In the post “Super credit card combos,” I identified combinations of bank credit cards that can lead to huge earning potential within a single rewards program. For example, the combination of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Freedom Unlimited, and Ink Business Cash cards means that you can earn from 1.5 to 5 points per dollar on all spend by using the right card for the right purchase. And when you go to redeem those points, you can maximize point value by moving the points to your Sapphire Reserve card before redeeming for travel. This gives you a rebate on spend worth 2.25% to 7.5%. That’s excellent. But you can do better.
If you’re willing to earn points across multiple programs, you’ll have more opportunities to earn many more points. In this post, I’ll continue to focus on transferable points programs. These are points that can be used to directly book travel or to transfer to airline and hotel programs for even more value under the right circumstances.
Start with: Amex Blue Business Plus
The key to getting great value from your everyday spend is to start with a card that offers great value everywhere.
|Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)|
It may seem strange to start the roundup with a business card, but it’s seriously hard to do better than 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar for all spend (up to $50K per year). Membership Rewards points are incredibly valuable both because of their transfer partners and their frequent transfer bonuses. As an example of the latter, at the time of this writing Amex is offering a 40% bonus on point transfers to British Airways or Iberia. This means that if you take advantage of this bonus using points earned from the Blue Business Plus, then the card would have indirectly earned 2 x 1.4 = 2.8 miles (Avios) per dollar for all spend. If you prefer using points to pay for airfare, one option is to get the Amex Business Platinum card which offers a 35% rebate on select airfare. This results in a per point value of just over 1.5 cents per point. In other words, when paired with the Business Platinum card, the Blue Business Plus offers 3% back in the form of airfare when points are used in that way.
Sprinkle in 4X grocery and dining
Next, if you spend much at US restaurants or US supermarkets, you’ll want to add the Amex Gold Card to the mix. This card also earns Membership Rewards points, but at a much higher rate within select categories of spend…
|Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)|
Despite its relatively high annual fee, I love this card because it offers a huge category bonus for common spend: 4X US restaurants and 4X US supermarkets (up to $25K in purchases per year). For many of us, the extra rewards should more than make up for the card’s annual fee. The card’s effective annual fee is reduced by its $100 in annual airline fee rebates (see what works here). And the card’s $120 in dining credits (up to $10 per month) is icing on the cake for those who often order food from Grubhub or Seamless; or eat at The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, or Shake Shack.
Add in 3X travel, great travel protections, airport lounge access, and great point value
The Chase Sapphire Reserve card’s category bonuses overlap a bit with the Amex Gold Card, but it brings enough to the table to earn a place in your wallet…
|Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)|
If you travel often, the Sapphire Reserve card is worth considering for its travel protections alone. In my roundup of ultra-premium credit card travel insurance I found that the Chase Sapphire Reserve clearly offered the best collection of travel protections. The great thing is that even if you pay for flights with miles, you can pay award fees with your Sapphire Reserve and you’ll still be fully covered.
Beyond the card’s travel protections, it offers great value for travel purchases (3X Ultimate Rewards). The card also offers 3X for dining, but within the US you’ll want to use your Amex Gold Card to get 4X. Outside of the US, use the Sapphire Reserve. When redeeming points, you’ll get 1.5 cents per point value for travel booked through Chase’s travel portal. Or, you can transfer points to Chase’s transfer partners. Most of Chase’s transfer partners overlap with Amex’s transfer partners, so it’s possible to points from both Amex and and Chase to the same program (JetBlue, Air France, and Singapore Airlines are few examples).
And, finally, the Sapphire Reserve offers Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership. This gives you access to many airport lounges worldwide. Additionally, Priority Pass has been slowly but steadily adding airport restaurants to the membership. In these restaurants you can typically get up $28 off of each person’s bill. Since the Sapphire Reserve’s version of Priority Pass allows up to 2 guests, you can treat yourself and two guests to a free meal at these restaurants.
Round off the mix with 5X bonuses
Finally, I’d suggest adding in two no-fee “cash back” cards from Chase. In both cases, these cards are advertised as cash back cards, but actually earn Ultimate Rewards points. By transferring these points to your Sapphire Reserve account they become more valuable.
|Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)|
The Chase Ink Business Cash card may be a business card but it offers incredible point earnings for common consumer spend: cell phone, internet, and cable. Personally, I set up my phone and cable bills to auto pay from my Ink Cash card. It doesn’t get easier than that to earn 5X! The card also offers 5X at office supply stores. That’s useful for almost everybody since it’s really easy to get 5X buying gift cards to other stores (Whole Foods, Lowes, Amazon, etc.) at OfficeMax or Staples, or even online at Staples.com. Note that the 5X bonuses are limited to $25K spend per membership year.
