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My card strategy without an ultra-premium card

October 14 2020
5 min read
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Editor's Note

/strong> This post has been updated with new information.

Editor's note: This post has been updated with new information.

Fun fact: I do not have an ultra-premium credit card. As someone who spends a considerable amount of time talking about how many amazing premium credit cards are out there, a lot of people are surprised when they learn I don't have a card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or The Platinum Card® from American Express. While there are plenty of excellent premium credit cards out there, I haven't applied for any yet. So far, my focus has been on establishing an earning strategy that helps me hit my travel (and overall financial) goals.

Here's a peek at my cards strategy and why I've avoided ultra-premium credit cards right now.

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My focus is on earning rewards, not premium benefits

At this stage in my life, my travel goals are about seeing as many places as possible by spending the least money possible. I'm a budget traveler and my credit card portfolio mirrors that. Lounge access, elite status with hotel chains – those aren't currently large priorities for me. Instead, I'm more interested in building up my Membership Rewards points balance with my American Express® Gold Card and my Ultimate Rewards balance with my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and new Chase Freedom Unlimited, along with an assortment of other low-annual-fee credit cards.

This will likely change as I visit more places and mark destinations off my bucket list. I'll start revisiting places I've already been to and I'll want to upgrade my travel experiences. But for now? I'm a young budget traveler who would rather use credit cards for earning and burning points than luxury perks.

Pairing cards for maximum value

A large part of my credit card strategy is pairing credit cards. I try not to overlap too many earning categories, and all of my main spending habits are covered by a card that earns rewards in those categories.

My two largest expenses each month are groceries and dining, followed closely by assorted online shopping. I use my American Express® Gold Card (which is my most expensive card at a $250 annual fee — see rates and fees) for U.S. supermarket purchases and dining at restaurants since it earns 4x on those expenses (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x at U.S. supermarkets). Since I use Doordash for most delivery, and they have a partnership with Chase, I put my food delivery purchases on my Chase Sapphire Preferred. Any broad travel purchases go on my CSP, too. Drugstore and online shopping purchases go on my new Chase Freedom Unlimited since it earns 3% (which I will convert into 3x Ultimate Rewards points by transferring rewards over to my CSP) on drugstores and 1.5% on non-bonus spending such as online shopping.

Right now, those three are the primary cards I use for pretty much everything, and they ensure I'm racking up points to spend on travel at a solid rate.

Other earning strategies

As I said before, my primary focus is on earning rewards. While some mid-tier cards offer a great return on some of my top spending categories (looking at you, Chase Freedom Unlimited and Amex Gold), they don't always hold up against the potential earnings from top-tier credit cards. That's where other earning strategies such as online shopping portals, referral bonuses, and Amex and Chase offers come into play.

Related: How to refer friends and earn points, miles or cash credits

I sift through my Amex Offers and Chase Offers at least weekly (it's currently part of my Sunday evening routine) and add any I think I might use. That way, I make sure I'm earning across every purchase possible. I also send friends and family members my referral codes when they ask for recommendations on which cards to get. Then I make sure to check CashBackMonitor for any shopping portal bonuses when I'm shopping online.

(Photo by Tashdique Mehtaj Ahmed/Getty Images)

Bottom line

Now, none of this means I won't ever get a premium credit card. In fact, I have one on my wish list for 2021. Back when the Chase Sapphire Reserve first added Lyft and Doordash benefits earlier in 2020, I'd planned to upgrade my CSP. I put that plan on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. Still, I will eventually add that card to my wallet (barring another card announcing some serious changes that make me reevaluate). This is simply my current strategy without a premium credit card and how I'm making my cards work for me without paying a $500+ annual fee.

Premium cards can be a great tool for frequent travelers. The annual fees are worth it for many people, and there is a lot of love about the benefits that come with most of these cards. But premium credit cards are not the only way to be successful in the points and miles game. With so many excellent mid-tier and no-annual-fee credit cards out there, you can build a solid strategy for earning travel rewards without adding any luxury cards that cost hundreds of dollars in annual fees.

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

Featured photo by (Photo courtesy of Madison Blancaflor/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.

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Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 points
    75,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees