Since I Met Minimum Spends I Carry Three Cards

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See the current top credit card offers for free travel here.

Don’t try to optimize your credit card strategy for every last mile. I only carry three cards right now.

About two weeks ago, I made a large deposit in my Kiva account to meet the minimum spending requirement on my Citi Executive American Airlines card.

That spending unlocked 100,000 bonus miles (offer now dead), so for three months I had been putting all my spending on the Executive card.

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Now that I am not clearing any sign up bonuses, though, I have taken the Executive card out of my wallet. Its 1 American Airlines mile per dollar on day-to-day spending doesn’t entice me when I have several cards that earn a higher return. I’ll put the card back in my wallet whenever I travel for the free American Airlines lounge access that came with the card’s $450 annual fee.

In the Executive Card’s place, I have put three cards in my wallet that come close to optimizing all my spending while keeping things very simple for me. This is the balance I advocate instead of “optimizing” your credit card strategy to earn every last mile at the expense of cluttering your wallet and brain.

  • What three cards are in my wallet?
  • What is the benefit of each card?
  • How many more miles could I earn by adding more cards to my wallet?

Right now, I am carrying a Citi ThankYou® Premier Card, a Chase Freedom, and a Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard®.

Why ThankYou Premier?

I’m carrying the ThankYou® Premier because it earns 2 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent on purchases for dining at restaurants and entertainment and 3x on gas and travel.

Between restaurants and bars, this is easily 60 swipes at 3x for me each month.

The card comes with 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months.

ThankYou Points are transferable to12 airlines plus Hilton. Now I feel like I can’t earn enough ThankYou Points because transfer partners Singapore miles and Flying Blue miles both have amazing sweet spots that I want to take advantage of.

Why Chase Freedom?

I carry the Chase Freedom for its 5x quarterly-rotating category bonus. For the next four days, I can get 5x Ultimate Rewards at the pump, and for the fourth quarter of 2014, I can get 5x at Amazon, Zappos, Sears, and More on my first $1,500 of spending.

I have an Ink Plus also, so I transfer my Freedom’s Ultimate Rewards there and from my Ink Plus account to airline and hotel programs like United and Hyatt as explained here.

Why Arrival Plus?

The Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® earns 2 miles per dollar on all purchases. I pull it out every time I have a purchase that doesn’t fit into a bonus category of the ThankYou Premier or Freedom.

I can redeem those Arrival miles for 1 cent toward any flight with no blackouts, so they are ideal for domestic flights, economy flights, and flights on airlines without frequent flyer programs.

I can also redeem Arrival miles to avoid paying the taxes and fees on award tickets; for airbnb stays; or for any hotel, car rental, or cruise.

I originally got the Arrival Plus for the 40,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months, but it has evolved into my everyday card.

Why I’m Foregoing Miles

I could earn more miles if I carried around all my cards with category bonuses.

I could earn 2x miles next month on gas if I carried my Ink Plus or FlexPerks card. (I do carry my Ink Plus for 5x if I make a trip to an office supply store.)

I could earn 2x on groceries if I carried my FlexPerks card.

But I barely spend any money in those categories, like under $50 per month. That means the extra value I’d get from using those cards versus simply using my Arrival Plus for those purchases is less than $1 per month in each category.

It’s not worth it to me to clutter my wallet and brain for $1 per month. Maybe it is to you., in which case, carry more of your cards. It isn’t to me, so I limit myself to just a few cards.

How many cards do you carry, ie how much do you optimize your category bonuses?


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38 COMMENTS

    • I can only carry cards I have. That card is unbeatable if you manufacture a ton of spending. I don’t manufacture any, other than via Kiva.

      • Even if you dont manufacture spend, with the card you get 4% net on all you spending. Otherwise youre “buying” points at the 4 cent opportunity cost. Seems like a no brainer. Of course yes, you need to have the card.

  1. Since I enjoy the challenge I take the opposite approach. I carry a good ten cards around based on what had the highest bonus. I use the Barclay as a backstop for anything that earns less than 3x on a purchase in a transfer program. It’s the difference between 60000 points a year and almost 150000 on regular spend.

  2. I like your approach.

    However, for me…I’m trying to amass United miles for a two person trip to SYD. I had an unrelated question. Last summer, both my husband flew AA roundtrip to HNL in F. I booked a ticket from my account and he booked a ticket from his account for the same flights. At the last minute, his return flight was changed(!) and we were on different flights on the way home. Was that an anomaly? This next trip, I was going to transfer all the Chase UR points from his account to my United account so we can both be on the same PNR. Do you think this is a good idea. Is it necessary. Will it look bad to Chase transferring so many points from my husband’s UR account to my United account. Thanks, love your blog….but I still consider myself a newbie.

    • You are explicitly allowed to transfer his UR to your United, so don’t worry about that and definitely do it to avoid being on different record locators.

      By the way, you can avoid the problem you had last time by booking both outbounds from account A and both returns from account B. (Sometimes this doesn’t work well, like with United miles because you’d give up a chance at a free stopover, but with AA awards, this is a better plan than person 1’s r/t from account A and person 2’s from account B.)

      • Thanks for the many answers! Re: booking AA outbound from one account and return from the other account…I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.

