My main quest (obsession) with this blog is to put together the best list of “keeper” credit cards for a family like mine. The truth is, most ordinary families I know will not be getting more than a few sign-up bonuses per year at most. The quest will evolve as things change. So, what I wanted to do with this post is pick the best 2 long-term card combinations, depending on your family needs. Anything beyond that would be complicating things way too much.
Most people (other than my husband) can juggle 2 cards. So, let’s assume the family puts 24000 dollars per year on credit cards, just like us. Out of it, 6000 is spent on groceries and 4000 on gas. I will only analyze a few combinations, not to make it redundant. Also, I will make sure not to have two Amex cards because it is still not accepted in some places.
1) Your family mostly shops at Publix or a similar grocery store. You like to take a “road trip” style vacation once a year and are looking for hotel points to accomplish this.
Amex Blue Cash Preferred and US Bank Club Carlson Visa. The first one earns 6 percent on $6000 per year in groceries and 3 percent on gas, 1 percent on everything else. It also comes with a 75 dollar annual fee.
US Bank Club Carlson Visa. Earns 5 points on every dollar in purchases. Comes with 75 dollar annual fee and gives 40000 points upon renewal.
Here is the strategy: use Amex for groceries and gas, Club Carlson Visa for everything else. We are not taking the sign-up bonus into account. At the end of the year we would have :
$480 dollars in cash back from Amex
110000 Club Carlson points after paying the renewal fee. By comparison, if we continued to charge everything on Amex, we would have 140 dollars in cash back, or possibly a bit more since you get bonus on department stores.
You can read my post HERE on some redemptions and ways to maximize the value of this card. Let’s say you want to vacation in Florida and start in Orlando, stay at the beach in Melbourne, Cape Canaveral, and finish in Orlando and spend 2 nights in each location(8 nights total).
You could do it for 112000 points total. All you would need to do is purchase one $500 Visa gift card to get the remaining points. Even factoring in a 75 dollar annual fee, it’s a heck of a deal. This would only work if you have 4 people in your family and are willing to share a room. Keep in mind, there is a significant risk of devaluation when it comes to hotel points and Club Carlson program.
2) You shop at grocery stores and like to fly Spirit (or tolerate it).
Amex Blue Cash Preferred and Spirit Airlines Mastercard. I already covered this scenario HERE
Just as with hotel points, there is a significant chance of devaluation when collecting miles. However, your other option would be to get just 1 percent cash back, so Spirit miles will probably beat this return even with changes in the program.
3) You shop at grocery stores and are not interested in miles or hotel points and only want cash back.
Amex Blue Cash Preferred and US Bank Cash plus (if you can apply at nearby branch or convert another card over the phone) or Chase Freedom.
Both cards have rotating categories where you earn 5 percent back. US Bank Cash plus is superior to Freedom, since you can pick your bonus categories and some earn 2 percent.
4) You shop for groceries at Walmart and are not interested in miles or hotel points.
Sallie Mae Barclaycard and Fidelity Amex.
The first one earns 5 percent on up to 250 dollars in gas (per month), 250 dollars in groceries (per month) and 5 percent on bookstores, which includes Amazon. Amex does not code Walmart as a grocery store in most locations, therefore the switch.
Of course, you could always buy Visa gift cards with Amex BCP card at a grocery store and use them elsewhere. But it does add extra fees and a hustle factor most families wouldn’t want to deal with. So, assuming you maximize the first 2 categories with Sallie Mae and spend 100 dollars per month on Amazon, you would have a total of 360 dollars in cash back at the end of the year. The total spending is $7200.
Fidelity Amex earns a flat 2 percent in cash back and comes with no annual fee. If we put all the other expenses on this card, we would have 336 dollars. The grand total from both no-annual fee cards comes up to 696 dollars, or 2.9 percent in cash back. Of course, some places may not accept Amex, but you would have your Sallie Mae Mastercard as a back up.
5) You shop at Walmart and want to collect hotel points to take a road trip vacation.
Sallie Mae Barclaycard and US Club Carlson Visa.
The same principle as the first scenario.
6) You shop at Walmart and like Spirit airlines.
Sallie Mae Barclaycard and Spirit Mastercard.
The same principle as the second scenario.
7) You don’t like miles due to their restrictive nature, but like to collect points for airfare. You also don’t mind buying prepaid Visa gift cards for other bills.
US Bank Flexperks Visa and Fidelity Amex.
I covered the first card and potential value HERE Fidelity card would be used for any recurring bills or places where using gift cards would be inconvenient.
8) You prefer to collect United miles, Amtrak points and possibly Avios.
Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Freedom.
But wait, I am constantly poking fun at CSP card! I stand by everything I said. On it’s own, CSP is not the best fit for most middle class families, due to it’s giant fee. Paired up with Freedom is a whole another story. That is because you can take advantage of Freedom’s 5 percent categories and combine the points. If you are after Amtrak points or United miles, this duo is definitely for you and would justify the CSP 95 dollar annual fee.
I covered this combination HERE for 2013, though the gas expense was a bit less. The grand total came up to 47217 Ultimate Rewards points. Look at combination number 5, where we would get 696 dollars. Now let’s add 95 dollars (CSP annual fee) and we have 791 dollars. So, you would be trading 1 Ultimate Rewards point for around 1.68 cents. If you can get close to 2 CPM (cents per mile) or more, it may be worth it to go this route. Some Avios and Amtrak routes can easily beat this number. Keep in mind, award chart can always change.
9) You prefer to collect flexible points with a strong preference for Avios.
Amex EveryDay Preferred and US Bank Cash Plus (or Chase Freedom) for places, that don’t accept Amex.
Read my post on it HERE
10) You spend $750 or more on groceries each month and prefer to collect cash back.
Sallie Mae Barclaycard and Amex Blue Cash Preferred I wrote a post on it HERE
11) You live in CA, OR, WA or NV and only want cash back.
Sallie Mae Barclaycard and Marukai JCB card The second card earns close to 3 percent on everything, but only the residents of those states can apply for it. I did not pair it up with Amex BCP because Marukai card is part of a Discover network, which is still not accepted everywhere. I think everyone should carry a Visa or Mastercard in their wallet, just in case.
I am sure there are many more combinations, but my brain is too tired by now.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.