High Spend: Which Credit Cards?
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Hilary Stockton

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Have a travel question we haven't covered yet? Want to share your secrets for traveling well for less?

High Spend: Which Credit Cards?


A TravelSort reader writes: "For years, I have been using my Costco Cash back card for all of my business purchases thinking that the $2,000 I get back every year is better than miles that expire or have limitations. However, my wife and I have a 1 year old son and another on the way. Flying coach with babies is no fun. So, my question is this: I spend roughly $150K - $200K on business purchases--which credit cards do you recommend that would provide the most miles so I can travel domestically and internationally in anything other than coach seats?"

This is a great question, and one relevant to many business owners and those with high reimbursable spend. I'll break this down into some general recommendations, then prioritize specific cards I'd recommend applying for.

  • Apply for Several Cards at the Same Time: It's better to apply every 3-6 months or so for several cards (2-3 cards each from different banks) as close in time as possible, filling in applications in several browser windows and submitting all of them together, since 1) hard credit pulls can be combined for 2 personal cards from the same bank or 2 business cards from the same bank; and 2) by clustering all the applications together, no bank will be able to see a spate of recent inquiries. Banks prefer to see a period of several months where you haven't applied for any cards.
  • Leverage Category Bonuses: As I'll describe below, with high spend, leveraging 5X, 3X and 2X category bonuses benefits you even more than someone with lower spend to amass a large number of miles and points quickly.
  • Leverage the Ultimate Rewards Mall for Extra Bonus Points: While there are several online shopping malls for the different airline and hotel programs, my favorite, because of how quickly the points post, is the Ultimate Rewards Mall. Log in with your Ink Bold, Ink Plus, Sapphire Preferred or Chase Freedom and click through to the merchant to earn additional bonus points. Bonuses change monthly. As an example of what can be earned in February 2013, see Ultimate Rewards Mall February 2013 Deals
  • Don't Neglect Retention Bonuses: Many credit cards waive the first year annual fee, but you'll start paying $65-$95 starting the second year. But don't just close or cancel a card to avoid the second year annual fee; call first to see if there may be a retention bonus. This is especially important for high spenders, because as a good customer putting significant spend on the card, you'll often be offered the best retention bonuses whereas those who just meet minimum spend or have low annual spend may not be offered anything. See 10 Tips: Retention Bonus Offers

1. Ink Bold / Ink Plus

Why #1 for high spend: The signup bonus of 50,000 bonus points is good, but the main reason to get this card for a high spender is leverage. You earn 5X points on all office supply store spend, in addition to Internet, telephone and cable services. So if some of your spend is on direct office supply store spend or with companies whose gift cards you can purchase at an office supply store (everything from Lowe's and Home Depot to Amazon and Kohl's) you can earn 5X on a lot of your spend, even without searching for Vanilla Reloads.
  • 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after $5000 spend
  • Ultimate Rewards points transfer 1:1 to United and Hyatt (best use of points), Korean Air, Southwest, Marriott, InterContinental, Priority Club, Amtrak
  • 5X points per dollar on office supply store spend, telephone, cable and Internet services
  • 2X points on hotel spend when directly with the hotel, gas stations
  • No foreign transaction fees

2. AMEX Premier Rewards Gold Card (If Targeted for  75,000 offer)

Why #2 for high spend: If your high spend includes spend on airfare, the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card is important to have, since it earns 3X Membership Rewards points on all direct airfare spend. While I used to not focus much on accruing Membership Rewards points, I now value them much more highly due to the ability to transfer them 1:1 to Singapore KrisFlyer to book Singapore Business Class, First Class, and even Singapore Suites. It's ideal particularly if you're planning business or family award travel to Asia.

Unfortunately the public signup offer is only 25,000 points, so I'd be on the lookout for any targeted offer you or your partner may be eligible for, for either the Business Gold Rewards Card or the personal Premier Gold Rewards Card.

  • See if you're targeted for 75,000 Bonus Points for the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold Card
  • Membership Rewards points transfer 1:1 to Singapore KrisFlyer (best use of points) and there are sometimes transfer bonuses to British Airways Avios
  • 3X points per dollar on airfare
  • 2X points for purchases in the U.S. for spend at stand-alone grocery stores and gas at stand-alone gas stations
  • 15,000 bonus points after spending $30,000 on the card in a calendar year

3. AMEX Business Gold Rewards Gold Card (If Not Targeted for Premier Rewards Gold 75,000 offer)

Why #3 for high spend: As with the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold Card, the AMEX Business Gold card also earns 3X Membership Rewards points on airfare. You do not, however, receive 15,000 bonus points for spending more than $30,000 in a calendar year.

