A Credit Card Strategy for Regular Spenders

Please note this site has financial relationships with American Express and this post may contain affiliate links. Read my Advertiser Disclosure policy here to learn more about my partners.

There have been many great posts on different blogs in recent weeks about 2012 miles and points credit card strategies.  I think it is awesome to learn how others are maximizing what is in their wallet, as I know it helps me evaluate if I am maximizing what is in my wallet (or in my safe, in most cases).  However, one thing that I have noticed in many of these posts is that the strategies are often geared towards those who have a large amount of reimbursable/business expenses going through their own credit cards.  While I know there are some in the miles and points community who fall into that category, there are many others who have to rely on their own paychecks, grocery purchases, gas fill-ups, etc… to meet minimum spending requirements, and earn miles and points on their cards.  I know I certainly fall into the latter category.  Though don’t get me wrong, I would love to be able to have tons of reimbursable expenses go through my own cards!   I would say that my family averages $3,000 – $4,000 per month on credit card spending.  We put everything on credit cards that we possibly can that doesn’t require an additional service credit card service fee.

I have also recently received several emails from people who were interested in a “simple” credit card strategy that doesn’t involve dozens of different credit cards.  I know especially when your spouse isn’t 100% on-board with the whole credit card game, simple can be essential.  Heck, even I am trying to simplify some of my credit card usage – I’m just getting too busy to have 10-12 active accounts that I am using on a regular basis.  So, here is what I am doing with my cards for this year.

1.  First and foremost, if I am trying to meet the minimum spending requirement on a new credit card, then that card gets the vast majority of the purchasing action until the minimum is met.

2.  I use my Continental OnePass Plus Card for all of my autopay reoccurring expenses.  Things like daycare, insurance, satellite, cell phone, etc…. all are linked to that card.  I also use it when purchasing Continental/United airline tickets for 2x points.  With my autopay expenses, my Continental airline expenses, and a few other odds and ends, I am able to meet the $25,000 annual threshold required to get a 10,000 mile bonus annually.  I really love my Continental miles, so this arrangement works out well for me.

3.  I use my Chase Sapphire® Preferred Card for all restaurant and most travel expenses to receive 2x Ultimate Reward points.  I also use it to pay for any “foreign” purchases to avoid paying a foreign transaction fee.  Finally, I use it for most things I purchase online through the Ultimate Rewards shopping portal. My husband likes simplicity, so he just uses it for most everything, and that works out okay for me.

4.  I use my Starwood Preferred Guest Amex for all SPG hotel stays, and for many everyday expenses that aren’t paid at 2x on other cards.  For me, SPG points have the most value per point, so it makes sense to put some effort into earning them through spending that is only going to get me one point per dollar anyway.

A good card that given an annual spending bonus I don’t yet have is the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card.  If you spend $30,000 on that card in a calendar year, you receive a 15,000 Membership Reward points bonus.  I recommend picking a card you want to keep for a long time that gives a good annual bonus for reaching a spending threshold (like the Amex PRG or the United Explorer card), and put all of your regular bill paying type expenses towards that card.  Then maximize category bonuses (like groceries, restaurants, travel, etc… ) on other cards.  Once I get a Chase Freedom in the near future, I will be using it for the quarterly bonus categories. If simple is important to you, then don’t use more than two to three cards at once.  It can really start to get crazy if you have expenses on tons of different cards all the time (trust me, I know!). That said, I do try to occasionally make purchases on other cards just so it doesn’t look like I only go them for the sign-up bonus.

I am not getting hundreds of thousands of miles annually from my monthly credit card spending, but by being strategic I do earn a fair amount of miles and points even on a relatively “regular” amount of credit card activity.  Of course, for some people it will make more sense to focus on cash-back cards for your regular credit card spending, but my currency of choice in this regard is miles and points, so that is what I focus on.  While I will certainly add and lose a few cards in my collection over the next year, I don’t think that my core strategy is going to change substantially.  What is your credit card spending strategy?  Do you keep it simple, or do you have a more elaborate system in place?


The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. I keep a piece of paper in my wallet which tells me what categories I get extra cashback on as well as what type of spend I should put on each card. Helps me a lot since I carry five cards in my wallet at a time.

  2. No Ink Bold for 5x spend on telecom? That’s a big sell for me with that card. A year’s spend on FiOS alone will earn me back the annual fee.

  3. I’ve recently got into the rewards credit card game and here is my strategy. I’m also not that big of a spender and with moving a large portion of my spending and bills to plastic (while having cash to pay them off when they are due), I still put maybe $1500-2000 per month on these cards.

    1) Chase Freedom for the 5% quarterly bonus or special Ultimate Rewards deals. I have a note in my iPhone that shows the quarterly 5% categories (gas stations and amazon.com for Q1 2012).

    2) Chase Sapphire Preferred gets everything that is 2% on that card (airfare, hotels, rentals, dining, etc).

    3) Capital One Venture gets everything else since it is 2% for all purchases.

    So, I get at least 2% for every purchase this way. I also use the Sapphire for 1% purchases from time to time to “show” them that I don’t use it just for the 2% categories.

    Jaster Mereel

  4. Keep in mind the extra 10K bonus on the CO card is worth maybe $150, assuming you value CO miles at 1.5 cents. The more I think about it, the more I think Lucky’s advice to go for the companion ticket on the BA card makes sense, particularly if you have a stash of BA miles. That companion ticket is easily worth more than $150. Not to mention, since you seem to like the new BA program why not put all that spend on BA and earn 1.25 miles per cent?

    BTW, good to see you’re linking to the 25K Visa offer for the Chase Freedom. You might want to give Rene a heads up, grin.

  5. Cringe, I’m so lucky my wife supports my miles/points habit..especially on “which card to use”..we both like simplicity…but we like free travel even more and don’t mind juggling around a few cards in our wallet to get the best bang out of our buck. If you guys have the Ink Bold you’re missing out on the potential double points for Gas (vs 1 point on Sapphire). You may want to have him switch gas spending to that 🙂

  6. good article. I especially like the mention of utilizing CO because those miles are important to _you_. Too many focus on squeezing every last drop out of the perceived value of a point/mile without regard to it’s personal utility. Was pondering this issue myself today – parallels to the financial planning industry (shopping for a new planner).

    I do six figures / year on cards but lots of that is biz expenses. i also have lots of family members with AU cards. i have a hybrid approach for which card to use.

    It takes a few minutes to chart out all the spend rewards and figure out which are important to you. Then I typed up a chart and screen printed it. I refer to it for all my spend. I gave a copy to my wife (who likes it simple like your husband) but most of the time, she just follows the “family rule”.

    For the family (who all have both the amex pgr & sapphire), I just tell them: if they take amex, use the amex, except for restaurants, then use the sapphire.

    Of course, minimum spend comes first but there are many ways to fulfill those reqs without impacting “normal” spend.

    @InfamousDX Yeah, love that 5 points!

    @HikerT Good point. The BA companion cert does make sense if you’re still in the BA game, plus 25% bonus on spend is (for 30K in spend) an extra 15K. Which is, what, a pair of short-haul domestics?

  7. Almost everybody has significant utility expenses. In December I saw it listed as one of the CITI Dividend 1st quarter 2012 5% cashback categories. Includes electric, water, cable, internet, cell phone, etc.

    Immediately applied and approved. The $200 signup bonus for $500 initial spend was easily earned this week in a matter of minutes, all at 5% and all on bills that would have to be paid anyway. Perfect.

  8. 5x or 6x for telecom? Any other cards — I don’t have a business and not interested in hotel miles.

    Great post. For me, besides getting all of the bonus miles on new signups, using ultimate rewards as much as I can works for me. Christmas shopping got me 40,000 miles. I just received my sapphire bill and I received 20,000 courtesy points. I have no idea what that is and hate to call to find out it was a mistake….lol

  9. @Helixcardinal, sounds like a good plan!

    @InfamousDX, I have the old version of the Ink Bold, so I don’t get that awesome benefit. I do hope to apply for the “new” version in 2012 so that I can get that – it is a great benefit!

    @Asen, that is certainly another option, I just don’t use much Hilton myself. Thanks for sharing!

    @Jaster, sounds like a good plan!

    @HikerT, if I could have an unlimited number of Chase cards, I would consider that strategy, but there are just other Chase cards that I like better for my own needs – especially since I can transfer Avios points from MR and UR. However, the main reason that isn’t a good play for me is that I like Avios for short-haul domestic redemption on AA metal, and the companion ticket wouldn’t help me with that. As far as the Chase link, I will always link to the best offer I know of. 😉

    @Jeremy, well, I am a mind reader. Ha ha. Sounds like you have a good strategy in place!

    @UR Fan, we have the old version of the Ink Bold that doesn’t have those bonus categories. My husband is a pretty good sport about using different cards most of time time, but he needs a good fallback card to use when he doesn’t want to think about it. 😉

    @Richard, sounds like you have a good plan!

    @Lawrence, that is a good plan. I just wish my water and electric companies would let me pay by credit card without charging an extra fee. Grrrrrrrr. 😉

    @Patty, are you sure you don’t have a business? eBay? Something? 😉 The Ink Bold’s 5x on telecom really is awesome. Awesome job with the Christmas shopping – it really was an amazing time to rack in the UR miles! Congrats on your 20K bonus. I wouldn’t mention it to Chase if it was me!

  10. Do you get 2x points for ALL travel related purchases on the sapphire or just purchases through the UR portal?

    If I book flights via AA.com or a cruise via Celebrity – are those at double UR points too?!

  11. @Richard (or anyone with an answer

    “Of course, minimum spend comes first but there are many ways to fulfill those reqs without impacting “normal” spend.”

