Despite what many say, credit cards are not evil. Sure, if you’re in debt, that’s not good and you should make a plan to get out of debt if you can. More than 40% of Americans don’t pay their credit cards off each month resulting in them paying an average interest rate of over 16%. If you have credit card debt or bad credit this article is not for you. If not, keep reading!
For years people have been asking me for help and advice on how to get the most out of their credit cards and I’m excited to finally have this free guide to share with them.
Let’s get to the good stuff — my credit card rewards strategy.
I discovered the value of cash back and points/miles based credit cards in 2016 and it changed my life forever. Once I realized that I could be traveling for free, earning way more cash back, and building my credit score all at the same time, I started learning everything I could. I stopped using debit cards and cash forever and started using my credit cards with purpose. Since 2016, I’ve earned more than $50,000 in value from credit cards alone.
Now that you understand the two main things to consider (monthly spending & signup bonuses) let me walk you through every credit card I used to earn more than $10,000 last year.
1. Discover IT — The very first credit card I ever got was this card I opened in college. I’ve kept it open over the years to build my credit and it’s an excellent card for those trying to build credit. The card earns 1.5% cash back on all purchases, but it also offers 5% back on rotating quarterly bonus categories.
Right now the bonus categories are Gas Stations, Uber, Lyft, and Wholesale Clubs so if you spend $1500 on each bonus category annually you net over $300 alone.
My Discover IT 2019 Earnings: $500 in cash back. You can apply and learn more here.
2. Amex Blue Cash Preferred — This is the card I recommend to everyone who spends a lot on groceries or streaming services. The card has an annual fee of $95, but depending on how much you spend it can easily be worth it. This card offers the highest rewards for groceries at 6% cash back on up to $6000 per year. I also use this card to pay for streaming services like Netflix as it earns 6% back.
American Express also offers great earnings opportunities through Amex Offers and I was able to earn a few of those last year. Always check your Amex Offers as you likely might already be shopping at one of their partners and all you have to do is activate the offer and you can earn some bonus points or big savings.
Here’s a secret, I actually spend less than $3000 on groceries annually. Instead, I use the Amex Blue Cash Preferred at grocery stores to buy gift cards for airlines, Airbnb, or online stores I shop at. Just by maxing out the grocery rewards annually, you earn $360 in cash back. Amex is also offering a signup bonus of $250 if you spend $1000 on the card in your first 3 months.
My Amex Blue Cash Preferred 2019 Earnings: $700 in cash back. You can apply and learn more here.
3. Chase Freedom or Freedom Unlimited — Chase offers two cash back cards that are a staple in my rewards strategy. Like the Discover IT card, The Chase Freedom offers 5% cash back on quarterly bonus categories, but it only offers 1% back on normal purchases. The Chase Freedom Unlimited, however, offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases but does not offer any bonus categories.
If you pair one of these cards with a Chase Sapphire card you can transfer cash back from the Freedom cards to Chase Ultimate Rewards at a rate of 1 cent to 1 point and redeem for travel earning you more value. Chase Ultimate Rewards also offers an online shopping portal that offers extra rewards just for shopping online. Right now, you can earn 5 points per $1 at Nike so this is another method I use to maximize my earnings with Chase credit cards.
Chase is currently offering a $200 signup bonus for both cards if you spend $500 in the first three months.
My Chase Freedom 2019 Earnings: $1000 in cash back. You can apply and learn more here.
4. Citi Double Cash — After I’ve maxed out all bonus categories for the Amex Blue Cash, Discover IT, and Chase Freedom cards, I put some of my spending on the Citi Double Cash card. This card offers 2% back on all purchases so it’s a very attractive card for someone who just wants’s to earn more cash back without having to think about it.
If you have one of Citi’s ThankYou travel cards you can also covert your Citi Double Cash cash back to Citi ThankYou Points and redeem for travel to earn more value. I’d hold off on applying right now as there is currently no signup bonus offered on this card and there are better offers mentioned above.
My Citi Double Cash 2019 Earnings: $250 in cash back. You can apply and learn more here.
Up until now, my list has been focused heavily on cash back which helped me earn nearly $2,500 in 2019. Where does the rest of my earnings come from? Enter travel rewards.
Travel rewards in the form of credit card points and miles are where I find the most value in my rewards strategy. Instead of paying for travel, I utilize points and miles to get free flights, hotels, and more. By utilizing some of the cards I mention below you can do the same and save a ton of money.
My strategy will likely change this year due to the Coronavirus since most of my travel plans have been canceled, so right now I’m building up my points and miles balances. Now is a perfect time to figure out your credit card rewards strategy so you have points available to use for travel post quarantine.
5. Chase Sapphire Reserve— For a long time, Amex was the leader in travel rewards cards, that was until Chase introduced the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The day it was announced I applied and earned the signup bonus of 100,000 points equal to nearly $2000 in travel. Even if you only travel a few times a year, this is a must-have card.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve provides a suite of perks and benefits that I value highly. The card earns Chase Ultimate Rewards® points which can be redeemed for travel through Chase or one of their many travel partners.