Unfortunately the public signup offer often doesn't even offer a signup bonus, so I'd wait to apply until AMEX again runs a 75,000 bonus points offer. Or, you could be on the lookout for any targeted offer you or your partner may be eligible for, for either the Business Gold Rewards Card or the personal Premier Gold Rewards Card.

  • Wait to apply until AMEX runs a 75,000 Membership Rewards points bonus offer, usually after $10,000 spend
  • Membership Rewards points transfer 1:1 to Singapore KrisFlyer (best use of points) and there are sometimes transfer bonuses to British Airways Avios
  • 3X points per dollar on airfare
  • 2X points for purchases in the U.S. for advertising in select media, gas at stand-alone gas stations, and shipping

4. Sapphire Preferred

Why #4 for high spend: The Sapphire Preferred has a decent public signup bonus of 40,000 points, and is an ideal travel card with 2X spend for all travel and dining spend and no foreign transaction fees. 
  • 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points after $3000 spend
  • Ultimate Rewards points transfer 1:1 to United and Hyatt (best use of points), Korean Air, Southwest, Marriott, InterContinental, Priority Club, Amtrak
  • 2X points on travel spend (includes airfare, train travel, car rental, tolls, taxis, buses)
  • 2X points on dining spend
  • No foreign transaction fees

4. CitiBusiness AAdvantage 

Why #4 for high spend: Even though, as is typical with airline credit cards, the only category bonus is 2X miles on American Airlines spend, the beauty of the CitiBusiness AAdvantage card is that you can apply for it again to get another bonus. Technically, you could apply again after just 90 days, though to be conservative you might want to try it after 4 months or so. Now, the caveat is that Citi seems to be changing the rules a bit and preventing people from at least applying at the same time for two of the same cards (e.g. the personal Citi AAdvantage Visa and the Citi AAdvantage AMEX--see Bye Bye Citi AAdvantage Two Browser Trick) but it's unclear whether this is yet being enforced for business cards, and likely worth a try for another 50,000 AAdvantage miles.

Although the public signup bonus is only 30,000 AAdvantage miles, see our Best Travel Credit Cards tab for links to 50,000 bonus mile offers and terms.

5. Starwood Preferred Guest

Why #5 for high spend: Many people swear by the Starwood Preferred Guest card for all other spend they can't get a category bonus on. It's only middling, in my book, but what the program does have is the flexibility to transfer to a number of different airline and hotel programs, and a 25% transfer bonus if you transfer in increments of 20,000 points. So for example, if you transfer 20,000 SPG points to Singapore KrisFlyer, you'd receive 25,000 KrisFlyer miles. As a caveat, note that Starwood point transfers are NOT instant and can take a week or more.
While this of course is better than the 1:1 AMEX Membership Rewards transfer ratio, the issue is that SPG points, as wit other hotel points, only offer a category bonus for Starwood spend. If you stay often at Starwood hotels (Westin, Sheraton, St. Regis, Le Meridien, etc.) this card should be higher on your priority list.
  • 5x Starpoints per dollar spent at Starwood Hotels if you are a Gold or Platinum SPG member; otherwise, 4 Starpoints per dollar spent
  • Starwood Gold Preferred Guest Status after $30,000 spend in a calendar year; keep in mind though that if you already have the AMEX Platinum card, it includes complimentary SPG Gold status

6. United MileagePlus Explorer

Why #6 for high spend: You can do far better in terms of accruing United MileagePlus miles by leveraging the 5X of the Ink Bold or Ink Plus, then transferring the points to United MileagePlus, but many folks are targeted for a 65,000 miles offer: see United MileagePlus Explorer 65,000 Bonus Miles Offer Tips

You'll earn 50,000 miles after $1000 in spend, 5000 miles for adding an authorized user, and can also earn a bonus 10,000 miles for an additional $25,000 spend in a calendar year. So if you have $25,000 spend that won't receive a category bonus from any other card and want to earn more United miles, it may be worth meeting the threshold to pick up extra miles.

Related Posts

Diversify Your Miles and Points: Top 8 Reasons

Citi AAdvantage and AMEX Retention Bonus Offers

Chase Retention Bonus Offers

Which Credit Cards to Keep, Close, Trade and Apply For

When to Cancel or Close a Credit Card

Downgrade Your AMEX, Chase or Citi Card to a No Fee Card?


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Picture?type=large Kenny V. commented 02 Feb 2013
great job. Love the blog, keep up the good work!
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 02 Feb 2013
Thanks Kenny, hope it was helpful!
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