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Cash Back

How to stack cards to get the most on your everyday spending

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Running an errand to fill up your gas tank or restock your pantry may not be the most glamorous part of your day, but, with the right cash back card, you can make those everyday tasks much more rewarding.

Best credit card combinations for everyday spending

  • For Amex loyalists
  • For maximizing points
  • For maximizing cash back

There are many cash back credit cards that offer bonus rewards on everyday purchases such as gas and groceries. One of our favorites is the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which gives you a whopping 6% cash back on U.S. supermarket purchases and (up to $6,000 in purchases per year, 1% thereafter), 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming services 3% cash back on transit and U.S. gas station purchases and 1% cash back on everything else.

The card does charge a $95 annual fee, but we think that fee is well worth it if you want to earn the most cash back on your everyday spending. We figure that the average shopper who spends $15,900 on the card would earn around $323 in cash back each year.

Estimated yearly rewards: Amex Blue Cash Preferred

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express Average rewards rate Estimated cash back earned (after annual fee)
  • 6% U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases, 1% thereafter)
  • 6% select U.S. streaming services
  • 3% transit and U.S. gas stations
  • 1% other purchases
2.63% $323

Even better, you can push your rewards rate higher by pairing the Blue Cash Preferred card with credit cards that offer bonuses on other categories of purchases. Here are some of the best card pairings for the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card.

Combination one: Amex all the way

If you love American Express cards, or you just want to keep things as simple as possible for yourself by sticking to a single issuer – the American Express Cash Magnet® Card that offers 1.5% cash back on every purchase makes a great partner to the Blue Cash Preferred card.

See related: Which 1.5% cash back card is right for you?

By swapping in the Cash Magnet card to earn 1.5% cash back on purchases that don’t qualify for a bonus with the Blue Cash Preferred card, the average cardholder can push their cash back rate to 2.91%, amounting to $368 in cash back with $15,900 yearly credit card spend.

Estimated yearly rewards: Blue Cash Preferred + Amex Cash Magnet

Combined rewards Average rewards rate Estimated cash back earned (after annual fee)
  • 6% U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases, 1% thereafter) with the Blue Cash Preferred card
  • 6% select U.S. streaming services with the Blue Cash Preferred card
  • 3% transit and U.S. gas stations with the Blue Cash Preferred card
  • 1.5% other purchases with the Cash Magnet card
2.91% $368

Combination two: Maximizing points

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is another great card to pair with the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card. Just like the Cash Magnet card, it offers at least 1.5% cash back on every purchase. However, the rewards that you earn with the Freedom Unlimited card are a little more versatile than the Cash Magnet card and it comes with additional cash back categories: 5% on Chase Ultimate Rewards travel, plus 3% on dining and drugstore purchases. You can transfer them to certain Chase Ultimate Rewards cards, including the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card*, which awards a 25% bonus on those points when you redeem them for travel for the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.

If you prefer to earn points rather than cash back on purchases that fall outside the Blue Cash Preferred card’s bonus categories, Ultimate Rewards cards are a great way to go:

Estimated yearly rewards: Amex Blue Cash Preferred + Chase Freedom Unlimited

Combined rewards Average rewards rate Estimated cash back earned (after annual fee)
  • 6% U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases, 1% thereafter) with the Blue Cash Preferred card
  • 6% select U.S. streaming services with the Blue Cash Preferred card
  • 5% Chase Ultimate Rewards travel with the Freedom Unlimited card
  • 3% dining and drugstore purchases with the Freedom Unlimited card
  • 3% transit & U.S. gas stations with the Blue Cash Preferred card
  • 1.5% other purchases with the Freedom Unlimited card
3.49% $459.91

Combination three: Maximizing cash back

If you prefer cash back rewards and want to earn the most cash back possible, the Citi® Double Cash Card and the Blue Cash Preferred cards is one of the ultimate card pairings. The Citi Double Cash card offers up to 2% back on every purchase – 1% when you make the purchase and another 1% when you pay your bill on time.

Combined with the Blue Cash Preferred card, the Citi Double Cash card pushes the rewards rate to 3.19% cash back for the average cardholder. We figure that a cardholder who spends around $15,900 per year on these two cards can earn nearly $412 in cash back per year.

