If you want to maximize your points/miles, selecting the right rewards credit card is key. Hence why “what credit card should I get next?” is such a common question.
Choose wrong, and you could end up missing out on a better bonus offer.
Whether you’re looking for your first rewards card or your 10th, following these guidelines will keep you on the right track.
Keep in mind that they focus on earning you the maximum amount of versatile rewards in the shortest timeframe. They don’t cover any prerequisites for jumping into the rewards game. It’s assumed that you have a good credit score (720+) already and know how to manage your credit.
Check Chase and American Express First
Not all points and miles are created equal.
The best rewards credit cards are Chase and American Express-branded cards. That means cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the American Express Gold Card, not their co-branded airline and hotel cards.
These cards earn points in the Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) program or the American Express Membership Rewards (MR) program. Each program has numerous transfer partners where you can send your points.
Here’s an example – with 50,000 Chase UR points, you could transfer points to United and Hyatt, booking your flight and hotel stay. That only works one way, though. You can’t turn 50,000 United miles into 50,000 Chase UR points, which is why you’re better off with a card that earns Chase UR points over United miles, given the option.
Now, Chase and American Express aren’t the only card issuers with transfer partners, but they have the most. You’re better off starting with their cards to rack up those UR and MR points.
It’s also smart to get any Chase cards you want first. Chase is known for its 5/24 rule, which prevents you from opening a credit card with them if you’ve already opened five or more cards within the past 24 months. This rule applies to most of Chase’s credit card lineup.
Look for the Current Sign-Up Bonus Offers
The best place to stay up-to-date on credit card offers is the Churning Reddit.
You can find all the most recent sign-up bonuses there, along with special offers that are usually only available for select customers. The Churning Reddit is where I heard about the 100,000-point offer on the Chase Ink Preferred.
One particularly useful resource is that Reddit’s spreadsheet of bonus offers, under the Advanced Information section of the sidebar. It includes the current sign-up bonuses for every card on the market and the highest bonus offer each card has ever had. There are only a few drawbacks:
- The spreadsheet is occasionally a month or two behind.
- It takes time to get used to the format.
- Seeing how many points you could have gotten with a previous sign-up bonus can be a real kick in the balls when it’s no longer available.
If you’re serious about maximizing your rewards, you should check the news on offers every two to four weeks. The best sign-up bonuses are temporary because card issuers only offer them to drum up interest.
Take the Chase Sapphire Reserve. For about seven or eight months, it had a 100,000-point sign-up offer. Then it dropped to 50,000. If you’re applying now, you’re still getting an excellent card, but you’re missing out on 50,000 points.
For this reason, I always choose my next credit card by finding the one with the most valuable sign-up bonus, because it could go at any time.
Move on to Co-Branded Credit Cards After Exhausting Other Options
You’ll reach a point when you need to branch out to co-branded credit cards.
Let’s say you already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Reserve, and the Ink Preferred. You also have the American Express Gold and Platinum Cards, or maybe only the Gold Card because of the high annual fee on the Platinum.
You don’t have any options left to score a large bonus on UR or MR points.
You’ve either already gotten or don’t care about Citi ThankYou points (I know I don’t).
Bank of America and Capital One have shitty rewards programs, so they’re out.
At this point, you’ll need to branch out to the co-branded airline and hotel credit cards.
This expands your selection quite a bit, but there is still a simple way to prioritize cards. I rank airline credit cards above hotel credit cards because hotels are far from the only lodging option travelers have. Airbnb is an affordable alternative. For lengthy stays, a furnished apartment could save you money. On trips to see family, you may end up staying with them and not need any lodging.
You can take all kinds of trips without booking a hotel. You can’t say the same about airfare, which is why I’d always choose an airline credit card over a hotel credit card.
Choose One or Two Primary Cards to Keep After the First Year
Rewards credit cards without annual fees are rare. The cards with the best bonuses usually have an annual fee, although some waive it for the first year. Even if you need to pay the fee upfront, the sign-up bonus should earn you much more than the fee costs.
That means you’ll need to decide whether to keep a card when the annual fee for year two rolls around. I’d recommend picking one or two cards with benefits and rewards rates that you like. Keep these cards as your primary credit cards and downgrade the rest.
Since Chase and Amex have the best rewards programs, their cards are also the best choices for your primary credit card. The following are some of the best cards available right now:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Chase Ink Preferred
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- American Express Platinum Card
- American Express Gold Card
Check out each card to see which one best fits your lifestyle and spending habits.
Recapping My Rewards Strategy
Although there’s a good amount of information to take in about selecting the right rewards credit card, my strategy keeps it simple.
Start by checking American Express, Chase, and the Churning Reddit. If there are Amex or Chase cards you don’t have already, pick the one with the biggest bonus.
Out of options there? Move on to co-branded cards, and again, the biggest bonus comes first.
Pick one or two primary credit cards. Call the card issuers on the rest of your cards to downgrade them before you get charged an annual fee.
There are enough credit cards that you could get one every two to three months so you’re always working towards a sign-up bonus. Do this for a year and you can earn 200,000+ points/miles. I’ve seen people collect over 1 million points/miles in just three years, spread out across multiple rewards programs.
You’ll need to decide how deep you want to go. It takes commitment to maximize your points, but if you want free champagne on a first-class international flight, this is how you can get it.