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My Credit Card Strategy: I’m Disloyal, and It’s Paying Off

July 13, 2018
Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards
I’m Disloyal to My Credit Cards, and It’s Paying Off
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Some people use the same credit card for years, sticking with it through thick and thin.

That approach is probably the most convenient, but it’s not for me. When it comes to credit cards, I’m disloyal. And because I’m not bound to just one credit card, I’m able to take advantage of more deals, earn more rewards, and travel to see my friends and family far more frequently than I otherwise would, all while staying true to my cheapskate self.

My credit card infidelity, explained

For me, being disloyal to credit cards means putting my interests as a consumer before my devotion to a particular card or program. More specifically, it means that I:

Apply for cards when it makes sense

In my view, there are two good times to sign up for credit cards for the specific purpose of racking up rewards:

  • During limited-time offers. I typically get cards when they’re offering larger sign-up bonuses so I can earn more rewards for my spending.
  • Before paying for a major expense. When I was planning my wedding, for example, I applied for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to cover most of my expenses. Because I was spending money on the venue and catering anyway, I had no trouble knocking out the steep spending requirement and earning the big sign-up bonus.

Stay focused

I don’t spend enough to earn a significant number of points and miles in several loyalty programs simultaneously. So for me, it makes much more sense to focus on just one program at a time.

During the end of last year and early this year, for example, I was solely focused on earning American Airlines miles. The timing was auspicious: At that point, a handful of American Airlines cards were offering big limited-time sign-up bonuses, and I wanted to take advantage of those offers. Because American serves the airport that’s nearest to me, I also knew I’d have no trouble redeeming those miles.

Recognize the keepers

Before a card’s annual fee comes due, I decide whether to keep or close it. I usually close my unused cards with annual fees and leave the ones without annual fees open. But I also have small collection of credit cards in my wallet that I continue using:

  • Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer  This is the $0-annual-fee card that I keep for everyday purchases when I’m not using a bonus category or trying to earn a sign-up bonus on another card. The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer offers a solid 2% cash back on all purchases — 1% back for all purchases made and 1% back when you pay them off.
  • Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card — This card comes with a Companion Fare deal once every cardmember year: When you buy one coach fare, you can get the second for $99 (plus fees and taxes). When cheap award fares are scarce, this benefit is a godsend. During Christmas, my husband, Shawn, and I often use it to book flights to Montana to visit his family. Last year, it saved us $1,038, easily making up for the annual fee of $75.
  •  Hilton Honors American Express Card Because I collected a lot of Hilton points last year, Shawn and I often stay at hotels in the Hilton network while traveling. That’s when the automatic Silver status I get with my Hilton AmEx (which charges an annual fee of $0) comes in handy.

    At a minimum, the status gets us free water bottles and Wi-Fi, which is always nice. 
    But sometimes, it’s proved more valuable. Once, when the type of room I requested wasn’t available, a concierge gave us four continental breakfast buffet vouchers for the inconvenience. The vouchers, which we later redeemed at the swanky hotel restaurant, were worth $116 in total.

The nitty gritty

Juggling multiple credit cards takes time and effort, and as I’ve learned along the way, it’s easy to make expensive mistakes. Here are some tools and tactics I use to stay on track:

Push notifications

I’m a huge fan of credit card spending push notifications — that is, the notifications you can sign up for through your issuer’s credit card app that alert you every time a purchase is made on your card. These alerts make it much easier to track multiple credit card accounts.

Last year, a mysterious charge of $1,422.10 from a website that sold concert and event tickets appeared on my Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer account, and Citi’s system didn’t recognize it as fraud. But because I got a push notification about the purchase, I was able to call Citi right away, request a new card and get the fraudulent charge reversed.

Saver awards

When I interviewed author and prolific traveler Chris Guillebeau a few years ago, he emphasized to me the importance of redeeming points and miles for saver awards — that is, the award flights that cost the least in points and miles — rather than more-expensive standard awards. “I tell people, ‘You definitely want to look for saver awards, because you are not standard,’” Guillebeau said. 

This advice stuck with me, and it’s helped me stretch my miles much further. On a recent return flight from Honolulu to San Jose, California, I was able to snag two one-way saver award tickets for 45,000 American Airlines miles, for example, rather than the standard 80,000 miles.

Teamwork

Shawn and I keep separate credit cards, and we split up expenses based on who can earn the most rewards on any given purchase. For example, he has the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, which earns 5% back at Amazon and Whole Foods, so that’s the card we use for those purchases.

On occasion, I also ask Shawn to sign up for cards I can’t qualify for. For instance, late last year, Chase offered a Companion Pass to California residents who qualified for select Southwest cards and met the spending requirements. The pass allows you to select one person to fly free with you every time you purchase or redeem points for a flight (except for taxes and fees) for the remainder of the calendar year in which you qualify, and the following calendar year.

This was one of those once-in-a-lifetime type deals, but because I had opened more than five credit cards the past 24 months — and therefore wouldn’t qualify under Chase’s 5/24 rule — I knew it didn’t make sense for me to apply. So I asked Shawn to apply instead. He was approved instantly, and after meeting the spending requirement, we became the proud owners of a Southwest Companion Pass. To date, that valuable pass has already helped us pay for three trips.

Information related to the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

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