Super mixed credit card combo

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In the post “Super credit card combos,” I identified combinations of bank credit cards that can lead to huge earning potential within a single rewards program.  For example, the combination of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Freedom Unlimited, and Ink Business Cash cards means that you can earn from 1.5 to 5 points per dollar on all spend by using the right card for the right purchase.  And when you go to redeem those points, you can maximize point value by moving the points to your Sapphire Reserve card before redeeming for travel.  This gives you a rebate on spend worth 2.25% to 7.5%.  That’s excellent.  But you can do better.

If you’re willing to earn points across multiple programs, you’ll have more opportunities to earn many more points.  In this post, I’ll continue to focus on transferable points programs.  These are points that can be used to directly book travel or to transfer to airline and hotel programs for even more value under the right circumstances.

Start with: Amex Blue Business Plus

The key to getting great value from your everyday spend is to start with a card that offers great value everywhere.

The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card

FM Mini Review: 2X rewards for all spend (up to $50K per year) with no annual fee makes this card a winner.


Annual Fee: $0

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Base

Earning rate: 2X Membership Rewards points on all purchases, up to $50K spend per calendar year (then 1X thereafter). Terms apply. (Rates & Fees)

See also: The new king of everyday spend

It may seem strange to start the roundup with a business card, but it’s seriously hard to do better than 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar for all spend (up to $50K per year).  Membership Rewards points are incredibly valuable both because of their transfer partners and their frequent transfer bonuses.  As an example of the latter, at the time of this writing Amex is offering a 40% bonus on point transfers to British Airways or Iberia.  This means that if you take advantage of this bonus using points earned from the Blue Business Plus, then the card would have indirectly earned 2 x 1.4 = 2.8 miles (Avios) per dollar for all spend.  If you prefer using points to pay for airfare, one option is to get the Amex Business Platinum card which offers a 35% rebate on select airfare.  This results in a per point value of just over 1.5 cents per point.  In other words, when paired with the Business Platinum card, the Blue Business Plus offers 3% back in the form of airfare when points are used in that way.

Sprinkle in 4X grocery and dining

Next, if you spend much at US restaurants or US supermarkets, you’ll want to add the Amex Gold Card to the mix.  This card also earns Membership Rewards points, but at a much higher rate within select categories of spend…

American Express® Gold Card

FM Mini Review: This card offers an awesome return on US supermarket and worldwide dining spend, putting it at or near the top-of-class in both categories. The addition of Boxed.com makes it easy to get full value from the card's $10/month dining & entertainment credits.


Annual Fee: $250

Card Type: Amex Charge Card

Base
Travel
Dine
Grocery

Earning rate: 3X points for flights booked with airlines or on amextravel.com ⚬ 4x points at US Supermarkets (up to $25K in purchases, then 1x) ⚬ 4x at restaurants worldwide ⚬ 1X points on other purchases. Terms apply. (Rates & Fees)

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ Up to $100 a year in statement credits for baggage fees and more with one qualifying airline ⚬ Up to $10 in statement credits monthly with participating dining partners (Boxed.com, Shake Shack, Seamless/Grubhub, Cheesecake Factory and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse) ⚬ $100 hotel credit on qualifying charges on stays of 2 nights or longer, plus a room upgrade upon arrival, if available with The Hotel Collection at americanexpress.com/hc

Despite its relatively high annual fee, I love this card because it offers a huge category bonus for common spend: 4X US restaurants and 4X US supermarkets (up to $25K in purchases per year).  For many of us, the extra rewards should more than make up for the card’s annual fee.  The card’s effective annual fee is reduced by its $100 in annual airline fee rebates (see what works here).  And the card’s $120 in dining credits (up to $10 per month) is icing on the cake for those who often order food from Grubhub or Seamless; or eat at The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, or Shake Shack.

Add in 3X travel, great travel protections, airport lounge access, and great point value

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card’s category bonuses overlap a bit with the Amex Gold Card, but it brings enough to the table to earn a place in your wallet…

Chase Sapphire Reserve Card

FM Mini Review: Excellent all-around card for frequent traveler. Best when paired with no-fee Chase Freedom Flex, no-fee Freedom Unlimited & no-fee Chase Ink Cash


Annual Fee: $550

Card Type: Visa Infinite

Base
Travel
Dine
Other

Earning rate: 3X Travel and Dining ⚬ 10X Lyft (through March 2022)

Noteworthy perks: $300 Annual Travel Credit ⚬ Points worth 1.5 cents each towards travel ⚬ Primary auto rental collision damage waiver ⚬ Priority Pass Select lounge access ⚬ $100 Global Entry fee credit ⚬ $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2020 & 2021 ⚬ Free DashPass for at least 1 year (activate by 12/31/21) ⚬ One year Lyft Pink membership ⚬ Earn 10X on Lyft spend

See also: Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide

If you travel often, the Sapphire Reserve card is worth considering for its travel protections alone.  In my roundup of ultra-premium credit card travel insurance I found that the Chase Sapphire Reserve clearly offered the best collection of travel protections.  The great thing is that even if you pay for flights with miles, you can pay award fees with your Sapphire Reserve and you’ll still be fully covered.

