Credit cards we’re using most during the pandemic

May 4, 2020

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Over the past few months, the coronavirus pandemic has changed everything from our travel plans and spending habits to the future of the travel industry. These changes have shifted how we think about earning and burning credit card points and miles, so many of us have developed new credit card strategies to fit our new habits and routines.

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Even if we are not hopping on a plane anytime soon, we are still dedicated to earning points and miles on our purchases. Transferable points from issuers such as American Express and Chase remain valuable, and cobranded cards still hold a lot of value. Most of us at TPG are banking our points for a future trip once we’re able to travel again later in 2020 or in 2021. Here’s how we’re using our spending now to make sure we can redeem for an amazing getaway later.

Related reading: The one credit card TPG staffers can’t live without

TPG staffers share their credit card strategies during the pandemic

Summer Hull, Director of Travel Content

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Call it retail therapy — getting things to keep the kids busy, buying basics at a discount or stocking up on a couple of things “just in case” they become harder to get. No matter which way you slice it, I’ve done my share of online shopping in the last few weeks, and the Citi Premier℠ Card has been my go-to for those purchases. Thanks to a targeted offer for 5x points on clothing stores, computer and electronic stores, department stores and toy stores, it’s been easy to earn bonus points while shopping from home. The offer is valid on up to $500 spent in those categories by May 31, 2020.

The information for the Citi Premier 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.

Related reading: The credit cards I’m maximizing at home now for a great redemption later

Madison Blancaflor, Credit Cards Writer

The primary cards I’ve been using for purchases during the pandemic have been my American Express® Gold Card and Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card. My Amex Gold has been my go-to for groceries at U.S. supermarkets, takeout and delivery ($10 monthly dining credit on Grubhub for the win). And my Delta SkyMiles has been my primary card for all non-bonus spending while I slowly work my way toward the welcome bonus (I applied during the recent, but no longer available, limited-time offer for 60,000 miles after $1,000 in spending and an additional 10,000 after my first card anniversary. Thanks to Amex’s extension, I have three extra months to hit the requirement). I also use my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card on DoorDash (that complimentary DashPass benefit is coming in handy right now). But it’ll once again become my default for non-bonus spending, once my Delta SkyMiles Gold bonus is attained. I’ve also taken a lot of my other cards out of “storage” to make sure I’m keeping those accounts active.

Related reading: Choosing the best American Express credit card for you

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
Madison recently got the Delta SkyMiles Gold Amex, so she’s been using it on non-bonus spending to hit the welcome bonus. (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

I have an old Discover it Cash Back, Barclaycard Apple Rewards Card and Citi Rewards+℠ Card — all of which carry no annual fee and are generally unused. To make sure those accounts aren’t subject to closure and/or drastic credit-line decreases, I make a habit of using them for smaller purchases now and then — especially my Discover, since it’s my oldest card and my Rewards+ since I have a small stash of ThankYou Points I don’t want to lose.

Amex Offers and online shopping portals have been another saving grace during this pandemic. I don’t have any cards that offer rewards for online shopping, but I’ve been able to take advantage of a few Amex Offers (including one for a Winc wine subscription) and shopping portal deals to make sure I earn points and miles even if my cards don’t earn bonus points or miles on a specific purchase.

Once the pandemic ends, I’m hoping to plan a trip to the Philippines (where my father was born and raised), so building up my travel rewards stash for business-class seats is a top priority for me during this period of spending from home.

Riley Arthur, Photography Manager

(Photo by The Points Guy)
(Photo by The Points Guy)

I’m using my Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card for groceries and shared expenses with my husband, and my Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® (no longer available) on my photo business expenses (like purchasing a monitor in this work-from-home life). Overall, we are being ridiculously frugal right now, so our biggest atypical expenses are groceries and small produce delivery subscriptions. We are saving the points to pool for a trip this Christmas to American Samoa.

Chris Dong, Credit Cards Writer

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
Chase Freedom’s current Q2 2020 categories are incredibly valuable right now with 5x points on the first $1,500 spent on groceries, select streaming services, gym memberships and fitness clubs. (Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

My Chase Freedom (No longer open to new applicants) is the perennial card for rotating category bonuses. In the midst of a pandemic, Chase is offering a couple of compelling categories that have me using this card frequently. Through June 30, 2020, I’ll earn 5x cash back (or Ultimate Rewards points) on up to $1,500 in purchases at grocery stores, select streaming services, and fitness clubs and gyms. Although that last category might seem like a waste in the current environment, some workout-from-home subscriptions and fitness gear purchases will trigger the bonus. I will be using the 5x bonus at grocery stores and any additional streaming services that aren’t covered by the new streaming credit that now comes with The Platinum Card® From American Express.

The Amex Platinum, with its $550 annual fee (see rates and fees) might seem like a card to stuff in the sock drawer. However, Amex recently unveiled a slew of additional benefits to make this card more compelling to use. A credit of $20 per month on streaming and a credit of $20 per month for wireless for the rest of 2020 will significantly offset the card’s annual fee. My $20 streaming credit will cover my Spotify and Netflix subscriptions (which have received heavy use). Meanwhile, I’ve been using the monthly Uber credit to order food delivery through Uber Eats here in New York City. Last but not least, I won’t forget to use the twice yearly $100 Saks credit to pick up some travel accessories for the future or a couple of self-care items.

