In the last installment of the Redhead Roamer Level 100 Credit Card Rewards Series, I’m going to provide some advice that has worked for us on how to maximize the value we receive from the spending we’re already doing every day. For an introduction to the types of credit cards out there, check out 101, and for an overview of the earning and redemption rules among popular programs, check out 102.
Pick the Right Card(s) for You….
Hopefully 102 helped you get a good sense of the types of benefits that accompany the different credit card options and you have an inclination which one or ones are the best fit for your spending patterns and what you want to do with your rewards. So, quiz time! If you had a credit card profile, what would it be?
“Free Roamers”: Like to travel a lot, especially internationally (where you get the most bang for your mileage buck)? For us, the flexible/general use credit cards like the Chase Sapphire and the Starwood Amex make the most sense given how much traveling we do and how we prefer to choose between multiple airline and hotel options when we redeem our rewards.
“Status Kings and Queens”: Love to travel with the same airline and stay at the same hotel chain? Appreciate free checked bags, wifi, and breakfast? Consider getting a credit card sponsored by your preferred airline and hotel then! Free Roamers can get in on this action too as these airline and hotel-sponsored cards are great to get very lucrative sign-up bonuses (but we go back to using the flexible card primarily after hitting the spending threshold and banking those points!)
“Retail Loyalists”: Does a huge chunk of your spending go to a certain retailer? Are you a Prime Membership nut and buy diapers in bulk from Amazon? Love the freebies and birthday rewards from Victoria’s Secret? Consider getting a credit card with your favorite retailer! Note: however, check out the rewards benefits of each program…. If they are only giving you 1x points on your dollars, often another credit card like a general use or cash back option is still the better choice for your purchases.
“Cash Back Capitalists”: Not interested in traveling internationally much? Don’t want to worry about remembering bonus categories or hate the hassle of having several credit cards? Want to get a nice chunk of change at the end of the year that you think of as “play money”? A cash back credit card that gives you a percentage back on your spending might be for you!
…. and Use it at the Right Time
Once you know which card makes sense for you, make sure you understand that card’s rewards inside out to make sure you are maximizing the value of your choice. As I talked about in 102, most cards give you benefits on specific categories. For instance, we always put our dining and travel spending on our Chase Sapphire, and we sometimes even try to make reservations at restaurants we’ve been wanting to try on the first Friday of the month to get the special 3x kicker. Also, I keep an eye on the rotating reward categories of our Chase Freedom card (e.g. grocery stores, gas stations, department stores) and adjust which card I pull out accordingly. Finally, if we’re staying at a specific hotel and not using our points for it, we’ll be sure to pay for our stay with that hotel’s credit card, since these usually give high points back on dollars spent.
Additionally, many cards offer benefits like car rental insurance, travel insurance, and concierge benefits (we got great seats at the Zac Brown Band concert at Wrigley Field thanks to our Amex card). Take two minutes to read the benefits page of your credit card and you’ll usually discover a perk you had no idea was there!
Seek Out Free Points Opportunities
Yes, I said free points. These usually manifest in two ways:
Online Portals: There are several online portals that you can go through to do your everyday shopping that will give you an even higher point kickback for your purchases. American Airlines AAdvantage eShopping and EV Reward are the two we use regularly. What is a points portal? Essentially, it’s just an online directory linked to your (usually airline) rewards account that is intended to help encourage you to spend at a certain retailer since you’ll get bonus points with your rewards program. By accessing the website via the portal, you’ll often earn (on the most frequent side) between 2-5 times points and (on the higher, rarer side) as much as 30+ times points on your purchases. And you can use any credit card you want to pay for the purchase.
But, you, my friends, can beat the system. The real value here comes from not using portals to make you spend more, but instead getting more value from the spending you’re already doing. Points portals can be used to varying degrees. For the casual users, simply go to the portal for online purchases you are already thinking about. Next time you’re ordering a Groupon, buying flowers for someone, or adding to your collection of Kate Spade earrings, just mosey on over to the portal; you’ll lose about 5 seconds of your day, but gain multiples of the points you would have gotten compared to going directly to the retailer’s website. For the hardcore portal devotees, see how much of your spending you can get to flow through portals. Peruse brick and mortar stores for your favorite styles and sizing, but then put those things down, head back out that door, and go buy them online through the portal! (This assumes there aren’t any meaningful shipping costs, of course). Portals also offer limited-time bonus rewards, so my husband actually chose my Valentine’s Day flowers for the 30x bonus that FTD was promoting at the time.
“Points for Time” Opportunities: Occasionally, airlines and hotels do marketing promotions where you can earn a block of points by signing up for their campaigns, watching a video, or taking part in a survey. These are harder to find, but I’ll do my best to keep readers of Redhead Roamer in the loop whenever they cross my radar. As a matter of fact, here’s one for you right now. Going forward, make sure to follow me on Twitter for future bonus opportunities.
A Note on Our Favorite Credit Card
I want to close this series with a special note on a credit card that I’ve mentioned a lot so far: the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. This is our favorite card for a number of reasons: 1.) you get 2x points on dining and travel—dominate categories of our household spending (plus the 3x benefit on first Fridays), 2.) the points are bankable (you can save them up and decide when to use them), and 3.) the points are flexible (you can transfer them to a myriad of airline and hotel options—though I would note that only one or two hotel options actually makes sense from a conversion perspective… but that’s a story for another day! When in doubt, transfer to airlines.).
I can’t tell you how powerful this flexibility has been for us even at this early stage of our trip. We’re able to choose from a wide range of airline options that best match our changing travel needs because, let’s face it, sometimes the favorite airline just doesn’t have rewards seats available at a reasonable miles level (or without a zillion layovers). And the transfer happens almost instantaneously. Before leaving for our RTW trip, we spent the month of May visiting family. We primarily used Southwest for the domestic legs, and I was short a few Rapid Rewards miles to book my flights. Chris dipped into his Chase Ultimate Rewards account and sent me some miles, which arrived within minutes. It was awesome.
Signing up for a Chase Sapphire gets you 40,000 welcome points if you spend $4,000 in three months. You get another 5,000 boost for adding an authorized user too, if you want. There is a $95 annual fee, but it’s waived the first year (and we think the card is definitely worth it even with the fee). There are a host of other awesome perks too that we’ve found are quite unique to this card. Are you interested? We promise we don’t get any commission from Chase from our praises of their card… we just love it that much. However, we would love to send you our personal invitation link if you think this card makes sense for you. Inviting someone gives you a 5,000-mile bonus, which we’ll put to good use to help facilitate our international roamings. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like me to send you the invite link. Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this miles and points 100 level series!
The next post will hopefully inspire you to make the most of the your credit card rewards… because, trust me, sometimes the rewards can be absolutely amazing.