A number of banks have their own points programs, and in some cases it’s possible maximize value by combining the benefits of multiple cards. For example, you can use one card to earn more points and another card to get the most value from those points.
This post has been updated in several ways since last publication: I’ve limited the issuers to those with transferable points (i.e. I removed Wells Fargo), I added a “which is best” section, I added the new Capital One Venture X card to the mix, and I updated details within each section to remove information that was out of date and/or to better explain the value of each combo.
In this post I’ve taken a look at card combos from Amex, Capital One, Chase, and Citi. I chose those banks because each offers multiple cards with different earning rates and points transferable to airline and hotel programs. That’s important because transferring points in order to book high value awards is the single best way to get outsized value from your rewards.
In each of the below cases, I believe that credit cards are better together. With the right cards, you can maximize point earnings and get the best value from your points.
So, without further ado, here are my favorite transferable points credit card combos…
Amex Membership Rewards
American Express Gold Card + Blue Business Plus
4X grocery, 4X dining, 3X airfare, and 2X everywhere else
|Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)|
Combo details: Amex automatically pools all of your Membership Rewards points together even if they were earned with different cards. Unfortunately, you can’t move points from one person to another, but you can transfer points to a friend’s airline or hotel program account if they are an authorized user (or employee) on one of your accounts.
Why this is a great combo: This combination delivers terrific earning potential (2X to 4X everywhere in the US!), plus the ability to transfer points to a wide variety of transfer partners (see: Amex Transfer Partners). Plus, Amex frequently offers transfer bonuses so that you can end up with even more miles. And, for those who can make good use of the Gold card’s $10 per month dining credits and $10 per month Uber / Uber Eats credits, the $250 annual fee is easy to justify.
On the other hand: The Gold card’s 4X grocery bonus is capped at $25K annual spend and is limited to stores within the US; and the Blue Business Plus card charges foreign transaction fees and limits the 2X bonus to $50K per year. In other words, this is not the best combo for those who spend big, or for those looking for great rewards on spend outside of the United States. Also note that Amex isn’t widely accepted outside of the United States and so you’ll want a back-up Visa or Mastercard when traveling.
Add-on: There are a number of great cards to consider adding onto this combo:
- Consider adding the Business Platinum Card in order to get fantastic perks, plus the ability to pay for certain flights with points at a value of approximately 1.5 cents per point.
- Also consider the Platinum Card for Schwab which has similar great perks to the Business Platinum and lets you cash out points for 1.05 cents each.
- The Amex Green Card is another interesting add-on option. The Green card would add 3X for all travel (not just airfare), $100 credit per year for CLEAR, and $100 credit per year for airport lounge access purchased through Lounge Buddy.
- For online purchases, it’s hard to beat the fee-free Rakuten Visa. All purchases made through the Rakuten online portal earn 3X when paid with this card (that’s in addition to the rewards earned from the portal). Plus, you can set up your account to earn Membership Rewards points rather than cash back. See this post for details: Rakuten (formerly Ebates) Visa with Membership Rewards. Everything you need to know.
See also: Complete Guide to Amex Membership Rewards
Capital One “Miles”
Venture X + SavorOne
10X hotels and rental cars booked via Capital One Travel; 3x dining & entertainment; 3x grocery; 2x everywhere else; lounge access; cell phone protection; no foreign transaction fees.
|Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)|
Combo details: Even though the Venture X has a $395 annual fee, I consider this combo to free after rebates. Venture X offers $300 in annual travel credits plus 10K points each card anniversary to more than make up for the annual fee. The fee-free SavorOne, then, adds 3x grocery, dining, and entertainment to the already strong 2x everywhere earnings offered by Venture X. Capital One lets you move cash back to a “Miles” card so that the rewards then become transferable to partners. In this example, you can earn 3% cash back with the SavorOne card and move that cash back to the Venture X card to get better value when transferring to partners for high value awards. You can also freely move points to anyone, so you don’t need more than one Venture X card in the family to make this combo work.
Why this is a great combo: Very good earnings with a “free after rebate” annual fee. This is the only combo that offers the same great earnings internationally with no foreign transaction fees. The Venture X adds great features like cell phone protection, airport lounge access, and more.
On the other hand: The only way to get better than 1 cent per “Mile” value is by transferring to airline and hotel partners.
- Swap Venture X for Venture Rewards: Lower the annual fee to $95 per year with the Venture Rewards card instead of Venture X. Both offer 2x everywhere earnings, no foreign transaction fees, and the ability to transfer to airline and hotel partners. The Venture Rewards card, though, does not offer annual rebates that make up for the annual fee.
