My ever changing pandemic wallet

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Early this year I opened the kimono to show off the cards I keep in my wallet.  I was proud that I had a solid performing mix of cards in my wallet for every possible scenario.  For full details about what was in my wallet and why, please see: What’s in Greg’s wallet?  A short summary, though, is that I carried the following cards:

Then the pandemic

About a month after my wallet post, COVID-19 locked us up at home.  But the lack of travel didn’t change my wallet.  I already had a habit of keeping my travel related cards in a separate travel wallet (see: How my travel wallet reduces travel stress).

The key driver of changes to my wallet was the credit card pandemic wallet-share war.  Mostly Amex and Chase, but a few other issuers too, started adding temporary perks to their cards in an overt play to get a bigger piece of our dwindling spend.  Each card issuer obviously hoped that by giving us spend bonuses at grocery stores, food delivery, or other services that remained open during the pandemic, we would get used to using those cards for all spend.  That’s great for the card issuers if it works, but it’s not how I’m wired.  Sure, you can convince me to use a different card for grocery spend, but I’m not going to then use it for other types of purchases if it’s sub-optimal.  I’d rather carry several cards in order to get the best bonuses for each type of spend.

Beginning in May, and thanks to the ever changing credit card promotions, each month of the pandemic has led me to rethink my wallet…

May: Sapphire Reserve takes over grocery

  • Added: Sapphire Reserve 5X Grocery
  • Removed: Amex Gold 4X Grocery

In May, Chase announced that they were offering grocery spend bonuses on many of their cards.  I was pretty happy with the idea of getting 5X for groceries with my Chase Sapphire Reserve card, so Amex Gold was out, Sapphire Reserve was in.

June: Rakuten Visa takes over grocery, dining, and Apple Pay

  • Added: Rakuten Visa 6X grocery, restaurants, and Apple Pay
  • Removed: Sapphire Reserve 5X grocery, Citi Prestige 5X restaurants, Altitude Reserve 3X Apple Pay

I was one of the lucky ones who received this targeted offer for my Rakuten Visa card.  Since I earn Membership Rewards with my Rakuten account, for the month of June I was able to earn 6X Membership Rewards for all spend at grocery stores, restaurants, and mobile wallet purchases (Apple Pay, in my case).

Rakuten 6% Cashback Groceries, Restaurant & Mobile Purchases

This meant that my Sapphire Reserve card made its way back to my travel wallet, my Amex Gold card continued to sit things out, my Citi Prestige card took a break, and I added the Rakuten card to Apple Pay and made it my default card.

July (so far): Bonvoy Brilliant for restaurants & Sapphire Reserve for gas

  • Added: Bonvoy Brilliant for grocery (6X) and restaurants (travel credit), Sapphire Reserve 5X gas, Altitude Reserve 3X Apple Pay (restored as default for Apple Pay)
  • Removed: Rakuten Visa (the 6X promo is over)

With the Rakuten Visa 6X promo over, it was time to put it away.  This meant reviving other cards for grocery, restaurants, and Apple Pay.  At first I expected to bring back the Amex Gold for grocery (4X) and Citi Prestige for restaurants (5X), but then I remembered that Amex had made a couple of temporary enhancements to the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card:

  • 6X points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $7,500 spend)
  • Dining, takeout, and delivery qualify toward $300 Statement Credit benefit

Since I haven’t yet used up the annual $300 in Marriott spend credits that the Bonvoy Brilliant card offers, I decided to use the card at restaurants until that credit is maxed out (then I’ll revert to the Prestige card).  Also, even though I value 4X Membership Rewards more than 6X Marriott points, I decided to temporarily use the Brilliant card at grocery stores since I might max out the Gold card’s 4X option this year anyway (the Gold card offers 4X on the first $25K of US grocery spend per year, then 1X).  Since I’m not particularly wedded to this approach for groceries, my plan is to remove the Brilliant card from my wallet and return the Gold card once I max out the $300 travel credit at restaurants.  I tend to spend a lot at restaurants so this may have already happened by the time you read this :).

