Edited by: Nick Ellis
& Juan Ruiz
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I recognize that “Points and Miles Expert” wasn’t a job presented at many career fairs, so often when I tell people what I do, they give me a look of bewilderment and then immediately ask: “Well, what cards do you have?”
My wallet contains a collection of cards that I’ve cultivated over the years and has pivoted with me through my different stages of life. Just because I have these cards doesn’t mean they work for everyone.
However, I firmly believe that anyone can learn to leverage points and miles to their benefit. It all comes down to knowing the answers to the following questions:
Here’s a little bit about how I built out my wallet and spending strategy as well as some things to think about as you build out your own.
I find lots of value in having flexible points that aren’t tied to a specific airline, specific hotel, or cash-back. I like that I have a pool of points that can flex for a specific trip, specific flight, or another travel goal.
Knowing that I liked the flexibility of using points across different airlines, I looked into issuers that had the broadest range of transfer partners. When I started down my points and miles journey years ago, I saw that American Express and Chase had the most variety at the time.
With this, I decided to build a strategy around building up a stash of Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards, knowing I’d have good options when it comes to where I wanted to go, how I wanted to get there, and where I wanted to stay while there.
After I knew which types of points I wanted to start to earn, I had to take a look at where I was spending my money.
I recognize that it can seem overwhelming when you look across all the cards available, what they earn, and their bonus earnings. So I started with a simple question: “What do I spend my money on?”
This, of course, changes over time, so I try to reassess these once a year or every other year to make sure I’m not missing out on any big categories. Taking an hour every so often helps me travel on points and miles, all making sure I’m getting the most out of all my card benefits!
For now, my big spending categories are:
Figuring out that my 2 largest spending categories were food- or travel-related helped narrow my search so I could match with credit cards that would allow me to make the most out of the money I was already spending.
A fantastic travel card with a huge welcome offer, good benefits, and perks for a moderate annual fee.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® card is one of the best travel rewards cards on the market. Its bonus categories include travel, dining, online grocery purchases, and streaming services, which gives you the opportunity to earn lots of bonus points on these purchases.
Additionally, it offers flexible point redemption options, no foreign transaction fees, and excellent travel insurance coverage including primary car rental insurance. With benefits like these, it’s easy to see why this card is an excellent choice for any traveler.
This was the first card in my wallet, and I firmly believe that the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is a fantastic card for beginners but will still provide value well after you’ve graduated from beginner status.
This card earns:
When I was a graduate student, this card allowed me to take advantage of any dining out with 3x points earned per dollar. I also liked knowing that I was earning at least 2x points per dollar spent on my travel purchases to get back to see family out of state. The categories are also straightforward and simple to know.
Nowadays, this is my go-to card for all personal purchases since my spouse and I have a family budget in addition to our individual budgets without entangling family/personal purchases.
Take into account the extra benefits that come along with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and it’s easy to see how this card can easily keep a place in your wallet:
This card can provide a great way to accumulate Membership Rewards points on eligible travel, transit, and at restaurants.
The American Express® Green Card is an excellent all-around travel rewards card thanks to earning 3x Membership Rewards® points on eligible travel and transit purchases and at restaurants, access to American Express transfer partners, and a reasonable annual fee.
This was the second card in my wallet and was added when I wanted to start to build up American Express Membership Rewards. Since the Amex Green card had similar earnings to the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, I didn’t originally have a clear differentiation between the 2 cards but I knew I wanted to earn American Express Membership Rewards and this card came with good earnings, great benefits, and a reasonable annual fee.
This card earns:
So while many of the categories overlapped with my Chase Sapphire Preferred card, I found it beneficial to have 3x earnings on travel (compared to the 2x on all other travel purchases with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card).
This made the bonus structures easy to remember and I loved that Amex Green’s travel category includes purchases made with third-party providers.
This allowed me to earn 3x when I found great deals through online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia. It’s worth noting that Chase’s definition of travel purchases is also broad, so between these 2 cards, I was earning bonus points on nearly every travel purchase.
