My card strategy without an ultra-premium card
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
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.
For more credit card news and advice, sign up for the TPG newsletter!
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.
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.
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.
Featured image by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold Card, please click here.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
- Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees