How I Swipe: TPG Senior Editor Nick Ewen

Mar 14, 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 Senior Editor Nick Ewen 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?

NE: A Chicago Cubs MasterCard issued by MBNA. I was (and still am) a big Cubs fan, so it seemed very “cool” to show my fandom on the first card that was my very own (I had been an authorized user on my parents’ cards for years). I still have it, too — since there’s no annual fee and it’s my longest-tenured line of credit.

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TPG: How many credit cards do you have?

NE: I currently have 20 open, active accounts — 18 are travel rewards cards, and then I have two store-issued credit cards that I opened years ago to utilize zero-interest promotions on large purchases.

Related: The top travel rewards cards that can pay for themselves

TPG: How many credit cards do you actively use?

NE: Of the 20 cards, I use seven of them actively (which I define as multiple transactions per monthly billing cycle). The rest are used sporadically when I am making a specific purchase — be it with a given hotel, airline or with a merchant offering a discount or statement credit (e.g. Amex or Chase offer).

TPG: What’s the last card you opened?

NE: The last card I opened was the American Express® Gold Card back in December 2019 — notably without a welcome offer.

TPG: What card do you want to open next?

NE: I’ve liquidated most of my American Airlines miles, so I’m looking hard at the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard (which is especially appealing given that the welcome bonus only requires a single purchase). I’d also probably jump on the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card  (which card is currently offering at 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.)

Related: Credit card review: AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard

The nitty-gritty

TPG: How much do you pay in annual fees?

NE: I spend $3,663 — which I have to say I didn’t even realize was this high until I crunched the numbers.

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

NE: I focus most of my non-bonus spending on my Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express, which offers 2x Membership Rewards points on every purchase (up to $50,000 in spending each calendar year, then 1x). If a merchant doesn’t take Amex, however, I’ll use my Chase Freedom Unlimited®.

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

NE: For me, especially during the pandemic, the bonus categories on my cards have been absolutely essential to my points-and-miles strategy. Don’t get me wrong; I love perks like lounge access and automatic elite status. However, on a day-to-day basis, earning 4x points at restaurants and supermarkets [4x points at U.S. supermarkets, up to $25,000 per calendar year; then 1x] on my Amex Gold or 5x on my Chase Freedom at rotating merchants each quarter is most valuable to boosting my account balances and setting me up for valuable redemptions … once international travel resumes.

Related: Is it better to earn bonus points or cash back during the pandemic?

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

NE: This really varies, depending on what I have going on in a month. However, based on a rough estimate of my monthly spend (and earning) across the seven cards I regularly use, I’d say I earn an average of 20,000 points per month.

TPG: What is your favorite card stacking opportunity?

NE: For me, I love stacking Amex Offers with online shopping portals like Rakuten or an airline site like Alaska Mileage Plan Shopping.

Related: Your ultimate guide to Amex Offers

Taking this show on the road

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

NE: I almost always use my Chase Sapphire Reserve. Not only does it offer 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent; it also provides terrific travel protections when things go wrong. This came in handy back in June 2019, when a technical problem on our way home from vacation led to a missed connection and forced overnight in Lima, Peru. Instead of waiting for the airline to accommodate us, we booked a nice hotel in the tourist area and enjoyed a nice dinner. Chase covered the hotel, the meal and our Uber rides from and back to the airport the next day. This peace of mind is incredibly valuable.

Related: The best credit cards with travel insurance

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

NE: The major ones are the Sapphire Reserve, the American Express Gold Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express. None of these cards charge foreign transaction fees (see rates & fees – Amex Gold; see rates & fees – Amex Platinum) when I’m outside the country, and I get bonus points on the Sapphire Reserve on travel purchases (including parking, trains, buses, car rentals, and more) and on the Amex Gold on dining at restaurants. Then the Amex Platinum provides extensive lounge access — including Delta SkyClubs (when flying Delta), Priority Pass locations, and Centurion Lounges. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)

TPG: What card perks are most useful when traveling?

NE: Airport lounge access is fantastic, giving me (and my family) a quiet place to escape the craziness of the terminal. I also enjoy the automatic hotel elite status on my cards — especially Diamond status on my Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. Finally, the travel protections are GREAT. They’re not “luxury” by any stretch of the imagination, but knowing that I have primary car rental coverage or trip cancellation/interruption coverage when I use my Chase Sapphire Reserve is such a reassuring thing.

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 8 do’s and don’ts in an airport lounge

Extra credit

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

NE: In 2010, my wife and I used 135,000 American Airlines miles apiece for first-class tickets to Bali on a combination of American and Cathay Pacific. Each ticket would’ve cost us $25,000 if we had purchased them outright.

Diamond beach is one of most beautiful and pristine beach in Bali Indonesia

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

NE: I once used the wrong card for an expensive hotel stay outside the country. Instead of swiping a card with no foreign transaction fees, I used one that charged them! The 2.7% fee was a hard lesson to learn.

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

NE: I keep an Excel spreadsheet where I project out my monthly card expenses 3-4 months in advance, making sure that my income matches what I’m spending on my cards. I also make a point to log into every one of my active card accounts at least once a week. This not only helps me detect errors; it also helps me identify new offers with bonus points or discounts for select purchases.

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

NE: I wish there was a transferable credit card currency that allowed me to transfer my points to Alaska Airlines.

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

NE: Start slow, but invest the time to learn more. Managing your credit has a ton of up-side outside of the travel rewards and perks you can use, but it takes time to really maximize all of those benefits. When I first graduated from college, I opened my little no-annual-fee Cubs credit card and thought I had it all figured out. I thought that people who paid annual fees on credit cards were crazy. Little did I know that I’d be incurring thousands of dollars of such fees in the future — but I get incredible value out of all of them thanks to the time and effort I invested in learning the ins and outs of the game.

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

Related: TPG beginner’s guide: Everything you need to know about points, miles, airlines and credit cards

Photo by LadyBird89 / Getty Images

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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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