How I Swipe: TPG reporter Chris Dong

Dec 19, 2020

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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. 

The basics

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. 

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

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

Related: How these 2 Hilton credit cards make the perfect pair in my wallet

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. 

The nitty-gritty

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.

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

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.

 

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A post shared by Chris Dong (@thechrisflyer)

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.

Extra credit

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! 

 

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A post shared by Chris Dong (@thechrisflyer)

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. 

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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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