Thursday, July 10, 2008

Reward Credit Cards We Actually Use

We do a lot of credit-card juggling – using one card for some things and other cards for different categories of spending. Here is a rundown of where and why we use our various cards.

  • Chase Freedom Visa – We get 3% cash back (or points) for up to $600/month in spending in our 3 “Top” categories. This usually works out to groceries, gas, and cell-phone bills. We spend enough in those categories that we have both opened separate Chase Freedom accounts, letting us get the 3% on up to $1,200/month. (After $600 spending per month, the rate drops to 1%.)
  • Chase Business Visa – This gives us 3% at hardware/building supply stores, office supply, restaurants, and gas (plus a few other categories we don’t use it for).
  • Hilton American Express – This offers the equivalent (to our way of thinking) of approximately 3-5%, valued at hotel room rates. We use this at restaurants, drugstores, and the Post Office (all offering the higher point value, as do groceries and gas, but we use other cards for those purchases). It’s also our card for car rentals (as it provides primary CDW coverage, with an optional program), as well as being our preferred everyday card.
  • Hilton Visa – This gives fewer points than the Hilton Amex, but we use it as a Visa backup if an Amex card isn’t taken and our purchase isn’t in one of the gas/grocery/etc. categories above. We figure it at a 2-3% reward level.
  • American Express FreedomPass Business card – This gives us only 1.33% (as a statement credit which can be used for travel purchases), but we use it primarily for its 3% discount on Delta and JetBlue tickets (just by purchasing with the card), 5% at Hertz, and a few others. It, too, can be used for primary CDW car-rental insurance coverage. (See our previous article.)
  • Capital One Visa – Yes, the points are lousy (1.25% or less) but it charges no foreign-exchange fees. We use this pretty much just overseas. You can now convert points to cash at 1%, so you don’t have to be locked into a travel purchase with their weird point scheme.
  • JCB card – This is new for us, and we’re still exploring its use. It only charges 1% foreign-exchange fees, but offers 1% cash back. It’s our second/backup international credit card.
  • Airline cards – We still have United, American, and USAir no-annual-fee credit cards. They only offer 1-mile-per-dollar (which – depending on ticket price or using miles for upgrades – can sometimes work out to 2% or more) when purchasing tickets on the respective airline. For some reason, we feel that maybe, just maybe, if we get in a jam we might get a little better treatment if we purchased the airline’s ticket with their credit card. Especially for cheap fares, we think the loss of “better” points from using our Hilton Amex might be worth the tradeoff.

Finally, a side note. A couple of our cards are “Signature” Visas, supposedly offering some value-added benefits (lost-luggage reimbursement, some shopping benefits), but we just can’t see enough value in them to use the Signature cards in place of other cards, unless they also have good rewards schemes.

So that’s it. A lot of cards to juggle, but we do everything we can to maximize our rewards for the spending we’re going to do anyway. This may not be the best for you, but we wanted to share our little card insanity.