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We’re almost a year into the coronavirus pandemic, and we’ve all had to adjust our daily budgeting and spending habits because of it.
For me, one of the biggest changes I’ve had to make when it came to my personal finances was how I use credit cards.
Before the pandemic, I used seven credit cards regularly. That may seem like a very high number of cards to have, but when we could travel safely it made sense for me. Many of those cards, for example, had travel credits that offset their annual fees. And they offered various travel perks, such as free nights at hotels, access to airport lounges, and protections for delayed or cancelled trips.
But with the pandemic bringing unnecessary travel to a halt, I haven’t set foot in an airport — or even a rental car agency — since January of last year. One of the first things I did as a consequence was to adjust my credit card strategy.
With that in mind, here are the three cards I’ve been keeping in heavy rotation over the course of the last year. Using these cards regularly helps me find a balance between saving money on purchases and earning points I’ll use for travel once it’s safe to do so again.
American Express® Gold Card
The Amex Gold Card has always held a spot at the front of my wallet, and the pandemic has solidified that.
There are few things I love more than going out to eat and having a great meal with friends and family — or having them deliver food to me when I can’t visit them because of social distancing and bans on indoor dining. So I’m a big fan of this card because it earns four points per dollar spent on dining, as well as at U.S. supermarkets, up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year. Those points add up quickly.
With this card, I also receive up to a $10 monthly credit to restaurants such as Shake Shack, as well as from delivery platforms like GrubHub and Seamless. This adds up to $120 a year. The card carries a $250 annual fee, but perks like this help offset that cost.
Recently, Amex introduced new perks for Gold (and Platinum) cardholders, as well: A complimentary Uber Eats Pass for up to 12 months, which includes 5% off and $0 delivery fees on orders over $15. I do try to order directly from restaurants wherever possible, but knowing that I have this complimentary dining perk in my back pocket is a nice added bonus. The subscription would cost $9.99 per month, or $119 for the year, without this complimentary perk.
Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card
If you’re an Amazon devotee like I am, the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card can help elevate your shopping strategy.
You can only get this card if you’re a Prime member, and with it, you’ll automatically get a $100 Amazon credit. This helps to significantly offset the cost of your $119 yearly Prime membership.
I also get 5% cash back at Whole Foods and Amazon.com purchases. Since I’ve been staying at home and ordering my groceries and essentials online, this 5% cash back adds up for me, as well.
American Express EveryDay Card
The Amex EveryDay Card has been another trusty staple of mine for years. It’s an excellent beginner card: it doesn’t have an annual fee, and you can earn Amex Membership Rewards points that you can use for free travel when it’s safe to do so again (the same thing applies to the Gold Card). These points do not expire as long as my account is open and in good standing.
It’s also great for groceries, as you’ll earn 2x points (up to $6,000 per year) at U.S. supermarkets, plus 1x points on all other purchases. I use this card on all of my non-dining and non-Amazon purchases, such as at drugstores, streaming services and some occasional online shopping. It’s easy for those points to add up quickly, since they combine with those I earn from the Amex Gold.
I also take advantage of occasional targeted offers to use just one Amex Membership Rewards point and save money off Amazon purchases, as well. It’s an easy way for me to save on purchases I would have made anyway, so my credit card really comes in handy here.
Check your credit card offers to see if you can save money on your everyday purchases.
I’m also a big fan of using my targeted Amex Offers (on both my EveryDay and Gold cards) to save even more on my online shopping purchases. Combine those offers with cash back offers from sites like Rakuten, and I end up saving quite a bit of cash here and there. That adds up.
There’s no one-size-fits all credit card strategy, especially during a pandemic that has scrambled everybody’s lives, so it’s important to take a look at the cards you already have and determine if they’re working for you. Don’t be afraid of downgrading a credit card that carries an annual fee to one that doesn’t, if the former does not serve your needs anymore. (That’s a much better idea than closing the account outright, since it protects your credit.)
The strategy that works for me revolves around earning points for future travel — I’ll be getting on a plane again as soon as experts say it’s safe to do so — while saving money on online shopping and grocery purchases.