5X everywhere without gift cards, part 3: Everything Else

This is the third of a three part series showing how you can earn 5X everywhere without gift cards.  In the previous posts I showed how you can earn 5X Ultimate Rewards points and ThankYou points in many categories including telecom, grocery stores, drug stores, and more.  In today’s post I’ll cover what to do with spend that is outside of those popular categories.

Three Part Series

  1. 5X everywhere without gift cards, part 1: Ultimate Rewards
  2. 5X everywhere without gift cards, part 2: ThankYou Points
  3. 5X everywhere without gift cards, part 3: Everything Else
    (this post)

5X Categories

In the previous two posts I showed how you can earn 5 points per dollar (5X) at in the following categories:

Ultimate Rewards
  • Office supply purchases
  • Cell phone
  • Landline
  • Cable
  • Travel (4.28X)
  • Rotating categories
ThankYou Rewards
  • Gas stations
  • Grocery stores
  • Drug stores
  • Restaurants
  • Bookstores
  • Movie theaters
  • Video rental stores
  • Record stores

5X Everywhere Else

The Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature (and its twin, Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa) earns 5 points per dollar for all purchases (and 10 points per dollar at Club Carlson properties).  By falling back on this card for purchases that do not fall into the above listed categories, you will earn 5X for all credit card purchases.

Club Carlson point value

Using the Club Carlson card to earn 5X everywhere sounds good until you realize that Club Carlson points are worth much less than ThankYou points or Ultimate Rewards points.  In fact, while it is easy to get at least 1 cent per point value from Ultimate Rewards and ThankYou Rewards, Club Carlson straight up sells points for 7/10ths of a cent each.  So, even though it is sometimes possible to get more than 7/10s of a cent value from Club Carlson points, it is wiser to earn Ultimate Rewards points or ThankYou points, all else being equal.

A few months ago, I looked at Club Carlson hotel prices and redemption rates in a number of cities.  I found that, in my sample, the per point value of Club Carlson points ranged from .22 cents to .89 cents each.  The average point value came to .43 cents.  This is far less than the value of Ultimate Rewards or ThankYou points.

Two Night Stay Sweet Spot

(Note: The Bonus Award Night feature was discontinued as of 6/1/2015.)

Where Club Carlson points shine is in booking two-night stays.  The Club Carlson credit cards come with a benefit called “Bonus Award Nights” (see “Club Carlson rocks our world… Again“).  With this benefit, when you book a two night or longer stay, the last night of your stay is free.  That means that for a two night stay, the cost in points for your stay is cut in half.  In other words, you will pay for one night (with points) and get the second night free (up to 50 free nights per year).  So, when you have the credit card and you book two night stays, the value of your Club Carlson points is effectively doubled!

Going back to my old analysis:  Where I previously saw Club Carlson point values ranging from .22 cents to .89 cents in value, you can now get .44 cents to 1.78 cents value for the same hotels by booking two-night stays.

By using your Club Carlson points primarily for two-night stays, and primarily in properties with the best redemption values, you can get value rivaling ThankYou points and (sometimes) Ultimate Rewards.

Diminishing Returns

It’s important to realize that points have value only if you use them.  Since Club Carlson points have specific limited use (e.g. use them for Club Carlson free nights and or Points & Cash awards) and are best used in limited situations (two night stays), you may soon find that you have more points than you know what to do with.  Once you’ve reached that threshold, earning points for someday may not be the best idea.  Instead, consider other options for your “all other” spend…

Other Options

Here are a few good options for maximizing your return on “all other” spend:

Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve 3.94%

The key to maximizing value with this card is to spend exactly $10K per year. At $10K you’ll earn a free weekend night at almost any Hilton property worldwide. You’ll also earn 30,000 points from spend (the card offers 3X everywhere, 5X airline & car rental, and 10X at Hilton properties). If you value the Hilton HHonors points at .48 cents each and the free night at $250, then the earnings per dollar come to 3.94%.  Owning this card is also a great way to ensure getting free breakfast and free internet at Hilton properties (thanks to automatic Gold status).

Delta Reserve Card 3.4%

If you are a big spender and you value Delta elite status, this card is a great choice (it is, in fact, my “all other” card).  At $30K of annual spend (and again at $60K), you’ll earn 15K bonus miles and 15K MQMs (“Medallion Qualifying Miles” are Delta’s version of Elite Qualifying Miles).  If you plan carefully and end the year just above the big spend threshold (either $30K or $60K) you can maximize earnings on this card: you will earn an average of 1.5 miles per dollar and .5 MQMs per dollar.  If you use the 1.29 cents Fair Trading Price of Delta SkyMiles, and 3 cents per MQM valuation, then your earnings per dollar come to 3.435%.  For more details, please see “An analysis of the Delta Reserve credit card” and “How much should you pay for Elite Qualifying Miles?

Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard 2.2%

[NOTE: The offer described here has expired. To find current Barclaycard offers, please click here.]

A simpler option for your all-other spend is to earn 2.2% per dollar with Barclaycard’s Arrival World MasterCard ($89 annual fee version).  This card earns two points per dollar.  Points can be used to pay charges on your credit card statement.  If you use the points to pay for travel expenses, you will get 1 cent per point value plus a 10% rebate in points.  This is a nice no-fuss way to earn very good returns.


