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Editor’s note: This article is part of a weekly series where the TPG cards team consults our readers on their next card. If you would like to be a part of this series, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at [email protected].
It’s been more than a year since most of us have traveled. With travel ramping back up to pre-pandemic levels, though, it might be time to reevaluate your credit cards strategy.
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With an overwhelming number of card options currently available, the TPG credit cards team is helping our readers with a personalized consultation for what their next card should be. This weekly series will take into account our readers’ travel wishlists, their preferred style of travel, the cards they currently carry and other important factors to help us prescribe the right credit card plan for them.
This week, we’re starting with Debbie Rowe — a TPG reader who is already on the right track with some high-value cards, but who has an upcoming home renovation that might open doors, so to speak, for a new sign-up bonus (or two). Let’s take a deeper look and give her our expert recommendation.
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Debbie is in her early 50s, works full-time and is based in California. Although her hometown airport is Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT), she’s more than willing to drive to larger airports such as Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to nab a better deal.
Like many of us at TPG, she loves to travel, especially when she finds a great deal by using her points or leveraging elite status. In other words, she has aspirations to fly business class but has an economy budget.
Thankfully, an upcoming home renovation project provides her with the perfect pretext to apply for some new credit cards. If she plays her cards right (yes, pun intended), she’s potentially looking at tens of thousands of points and miles that could fund her next few trips.
Travel style and aspirations
Debbie’s travel style depends on the trip, but she’s most likely to travel solo or with friends, as her husband prefers to stay at home. Like many of us at TPG, she has aspirations to fly business class, but has more of an economy budget. That means she’s looking for ways to upgrade her flights using points, or by achieving elite status, which will secure her better perks for the price of economy.
Debbie expressed to me that she’s a Marriott fan and is on track to reach Platinum status this year. While she’s also a Hilton Honors Gold member, she’s worried that starting with a new hotel loyalty program may weaken her chances at reaching the next echelon of Marriott status, so she prefers to stick with Bonvoy for now.
Current credit cards
Before applying for any new cards, the first thing to consider — besides your credit score — is your Chase 5/24 status. Even with a stellar credit score, you likely won’t qualify for most Chase credit cards if you’ve opened five or more credit cards in the last 24 months. And that’s not just cards from Chase, but includes those from other issuers as well. By considering your 5/24 status, you’ll get a better sense of the cards you may be eligible for, especially since Chase itself offers many desirable travel rewards cards.
Fortunately, the only card she’s opened in the last 24 months is the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card, meaning Debbie is well under that 5/24 threshold. She’s already a 20+ year cardholder of the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
With that in mind, let’s analyze the current cards in her portfolio:
|Credit card||Earning rate||Travel benefits|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||10x on Lyft (until March 2022)
3x on travel and dining
1x on everything else
|United Explorer Card||2x on United purchases, dining, hotel stays when booked with the hotel
1x on all other purchases
|Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card||3x on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases
1x on all other purchases
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||2x on all purchases||
Debbie’s doing a lot of things right with four powerhouse credit cards under her belt. Her Chase Sapphire Reserve is her premium travel rewards card and will get her lounge access when flying thanks to Priority Pass’ network of more than 1,300 lounges worldwide. It’ll also help save her money on trips thanks to its $300 annual travel credit.
She already has two airline cards, both of which will score her a free checked bag on the respective airlines, as well as offering other airline-related perks. With no immediate travel plans, Debbie can also earn bonus miles on her home improvement purchases from her Capital One Venture, which accrues 2 miles per dollar on all purchases.
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Card recommendations for Debbie
Based on all that background, Debbie should pursue a three-pronged strategy:
- Lock in lucrative sign-up bonuses with her hundreds (and potentially thousands) of dollars in home improvement spending.
- To double down on her elite status strategy.
- Look out for new cards with higher earning rates that offer better long-term value than her current cards present.
Related: Best credit cards and strategies for maximizing home improvement spending
As she’s working up the ranks of Marriott Bonvoy elite status, our immediate recommendation is the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card. Next, she should focus on a card from the so-called Chase trifecta so she keeps racking up those versatile Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless
The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless currently has a sign-up bonus of three free nights, worth up to 50,000 points each, after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening. Plus, new cardholders earn 10x on up to $2,500 in combined purchases at gas stations, restaurants and grocery stores within the first six months of account opening.
