Full Disclosure: What’s in My Wallet Right Now and How I’m Using Each Rewards Card

I receive compensation for content and many links on this blog. You don’t have to use these links, but I am grateful to you if you do. American Express, Citibank, Chase, Capital One and other banks are advertising partners of this site. Any opinions expressed in this post are my own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by my advertising partners. I do not write about all credit cards that are available -- instead focusing on miles, points, and cash back (and currencies that can be converted into the same).


Links to the Freedom, Freedom Unlimited, and Ink Cash card are not referral links and information about them is neither provided nor reviewed by their issuer.

Since I offer advice on earning frequent flyer miles, often with credit cards and sometimes other financial techniques, I think it’s only fair to take an ‘open kimono approach’ with my own strategies.

And the best way to do that is to share with you my wallet. Because that will shows you what I carry with me through my daily life, and is a great opportunity to explain my thinking about each choice I make — a choice that’s constrained by space and so reveals a lot about me.

Here’s my wallet:

My wallet just shows what I’m carrying with me right now. I have cards in two other places as well — and I’ll address those separately. Look closely and you may notice that there are cards sitting behind cards in the wallet, one slot has as many as 4 cards in it.

Allow me to explain why each card sitting in a slot has a slot in my wallet.

  • American Express® Gold Card: I use this to earn 4 points per dollar at US restaurants and at US supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year). I really do dig the limited-time (through January 9 only) option to get the card in Rose Gold metal.

    The card’s $250 annual fee is mostly covered by the $100 annual airline fee credit and the up to $10 a month in statement credits using the card at participating dining partners.

  • Platinum Card from American Express: I use this card to earn 5 points per dollar on airfare. It gets me Hilton Honors Gold status and National Car Rental Executive status (I don’t need the Marriott/Starwood Gold status as a Platinum already).

    The reason I keep it in my wallet, though, is lounge access. If I happen to fly Delta the card gets me into Delta’s lounges. It works with Plaza Premium, Escape, and Airspace lounges. I use it most, though, to get into American Express’ outstanding Centurion lounges.


    American Express Centurion Lounge Dallas.. which like Miami has a complimentary spa

  • The World Of Hyatt Credit Card: I put my Hyatt stays on the card (4 points per dollar) and my wife’s fitness classes (2x). The card gives 5 elite night credits as an ante and then 2 more for each $5000 spent so I’ve put a bunch of additional spend on the card to requalify early for Globalist status.

    The card comes with a free category 1-4 night each year, and another after $15,000 spend. Along the way this year I’ve earned a category 1-4 night when I hit 30 Hyatt elite nights, and a category 1-7 night when I requalififed for Globalist status.

  • Chase Freedom Unlimited: Like the Ink Business Unlimited(SM) Credit Card which has a much more attractive bonus of 50,000 points after $3000 in purchases within the first 3 months from account opening, it’s a no annual fee card that earns 1.5 points per dollar on all spending.

    By transferring those points to a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card the points can then be transferred to airline miles or hotel points.

    This is where my ‘unbonused’ spending goes. That’s somewhat suboptimal because by not putting my spending on a no annual fee The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express (which I keep meaning to get) I’m giving up 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on up to $50,000 in purchases. As a result I’m 25,000 points poorer than I could be each year.

  • Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card has the best current initial bonus offer of any card in my view at 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Points transfer to United, Singapore, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, JetBlue, Southwest, Iberia, Aer Lingus on the airline side and Hyatt, Marriott, and IHG on the hotel side.

    I use this card to earn 3 points per dollar on ‘other travel’ spend not covered by the cards above and on shipping purchases (I don’t really make advertising purchases on social media sites and search engines).

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®: I use this card for American Airlines lounge access. It gives me a membership, so I don’t need to carry the card when flying American. However I keep it in my wallet because that allows me to use American Airlines clubs when flying other airlines (something that will no longer be possible effective November 1, 2019).

    Since authorized users on the account come at no annual fee, and receive lounge access as well, my wife has one of these cards in her wallet too. Currently it’s offering 50,000 miles after $5000 spend within the first 3 months of cardmembership.

    Earlier in the year I put $40,000 spend on the card for 10,000 elite qualifying miles. That gave me a bit of extra freedom to fly other airlines while still ensuring I’d requalify for Executive Platinum status. The card’s annual fee is $450.

  • Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card: I upgraded my Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express which I had since 2001 to the Luxury Card. Since I’ve already spent $75,000 on the Starwood card earlier this year, converting to the new card should give me Platinum status for next year. I had the card in my wallet because I used its annual $300 Marriott spending credit about a week ago — and haven’t taken the card out yet.


    W Union Square

The cards currently in my wallet aren’t the only ones I have. Here are the ones that are in my right desk drawer.

  • CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®: I just earned the card’s 70,000 mile initial bonus after spending $4,000 within the first 4 months of account opening. This card has a $0 annual fee the first year (then $99). I don’t use it for ongoing spend so it’s not in the wallet.

