Card Bonus Categories
Card bonus categories are fun. I enjoy earning in them and writing about their intricacies. And often, the stars align for hobbyists to earn new signup bonuses while spending in bonus categories. But sometimes, we’re faced with the gray area where we must pick one or the other. I thought of this while reading Nick from Frequent Miler’s recent piece on his Amex Gold/Capital One SaverOne dilemma. Should he stay with the Gold or pick up the SaverOne? One option isn’t considered in Nick’s post – do neither! It brought to mind a hobby principle that some follow but may be easily forgotten. Actively pursuing lucrative welcome offers can consistently outperform earning in card bonus categories. Today, I illustrate this nuance, which I find vital to highly efficient card rewards earning.
The Example, with My Twist
Let’s revisit Nick’s example. He was deciding whether to keep his Gold or move on to the SavorOne. His article revolves around the following primary bonus categories of the Gold and SaverOne cards: 4x Membership Rewards at supermarkets (up to $25k annually) and restaurants, and 3% cash back/3x Capital One miles in the same categories, respectively. (SavorOne cash back rewards are convertible to miles with just a bit of effort.) The Gold and SavorOne cards clearly earn at solid rates in those (and some other maybe-less scalable) categories.
I’d like to throw in a third option. How about picking up an Amex Business Platinum instead? It’s been generally, and repeatedly, possible to earn at least a 150k Membership Rewards signup bonus after spending $15k in three months. But how? I, and many others, have done so for the past few years thanks to Amex’s generous no lifetime language (NLL) offers. Along the way, we predominantly ignore the Business Platinum’s more niche bonus categories; they’re immaterial to winning big. So why do I suggest focusing on a new Business Platinum instead of Nick’s alternatives?
By meeting the welcome offer terms and incorporating normal earning, an Amex Business Platinum cardholder can earn at least 165k Membership Rewards points on $15k spend anywhere (AKA 11x). Plenty of higher welcome offers have appeared over the years. What about that spending on an existing Gold card, instead? That move earns 60k at most, but only if one limits spend to the 4x categories.
Meanwhile, a new SavorOne cardholder currently earns a not-that-lucrative $200/20k mile welcome offer after $500 spend. Add in $450 cash back/45k miles in the card’s 3%/3x categories, and it comes to $650 total cash back or 65k miles.
Net Rewards – Cash Back Valuation
I don’t get overly caught up in point valuations for travel redemptions, instead focusing on cashout value of points to assign a minimum. Amex points are worth 1.1 cents per point (cpp) via Schwab Platinum cashout and SavorOne at 1 cpp (obviously). For that $15k spend above, we come to the following in net cash rewards:
- Amex Business Platinum: $1,815 Gross Rewards – $695 Annual Fee = $1,120
- Amex Gold: $660 Gross Rewards – $250 Annual Fee = $410
- Capital One SavorOne (no annual fee): $650
Net Rewards – Reasonable Redemption Values
Maybe you don’t care about cash back as much and want to focus more on travel rewards. Furthermore, given this is based on Nick’s example, let’s use Frequent Miler’s Reasonable Redemption Values (RRV) to determine net rewards. I generally consider their RRV a sound, reasonable method.
- Amex Business Platinum: (165k points * 1.55 RRV) – $695 AF = $1,862.50 in RRV
- Amex Gold: (60k points * 1.55 RRV) – $250 AF = $680 in RRV
- Capital One SavorOne (no annual fee): 65k miles * 1.45 RRV = $942.50 in RRV
What I’m Omitting
But wait, why am I leaving out the value of the cards’ additional benefits? First, we all value those perks differently for our individual situations. Second, this article’s long enough, and I respect your time. (I plan to write about my updated benefit valuations in the near future.) Third, leaving them out is the conservative approach. If anything, incorporating them makes the valuation gap between the cards even wider. The Gold primarily offers a couple $10 monthly credits, while the Business Platinum laps it with a plethora of benefits. The SavorOne offers complimentary Uber One membership and 10% back on all Uber purchases. Snore.
Also, I didn’t incorporate the $695 annual fee of holding a Schwab Platinum to cash out at 1.1 cpp. Why not? First, many active cashout fans already hold that card, anyway. Second, if they don’t, applying for it and receiving the welcome offer more than offsets the annual fee.
As the above math reflects, spending $15k to meet a Business Platinum signup bonus is clearly superior to that spend on an existing Gold or new SavorOne card. Of course, we can’t apply this specific example to all situations. And instead of the Amex Business Platinum, it’s possible one can earn even more lucrative rewards on that same $15k spend across, say, five new card welcome offers or more. I encourage you to develop your own unique strategy to actively apply for new cards based on your goals.
And here are just a few examples of where the above example with my alternative may not apply:
- An active hobbyist needs more spend capacity than new card welcome offers can provide.
- Banks can offer unique travel partners which an individual highly values or needs for a specific redemption.
- An individual (definitely not me) acquiesces to bank rules like Chase’s 5/24 policy, preferring to minimize certain new card accounts.
- A casual points and miles fan doesn’t have the time to devote to a higher-maintenance version of our hobby, more often involving new accounts.
Card bonus categories are a useful angle for efficiently earning points and miles, but I’m not beholden to them. Indeed, there’s a substantial opportunity cost in choosing to maximize bonus categories. Reconciling new card welcome offers and card bonus categories is a balancing act for one looking to maximize earning, in my view. It involves a bit of each, and tweaking along the way, which takes more time and effort. As hobby trends change, keep an open mind. Again, when feasible, make an effort to do both simultaneously! Lastly, the answer to much in our hobby is not what someone posts online, my content included.
How do you currently optimize your earning with new card welcome offers and bonus categories?
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