As my spouse and I have expanded our strategy, we still utilize this card for its broad definition of travel and transit, as well as to take advantage of the CLEAR Plus credit, which allows us to cover the cost of a CLEAR Plus membership (up to $189) every year.
Thanks to earning Amex Membership Rewards points with the Amex Green card, my spouse and I were able to book The Apartment on Etihad from Abu Dhabi (AUH) to New York (JFK) to end our honeymoon. We redeemed 99,244 Membership Rewards points for our tickets which had a cash value of $9,260.
The Freedom Flex card is an excellent no-annual-fee card that still earns big with 5% cash-back on travel and other bonus categories.
The Chase Freedom Flex℠ sure does pack quite a punch — especially for a no-annual-fee card.
The Freedom Flex card is an incredible option for those looking for a well-rounded cash-back card, or a powerful point-earner when paired with a premium card in the Ultimate Rewards family.
When my now-spouse and I first moved into together, we recognized the need to have a joint card. Since we each had a Chase Sapphire Preferred card, we wanted a no-annual-fee card to put our joint purchases on. We settled on adding the Freedom Flex card.
We loved the idea of being able to transfer the cash-back earned on the Freedom Flex card to either of our Chase Sapphire Preferred cards as we started to travel together.
This card earns:
Since the quarterly bonus categories were generally those that we were already spending within, this was a great way to put joint purchases on 1 card and still earn bonus rewards. It takes a little effort to activate the offers, but this was an easy win to earn more points on things we were already purchasing.
Nowadays, this card doesn’t play as large of a role, but since it’s a no-annual-fee card, we keep it in our wallets and take advantage of the Freedom Flex card’s benefits:
This is the go-to card for food lovers who dine out at restaurants and those who want big rewards at U.S. supermarkets!
The American Express® Gold Card is definitely a game-changer.
With this card, you can earn 4x Membership Rewards points at restaurants and you’ll also earn 4x Membership Rewards points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1x.
There isn’t another card on the market that offers a 1-2 punch like this. Of course, there are a number of other benefits of the Gold Card as well, including extra monthly dining rewards and more.
Once we got married, we decided to beef up our card strategy. Since we were spending more on food from U.S. supermarkets, this was a big hole in our spending strategy. The choice was pretty clear: the Amex Gold card was the next card to be added to our wallets.
The Amex Gold card is a great all-around everyday earning card because it earns:
This brought our dining out at restaurants bonus to 4x points (compared to the 3x or 3% with other cards) and we could finally capitalize on purchases at U.S. supermarkets.
We rarely hit the cap, so we can earn big for grocery purchases most of the time. Not only did the card beef up our spending strategy, but I was also able to add my husband as an authorized user for no additional fee, making it easy for us each to have our own card (rates and fees).
Plus, this Amex Gold card’s benefits helped us get more value from adding a card with a higher annual fee to our strategy:
The Ink Business Preferred card is hard to beat, with a huge welcome bonus offer and 3x points per $1 on the first $150,000 in so many business categories.
The Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card is a powerhouse for earning lots of points from your business purchases, especially for business owners that spend regularly on ads.
Plus the card offers flexible redemption options, including access to Chase airline and hotel transfer partners where you can achieve outsized value.
Business owners will also love the protections the card provides like excellent cell phone insurance, rental car insurance, purchase protection, and more.
As I progressed in my career, a business credit card was the next step in my credit card journey. First of all, I needed to ensure that business purchases were easily identifiable and kept separate from my personal purchases. As with my personal cards, I wanted my first card to be straightforward and easy to understand.
Since the majority of my early business purchases were internet and phone services, along with travel, this card aligned with what I was already spending. I appreciated that since the cap is combined, I didn’t have to keep track of each category since I didn’t regularly hit the annual cap.