- Swap Savor for SavorOne: The $95 Savor card is similar to the fee-free SavorOne in that it offers 3x grocery earnings, but it also offers 4x dining and entertainment (vs. SavorOne’s 3x). If you expect to spend around $10K or more on dining & entertainment annually, then it would be worth paying the annual fee for the Savor card.
- Make it fee free: You can cobble together a decent combo with no annual fees (and still have no foreign transaction fees). Use the SavorOne for 3x grocery, dining, and entertainment. Use the fee-free Quicksilver card to get 1.5x everywhere else. And then move cash back to the fee-free VentureOne Rewards card in order to transfer “Miles” to airline and hotel partners.
See also: Capital One “Miles” Complete Guide
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Sapphire Reserve + Ink Business Cash + Freedom Unlimited
Excellent point redemption value; lounge access; 10x hotels & car rentals booked through Chase; 5x airfare booked through Chase; 5X phone, internet, cable, office supplies; 3X travel & dining; 3x drug store; 2X gas, 1.5X everywhere else.
|Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)|
Combo details: Many of Chase’s no-fee cards are advertised as cash back cards, but they actually earn Ultimate Rewards points. Once you have points in one of these accounts, you can move the points to your Sapphire Reserve account in order to make them more valuable. Chase even lets you move points to another person in the same household, so it makes sense for a couple to earn points across a variety of Ultimate Rewards card and then move all of those points to a single Sapphire Reserve account. The Sapphire Reserve card provides three ways to get great value from your points: 1) transfer to airline and hotel partners for high value awards; 2) Book travel through Chase at a value of 1.5 cents per points; and 3) Erase statement charges at 1.5 cents per point value against current Pay Yourself Back categories (see this post for details).
Why this is a great combo: With points worth 1.5 cents each towards travel or via Pay Yourself Back, you’ll earn at least 2.25 cents in travel per dollar spent with your Freedom Unlimited card’s 1.5x everywhere feature. Better, you’ll also earn 7.5 cents per dollar spent on the Freedom Unlimited card on travel booked through Chase, 4.5 cents in travel per dollar spent at drug stores and for dining; 4.5 cents in travel per dollar spent on travel & dining with your Sapphire Reserve card; and 7.5 cents in travel per dollar on phone, internet, cable, and office supplies with your Ink Business Cash card. And while 1.5 cents per point is good value, you can often get even better value by transferring points to high value partners. See: Chase Transfer Partners. Also note that the Sapphire Reserve offers best in class automatic travel protections. See: Ultra-Premium Credit Card Travel Insurance.
On the other hand:
- The Sapphire Reserve card is expensive. At $550 per year, the $300 annual travel rebate only goes a bit over half way towards rebating the card’s fee.
- The Freedom Unlimited and Ink Business Cash cards charge foreign exchange fees, so you’ll want to use your Sapphire Reserve card when traveling outside of the US.
- This is the only program in this round-up that doesn’t offer a standard category bonus at grocery stores. If you spend a lot at grocery stores, you may do better with Amex, Capital One, or Citi.
Add-on: Consider adding the no-fee Chase Freedom Flex card which offers rotating 5X categories.
Variation: You can lower annual fees down to $95 per year total by replacing the Sapphire Reserve with either the Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred. Both offer the ability to transfer points to travel hotel and airline partners. With these cards, though, you’ll only get 1.25 cents per point value when paying for travel through Chase or through Pay Yourself Back. Also, while they still have good travel protections, Sapphire Reserve has better.
Special note: Since the Chase Sapphire Preferred card often has a better welcome bonus than the Sapphire Reserve, it can make sense to sign up for the Preferred and upgrade to the Reserve card after a year.
See also: Complete Guide to Chase Ultimate Rewards
Citi ThankYou Rewards
ThankYou Premier + Double Cash + Custom Cash + Rewards+
3X grocery, dining, gas stations, flights, hotels, and travel agencies; 5X monthly on $500 spend; 2X everywhere else; 10% rewards rebate
|Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)|
Combo details: Citi lets you pool ThankYou points together so that you can get the best possible value for your points. You can also transfer points to anyone, but those points must then be used within 90 days or else they’ll expire.
Why this is a great combo: Excellent point earnings, especially for a combo with a total $95 annual fee. The Premier card costs $95 per year while the other cards are free. Free authorized user cards. 10% rewards rebate (up to 10K rebate per year) makes the $95 fee for this combo a no-brainer. Great rewards for tiny purchases with the Rewards+ card. The Custom Cash card adds a “customizable” 5x category to your wallet (see this post for details).
