Unveiling My 2023 Credit Card Strategy

Unveiling My 2023 Credit Card Strategy
Photo by CardMapr.nl on Unsplash

Earn points on rent and everyday purchases to fuel your wildest travel aspirations.

A personalized and thoughtful credit card setup can save you thousands of dollars in the long run.

In fact, it has helped me travel to some of my favorite cities in the United States for free since 2021. From transcontinental flights, such as San Francisco to New York, to more short-term flights, such as from San Francisco to Denver and Dallas, a well-thought-out credit card setup has saved me countless $$$ on airfares.

Entering 2023, I knew it was going to be a travel-filled year for me. That’s why it was ever more important for me to be thoughtful about what credit cards I use the most in my everyday purchases.

Now, halfway through 2023, I already raked up enough points to book flights from Toronto to Atlanta, and then, from Atlanta to San Francisco and Seattle.

In this blog post, I will walk you through the primary cards in my credit card strategy for 2023.

For every card, I will go over the annual fee, the effective annual fee (what I actually pay), and some comments on why and how I use it.

Before we get started, one disclaimer: I will only talk about the credit cards that are actively involved in my strategy. I won’t go over everything in my wallet. There will be a future blog post where I talk about that.

That being said, let’s get started.

The Philosophy Behind the Setup

At the heart of the strategy, there’s only one thought — maximize points to fund my travel aspirations.

Outside that, there are a few other boxes I want to check when adding a credit card to my primary rotation:

  • Travel protection — flight cancellation and delay refunds or credits
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Rental car insurance
  • Purchase protection — extended warranty, returns, and refunds.

As you can see, most of these checkboxes are also geared toward traveling.

However, to remind you again, above all, the strategy is optimizing for maximizing points to fund upcoming trips across North America and the rest of the world.

Now, without waiting any longer, let’s dive into the first credit card in my 2023 setup.

(1) American Express Gold

Annual Fee: $250

Effective Annual Fee: $10 (Use all of the $120 Uber Eats credit and $120 Dining Credits using Grubhub or in Cheesecake Factory)

Why do I use it?

This card is an absolute workhorse!

It’s the most important card of my setup.

Firstly, the card gives me 4X points at Global Restaurants, 4X points at supermarkets, and 3X points when booking flights through the AMEX travel portal.

Most of my spending ends up being on dining or groceries, so 4X points on those purchases is a no-brainer. This alone makes me thousands of Membership Rewards (MR) points over the course of a year.

The benefits don’t stop there. Here are a few other things that make this card worth so much more than the $10 effective annual fee:

  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Car rental loss and damage insurance
  • Baggage insurance if lost at the airport
  • Extended warranty for up to one additional year on top of the manufacturer’s warranty
  • Purchase protection by covering my cost if I lose or damage anything that I have purchased recently and put the cost on this card.

This is the first American Express card in my setup. As you will see, I have more AMEX cards coming up.

The goal is to maximize Membership Rewards (MR) points through American Express. Later on, I can transfer the points to AMEX’s partner airlines and hotels to book flights and rooms.

(2) American Express Cobalt (Canada)

Annual Fee: USD$115

Effective Annual Fee: USD$115

Why do I use it?

I moved to Canada last year, and immediately got the AMEX Cobalt card.

The annual fee is steep, however, what I get in return more than makes up for it.

I don’t use my AMEX Gold card when I am in Canada, because of the complexities with currency conversion. I would rather spend in CAD, to keep the math simple.

This card has absolutely insane reward multipliers:

  • 5X points on dining
  • 5X points on groceries
  • 3X points on streaming subscriptions
  • 2X points on gas and transit

Most importantly, all the rewards are in the form of Membership Rewards (MR) points. So, it goes hand in hand with my American AMEX cards.

All the points I receive on my Canadian cards, and all the points on my US cards, go to the same transfer partners — Aeroplan and Virgin Atlantic — giving me even more power to book flights for free.

Outside the multipliers, the Cobalt card gives me rental car insurance in Canada which is very important with all my Canadian trips happening this Summer.

When I leave Canada, I will downgrade this to a no annual fee AMEX card. For now, it makes up for the annual fee and some more.

(3) AMEX Blue Business Plus

Annual Fee: $0

Effective Annual Fee: $0

Why do I use it?

Once again, the pattern holds — American Express.

This way, I can be sure that all my points are MR points that can be used in the same way with transfer partners.

There’s one exception to this rule, but more on that later.

The other two AMEX cards I mentioned — Gold and Cobalt — earn only 1X points on purchases outside the categories that they have a multiplier for.

For instance, if I bought a Macbook for $2,500 with either Gold or Cobalt, I would only get 2,500 MR points.

The Blue Business Plus (BPP) card earns 2X points on all purchases, regardless of categories.

That means, if I buy my $2,500 Macbook with BPP, I get 5,000 MR points.

This is the only function of BPP in this credit card strategy. It’s such a crucial piece to the puzzle, for literally $0 annually.

(4) The Bilt Mastercard

Annual Fee: $0

Effective Annual Fee: $0

Why do I use it?

Switching gears a little, and finally a non-AMEX card! And most likely, if you are not too deep into this credit card game, a card that you didn’t hear about before.

For a $0 annual fee credit card, it’s a no-brainer for every person to own this if you care about travel rewards.

The idea is simple: This card lets you earn points on rent.

Enough said.

If you pay $1,500 in rent every month. That’s 18,000 points in your account, no questions asked.

If you paid attention so far, you will realize, this breaks my pattern of only earning American Express Membership Reward (MR) points.

How do I plan on using these Bilt Points to buy airfares? Easy.

Bilt’s travel partners include both Air Canada Aeroplan and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. So, I can transfer my Bilt points 1:1 to these partners, just like I can transfer my AMEX MR points.

So, that 18,000 Bilt points that I guaranteed earn every year? That becomes either Aeroplan or Virgin Atlantic points. It becomes added to my pool of MR points that are transferred from AMEX to these partner airlines.

(5) Apple Card

Annual Fee: $0

Effective Annual Fee: $0

Why do I use it?

If there’s one card in my setup that’s a curve ball, it has to be the Apple Card.

It doesn’t contribute in any way to my ultimate travel rewards plan. Instead, it fills one gap that I have in my setup.

Being so tightly in the American Express ecosystem means, when I am at a store that doesn’t accept AMEX, I am in trouble.

99% of the locations in the United States and Canada that I go to, accept AMEX, so it has barely been a problem. Internationally, however, it’s a different story.

That’s why, I needed a non-AMEX no-foreign-transaction-fee credit card.

Enter Apple Card.

It’s a Mastercard with no foreign transaction fee. It’s also very well integrated into the Apple ecosystem, so when I am traveling, this card just works without any fuss.

Additionally, this card gives me 3% back on Apple products purchased from Apple Store. For expensive products, that cash back can be pretty high. So, depending on how my MR points are looking, sometimes I decide to use the Apple Card in Apple Stores for that cash back.

The card also gives me the ability to pay over time without any interest, if circumstances force me to. I don’t ever want to use that feature, but it’s a peace of mind knowing that the option is there, if things ever go South.

Closing Thoughts

There you go, folks!

That’s my ultimate credit card setup for 2023.

If you haven’t connected the dots already, the plan is very simple:

  • Earn MR points on daily purchases
  • Earn Bilt points on monthly rent
  • Transfer MR and Bilt points to transfer partners
  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • Use points to purchase air tickets for Air Canada, Virgin Atlantic, or any of the 20+ partner airlines of both these programs.

I hope you found this helpful.

I would love to know about your credit card setup in the comments below.

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