Not only does the card come with strong bonus earnings, but it also offers great benefits. While the Ink Business Preferred card’s benefits include fraud protection, extended warranty protection, purchase protection, and trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance, I found particular value in the cell phone protection and the roadside assistance.
It was this combination of the points from my Chase Sapphire Preferred card and Ink Business Preferred card that built me a big enough stash of points so my spouse and I could book 2 Emirates first class tickets for 112,000 Ultimate Rewards points total. If we’d paid cash, it would have cost over $2,000 — cheers to flying in style on points!
This card is ideal for business travelers who enjoy luxury travel and are looking for a card loaded with benefits!
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express is a premium travel rewards card tailored toward business owners who are frequent travelers with a high number of annual expenses.
When you factor in the large number of perks that the card offers like the best airport lounge access at over 1,400 lounges, along with tons of annual credits, it’s easy to see why this card can is a top option for frequent traveling business owners.
Hot Tip: Check to see if you’re eligible for a huge welcome bonus offer of up to 170,000 points with the Amex Business Platinum. The current public offer is 120,000 points. (This targeted offer was independently researched and may not be available to all applicants.)
After a while, I wanted to really ramp up my travel earnings and take advantage of travel luxuries to make traveling that much easier. In my opinion, nothing fits the bill quite like the Amex Business Platinum card.
This card earns:
And it also comes with stellar statement credits and luxury travel benefits such as:
This was the card that took me from savvy traveler to savvy luxury traveler. While some may find the annual fee to be a bit of a shock, I find that I’m able to take advantage of the statement credits and travel benefits, making this card a must in my wallet.
With a little bit of homework and an honest look at what you’re currently spending, anyone can build a card strategy to fit your points and miles goals. While the strategy above works for me, you should ask yourself:
There’s no right or wrong way to build a points and miles strategy so long as you’re getting the most value out of whatever strategy works for you.
If you’re looking for ideas, here are a few guides to show you that there are great cards out there for whatever you want to optimize for:
The information regarding the Chase Freedom Flex℠ was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding the American Express® Green Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
For better or for worse, it depends. What do you value? Are you looking to earn points, miles, or cash-back? Are you loyal to a particular hotel chain, airline, or retailer? What are your travel goals? Are you wanting to focus on domestic flights to see the grandkids, looking for luxury international first-class flights, or both? What are your current spending habits?
It can seem very overwhelming, but we’re here to help. Here are a few guides to show you that there are great cards out there for whatever you want to optimize for:
I went with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card as my first foray into the world of points and miles.
This card makes it easy up to 5x points on travel and 3x points on dining, which covers a lot of what you might already be spending your money on. The bonus categories are straightforward and simple to know.
Plus, you get other great benefits with Instacart+, Gopuff, and DoorDash, as well as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards hotel credit and a 10% anniversary points boost.
If you’re new to the points and miles game, make sure you explore our ultimate beginner’s guide to points and miles to make the most out of your first card and ensure you’re set up for success.
The short answer is: it depends. However, you can elevate your credit card points and miles strategy by ensuring you have credit cards that work together to build your stash of points and miles. The objective is to maximize your rewards with what you’re already spending.
The Amex Gold card and Amex Green card are favorites because you earn 3x on eligible transit and travel with the Amex Green card and 4x at restaurants worldwide and U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year) with the Amex Gold card. That covers a large portion of monthly expenses, making accruing Membership Rewards points second nature.
Take a look at the best credit card combinations to make sure you’re getting the most out of your credit cards and which combinations will set you up for even stronger earnings.
This depends on what you value most — you have to decide whether you value cash-back or travel rewards more. If the answer is travel rewards, you’ll then need to decide what kind of rewards you want to earn — is it airline miles or is it flexible points that can be transferred to any one of a number of partners?
These are the types of questions you’ll need to ask before deciding on which cards to fill your wallet with.
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UP's Bonus Valuation
This bonus value is an estimated valuation calculated by UP after analyzing redemption options, transfer partners, award availability and how much UP would pay to buy these points.