    I’d like to know some of these many ways, I’m having trouble seeing how I can maximize offers for my wife and myself and hit larger 3k-5k (x2 or x4 with business cards) minimum spends.

  12. Glad I’m not the only one whose SO rolls their eyes based on the credit card of choice. The Chase Sapphire is a newer addition to my wallet and the first few times I claimed paying the dinner bill over my fiance, he was not so happy. 🙂

    I think most of us have similar patterns:
    1. Chase Sapphire for all travel and dining and places that are AmEx haters, except US Airways
    2. US Airways card for US Airways travel (I like boarding first and sadly lost my status)
    3. Starwood AmEx for everything else.
    4. Sometimes I use the Discover cash back categories. It’s my oldest card and they do have some of the best online shopping cash back offers (although I’ve pretty my switched to points now). They’ve also upped the spending limits now that Chase Freedom has become a major competitor.

  13. @Max – Yes “all” Travel purchases. Travel counts as whatever Chase categorizes them as. Any airline site is DEFINITELY counted as Travel; that’s from experience. I’m not sure about cruises but I would guess yes. If you need to know what category Chase files a merchant as, check out my blog as I found a way to do that fairly easily.

  14. @infamousdx – Thanks for the tip. It lists Liquor Stores under Dining, which was a new find for me.

    @Max – According to the Chase categories (under the Blueprint section of the site) cruises and travel agents count as travel.

  15. This is what I do:

    Chase sapphire preferred: all eating and travel at 2x

    Chase ink bold: phone bill, Internet, cable, supply stores when I happen to go and GAS — 5x

    Chase freedom: whatever the bonuses are for the quarter– for right now I’m putting gas and amazon
    At 5x

    Whenever I buy something online I use the UR mall and try to get extra points

    This way I will always maximize my points IF I’m not trying to reach a threshold for a bonus.

    To me for my family it’s best to consolidate to UR because it allows me to use it for flights or hotels.

    To me the SPG card is just too hard since you just get one point per dollar -/

    Just my situation

  16. I really am thinking of getting the AMEX Platinum but now that they reduced the points to 25k thinking of getting the MB version instead for 50K. I just leased one in August so might be worth it and I travel at least 2x a week on US Air…..

  17. I used pretty much the same approach as Jaster, except that I use DISC for Groupon (though through January Sapphire is better at +12pts/dollar).

    My wife is reasonably supportive as long as I don’t change the mix too often. I also just got a Sapphire on her account since I usually pay when we go out to eat. (Does being unwilling to pull her wallet out of the diaper bag count as unsupportive ???)

    I like the logic if the SPQ AMEX, but I’m on new-card-hiatus right now with a move (and new mortgage) potentially happening in spring/summer. Also I’d like the big bonus, so hopefully that will time out well.

    Otherwise, the AMEX PLT is calling my name if I can go for it in the fall and use the $200 credit twice in the first year.

    I also try to use the other cards periodically, but I’m not sure I believe that it actually works. At least Chase doesn’t seem to be so easily fooled and it would be easy to see that we still charge $2-3k per month based on a credit report… or since much of it is on other Chase cards!

  18. I label the cards by writing on the top of a post it, cut off non-sticky portion, and adhere it to the back of the credit card.

    With the tax season coming up, I’m looking at the easy rebates on “free after rebate software” via Staples since it is 5x via UR right now. You can apply the $25 off $75 coupons (purchase these off a coupon site), get the rebate, and give/sell the software. It is a way of getting spend up since I don’t have a buddy for Amazon Payments and can do it from home at any hour.

  19. @Max, should be all travel. The Chase site says “Earn 2 points per dollar when you use your card to pay for airfare, hotels, cruises and rental cars, not to mention train tickets and taxis.” If you book airfare or hotel accommodations online through Utimate Rewards, you essentially earn 3x on those purchases.

    @Joe, the main ways I hear that are outside minimum spend are by doing things like paying some with an online service like Amazon, Paypal, etc… by using a card and then having them pay you back. I do not do this myself and I think they have been cracking down some on it, but it has worked for some people.

    @Rachel, sounds like you have a good strategy!

    @InfamousDX, thanks for sharing the info. 😉

    @Rachel, nice find about the liquor stores!

    @IndianCowboy, good strategy. I want that new Ink Bold card very much for those 5x categories!

    @Cltflyer365, the MB Amex probably is a good play for your – especially since you have a MB!

    @Mikes, pull the wallet out of the diaper bag, you can do it! 😉

    @reeder, sounds like a good plan. 😉

  20. Thanks, I find after being a fringe member of the points game I have picked up some similar habits after floundering around for a while. Your posts always help me keep in mind the goals and simple strategies.

  21. A tip on double dipping, Ultimate Rewards mall lists several office supply stores at multiple points. Combined with the 5X on office supplies for the Ink Classic and Bold for category spend for a nice deal.

    I got 10X points and a good price from Staples.com with free shipping over $50 on printer ink 😀

Leave a Reply

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