Beyond the card’s travel protections, it offers great value for travel purchases (3X Ultimate Rewards).  The card also offers 3X for dining, but within the US you’ll want to use your Amex Gold Card to get 4X.  Outside of the US, use the Sapphire Reserve.  When redeeming points, you’ll get 1.5 cents per point value for travel booked through Chase’s travel portal.  Or, you can transfer points to Chase’s transfer partners.  Most of Chase’s transfer partners overlap with Amex’s transfer partners, so it’s possible to points from both Amex and and Chase to the same program (JetBlue, Air France, and Singapore Airlines are few examples).

And, finally, the Sapphire Reserve offers Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership.  This gives you access to many airport lounges worldwide.  Additionally, Priority Pass has been slowly but steadily adding airport restaurants to the membership.  In these restaurants you can typically get up $28 off of each person’s bill.  Since the Sapphire Reserve’s version of Priority Pass allows up to 2 guests, you can treat yourself and two guests to a free meal at these restaurants.

Round off the mix with 5X bonuses

Finally, I’d suggest adding in two no-fee “cash back” cards from Chase.  In both cases, these cards are advertised as cash back cards, but actually earn Ultimate Rewards points.  By transferring these points to your Sapphire Reserve account they become more valuable.

Chase Freedom Visa

FM Mini Review: Great for 5X categories. Good companion card to Sapphire Reserve, Sapphire Preferred, or Ink Business Preferred.


Annual Fee: $0

Card Type: Visa Signature or Platinum

Base
Grocery
Shop

Earning rate: 5X Lyft ⚬ 5X in rotating categories on up to $1,500 spend per quarter. Q3 2020: 5X Amazon and Whole Foods

Noteworthy perks: Free DashPass for up to 3 months upon activation

See also: Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide

Chase Ink Business Cash Credit Card

FM Mini Review: This one should be in everyone's wallet. Incredible signup bonus for a no-fee card. Great card for 5X categories. Excellent companion card to Sapphire Reserve, Sapphire Preferred, or Ink Business Preferred.


Annual Fee: $0

Card Type: Visa Signature Business

Base
Dine
Gas
Phone
Office
Other

Earning rate: 5X office supplies ⚬ 5X cellular/landline/cable (on up to $25,000 in total purchases in 5x categories annually) ⚬ 2X gas and restaurants ⚬ 5X Lyft

See also: Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide

The Chase Ink Business Cash card may be a business card but it offers incredible point earnings for common consumer spend: cell phone, internet, and cable.  Personally, I set up my phone and cable bills to auto pay from my Ink Cash card.  It doesn’t get easier than that to earn 5X!  The card also offers 5X at office supply stores.  That’s useful for almost everybody since it’s really easy to get 5X buying gift cards to other stores (Whole Foods, Lowes, Amazon, etc.) at OfficeMax or Staples, or even online at Staples.com.  Note that the 5X bonuses are limited to $25K spend per membership year.

The Chase Freedom card also offers 5X bonuses in common categories, but those categories change every 3 months.  Categories such as grocery stores, warehouse stores, gas stations, and restaurants are common.  Chase caps 5X earning with the Freedom card at $1,500 spend per quarter.

Wrap Up

There is no single best combination of cards that is best for everyone.  People have different spend patterns and are motivated by different rewards.  The combination shown here is my attempt to identify the best combination for those who value transferable rewards and typically spend a decent amount of money within the categories of spend described above.

Consider, for example, a family that spends $35K in a year on these categories:

  • Grocery stores (within the US): $7,000
  • Restaurants (within the US): $5,000
  • Cable, cell phone, internet: $5,000
  • Travel: $5,000
  • Misc 5X Freedom Categories: $3,000
  • Everywhere Else: $10,000

They would earn the following numbers of points:

  • Grocery stores (within the US): $7,000 x 4 = 28,000
  • Restaurants (within the US): $5,000 x 4 = 20,000
  • Cable, cell phone, internet: $5,000 x 5 = 25,000
  • Travel: $5,000 x 3 = 15,000
  • Misc 5X Freedom Categories: $3,000 x 5 = 15,000
  • Everywhere Else: $10,000 x 2 = 20,000
  • Total = 123,000 transferable points

This family would earn 123,000 transferable points from their usual spend simply by using the best card for each situation.  When compared to the meager 35,000 miles the same family would earn with a typical airline card (most earn just 1 mile per dollar), this is obviously a huge win.

We can also compare to a 2% cash back card.  If the same family were to get 2% cash back everywhere, they would earn $35K x .02 = $700 cash back.  That sounds good until you consider what value they would get if they used all 123,000 points for an average value of 1.5 cents each towards travel: that comes to 123K x .015 = $1,845 in travel value.  That’s a tremendous return on $35K spend!

Of course, those rewards come with a cost: the card annual fees.  This super combo includes two cards with annual fees: The Amex Gold Card for $250 plus the Sapphire Reserve for $450.  $300 of the latter will be automatically reimbursed with the Sapphire Reserve is used to pay for travel, so that brings the net annual fee of the two cards to $400.  You might also get back up to $100 for airline fees plus up to $120 for select dining purchases (up to $10 per month).  So, worst case, your net out of pocket cost would be $400.  Best case: $180.  Is it worth spending up to $400 per year extra to get $1,845 worth of travel?  I think so!

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