the top two categories each month (up to $150,000 in combined purchases each calendar year) then earn 1 point per dollar, so this is another go-to card for ad spend during usual times (although TPG isn’t really spending on online ad spend right now).
Bonus: Amex Business Centurion
The invite-only Business Centurion Card gets a shoutout even though I don’t use it much for spending, because of the incredible customer service that comes with having a personal concierge. My concierge, Ray, has been invaluable over the years, and he’s been especially helpful during the pandemic with trying to sort out canceling some trips and rearranging other plans.
The card also comes with a number of great benefits that I use frequently when I’m traveling.
I get a 50% statement credit rebate when I use my Membership Rewards points for all or a portion of any flight booked through Amex Travel or the Centurion Travel Service (which essentially gives me a guaranteed 2 cents per point value). I get access to both the Centurion Hotel Program and Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts — both of which offer benefits that help me make the most of my travels.
Additionally, I frequently use the $250 quarterly Saks Fifth Avenue credits and the Equinox Destination Access Membership (both of which were part of recent updates to the Centurion cards). There are so many other benefits this card offers — some that I utilize and others that I do not — that also help make up for the steep annual fee.
I will admit that I wish American Express would either add perks or reduce the annual fee during 2020, since so many of the card perks aren’t easily used while travel is on the backburner. But between the benefits I can still use (including earning 1.5x on all purchases over $5,000) up to one million extra points per year and the knowledge that travel will pick back up eventually, this card will continue to hold a spot in my wallet even if I’m not putting many purchases on it right now.
Other cards in my wallet
Of course, these aren’t the only credit cards I use. Here’s a quick rundown of what else is in my wallet and what I use each card for throughout the year:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: I use the Amex Platinum for its 5x on airfare (when booked directly with the airline or through American Express Travel; on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year, starting Jan. 1, 2021) and its perks such as lounge access, the Saks Fifth Avenue credit and more. While it’s not in my top five cards, it is still regularly used.
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: I primarily use this card for the up to $300 Marriott Bonvoy statement credit and Free Night Award (up to 50,000 points).
- Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card: Similar to the Brilliant, I use this card for its perks such as the elite night credits and Free Night Award (up to 35,000 points). It helps that you can now earn up to 30 Marriott elite nights per year by having a personal and small business card.
- Marriott Bonvoy American Express® Card: This is the old Starwood Preferred Guest Card, now Bonvoy-branded and no longer open to new applications. But I keep it in my wallet for the perks and benefits, such as the annual night at Marriott hotels up to 35k points.
- American Express® Business Gold: I use this card for advertising spend once I hit the $150k cap on the Ink Business Preferred. It also earns 4x on at U.S. gas stations (applies to the first $150,000 in combined purchases from 2 categories the business spends the most each calendar year), which is great since I’m driving more lately.
- IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card: This card is used for hotel-specific perks, including automatic Platinum elite status, the 4th night free benefit and the annual anniversary night.
- Citi Prestige® Card: While I still take advantage of the free 4th night benefit twice per year, this card has disappointed me in recent years with so many devaluations. Using the 4th night benefit gets increasingly difficult (a refund for a canceled 4th night will take three months to get points back, which is not consumer-friendly in my eyes), so we’ll have to see if this card stays in my wallet long-term.
- JetBlue Plus Card: I use the card to hit Mosaic elite status each year, but then it gets put in the metaphorical sock drawer. To be honest, I haven’t used it much in 2020 since JetBlue carried status over from 2019 in light of COVID-19.
- United Explorer Card: I keep this card in my wallet despite its infrequent use since it opens up award availability and savings. I’ve considered upgrading it to the United Club Infinite Card in order get lounge access, but I haven’t made a final decision on when/if I’ll do that.
- Chase Freedom: (No longer open to new applicants) Depending on the bonus categories each quarter, I may use this to hit that $1,500 cap before putting it back in the sock drawer. (Especially when it’s no-brainer categories like Amazon.) It is nice that when I do use the card, I can transfer points to my CSR. It’s no annual fee, so I’ll continue to keep it and use it sporadically.
- Capital One Spark Miles for Business: This one is rarely, if ever, used.
- Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card: I got this card for the up to 2.625x on everyday expenses it earns with the Preferred Rewards program, which while solid, I just haven’t been using. I will likely cancel this one eventually.
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®: I’m an authorized user on this card rather than being a primary account holder. I use it for Admiral’s Club lounge access.
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card: To be honest, I may end up canceling this one soon. While it doesn’t charge an annual fee, I never use it and canceling shouldn’t affect my credit score much (if at all).
- Bask Bank Account: While this isn’t a credit card, I did want to mention it on this list. Bask Bank has a partnership with AAdvantage that lets me earn American Airlines miles with the savings account.
The information for the Marriott Bonvoy Amex, Citi Prestige, the JetBlue Plus, Chase Freedom, and Wells Fargo Propel cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Have I applied for any new cards in 2020?
I actually haven’t applied for any new credit cards in 2020. This year I applied for a mortgage, and so I’ve been avoiding any new credit inquires on my report that could jeopardize that process. That being said, I’ve had my eye on the United Club Infinite Card.
With cards offering new redemption options, will I consider using my points for things other than travel?
It’s been great to see issuers add more redemption options for points, though I’ll be honest that I’ve yet to try any of the alternative redemption options out at this point. I’ve been of the mindset that points are best used for travel for so long, that my strategy throughout the pandemic is just to save up my points and miles for an epic redemption down the road.
That being said, there are some solid non-travel redemption offers out there worth looking into — especially if you’ve been furloughed or are looking for ways to save money. I might still be using my points for travel, but I highly encourage people to use theirs on what matters most to them. If that’s utilizing Chase’s new Pay Yourself Back feature for groceries rather than flying first class, then so be it.
Travel, especially international travel, is going to be difficult for the near future. Plus, many premium cabin experiences are watered down right now because of safety concerns — Emirates, for example, isn’t serving champagne or wine. And while that is far from the end of the world, it’s just one example of travel being a bit more function over form at the moment.
Related reading: Maximizing rewards points for non-travel redemptions
While the pandemic has certainly switched up my spending habits, I’ve yet to cancel any cards over it at this point. I’ve changed which cards I use more often since I’ve been spending more on groceries and non-bonus spending on things like home improvement, but there are still a few cards (such as my Amex Business Centurion) that continue to hold a top spot in my wallet even though I’m not traveling as much right now.
I’m still using my points and miles for travel, but I would love to see issuers start to add permanent ways to utilize rewards beyond just travel.
To be frank, non-travel redemption options have historically been lackluster at best (and downright horrible for some cards such as Amex). The ability to redeem points at a good value for everyday expenses or charitable donations to social justice causes that cardholders are passionate about are two non-travel options I’d be highly interested in exploring if issuers would make headway in those areas.
For rates and fees of the American Express Gold Card, please click here
Featured image by The Points Guy.
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