3 miles per dollar everywhere, uncapped

I’ve written many posts in the past about ways to earn 5 miles per dollar everywhere.  The trick is to buy gift cards at stores like Staples or Office Depot and pay with a Chase Ink card which offers 5X at office supply stores (up to $50K per year with Ink Plus or Ink Bold; up to $25K per year with Ink Cash or Ink Classic).  That way, even if you don’t need office supplies, you can earn 5 points per dollar at any merchant that accepts those gift cards.  For a list of gift cards available at Staples in-store and online, please see “Staples Gift Cards” (note: the list is slightly out of date, but still mostly accurate).

It used to be possible to earn 5X by buying $500 Visa gift cards and even $500 Vanilla Reload cards (which will soon be history) at Office Depot, but Office Depot has long since stopped allowing credit cards for those purposes.  The best you can now do with Visa gift cards is buy $200 fixed value Visa cards at Office Depot or Staples.  Unfortunately, these have a hefty $6.95 fee with each card. 

The Staples $200 gift card deal is still good.  You could theoretically use your extra Ultimate Rewards points to pay yourself back for the fees and still clear 1.7 points per dollar.  That said, dealing with lots of $200 Visa gift cards can be a pain.  Another great opportunity is to use a Citi Forward card that earns 5X at bookstores to buy gift cards (often found at campus bookstores, for example).  Unfortunately, that card is no longer available to new applicants.

So what are the alternatives?  Enter a slew of 3X opportunities…

3X Opportunities

There are plenty of 3% cash back opportunities, and there are a few easy 5X or better hotel point opportunities (e.g. Club Carlson and Hilton), but I’m going to focus on cards that offer 3 points per dollar where those points can be transferred to airline miles or used to purchase airfare at a rate better than 1 cent per point.

Diner’s Club Card Elite: 3X grocery, drugs, gas

 

  • Annual fee: $300

This card earns 3 points per dollar at grocery stores, drug stores, and gas stations (pay at the pump only).  The grocery and drug store category bonuses are awesome considering that both types of stores tend to have fantastic gift card selections (including $500 Visa cards).  Plus, some Target stores code as grocery stores, so this could be a huge winner for those with a REDbird card (see “REDcard changes everything”).  In particular, with the card’s very large selection of transfer partners, this would be the ideal card for those who prefer miles over cash back.  There are, though, two little snags:

  1. Diner’s Club has temporarily stopped accepting new applications. They told me on the phone, though, that the application should be live again in a few weeks… or so.
  2. The $300 annual fee is quite steep and there is no signup bonus or travel reimbursements to offset that fee.

See also: How to earn 1.8 SPG points per dollar, or 5.76 Choice points per dollar

American Express Business Gold: 3X choose your own category

 

  • Annual fee: $175

Via MileCards, beginning January 30 2015, this card will let you choose your own 3X category from these options (you will receive 2X for the others):

  • Airfare purchased directly from an airline
  • US purchases for advertising in select media
  • Shipping
  • Gas stations
  • Purchases made directly from select computer hardware, software, and cloud computing providers

This is not quite an uncapped benefit, but it is close: 3X and 2X earnings apply to purchases up to $100,000 in each of the 5 industry categories per year.  It seems to me that the gas station category has the most opportunity for those looking for gift cards and gift-card-like opportunities.

Amex EveryDay Preferred: up to 3X gas + more

 

  • Annual fee: $95

Officially, this card offers 3x points at US supermarkets and 2x points at US gas stations.  The problem with the 3X supermarket category is that it is capped at $6,000 per year in purchases (then it goes to 1x).  Where this card really shines, though, is when you make 30 or more purchases in a billing period.  In that case, you will earn 50% more points (less returns and credits).  So, if you always make sure to make 30 or more purchases every billing period, the card’s earning structure becomes:

  • 4.5X at U.S. grocery stores, up to $6K spend per year (then the rate drops to 1.5X)
  • 3X at US standalone gas stations
  • 1.5X everywhere else.

If you don’t mind ensuring 30 purchases per month, this card’s opportunities edge out the Business Gold card since you can get the same 3X gas station earnings, plus 27,000 points per year from grocery stores!  And, unlike the Business Gold card, the 3X gas benefit is uncapped.

See also: Amex’s powerful new EveryDay cards

Citi ThankYou Premier: 3X dining and entertainment

 

  • Annual fee: $125

This card offers 3X dining and entertainment and 2X for airlines, hotels, and travel agencies.  To be honest, I haven’t found a good source of gift cards in any of those categories, but it seems to me very likely that opportunities exist, especially in the entertainment category.  According to Citi:

Entertainment is defined broadly as purchases made for live performances (e.g., concerts, theater), movie theaters, amusement parks and cultural events (e.g., zoos, museums). Entertainment merchants include sports promoters, theatrical promoters, movie theaters, amusement parks, tourist attractions, record stores and video rental stores.

