To quote fellow Uproxx writer Melanie Gordon, “It’s very rare that someone doesn’t want to travel.” The desire to embark on some sprawling, wild, worldly travels and meet a few of the billions of people who walk this planet surges through most people’s veins.
When we’re not traveling though, it’s the mundanities and routines of everyday life that help us get there. How exactly? By maximizing our most common purchases through credit cards to get us on that first-class, round-trip flight to Europe.
Whether you want to score one of this week’s last-minute nonstop hacker fares and cheap flights or set out to visit one of this season’s most coveted desert destinations, we asked for some insight from leading travel gurus and point experts on how to maximize points on your everyday purchases.
Sierra Smith (@highsierrapoints): Use Different Cards For Different Purchases & Look Into Stacking Opportunities
I think the best strategy is to make sure you have the right cards for your specific situation. It is important to look at your finances and identify your top spend categories for everyday expenses, things like groceries, travel expenses, utilities, etc. Your expenses may not be the same as everyone else’s, so don’t feel like you have to apply for a card that everyone else has if it’s not doing anything for your points strategy.
Once you identify your top spend categories, try to find cards that will earn additional point multipliers in those categories (like 4x points per dollar on groceries/restaurants with the Amex Gold card). Also, look for cards that will help you earn the point currency that you value most. If you are a frequent flyer with American Airlines, maybe an AA card makes sense for your situation.
And finally, if you really want to up your game by earning additional points, look into stacking opportunities with websites like Rakuten, Rocketmiles, and airline shopping portals.
Kyle + Kenz Parks (@adventure_parks): Stack Non-Card Bonus Opportunities
While we always try to use the card that earns the most on the purchase (i.e. 4x on dining or groceries with the AMEX Gold, 2x at gas stations with the Citi AAdvantage), the best way to maximize points is by “stacking” non-card bonus opportunities. Airline shopping portals, dining programs, and merchant offers are some of the best ways to multiply your points every single day!
Adam Hill (@adamhillyeah): Use Gift Cards At Stores where You Hit Bonus Spend Categories
Some of the best and easiest ways to maximize points return is going after gift cards at stores where you hit bonus spend categories for purchases at office supply and grocery stores as well as using shopping portals. During Black Friday, I managed to use Rakuten to buy a few things I needed, like tires, identity theft monitoring, and more, and managed to pull in over 60,000 Amex points.
Furthermore, using a Chase Freedom card, I was able to use PayPal at checkout and stack the rotating 5x back promotion they offer each quarter. So anytime you are using shopping portals, do your very best to stack the rewards if possible.
I have a rule, never settle for less than 2x back on ANY purchase. I am constantly looking at shopping portals and comparing the best returns as well as how I stack rewards. If you want to earn points quickly, you should be doing the same.
Allison Tackette (@luckytictac): Utilize Dining Programs & Shopping Portals
Welcome offers and points earned from spend are great but don’t forget about the easy wins. Dining programs and shopping portals are a great way to stack your purchases and earn more points on top of your credit card spend. Almost every airline or hotel program has a dining program. Just link your cards and you’ll automatically earn points with a participating restaurant. Shopping portals require a few extra clicks to track your purchase.
Both are worth the additional set-up time to earn between 1 to 25 additional points per dollar spent.
Angel Trinh (@pennywisetraveler): Use Different Credit Cards For Specific Purchases
Use a credit card that has a spending category for that specific purchase. For example, I use my American Express Gold card because I can get 4x points at US Supermarkets and 4x points at Dining. I would not use my Amex Plat card because I would only get 1x at supermarkets and 1x at dining.
Capital One Venture X is good for 2x at everyday purchases in stores that do not have a spending category.
Ryan Horn (@profitsandpoints): Use The Right Card For The Right Situation
It’s all about where you spend most of your money. According to a study by Transunion, the average person only has two or three credit cards. With only two credit cards, it’s unlikely that the average person has the right card for every situation that will maximize the points they’re earning in the categories (e.g., dining, travel, gas stations) where they’re spending money.
