While just one rewards credit card can offer plenty of returned value, the best way to earn and redeem rewards with credit cards is by pairing them up. Here are some of the most popular and effective combinations on the market, as well as some tips for creating your own pairings.
The main idea behind a credit card strategy is ensuring that every purchase you make earns the most rewards possible between each of your credit cards.
- Start with an everyday, unlimited cashback card. These cards typically earn 1.5% back on all purchases without any sort of caps or other restrictions. No matter what you purchase with this card, you’ll at least earn the stated cashback amount.
- Supplement that card with a category reward cards. A category rewards card earns more than 1.5% in select categories. For example, the American Express® Gold Card earns 4x points at US restaurants, 4x points at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 per calendar year then 1x points, 3x points on flights you book directly through airlines or with Amex, and 1x points on other eligible purchases.
- Use the right card for the right purchase. When you’re shopping, you’ll want to use your category rewards credit card wherever and whenever possible to earn more points than you would with your base unlimited card. But for anything not included as a rewards category on your category rewards card, you’ll want to use your unlimited everyday card. This is because the category rewards card earns just 1% back on purchases that aren’t included among the card’s categories.
It might sound a little complicated, but at the end of the day, it’s as simple as using the right credit card at the right time.
The Chase Trifecta is one of the most well-known credit card combinations thanks to the individual card strengths as well as the strength of the Chase Ultimate Rewards programs. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® and Chase Freedom Flex℠ are your point earners. Respectively, they earn unlimited cash back and category rewards. Meanwhile, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® is your point spender. All points you spend through this card will be worth 1.5x their standard value.
For more on how this reward system works, check out our Chase Trifecta guide.
The Amex Trifecta works similarly to the Chase Trifecta: use a different card for each type of spending. This includes the The Platinum Card® from American Express, American Express® Gold Card and the The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express. Unlike the Chase Trifecta, there is no “spender” card, as your points all funnel into the same Amex account.
Take a look at our Amex Trifecta guide to learn more about this strategy.
You have a bit of flexibility when it comes to creating an effective travel card pairing. You have two card types to choose from for travel cards: cobranded cards and general travel cards. Cobranded cards tend to earn the greatest number of points on purchases associated with that hotel or airline, while standard travel cards tend to earn more points on everyday purchases.
Cobranded and standard travel card combination
If you’re looking to make the most travel points possible for a specific travel brand, you might consider picking up a cobranded travel credit card, such as the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card plus another card that allows you to transfer points to your Delta loyalty program, such as the Amex Gold Card.
As an example, Amex rewards cards allow you to transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to the Delta program at a 1:1 ratio. You could simply choose another Amex rewards card with categories that aren’t covered by the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card to maximize the points flowing into your SkyMiles program.
If you’re less concerned with points and more concerned with travel perks, a combination of two different types of travel credit cards often works well. For example, a cobranded airline card can offer perks like free checked bags and airport lounge access, while a cobranded hotel card can offer you annual-free nights and upgraded rooms.
As of March 2022, it’s tough to beat the combination of the Chase Freedom Unlimited® and Chase Freedom Flex℠. Aside from the way they naturally compliment one another as an unlimited cashback card and category cashback card, they both currently sport additional categories that offer big unlimited cash back, including 5% back on travel booked through the Chase travel portal, 3% back on Lyft purchases, and 3% back on dining and drugstores. No other cashback cards on the market offer this number of categories or earning potential.
Best alternative credit card combination for cashback cards
If you’re not interested in the Chase ecosystem however, consider the Citi® Double Cash Card and Discover it® Cash Back. The Citi® Double Cash Card effectively earns an unlimited 2% cash back – 1% on your purchase and another 1% when you pay your balance. This is the highest unlimited cash back rate you’ll find on all purchases, beating even the Chase Freedom Unlimited® in that regard.
The Discover it® Cash Back on the other hand is a traditional rotating category card: you’ll earn 5% cash back on select categories on up to a spending cap, and these categories rotate out each quarter. What makes the Discover it® Cash Back the go-to pick however is the welcome offer. Discover will match all cash back you earn during your first year of account opening.
We don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, Chase Freedom Flex℠ are the best overall credit card pairing you’ll find on the market today. They offer the strongest combination of pure earning strength and reward flexibility. This may not always be the case – it was only recently that the Chase Freedom cards received their upgrades – but for now, you can’t go wrong adding these to your wallet.
How many credit cards should I have?
There’s no hard rule on how many credit cards you should have. Credit cards are ultimately financial tools, so as long as each card you own fulfills a purpose and you’re paying them off without incurring interest, you’re in good shape. But there are a few things to keep in mind when you’re considering opening a new account or closing an old one.
- Card applications can negatively affect your score. Each credit card application will result in a hard pull on your credit, which can temporarily ding your credit score. If you apply for too many credit cards too quickly, this can negatively impact your score.
- Closing old accounts can negatively affect your score. Your total available credit and credit history plays a large role in your credit score. Closing an old account can affect both of these factors by reducing your history and potentially increasing your credit utilization ratio, both of which can negatively affect your score.
While we’ve already listed some of our favorite card combinations, there’s plenty of room to get creative and find a few cards that hit just the right spots for your financial and spending habits. You can select up to four cards from our table to compare them side-by-side and see if they make for an effective pair.
The wide variety of reward cards out there means you have ample opportunity to pick the cards that best serve your needs while providing you value on the purchases you make most. If you’re looking for a few new cards to add to your wallet, compare all credit cards to get an idea of what makes the most sense for you.