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The best two cards to carry in your wallet
There are so many credit cards out there to choose from and, therefore, so many ways to get lost – so Miles and I will make things a little easier. Let’s take a look at maximizing your overall ability to earn points on your everyday spend which, in turn, will create the most opportunities for redemption.
1) Accrue flexible points
- Flexible currencies are transferrable into other reward programs.
- There are 4 major flexible currencies
- American Express Membership Rewards
- Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Citi Thank You
- Amex Starwood Starpoints
2) Which program is the best?
So this is a bit tricky. Arguably Starwood starpoints are the “most valuable” of all flexible currencies because they have they give a 25% airline bonus on transfer as well as having the most transfer partners, however; you can’t compound their points with other offers. What I mean by this, is if you were to have both the Amex Starwood personal and business cards, you have, in fact, maxed out the card sign up possibilities. They also have a rather small network of hotels ( compared to Marriot, IHG, and Hilton) onto which their points can organically be made with stays.
Citi Thank You
The youngest competitor on the block. Citi has dramatically increased the value of their program over the past 18 months. Adding partners like Air France, Singapore, Virgin Atlantic, and Garuda Indonesia make this reward program one to keep an eye on. They’ve also run some outstanding bonuses for the Citi Premier and Prestige cards. However, at this stage, the partners can’t really compete with the other Kings of the Point hood. We are looking for the best 2, and while I would put this program as a must have in an extended wallet, for the sake of this post, it doesn’t quite make the cut.
Chase Ultimate Rewards
The list of partners that Chase has put together in their Ultimate Reward program is great: Hyatt, Singapore, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Korean, Southwest, amongst others, make the infrastructure of the program extremely solid. What makes the program even richer is the rewards mall. Here you can shop online and earn a multiple on your purchase. I buy contact lenses from VisionDirect and have made anywhere from 4 to 15 points per dollar I spend. The list of program members is immense, and thus, the bonus opportunities are as well. Believe me they add up quickly.
In addition to the reward mall, there are also 4 different cards that have the ability to earn points: The Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, Freedom, and Cash. The first two are premium cards and carry a $95 annual fee while the last two are fee free cash back cards, however; when they are held at the same time as a premium card, the cash back can be converted to Ultimate Rewards. For example, if you have accrued $100 in cash back, you can convert that into 10,000 ultimate reward points ( conservatively worth $0.02/point).
Chase also increased the value of their program by making it difficult and in some cases next to impossible to get a card… if you’ve had more than 5 credit card applications in the last 2 years. That, my friend, is not many.
American Express Membership Rewards
The Godfather of points programs. American Express has spent a fortune touting their Membership Rewards program as one that represents prestige, wealth, and “making it.” The program has over 20 transfer partners ( giving access to all 3 major alliances) and an enormous line of cards that have outstanding sign up bonuses and category bonuses. Ranging from fee free cards like the Everyday Card to the Invite only Black Card, American Express has a Membership Reward card for you. They routinely have transfer bonuses, great retention offers for current card holders, and with the loss of Costco – I believe we could see a reversal in the once in a lifetime restriction on personal cards. The final reason these points are so valuable is that most corporations issue an Amex Corporate card for their employees that have the right to expense items on a business trip. Most companies allow an individual to keep the points accrued. Sweetness.
In my mind – the two best for everyday purchases are Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards
3) So which cards?
Chase Sapphire Preferred
A good building block for a Chase Ultimate Rewards portfolio is the Sapphire Preferred Card. It is the personal premium card in the UR family and gets you in the game. It earns 2 points per dollar on all dining and travel. For the rest of the year you even get 3 points per dollar on the first friday of every month when dining. There are no foreign transaction fees to boot, plus a slew of other benefits that you can read about here. But, for our intents and purposes, the biggest reason is the access to the transfer partners and positioning. With this in your wallet you are perfectly positioned to capitalize on future sign up bonuses for cards Chase issues that also earn Ultimate Rewards. Compounding deals is the best way to earn loads of points, and with this in your wallet you will be able to pair the cash back Freedom and Ink Cash cards with it to earn even more bonuses. Chase has a 24 month rule – meaning 24 months between sign up bonuses. The Sapphire card not only earns great points on every single swipe, but it strategically positions you for future success.
American Express Everyday Card
There are soooo many Membership Rewards cards to choose from. The Everyday card stands out for a few reasons.
- The first is it is having a limited time 25,000 points sign up bonus. The standard is 10000. ( Use incognito to open multiple browser windows until you get the 25k).
- The second is it’s fee free. The big deal about being fee free is that you never ever have to close this card. One of the bigger factors affecting your credit score is average length of credit. Rotating cards by frequently opening and closing lowers this aspect of your score. Keeping a card like the Everyday card will give you a card you can hold on to and increase that credit history.
- The 3rd factor is double points on all groceries. If you use the card more than 30 times in a month you will also receive a 20% bonus on all of those points you’ve accrued. A very solid deal.
- By keeping an Everyday card you keep your Membership Reward points. Your MR account will be cancelled within 30 days ( and this isn’t guaranteed) if you close all accounts that are associated with a MR account. If you have ambitions of signing up for more cards to receive more bonuses, then you need to keep a card always active. Being fee free achieves that goal, gratis
For a beginner, I believe that these two cards are great building blocks. If you never sign up for another card you will be well positioned to create redemption opportunities for whatever your future desires hold.