What’s the best card combination a Benjamin can buy?

14

The past week has led to a lot of discussion about a one-credit-card strategy with the the huge improvements from Capital One rewards and Greg’s post yesterday imagining an ultra-premium Capital One single card “to rule them all”. However, long-time readers will know that the best strategies for racking up rewards have long involved credit card combinations. Greg has previously written about credit card super duos and the best credit card combinations, but with annual fee creep pushing the ultra-premium cards further into the stratosphere, what’s the best combo that reasonable money can buy? In this post, I wanted to take an updated look at the best credit card combinations for a killer wallet that costs $100 or less in annual fees. While there isn’t a single best wallet, these are the best wallets for each of the major transferable currencies in terms of earning power, flexibility, and cost performance.

Chase Ultimate Rewards wallet

Cards in this wallet

Update: As pointed out by readers in the comments, the Chase Ink Business Preferred is a much better choice for the $95 component of this wallet since it provides 3x on travel (rather than the 2x the wallet had originally featured with the Sapphire Preferred) and also adds some business 3x categories that could be useful for some.

Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)
Chase Freedom Flex

FM Mini Review: Great for 5X and 3x categories and World Mastercard benefits. Excellent companion card to Sapphire Reserve, Sapphire Preferred, or Ink Business Preferred.


Annual Fee: $0

Card Type: Mastercard World

Base
Travel
Dine
Grocery
Other

Earning rate: 5x travel booked through Chase ⚬ 5X Lyft ⚬ 3x dining ⚬ 3x drugstores ⚬ 5X in rotating categories on up to $1,500 spend per quarter. Q3 2021: 5X Grocery Stores & Streaming Services

Noteworthy perks: Free DashPass for up to 3 months upon activation ⚬ Cell phone protection ⚬ Lyft credits

See also: Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide

Chase Freedom Unlimited

FM Mini Review: Great for 3x categories and 1.5X everywhere else. Excellent companion card to Sapphire Reserve, Sapphire Preferred, or Ink Business Preferred.


Annual Fee: $0

Card Type: Visa Signature or Platinum

Base
Travel
Dine
Other

Earning rate: 5x travel booked through Chase ⚬ 5X Lyft ⚬ 3x dining ⚬ 3x drugstores ⚬ 1.5X everywhere else

Noteworthy perks: Free DashPass for up to 3 months upon activation

See also: Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide

Chase Ink Business Cash Credit Card

FM Mini Review: This one should be in everyone's wallet. Incredible signup bonus for a no-fee card. Great card for 5X categories. Excellent companion card to Sapphire Reserve, Sapphire Preferred, or Ink Business Preferred.


Annual Fee: $0

Card Type: Visa Signature Business

Base
Dine
Gas
Phone
Office
Other

Earning rate: 5X office supplies ⚬ 5X cellular/landline/cable (on up to $25,000 in total purchases in 5x categories annually) ⚬ 2X gas and restaurants ⚬ 5X Lyft

See also: Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide

Chase Ink Business Preferred Card

FM Mini Review: Great card for signup bonus and 3X categories. Also consider the fee-free Ink Business Cash for its 5X categories, and the fee-free Ink Business Unlimited to earn 1.5X everywhere.


Annual Fee: $95

Card Type: Visa Signature Business

Base
Travel
Phone
Biz
Other

Earning rate: 3X travel, shipping, internet, cable, phone, and advertising with social media sites (up to $150K spend per year) ⚬ 5X Lyft

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ Points worth 25% more when redeemed for travel ⚬ Cell phone protection against theft or damage

See also: Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide

Earning rates for this wallet

  • 3x travel (via Chase Ink Business Preferred)
  • 5x travel booked through Chase (via Freedom Flex or Freedom Unlimited)
  • 3x dining (via Freedom Flex or Freedom Unlimited)
  • 3x pharmacy (via Freedom Flex or Freedom Unlimited)
  • 3x shipping (via Chase Ink Business Preferred)
  • 3x advertising with social media sites (via Chase Ink Business Preferred)
  • 5x rotating categories (up to 30K points on $6K spend each year) (via Freedom Flex)
  • 5x office supply (If you qualify for an Ink Cash)
  • 1.5x everywhere else (via Freedom Unlimited)

