I once was one of those cash back people, you know, the ones who would look down on people who would play “credit card games”. I’d always hear about that friend, or that coworker who was going to Dubai for free. I’d always think to myself, this person is a big nerd, and they’re not going to have fun. I’ve literally seen accountants do this in the corporate world, which I get a giggle out of, but I have to say they knew more than I did at the time!
Joke’s on me I suppose. It took me a few years, but now I’m at the point where I can confidently say I’m an expert at accruing points. So, I figure I’ll start sharing my insights. Let’s start with credit card duos.
You know the common advice about get a card or two, and you’ll be all set. Well let’s throw that idea out the window and focus on having multiple sets of credit card duos. Here’s the thing, getting sign up bonuses on all the great cards is important, but with the ever changing market and restrictions banks are creatively coming up with, it’s time to embrace spending multipliers and maximizing your spend. Anyone that even dreams of traveling somewhat frequently should be thinking about acquiring one of the following combos:
Combo #1: Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) & Chase Freedom Unlimited (CFU):
- 3X points per dollar on virtually anything having to deal with travel
- Baseline of 1.5X points per dollar spent
- Acceptance of VISA not a problem
- CSR gets full point recognition worldwide
- Great travel protection and rental car insurance, among other fantastic benefits
- Ultimate Rewards program at a low point currently with limited international partners
- Not the highest point earning combination available for U.S. spend
- CFU does have foreign transactions fees
- $450 in annual fees to maintain this combo (net $150 with statement credit)
My Take: This is an excellent combination aiming for simplicity. Have the Chase combo provides piece of mind to accrue points at a great rate, but not at the strongest rate per category. If you are a true maximizer / optimizer, look elsewhere.
Combo #2: American Express Gold Card & American Express Blue Business Plus Card:
- 4X points per dollar on restaurants in U.S.
- 4X points per dollar on groceries in U.S. up to $25K
- 3X points per dollar on flights
- Baseline of 2X points per dollar
- Membership Rewards program very strong for international travel, variety
- $250 in annual fees to maintain this combo (net ~$50 with statement credits)
- Amex Gold does not accrue more than 1 point outside of U.S.
- Not great for domestic travelers, only Delta and JetBlue
- No worthwhile hotel transfers
- Amex BBP does have foreign transactions fees
- Limited travel protection and rental car insurance
- Many transfer partners levy large fuel surcharges
My Take: This is the best combination currently available on the market. The multipliers are huge. A 2X base with arguably the most valuable currency… this is a true winner. The area where you may miss out is on international spending and the travel protection / rental car insurance.
Citi does not offer a compelling combination of cards that promote spend across every day spending categories, so there is no need to comment further. 1X point per dollar is all you will get for your spend outside of travel, entertainment, restaurants and flights.
The Chase and American Express card combos truly are the most compelling on the market. Sure, you can maximize earnings by using more than two cards, but for most, these two simple solutions will provide great value to cover with little headache. Both programs offer a solid list of transfer partners. All you need to do is decide on your redemption preference: hotel stays, domestic flights, or international flights.
Please, do yourself a favor and pick up one of these card combos today. If you are a newbie just diving into the points world, I don’t think there is a better combo than the Chase products. If, on the other hand, you are a seasoned veteran looking for award sweet spots, big redemptions, and can suck up a few carrier imposed surcharges, pick up the American Express combo.