Here are the benefits you need to know about:
The card does carry an annual fee of $550, but after subtracting the $300 annual travel credit, it lowers that to only $250. Not factoring in any of the other valuable perks, you would only need to spend $4,200 annually on travel or dining to recoup the annual fee through points. There are so many benefits to this card that I can’t list them all here but this is the most important card in my rewards strategy and I can’t live without it.
The best part is that Chase is offering a signup bonus of 50,000 points which can go a long way depending on how you redeem your points.
My Chase Sapphire Reserve 2019 Earnings: $3000 in travel benefits/points. You can apply and learn more here.
6. American Express Platinum — As mentioned above, Amex is the other major leader in travel rewards credit cards. They have co-branded card deals with Delta, Marriott, and Hilton in addition to the stellar lineup of Amex credit cards but the one I value the highest is the Amex Platinum. I have both the business and personal versions of the card, both offering fantastic benefits and reward earning opportunities.
Here are the benefits you need to know about for the personal card:
Once I’ve maximized the benefits of both Amex Platinum cards I’m significantly reducing the costs of having both of these cards. I also was successful in obtaining a $500 loyalty credit due to Coronavirus and lack of travel on the personal card which was up for renewal this month.
The annual fee for the Amex Platinum personal card is $550 and the business version is $595. I quickly earn back the rest of the annual fee through travel redemptions and normal spending on the cards. Like the Amex Blue Cash Preferred, these cards also have their own set of Amex Offers which tend to be valuable to me.
I value the benefits of these cards highly as I like to travel, attend live events, and their customer service is the best in the business. It’s not as easy to justify the annual fee here, but there are still a lot of ways to find value with the American Express Platinum cards. Amex is currently offering signup bonuses of 60,000 points on the personal card or up to 85,000 points on the business card making this an excellent time to consider applying for these cards.
7. Citi Prestige — In addition to Chase and American Express, Citi Bank offers a few solid options for travel rewards cards. The Citi Prestige is one of those cards that I value highly and continue to keep every year. The Citi Prestige card earns Citi ThankYou Points which are similar to the Amex and Chase rewards programs and they can be used to redeem for travel through Citi or their travel partners. The points aren’t as valuable though due to Citi offering a more limited travel partner program but there is still value to be had.
Here are the benefits you need to know about:
This card is not as enticing as the Chase Sapphire Reserve to me, but you should still consider it. The annual fee for the Citi Prestige is $495, but after subtracting the annual travel credit, it’s only $245. Couple that with high earnings for travel spending and the 4th-night free hotel benefit it’s easy to earn back the annual fee expense and see the long-term value of the Citi Prestige.
Citi is currently offering a signup bonus of 50,000 points for new cardmembers which can go a long way depending on how you redeem your points.
My Citi Prestige 2019 Earnings: $1500 in travel benefits/points. You can apply and learn more here.
You need to be responsible when it comes to applying for new credit cards just like any other financial decision. You should monitor your credit score weekly with a service like Credit Karma and know that applying for new cards will impact your credit score. You also need to have great credit in order to apply for many of the cards mentioned above.
Don’t apply for so many all at once as you’ll likely have trouble spending enough to meet the minimum spend to earn the signup bonuses.
Chase also has the 5/24 rule meaning you can only open 5 new cards every 24 months and this applies to all banks not just Chase.
Read the terms and conditions of any signup bonus offer closely to ensure you will be eligible and able to meet the spending requirements to earn the bonus. Not doing so could prove very costly and set you back on your rewards strategy.
Last but not least don’t get any credit cards if you ever carry a balance or are in credit card debt. Any earnings you would receive would be negated by high-interest rates.
Now is the perfect time to learn about credit cards and build your very own rewards strategy. You are likely stuck at home due to the Coronavirus and have extra time on your hands. Use this time to learn how you can earn more cash back and travel for free with just a few simple changes.
The cards I listed above are only a sample of my current credit cards, but I included them here because they tend to be the most valuable cards I use every year and are the ones I continue to recommend year after year. They all proved to be especially valuable last year as I traveled to over 15 new countries and lived outside the United States. In total, my credit card rewards strategy earned me over $10,000 in 2019 between cash back, points/miles, and other card benefits.
I know it can be hard to know where to start or what to do first so I am here to help you. As a financial coach, one of the services I offer is personalized credit card rewards strategies. I will meet with you to analyze your current spending patterns, assess your current credit card strategy, and ultimately provide you with personalized card recommendations to maximize your earnings and how to use each card. You’ll leave feeling confident knowing exactly how to get the most value out of your credit cards and I’ll even help you book your first trip using points and miles.
If you’re interested please schedule a free consult on my website and we can see if we are a good fit for each other. You can also email me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post contains references to affiliates that I may receive compensation from when you apply or sign up for their products or services.