Estimated yearly rewards: Amex Blue Cash Preferred + Citi Double Cash

Combined rewards Average rewards rate Estimated cash back earned (after annual fee)
  • 6% U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases, 1% thereafter) with the Blue Cash Preferred card
  • 6% select U.S. streaming services with the Blue Cash Preferred card
  • 3% transit & U.S. gas stations with the Blue Cash Preferred card
  • 2% other purchases with the Citi Double Cash card (1% when you buy, 1% as you pay)
3.19% $412

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Source: creditcards.com



My 2021 credit card predictions

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic brought a huge shift in spending as the country shut down. The travel industry specifically took a hit, and many card issuers responded by adding rewards on everyday spending to travel cards.

While I think travel spending will eventually rebound in 2021, it seems likely that the additional perks on everyday spending are here to stay.

Read more from our credit card experts.

Ask Ted a question.

Everyday spending

Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, many card issuers pivoted to grocery spending, food delivery and takeout, streaming services, home improvements, and other everyday spending categories out of necessity. In 2021 and beyond, I think they’ll do so by choice.

These perks really seem to be resonating with consumers, whether we’re talking about earning bonus rewards for these types of spending, redeeming points or miles at a higher than normal ratio to offset related purchases, receiving free premium memberships for services such as DoorDash and Instacart, or getting statement credits to defray eligible costs.

It all adds up to cash back with a twist. There’s an experiential component that cardholders love and habitual aspects that appeal to card issuers trying to build loyalty. If you’re more likely to use a card that offers these perks – especially if you’re willing to pay an annual fee – that’s a win all around.

See related: Guide to Chase Pay Yourself Back

Travel

Necessity is the mother of invention, of course, and the fact that the pandemic crippled travel led to many of the aforementioned incentives. I expect travel to bounce back in a big way once we have widespread vaccine availability. Late Q2 or early Q3 seems like a good bet, according to health experts.

This should unleash an incredible amount of pent-up travel demand. People want to see their families and friends, they want to explore bucket list destinations and many will have money (and points and miles) to burn after a year of lockdowns.

I expect the good deals will last for a while because it’s a competitive industry, and business travel should remain depressed longer than leisure travel. Airlines will want to pack planes, hotels will want to fill rooms and cruise lines will be especially desperate for business. We should see favorable prices along with other incentives to liquidate rewards and sign up for travel credit cards.

Approval standards

In 2020, lenders became much more risk-averse as the pandemic created a ton of uncertainty and job losses. In Q2, 72% of credit card issuers tightened their approval standards and 0% eased them, according to the Federal Reserve’s Senior Loan Officer Survey. In Q3, 31% tightened and 4% eased. A similar trend played out with respect to existing cardholders’ credit limits.

This hit balance transfer cards the hardest. According to Mintel Comperemedia, card issuers sent 42% fewer direct mail advertisements for 0% balance transfer cards in the first three quarters of 2020 when compared with the same period in 2019. Card issuers were worried enough that their existing customers wouldn’t pay them back; taking on new customers with existing debt wasn’t particularly appealing.

This will hopefully turn around in the second half of 2021, assuming we have widespread vaccine access and a better economy and job market. I think balance transfer cards will be the last card sector to bounce back, however.

sign-up bonuses. But approval standards will likely remain tight as issuers look for the most creditworthy and affluent applicants. We saw some of this in late 2020, like the 100,000-mile Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card bonus (since expired) which required $20,000 of spending within the new cardholder’s first 12 months.

I think particularly lucrative bonuses will become more widely available and less restrictive in the second half of 2021. Early in the year, the best offers will probably be reserved for those with high credit scores and high incomes.

Final thoughts

A couple of pleasant surprises this year: Credit card debt and delinquencies both fell in 2021. Credit card debt declined 11% between February and October, according to the Fed. This could be due in part to the government stimulus package passed earlier this year or consumers spending less and prioritizing paying down debt.

While we’re all anxious for our lives to return to normal, carrying less credit card debt would be a good habit to hold onto after the pandemic is over.

Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at ted.rossman@creditcards.com and I’d be happy to help.

Source: creditcards.com




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