On the other hand: Other than the Rewards+ 10% rebate, Citi has discontinued options for getting better than 1 cent per point value other than transferring points to partners. Plus, Citi has dropped all significant travel and purchase protections from their cards, so you may want to invest in a different travel card if you travel often and rely on your credit card’s protections.
See also: Complete Guide to Citi ThankYou Rewards
Which is Best?
So, which combo is best? Actually, it’s impossible to answer that question without understanding who’s asking. Any one of these combos may be best for you depending upon your tolerance for annual fees, your spend patterns, and how you’re likely to use your rewards. Still, I promised to pick a favorite, so here goes…
By a hair, I think that the Capital One Venture X + SavorOne combo is best. I love this combo because it only requires holding 2 cards and it offers strong rewards in popular categories (3x grocery, dining, and entertainment); strong rewards on all other spend (2x); no foreign transaction fees; and ultra-premium card features (airport lounge access) all for “free after rebate” (spend $395, but get back $300 in travel credits and 10K points each year).
That said, I could easily and convincingly argue that any one of the other combos is best. It probably just depends on what mood I’m in when I’m choosing. If I’m feeling particularly excited by Hyatt awards, I’ll pick the Chase combo (since they’re the only one in this roundup that offers transfers to Hyatt). If I’m dreaming about all of the great ways to earn and burn Amex Membership Rewards points, I’ll pick the Amex combo. And if I want a single cheap combo ($95 total) that offers great point earning options along with 10% back on awards (thanks to Rewards+), I’ll pick Citi.
It’s also worth pointing out that it’s not necessary to pick a single bank’s combo. Personally, I have a combination of cards that earn Amex, Chase, and Citi points. I’d have Capital One “Miles” too if they hadn’t mysteriously shut down my account. If you go for multiple combos, though, its worth paying close attention to annual fees. Fees can add up quickly if you try to get (and keep) the best cards from each program. If you honestly get enough value from each one to justify the fee, that’s great, but I suspect many people get lazy and just keep paying annual fees regardless.
See also: Transferable Points Programs Compared: Amex vs Chase vs Citi vs Capital One vs Brex
[…] Great Credit Card Combos: Most of the big banks have their own points program and under that program they offer various credit cards. If you’re looking to get the most points for your spending, check out these great credit card combos. […]
[…] way less complicated by sticking to a particular bank’s travel rewards credit cards you know: Awesome credit card combos w/ transferable points. With my family we prefer Chase. I do recognize that AmericanExpress has been giving away a crazy […]
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I already have the Chase combo and the Citi combo, but I think the new Cap 1 combo beats them both. Why?
You’ve already mentioned how Citi has made some severe/stupid cutbacks. ‘nuf said.
As for Chase, I’ve soured on them because of the combination of: no grocery bonus + the jump in the CSR’s huge af + Chase travel losing Expedia + the recent evisceration of Pay Yourself Back (come on Chase, how many points do you think I can redeem on dining?) + declining customer service.
Except for the occasional person who uses a LOT of the CSR’s benefits, IMHO the Cap 1 cards pencil out as the better choice.
TBH, Chase losing Expedia is a positive development..
Not even close. A number of hotels I stay at have now disappeared from Chase Travel. Making UR points that much less valuable.
I believe that this is out of date: “Also note that Citi has the only program that offers 1 to 1 transfers to Turkish Miles & Smiles.“, as Capital One reportedly also transfer 1:1 to Turkish ..
Good catch. Fixed. Thanks.
Sorry, but the Citi trifecta clearly beats all for regular spend by regular people. Someone charging a very modest $1500/month can easily pocket 50k TYP a year. Throw in 100k+ in sign up bonus? Citi has my vote for average Joes, and it’s not even close.
No need to say sorry. As I wrote in the post, “I could easily and convincingly argue that any one of the other combos is best.” Citi is extremely compelling. I just wish they hadn’t removed all of their travel and purchase protections.
Thanks for adding an Update Summary! 😀
Any data points on recent approvals for the Capital One Savor cards? Just wondering if Capital One relaxed approval standards for those cards, the way they seemed to open up approvals for the Venture X. I picked up a Venture X, and would love to add a Savor card this year–just worried I won’t get approved. (I fall into the group of people who wouldn’t ordinarily have expected to be approved for a Capital One card, but was instantly approved for a Venture X).
I haven’t heard, but that’s a great question. Anyone?
