How I Swipe: TPG credit cards writer Madison Blancaflor

Jan 2, 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 credit cards writer Madison Blancaflor to answer about how she spends on her credit cards, covering everything from the first card she opened to her go-to card for everyday spend to what cards are in her wallet when she hits the road. 

The basics

TPG: What is the first credit card you opened?

MB: My Discover It Cash Back credit card in college.

TPG: How many credit cards do you have?

MB: Right now, I have six credit cards.

TPG: How many credit cards do you actively use?

MB: I really only heavily use three: Chase Sapphire Preferred CardAmerican Express® Gold Card and Chase Freedom Unlimited. 

Related: Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card review

TPG: What’s the last card you opened?

MB: My Chase Freedom Unlimited. It had been on my wish list for about a year, but I finally got around to applying this summer after the changes were announced. Add in that year of 5% (5x when paired with my CSP) on groceries (up to $12,000 in spending), and I was sold. 

TPG: What card do you want to open next?

MB: I’m considering opening the World of Hyatt Credit Card. While I don’t stay at hotels super frequently (I’m an Airbnb girl through-and-through), there are merits to having the card for when I do stay at hotels. Upgrading to the Chase Sapphire Reserve is also on my to-do list once travel picks back up. 

The nitty-gritty

TPG: How much do you pay in annual fees?

MB: I only pay $355 in total for my cards. But between the $220 in annual statement credits I get on my Amex Gold, it’s effectively only $135 in annual fees. 

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

MB: These days, I use my Chase Freedom Unlimited more than anything. All of my online shopping, charitable donations, and non-dining or travel purchases at this point go on the card. Since I have the CSP, I’m getting at least 1.5x Ultimate Rewards points on every purchase. 

Related: Chase Freedom Unlimited: A great card for beginners and pros alike

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

MB: Definitely the DashPass membership I get through my Chase Sapphire Preferred. Food delivery comes in clutch when I work late or when I haven’t been able to get out to restock groceries. 

TPG: How many points on average do you earn from credit card spend per month?

MB: I probably earn close to 10k points on average? But that’s a guesstimate, and my spending does fluctuate month-to-month depending on if I’m traveling for work, how much takeout I order, or if there are any larger shopping purchases I make (for example, I overhauled my bathroom storage earlier this year, which meant a significant bump in Amazon spending that month).

TPG: What is your favorite card stacking opportunity?

MB: Any and all online shopping portals. If I’m strategic with my Amex and Chase Offers, I can triple-dip on rewards with one purchase:

  • Typical credit card rewards
  • Additional rewards through a portal (my favorite is Rakuten since I can earn Amex points with the Chrome Extension)
  • Additional savings or rewards with an offer

Related: Your guide to maximizing shopping portals for your online purchases

Taking this show on the road

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

MB: If I’m booking direct flights, I’ll use my Amex Gold for 3x. If I’m booking through Ultimate Rewards, I’ll use my Chase Freedom Unlimited for 5% (5x). For everything else, I use my Chase Sapphire Preferred for 2x.

Related: The best travel credit cards of 2021

(Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)

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

MB: I take my primary three cards (Amex Gold, CFU and CSP) everywhere, as well as my debit card in case I need to withdraw cash from my bank account. The cards I don’t use I leave in a lockbox at home. 

TPG: What card perks are most useful when traveling?

MB: Travel protections. I’ve only had to use travel insurance once, but it’s a lifesaver when you need it. I don’t have any cards with lounge access or similar perks, so the travel protections on my CSP are currently my most useful travel-specific perks. 

Related: Best credit cards for airport lounge access in 2021

Extra credit

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

MB: I went on a two-week trip to Croatia in 2019 with my childhood best friend. We started up in Zagreb and made our way down to Dubrovnik. I used my Chase points to book my flights, and while it wasn’t the most lucrative redemption, it gave me a trip I will never forget. 

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

MB: Not paying my bills in full each month. I was not a responsible credit card user in college, and it came back to bite me in the butt once I graduated. 

Related: 4 credit card mistakes to avoid

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

MB: Definitely make sure to download the apps, turn on notifications, set up autopay so you never miss a payment, add your cards to your digital wallet and use a budgeting app or spreadsheet to help manage your expenses. (I use Notion, but I know a lot of people love apps like Mint or YNAB.) 

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

MB: Grocery store perks. We saw some temporary benefits on Chase Sapphire cards for Instacart earlier this year, and I want a similar perk to exist across a broader spectrum of merchants. Groceries are one of the largest household expenditures each year (everybody has to eat), and I think credit card companies are missing a huge opportunity by not coming up with ways to better encourage using specific cards for grocery purchases. Travel perks are great, but most people are buying more groceries than plane tickets. 

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

MB: Just get started! Credit cards intimidated me for the longest time — mostly because I just didn’t know what I was doing, and there is a lot of misinformation out there about credit cards being evil. In actuality, my credit cards help me stay on budget and allow me to take trips I otherwise could only dream of. Taking the first step to apply for a card and learn how to maximize it is the most important step — all you have to do is take it! 

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

Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy

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*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

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