Because the points and miles world can change so much, it’s important to constantly evaluate your goals and how you are earning toward free travel. Every year, I write down my travel goals as well as my spending strategies to make sure I’m earning the right type of points and miles!
Last year, I wrote down my goals and laid out my spending for 2019. Because we’re focusing on the everyday person who doesn’t own high-spending businesses or travel a lot for work (i.e. me), the majority of points and miles come from spending on my credit cards.
My travel goals lead the direction of my credit card spending.
Did I succeed in my 2019 goals?
I had one major goal last year: maximizing our spending on American Express cards in order to earn Membership Rewards for our eventual Around the World trip.
At the beginning of the year, I had 108,372 American Express Membership Rewards. Now, I have 164,783 points. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, my wife earned more than 50,000 Membership Rewards over the course of the last year.
Midway through the year, we decided that we wanted to take a weekend ski trip to Whistler. While there is a Hilton property in Whistler, it required too many points, so we were going to need (a lot of) Chase Ultimate Rewards to cover lodging. With that said, we did shift some of our spending to Ultimate Rewards with the Chase Trifecta.
Now for our 2020 plans – let’s look at my wallet. I only had two changes this year. I downgraded the Gold Delta Skymiles Card ($95 annual fee) to the Delta Blue Skymiles Card ($0 annual fee). I simply wasn’t flying Delta enough to take advantage of the free checked bags.
I upgraded my no-fee annual card Hilton Honors card to the Surpass card, which came with both a $95 annual fee but also some benefits and a massive sign-up bonus.
Transferable Points/Cash Back
- Chase Sapphire Reserve, $450 annual fee — While the annual fee of this card is going up to $550, I got in one last year of the $450 annual fee. Chase Ultimate Rewards are still my favorite point currency. With the Chase Trifecta, it’s an easy way to earn a lot of them quickly, as well. I use this for 3x restaurants and 3x travel. I’ll definitely be exploring whether this is worth keeping over the next year.
- Chase Freedom Unlimited, $0 annual fee — This is one of my favorite cards. Pretty much every non-bonus dollar I spend goes on this card thanks to the 1.5x on all purchases. And the lack of an annual fee makes it a no brainer to keep in my wallet.
- Chase Freedom, $0 annual fee — Also with no annual fee, I use this card just for the quarterly rotating bonus categories. Being able to earn 5x the points on anything is really important for someone who isn’t traveling a ton or spending a lot of money.
- Chase Ink Business Cash, $0 annual fee — I’ll keep this card both because it has no annual fee and I like to keep my business expenses separate. It gives me a 5x bonus at office supply stores, phone/internet, as well as 2x at gas stations and restaurants. I only use this for business expenses, though.
- American Express Gold Card, $250 annual fee — Given my goals to collect American Express Membership Rewards, this was one of my go-to cards. I think I got back most of the annual fee with the Seamless/Grubhub monthly credit and the airline incidental fee. I don’t think I’ll get rid of this card thanks to the 4x points on restaurants and groceries (it also has 3x on airfare, but I typically use Chase Sapphire Reserve). I also took advantage of more than $100 worth of American Express Offers.
- American Express Everyday, $0 annual fee — I’ll be honest, I didn’t use this card a ton this year. I probably should’ve used it more since my goal was to acquire Membership Rewards, too. With that said, it has no annual fee, so I’ll keep it.
- Discover Cash Back, $0 annual fee — I used my Discover card WAY MORE than I thought I was going to. This card is similar to the Chase Freedom in that it rewards 5% cashback on quarterly rotating categories. There were some good categories this year including Amazon and PayPal.
- Hyatt Credit Card, $75 annual fee — This card is actually no longer available. It was replaced with the World of Hyatt card which carries a $95 annual fee. But, I haven’t upgraded because I don’t want to pay the increased annual fee. I get one free category four hotel night per year, so I always get value out of this. It also comes with complimentary Discovorist status. I’m using it for my first trip up to Whistler this year.
- IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card, $49 annual fee — This is another card that is no longer available. It’s also been replaced by the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card which has a higher annual fee. I also get a free night per year at a hotel that charges 40,000 points or less per night along with mid-tier elite status. It’s a keeper.
- American Express Hilton Honors Surpass Card, $95 annual fee — I wrote about it more here, but I received a huge sign-up bonus so it was worth the upgrade. This will probably be my last year with it unless I start staying at Hilton’s or figure out another way to earn back the annual fee.
- Alaska Air Visa Signature Card, $75 annual fee — Thanks to the Alaska Air Companion Fare, this is hands down my favorite, most valuable card in my wallet. I saved 496.01 this year with my companion fare – not too shabby for a $75 annual fee!
- Delta Blue Skymiles Card, $0 annual fee — I downgraded my Delta Gold Skymiles Card this year. I simply just wasn’t flying Delta enough to make it worth having a Delta card with a $95 annual fee. I downgraded to keep my relationship with American Express as well as keep my account open to help my credit score.
My Points and Miles Balances
As I mentioned, I don’t have hundreds of thousands of miles. But I do like to track
- Chase Ultimate Rewards: 32,941
- American Express Membership Rewards: 164,783
- World of Hyatt Points: 191
- Hilton Honors Points: 187,176
- Marriott Bonvoy: 10,870
- IHG Rewards Club: 69,947
- Alaska Air Miles: 190,415
- Delta Skymiles: 8,761
- Southwest Rapid Rewards: 81
Now that you see the cards I have in my wallet and my current account balances, let’s talk about my goals for the next year.
Bad news first. I don’t think we’re going to be able to do our Around the World trip this next year. Several work conflicts came up, and we don’t want to rush it, so we’re putting that on hold!
However, we are planning to visit Portugal and Spain in the summer! I believe we’re going to do our flights with Delta SkyMiles (my wife is sitting on a nice balance), but we do want to make sure our hotels are covered. I think getting as many Chase Ultimate Rewards is going to be crucial for us. We can transfer to hotel chains like Hyatt or use the Chase Travel Portal to book at 1.5 cents per point.
So, it’s a boring goal, but we’re going to be focusing on getting as many Chase Ultimate Rewards as we can this year!
My spending strategy in 2020 is going to be to build up my Chase Ultimate Rewards while also continue to earn American Express Membership Rewards. If you can’t tell, I love transferable points!
- Groceries – 4x on Amex Gold
- Restaurants – Split between 4x on Amex Gold and 3x on Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Airlines – 3x on Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Travel – 3x on Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Quarterly bonuses (Gas in Q1) – 5x on Chase Freedom or 5x on Discover
- All other spend – 1.5x on Chase Freedom Unlimited
I haven’t opened up a brand new credit card on more than a year, nearly two years, so that will also be on my radar this year.
Auditing your credit cards and spending habits at least once per year is a great thing to do. When your travel goals change, your spending goals need to change as well.
Many credit cards will have perks for spending a certain amount of money every year. For example, after spending $15,000 per year on the Hilton Honors Surpass Card, the cardholder gets a free weekend night certificate. While I don’t think that’s worth it, doing an annual review is the perfect time to evaluate that.
I’m really excited to see how many points and miles I can earn and how my wife and I can put them to use in 2020!