What’s In My Wallet – My Credit Card Strategy (2022)

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Here’s a window into my personal credit card strategy – and whether I’m walking the walk.

I’ve cleaned out my wallet and I’m not carrying nearly as many credit cards on a daily basis any longer. Still, my wallet is a great window in the spending choices I make every day. What gets a wallet slot, and what cards I have but keep in a drawer, go a long way towards illustrating how I put my mileage and spending strategies into practice. Sharing this also adds a bit to my transparency to my credit card strategy as I cover credit card rewards.

Here’s a peek into what’s really going on behind the scenes of my daily spending life.

credit card strategy my wallet

My Wallet Credit Card Strategy

I don’t have any cards I’m trying to meet minimum spend on at the moment, so the cards I’m carrying are meant to (1) maximize return on my spending and (2) be available to swipe or show to obtain benefits.

What do I spend money on? Airfare, hotels, restaurants and groceries. I have other spending items, but those are mostly online purchases or recurring ‘set it and forget it’ expenses that don’t require the most rewarding card to be in my wallet (we’ll get to cards I have in a drawer next).

  • The American Express® Gold Card is really underappreciated. It’s probably the best Membership Rewards-earning card overall: 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X) and 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com. This is my favorite card for restaurant spend (though haven’t been using it that way lately) and for grocery spend – my wife and I can maximize spending in that category.

  • I have been putting restaurant spend on my Bilt Mastercard, though, because even though its 3x on dining is less than the 4x I could be earning with the Amex Gold this helps me to diversity my points, since I’m working with a seven figure Chase and Amex balances already.

    Bilt is the only card that transfers to both American AAdvantage and United MileagePlus, and also has programs including Aeroplan, Hyatt and Turkish – so they’re valuable points – and this diversification nis why it makes sense for me even though I am not a renter and can’t take advantage of the truly unique selling proposition for the card which is earning up to 50,000 points per year paying rent at no fee (something that would cost $1425 per year using a service like Plastiq.com).

  • A majority of my hotel nights are with Hyatt and so I carry the The World Of Hyatt Credit Card which earns 4x on Hyatt stays. I love that every $5000 spend on the card earns two elite nights, and that the card not only comes with an annual category 1-4 free night but a second one after $15,000 spend each year. That makes $15,000 of spending on the card super rewarding (free night and 6 elite nights) especially when the spending is in bonus categories. Not my bag as such but this is also the only card I can think of that bonuses fitness and gym memberships.

  • For non-Hyatt hotel spend I’m carrying the Citi Premier® Card which offers 3 points per dollar, and I also like it for when I fill up the gas tank at 3 points per dollar. I’m favoring this card because I want to build up my Citi points balance, because I’m already overweight both Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards points. (I got the card when there was an offer to earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening – and that limited-time offer is back.)

  • For airfare I find The Platinum Card® from American Express to be a no-brainer, 5 points per dollar for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year).

    I also carry the card for access to American Express Centurion airport lounges; access to Delta lounges when flying Delta same-day, and Plaza Premium and Escape lounges. The card gives me Hilton Honors Gold (I don’t use the Marriott Gold from the card because I’m currently Marriott Titanium).

    And I make the economics of the card work – this is a $695 annual fee card (see rates and fees) – because I make real use of the statement credit benefits it comes with to cover expenses I’d really otherwise incur.

    I’ve been using the $200 airline fee credit with Southwest Airlines quite successfully; the $240 Digital Entertainment Credit has been covering my New York Times online subscription and SiriusXM subscription; $200 Uber Cash is something I’d spend anyway; The CLEAR® Credit covers me and my wife (my toddler comes with us through CLEAR free); $50 Saks credit semi-annually buys my toiletries. That doesn’t even count the $200 Fine Hotels & Resorts credit offer or $155 Walmart+ Credit, which have terms and details to look at.

  • For unbonused spend I’m using my Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card which earns unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel, plus unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases and lets you transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs, and offers a premium rewards card at a lower annual fee than several other cards in its class.

    It’s crucial in my view never to earn just one point per dollar on spend. I think of the Citi Double Cash Card‘s no annual fee and 2% cash back as the opportunity cost of spending – if you earn just one point per dollar then you’re effectively buying that point for 2 cents and no mileage currency is worth two cents in my opinion. But 2 Capital One miles? I value each one at 1.6 cents, so I consider the lowest rebate eon my spending I achieve to be 3.2%.

  • Finally I’m also carrying a Priority Pass card, my Texas Drivers License, and my office swipe card even though I don’t travel to my office in DC twice a month anymore.

