Credit Card Makeover: Maximizing Barb’s Bonuses

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Barb is a retired retail manager living in Chicopee, Massachusetts. She and her husband love to travel with the points they earn from reward credit cards, but they aren’t sure if they’re getting the best deal.

Where Barbara is…

“I have two Marriott credit cards issued by Chase. One is a personal – each family member has one. The other is for business. There’s a very high credit line on the personal one, and a good one on the other. We pay both in full each month, earn one Marriott point per dollar on most purchases, and three points per dollar for charges at Marriott.

“We also have a Visa through Bank of America, which earns 1 percent, 2 percent, or 3 percent back on revolving categories of merchants such as gas, groceries, etc. – but I can’t keep track of it every month.

“Finally, we signed up for a Jet Blue American Express to get a good deal on four tickets to St. Thomas, but I haven’t charged anything on that since.

“We pay in full each month. We charge everything we can to maximize the points, and consider it a 30- (now 20- or so) day loan, which must be paid in full. I’m told that we have excellent credit, over 800.”

What Barbara needs to do…

Barbara and her husband are doing a lot of things right. They hold several credit cards and they always pay their balances in full to avoid interest. As she’s discovered, these are two of the keys to having a fantastic credit score.

Her Marriott cards earn her and her family hotel points, her Bank of America card earns cash back, and her Jet Blue American Express nabbed her a discount on her last vacation.

With all these reward cards, Barbara is no beginner at this game. At the same time, she needs to start approaching credit cards with an overall strategy to maximize rewards.

First, Barbara should make sure that she’s using the best version of the Marriott card that’s available. Since she earns 3 points per dollar spent on her Marriott card, I assume she’s using the standard Marriott Rewards Credit Card. She should consider calling Chase and asking them to upgrade her cards to their Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card.

This card earns 5 points per dollar spent at Marriott properties, and 2 points for every $1 spent on airlines, dining, and rental cars. She’ll also receive a credit of 15 nights each year toward elite status and a free night’s stay when she renews her card. This card does have an $85 annual fee, but it’s only $40 more than the standard card. I think she’ll find the added benefits to easily be worth the additional cost.

Next, Barb should reconsider her Bank of America card that offers bonuses on rotating categories of merchants. As Barb is learning, these cards sound simple on paper, but they’re confusing to keep track of and use. I’d recommend she try the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express. With it, she can earn 6 percent cash back at grocery stores, 3 percent cash back at gas stations and department stores, and 1 percent cash back on all other eligible purchases. Best of all, these reward categories stay the same every month.

Finally, I’d even have Barb replace her Jet Blue card.

With its free checked bag policy, I really like Jet Blue as an airline, but their credit card leaves much to be desired. It only earns 1 point per dollar spent on most purchases, and these points are worth merely 1 to 1.2 cents each toward Jet Blue fares. In contrast, Capital One’s Venture Rewards card earns 2 “miles” per dollar spent, and each is worth 1 cent as a statement credit toward any travel expense.

In other words, Barb can earn 2 cents per dollar spent toward travel on Jet Blue flights or any other airline, hotel, or rental car purchase. In fact, she’ll earn additional reward points or miles when she travels using her Capital One miles.

Barb makes a great case study on how to use credit cards to earn rewards and maintain a high credit score. Now Barb (and others like her) can take it to the next level and earn the maximum credit card bonuses that they deserve.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express. Opinions expressed here are the author’s and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by American Express.

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