Why this strategy is strong

The Chase wallet is a classic: you get 1.5x everyday earning power from the Freedom Unlimited and 5x bonus categories from the Freedom Flex or Ink Cash. Personally, I’d rather have the Ink Cash with it’s $25K annual cap on 5x at office supply stores (given that you could buy Visa or Mastercard Gift Cards when on sale fee-free (like they are this week) to cover utilities or other regular bills that could easily accept Visa or Mastercard Gift Cards). However, The Freedom Flex is also a potent tool for your wallet given that you could earn up to 30,000 points per year in its rotating 5x categories if you’re able to max out $1500 in spend in the bonus categories each quarter. While Chase gives access to fewer transfer partners than Amex and Capital One, it provides the ability to cash out rewards easily at 1c per point. Those who choose the Sapphire Preferred instead of the Ink Business Preferred can do so at a value of 1.25c per point at grocery stores, home improvement stores, and restaurants via Pay Yourself Back through September 2021.

Main weakness of this strategy

Chase has a smaller collection of transfer partners and most are shared with other transferable currencies, so you don’t get much here that you can’t get elsewhere (though many will find Hyatt to be worth that trade-off).


Citi Thank You wallet

Cards in this wallet

Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)
Citi Premier Card

FM Mini Review: Very strong earnings for spend. Excellent bonus categories. Points transferable to select airlines. Recommend pairing this card with Citi Double Cash and Citi Rewards+. Sadly, this travel card doesn't provide any travel protections.


Annual Fee: $95

Card Type: Mastercard World Elite

Base
Travel
Dine
Gas
Grocery

Earning rate: 3X grocery ⚬ 3X dining ⚬ 3X gas stations ⚬ 3X flights, hotels, travel agencies

Noteworthy perks: Transfer points to airline partners ⚬ $100 Annual Hotel Savings Benefit

See also: Citi ThankYou Rewards Complete Guide

Citi Rewards+ Card

FM Mini Review: 10% points rebate (up to 10K rebate per year) make this a great choice to pool with ThankYou Premier, Prestige, and/or Double Cash


Annual Fee: $0

Card Type: Mastercard World

Base
Gas
Grocery

Earning rate: 2X at supermarkets and gas stations on up to $6,000 per year ⚬ Round up to nearest 10 TY points on all purchases

Noteworthy perks: Round up to the nearest 10 points on all purchases with no cap. ⚬ get 10% of your points back on the first 100K redeemed each year

See also: Citi ThankYou Rewards Complete Guide

Citi Double Cash Card

FM Mini Review: 2X rewards for all spend with no annual fee makes this card a winner. Earn 2X everywhere and redeem for the equivalent of 2% cash back or 2X ThankYou points. Pair with the Premier or Prestige card to make points transferrable to airlines.


Annual Fee: $0

Card Type: Mastercard World Elite

Base

Earning rate: 2% cash back everywhere (1% cash back for each purchase + 1% when paying your credit card bill for that purchase)

Noteworthy perks: 1X when you make a purchase + 1X when you pay for those purchases

Earning rates with this wallet

  • 3x dining (via Citi Premier)
  • 3x gas (via Citi Premier)
  • 3x groceries (via Citi Premier)
  • 3x hotels, flights, & travel agencies (via Citi Premier)
  • 2x everywhere else (via Citi Double Cash)
  • 10% points back each year up to 100K points redeemed (via Citi Rewards+)

Why this strategy is strong

The Citi trifecta is excellent if Citi has the right transfer partners for you given that you can earn 3x on groceries, gas, dining, and most travel, which collectively covers a significant chunk of spend for a lot of people. Then you get 2x everywhere else and even a 10% rebate each year on up to 100K redeemed points. Assuming you use the points in the year in which you earn them, it turns the earning rates into an effective 3.3x and 2.2x on the first 100K points earned & used.

Main weaknesses of this strategy

Now that Capital One has added Turkish and Avios, Citi’s transfer partners are clearly the weakest of the major transferable currencies. They lack a legacy US carrier partner and hotel partners. Truthfully, it is hard to imagine a Citi-only strategy given the strength of everyone else.


Amex Membership Rewards wallet

Cards in this wallet

Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)
The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express

FM Mini Review: Thanks to the 50% bonus on points earned, this is, in my opinion, one of the strongest mile-earning cards available.


Annual Fee: $95

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Base
Gas
Grocery

Earning rate: ⚬ 3x points at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1x) ⚬ 2x points at US gas stations ⚬ 1x points on other purchases.

Noteworthy perks: Earn 50% more points: Use your Card 30 or more times on purchases in a billing period and get 50% more points on those purchases less returns and credits. Terms apply. See Rates & Fees

The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express

FM Mini Review: 2X rewards for all spend (up to $50K per year) with no annual fee makes this card a winner.