My Desk Drawer Credit Card Strategy

These are cards I have that I don’t use often, but have a strategic purpose, or cards I may have already gotten value out of but don’t plan on keeping.

  • My Ink Business Cash® Credit Card is a long-term keeper but not one I pull out regularly.

    This no annual fee card has an offer to earn $750 bonus cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Think of that as 75,000 points, which – if you have an Ultimate Rewards card whose points transfer to airline miles and hotel points – can be combined into one of Chase’s annual fee Ultimate Rewards products, and then transferred to a variety of loyalty program partners.

    Ongoing earn includes 5% cash back (again, potentially transferable as 5 points per dollar) on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year. This covers my internet and cell phone spend which is on auto-pay. And, of course, I’ll use it at Staples and Office Depot.

  • I have the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card and it helped earn a Southwest Airlines Companion Pass at the start of the year good through the end of 2023. I don’t need to put any spend on a Southwest card again until the start of 2024.

  • I’ve had the Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card since it was a Starwood card. I don’t spend much on this card but I keep it for the 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month and 15 annual elite nights.

  • I also have the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card. This dates back as my oldest credit card, since the account was originally a Starwood American Express card that I opened over 20 years ago. And I use it towards my Marriott status.

  • This one will surprise some folks but I have the Miami Marlins Credit Card which I opened last summer, it has no annual fee and offers great baseball experiences inexpensively. I wanted a Cardless card to directly experience their product, and I pulled it out over the holidays when they ran a 10,000 point promotion for $1000 card spend.

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has an offer to earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

  • AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver Mastercard if the 2022 loyalty points threshold bonuses at $20,000; $40,000; and $50,000 spend levels don’t carry over into 2023 there likely won’t be a reason to keep the card, but I do use its annual $99 companion ticket (for two companions) and the one which comes after $20,000 spend on the card as well.

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard for Admirals Club membership, though I now have access for a year through my Royal Air Maroc Safar Flyer Gold status.

  • Chase Freedom Unlimited® earns 1.5x on spending and has no annual fee, and was my go-to for otherwise-unbonused spend until I got Venture X.

  • Chase Freedom FlexSM I originally picked up from product-changing another Chase card. It offers rotating 5% back bonus categories that you activate, which are frequently useful to me.

What I Need To Do Next

There’s not a lot on my long-term credit card strategy want list at the moment. I have myself well-covered both in terms of maximizing points-earning for the kind of spend that I do and in terms of the benefits that I value.

If I were under 5/24 I’d look to the Aeroplan® Credit Card though t I don’t really need Star Alliance Gold status from spend and don’t fly Air Canada enough to take advantage of Aeroplan’s status.

I can even get myself under 5/24 while getting new small business cards from American Express and Citibank, and I’ll soon be eligible again for the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® which is offering 65,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 4 months of account opening. This card has a $0 annual fee the first year (then $99).

My credit card strategy also involves waiting for the next big thing!

For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card, click here.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of advertisers Citibank, Chase, American Express, Barclays, Capital One or any other advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.

Comments

  1. What is going to happen to all your credit card points and airline miles when you pass on to the afterlife Gary? I know your spouse can get your amex points assuming she outlives you. And your child can get her amex points eventually (I just got my mother’s 350,000 amex points). Amex appears to have the best policy for allowing your points to continue to live after you. Amex does find out about the death of a primary cardholder quickly and then reaches out to others on your credit card account with a condolence and a 30-day option to transfer the card and keep all points. The Chase policy appears to be to declare their points died with you; but, they do not seem eager to inform your family quickly so there is plenty of time after a death for a faimily member to quickly spend them at 1 cent per point for cash transfer or statement credit or also for gift cards, with some gift cards discounted by 10 percent, as is currently the case. Of course someone in your family must know your login and password to your Chase account to be able to spend the credit card points. Airlines, on the other hand, provide a condolence by declaring all of your miles are dead too!

  2. Agree completely about the American Express Gold Card.
    After over 32 years carrying the American Express Platinum Card, I downgraded to Gold. Not traveling enough due to the pandemic, and I am now retired. Also the Centurion Lounges I used the most (DFW, IAH, SFO, MIA) had become impossible to navigate due to overcrowding. Couldn’t justify the annual fee, and the Gold Card fits my present needs perfectly at this time.
    I pair it with my old AMEX Starwood (now Bonvoy), AMEX Hilton Honors Surpass, and the AMEX Blue Cash Preferred. This AMEX quartet suits me well, along with several Visa and M/C cards. Thanks for your credit card strategy thoughts.