I suggest first having a 2x points earning card like the Capital One Venture X. This ensures you’re always earning at least 2x points on all your purchases. After that, I would look at cards that maximize the categories you spend in the most.
I love going to restaurants, so I make sure to have an American Express Gold Card in my pocket which nets me 4x American Express Membership Rewards points on all dining purchases. Having the right card for the right situation can dramatically accelerate your points earning and can get you to your next trip booked with points so much sooner.
Spencer Howard (@straighttothepoints): Focus On Using Cards With Bonus Categories To Earn 3-5x Points On Common Purchases
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When I’m not using a new card to earn a sign-up bonus (the fastest way to earn points), I focus on using cards with bonus categories that earn 3-5x on my most common purchases. For purchases that don’t fall under a bonus category, I use a card that earns 2x on everything.
As a bonus, if I’m shopping online, I make sure to use a shopping portal such as Rakuten or an airline shopping portal to earn even more points.
Thomas Lonergan (@travelliketommy): Optimizing Your Return On Spend
This is the most important aspect of the travel hacking game that 99% of people get wrong. Everyone is so concerned about sign-up bonuses and completely overlook the points-earning potential from dialing in their everyday spending and doing this first! When you get your everyday spend dialed in you can generate significant amount of points so that trips can be taken every year.
The key is to identify the two or three things that you spend the most money on an annual basis and have a specific card for each of the categories that will maximize your points earned! I call this optimizing your return on spend.
For example. Let’s say you spend $75,000 and spend the most money on the following three items…and you have one credit card for everything.
Let’s say you earn an average of 1.5x points per dollar on all purchases:
– Food 1.5x (dining, grocery, delivery apps)
– Travel 1.5x (flights, hotels, Ubers, tours, etc.)
– Gas 1.5x
– All other purchases 1.5x
Your earning potential is 112,500 points per year!
If we have a strategy we can triple that!
– Food 4x points per dollar
– Travel 3x-10x points per dollar
– Gas 3x points per dollar
– All other purchases 2x points per dollar
Once you have your foundational cards in place to maximize your everyday spending then you can chase sign-up bonuses!
Victor Cheng (@travelhackvic): Consider An Amex Gold x Chase Freedom Unlimited Combo
I use the Amex Gold and Chase Freedom Unlimited combo. This will ensure I get 4x on my top everyday spending, which is food and groceries. Then I will use Chase Freedom Unlimited for the rest for the 1.5x. Chase Flex is a secret weapon I use from time to time — since it will offer 5x on selecting categories in each quarter. Citi Premier is my go-to gas card.
Another secret sauce is to use Rakuten or shopping portals to earn even more points on top of your credit card points.
Vivian Tu (@your.richbff): Pay Your Credit Card Balance In Full Each Month
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I think the reason why we call it personal finance is because it is so personal. There is a credit card out there for everyone. The main thing to remember is that the only way that credit cards and reward points work is if you pay your balance off in full each month. If you’re rolling a balance over month-to-month, interest charges on your purchases are going to outweigh any benefits you would be getting. Points and rewards are great but they aren’t going to outweigh interest payments.
It’s really important to remember that when you’re choosing a credit card, it’s important to get one that fits your lifestyle. I live in a major city, I’m in my 20s, I’m young, and I know the vast majority of my spending goes toward travel and dining out. I don’t own or drive a car so I don’t buy gas and I would say I buy groceries but it’s just my fiance and I so it’s not too much. We also don’t do too much retail shopping. We focus our own credit cards on maximizing points on dining and travel. That said, if you’re head of household, a mom who commutes to work via car, gets gas twice a week, buying groceries for your family, you would want to get a completely different credit card.
It’s also good to have more than one credit card; the sweet spot is typically three to five cards and then you want to make sure to use the card that gives you the maximum amount of points and rewards for every purchase. It might take an extra five minutes of thought when you first are using three to five different cards to decide which is the best one to use but you’ll start building greater rewards in a short amount of time.