Annual Fee: $0

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Base

Earning rate: 2X Membership Rewards points on all purchases, up to $50K spend per calendar year (then 1X thereafter). Terms apply. (Rates & Fees)

Affinity Cash Rewards Visa® Signature Credit Card

FM Mini Review: The Affinity Cash Rewards Visa Signature card could be really interesting for its rotating categories since the fine print indicates that it stacks on top of ordinary earnings.


Annual Fee: $0

Card Type: Visa Signature

Base
1%
Dine
2%
Gas
2%
Grocery
2%
Other
5%

Earning rate: 5% back at all bookstores, including Amazon (note: this is capped at $3500 in purchases per month) ⚬ Extra 5% back in rotating categories (Q2 2021: Clothing & Accessories, Home Supplies, Drug Stores) ⚬ 2% back at restaurants, gas stations, and supermarkets

Noteworthy perks: No foreign transaction fees; cell phone protection

Amex Everyday Preferred, Blue Business Plus, Affinity Cash Rewards Visa Signature

Earning rates for this wallet

  • Up to 4.5x at US supermarkets on up to $6K spend per year (then 1x) with Everyday Preferred if you do 30 transactions or more per month
  • Up to 3x at US gas stations with Everyday Preferred if you do 30 transactions or more per month
  • 5% back at Amazon (and other bookstores) on up to $3500 per month via Affinity
  • 5% back in rotating categories (sometimes tacks with regular 2% bonus categories) with Affinity
  • 2x everywhere else on up to $50K in purchases per year, then 1x, via Blue Business Plus )

Why this strategy is strong

The American Express trifecta is really an Amex duo with a third kicker card from another issuer. That’s because there really isn’t another fee-free Amex card that makes much sense if you have the Everyday Preferred and the Blue Business Plus in your wallet. The Everyday Preferred gets you 3x at US Supermarkets and 2x at US gas stations, but if you do at least 30 transactions per month you’ll get a 50% boost in those earning rates, turning them into 4.5x / 3x (though keep in mind that the US Supermarkets bonus is only on up to $6K in eligible purchases per year, then it’s just 1x or 1.5x with the 30-transaction bonus). Most non-grocery spend would go on the Blue Business Plus for 2x transferable points. However, an Amex-only strategy would leave you with no way to cover other travel spend like paid hotels, taxis, Ubers, etc (not to mention that Amex isn’t quite as widely accepted as Visa and Mastercard). A cash back card like the Affinity Cash Rewards Visa Signature can help fill in the blanks with its bonus categories. Since the card earns 5% back on Amazon (on up to $3500 per month) and has no annual fee, it would be a great addition to this wallet. Add the fact that it offers no foreign transaction fee, rotating 5% categories, and the nearly-universal acceptance of Visa and I think it helps round out this wallet nicely.

Main weaknesses of this strategy

Amex doesn’t provide an easy way to cash out rewards, which reduces the flexibility of Membership Rewards compared to the Chase and Capital One strategies in this post (although some may be willing to make that trade for some of Amex’s unique transfer partners). Furthermore, a low-cost Amex wallet won’t be very strong if you don’t have access to business credit cards since this strategy relies heavily on the Blue Business Plus.


Capital One Miles wallet

Cards in this wallet

Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)
Capital One Spark Cash Business Credit Card

FM Mini Review: Many cards offer unlimited 2% cash back, but this is the only business card I know of that does so. This is a good option for business owners who prefer simple cash back rewards.


Annual Fee: $95

Card Type: Visa Signature

Base
2%

Earning rate: 2% everywhere

Noteworthy perks: No foreign transaction fees

Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Annual Fee: $0

Card Type: Mastercard

Base
1%
Dine
3%
Grocery
3%
Other
3%

Earning rate: 3% on dining, entertainment, select streaming services, and purchases at grocery stores ⚬ 1% everywhere else ⚬ 8% back at Vivid Seats (through January 2023)

Noteworthy perks: No foreign transaction fees

Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)
Wyndham Rewards Earner Card

FM Mini Review: Sign up for the bonus. Keep for the 10% award discount.