Here, now, is a summary of the cards needed for 5X everywhere without gift cards:

  • Chase Ink Bold (or Ink Plus): 5X for office supply purchases, cell phone, landline, and cable.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: 4.28X for travel (when booking via Travelocity through the Ultimate Rewards Mall).  You must keep the card through February of the next year to earn its 7% annual dividend.
  • Chase Freedom: 5X (or 5.5X) in categories that change each quarter.
  • Citi ThankYou Preferred: 5X (for 12 months) at gas stations, grocery stores, and drugstores.  To get 5X earnings, you must sign up with the link shown here.  UPDATE 5/7/2013: The Citi Preferred 5X link appears to be dead. Sorry everyone.
  • Citi Forward: 5X at restaurants, bookstores, movie theaters, video rental stores, and record stores.  New applications require proof that you are a college student, but some people have reported success calling and asking to switch a different Citi card to the Forward card.
  • Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature: 5X everywhere (10X at Club Carlson properties).  Please see my note about diminishing returns above.
  • Other options: Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, Delta Reserve, Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard.  For more options, see “Best Big Spend Bonuses“.

Last updated on September 10th, 2018

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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Travis SwansonNick @ Personal Finance Digestfrequent churnerJonesGlenn Recent comment authors

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Why not add in the US Bank Cash+ card that you’ve highlighted before. I’d probably stick that in right after Ink, Forward, and Preferred to cover the categories those 3 don’t cover.


WeddingSpend: Cash+ is a terrific option, but there are a few reasons I didn’t include it here: 1) I’m focusing primarily on cards that earn travel rewards; 2) This 5X everywhere solution is complicated enough without yet another card; and 3) Cash+ is going to cap 5% rewards soon & remove the $25 gift card with each $100 redemption. That said, the Cash+ card does offer excellent value for those who spend within its 5X categories.
Dan: That’s true that the Reserve card’s fee is terribly high, but I do think that the companion pass, lounge benefit, and priority upgrades go a long way toward justifying the fee.
frequent churner: Yep, that’s true. I don’t feel right about advertising that work-around, but it’s certainly an option.


One downside to the Delta Reserve card is the $450 annual fee.

frequent churner
frequent churner

If you have a wife with the Club Carlson card, or you have the business card, you can book alternating 2-night stays to effectively get half off on any even night length of stay.


For the club Carlson trick, do you need to have 2 different club Carlson accounts or could you add an authorized user and alternate booking 2 night stays?


Grant: You would need 2 different club carlson accounts. When you get both a personal card and a business card, they setup a new account for you for the business card (at least, that’s what happened for me), so one person could theoretically do this trick. I’m not sure how they would react at check-in though.

frequent churner
frequent churner

I’m pretty sure it has to be done from two distinct accounts, since each one is tied to a unique credit card that gives you the discount.


Club Carlson’s program is good until you start looking at hotels you actually want to stay at. A lot of them are impractical or very low tier.


barclays travelocity card would be a much better option for travel purchases on travelocity.

10% back + 2 chase UR points if you go through the chase mall.

Carl P
Carl P

Now that the spend is over I find I use the Club Carlson card mainly when I stay at their properties. Then they are 10X.


Note the Carlson benefit is limited to one free night per account so you’d need several accounts for the benefit. And rom I agree that outside of select areas in the US they really are only good in Europe, the Caribbean, and Select hotels in Asia/Africa/Australia. Still a decent program but not quite Up to the other chains


@FM: Has anyone received official notice from USB about Cash+ program changes? I’ve not received anything detailing changes. I know the Gold/Plat bonus has the termination date listed on the USB site.


$10K in spending on the Hilton Reserve is $200+ in foregone value. Unless we’re already planning a trip to a faraway or fancy place, I’m skipping that one. This might change if we were staying at many Hiltons, but that’s not the case.


Good series FM.

I was drawn to the idea of converting an existing Citi card to the forward but then I looked again at the list of 5X locations…

“5X at restaurants, bookstores, movie theaters, video rental stores, and record stores”

Record stores? I haven’t been in one of those in more than a decade…

Video rental stores? Pretty much the same story, I don’t think we’ve even got one within 10 miles of my house unless Red Box counts, and at $1/night it would take a while to spend any real money here.

Other than restaurants the other categories seem similar except… it looks like Amazon codes as a bookstore. Hey they’ve got to code as something! And I spend bucketloads at Amazon on all kinds of things. Sure you can sometimes get 5X with the Freedom (like Q42013) but with the Forward I could get it all the time!

Except… I could do the same thing and earn UR points with a Chase Bold buying my Amazon Gift Cards at Office Max or Staples. So sure I have to bring Gift Cards back into the equation and its a pain to have to drive to the store all the time and peal off those stupid stickers.

Maybe I’ll consider it when my new AA card hits 8-10 months old…



Absolutely correct. Club Carlson points are almost worthless since finding suitable hotels is almost impossible.

frequent churner
frequent churner

@Jones — I hope most people are misinformed like you, and the program will live on a lot longer than Hilton did.

Nick @ Personal Finance Digest

Fun while it lasted. I’ll miss all the traffic FM keeps driving to my site, though.

Travis Swanson
Travis Swanson

Right now I’m staying at the Park Inn in St. Petersburg Russia for 6 nights. We booked two rooms, as my Parents are with us. They upgraded us both to a suite, comes with a great breakfast, free Internet and a shuttle to the city. All for 9k points a night. Club Carlson points are far from useless.