How I Swipe: TPG reporter Chris Dong
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.
Welcome to How I Swipe, a credit card routine series with a focus on strategic credit card spending while at home and on the road. Below is a short list of questions we asked TPG reporter Chris Dong to answer about how he spends on his credit cards, covering everything from the first card he opened to his go-to card for everyday spend to what cards are in his wallet when he hits the road.
TPG: What is the first credit card you opened?
CD: Back in college, my first entry point to the credit card world was the Chase Freedom (no longer open to new applicants). And of course, I still have the card today and it makes a regular appearance in my wallet. Those rotating category bonuses really come in handy. Plus, length of credit history is an important part of your overall credit score so I’ll probably never close my oldest account.
TPG: How many credit cards do you have?
CD: Right now, I have 15 credit cards that I rotate in and out of my wallet.
TPG: How many credit cards do you actively use?
CD: It depends on the offers available on the card! There are a few cards that I will use regularly, though, since they give me such valuable return on my spending. That includes the American Express® Gold Card for 4x earning at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per calendar year, then 1x). The Platinum Card® from American Express is pretty much my go-to for flight bookings since that earns 5x. (Starting Jan. 1, 2021, earn 5x points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.)
But for other purchases, it often depends on available offers and limited-time bonuses. I always try to be flexible with whatever card I use to get the best earning rates.
TPG: What’s the last card you opened?
CD: The last card that I opened was the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card. Unfortunately, that wasn’t my last card application. I was denied for a Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Capital One is notoriously difficult with approvals and since I opened several cards in the past year, I was given a hard no. Also during the pandemic, issuers are being much more selective with who gets the green light on an approval.
TPG: What card do you want to open next?
CD: I’m looking at diversifying my points and miles and opening up a Citi Premier® Card to earn more ThankYou points. So far, I’ve put a lot of eggs into two baskets — Chase and Amex — and want to dive deeper into Citi points and their array of airline and hotel transfer partners.
TPG: How much do you pay in annual fees?
CD: My 15 cards are a mix of travel rewards and cash back cards that amount to about $1,600 in annual fees. That sounds like a lot — and it is — but I am diligent about ensuring that I maximize nearly every benefit on my cards. And since I love to travel, I get way more value out of the points and perks than the annual fees that I do end up paying.
However, it’s entirely personal what your threshold is for how much you’d be willing to spend on annual fees — perks or not.
TPG: What is your go-to card for everyday spend?
CD: If it’s anything food-related, my go-to will almost always be the Amex Gold. For other non-bonus categories for everyday spending, the Chase Freedom Unlimited and Citi® Double Cash Card make a regular rotation.
TPG: What card perks are most useful day to day?
CD: Besides hefty bonus categories, I like cards that offer purchase and return protection and extended warranty coverage. These are things that I feel like are often overlooked by everyday shoppers. Amex covers these things with a select number of cards.
TPG: What is your favorite card stacking opportunity?
CD: Amex Offers! And of course, online shopping portals. There are so many ways to stack but I’ll let you in on a little secret: Sometimes, instead of going crazy and finding that double or triple stack opportunity, I will forgo those few extra points for the sake of my sanity. Personally, there’s an opportunity cost at some point and I still want to enjoy the points and miles game without burning myself out.
Taking this show on the road
TPG: What card(s) do you use to book travel?
CD: My airfare almost always goes on my Platinum card (5x). I like to put my rental car bookings on a Chase card, such as my Chase Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card. That earns 3x but more importantly [up to $150,000 in combined purchases per account anniversary year], also includes primary rental car insurance. I have both a Hilton card and Hyatt card so if I’m staying at those properties, I’ll use the respective cobranded card.
And I do stay at a number of Airbnbs too so those purchases go on either the Ink Business Preferred or my American Express® Green Card (both earn 3x).
The information for the Amex Green has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
View this post on Instagram
The information for the Amex Green 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.
TPG: What cards do you bring with you on the road?
CD: I really like how Chase offers primary rental car insurance so I usually stick with my Ink Business Preferred or Chase Sapphire Preferred. Then, for gas, I’ll use my Ink Business Cash® Credit Card which gets 2x per dollar [2% cash back on up to $25,000 spent in combined purchases each account anniversary year]. Side note, it’s not very often I drive though since I live in New York City
TPG: What card perks are most useful when traveling?
CD: I love Centurion Lounge access and Delta Sky Club access (when flying Delta) with the Platinum card. The World of Hyatt Credit Card has really come in handy this year, too, with a number of unique promotions as a cardholder.
And I have to give serious props to the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card which gets me Hilton Diamond (top tier) status which has earned me a few suite upgrades and free breakfast. The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex 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.
TPG: What’s the best points redemption you’ve ever made?
CD: Oh, that’s a tough one since I’ve had some awesome redemptions over the years. One crown jewel redemption I made earlier this year, actually, was using 73,150 Avianca LifeMiles to fly ANA first class on board the new “Suite” product. I was able to get a ton of LifeMiles by transferring from Amex Membership Rewards points.
Even better, I had the entire eight-passenger first-class cabin to myself. It basically felt like I was flying private!
View this post on Instagram
TPG: What’s a rookie credit card mistake you’ve made in the past?
CD: I signed up for a J.Crew credit card in college since I was enticed by the 10% discount on the suit that I needed to buy for an event. Store cards are almost never worth it (there are rare exceptions) so be skeptical when a store associate is trying to convince you to open a card. Do your research first.
TPG: What tricks do you have for managing your card accounts?
CD: Contrary to popular wisdom, I actually don’t enroll in autopay. This might sound counterintuitive but this forces me to check my card statements and track my spending almost every day. And while I hate spreadsheets and use them as minimally as possible, I do keep a list of all the benefits that I need to use before the year is up. It’s important to stay on top of your spending as well as utilizing card perks (especially if you’re paying a lot in annual fees).
Every six months or so, I also try to do a deep dive into my credit score and strategize about which cards I want to keep, cancel, downgrade. Then, I think about what cards I want to open.
TPG: What’s a card perk that doesn’t exist, that you wish did?
CD: This is not exactly a specific perk, but I really wish there were more cards out there that would cater to how you spend your money. That is, I want cards to not just be defined by perks within a certain category that the issuer outlines. For instance, the pandemic has really spotlighted how travel rewards cards are limited in their utility if you’re not traveling.
I’m keeping a close eye on the Venmo credit card that launched earlier this year. With that card, you earn cash back based entirely on your first and second highest spending category each month. That’s the kind of versatility I hope to see from other cards in 2021.
TPG: Any credit card pearls of wisdom you want beginners to know?
CD: Start with a small goal in mind. The keyword is small. Credit card sign-up bonuses are the best way to accumulate points and miles fast, but start slow and don’t expect to fly Singapore Suites at the very beginning.
Also, do everything you can to not spend extra money on things you don’t need just for the sake of earning rewards. It’s really easy to fall into that trap, and even savvy card users do this too (I’m guilty, occasionally.) Of course, it’s important to be financially responsible, especially now during the pandemic.
Finally, be as flexible as possible and know what you want out of your rewards. You don’t always need to fly first class to enjoy travel, but having one flight, hotel night, or other “premium” experience (even using cashback rewards for dining out at a restaurant!) really does help to reshape how you use your cards.
Featured photo by Chris Dong / The Points Guy.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants in the first three months of card membership.
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.
- Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
- Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
- 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