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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.
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.
- Chase Freedom: I use this only for spend in rotating categories which earn 5 points per dollar each quarter.
- 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:
- Use cards to access benefits, like lounges, and use spending to earn elite status faster with both airlines and hotels.
- 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.