  • Chase Ink Cash: this doesn’t need to be in my wallet, I use it to earn 5 points per dollar on internet and cable TV and at office supply stores.

    By transferring those points to a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card the points can then be transferred to airline miles or hotel points.

  • Chase Freedom: I use this only for spend in rotating categories which earn 5 points per dollar each quarter.

    By transferring those points to a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card the points can then be transferred to airline miles or hotel points.

  • Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express: I have had the card for some time and keep it for the annual free night (redeemable at hotels which run 35,000 points per night or less).

    The card has an initial bonus of 75,000 points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of cardmembership. $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95

  • American Airlines AAdvantage Aviator Silver Card: You can’t apply for an Aviator Silver card. You have to product change an Aviator Red card. Aviator Silver has a $195 annual fee, and this past year I put $50,000 on the card. That earned me 10,000 elite qualifying miles, 6000 qualifying dollars, and a companion ticket. However in 2019 the card will only earn 3000 qualifying dollars for $50,000 spend rather than 6000.

So what else is in my wallet?:

  • Drivers License: I really only carry this to show to the TSA, and because I’m supposed to have it with me when I’m driving a rental car. At home my wife and I share a car. I’m much more likely to drive a car in a city that’s not my own. And yet I’m renting cars less and less with recent travel mostly to major cities and the prevalence of Uber and Lyft.

  • Security card for my office building, elevator, and suite in Northern Virginia

  • Priority Pass Select Card: which I use for airport lounge access and at the airport restaurants which provide $28 dining credit.

  • BankDirect ATM card: I’ve used a BankDirect checking account since July 2003. It earns 100 American AAdvantage miles for every $1000 average balance each month (no 1099 at the end of the year).

    They’ve added a $12 per month fee that you cannot avoid with a minimum balance and they’ve capped the earning at 5000 miles per month. But in a low interest environment and since I wind up with big expense reimbursements sitting in a checking account until I pay off my credit card bill, it makes good sense for me.

    There’s a signup bonus of up to 22,000 miles and they not only don’t charge out of network ATM fees, but also offer a rebate of fees that other banks charge you for use of their cash machines.

  • For completeness my wallet also has a few business cards, a health and dental insurance card, a AAA card, and $80 cash in it.

Ultimately the strategy here is to:

  1. Use cards to access benefits, like lounges, and use spending to earn elite status faster with both airlines and hotels.

  2. Earn as many transferable points as possible. I don’t want to earn airline miles as much as points that transfer to a variety of different airline (and hotel) mileage programs. I’ve got access to seven figure balances with Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards already.

    Transferable points let me put miles in the right place at the right time for the right award. They’re also a hedge against devaluation of airline frequent flyer programs. And earning miles in a portfolio of transferable currencies is a hedge against devaluation of those currencies.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »

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. Useful overview and reasoning for some of the dizzying array of choices out there, though it would have been even more useful if you’d noted up-front the major caveats (e.g., Chase 5/24 limits many readers’ access to Chase cards). Thanks, in any event.

  2. I would say 85-90% of my points earning comes from sign up bonuses, so it doesn’t really matter what’s in my wallet. Or in another words, what’s in my wallet is what I’m earning a bonus on right now. I do put Marriott stays on the SPG card and try to maximize dining and various categories,
    but all of that does very little in comparison to the bonuses, so I don’t sweat it too much about having every best exact card for every situation.

  3. Amex EDP for 4.5 supermarkets, .5 better than Gold, and for gas 3 points, if utilising 30 times a month.

    my primary go to card is the Freedom for all no bonus spend @ 3 points for everything for one year.

  4. Not Cap1 for sure! Here is what’s in my wallet right now:

    – Citi Premier MC – need to make my minimum spend.
    – AMEX GOLD (Pink) – also need to make my minimum spend & for restaurants & supermarket
    – AMEX Hilton – Need to make promo $1000 for 10K HH points
    – AMEX EveryDay Preferred (for no reason – should put back on the shelf)
    – Chase Freedom Visa – for my Sam’s spend 4th QTR 5% back
    – MoviePass – worthless

  5. SPG’s were our go-to cards but we ditched them now that the general spend earn is crappy and gold status is useless. So between the 2 of us we have CSR for travel/dining, Ink Cash for cable/telecom/office, Delta Platinum and Hilton Aspire for status (and companion certificates), Freedom and Discover for quarterly bonus categories, Barclay Arrival for chip & pin, Costco Citi for Costco and when we need the warranty, IHG for free nights. And for general spend: 2 Blue Business Plus, Freedom Unlimited, Alliant 2.5% Cash Back. And just added a Capital One Venture.

    A few of these we don’t care about but keep for the length of credit history since they are no AF.