Annual Fee: $0

Card Type: Visa Signature or Platinum

Base
Dine
Gas
Grocery
Brand

Earning rate: ⚬ 5X Wyndham & gas ⚬ 2X restaurants & grocery ⚬ 1X everywhere else

Big spend bonus: 7,500 points each anniversary year after $15K spend

Noteworthy perks: Gold status ⚬ 10% discount on free night awards ⚬ Cardmember discount on paid stays ⚬ No foreign transaction fees

See also: Wyndham Earner credit cards review: Surprisingly strong

Spark Cash, VentureOne, Wyndham Earner, SavorOne

Earnings with this wallet

  • 3x dining (via SavorOne. Note: This is 3% cash back, but it can be converted to miles)
  • 3x entertainment (via SavorOne. Note: This is 3% cash back, but it can be converted to miles)
  • 5x gas stations (via Wyndham Earner)
  • 2% back everywhere (via Spark Cash)
  • 1.5x-2x* airline miles everywhere (*Cash Rewards earned on the Spark card could be converted to miles via the VentureOne card, which results in an effective 1.5 or 2 airline miles per dollar spent with most Capital One partners. Note that transfer ratios vary).
  • 10% off on Wyndham award redemptions

Why this strategy is strong

This strategy is unconventional (given that it leads a “miles” strategy with a “cash back” card) and it is unideal from a welcome bonus standpoint, but for the long-game, this is the combination I would want as a long-term sub-$100 wallet focused on Capital One rewards. The Spark Cash card gives you a flat unlimited 2% back everywhere, which is a decent return on unbonused spend but not worth the annual fee on its own. However, paired with the VentureOne card, you can transfer rewards from the Spark Cash to miles at a rate of 1c per mile when miles provide outsized value. Some would say to get the $95 Venture card to replace the Spark and Venture One cards, but the reasons I like the Spark+VentureOne strategy are because it provides cash back (the ultimate in flexibility) that isn’t tied to travel purchases and the Spark Cash card no longer adds to 5/24 for new applicants for those who might also be interested in Chase card bonuses.

Like with Amex above, I’m adding a card from another issuer to this strategy: the Barclays Wyndham Rewards Earner card. I’m adding this as an unconventional add-on because of the monster value for Wyndham points that is available via Vacasa vacation rentals and with the assumption that you intend to transfer at least some of your Capital One points to Wyndham for those redemptions (note that this will also save you 10% on awards!). While the business version of this card is far superior and well worth its annual fee in my opinion, I am including the fee-free Wyndham card in this wallet in keeping with our goal for designing the best wallet for less than $100. The Wyndham card offers 5x Wyndham points at gas stations and 2x grocery (and restaurants). This card also offers 7,500 bonus points with $15K anniversary year spend. While using the Wyndham card to earn 2x grocery wouldn’t ordinarily make sense since you could get 2x transferable points with the Spark Cash (or Venture) card above, if your gas spend leaves you short of hitting $15K spend during your cardmember year, it might make sense to fill the gap with some grocery spend in order to trigger 7,500 bonus points at anniversary. All that said, the Wyndham/Vacasa partnership may not last forever. If not for that partnership, I would certainly be less excited about Wyndham points.

Main weaknesses of this strategy

The inclusion of the Wyndham card relies on the Vacasa partnership, so it is questionable as to whether or not it makes sense to collect Wyndham points if you don’t have relatively near-term plans to use them. This wallet is also light on bonus category opportunities and it adds the complexity of dealing with Capital One’s multiple transfer partner ratios. I said it on the podcast last weekend — I hate having to bust out a calculator to figure out how many Capital One miles I need for an award sweet spot.


Great additions to any wallet

It is worth noting that there are a few cards with no annual fee that could make great additions to any of the wallets above. For example, the Amex Blue Business Plus could be a worthwhile addition to the wallets from any of the other issuers because it maintains 2x at overlapping transfer partners (on up to $50K in purchases per year, then 1x) and it adds some unique Amex partners while also providing money-saving opportunities through Amex Offers.

Brex Cash could also make an intriguing addition to most of the wallets above given that it earns 4x dining and 8x ride share along with 5x travel booked through Brex and has some key transfer partner overlap with each of the major transferable currencies (or the flexibility to redeem rewards for cash).

Finally, the Affinity Cash Rewards card is probably a good fit for a lot of people given 5% back at bookstores (including Amazon) and the opportunity to sometimes get 7% back or more in select categories since the quarterly 5% bonuses can stack with existing bonus categories.


Bottom line

It is possible to put together an excellent wallet with strong earning potential for less than $100 in annual fees. You can of course earn even more points and access many great benefits by expanding to additional cards (whether those be cards with ~$95 annual fees or by climbing up to the more premium cards). However, for those looking to earn outsized rewards with minimal cash outlay, any of the above wallets could pack a lot of punch without much of a hit to your bottom line.

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