  3. Knowing that Bilt flew that posse of bloggers to Mosquito Island for some R & R days and Bilt chitchat , I give it a hard pass.
    Count me a Never Bilter.
    Yeah yeah yeah you admitted that you took part in the free trip and reimbursed them or somehow gave them some $ but so sketchy. Love how some of the bloggers (Lucky, looking at you) said “I didn’t participate…never mentioning that others associated with his blog did go on the junket.
    You get a few days at Mosquito Island, and you’re not going to write glowing things. (See above, you had to contort to make BIlt sound like its a card worth getting/using.

  4. Very interesting list Gary, but a few questions:

    1. No AMEX Hilton Aspire? That easily is my most lucrative credit card if you can use the benefits–the $250 Airline Credit (as long as the United trick works, that is dollar-for-dollar for me), plus $250 Hilton resort credit plus Hilton Diamond plus free night virtually anywhere in the Hilton system (using four coming up for a $1000/night resort and used one last year for a $1450/night hotel).

    2. CSP vs. CSR vs. Platinum? I mainly travel on points, and the travel protections of CSR by just paying the small cash portion of the ticket far exceeds the extra 2 points per dollar I could get on AMEX Platinum.

    3. Do you play the bonus game? I am constantly receiving limited time bonuses on my credit cards, so that displaces what’s in my wallet until I get the full bonus. You too or don’t care?

    4. If you were low on Hyatt and UR points, would you be using CFU instead of Venture X, or would you still choose 2x Cap One instead of 1.5 UR?

    5. No Rewards +–a no annual fee card that gives you up to 10,000 Citi points back per year?

  5. @JorgeGeorge Paez – I use quicken to track the expense of the accounts and put small label maker label on each card to identify the spend bonuses for each card

    @DSK I dropped the CSR and started using the Venture X card – it is cheaper, (net $0 after 300 credit and 10pts at renewal) and gives better return It also gives almost as good travel protections on partial payments.

  6. @Tirso – I wrote negatively about the original Bilt value prop, and positively about the revised one, both long before Moskito Island which I wrote about and disclosed and was of zero benefit to me (and the value of what was provided to me I donated to charity). No one from One Mile at a Time was on that trip.

  7. @DSK – Hilton Aspire is a good card, I just don’t stay at Hiltonsmuch. CSR is a good card for protections, I am often torn between the Amex Plat and CSR trip delay coverage for instance (Chase does not cover non-family members of the cardholder. So if one card booked all students that would be excluded. Amex covers more people but all count towards the same per incident coverage limit.) Certainly when I am pursuing a bonus I focus on earning that bonus versus spend on other cards – one big example was the Southwest card that is in my drawer, I earned a big bonus towards COmpanion Pass. I don’t have any bonuses outstanding right now. Boy you pose a good qeustion about being low on Hyatt and Chase points and whether I’d try to load up there versus using Venture X for unbonused spend, I can also transfer to Hyatt from Bilt of course…. I agree that Citti’s Rewards+ can be strategically useful.

  8. If any big spend like cruises are in your future the one card that gets no respect – Amex Green card. When you get 3X on anything travel, it’s hard to beat. I’ve only had one travel related booking that for whatever the reason did not trip 3X. A taxi hired for several hours in the Scottish Highlands. Anything else from cruises, site seeing, trains (Chunnel), you name it 3X. What more do you want from a card travel wise? And oh back during the 4+ Amex refer promo, I refered with my Green card as I knew I had a cruise to pay off. 7X worked well and 160K Amex points in 3 months was only surpassed by the Platinum Resy 15X offer.

  9. Gary,
    I owe you an apology. You are correct. You and Lucky played it straight. Thanks, and sorry for writing that you weren’t upfront – you were. You really are a good guy, no kidding.
    It’s TPG crew who were on the junket, along with others, and a former TPG employee who hosted, and is now part of Bilt, I believe. It’s not that Bilt MC is garbage (but it’s nothing special if you ask me) but it’s disingenuous for bloggers to yack about a product then bury it deep that they got a free ride.

  10. I just received my Gemini MasterCard and attached LUNA to it as my earn. Gary is probably the only one here who knows what I’m talking about.

  11. I’d max out an Amex Blue Plus (2x points for everyday spend) well before I use a crap one card, though my kids have cap one AU cards.

    Also no X1 card which offers 4x points when you get referrals? Maybe didn’t want to waste a 5/24 slot on that one as there is no SUB.

  12. I am a newbie…only few years so here is what I just recently found out. I’ve been using Sapphire Reserve and accumulated lots of points as my sons. However using the travel portal sucks. The prices noted by their 3rd party are HIGHER than going directly to the 3rd party for flights and hotels? We have called them several times with examples and they claim the “system is updating” so the 1.5 bonus isn’t even worth paying inflated fares. You should note this.

    Capital One Venture came out with a new plan that allows you to hold and also receive flash notices with fare predictions. Costs are more reasonable for the same flights as under Chase Reserve. So I’m putting away Chase Reserve and using Capital One Venture for better travel and easy to use deals (true only 4 airlines but they are all i use).

    Please use your contacts at Chase to point out their 3rd party is playing unfair.

  13. Gary was very upfront about Moskito island. Rates are often 17k a night. That’s must have been one hell of a donation. It’s his business what he does and I personally find him to be one of the most upfront, down to earth bloggers. Does he hawk credit cards? Sometimes to the point of annoying? Sure but it’s up to you whether to apply. No one should be applying because Gary says so.

  14. @Darth Apu – I have not. I’ve been in a position to ask for one off of a Business Platinum’s charge volume but wouldn’t pay the fee

  15. Centurion doesn’t charge any fees to high value customers. The sky high membership fees that float around in public, are just a marketing tool to give the card an extra aura of exclusivity among people who will never qualify. And perhaps to discourage people from inquiring casually about the card. Amex offers the Centurion card proactively fee-free to HVCs.

  16. @Gary Thankfully the bonus Loyalty Points on the Aviator Silver will be continuing. From the current T&Cs:

    Starting January 1, 2022, the primary cardmember may earn additional Loyalty Points (as defined in the AAdvantage® section of aa.com) if spend thresholds detailed below are met during the status qualification period. The initial status qualification period will be extended by two months, running from January 1, 2022 through February 28, 2023. Beginning on March 1, 2023, the status qualification period will be the twelve-month period beginning on March 1, and running through the end of February of the following year.

  17. Best angle you didn’t cover,

    Buying Amazon gift cards at 5x at staples with ink no fee card (plus CSP). 5x UR points on Amazon

  18. ChrisInNY: I’ll take your bait. If you’re stupid and don’t pay your bill in full then CC’s are a bad idea. That said smart people can parlay CC’s into a HUGE profit machine. If you don’t get it you don’t get it.

  19. And no Costco no-fee Visa Signature card? We ended up shopping for most of the food at Costco (2% cash back) and also stop for Costco gas (4% at Costco and elsewhere).
    In my drawer I and my wife have legacy IHG cards with $49 annual fee with 1 free night. For some time those were the only Mastercards we had.
    For the future, I am still considering Amex Plt through Schwab because of $100 or $200 annual fee credit if you invest through Schwab. But I am still OK with Admirals Club membership because of the service provided by AAngels. And why I would need Walmart+ membership???

  20. @Alex77W – I get using Costco at their gas stations, but only in store very judiciously if you want the extra long warranty. Otherwise the 2% cash back can be beat by other Visa cards. E.g., $15k of spend at costco gets you $300 using costco visa. That same $15k of spend on a Hyatt card gets you basically 2 free nights at a Cat 4 hotel… which you should be able to get at least $500 of value from.

    @Gary – the one thing that you do need is a new wallet, given your picture of that one 🙂

  21. Todd, make that two people who know. To me, Gemini seemed to have one of the worst reward structures.

  22. @Gary – You should write about the adv/dis for cash back into brokerage vs. points. Would be interested to hear your take.

  23. Always interesting to see how the product mix changes from year to year. Personally I like my Cap1 Spark Miles and Amex Biz Blue+ for 2x points on everyday spend as neither has an annual fee. Amex Gold is definitely a keeper for 4x grocery and restaurants.

    If you lived out west I expect you would also have an Alaska card as the $99 companion certs can save $$$ on expensive tickets and AS offers more comfortable seating options than WN. Though not as good a deal with the new 6k spend requirement.

  24. @Lee – Capital One Venture (2x everything), Amex Gold (4x dining/groceries on first $25k of spend, 3x flights) then for the third spot Bilt Rewards if I was a renter.

    But this could vary quite a bit based on reward goals and what you spend the most on.

  25. Gary, are you keeping the Bonvoy brilliant with the annual fee of $650?

    Are you not an Amazon prime member and buying Amazon gift cards at Staples with the ink five times bonus? That’s probably the single most lucrative category for me

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