Why I'm intentionally using the "wrong" card for large purchases this year
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When you're signing up for your first couple of credit cards, it can be tempting to focus only on cards that offer big, outsized bonus categories for things like dining and travel. While it's not as glamorous, it's important not to overlook everyday, nonbonus spending.
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For most people, a majority of the purchases they make will fall into this nondescript catchall category, anything from online shopping to most in-person stores that don't sell food or gas. Making sure you have a rewarding card to use in this category can help you earn thousands of extra bonus points each year, but lately I've found that I'm not taking my own best advice -- here's why.
My normal everyday spending cards
I normally rotate between two cards for everyday spending, depending on whether I'm trying to build up my Amex Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards balance more:
- The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express: Earn 2x Membership Rewards points per dollar on your first $50,000 in annual purchases, then 1x. $0 annual fee (see rates & fees)
- Chase Freedom Unlimited®: Earn 1.5% cash back / 1.5x Ultimate Rewards points on purchases. No annual fee.
TPG values both Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents each, so with these cards you're locking in a minimum return of 3-4% on every single purchase you make, much better than the 1x points/miles that most cards offer on non-bonus spending.
Related reading: The best credit cards for everyday spending
I use these everyday spending cards for a lot of different purchases, including estimated tax payments, online shopping (hello Amazon Prime) and a whole host of other random expenses that crop up. Especially thanks to my tax payments, I end up spending tens of thousands of dollars a year in each category, so picking the right card is very important.
Why I'm leaning towards Marriott this year
While I'd still recommend that 95% of people open and use one of the two cards mentioned above for everyday spending, for the last few months I've found myself drawn to my Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card instead.
Most of Marriott's mid-level credit cards share a similar set of benefits, and the Bonvoy Business is no exception. It comes with a $125 annual fee (see rates & fees), in exchange for which you get automatic Marriott Gold elite status, and an anniversary free night certificate worth up to 35,000 points awarded after your card renewal month.
The card earns 6x points per dollar at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program, 4x points per dollar spent at restaurants and U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on purchases made from merchants in the U.S. for shipping, and 2x points on all other purchases (aka the all important everyday spending). It also offers the ability to earn a second up to 35,000 point free night certificate by spending $60,000 in a calendar year.
Related reading: Which Marriott Bonvoy credit card is right for you?
TPG values Marriott points at 0.84 cents each, meaning that 2x points per dollar on everyday spending works out to a 1.8% return. So why am I drawn to a card that's only half as rewarding as my next best option? Part of the answer is definitely circumstantial. I'm currently sitting on a stash of nearly 200,000 Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards points (each), and another ~300,000 or so airline miles spread out between Alaska, Delta and United. That would be enough to cover a full year of travel for me during normal times, but with my plans still on hold indefinitely due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, I'm set on airline miles for the time being.
As I start to think about what trips will be possible in the near future, like many people I'm looking at road trips near to home and even some staycations that don't require going far at all. This is causing me to value Marriott points at a relatively higher amount than normal, especially when compared to transferable points that I'd be using for flights instead.
Along these lines, especially as I'm facing some unfortunately large tax payments this year, I have my heart set on earning the additional 35,000-point free night certificate after spending $60,000 in a calendar year (valid at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program). Assuming I'm able to hit this mark, I'll earn a total of 120,000 points plus a 35,000 point free night certificate, or 155,000 points in exchange for $60,000 of spending. This works out to an earning rate of 2.6x points per dollar, or a 2.1% return based on TPG's valuations.
I've had a lot of success using my Marriott free night certificates selectively in expensive markets, including to book a $680 room at the JW Marriott Chicago when a major conference was driving prices up all over the city. I'm moving to Miami this fall, a notoriously expensive hotel market, and am confident that I can continue to selectively redeem my Marriott points and certificates at or above TPG's valuations.
As the full scope of the coronavirus pandemic came into view a few months back, I decided that I was going to do everything in my power to avoid spending any money on travel this year. As I start to plan for a fall full of road trips and Miami staycations, I know that Marriott points are going to be like gold to me, and I'm trying to get my hands on as many as possible now even if it means using a card with a subpar earning rate to do so.