5x Doesn’t Grow on Trees, So Back to Basics

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Many of us cried a good cry when it became harder and harder to take advantage of the 5x Ultimate Rewards gravy train that was made so easy by the Ink Bold Business Card and Ink Plus Business Card for quite a while.  In case you are new to the world of 5x, those cards offer 5x Ultimate Reward points on office supply stores, cellular phone expenses, landline, internet, and cable TV services, excluding equipment purchases.  Those are still very helpful categories for many of us, but 5x doesn’t come as easily as it used to.  I wasn’t earning anywhere near as many points as some 5x fans were, but I did get comfortably used to easily racking up a reasonable number of Ultimate Rewards points.  The easy route to 5x is no longer around for most of us, but I still want to earn as many points as possible.  So, for me it is “back to basics”.  I don’t have the time or desire to participate in any elaborate schemes, but I do plan to get back to working harder and paying more attention to bonus categories on all of my cards.  I’m also doing my best to remember the “small stuff” that can also add up along the way.

Here are a few things I am doing that might be helpful for others who are looking to work a little harder and smarter at earning points now that 5x doesn’t quite grow on trees.

  • Staples.com (an office supply store) started charging a $1.99 fee for many mailed gift cards several months ago, but has now introduced many online e-gift cards that don’t come with that fee.  The retailers may or may not mesh with your needs, but some examples are JC Penney, Fandango, Macaroni Grill, American Eagle, Southwest, PF Chang’s, and Sephora.  I have gotten back into the routine of using store-specific gift cards more that I purchase with a card that gives me a category bonus.  You have to be organized and disciplined to use the gift cards and yet only buy what you would use anyway, but if you can do that then it pays off.
  • Don’t discount the 5x power of the Chase Freedom.  The Freedom hasn’t received much love in the miles and points world in a while because the sign-up bonus isn’t exciting.  It has been at 10,000 Ultimate Reward points (aka $100 cash back) after spending $500 in the first three months for a very long time.  I don’t have any reason to think the public sign-up offer is changing in the near future, but you are missing out on an easy 7,500 Ultimate Reward points every quarter that you don’t have this card.  There are rotating 5x bonus categories every three months that are usually pretty simple for many of us to max out (think more creatively if you don’t think you can spend a maximum of $1,500 combined at the categories each quarter).  Right now the first quarter bonuses are Starbucks, drug stores, and gas stations.  You can check out the other 2013 bonus categories here.  The card is annual fee free, so it is an easy one to keep for the long haul for continued 5x fun.
  • Make sure all your cards are registered with the dining rewards network.  I know many of us get new credit cards pretty regularly, so make sure those new ones are also registered.  There aren’t many participating restaurants in some parts of the country, but some of us are lucky to have some tasty participating restaurants nearby.  I ended up eating at three participating restaurants in a row without even intending to this week.  As a “VIP” member, that meant 5x United miles from the dining program + the 2 points for charging dining on my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card for three meals straight.  Why yes I will pick up the whole tab and you can pay me for your part with cash later.  😉  You never know when you will accidentally dine at a participating restaurant while traveling, so better to register them now than kick yourself for missing out on easy miles later.
  • Consider putting some effort toward hitting a large spending requirement.  This piece of advice isn’t for everyone since it isn’t worth going for a large spending requirement on one card at the expense of being able to hit the minimum spending requirements on other new rewards credit cards.  But, for some people it will make sense to brush up on the bonus points you can get from hitting an annual spending threshold on some cards.  For example, the United MileagePlus card gives 10,000 United miles after spending $25,000 on the card in a calendar year, the American Express Premier Rewards Gold gives 15,000 bonus points after spending $30,000 in a calendar year, and the British Airways Visa Signature gives a “travel together” perk after spending $30,000 in a calendar year.  Again, not everyone can hit those spending targets, but it is at least worth brushing up on whether any of your cards offer benefits like that.  You will find that more and more of the rewards credit cards do have some annual perk that is tied to spending.
  • Always, always, always use a shopping portal of some sort for your online purchases.  I know this sounds like old news for those who have been around a while, but I am always amazed at how many people exist who either aren’t aware of this option or just don’t take the time to take advantage of it.  I would guess that shopping through a portal like the Ultimate Rewards Shopping portal adds maybe a minute to my online shopping purchase, but it results in tens of thousands of extra points a year.  For example, if you need to buy a new toaster via Sears.com then your $50 purchase might earn you several hundred points via a shopping portal than just the regular 50 it would probably earn you just by the points earned on your rewards credit card.  There are many shopping portals out there that are affiliated with many of the big hotels and airlines.  If you are unfamiliar with how this process works, check out this post.  Trust me, it is worth the extra effort every single time.

I’d love to know what other tips you have for “getting back to basics” and ensuring you earn as many miles and points as possible.


Disclosure: I do receive a commission if you are approved for a credit card using one of my affiliate links.  Some links in this post are mine and some are just to the best available offer.  As always, thanks for your support. 


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 find that the prices at Amazon are often cheaper than the office supply stores so I buy Amazon gift cards at Staples to earn 5x Ultimate Rewards points and then do my shopping at discount vendors.

  2. Thanks! I book a lot of flights on Southwest for work travel (I’m here in Houston also) and I like to pick up their gift cards at office stores on my Ink card but it isn’t always easy to get them prior to booking a flight and I don’t like having to pre-purchase too many gift cards. Being able to instantly get them online will be great! Too bad you can’t double up and use a portal for gift cards!

  3. @ mommy

    do you know you get miles for using Citi AA cards on amazon payment?
    and will citi treat this as a cash advance with fee even if i select “good & services”?


  4. Dining Rewards. Wow. There’s a throwback. That program hasn’t been of much use in our area for 4-5 years, but it was awesome in its prime! It’s good to hear that the program is still alive and well in some other locations.

  5. I’m with fishing for deals for merchandise purchase, Amazon all the way for variety and price. Paying more for the points is not worth it. I’d rather have the cash in my pocket. My exceptions are booking hotels and cars going through the UR portal.

  6. Yes, I am kicking myself for not having card registered with dining rewards. New members get a 1000 bonus mile offer for spending $40 w/in 30 days and writing a review. If you live in NYC, it’s easy to spend that on 1/3 of your next meal, so do it!!! Thanks for the tip!

  7. @tri I noticed that after signing up. I will still get the bonus for some places in midtown where I grab lunch so it works out in the end.

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