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One of the best ways to ensure you have an effective points strategy in place is to diversify the types of rewards you earn. You should try to rack up airline miles, hotel points, cash back, and transferable points if possible so that you can use your rewards in a variety of ways when the time comes.
Doing so will also help ensure that you are insulated against any upheavals in the loyalty landscape — if an airline devalues its flight award charts, for instance, or a hotel group decides to shuffle its redemption categories. This sort of approach is especially important now as frequent flyer and hotel points programs, in particular, undergo seismic changes due to the unparalleled impact on travel that COVID has had.
On the other hand, it pays to concentrate your loyalty with a few key programs to ensure that you accumulate enough points for meaningful rewards. For that reason, it might make sense to carry not one, but two or more credit cards that are co-branded with a particular airline, hotel, or credit card issuer rewards program.
Doing so can boost your bonus earning opportunities and confer other valuable perks like statement credits and elite status. Here are some of the reasons you might want to double up on rewards credit cards from the same loyalty program and a few examples where this makes sense.
We're focused here on the rewards and perks that come with each card. These cards won't be worth it if you're paying interest or late fees. When using a credit card, it's important to pay your balance in full each month, make payments on time, and only spend what you can afford to pay.
You might think to yourself — why get two cards with the same rewards program when I could play the field? That certainly makes sense for a lot of folks who only have one or two rewards credit cards. But if you're a frequent traveler, or simply someone who puts a lot of (responsible) spending on your credit cards, you can begin reaping a lot more points and lucrative benefits from certain credit card pairings.
One major caveat: Credit card issuers have rules that can be strict and confusing about who is eligible for which cards, how many cards a person can apply for or have open, and other hoops to jump through. For example, consider the 5/24 rule from Chase, which won't approve applications from those who've opened five or more cards (from any bank) in the past 24 months. So before you applying for cards, read the fine print and make sure you won't be precluded from any particular offers you're interested in.
These are the three main factors to consider if you're looking at opening multiple cards in the same program.
While you might think of each credit card offered by an issuer as an individual product, the truth is, these cards are often part of more complex ecosystems. And if you know the ins and outs of them, you can expand your rewards potential dramatically.
For instance, with the Chase Freedom Unlimited® card, you can earn a bonus of $200 after spending $500 in the first three months from account opening. The card also earns 5% cash back (5x points) on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% back (3x) on dining at restaurants including takeout and eligible delivery services, 3% back (3x) at drugstores, and 1.5% back (1.5x) on all other purchases.
However, if you also have an annual-fee Chase Ultimate Rewards card, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you can transfer the points you earn on the Chase Freedom Unlimited® to your Sapphire card. You'll then have more valuable options for redeeming your Ultimate Rewards points, including transfers to Chase's airline and hotel partners. If you redeem your points specifically for travel through the Chase portal (or through Pay Yourself Back), they're worth 25% (Sapphire Preferred) or 50% (Sapphire Reserve) more.
A similar scenario also plays out with certain Citi credit cards that earn ThankYou Rewards points, such as combining the Citi Premier® Card and the Citi® Double Cash Card, or the Citi Prestige® Card with the Citi Rewards+® Card .
One of the reasons we write so many articles about rewards credit cards is that each individual product has its own specific earning rates, benefits, and drawbacks. Even cards from the same issuer and within the same loyalty program can vary significantly enough from one another to make carrying more than one of them worthwhile. One of the areas where this is especially true is in terms of bonus earning categories.
For example, The Platinum Card® from American Express earns 5x points on flights (on up to $500,000 per calendar year starting January 1, 2021) booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel, as well as on prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel. It earns 1x on everything else.
That's why you might also want to carry the American Express® Gold Card, which accrues 4x points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases (then 1x), and 4x on restaurants, including takeout and delivery. It also earns 3x points on flights booked through airlines or Amex Travel, but you might as well use the Platinum Card for those.