  6. Thank you for lining your cards out like that. I’ve been in the cards game for about a year and sometimes it can really get my head spinning (not in the good way!). My goal is to earn as many points as possible to reduce the cost of sending my daughter around the world to compete in her sport. I am so grateful to you all for mentoring me!

  7. Pretty similar to my wallet.
    5 pt – AX Plat for airfare
    4 pt – AX Gold (Restaurant & groceries)
    3 pt – Chase Sapphire (all other travel)
    2 pt – AX Blue Biz ($50k unbonused)
    1 lousy point (but a bunch of Delta MQMs) – DL AX Reserve, just so I can maintain DL Diamond status.

    Getting rid of Citi AA next year cuz of the new stupid lounge rule.

  8. If i was to buy a cellphone,do i get better free repair or replacement insurance coverage with wells fargo or chase biz ink?

  9. Hi Gary. Thank you for the lesson on maximizing miles and points from credit cards, it’s a lot to keep track of.

    However, the picture of YOUR wallet is a little concerning, particularly if you carry it in a back trousers pocket. A wallet that’s carried in a man’s trousers back pocket should be relatively thin. There are cases of neuropraxia (temporary nerve problems) and also long lasting sciatica due entirely to sitting on a fat wallet for long time periods. If YOUR wallet is carried in a back trousers pocket, please consider:

    – Carrying cash separately in a front pocket and keeping just 1 twenty and 1 C-note in your wallet for back-up.
    – Carrying the lounge access cards in a separate wallet or pouch in your briefcase or computer case/carry-on or whatever else you take on EVERY flight.
    – Photocopy of a AAA card is much thinner than the actual plastic card, I’ve carried a photocopy for almost 40 years, have used it many times at AAA offices to get maps or no-fee gift cars and a few times for service, never once been refused or questioned about having only a photocopy. Same for a plastic health insurance card, AARP card, etc.
    – Carrying your office building, elevator, and suite security card in the briefcase you take to work EVERY time, maybe keep a duplicate back-up in the glove compartment.
    – Removing your wallet from the back trousers pocket and placing it in a front pocket or a secure shirt or jacket pocket when sitting for long times, like a movie or AIRPLANE FLIGHT, especially on one of the new thin-line seats! I sometimes place my wallet inside my sock just above my ankle in those situations (or when I think I’m in a pickpocket risk area).

    Most people could easily thin their wallets with just a little effort and planning. A credit card that is only used on-line should not be in one’s wallet. A credit card that is only used for gas and groceries could be one’s car’s glove compartment. Hotel credit cards can be in the travel wallet or pouch. A card that’s only used at 1 or 2 specific locations (e.g. office supplies) can stay at home or in the glove compartment and be taken when needed.

    I’ve spent 80% of my card credit card carrying life (since medical school, about 40 years) with 1 Visa or MC credit card actually IN my wallet, 20% with 2 cards; 1 AmEx (when working on a minimum spend or Blue Business for 2x on everything) and a Visa or MC for the places that do not accept AmEx. Gas and grocery credit cards are in the glove compartment. When I go for office supplies, I bring the appropriate card from home. 2 ATM cards; one in the glove compartment, one in the travel pouch with the lounge access cards. It’s rare that I must use the “wrong” card and almost never that I must use the wrong card for significant spending; it’s not like I book a $1500 airline ticket on the spur of the moment when I’m away from home.

    I sometimes leave a few miles and points on the table, that disappointment is completely eradicated by never having had significant back or leg pain, which are among the most common chronic medical complaints, and I’ve seen in many patients and friends and family, some of whom suffer from fat wallet syndrome (Piriformis syndrome, wallet sciatica). And once those symptoms start, it may be too late to thin the wallet; the damage may have already been done.

    JL100 makes an excellent point “I would say 85-90% of my points earning comes from sign up bonuses, so it doesn’t really matter what’s in my wallet.” My personal estimate, even with 2x-5x category bonuses, is about 75% of my credit card earning is from sign-up bonuses, probably 90% during the past 10 years. (Sign-up bonuses have not always been so lucrative, I remember churning NCNB Piedmont and MBNA US Airways cards in the late 80’s for 2,500 (yes, two thousand five hundred) point bonuses.) So when I do miss a few points due to the wrong card, it’s not much overall and I don’t worry about it.

    Thanks again for all your insight to this somewhat eccentric hobby many of us choose!

  10. Two: Costco Citi Visa for spending at Costco (2%) and for buying gas (4%); United Mileage Plus Club Visa for everything else. Club access is very helpful for irregular operations and the generous baggage allowance is helpful (I generally don’t do carryon except for a small bag that goes under the seat and has what I want during the flight). Where I live United is dominant.

  11. @HPL: Not my wallet, but I’d suggest the All-ett for carrying around 20 cards comfortably in your front pocket. No thinning required or special tricks, and 20 spaces for cards is generally enough, even with some unusual card strategies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *