If you’ve read ThePointSoldier Beginner’s Guide, you should be familiar with some of the benefits of the SCRA. While those benefits are definitely a major factor when developing a credit card strategy, it shouldn’t be the only one. I’d like to share my personal credit card strategy and explain my list of priorities. You can use it as a reference or starting point and then really make it your own. Factors such as location, marital status, and lifestyle will surely influence your personal strategy.
I started acquiring credit card points when I applied for the Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express (SPG). This card is perhaps the single greatest rewards card ever made. If I were limited to one card only, this would definitely be it. It earns Starpoints and is technically a hotel rewards card, but with over 30 airline transfer partners, it has more partners than any other rewards program currently available. As SPG was recently acquired by Marriott, you can now transfer Starpoints to Marriott and Ritz-Carlton as well, and vice-versa. But I didn’t fully appreciate the card when I first received it and it would be another couple of years before I would even develop a points and miles hobby. Once I did, however, I realized that I would have to build a plan from the ground up, taking all of my military benefits into account. I decided to build a portfolio that would consist primarily of Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards. I considered having Starpoints as an additional bonus.
American Express Membership Rewards (MR)
Membership Rewards were a no-brainer to me because of the SCRA benefits. The American Express Platinum card was the first on my list, simply because of the amazing benefits that come with the card. Access to Delta Sky Club, Centurion lounges, Airspace lounges, Priority Pass lounges, and Global Entry or TSA PreCheck are just the beginning of what this card has to offer. Until recently, however, it earned merely 1x points per Dollar. That changed after the Chase Sapphire Reserve was released, which many believe to be, including myself, one of the best travel cards available. Amex responded by upgrading the Platinum card to 5x points on airfare when booked directly with the airline, and on bookings made in the Amex travel portal. Much better Amex!
Either way, I opted for the Mercedes Benz American Express Platinum card, as that card offered a 75,000 point sign-up bonus at the time, compared to the 35,000 point offer of the regular Platinum card. The 5x points on select Mercedes Benz (MB) purchases, the annual $100 MB gift voucher and other MB related benefits don’t offer me much value, as I am not a Mercedes Benz customer, but the 75,000 points basically took the decision out of my hands.
Next on my list was the Premier Rewards Gold card by American Express. This card offers 3x points on airfare when booked with the airline and 2x points at US gas stations, supermarkets and restaurants. The 3x on airfare is now obsolete thanks to the 5x points that the Platinum card offers, but the 2x points at gas stations are still very valuable to me. Combine that with the annual $100 (plus another $200 with the Platinum) airline fee reimbursement, and this card I still hold near and dear. Last, but not least, there’s the American Express Everyday Preferred card. I spend a lot on groceries, so the card’s 3x points at supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year comes in handy when that isn’t a bonus category on my Chase Freedom.
Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR)
Why would I even consider UR when Chase only sticks to the bare minimum of the SCRA benefits you ask? Because UR are some of the most valuable points available, second only to Starpoints. UR offer an excellent choice of transfer partners, instant transfer (unlike SPG, which can take days), and no transfer fees (unlike MR, which charges $0.0006 per point). In addition, the Chase travel portal lets you redeem UR at a rate of 1:1.25. That is: 1 UR gives you 1.25 cent. Chase Sapphire Reserve customers even enjoy a 1:1.5 ratio. One caveat, you need a premium Chase credit card in order to be able to use the transfer partners and have access to the travel portal. The only two personal cards that qualify for this are the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the brand new Chase Sapphire Reserve. You can also use the Chase Ink Business Plus and the, soon to be released, Ink Business Preferred. The good news is that once you have just one of these cards, the points you earn with your “lower tier” Chase cards, the Freedom and the Freedom Unlimited, can be combined with those of your premium card(s). Confused yet? Let me break this down. Let’s say you have the Chase Freedom card and have collected 20,000 points. You could redeem those for $200 in cash back, as the Freedom and Freedom Unlimited cards are technically cash back cards. While that is certainly $200 in your pocket and definitely not a bad deal, you can do much better. If you were also a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve customer, those same 20,000 points would now be instantly transferable to 11 transfer partners, including United Airlines and Hyatt, or could alternatively be redeemed for $250 ($300 with the Reserve) worth of travel in the UR portal. That, combined with other perks and the massive earning potential of both the Sapphire Preferred and Reserve (2x points on travel and dining and 3x points on travel and dining, respectively, with a very broad travel category), and the annual fee for both cards pays for itself.
I started with The Chase Sapphire Preferred, followed by the Chase Freedom several months later. The Freedom earns 5x points on up to $1,500 spent each quarter at select merchants and 1x points thereafter and on all other spending. The current eligible categories include pharmacies, department stores and wholesale clubs. Chase announced the Freedom Unlimited shortly after that, which was perfect timing in my case. I applied for it and that completed my UR “trifecta”. The Freedom Unlimited offers a simple 1.5x points on every purchase, with no cap. I use it for all my non bonus spending, like bills and entertainment.
I have more cards, mostly co-branded ones, but my collection of UR and MR cards make up the foundation of my points collecting strategy. The only adjustment I plan on making in the future is replacing my Sapphire Preferred with the Reserve card. I’m currently not eligible for it, due to Chase’s infamous 5/24 rule. Basically, if you’ve opened 5 or more credit card accounts in the past 24 months, Chase will automatically deny you. It does not matter if those 5 cards were Chase credit cards or not. It is not clear if co-branded cards by Chase fall under this rule, but it doesn’t seem so. What this means for your credit card strategy is that, if you consider Chase at all, you should apply for any Chase cards before applying for any other ones. Also, this is only my personal strategy and there are many more rewards systems available and should definitely be considered. The Citi ThankYou Rewards program is another very valuable system. I will write a full review on that program, and others, in the future. In the end, as long as you a enjoy maximum point return on all of your spending, have a credit card format variety (Amex, Visa, Discover, Mastercard) so you can actually use a credit card for every purchase or bill payment (or as close to it as possible), and you do not limit yourself to only one rewards program, you’re on the right track.
When applying for new credit cards, there are a few general guidelines to consider:
- Come up with an order of precedence and stick to it. As far as for Chase, I made sure to get the Chase Sapphire Preferred first (the Reserve wasn’t available at the time), as I would need a premium card to make the most out of Ultimate Rewards. As far as for American Express, I valued the benefits of the Platinum card above all others so I ensured to get that one first.
- Wait at least 3 Months in between applying for cards. Doing so will give your credit score some time to recover from the small hit it will take initially after the credit pull and it gives you time to meet the spending criteria for any potential sign-up bonuses. You should always take advantage of sign-up bonus offers.
- The sign-up bonus point timeframe begins the day you get approved, not the day you activate the card. After approval, call the bank and ask for expedited shipping. I’ve always received it without any hassle.
Do you have a credit card strategy? Anything you’d like to add to mine? If so, please share in the comment section below or on our social media pages. Thank you very much.