Taken together, you could earn 5x points on flights and hotels, and 4x points on groceries and dining — that's a pretty lucrative equation.
By carrying both a better-earning basic card and a more benefits-rich premium credit card, you can expect a better yield of both points and perks.
For example, the United Gateway℠ Card has no annual fee and offers 10,000 miles after you spend $1,000 in the first three months of account opening. It earns 2x on United purchases, at gas stations, on local transit and commuting, and 1x on everything else. Now through September 30, 2021, it also earns 3x miles on grocery store purchases up to $1,500 per month (then 1x). Cardholders also get 25% back on United inflight purchases of food, beverages, and Wi-Fi, but not much else by way of day-of travel perks.
For that reason, you might also want to consider the United Club℠ Infinite Card. Though it is not currently offering bonus miles to new applicants (so you might want to wait to apply until it does again), its annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $525. As for earning, cardholders can expect 4x miles on United purchases, 2x on other travel purchases and on dining, and 1x on everything else. So that's already a good earning combination.
However, the United Club℠ Infinite Card is one of the best cards for frequent United flyers since it includes United Club airport lounge membership, two free checked bags for the cardmember and a companion on United flights, Premier Access including priority check-in and boarding, and Premier upgrades on award tickets. Cardholders can also count on a statement credit of up to $100 every four years toward the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee.
So you can keep the United Gateway℠ Card with no fee year after year and use it for gas and transit purchases, but enjoy airport perks and alternate earning categories from the United Club℠ Infinite Card to make the most of your loyalty to United.
With the main ideas of boosting your earning and enhancing your perks without taking on too many credit cards or annual fees, here are some examples of great card combinations with several major rewards programs that you might want to consider.
Credit card rewards
Let's start with the rewards offered directly by credit card issuers like Amex and Chase, which run the gamut from cash back to transferable points.
American Express Membership Rewards: The Platinum Card from American Express and the Blue Business Plus Card from American Express
Amex is unique in the sheer number of cards it fields that participate in its proprietary Amex Membership Rewards program. More options mean more ways to rack up points, though, and more nuances to master so you get the perfect set of cards for the perks you prefer. We won't get exhaustive — instead, consider this powerful pairing.
The Platinum Card® from American Express is currently offering 75,000 points after you spend at least $5,000 in your first 6 months of account opening, plus 10x points on up to $15,000 in combined purchases at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations in the first six months. That's 225,000 potential points right off the bat. The card earns 5x points on airfare booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel (starting January 1, 2021, on up to $500,000 in purchases per year) as well as prepaid hotel bookings through Amex Travel, and then 1x on everything else.
But where this card truly excels is in its value-added perks, including up to $200 in annual airline incidental fee credits, up to $200 in annual Uber credits, up to $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue credits each year, Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee reimbursements, automatic Hilton and Marriott Gold elite status, and access to Amex Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass lounges, and Delta Sky Clubs, among others. The card's annual fee is $550 (See Rates).
Those bonuses and benefits are reason enough to apply for the Amex Platinum, but consider combining it with a lower-cost option like The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express. With a $0 annual fee, the card racks up 2x points on the first $50,000 in purchases each year, then 1x thereafter. So simply use it for everything you don't put on the Platinum Card, and you'll be earning a decent return on your spending no matter what you buy.
Chase Ultimate Rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Freedom Unlimited
Chase Ultimate Rewards are some of the most useful loyalty points out there thanks to the fact that you can redeem them for travel, cash back, gift cards, and more. The reason it pays to hold couple of cards with Chase is that when you hold at least one Ultimate Rewards travel card, you'll unlock more redemption options like transferring points to airline and hotel partners.
For example, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® has no annual fee but earns a whopping 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3x on dining at restaurants including takeout and eligible delivery services, 3x at drugstores, and 1.5x on all other purchases. If you just have the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, your points are worth 1 cent each toward travel, cash back, or gift cards.