That’s a pretty broad list!  There must be a movie theater, record store, tourist attraction, etc. that sells gift cards, right?  If you find a good one, please let me know!

See also: Citi Prestige vs Premier vs Preferred

Other 3X opportunities worth noting

Here are a few more worth considering:

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. I’m patiently waiting on the Diners Club Elite to come back =) I keep checking every week! Although, if you look on the forums at MyFico and FlyerTalk, you’ll notice most peoples cards have been shutdown for 1+ months! This makes me scared. I’m waiting to see the general outcome.

  2. I wonder whether Best Buy would qualify as a one of the select computer hardware, software, and cloud computing providers for Amex Business Gold.
    It certainly should qualify for a record store, I’d think. for your Citi ThankYou premier entertainment category.
    This all makes signup bonuses look much more attractive again, though. With all the yearly caps and loss of 5x, chasing the big signups looks better and better. Luckily I haven’t nearly gotten them all, and new products seem to be coming out pretty rapidly.

    • Best Buy might qualify as a select computer store, but I don’t think it would qualify as a record store. The credit card companies base the categorization on the merchant code that is used to process your credit card. I’m pretty sure BB would have a code of electronics store, or something like that.

      • ha, maybe you’re right that it wouldn’t qualify as a record store. I’m sort of remembering buying CDs from Best Buy back in the day, but I guess it is actually more of an electronics store.

  3. @Richard. Do you have a link to that flyertalk thread? I’m also eagerly awaiting the diners, and kicking myself I didn’t get it when it reopened.

    However I haven’t heard of people getting shut down for it, that’d be a spanner in the works.. I thought that was only the blue cash…

  4. FM, you mentioned using the Forward card to buy gift cards at bookstores. I’ve had thie 5x Forward for a few years now but never actually looked for gift cards when going to bookstores. Do bookstores have Visa/MC/AMEX gift cards? What denomination/fee? Thanks

    • Dave, the best I’ve found are the temporary Campus Edition cards at a campus bookstore: $4.95 fee for up to $500 in value. I’ve heard that Books-a-million carries gift cards too, but I don’t have first hand experience there.

  5. Any tips on making the 30 spends per billing period for the AMEX Everyday Preferred card without having to actual count how many times you use it, or check on on-line counter?

    • Larry, just split purchase every time you pay. For example, when I buy $30 of groceries I tell the clerk to put $3.82 on the first swipe, $6.41 on the next swipe, etc. You’ll hit 30 swipes in no time.

  6. Don’t even bother with the Diners Club card…they are locking literally every card that gets used right now. And they have people reading this blogs as well as others and will specifically ask you about each purchase. They know exactly what is going on.

  7. The new Diners Club cards are being managed very conservatively. Some who have been shut down in the first month or so have been able to get their $300 annual fee refunded so the bank is not unfair, just anti MS spending.

  8. Got the Diners and it’s been a huge PITA. Totally disorganized operation. They told me that 5x more people applied than they expected, so that’s their excuse for their ridiculously long account holds/shutdowns. Also, they don’t understand MS so you quickly get locked for “fraud” and it typically takes several weeks for them to get around to unlocking or cancelling you outright. In the meantime you’re in limbo and can’t get any answers. All that for the pleasure of a $300 AF and no signup bonus. Run by Bank of Montreal – what a bunch of incompetents.

  9. Also, when I applied, it took exactly 30 days with zero interim notice of whether I was approved or not. And despite calling several times, they could not tell me the status of my application – and just told me to wait. Jerkoffs.

  10. I love the 3x at gas stations, but since speedway stopped carrying $500 visa GC’s last year I haven’t found much use for the 3x. Anyone have any suggestions on specific gas stations that can help with MS? Thanks.

  11. I have DC Elite card for 3 months now. They have the worst customer service ever. Points didnt show up in balance until second statement closed. When I load Redbird, it triggered fraud alert and they shut down my card. I called them at least 15 times and every time it’s either telling me to wait several weeks for investigation or they have no idea what’s going on. It took over a month to resolve. Two weeks later, guess what shutdown again for swiping it at a grocery store for buying a gift card. I have had enough and requested AF refund. They now tell me to wait for another few weeks!!

    Save yourself the headaches and avoid at all costs.

  12. does Amex work inside gas stations or only at gas pumps? I was under the impression folks only got bonus points at gas pumps.

  13. I think the key to the Everyday cards will be finding a way to automate small random charges to cover the 30 charges a a month. Back when my CU required 10 charges on their debit card to qualify for their highest yield I had a macro run that charged $2 to my card for my internet provider. But it wasn’t totally automated, I still had to remember to run the thing once a day.

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