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Updated February 5, 2021
My travel credit card strategy (Updated January 2021) has undergone a significant evolution over the past six years. This is my current strategy because, as you will notice, my credit cards have changed over time and will continue to do so in the future as our spending habits evolve. A travel credit card strategy should be very fluid depending on what your biggest spending categories tend to be. It is important to evaluate your family’s situation and habits every year to figure out if your strategy needs adjusting.
My curiosity for this subject started in 2014, after getting a couple of cash back credit cards. The Chase Sapphire Preferred was my first real travel card in November 2014. The CSP is still a fantastic starter card for anyone looking to pursue this hobby. Unfortunately, at that time I did not know much about travel credit cards and the best ways to redeem points. So, I took the easy way out and redeemed all of my points for cash back.
My fascination with using credit cards to get points/miles really exploded in late 2016 when I applied and was approved for the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR). At that time I thought to myself, “I have finally reached the big league,” but in actuality I still had no idea how to properly maximize and utilize the points for travel. Once I got the CSR, I downgraded my CSP to a Chase Freedom Unlimited. Also at that time I had a Chase Freedom which we used for its 5% quarterly rotating categories. Some people refer to this combination as the “Chase Trifecta” of personal cards: the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR), Chase Freedom Unlimited (CFU) and the Chase Freedom (CF). This was our sole strategy for about three years and it started to evolve again in mid to late 2019.
Table of Contents
Current Travel Card Lineup
In the latter part of 2019, we decided to add a few more cards to our portfolio. We opted to diversify, so we acquired a card that earned American Express Membership Rewards points, a co-branded airline card and a co-branded hotel card. In the following section I will list all of our current travel related credit accounts with a brief description of each, as most of these will get their own future blog post to go into more detail.
Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR):
This is our premium travel credit card through Chase. We use it for dining and non-airfare travel as it gives 3x points for both. This card does come with an annual fee of $550 (temporarily reduced back down to $450), but it gives several credits to offset it. The CSR provides an annual $300 general travel credit and $60 toward Doordash. It does earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points which can be redeemed in the travel portal or transferred to travel partners. It also gives a comprehensive package of travel insurance benefits including primary car rental coverage, baggage delay and trip cancellation insurance. In a future post I will take a deeper look at how we use and maximize benefits on this account.
Temporary promotions for CSR: Chase has a current temporary promo for their entire travel card lineup. For the CSR it means:
- 3x points on up $1,000 per month in grocery store purchases through April 2021.
- For the $300 general travel credit, gas station and grocery purchases will trigger the credit in addition to the normal travel purchases through June 30, 2021.
Chase Freedom (CF):
This card is part of our Chase Trifecta. It offers quarterly 5% rotating categories on up to $1,500 of qualified purchases. The Chase Freedom has no annual fee. In the past, rotating categories have included gas stations, streaming services, home improvement stores, department stores, Amazon, supermarkets, and wholesale stores. We try to use this card strictly for purchases in these 5% area. The points earned can be redeemed for cash back (check or statement credit), gift cards, or combined with another card. This allows us to transfer our points to our CSR, then we can transfer them to travel partners.
Temporary Promotion for Chase Freedom:
- For the month of February 2021, earn 5% cash back on gas station purchases up to $150 in combined purchases. This offer does have to be activated.
Chase Freedom Unlimited:
This card completes our Chase Trifecta and earns 1.5 points per dollar spent on every purchase. The Chase Freedom Unlimited also comes with no annual fee. We try to put our everyday, non-bonus category purchases on this card. It also offers the “combine points” option, like the Chase Freedom, so everything earned on the CFU is transferred to our CSR, then to travel partners.
As of September 14, the CFU has added some bonus categories, while maintaining 1.5% on all non-bonus categories and no annual fee. The new bonus categories are 5% back on travel purchased through the Chase travel portal, 3% back on dining including eligible delivery services, and 3% back on drugstore purchases.There are no limits to how much cash back/points that can be earned in those categories. Also as a temporary perk, this card comes with 5% back on Lyft rides through March 2022. I think these are all great additions and it makes me love my CFU even more but like most other Chase cardholders, I am curious as to how this will effect any potential revamp of the CSR.
If you are looking to apply for the Chase Freedom Unlimited. I would greatly appreciate if you would contact me so that I can send a referral link to you. I may get compensation for your use of this referral link.
Chase World Of Hyatt:
The World of Hyatt (WoH) credit card by Chase is our most recent addition. I applied and got instant approval at the end of July. The WoH card by Chase is the only co-branded card available for Hyatt hotels. This card does come with a $95 annual fee. To offset the fee it offers a free reward night per anniversary year, a second free night after $15,000 annual spend and Discoverist elite status in the World of Hyatt program. It allows the cardholder to earn 2 elite credit nights per $5,000 spent on the card. This card also earns 4x points per dollar spent at Hyatt properties. Hyatt is the other hotel brand, besides Hilton, that we tend to stay at. We have always had great experiences at Hyatt hotels and it helps that it is one of the transfer partners for the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.