In June, my Sapphire Reserve card enjoyed a month long vacation in my travel wallet thanks to the Rakuten Visa deal.  And I didn’t think it would come back in July because Chase’s grocery bonuses ended in June.  But Chase couldn’t stand the idea of me keeping the card on the sidelines and so they introduced a few new awesome enhancements:

  • 5x on Instacart on up to $3,000 in purchases from July 1 to September 30, 2020
  • Up to $50 in statement credits toward Instacart Express annual ($99/yr) or monthly ($9.99/mo) membership
  • 5x at gas stations on up to $1500 in spend from July 1 to September 30th, 2020
  • 10x on select streaming like Netflix and Spotify on up to $1500 between July 1 and September 30th

5X at gas stations was enough to cause me to restore the Sapphire Reserve card to my primary wallet.  I love too that this will work with Chase’s Pay Yourself Back feature.  We’ll be able to earn 5X on gas and redeem points at 1.5 cents each to reimburse our gas charges!  My mistake. Chase’s Pay Yourself Back feature is for groceries, restaurants, and Home Improvement (not gas) through September 30th 2020.

I’m pretty enthused by the Instacart benefits too.  The $50 credit was enough to convince me to sign up for the $99/year plan.  If you haven’t yet signed up for Instacart, here's our Instacart referral link.  We’ll each get $10 when you place your first order (the referrer can only earn up to $50 max so we will swap in other Frequent Miler team member’s links once each is maximized).

What’s Next?

Credit card companies are fighting tooth and nail to capture our pandemic wallet share.  It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if something new pops up in the next few days that causes me to change my wallet mid-month.  In the unlikely case that nothing changes, I expect my August wallet to look much like my pre-pandemic wallet:

  • Dining: Citi Prestige 5X
  • Grocery: Amex Gold 4X & Chase Sapphire Reserve 5X for Instacart
  • Gas: Citi Premier 3X Chase Sapphire Reserve 5X (through September)
  • Apple Pay: Altitude Reserve 3X
  • Everywhere Else: Bank of America Premium Rewards 2.62%

What’s in your wallet… at the moment?

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Trey

I had the 6x Rakuten offer as well. All grocery spend has tracked at 1x. Is anyone else concerned about this?

[…] It can be difficult to keep up with all the changes going on in the credit card world during the pandemic. I just had to rearrange my wallet to make sure I was maximizing my earning on new bonus categories. As usual, I’m way behind Greg from Frequent Miler who’s had to rearrange his pandemic wallet every month. […]

Stephen

One of my Amex cards as well as one of my wife’s had the 15% off Chevron up to $25. So this month and maybe next month (we spend a lot on gas) we will going to Chevron with the cards with that offer on it.

CaveDweller

Costco to far away? Prem $2.45 like $.80 cheaper and Top Tier too.

Stephen

Good point on Costco, I wasn’t aware they are top tier. For me with the round trip, time waiting for gas and pumping I’m at an hour to get gas at Costco. It’s not worth it for me when Chevron Is really convenient as it’s on my daily driving route. It probably works for many people, just not me.

SlothTraveler

Greg, I really enjoy reading your posts and am a longtime follower. But I have to tell you, I really dislike the phrase “open kimono.” It’s both overly graphic and culturally inappropriate. I urge you to find another descriptive phrase in the future.

Christine B

Discover for $1500 in taxes via PayPal in July…

[…] toward grocery and gas station purchases.. The good news for Greg is that he won’t need to switch up his wallet again to accommodate this one, though it may change which card he uses at restaurants once he uses up his […]

Dan

CSR- Instacart and Dining
CFU- Everyday Spending (through Chase shopping portal when possible)
CF- Whole Foods
Amazon Prime- Most other Amazon spending
Delta Platinum- Amex Offers (if useful)

V S

BAC Premium rewards $50 free grocery, check.
Hilton Aspire $300 Restaurant credit, check. Supermarkets til the end of the month, 12 points/dollar.
Marriott Bonvoy $300 restaurant credit, in progress. Shop small with Bonvoy will put $50 in my pocket, sweet.

Rossco

I am trying to decide on a good grocery spend. It’s between the Amex Gold and the Citi Premier. I don’t really know if any of the other Gold’s perks offset the substantially annual fee over the Premier. Plus maybe I should get into the Citi game? Unsure about the actual value of the dining credit and airline fee credit now that it’s so hard to use.The 4x on restaurants really isn’t much better than the CSR when I consider most redemptions are thru the travel portal for hotels. I guess what I mean to ask is that, will the Premier ever be your grocery spend card?