By pairing the Chase Freedom Unlimited® with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and moving all of your points to your Reserve account, your points are worth 1.5 cents apiece (thereby improving your return on spending by 50%) toward travel booked through Chase or through Pay Yourself Back. You can also transfer them to airline programs like United MileagePlus and Southwest Rapid Rewards as well as Marriott Bonvoy and World of Hyatt, among other options.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve®, meanwhile, comes with benefits that can more than make up for the $550 annual fee, including up to $300 in annual travel credits, Priority Pass Select membership, and up to $100 once every four years for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck applications. It also earns 3x on travel and dining.
If you prefer a card that doesn't cost as much, the same principle applies to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card — except your points are worth 1.25 cents apiece instead of 1.5 cents toward the redemptions mentioned above.
By having both cards, you can rake in rewards on tons of purchases and enjoy a plethora of travel benefits to boot.
Citi ThankYou Rewards: Citi Prestige and Citi Rewards+
This is the ultimate high-low combo, as you can carry a no-fee card for everyday expenses, then multiply its usefulness thanks to the benefits of its more expensive sibling.
The Citi Rewards+® Card is an oft-unfairly overlooked option, but well worth investigation. It has no annual fee and is currently offering 15,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 within the first three months of account opening. Its everyday earning structure is what's so intriguing, though.
The card accrues 2x points per dollar at supermarkets and gas stations on up to $6,000 per year (then 1x) and 1x on everything else. It also rounds up transactions to the nearest 10 points on every purchase. So if you buy a $11 worth of gas, you'd end up with a total of 30 points. The Citi ThankYou points you earn with this card are worth 1 cent apiece toward travel through Citi, among other options, and convert to JetBlue TrueBlue points at a rate of 5:4.
The Citi Prestige® Card offers 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of account opening. More importantly, it earns 5x at restaurants and on air travel, 3x with hotels and cruise lines, and 1x on everything else. Cardholders also get up to $250 in travel credits each year (through December 31, 2021, you can apply travel credits toward restaurant and supermarket purchases as well) and enjoy perks like Priority Pass Select lounge access, a complimentary fourth night on up to two hotel stays booked through ThankYou.com each year, and a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee reimbursement once every five years.
When you have both cards, the points you earn with the Citi Rewards+® Card can be combined with those from the Citi Prestige® Card so that they become ThankYou Rewards that you can transfer to the Citi's 16 airline partners (including JetBlue at a more favorable 1:1 ratio). Carrying the Citi Rewards+® Card also means a refund of 10% of your redeemed points each year up to 10,000 points, which makes it a good companion to the Prestige, too.
If the annual fee of $495 for the primary cardmember on the Citi Prestige® Card doesn't work for you, consider the Citi Premier® Card instead. It doesn't have as many perks, but there are plenty of reasons to consider the Premier card, including a big welcome bonus of 60,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening and 3x points in a broad range of categories (supermarkets, restaurants, gas stations, air travel, and hotels) for a $95 annual fee.
Airline frequent flyer programs
While it's probably a good idea to diversify your mileage earning across several airlines so that you can take advantage of their various route networks and partners, doubling down with individual programs also has its upsides. Namely, to carry one card that earns bonus miles on a lot of different categories but still charges a low or no annual fee, and to get a higher-end counterpart that confers benefits like lounge access, priority treatment at the airport, and even a better shot at elite status and upgrades.
American Airlines AAdvantage: Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard and AAdvantage MileUp Mastercard
This one-two punch opens up excellent earning opportunities as well as Admirals Club membership for frequent flyers. The American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card is currently offering 10,000 bonus miles plus a $50 statement credit after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. For a card with no annual fee, it's a strong earner, accruing 2x miles on American Airlines purchases, 2x at grocery stores, and 1x on everything else. One downside: Its sole day-of-travel perk is 25% savings on inflight food and beverage purchases on American Airlines flights.
