How I work it

It took me a couple of years of learning about rewards to figure out what worked for me and how I want to be rewarded.

When I talk with friends and coworkers, they always ask “What card should I get?”  I always respond with the question “How do you want to be rewarded?”

For me, it started, generally speaking, with travel.  I wanted to earn miles so that I could get free travel.

I got the Capital One Venture card and started building up my miles and using them to pay off any of the travel related items on my bill.  Like the first time my wife (then fiance) and I got our kids together to go out as one group.  We had to rent a van for the day to get down to the apple orchard and Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store.

It was free. Paid in miles.  And as Capital One advertises, no black outs, no fees.

Then a coworker of mine introduced me to the American Express Delta Reserve card. The $450 annual fee seemed way too high!

And for what? Club access? I didn’t even know what went on behind those sliding glass doors.  I was leary.  I was sure it wasn’t for me.

I had, however, decided on Delta as my primary airline.  Living in Minnesota, Delta offers, in some cases, the only direct flights to some of the cities that I need to travel to for work.

I had just started my new career in sales.  And my first year, I was able to make Silver on Delta, which I was pretty happy about.  When I finally pulled the trigger on the Delta Reserve, my status increased as well!  With the same amount of travel, I was on track for making Platinum every other year. And “settling” for gold on those off years.

“The Club” became part of my vernacular. And became my go to safe haven for any trip.  As I learned, it’s easy to find yourself with hours to spare at the airport. Hoping to get on with your standby ticket.  Not making the cut and needing a quiet place to go plug in and wait for the next opportunity.  For business as well as leisure travel, the Club has been a point of refuge.

I spent that year building up the miles, and the MQMs (Medallion Qualification Miles, a crucial part of earning status), and soon realized that I could do the same for my hotels.

Now here’s where I had to do the research and figure out the math.  Every hotel brand either has their own rewards, or is part of a larger group that earns points from their portfolio.

It boiled down to Hilton and Marriott.  I looked at where I would be travelling most. I looked at the Points Per Dollar (PPD), membership rewards program levels, and cost for redemption.  In the end, I made the executive decision (I don’t recall all of the supporting details), I picked Hilton.

This meant taking a look at what was available at that time for reward cards.  There seemed to be two approaches.

One gave you a lot of bonus points for signing up and using the card, the other offered two free weekend night stays and a different point per dollar ratio.

Some quick math made the decision easier. For me, earning points quicker outweighed the bonus point difference (and frankly two weekend night stays MATCHED the bonus point offering anyway).

This lead me down the path with the Citibank Hilton Reserve card (you can read about that saga here).

The familiy was planning a trip to Disney World in February 2017, and in preparation for that trip we picked up the Chase Disney Rewards card.  This card rounds out my wallet.

Here’s how I use them through the year.

The Delta Reserve is my primary card.  I use this everyday for personal and business expenses up until the point I hit $60k in spend.  The card gives me 15k MQMs at my 30k and 60k thresholds.  At 60k, I have “maxed out” my benefits towards status, but i continue to earn Miles that can be used for rewards.  At 60k, I move it to the back of my wallet.  It is still used for various bills and accounts that Ive assigned it to, but for my day to day, I switch to my secondary.

This would be my Hilton Ascend American Express card.  I use it year round for all of my Hilton stays to max out my point earnings. But once this becomes my daily card, those points come a lot faster.  I have my wife as an authorized user, so she is earning 6x points on gas, grocery, and restaurants too.  And if I should hit $40k in spend on the Ascend card in a year, then my Hilton status goes from Gold to Diamond. (I’m hoping to accomplish that this year)

Should I hit that milestone, I’ll take that Disney Rewards card and use it as my daily card.  This one earns points through the year with my wife and my daughter as authorized users.  If I am somewhere that does not take American Express, then out comes my Darth Vader credit card (which is my favorite card aesthetically).  Even as a tertiary card, I still manage to earn a few hundred in Disney rewards which i can then save up for our next Disney trip.

At the end of the year, I can look back and see the benefits of how I use these cards.

– 4-6 free airplane tickets

– around 10 free nights at the hotel

-$200-300 in Disney rewards

Each card has additional benefits from use. I try to keep up on cash back, additional discounts, or opportunities to earn additional rewards. For example, there was a time when I used the Chase Disney Rewarrds card to earn 4% (as opposed to 1%) on payments for utilities, and I changed over whichever bills I could to that card.

So there it is, a peak into how I work. It may not work for everyone, but I sure do enjoy how it works for me!

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