Rewarding Credit Cards: 3 Cards We Use (and 2 We Have Our Eyes On)
Dave Ramsey hates credit cards. I say this as someone who’s never actually listened to a full episode of his show, but I’ve heard his position on plastic again and again from various articles either agreeing or disagreeing with him. Personally, while I understand why someone like him who speaks to millions of Americans at different points in their financial journeys would need to tow that line, my wife and I have actually been able to use credit cards to our advantage, earning cash back and other perks along the way.
To that point, I’d argue that the ability to maximize credit card rewards is a “money milestone” unto itself. It not only means that you’re financially stable and literate enough to not be tempted into debt but also allows you the chance to show just how savvy you can be. Of course, some have taken this to another level by churning cards and “travel hacking” — but, for us, keeping a wallet of a few cards that each serve a specific purpose has helped inject a little extra cash into our finances.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share a look at the three credit cards we currently use and what benefit we get from them along with a peek at two other cards we’ve either considered or are currently thinking about adding to the mix.
Credit Cards I Currently Use
PNC Everyday Rewards
Biggest Perk: 4% on gas
Biggest Drawback: Only .25% back on general purchases under spending threshold
This wasn’t a card I so much chose but inherited. My wife has been with PNC for years and this was her first credit card. As luck would have it, it’s also a pretty solid one. In fact, when I first introduced the idea of adding other cards to our line-up, she was trepidatious since her experience with this particular card had been so positive.
The PNC Everyday Rewards card starts off with a fairly generous 4% back on gas followed by 3% back at cinemas and 2% at restaurants and grocery stores. Concluding the countdown, the card shows a 1% category for everything else. However the fine print reveals that this is only the case is you spend more than $10,000 a year — otherwise you only earn .25% on purchases that don’t have a special category.
I should mention that it seems that the PNC Everyday Rewards card doesn’t seem to be available to new customers. Instead the similar but slightly different PNC Cash Rewards Visa offers 4% on gas, 3% at restaurants, 2% at grocery stores, and 1% on everything else. That mix would probably be better for us had we not added other cards to our wallets that can pick up the slack.
Biggest Perk: 5% rotating bonus categories
Biggest Drawback: Lack of foreign acceptance
My Discover It card holds a special place in my heart is it was the first new card I applied for in several years. Given the aforementioned issue of the “everything else” category on the PNC card, I was drawn to Discover’s real 1% across the board pitch. Of course the real selling point of this card was the 5% bonus categories it rotates on a quarterly basis. These categories have varied throughout my time as a cardholder but one of my recurring favorites is the 5% back on Amazon purchases offer that tends to come up in Q4 of each year. Other past categories I’ve appreciated include restaurants, groceries, and gas.
Beyond the cash back, another reason I was originally drawn to the Discover card was because it didn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Unfortunately, finding locations that accept it overseas can be challenging. That said, in Europe I did come across a few places that accepted Diner’s Club (which means they also allow Discover) plus the company has partnerships in Japan and mainland China that boost their acceptance significantly in those countries.
Another perk that comes with the Discover It card is their unique sign-up bonus. Instead of a set statement credit you can unlock by spending a certain amount in your first months of cardholdership, Discover instead allows you to rack up cash back all year long and then matches that amount after your first anniversary. That means that, for those initial 12 months, you’ll essentially be earning 2% on everything and 10% on bonus categories. Obviously this no longer applies to me but it’s definitely an enticing proposition for new cardholders.
Biggest Perk: 4% on dining
Biggest Drawback: None?
There was a time when I was quite content with my PNC card and my Discover It… but then I heard about the Uber Visa card. I actually learned about the card — which is offered through Barclaycard — before its release and ended up applying for it on the first day I could. So what got me so excited? To start, the 4% on dining would double up what our PNC card offered. On top of that, the 3% back on hotels and flights spoke to our blossoming travel lives. Finally the 2% back on online purchases (and 1% on everything else) all with no annual fee made this card irresistible to me.
Since then, my Uber Visa has become my go-to favorite. In fact, I actually judge “best of” lists that exclude it. Not only have all the perks I already mentioned been used to great effect on our part but we’ve also earned elsewhere. For example, when you reach $5,000 in annual spending on the card, you can earn up to $50 as a “streaming credit.” This means that purchases you make for Netflix, Spotify, and the like will automatically be credited back to your account (up to the total of $50). There’s also a cell phone insurance plan that comes with the card as long as you pay your phone bill with it, but thankfully I haven’t had to make a claim on that one yet. Oh, and it has no foreign transaction fees, so that helps make up for the times when my Discover card isn’t accepted abroad.
I’ll admit that, given how much the Uber Visa has to offer, I was a little concerned that the card would disappear or scale back its offerings sometime after launch. Yet here I am a year and a half later and the only changes have been for the better (they expanded the 2% “online purchases” to include those made with PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Google Pay). More importantly, it works perfectly in concert with our other cards, allowing us to maximize rewards.
Cards I’m Considering/Have Considered
Biggest Perk: 3% on Apple Store purchases
Biggest Drawback: Another “1% on everything else” card
Admittedly, I’m kind of on the fence about the upcoming Apple Card. Essentially, I feel like my desire to review the card is stronger than my actual need for it. Nevertheless, there are a few perks that make the card worth considering.
Setting aside the gimmicks like the Daily Cash and titanium card, I could see making use of Apple Card’s spending categories. While there may be some overlap between the 2% back on Apple Pay purchases categories and better deals from my other cards, I can definitely imagine times when that 2% would be my best option. Plus, the 3% back on Apple Store purchases offer could prove quite lucrative. Despite my wife and I both recently replacing our laptops, surely the time will come to make another major Apple purchase once again.
So will I be applying for the Apple Card whenever they may open? Stay tuned.
Delta SkyMiles Credit Card
Biggest Perk: Frequent flier miles and fancy people treatment
Biggest Drawback: Annual fee
I can’t tell you how many times Delta has sent me mail attempting to lure me toward their set of American Express cards. Most of these offers have ended up in the trash but, everyone once in a while, I hold on to one and ponder the possibilities. See, Delta is my wife and I’s preferred airline so it would make sense to take our relationship to the next level. At the same time, the annual fee that comes with the card — especially the fancier ones — scares me off as I’m not sure we’d be able to take full advantage of the perks.
There are three different Delta AmEx cards: Gold Delta SkyMiles, Platinum Delta SkyMiles, and the Delta Reserve. Ironically, despite my annual fee concerns, the one that’s most tempting to me is the Reserve card as it includes complimentary Delta Sky Club access (and the ability to bring a guest for just $29), a Companion Certificate good for a Domestic First Class, Delta Comfort+, or Main Cabin round-trip each year upon renewal, and other fancy things. The downside? It costs $450 a year. In theory, we could cover that by making use of the lounge, maximizing the Companion Certificate, and being smart with the miles we earn. However, considering that the bonus Medallion Qualification Miles don’t kick in until you’ve reached a whopping $30,000 in eligible purchases, it’s pretty clear that this card isn’t really intended for me. But, hey, a boy can dream!
There’s good reason why many Americans fear credit cards and the damage they can do. At the same time, mastering these cards can have undeniable benefits that can boost your finances. That’s exactly what my wife and I have learned over the past few years as we’ve strategically added cards to our wallets and found ways to get the most from each. Hopefully this look at the cards we use will help you do the same thing for yourself.