The Chase Freedom card also offers 5X bonuses in common categories, but those categories change every 3 months. Categories such as grocery stores, warehouse stores, gas stations, and restaurants are common. Chase caps 5X earning with the Freedom card at $1,500 spend per quarter.
There is no single best combination of cards that is best for everyone. People have different spend patterns and are motivated by different rewards. The combination shown here is my attempt to identify the best combination for those who value transferable rewards and typically spend a decent amount of money within the categories of spend described above.
Consider, for example, a family that spends $35K in a year on these categories:
- Grocery stores (within the US): $7,000
- Restaurants (within the US): $5,000
- Cable, cell phone, internet: $5,000
- Travel: $5,000
- Misc 5X Freedom Categories: $3,000
- Everywhere Else: $10,000
They would earn the following numbers of points:
- Grocery stores (within the US): $7,000 x 4 = 28,000
- Restaurants (within the US): $5,000 x 4 = 20,000
- Cable, cell phone, internet: $5,000 x 5 = 25,000
- Travel: $5,000 x 3 = 15,000
- Misc 5X Freedom Categories: $3,000 x 5 = 15,000
- Everywhere Else: $10,000 x 2 = 20,000
- Total = 123,000 transferable points
This family would earn 123,000 transferable points from their usual spend simply by using the best card for each situation. When compared to the meager 35,000 miles the same family would earn with a typical airline card (most earn just 1 mile per dollar), this is obviously a huge win.
We can also compare to a 2% cash back card. If the same family were to get 2% cash back everywhere, they would earn $35K x .02 = $700 cash back. That sounds good until you consider what value they would get if they used all 123,000 points for an average value of 1.5 cents each towards travel: that comes to 123K x .015 = $1,845 in travel value. That’s a tremendous return on $35K spend!
Of course, those rewards come with a cost: the card annual fees. This super combo includes two cards with annual fees: The Amex Gold Card for $250 plus the Sapphire Reserve for $450. $300 of the latter will be automatically reimbursed with the Sapphire Reserve is used to pay for travel, so that brings the net annual fee of the two cards to $400. You might also get back up to $100 for airline fees plus up to $120 for select dining purchases (up to $10 per month). So, worst case, your net out of pocket cost would be $400. Best case: $180. Is it worth spending up to $400 per year extra to get $1,845 worth of travel? I think so!
[…] Super mixed credit card combo: This post discussed the ideal combination of cards to keep in your wallet if your goal is to earn transferable points, but you’re OK with earning points in multiple programs. […]
thinking more and more about ditching Chase altogether and going with BBP + AMEX Gold + Citi Premier.
That gets you 2x everywhere, 3x travel and gas, 4x dining and groceries. Added bonus is that Citi usually waives AFs or at least gives you spending bonuses. So many good AMEX offers lately I hardly ever use Chase cards.
Prestige is going to get 5x dining and airlines. If you are grandfathered into the $350 AF, it’s pretty easy to get value out of it, even with the changes to 4th night free.
Rather than simply using one cash back card as a comparison, you’d get a lot closer to your points value if you use multiple cash back cards.
That is definitely true
[…] willing to go to the next level of complexity by using cards across multiple rewards programs (see: Super mixed credit card combo), the new Citi Prestige may be just good enough to convince me to replace the Sapphire Reserve with […]
Are there any numbers to show difference between CSR AND CSP redemption values when it comes to Hotels?
The way it works is that the Chase portal prices hotels based on Expedia pricing and then turns the cost into points where Sapphire Reserve points are worth 1.5 cents each and Sapphire Preferred points are worth 1.25 cents each.
Like $300/night x 1.5 or 1.2t = how many points would be needed?
You can estimate the points like this: $300 = 30,000 pennies
1) Sapphire Reserve: 30,000 / 1.5 = 20,000 points
2) Sapphire Preferred: 30,000 / 1.25 = 24,000 points
Thank you. That is what I needed.
US Bank Cash Plus Visa for 5X points on Home Utilities
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa for Free Cell Phone Insurance
Oh, I too label my wife’s cards with large labels.
What a PITA it would be to have to carry around so many cards and spend time determining which card to use for which type of purchase. The time spent on maximizing your return is better spent on enjoying life.
It’s not hard at all once you get used to it. I label my wife’s cards, though to make it easier for her. I also keep her in-wallet card collection down to a smaller number (two).
Greg: I have the same issues with my wife’s cards. I give her a cheat sheet and only put 4 cards in her purse. She (mostly) makes the right calls on what card to use. But it gets complicated because over the course of a year new cards are issued and (other) new card bonus spending requirements cause the lineup to change at least 3-4 times a year.
