How I Swipe: Strategic Travel Reporter Benji Stawski

Apr 4, 2021

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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  Strategic Travel Reporter Benji Stawski 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?

BS: I was an authorized user on my mom’s credit cards for many years before being old enough to open my own cards. This allowed me to get a head start on building my credit. Then, shortly after turning 18, the minimum age to open a credit card, I opened the Discover it Student Cash Back Card. While I don’t use the card much anymore, I’ll always keep it since it’s one of the oldest accounts in my credit profile and has no annual fee. 

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TPG: How many credit cards do you have?

BS: I’ve come a long way since opening my first credit card. I’m now 22 years old and have five cards in my wallet.

TPG: How many cards do you actively use?

BS: I try to use all of my cards at least once per month, but I primarily only use two: my American Express® Gold Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve

TPG: What’s the last card you opened?

BS: The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, but that was a while back. It’s definitely time for me to open a new card.

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.

Related: The best travel credit cards of 2021

TPG: What card do you want to open next?

BS: While I haven’t finalized my decision yet, it’s definitely going to be a Chase card since I’m currently under 5/24. I’m leaning towards the Chase Freedom Unlimited® since I don’t have a good card for everyday non-bonus spending right now. The Freedom Unlimited was the first card I ever applied for, but I initially got denied so hopefully, I have better luck this time around.

The nitty-gritty

TPG: How much do you pay in annual fees?

BS: $1,250, but I’m able to recoup that through perks like dining credits, travel credits, free hotel nights, etc.

TPG: What is your go-to card for everyday spend?

BS: My biggest day-to-day expenses are typically food-related so usually the Amex Gold card, which earns 4x points on dining [at restaurants] and U.S. supermarkets [up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x]. For other purchases, it’s currently either the Chase Sapphire Reserve, or depending on the quarterly bonus, the Discover it Cash Back. However, once I get the Freedom Unlimited, that’ll definitely become my go-to.

Related: American Express Gold card review

TPG: What card perks are most useful day to day?

BS: Like I mentioned above, I spend a lot of dining, both at home and at restaurants, so I appreciate the Amex Gold’s $10 monthly dining credit [up to $120 credit annually.], which could be used at various merchants, such as Grubhub. The card also recently added a monthly $10 Uber credit [up to $120 in annual Uber Cash per calendar year]* so I’ve been using that for Uber Eats orders in the U.S. The card has a $250 annual fee (see rates & fees). Also, now through the end of the year, I get a $20 dining credit with my Hilton Aspire card.

*Note: Enrollment required for select benefits. You must add Amex Gold card to Uber account to receive this benefit. 

IHG Partners With OpenTable and Grubhub to Offer Points for Meals
Photo by Andresr/Getty Images

TPG: What is your favorite card stacking opportunity?

BS: Whenever shopping online, I start off by going through an online shopping portal. Then, ideally, I’m able to double-dip on my rewards through Amex Offers or Chase Offers. Similarly, when dining out, I make restaurant reservations through Seated to earn up to 30% back in rewards on top of what I earn with my dining credit card.

Related: Maximizing Online Shopping Portals

Taking this show on the road

TPG: What card(s) do you use to book travel?

BS: This depends on what kind of travel I’m booking, but generally, my go-to is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. It earns 3x on all travel, including everything from flights and hotels to ridesharing and public transit. But the real value of the card is all of the travel perks it comes with, including trip delay protection, primary rental car insurance, Priority Pass lounge access, etc. Unlike the Priority Pass membership that comes with some Amex cards, this one includes free access to Priority Pass restaurants.

Related: The best travel credit cards of 2021

TPG: What cards do you bring with you on the road?

BS: The three cards I use the most while traveling are the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Amex Gold and Hilton Aspire Card. None of the cards charge foreign transaction fees (see rates & fees for the Amex Gold, see rates & fees for the Hilton Aspire) and these three cards cover all of my top spending categories while traveling.

TPG: What card perks are most useful when traveling?

BS: I’m a big fan of airport lounge access. It’s great to have a quiet place to escape to from the terminal and grab a quick bite to eat. I also really value the automatic top-tier Hilton Diamond status I get with my Aspire card. It gets me perks like upgrades to suites and free breakfast, which saves me a ton of money.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Extra credit

TPG: What’s the best points redemption you’ve ever made?

BS: For spring break my senior year of college I booked Iberia business class to Spain. It was an off-peak date so the flight only cost about 34,000 miles each way. However, I paid even less than that since American Express was offering a 40% transfer bonus to Iberia Avios at the time I booked my flight. 

TPG: What’s a rookie credit card mistake you’ve made in the past?

BS: Whenever Amazon is offering a promotion such as 40% off using one Amex point, it temporarily sets American Express Membership Rewards points as your default payment method. So I’ve had times where I accidentally placed Amazon orders paying entirely with points — a horrible redemption. Fortunately, Amex’s support team is super understanding and has always reversed these transactions for me.

Related: 4 credit card mistakes to avoid

TPG: What tricks do you have for managing your card accounts?

BS: I only have five cards so far so they’re pretty easy to manage. However, I do have autopay set up so I never miss a payment and then have spreadsheets to keep track of my points balances.

TPG: What’s a card perk that doesn’t exist, that you wish did?

Related: TPG staff, readers share 10 credit card perks on their 2021 wish list

BS: While there are a few cards that offer this, I wish that more cards offered in-flight Wi-Fi. 

TPG: Any credit card pearls of wisdom you want beginners to know?

BS: Don’t be afraid of rejection. Like I mentioned above, before getting the Discover card, I was rejected for the Chase Freedom Unlimited, a card that’s known for being easier to be approved for. However, I was able to bounce back and can now get basically any Chase card I want. Also, in case you are rejected for a card, know that you can call the bank’s reconsideration line and try to appeal the decision. Being an authorized user on someone else’s account definitely helps establish some credit.

Related: How to get started earning rewards with your first credit card

Photo by Christian Kramer/The Points Guy

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

For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, click here.

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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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.