  3. Right now I have a Priceline Rewards Visa (2% cash on everything, apparently no longer available), Hilton Amex (5x hhonors at supermarkets), Ink Plus (1x UR on everything, 5x on office supplies, 2x on gas). Discover depending on the quarterly bonus (was gas in Q3, and is Amazon in Q4, so my final Amazon Payments xfer will go there).

  4. Oh, and the Barclay travel card arriving next week, so really I’ll be putting most stuff on there until I hit the signup bonus, and then my extra travel stuff there.

    • Yes, meeting minimum spending requirements is almost always better than category bonuses. If not, it’s not much of a sign up bonus.

      • Sometimes I can hit a signup bonus entirely within a bonus category.. I just got the Hilton amex, with a $750 spend requirement, and I can easily hit that just on groceries.. So no complaints :). Then I *believe* I can upgrade to a surpass at some point, and do it again. Need to research that a bit.

  5. My three cards are Freedom for bonus categories and a lot of my online expenses (especially if i go through a UR portal). Ink for office and other gift card expenses, such as amazon, and Starwood for everything else. I find those are very valuable. Sorry, a fourth one, Sapphire for dining and transportation (parking, train tickets, taxis, etc). Once Freedom drops the 10% yearly bonus I might switch to another card for everyday spend. Maybe the Arrival plus, but having a family of 4, I’d rather collect points than cash back.

  6. My three cards are Freedom for category spend, Sapphire for dining and travel, and Citi AAdvantage for everything else.

  7. Scott, can you still find 4 month repayments on Kiva? Do you need to just keep looking? I don’t see much of anything below 8 months.

    • Scott, out of curiosity do you consider the extended bonuses that cards offer? For e.g. The American Executive card offers a 10k bonus on the next 30k in spending which would mean 1.33 cents per dollar. Not a huge difference but curious if you factor that in.

  8. I carry a 2% cashback card from Capital One. I don’t know if this card is available any longer. To get the 2%, you simply apply it to any travel paid for in the previous three months. One can build points as long as one wants, though I usually spend them whenever I’ve accumulated $50 or so. On an upcoming trip, I’ll also carry a primary auto insurance card (in this case, United Explorer) and a chip card (Citi Exec with AA lounge access) since I’ll be going overseas. I churn a lot of cards for the mileage and have a stack on my desk, but when I’m not accumulating miles for an individual card sign up bonus, the Capital One card is always my go-to card.

  9. Assuming I’m not trying to meet minimum spend:

    Chase Ink – Office Supply Stores, gas
    Freedom – Bonus Categories
    Starwood/Club Carlson/Hilton – for their respective hotel purchases
    Sapphire – Restaurants and transportation (parking)
    Amex Everyday – Groceries
    Starwood – Any non-bonus spending
    Arrival+ – Any non-bonus spending that doesn’t take AMEX

    I don’t carry the hotel cards with me other than Starwood, so I have 6 in my wallet.

  10. I carry 4 cards, primarily because that’s how many fit in my wallet:
    1. Citi AA (for 2x miles on first $1000 each month, retention offer and need for AA miles)
    2. Chase Freedom for 5x on Fuel or other rotating categories, though I’ll switch this one out next month when it becomes useless for me to carry
    3. Chase Sapphire Preferred for 2x at restaurants
    4. Citi DoubleCash because sometimes cash is king and I don’t spend enough to justify the Barclay’s fee.

  11. I’m an INKer Bold person when the min is done I always go back . I think I’ll redo my May trip to EU I think it’s a $50 on Delta for a change ..I’ll do 6 nites in London on my Radisson(keeper) cards then back to my Cave In Nice .If you get known with a NICE 3 star Hotel there they with give the Best Room they have and I’ve gotten it 3x ..Great View for nothing extra something to be said for paying with money at a NICE Hotel .
    Breath taking View
    Cj ( Cheap jeff)

    Locals are great they saved my backside a Few times .

  12. Great post and comments! Thanks for bringing this up – I’m always going over this in my head, especially with my wife who is willing to play the game (yay!) but doesn’t have a lot of interest in remembering which of 8 cards to use.

  13. Barclay arrival+ for everyday (last year was Chase Sapphire);
    Citi TY for dining & ent; ;
    AX Simply Cash for 3x gas & 5x cell phone pmts – should I be using Ink Bold instead? Made both bonuses already
    Scott – is there anyway I can get an free one way on American or United since I live on Oahu? I need to make 2 trips to west coast before January and am trying to figure out how to maximize points. Mahalo!
    My Amazon Payments says they are closing it on Oct 13! Boo

    • Maximize points by using British Airways Avios to fly to any airport with a direct AA, US, or Alaska flight from HNL.

  14. Being an incurable simplifier, I’ve brought my own wallet down to 2 cards: Citi ThankYou Premier and Amex EveryDay Preferred. Six bonus categories between them: Dining, Entertainment, Airfare, Hotels, Gas, and Groceries. All the biggies. And even a half-point bonus on non-bonus spending!

    I love Chase, but all of the 5 point categories can be easily utilized online (why carry Freedom this quarter when changing the default payment in amazon.com is sufficient?). Portal use is also an online phenomenon.

    The number of points this leaves on the table is pretty trivial compared to the saving of my brain. I might need to add an airline, hotel, and/or lounge card to my wallet when actually traveling out of town, but most of the time my wife and I only have to remember that “this is the dining and entertainment card” and “that is the everything else card.”

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