The information for the Chase Freedom has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Andrew Kunesh, Senior Points and Miles Writer

(Photo by Eden Batki / The Points Guy)
The Amex Gold is one of the best cards on the market for grocery purchases, which makes it one of the most-used cards right now for many TPG staffers. (Photo by Eden Batki/The Points Guy)

I’ve been using my American Express® Gold Card (see rates and fees) the most during the pandemic, largely because it earns 4x on both food and grocery delivery and 5x on Amazon purchases (up to $400), thanks to a recent Amex Offer. All other purchases are going on my Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card so I can inch closer to reaching another status boost tier.

Related reading: Best credit cards for Delta Flyers

Josh Wallis, Associate

Josh loves the higher points for takeout and streaming — along with no annual fee — that comes with the Wells Fargo Propel card. (Photo by The Points Guy)

I’ve actually switched a lot of spend to one card — my Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card. I’m loving the 3x points on takeout and select streaming services (I’ve added Disney+ to the mix now!). Also, I’ve taken advantage of the 3x points on car rentals and the secondary car insurance, which (after talking with them on the phone yesterday) is considered primary since I don’t have car insurance in New York City anymore. And proof I wasn’t a points expert before, I’ve switched my cellphone bill to this card to take advantage of the cellphone protection.

No annual fee is always a nice bonus, too. I’ve got to admit I don’t have a ton of points with Go Far Rewards though, so I haven’t quite figured out where I’ll be spending these points yet — I’m planning a trip to Napa when this is over, so maybe on a hotel, a flight or a car rental in San Francisco.

Katie Genter, Credit Cards Writer

The top cards my husband and I are using right now are the Chase Freedom for groceries, the Citi Prestige® Card for fast food and pick-up orders from restaurants and the Chase Sapphire Reserve for food delivery apps and booking future travel. But we’re also using a few other cards as needed.

The information for the Citi Prestige 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. 

(Photo by Prasit photo/Getty Images)
Katie and her husband have focused on using their full lineup of cards to make sure they are maximizing each purchase, from groceries to takeout and delivery. (Photo by Prasit photo/Getty Images)

My husband is using his Chase Freedom when he goes to the grocery store, one of the Chase Freedom’s 5% categories this quarter. And, because we have a Chase Sapphire Reserve, the 5% cash back effectively becomes 5x Ultimate Rewards points, which means we’re getting a 10% return on grocery purchases based on TPG’s valuations. However, once we reach the $1,500 quarterly cap for spending in 5x categories on the Chase Freedom, we’ll move our grocery spending back to The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express.

The information for the Amex Everyday 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.

We’re using the Citi Prestige Card for fast food and pick-up to-go orders from restaurants because we’ll earn 5x Citi ThankYou points on these purchases. Although we’ll likely nix one or both of our cards when the annual fee comes due, earning an effective 8.5% return on these purchases is useful currently — especially because Citi ThankYou points can be transferred to partners such as Avianca LifeMiles and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. We aren’t ordering much through food delivery apps, but when we do, we’re using benefits related to the Chase Sapphire Reserve through DoorDash or The Platinum Card® from American Express through Uber Eats.

Finally, we’re using my husband’s Chase Sapphire Reserve and my Ink Business Preferred Credit Card for booking future travel, because both cards earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points on travel. We usually opt for the Sapphire Reserve over the Ink Business Preferred, but because some airlines require the name on the card to match the passenger name, I’ll use the Ink Business Preferred for those tickets. Although some of these trips may need to be canceled or rescheduled, we simply can’t pass up some of the great deals that are available currently.

Mitchell Stoutin, Director of Engineering

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
Mitchell is keeping Alaska Airlines Visa Signature in his wallet during the pandemic to help him save up for a future family vacation. (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

I’m using the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card and its mileage mall online shopping portal. I was on an itinerary with Alaska in early March when flights started being canceled in large numbers. We got canceled and Alaska dropped some pretty generous credits on us for the inconvenience, so I’m starting a leg up there. I got my companion fare (which is now extended) in March on that card as well. And Alaska Air is joining Oneworld next year, so I see a positive outlook for the flexibility of the points (although I am a little worried about devaluation). I assume domestic travel will open up before international does, so I’m thinking a family Alaska trip — or somewhere in the Mountain West like Lake Tahoe or Glacier National Park — might be my first flight when travel comes back.

Related reading: When will we start traveling again? American and United Airlines hint at future in latest decisions

Bottom line

This period of staying home instead of traveling has been an adjustment for us. Many of our credit card strategies previously revolved around maximizing travel purchases and using travel-specific benefits. While credit cards are changing benefits to make the cards more useful to customers during the pandemic, (Amex has added new perks and Chase has added earning opportunities, for example), we’re also shifting our personal strategies to new spending habits.

Where travel and dining out used to be our major expenses, many of us have shifted to grocery shopping, online retail shopping and streaming services. We’ve given you a glimpse at how TPG staff members are using credit cards to ensure we have the points and miles saved up for a great redemption once pandemic concerns have passed. What strategies and points hacks are you using to make the most of this time spent at home?

Related reading: Ready to rumble: The second annual TPG staff credit card draft

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Gold card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve card,  please click here.

Featured image by Shutterstock.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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