Temporary Promotion for World of Hyatt Card:
- Earn up to 5,000 bonus points by making 50+ purchases on the card for the month of February 2021. 10 transactions=1,000 bonus points, 15 transactions=1,500 bonus points, 25 transactions=2,500 bonus points, 50+ transactions=5,000 bonus points.
American Express Platinum:
This card is another one of our premium travel cards (it is a charge card, not a credit card). It comes with a $550 annual fee, but a few credits help to cancel that out. These include: a $200 airline credit for incidentals, $200 uber credit (divided into each month), two $50 Saks Fifth Avenue credits and TSA Precheck/Global Entry fee credit. This card mainly get used for airfare-related purchases because it earns 5x points. I also keep a close eye out for any Amex offers that we can use to recoup some money on purchases (we have managed to save a good bit this way). We also use the perks on this account, mainly the American Express Centurion Lounge access. We are really excited to experience the Centurion Lounge in our home airport of Charlotte, NC!
Temporary Promotion for American Express Platinum:
- Amex is offering $30/month in PayPal credit to Platinum cardmembers through June 30, 2021.
- Also Amex has added some very valuable offers, including but not limited to Home Depot, Best Buy, etc.
If you are looking to apply for the American Express Platinum card. I would greatly appreciate if you would contact me so that I can send a referral link to you. I may get compensation for your use of this referral link.
American Express Hilton Honors Aspire Card:
This is our last premium travel credit card and only co-branded hotel card. It comes with an annual fee of $450 but, like our other premium credit cards, it comes with a few credits to cancel it out. Including a $250 airline credit for incidentals, $250 resort credit, and a free weekend night per anniversary year. The main perk of this card is that it gives top tier Hilton Diamond status. This status makes you eligible for room upgrades, grants executive lounge access and gives you free breakfast among other perks. We use it for Hilton hotel stays because it earns us 14x points. It also earns 7x points on restaurants, airfare, car rentals and 3x points on everything else. It does earn Hilton Honors points.
Temporary Promotion for the Aspire Card:
- Earn 10,000 bonus points every time you spend $5000 with the card up to 100,000 points. Offer expires June 30, 2021.
- Earn $20 back each month after spending $20+ on dining (including takeout and delivery). Offer expires Dec. 31, 2021.
If you are looking to apply for the American Express Hilton Aspire card. I would greatly appreciate if you would contact me so that I can send a referral link to you. I may get compensation for your use of this referral link.
Barclay’s American Airlines Aadvantage Aviator Red:
This is our only airline co-branded credit card, with an annual fee of $99. We decided to get this card because our home airport of Charlotte, NC is the Southeast hub for American Airlines. We mainly keep this one for the perks, including first checked bag for free, preferred boarding (with Group 5), 25% inflight savings as a statement credit on food/beverages and $25 annual inflight wifi statement credit. It does earn 2x points on American Airlines and 1x on everything else. We use this card for the free wifi and to utilize the 25% inflight food/beverage discount, when we max out our other airline credits.
Temporary Promotion for Aviator Red Mastercard:
- Spend $30,000 on the card through 2021 and the EQD requirement for Aadvantage Gold, Platinum and Platinum will be waived.
We currently pay $1744 dollars per year in annual fees. In future posts about our trips I will show how we recoup some of this money. Annual fees can be a worthwhile “investment” if you utilize the credits and the perks that are offered by the bank (i.e. you have to travel more than once or twice a year).
Future Credit Card Strategy
I have two possible changes to our credit card strategy for the near future. One of these affect possible changes to the credit card lineup, so we will evaluate if it will be beneficial.
1. The main aspect that I have to improve upon is utilizing our credit card and loyalty points/miles because, as I have stated before, these do not gain value They always lose value over time. In the past I have had the tendency to collect these points, knowing that is not going to benefit us at all. I am making progress on using our points for travel. We do still pay for certain travel accommodations if I cannot find travel redemptions that are worth a certain value.
2. The Barclay’s Aadvantage Aviator Silver is another selection that I have been eyeing. Right now it does not fit our circumstance but it is still on my radar. The Aviator Silver is not currently open to new cardholder applications. The only way to obtain it is to get the Aviator Red first, then to upgrade to the Silver after 90 days. It does come with a $195 annual fee but has offsetting benefits. In addition to the Aviator Red’s benefits, it comes with a $50 inflight wifi statement credit per anniversary year and $25 per day statement credit for inflight food and beverage. It earns 3x Aadvantage points per dollar spent on American Airlines purchases, 2x points on hotels and car rentals and 1x points on everything else. It also has the potential to earn Elite Qualifying Miles and Elite Qualifying Dollars, which go toward Aadvantage Elite status.
As of right now, these are a couple of our possible future additions/changes to our travel credit card game plan.
A credit card strategy is a plan that is very fluid, depending on your family’s current situation and spending habits. As such, you should evaluate your plan at least once per year. In future posts I will re-evaluate our credit card strategy as well as review the potential cards in this post.