[…] Some things to consider if you get into it more: Awesome credit card combos. […]
I think a highly competitive cashback combo exists for people who can swing the Bank of America Platinum Honors Reward level (cheaper to qualify than Citigold). Each (no annual fee) Cash Rewards card opened with BofA allows the person to pick a category to earn 5.25% for up to $2500 spending each quarter (travel, dining, home improvement and furnishing, online, gas, or drug store). Then add a (no annual fee) Travel Rewards card for all other spending at unlimited 2.625% back (redeemable toward travel purchases). I don’t think that can be beat at the “average” valuation of most points and miles.
What about a US Bank Combo??
US Bank is an interesting case. Altitude Reserve points can be redeemed at 1.5 cents per point using the Real-Time Rewards on travel categories (though the only time I get Real-Time Rewards notification is when I ride Lyft), but other Altitude cards’ points cannot be pooled with Altitude Reserve points. Therefore there isn’t a strong case to be made for US Bank card combos when there are better and/or cheaper card combos available.
Re the AMEX Gold card, I’ve explained this several times to my wife, so I think it is worthwhile to explicitly say AMEX’s definition of “supermarket” does not equal “grocery.” I know people mention AMEX cards bonus on “groceries” informally or off handedly when writing/speaking, and maybe this doesn’t matter to most people, but I’ve learned the hard way that some grocery stores do not count as supermarkets for AMEX. Obviously everyone’s shopping habits differ. For myself, I frequent two local grocery stores that are not considered supermarkets; one that has better variety of fruits, vegetables, and middle eastern products than the standard Safeway/Lucky, and one Chinese grocery store. I would really encourage going by strict “supermarket” terminology when mentioning AMEX bonus categories.
I’d consider including:
[…] rate of return or transfer those “miles” to airline partners. While there are credit card combinations from other issuers that can offer greater returns, the Capital One Venture card likely appeals the […]
As another commenter pointed out, I think Bank of America with Preferred Rewards is a pretty strong program for those in the Platinum category or higher. Premium Rewards (PR) + (1 or more) Cash Rewards (CR) gives you a base of 2.625% (PR) with choice of 5.25% categories (CR), one $95 annual fee with a $100 airline credit, and earning cash back. I’ll also point out there this some confusion about the Preferred Rewards. You do not to keep cash in a checking account receiving 0% interest. You can move over stock/bonds/ETFs to Merrill and there are no requirement to make trades.
We can say in this case the best combo did not make the list. I moved majority of my spent here.
Interesting to see the CIBC recommended over the CIBP. I guess when it comes spending the CIBC is a better earning card while the CIBP is the bigger sign up. I’m just getting into this and unfortunately hit Amex plat/gold first not knowing about 5/24. I think I’m 4/24 so I’m going to hit a business card next. Thought I was doing CIBP but now I guess I gotta do some research.
Since you are 4/24, you can get CIBP and CIBC at the same time as long as Chase is willing to approve and you are comfortable with doing that. And you are still 4/24 even after you apply for both cards. If you are comfortable with only one business card, it should be better to get CIBP for the higher bonus then product change to CIBC for the potential higher bonus multiplier (5X for office supply store) and 0 annual fee.
Yeah this post was about earning power, not about signup bonuses.
As AlexL says, you should be able to get both Ink cards and bonuses. This is true whether you apply for both at once or one at a time. But if you only want one card, you could get the bigger signup bonus with the Business Preferred and then later downgrade to the Ink Cash
So I applied for the CIBP and got the we’ll get back to you email. Gave them a call the next day to check status and was approved over the phone after a small wait. Interesting hiccup is that the approved Credit Limit was only $6K. I’m not sure why its so low given my income, business and credit history. Found it interesting and a little concerning when I go for the Chase Ink Cash. Any advice on how long I should wait to apply for that one. I was thinking at least 45 days.
Do you have other Chase business cards besides CIBP? If so, you can offer to move credit from them to the Ink Cash if they don’t approve you immediately. You could also move $1K from the CIBP. I believe the Ink Cash requires a minimum $3K credit line so it’s a little easier to get approved for than the CIBP. 45 days sounds reasonable to me. I don’t know of a hard and fast rule with Chase.
So, the Uber card just got downgraded and I specifically got that plus the Citi Double for cash back. What is a good combo for cash back (preferably Visa with no 0 foreign fees, no annual fee)? I have enough airline miles, so now my focus is strictly cash back.
As I wrote at the bottom of this post, I like the Costco Visa as a companion to the Double Cash. But if you’re not a Costco member you would have to account for the annual membership fee.
