What Are The Most Rewarding Cards to Actually Use For Your Spending

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There are (3) kinds of value you can get from a credit card, beyond just making it easy to buy stuff.

  1. Signup bonus. A card may have an attractive acquisition bonus. And you should get the card. But that doesn’t mean you should put any spending on it once you’ve earned the bonus. It’s like the old saying that the best marketing in the world is the enemy of a bad product.

  2. Benefits for having the card There are cards you should get because they give you better treatment from an airline or hotel, lounge access, annual free hotel nights, or other perks — perks that are worth far more than the card’s annual fee — but again, that doesn’t mean you should put any spending on the card. Get the card, stick it in a drawer, unless you have to show it to access your perks.

  3. Rewards for your ongoing spend There are cards that are rewarding for your ongoing spending. They earn valuable points (like Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards), and earn them quickly (more than one point per dollar). That’s where you want ongoing spend to go.

I often list the best signup bonuses, or lists of which card is best for which category of spending. But what are the best cards for ongoing spend, spend that isn’t needed to earn a signup bonus?

Hint: it isn’t an airline miles card, for two reasons. First you’re locked into earning miles with one airline rather than having points that transfer to a variety of airlines. But second and more importantly because they simply don’t earn the most points.

  • If you want Delta miles, the Delta credit card isn’t the one that earns the most SkyMiles. American Express Membership Rewards cards transfer to Delta miles as well as other programs and earn points faster because of category bonuses.

  • If you want United miles, the United credit card isn’t the one that earns the most MileagePlus miles. Chase Ultimate Rewards cards transfer to United miles as well as other programs and earn points faster because of category bonuses. So whether it’s Chase Sapphire Preferred you earn more United miles than with the United’s co-brand card.

  • If you want American miles, the American credit cards aren’t the ones that earn the most AAdvantage miles. The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express historically dids because when you transfer 20,000 points to miles you earn 5000 bonus miles (leaving aside the regularly-occurring transfer bonus American seems to offer), meaning a minimum earn of 1.25 miles per dollar.

You may want to have an airline card for free checked bags and priority boarding. You may want to spend on the card to avoid minimum ticket purchase requirements for airline elite status. But you don’t want to spend on most airline cards for the miles that spending earns you. They simply aren’t generous enough.

  • The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express is the very best card for unbonused spend. It earns 2 points per dollar on the first $50,000 in purchases each year. These are Membership Rewards points that transfer to airline miles, and the card has no fee.

  • The personal card combination which earns the most of the most valuable points for unbonused spend is having a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and putting your spend on Chase Freedom Unlimited, which has no annual fee and earns 1.5 points per dollar on everything. Transfer the freedom points to your Sapphire Preferred and on to miles, you earn 1.5 miles in your choice of programs on all spending. You should never earn just 1 mile per dollar.

    Sapphire Preferred is the lower-annual fee option to pair here, but if you have Chase Sapphire Reserve all the points from Freedom when transferred can be used at 1.5 cents apiece towards paid travel (rather than ‘just’ 1.25 cents) through the Ultimate Rewards portal.

  • The Citi Double Cash Card shows you why. Any time you are earning 1 mile per dollar you are giving up a 2% rebate, which means you are buying miles at 2 cents apiece — and how often would you pay 2 cents for an airline mile?

It’s important to have a good cash back card or ideally a card that earns more than one transferable points on you unbonused spend. And then to focus on the cards that earn the most points for the things you spend the most money on.

Perfect here is the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card which has in my view the best current signup bonus but for the purposes of this post I focus on earning 3 points per dollar (on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases each account anniversary year) on travel, shipping purchases, Internet, cable and phone services, advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines.

That’s much stronger triple points that Chase Sapphire Reserve which is triple points just on travel and dining. Instead of dining you get myriad other purchases instead.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.

Comments

  1. Now that delta has raised the MQD waiver spend for Diamond status to $250K, I see no reason any Diamond would ever put spend on a delta Amex assuming the don’t need the MQMs. The opportunity cost of putting $250K on a delta card, even if it was feasible, seems to be huge like enormous. Mileage running for the MQMs seems like a better choice. And I’m not sure why anyone would actually want delta miles because it seems to be the currency most susceptible to devaluation.

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