The 5 credit cards The Points Guy is using the most in 2021
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
It’s no secret that credit cards are the best way to rack up points and miles. We are fortunate here in the U.S. to earn and redeem points and miles, thanks to a competitive credit card landscape that offers lucrative welcome offers, rich category spending bonuses, and great perks that are worth more than the annual fees we pay.
“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 2021.
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How my spending habits have changed in the past year
Like many travel enthusiasts, my spending habits have changed in the last year because of the pandemic. Historically, my top spending categories have been travel and ad spend, but the pandemic has shifted a lot of that. Groceries, dining, and online shopping are included in some of my top categories in the past year.
As I’m now fully vaccinated and international travel is back on the docket, I’m thrilled to use the points and miles I’ve accumulated throughout the pandemic for some epic award travel redemptions.
What cards have you turned to most in 2021?
In 2021, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is my biggest winner for several reasons. First, it earns 2x miles on every purchase, making it one of the best cards for everyday purchases. While I have other cards to maximize my travel and dining spending, this card can’t beat those other life expenses, such as online shopping.
Recently, Capital One improved its travel rewards program, adding four new loyalty partners (including British Airways Avios and Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles) and a 1:1 transfer tier for many of the programs. TPG even bumped up the value of Capital One miles from 1.4 cents to 1.7 cents each in our monthly valuations (and now 1.85 cents). Therefore, I’m now looking at a solid 3.7% on all my everyday purchases.
The Ink Business Preferred Credit Card continues be my favorite business card for TPG’s Google and social advertising spend. As I’ve started to book more trips, I’ve been using my Citi Prestige® Card for 5x points on air travel and my Chase Sapphire Reserve to book hotels when I visit Manhattan. 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.
Of course, I continue to spend on dining and groceries. The Citi Prestige offers 5x on dining, so that’s been my go-to card for restaurants. 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 (on up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x) has been my “quarantine winner,” so to speak.
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:
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
- Citi Prestige® Card
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- American Express® Gold Card
Annual fee: $95
Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Why it deserves a top slot: The Venture card has been a long-time favorite of mine. In fact, it’s the one card I can’t live without, since I’m earning 2x on every purchase. And Capital One’s loyalty program improvements have made this card take the front spot in my wallet for 2021.
I’m also a huge fan of using these miles to cover travel expenses such as private jets that aren’t eligible for redemptions with other cards.
It charges a low $95 annual fee, making it one of the most affordable travel rewards cards out there.
Annual fee: $95
Sign-up bonus: Earn 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Why it deserves a top slot: I use the Ink Business Preferred for its 3x bonus categories across a number of TPG business expenses, including shipping, internet, cable, phone services and advertising across social media sites and search engines. I can then pool my points with my Chase Sapphire Reserve 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 bonus 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 1x, so this is another go-to card for ad spend.
Annual fee: $495
Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
Why it deserves a top spot: Thankfully, I’ve gotten to travel much more since this time last year, and I’ve booked many more trips for the rest of 2021. For all of my airfare spend, I’ve been putting these expenses on my Prestige, which gets me 5x points on air travel.
I also have been using this card for outdoor dining and takeout since I get 5x on restaurants — one of the highest rates on any card. This rewards rate even beats out the popular foodie card, the Amex Gold, which offers 4x on dining. It’s been incredibly important for me to support local restaurants that have suffered through the pandemic, so I’m glad to be revisiting my favorites.
Annual fee: $550
Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
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 three 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.
Although I moved out of my New York City apartment to live 90 minutes outside of Pennsylvania, I often frequent the city. I’ve been using the 1.5-cent redemption rate as my go-to method to book hotels in Manhattan. For example, I could have booked two nights at the Andaz 5th Avenue by transferring to Hyatt for 40,000 points per night, for a total of 80,000 points. Instead, I found a better value using the Chase portal, booking this stay for under 74,000 Chase points, including taxes and fees with the 50% points redemption bonus.
You get a number of shopping benefits with this card, including purchase protection, extended warranty and return protection. I actually utilized the purchase protection benefit this year on a broken wine glass purchased on Amazon. Since Amazon charged in sets of two, Chase quickly sent me a reimbursement of half of the purchase amount.
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 Reserve offers primary coverage for car rentals (rather than secondary coverage like most travel cards) is a huge advantage to the card in my eyes.
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 six months of card membership. (You may be targeted for a higher offer through CardMatch; offer subject to change at any time).
Why it deserves a top slot: The Amex Gold offers an unmatched rate on groceries, earning me 4x points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1x points).
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 also comes with up to $120 in Uber Cash annually, applicable for Uber Rides or Uber Eats orders in the U.S.. These credits alone justify the $250 annual fee (see rates and fees). (Enrollment required for select benefits).
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 accommodating during the pandemic with trying to sort out canceling some trips and rearranging other plans.
The card also comes with several great benefits that I frequently use 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 get my SoulCycle home membership through Equinox (value of $39.99 per month) — 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.
Between the benefits, I can still use (including earning 1.5x on all purchases over $5,000) up to 1 million extra points per year and with international travel on the horizon, 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) and its perks such as lounge access, the Saks Fifth Avenue credit (enrollment required) and more. There have also been some awesome Amex offers recently, saving me hundreds of dollars on hotels. Plus, I’ve added my parents as authorized users to give them some of the Platinum’s amazing benefits at a low cost of $175 each for up to three added users (see rates and fees).
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: I primarily use this card for the up to $300 annual statement credit and Free Night Award (up to 50,000 points) valid at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program (certain hotels have resort fees).
- 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 two categories the business spends the most each calendar year; then 1x), 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 reward benefit and the annual anniversary night.
- Chase Freedom Unlimited: While I’ve been mainly using my Venture for non-category spend to get 2x on all purchases, I like that I can pool the points I earn to my Reserve’s Ultimate Rewards account. I also use the Freedom Unlimited for many charitable donations, since it earns 1.5x when I use the card to donate.
- JetBlue Plus Card: I use the card to hit Mosaic elite status each year, but then it gets put in the metaphorical sock drawer. I haven’t used it much since JetBlue extended Mosaic status through Dec. 31, 2021. JetBlue lowered qualifications for Mosaic in light of the pandemic this year, so I intend on spending $30,000 and 4,000 Mosaic Qualifying points during the calendar year to maintain status into 2022.
- United Club Infinite Card: I keep this card in my wallet despite its infrequent use since it opens up award availability and gets me United Club lounge access.
- 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 such as Amazon.) It is nice that when I do use the card, I can transfer points to my CSR. It’s a no annual fee card, so I’ll continue to keep it and use it sporadically. This card has been replaced by the Chase Freedom Flex.
- Capital One Spark Miles for Business: This one is rarely, if ever, used.
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®: I’m an authorized user on this card rather than a primary account holder. I use it for Admiral’s Club lounge access.
The information for the JetBlue Plus 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.
Have I applied for any new cards in 2021?
I haven’t applied for any new credit cards in 2021, as I’m satisfied with the options I have right now. Admittedly, I’m eyeing crypto credit cards that are hitting the market later this year. Some that have piqued my interest include the BlockFi credit card (1.5% cash back that’s automatically converted to bitcoins) and the Gemini credit card (earn up to 3% back in bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies).
The only card that I’ve canceled in 2021 is my no-annual-fee Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card. While it’s a great beginner card, I personally haven’t found much use for it, and canceling this card didn’t affect my credit score. This card has been recently discontinued by Wells Fargo and is no longer open to new applications. You can view the current offers here. The Wells Fargo Propel card is no longer available for new applicants. The information for this 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.
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.
Additional reporting by Stella Shon
Featured image by The Points Guy.
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