Since Debbie doesn’t have a credit card that earns bonuses on gas or groceries right now, this is an enticing offer that can earn her up to 25,000 additional points if she is able to maximize this opportunity.
Related: Review of the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless
Beyond the sign-up bonus, the card earns 6x on at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program, and 2x on other purchases. This is a must-have card for Debbie as she’ll automatically receive 15 elite night credits per calendar year, enough for Silver status on its own, but also a solid push that might get her back to Platinum (50 elite nights needed to qualify), or even put her on track to Titanium Elite with 75 elite nights needed to qualify. Among the great benefits that come with Titanium status, Debbie might be intrigued by the complimentary United MileagePlus Silver elite status that could unlock complimentary flight upgrades for her.
Plus, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless rewards members with a free night award worth up to 35,000 points after the account anniversary each year. This certificate alone can justify the $95 annual fee.
Related: The award traveler’s guide to Marriott Bonvoy
Chase Freedom Flex
The other card that we’ll recommend to Debbie is one with no annual fee card that will easily add to her stash of Ultimate Rewards points: The Chase Freedom Flex card. Although it’s ostensibly a cash-back card, the Ultimate Rewards points it earns can be combined with those from her Sapphire Reserve, and thus become transferable to the program’s airline and hotel partners.
The Freedom Flex earns 5% (or 5x points per dollar) on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in quarterly bonus categories you activate. Here’s the calendar for 2021:
- January — March: Wholesale clubs, internet, cable, phone and select streaming services
- April — June: Gas stations, home improvement stores
- July — September: Grocery stores (excluding Target® and Walmart®), select streaming services
- October — December: TBD
While the home improvement stores category has sadly already passed, we can expect it to return in 2022 based on previous years.
The final quarter’s bonus categories are yet to be announced, but historically it’s been shopping-related (in Q4 2020, it was Amazon.com, Walmart.com and Target.com), which is perfect both for the holidays as well as other home-related purchases that might come in handy for Debbie’s renovation project. If Debbie is able to maximize the $1,500 spending limit each quarter, she’s looking at $300 in cash-back rewards each year — or 30,000 Ultimate Rewards points.
Related: Best Chase Ultimate Rewards award travel sweet spots
Additionally, there are some fixed bonus categories that are pretty great on their own. The card earns:
- 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- 3% on dining and drugstore purchases
- 1% on all other purchases
Best of all, there’s a (very) easy-to-earn $200 sign-up bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening, equating to an easy 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points. Also, in the first year of account opening, you’ll earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (excluding Target® and Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
Related: Review of the Chase Freedom Flex card
Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
Finally, since Debbie is still working, she may be eligible for a business credit card. The Ink Business Preferred Credit Card is the final card in her particular combination of the Chase trifecta, unlocking a boatload of Ultimate Rewards points with just a $95 annual fee. The current sign-up bonus is 100,000 bonus points after spending $15,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Related: Ways you might be eligible for a business credit card without realizing it
This may also be a great card to put all of her home improvement spend, though she must be wary of the high spending threshold that may (or may not be) doable in her current situation. If she can reach that dollar mark, though, she’s looking at a ton of Ultimate Rewards points, which she can combine with those from her Sapphire Reserve for reward travel.
Related: Review of the Ink Business Preferred card
Debbie’s situation may be relatable to many of our readers who already hold a premium card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve but don’t know where else to go from there. The Chase trifecta is an ideal place to start, as Chase’s high-value transfer partners can unlock free award flights fast.
Meanwhile, Debbie’s preferred hotel chain is Marriott Bonvoy, and a card like the Bonvoy Boundless can help expedite her way to the next ranks of elite status.
Thanks for reaching out, Debbie! If you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a consultation of your own, tweet us @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us.
Application link: Marriott Bonvoy Boundless with three free nights after spending $3,000 in the first three months. Application link: Chase Freedom Flex with $200 bonus (20,000 Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 in the first three months. Application link: Ink Business Preferred with 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $15,000 in the first three months.
Featured photo by r.classen for Shutterstock.
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.