That's why you might also want to open the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®. It carries a $450 annual fee, but for that, you get full Admirals Club membership, which normally starts at $650 per year. The card is packed with other perks, too, such as a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application reimbursement once every five years, priority check-in, airport screening, and boarding, as well as a first checked bag free for the cardholder and up to eight companions on the same reservation on domestic AA itineraries.
The card only earns 2x miles on American Airlines purchases, and 1x on everything else, which is why you might want the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card to, well, up your miles. If you spend $40,000 on purchases with the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® in a calendar year, you receive 10,000 elite-qualifying miles, which is a nice step-up for status. New cardholders earn 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
Delta SkyMiles: Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card and Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card
If you're a SkyMiles member, you might consider a Delta credit card combination that includes a strong earner with one that offers excellent day-of-travel benefits.
The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card earns 2x miles on Delta purchases, at U.S. supermarkets, and restaurants, including takeout and delivery services, so it's a good one to carry if you want to stash some SkyMiles for your next trip. On top of that, you enjoy travel benefits like a first checked bag free for the cardholder and up to eight companions as well as priority boarding, plus 20% back on inflight purchases of food, beverages, and audio headsets.
When you spend $10,000 on the card in a calendar year, you receive a $100 Delta flight credit, too. At the moment, the card offers 35,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases in your first 3 months from account opening, and it has an annual fee of $99, waived for the first year (See Rates).
Pair that with the premium Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, which has a $550 annual fee (See Rates) — but for that, cardholders get access to Delta Sky Clubs and Amex Centurion Lounges when flying Delta. Carrying this card also bumps you to the head of the pack with upgrade priority over other Medallion elite members in your same fare class without the card. And for those without Medallion status, you still have a shot at complimentary upgrades.
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card members and up to eight companions on the same reservation can check a bag for free and count on priority check-in and boarding. Cardholders receive a complimentary annual companion certificate good toward one round-trip itinerary in the continental US (with some exceptions) in first class, Comfort+, or Main Cabin, which can be worth hundreds of dollars in value, and they are also eligible for a statement credit toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck once every four or 4.5 years, respectively. The card earns 3x miles on Delta purchases, so you should use it for those, but the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card for everything else.
Big-spending Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card holders receive 15,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) toward elite status after spending $30,000 in purchases in a calendar year, up to 60,000 MQMs and $120,000 spend total. When you hit $25,000 in spending and the Medallion® Qualification Dollar requirement for Silver, Gold, or Platinum Medallion status is waived. Right now, the card is offering a solid bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs after you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Note that in 2021, Delta Reserve and Platinum cardholders can earn 25% more MQMs through the Status Boost benefit.
Southwest Rapid Rewards: Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card
Carrying both a business and personal airline credit card can be a winning combination, as in the case with the Chase Southwest credit cards.
Each charges a sizeable annual fee — $199 for the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card and $149 for the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card – but they also have benefits to help offset that. First things first, though: the bonuses: The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card is currently offering 70,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening, and an additional 30,000 points after spending $25,000 on purchases in the first six months of account opening.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card is offering 80,000 points (50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months ,and an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 9 months). Put those together, though, and you have more than enough to earn the celebrated Southwest Companion Pass, with all the potential free travel it includes.
As for earning, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card racks up 3x on Southwest and Rapid Rewards partner spending, 2x on social media and search engine advertising, internet, cable, and phone services, and 1x on everything else, so it'll probably be your go-to. Cardholders receive 9,000 bonus points after renewing each year, four upgraded boardings per year, up to 365 inflight Wi-Fi credits per year, and a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck statement credit once every four years.
For its part, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card offers 7,500 anniversary bonus points, four upgraded boardings per year, 20% off inflight drinks and Wi-Fi, and a $75 annual Southwest travel credit, which can save you money consistently and make paying the annual fee well worth it.
United MileagePlus: United Club Infinite Card and United Business Card
You get access to United Club airport lounges and flight benefits like priority boarding and free checked bags with the United Club℠ Infinite Card — all with no annual fee for the first year.
