Card Coupling: Pair Up Your Credit Cards to Maximize Rewards

You don't have to settle for just one rewards credit card. Create a tandem based on your household needs.

Card Coupling: Pair Up Your Credit Cards to Maximize Rewards-story
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Two rewards credit cards can be better than one — as long as you're prepared for a little extra legwork to maximize those rewards. The right combination will depend on your spending habits, but in general, your options include:

  • A bonus category credit card: These cards earn a higher rewards rate (often 3% to 5% back) on specific kinds of purchases like food, travel, gas, groceries, etc. — but a lower rate (usually 1%) on everything else.

  • A flat-rate rewards card: These cards earn the same rewards rate on all purchases, regardless of category. The industry standard is 1.5% back on everything you buy, though higher flat rates do exist.

You don't have to settle for either/or. Why not get both: a high rewards rate on the spending you do the most of, and a decent rate on anything else that doesn't fall into those categories. Here are some of our favorite pairings:

Discover it® Cash Back and Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

For cash back

Doubling up on cash-back credit cards can yield hundreds of dollars in rewards annually.

The $0-annual-fee Discover it® Cash Back offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined spending in bonus categories that rotate each quarter when you activate. (All other purchases earn 1%.) In the past, bonus categories have included things like gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores and wholesale clubs.

For anything that doesn't fall into a bonus category, you could use a flat-rate credit card so you don't have to settle for just 1% back on those purchases. One excellent choice among flat-rate cards is the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer. It offers 2% cash back on purchases: 1% back when you buy, and 1% back when you pay your purchases off.

So to recap, you'd use the Discover it® Cash Back for purchases that fall under a bonus category, and you'd swipe or dip the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer for everything else.

Chase Freedom Flex℠ and Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

For frequent travelers

The Chase Freedom Flex℠ earns 5% back in rotating bonus categories throughout the year, up to the quarterly maximum of $1,500 (you must opt-in each quarter to get those earnings), and 1% back on all other non-bonus-category purchases.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card ($95 annual fee) offers 2 points per dollar spent on dining and travel and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

These two cards work well together because you can transfer your points — aka Chase Ultimate Rewards® — from your Chase Freedom Flex℠ to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card account and redeem them for travel through Chase's online portal, in which case they're worth 25% more. Another option is to transfer them to one of Chase's multiple travel partners at a 1:1 ratio.

Using both strategically is key. For example, use the Chase Freedom Flex℠ when it’s earning 5% cash back on products or services you already buy. Most of the time, using the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card on dining and travel is ideal (unless, of course, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ is featuring restaurants as a 5% bonus retailer).

Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer and Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

For families

If you've got a lot of hungry mouths to feed, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express can be a valuable companion. It earns 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in spending per year, 6% back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% back on transit including U.S. gas stations and 1% back on everything else. Terms apply (see rates and fees). There's an annual fee of $0 intro for the first year, then $95, but if you spend at least $31 a week at the supermarket, you'll make up for that cost in rewards.

Use that card for groceries, Netflix and gas, and switch to a flat-rate card like the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer for all other purchases.

To view rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, see this page.