Yeah, I never my wife help with min spend bonuses, retention bonuses, rotating categories, etc. I handle all of that myself so I can keep it simple for her.
One way I get around this is I gave my wife a Bluebird card. Load with GC I got at 5% off and now she gets 5% off everything she buys. So far it has worked great( except when you forget to add more money to her account) 🙂 Great article buy the way thanks for laying it all out there in an easy to read format.
Thanks. Yep Bluebird or the equivalent is a good option too.
Protections aren’t as good though.
And what about the annual fee , the average family needs to spend ? ( 250+ 450 ) ?
Absolutely right. I meant to add that to the end of the post originally and somehow forgot. Anyway, I’ve added that in now. Keep in mind that with the assumed spend on travel, this average family will automatically get back $300 on the CSR. Whether or not they get back $100 + $120 on the Gold card depends on their spend habits.
Really enjoy these types of articles.
One point I’d like to bring up is that in order to properly factor in opportunity cost, you have to look at the same situation in two ways. Here’s this example family’s situation(2% cash back vs premium cards):
$700(cash back) – $0(annual fees) VS -$700(annual fees) + $1845 travel value + $300 travel credit + Gold/CSR perks
a) First way it to just compress each side
$700 VS $1445 travel value + Gold/CSR perks
Looking at it from this angle, you’re getting over 4% return with the premium cards. This is basically what your credit card spreadsheet does.
b) Second way is to take into account the actual cash position of this family, so bring the cash factors onto the same side first:
==> $700(cash back) + $700(annual fees) VS $2145 travel value + Gold/CSR perks
==> $1400 VS $2145 travel value + Gold/CSR perks
The reason why this matters is splitting points between two programs makes it harder to accumulate a meaningful amount for redemption. If this family can only get enough points to redeem once every 2 years, then the first year they’re basically down $1400 for a $2145 credit to be used in year 2. Still a fine deal for this family, but something that is worth keeping in mind for anyone analyzing their own situation especially if their cashback baseline is higher.
Good points. Thanks.
Great follow-up article, Greg.
Your recommendations largely track with my current spend pattern and my willingness to collect maximum amounts of both UR and MR points. However, while the new AMEX Gold is “best in class” for the dining bonus category, the AMEX Everyday Preferred noses it out in the groceries bonus category (4.5x points), provided one has 30 transactions per month. This is easily achieved with an automatic daily purchase of an Amazon $5,00 GC credit at amazon.com (which I easily spend each month). Also, with some vendors not accepting AMEX, I keep the Freedom Unlimited in my wallet for backup use.
The recent appearance of the revamped AMEX Gold card has caused me to reconsider the Chase Sapphire Reserve (taking the dining spend off of it significantly reduces its utility for me), but I think ultimately I will keep it for the travel benefits – but, then again, now the AMEX Platinum may beat it in these categories (although I don’t like the limiting nature AMEX imposes for use of its travel benefits). I also occasionally use the Chase travel center to buy airline tickets at 1.5 cents per point.
I would be interested in another look at the Chase Sapphire Reserve vs. the AMEX Platinum Card, given how the Reserve has been supplanted as the “go to” card for dining. Included in such an analysis would be the issue of annual fees (i.e., not only for these two cards, but also of the AMEX Gold card and Everyday Preferred card), as well as assumptions on spend patterns/amounts by category.
For instance, use of the Gold card vs. the EDP needs to include the discounted annual fees to determine at what spend level does the EDP really beat out the Gold card for groceries spending, as well as at what spend levels does the Sapphire Reserve lose out to the AMEX Plat + Amex Gold (and perhaps +AMEX EDP) combo.
Of course, there’s a separate sign-up bonus calculation that can be done here.
Yep, your EDP approach also has an edge on US gas purchases. I think that’s great for those willing to go to that extra step to ensure that they always have 30 purchases per month, but I expect that many people won’t automate it and won’t always meet that threshold. And, for bigger spenders, the Gold card offers much more bonused grocery spend per year.
And thanks for those good ideas for future analyses!
What is your take on the old INK Plus Business card vs the Sapphire Preferred? Don’t they get the same discount on travel through UR. I’m trying to determine if I want to keep the Sapphire long term? (just the feel of that card alone is enough to make me want to keep it 🙂 )
Yes, they both make points worth 1.25. The Ink’s car rental coverage is primary for business travel only whereas the Sapphire doesn’t have that restriction. But the Ink offers 3X for travel whereas the Sapphire Preferred is 2X. Both are good cards, but which is better depends upon how you would use it.
How can one do an automatic daily purchase of an Amazon credit? Thanks!
Auto reload your Amazon balance. Found here: http://amzn.to/2fjHjZn
I wasn’t aware of the auto-recharge option – thanks!