And with the United℠ Business Card, you can earn a welcome bonus of 60,000 bonus miles after $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. Then, you can use the card's earning power to your benefit as you rack up 2x miles on United purchases, at restaurants including eligible takeout and delivery services, as well as at gas stations, on local transit and commuting, and at office supply stores (especially if you're working from home).
Hotel loyalty programs
Like airlines, hotel chains have multiplied the number of credit cards they offer exponentially in recent years. While price point (i.e. annual fee) is probably the deciding factor for most folks, look beyond the dollar signs to the value of each card's welcome bonus and travel benefits as you determine whether it's worth opening an additional account.
Hilton Honors: The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card
Carrying these two Hilton cards will cost you, but it could still well be worth it.
The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is one of the most generous hotel credit cards out there. It is currently offering 150,000 points after you spend at least $4,000 in your first 3 months of account opening and comes with automatic top-tier Hilton Honors Diamond status.
The card earns 14x points on eligible Hilton purchases; then 7x on flights booked directly with airlines and through Amex Travel, on car rentals from select companies, and on dining, and 3x points on all other eligible purchases. Cardholders also get a free weekend night reward each year plus up to $250 in annual statement credits at Hilton Resorts. That's in addition to up to $250 per year in airline incidental fee credits, up to $100 in on-property credits during eligible stays of two nights or more at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad properties, plus a Priority Pass Select membership. The annual fee is $450 per year.
If you're willing to shell out another $95 (See Rates) for an annual fee, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card is offering a bonus of 130,000 points after you spend at least $2,000 on eligible purchases in your first 3 months of account opening. You won't care about the Gold status it extends if you have the Hilton Honors Aspire Card, too, nor the 12x points at Hilton properties. But this card also earns 6x at eligible U.S. restaurants and U.S. supermarkets as well as at U.S. gas stations; and 3x on everything else. It's not automatic on renewal, but if you spend $15,000 or more on the card in a calendar year, you can earn a free weekend night – which makes this notable complement to the Hilton Honors Aspire Card.
Marriott Bonvoy: The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card
Though Chase also offers two Marriott Bonvoy co-branded cards, you might be better off sticking with the Amex entrants. This particular pairing is quite powerful.
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, with a $450 annual fee (See Rates), currently offers a good welcome bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
The card earns 6x points at Marriott hotels, 3x at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines, and 2x on everything else. It also comes with up to $300 in Marriott Bonvoy statement credits each year, an annual free night award worth up to 50,000 points, and up to $100 in statement credits on eligible rates on stays of two nights or more at Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis properties. There's also Priority Pass Select lounge access and statement credits toward either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck to look forward to.
For its part, the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card also has a compelling welcome bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
Dovetailing nicely with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, the card earns 6x points at Marriott hotels, 4x at U.S. restaurants, U.S. gas stations, on wireless phone services with U.S. providers, and on U.S. shipping purchases, then 2x on everything else. Cardholders also get a free night award each year worth up to 35,000 points, and 15 elite night credits.
Why might you want both of these cards? Well, first for the bonus points and the diversity of earning categories. Secondly, for the free-night awards — one worth 50,000 points and the other worth 35,000 points. Finally, if you can stack both cards' elite night credits for a total of 30, you'll be guaranteed at least Marriott Bonvoy Gold status each year, and will only need to stay 20 more for Platinum.
While there's a lot to be said for diversifying your points portfolio and spreading your loyalty across a few programs, it can also make sense to focus your strategy on one or two types of rewards in the short term to rack up points, miles, and perks even faster. This is an even better strategy if you are truly loyal to one particular airline or hotel and can leverage its co-branded cards' benefits to your advantage.
As with any rewards credit cards, just make sure that if you do open multiple ones with a particular program that you get enough value from each to justify meeting any minimum spending requirements or paying its annual fee. If that's not an issue, though, you can reap double the rewards by doubling down on a single program.