Cov

My card use has been very simple lately. CSR for restaurant and grocery pickup/delivery, schwab plat for streaming/wireless, BBP for most everything else, and double cash for a couple of costco orders and bank account fundings. I’m still working on the BBP SUB, so that’s earning an effective 5.33 ppd. Only changes for July will be using my wife’s BCP for groceries and my CSR for gas.

YoniPDX

Costco Gas earned 5X this week on CSR.

CaveDweller

Tire sale too, better then points ..$$$$$$
I bt my tires 26 days ago installed 14 days ago. Well, I looked for the fun of it and it was $110 off so I went in u can’t by ph and got it .. Up to 30 days after no I like them a little bit better now.
$$$$$

MalMel

These articles explaining your logic are really helpful. For groceries I have AX Gold and CSR (May/June). Freedom Whole Foods this qtr, which I don’t consider valuable unless I can get useful GC. I don’t know what GC they sell.

I’d like your opinion: I have been thinking of getting rid of AX Gold for $250 AF (anniv this fall) based on the ability to buy visa GC with Ink card for groceries. I wonder if we can count on the fee-free deals to continue. But even if I paid fees, that still comes out much less than $250/yr. ($400-500/month groceries).

I only have ~100k each AX and Chase rewards, so I’m still interested in earning points vs cash.

Evan

If I am not mistaken I believe Open the Kimona was a book written by Seymour Hare

Wes

One of the more enjoyable/interesting topics these days, FM.

While I have a number of cards, I run most of my spend through grocery via GC purchases. I don’t really MS, but it’s something I’ll likely have to delve into at the end of the year. My grocery card for July will flip back from CF/CSR to AMEX Gold.

Anything I can’t push through grocery (VGC/other GCs), I use the AMEX Surpass/Ascend as my primary non-bonus card. I value the free night cert at ~2% and the points at ~1.5%. I put my grocery return at 6% base (fuel points) plus whatever value I get from the points from whatever card used (4x MR or 5x UR etc).

Mark

Does the Everyday Preferred have a role, assuming you recently took an upgrade offer? Is the grocery limit too low to really utilize it over the course of a month?

RabbMD

Chase is adding groceries as a pay yourself back category in July?

RabbMD

I meant chase is adding gas not grocery, sorry?

Just a Note

Though I have the ThankYou cards, I generally have too much difficulty using the points, so I will rarely carry them. We did end up booking a road trip using TYP for hotels (not sure if that will stick though with all that is going on), and right now trying to get through some Amex MSR, so that is all I have on the desk. Not leaving the house much means not having to carry a wallet. 😉

CaveDweller

I transferred 60K points to Singapore Air done then use on United Flights easy.
CHEERs

Just a Note

Don’t have much use for United where we are unfortunately – and have too many TYP right at the moment… good idea though!

CaveDweller

Happy Travels !!!!!!!!!

CaveDweller

If I cancel my Prestige with -1000 points and a $1000 balance What Happens??

CaveDweller

IF to Me …MINUS 1000 points from cash from Travel refunds and like $3K more coming too. I don’t want to spend the $1k cash on the card a Check back please nor do I want them to charge me 5 cents a point ..

CaveDweller

Greg
Called Prestige again as in 2o mins on ph my minus 1k points will be 3k minus points balance soon they will EAT the points .. My balance of $1k or $3k coming they will send check now or later. NO deal on the AF only downgrade card as in no thanks.
COOL

Jim

The best card for everything else. If you didn’t have the 100k at BOA what would be in your wallet? I use Freedom Unlimited.

Traveler Mike

Curiosity question for you: Since you value MR at 1.55 cpp and TYP at 1.45 cpp, the BBP has a RRV of 3.1 (up to 50k) and DC has a RRV or 2.9 cpp (unlimited), both of which are greater than the 2.625 cpp you earn with The BoA card … why do you continue to use the BoA card??

Traveler Mike

I follow that logic, and if one does MS, it makes even more sense. As a suggestion for your post, include a viewpoint for non-MS persons, as well as those that MS. Thanks for your ever so thoughtful articles! And a thought for another article: how to determine at what price one should consider “buying” points, especially in light of your revised methodology of determine the value of a point.

WR2

Then doesn’t that mean you need to update your valuations? Or are you saying that the valuations are dependant on balances (which I could agree with somewhat, as the higher your balance of a currency, the less valuable each incremental unit is, aka utility theory). In any case, at what balance are your valuations valid? 0?