This discussion is great. Very good to well-planned heads. But, for people like me (lazy, not big spender, grocery+others here and there without fixed pattern), I want a “everyday for everything” card. In that sense, I think my BOA travel rewards card with Platinum honor boost is my default card. Far from ideal, but it is OK. When the cost is travel related and I need some protection, I use my CSR for sure. That’s the only hefty AF card that I have kept for a few years now; unfortunately, CRS doesn’t show much value for everyday purchase, besides I hate its heavy weight. So it only shows up in my wallet when I travel.
The next best “everyday for everything” card is Amex Blue Biz Plus and, I guess, the third is Citi Double cash thanks to the possibility of TYP transfer. However, I am going to cancel my Thankyou Premier soon. So Double cash card may not be a qualified third place.
That’s totally reasonable.
Does Amex Green count international travel as 3x?
Greg, you wrote “Also, the Sapphire Reserve card’s lounge benefits are limited to Priority Pass lounges alone.” Aren’t you thinking of the AMEX version which does not allow you to go to any restaurants? The Chase PP card is fine for restaurants and a great value for offsetting the annual fee
I meant to distinguish it from Amex Platinum which covers not just Priority Pass lounges but also a number of other types of lounges. I’ll clarify the text.
Greg: If you were to go for multiple combinations (i.e., the Chase, AMEX, Citi, or Wells combos), which ones would you recommend? Right now I have the Chase, AMEX and Citi combos (less the Rewards+ for the Citi combo). I’m looking at breaking up the AMEX combo by divesting the Gold card (but keeping the Platinum and Business Blue Plus cards). How would you analyze this?
I’m working on updating a spreadsheet that you can use to analyze this. Stay tuned.
With reference to Amex you indicate “you can transfer points to a friend’s airline or hotel program account if they are an authorized user (or employee) on one of your accounts.” I have my wife as an employee on my Delta Business Reserve card, does this mean I can transfer the SkyMiles in my account to her SkyMiles account? If yes, can you explain how to do that?
No, it only works with Amex Membership Rewards points not with co-branded Amex cards like Delta, Hilton, or Marriott
I’d add the Rakuten credit card into the AMEX Membership Rewards combo. No annual fee and it gives you 3X Membership Rewards when you use Rakuten as your shopping portal.
Good suggestion, I’ll add it
The only time I can see using the Citi Prestige card, which you didn’t mention, I suspect because they removed the travel protections is when I am checking out of a hotel, so I no longer need protection. To me, that isn’t a reason to keep a card. If I have the DCB and the Rewards+ card, is there another free card to downgrade to that makes sense? I am not sure even the Premier is worth paying $95 for without travel protections.
What is interesting to me about Amex is that they think their clients live in places that they have access to Uber, and eat fast food rather than offer generic credits like Chase.
I do have the Prestige card listed as a potential add-on, but you’re right that it’s not listed in the main section because it’s hard to justify the annual fee now that they made the 4th Night Free benefit so bad and took away travel protections.
All that said, as long as I have the Prestige card, I’ll continue to use it for all restaurant purchases to get 5X. I probably won’t renew though unless they give me a good retention offer.
Greg: Your thoughts on the Prestige reflects mine. As a DP, my annual renewal was in September. I sought a retention offer and accepted the following: 10k TYP with $3k spend in each of the next 3 months. Just enough for me to renew . . . Consequently, I have the Prestige, (a newly issued) Premier and (a newly issued) DoubleCash card and will get the Rewards+ after I meet the Premier’s bonus spend requirements (60k more TYPs)! I’m thinking through whether I will wait 24 months (from last September) so I can get the Rewards+ with a bonus point spend offer. Probably will as I don’t anticipate a need to cash in TYPs for the next couple of years (i.e., so many AMEX MR points to use first). As an aside – I find myself using Chase UR points less and less for award premium seats and more for Hyatt transfers and travel portal purchases. That said, I do use them (via transfer to United) for domestic economy seats while in China (I’m there every year for 2-3 months). 8k miles for 2-3 hour flights in China remains highly competitive. So, I also agree with your assessment of how the Chase UR usage has morphed over the last year or so.
Hi Greg, I am a Citi Gold client. And last year, Nov 2018, I paid the grandfathered annual fee of $350. I’m wondering if it will still be $350 when I get hit with the annual fee in a few days. If it goes up to $495 I’ll probably downgrade it. But if it’s still $350, for me it’s a tough call.
Quick question: If you paid an annual fee of $350 for the Prestige… would that be a low enough fee to justify keeping it? I’m still debating, but I wanted to know your thoughts.
Personally I’d probably pay $350 for the Prestige because I spend a lot at restaurants. So between 5X rewards at restaurants plus the $250 annual travel credit, keeping it would be a wash. I no longer value the 4th Night Free benefit at all.
I’m in the same boat. $350 as Citigold.