Following up on my article suggesting using credit cards to your advantage. I wanted to suggest some of the best credit cards I have used over the years:
Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR)
- 450$ annual fee
- Free Priority pass access to lounge and some restaurants at major airports
- 300$ credit towards a lot of travel related purchases including tickets
- No Foreign Transaction Fee (FTF) when traveling abroad
- 1 Global entry credit every 4 years
- Primary Auto Rental collision damage waiver
- Baggage and Trip insurance, roadside Assistance
So, I understand 450$ is a pretty high annual fee. However right off the bat you get 300$ in credit for any travel related purchase. So, any flight tickets booked through airlines, Uber etc. purchases count towards this. So effective fee is 150$ annually. Now question is if the other benefits are worth more than 150$. The card offers 3% in Ultimate Rewards(UR) points back on most dining and travel related purchases. You can also redeem these points for 50% more than the usual rate if booking flight tickets using the CSR UR portal giving effective 33% discount on prices.
- People who travel 2-3 times or more a year for pleasure/business. Usually car rental collision insurance is about 15-25$ a day. If you travel for just 8-9 days a year and rent a car. You are saving 180$ an year by not having to pay insurance at car rental counter. I do not know about you, but I like to be safe and insured when I am renting. I have had an incident where I also had to claim because of a rock chip struck my rental car. Check out my experience on claiming insurance damages here.
- People who travel internationally 1-2 times or more a year. Most lounges are located in international terminals. Priority pass usually gets you in for free. You can have a meal, drinks and use facilities at these places at no charge. Layovers are now a lot more fun! The no FTF and trip delay and baggage insurance are also totally worth it! Visa cards being accepted at most places internationally makes it must have for international trips. On top of it, global entry will allow you to zip through immigration and customs.
- Great card for travel and dining purchases to accumulate chase UR points.
- Obviously, no point paying the fee if you do not travel or use benefits enough.
- The fee 450$ seems too high for anyone new to credit cards. Many people don’t even think about paying any fee for having credit card. However, for reserve, I think the benefits far outweigh any fee you pay for it.
- Needs good credit score. This card is a visa infinite product which needs at least 10000$ credit limit. So, chase would need to make sure your credit score is good enough to grant you that limit. Otherwise your application will be rejected. Usually people have success with scores around 700+.
- Has 5% cashback rolling categories every quarter. Like restaurants, grocery stores, amazon etc. up to 1500$ in spending. 1% on all other purchases
- No annual credit card fee
- 150$ worth of sign up bonus on 500$ in spend
- Ability to pool points with the CSR ultimate rewards points into one account to get better reward redemption options.
- Purchase protection up to 500$ per claim
This card is great card to have if you don’t want to pay any annual fee. I mostly use it for the 5% cashback categories it has. I find the categories like Amazon during year end apt and thoughtfully positioned. With a CSR card, this can even help you juice your UR points balance since you can combine them. Then redeem them for airline miles, hotel points or flights etc. using CSR UR account. You can even buy grocery store gift cards during grocery category quarter to last you the whole year and get 5% cashback. Similarly buy more gift cards at 5% cashback and keep using them throughout the year in other categories also.
- Beginners, newbies who are starting out don’t have a really great credit.
- Great add-on card to someone who also has a CSR.
- Not great for people who don’t want to get into cashback or points game. Or who don’t want to keep tracking which category is a bonus cashback every quarter.
- Outside of the quarterly purchase category, cashback is only 1% which is quite less. Many cards offer 1.5-2% by default irrespective of the category.
- Not too great for people who travel as this one doesn’t have many rewards in that category.
- 50$ sign up bonus
- 5% cashback categories every quarter up to 1500$ in quarterly purchases
- Best part is they double the cashback at end of the year. Essentially 10% cashback on quarterly categories for year 1
- No annual fee
I like this card for the sole benefit of double cashback in year 1! But its worth it. They have categories like gas stations, grocery, warehouse clubs like Sam’s, Costco etc. Again, going by the same trick to buy gift cards of various places where you shop throughout the year, you can easily max out the 1500$ quarterly bonus spend. At the end of year, you get another 5% cashback to bring your total to 10%. I find this feature awesome since I can get 10% discount for a lot of things I need.
- Again beginners, newbies. This card is easy to get with modest credit scores.
- If you can max out the 1500 in purchases using gift cards or other means, go for it.
- Discover isn’t widely accepted outside of the US. So not great card to take on travels
- Plus, no free foreign transactions also make it difficult to take for international travels.
Bonus Pro-tip with Credit Cards
Increasingly it as gotten more beneficial if you are loyal to a bank or company that issues a set of cards. Most companies have multiple credit cards in their line up. For e.g. Chase has the CSR, Freedom and Freedom Unlimited (which offers 1.5% cashback on every purchase). Ideally you can put your dining travel expenses on CSR. 5% category expenses on Freedom and everything else on Freedom Unlimited. This will probably maximize your cashback you get across most purchases you make daily. Its easy to remember which card to use when if you have only 3. The added advantage being you can at the end of day pool all points from Freedom and Freedom Unlimited to your CSR account. You can then use them buy flight tickets at 33% discount using Chase travel portal(benefit for paid card show above). Similarly, Amex has Platinum, Everyday Preferred cards which you can also use in conjunction to pool points maximize your daily spending etc. However currently because of difference in fees, benefits and general acceptance of Amex, I like Chase Visa cards better. If you follow this approach be mindful not to have all your eggs in 1 basket. Meaning only have credit cards from Chase and no one else. What if tomorrow Chase deems me as a customer which is not profitable or playing by their ‘rules’. Or if anything negative happens on my account and chase decides to sever relationship with me and close all my credit cards. That will probably impact my life in a huge way. Credit score will be impacted, normal purchasing will become difficult etc. So be sure to also get cards from other banks/providers and use them once every few months to keep active and build history if you decide to go this route.
All the cards discussed above have some or the other sign up bonuses that come with them once you apply. But I did not discuss them much in detail. I really wanted to focus on usability/benefits of cards in the long term not just for getting a sign up bonus. Another thing to remember is that different banks/issuers have different rules. For e.g. Chase doesn’t allow you to get a credit card if you have gotten 5 in last 24 months. Amex doesn’t allow you to carry more than 5 personal cards from them. So bottom line, before you decide to apply for one of these cards make sure you understand the rules issuer has. There are plenty of websites like DOC, TPG etc. dedicated to just credit cards and gaming the system to your advantage. You can look at these to understand more about the rules before applying. Lastly, do not go overboard and carry a lot of credit cards with you. Make sure to pay the bill on time every month and in full.
Disclaimer: None of the links, mentioned have my referrals. This is purely for informational and educational purposes. Most of these cards do carry a sign up bonus so make sure to get the highest one if you decide to apply.