Point Me to First Class with Devon Gimbel MD | 2023 Points Earning Review with the Points and Miles Doc (Part 1)

45. 2023 Points Earning Review with the Points and Miles Doc (Part 1)

Jan 08, 2024

Today, I’m joined by my points friend Kelly (The Points and Miles Doc) and we’re taking a look back at 2023, breaking down all the points we earned last year, how we earned them, and we’re analyzing some current trends in the points and miles world.

I love hearing about how rewards travelers earn and use their points, so over this episode and the next, we’re giving you an unprecedented peek inside our wallets. Be sure to come back for part two of our conversation next week to discover how exactly we used the points we earned last year.

Tune in this week as we discuss the highs and lows of the points world in 2023. Kelly and I are sharing our favorite cards, points currencies, and sign-up bonuses from the past 12 months. We're diving deep into what’s changed over the past year, and we’re looking at the landscape of points travel as we kick off 2024.


To be the first to know when my Points Made Easy course reopens for enrollment, join the waitlist here!


What You’ll Learn from this Episode: 

  • The biggest points winners and losers over the past year.
  • Kelly’s picks for the best points deals of 2023.
  • Some of the innovations we’ve seen in the points world in 2023.
  • Our picks for most-improved points currencies over the past year.
  • The cards that will give you the best potential returns over the next few years.
  • What’s changed in the points travel game over 2023 and how our points strategies adapted.
  • The changes we’re making to our personal points strategies in 2024.


Listen to the Full Episode:


Featured on the Show:


Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to Point Me to First Class, the only show for employed professionals, entrepreneurs, and business owners who are looking to optimize their higher-than-average expenses to travel the world. I'm your host, Devon Gimbel, and I believe that your expenses are your greatest untapped asset if you know how to leverage them. Ready to dive into the world of credit card points and miles so you can travel more, travel better, and travel often? Let's get started.

Welcome back to the podcast everybody. I hope you're having a fantastic New Year and are gearing up for a great year of points earning and points redeeming. I already have a few points trips booked for this year, which you're going to hear about soon but not just yet. 

That's because today I'm joined by my points friend Kelly, The Points and Miles Doc. We're going to take a look back at 2023 and break down all the points that we earned last year, how we earned them, and what we think about current trends in the points and miles world before we come back next week for part two of this series where we're going to talk about how exactly we used our points last year. 

I don't know about you, but I'm really nosy when it comes to other people's points. I love knowing what cards they have, how they use them, and most importantly, how many points they're earning and what they're doing with them. So join me and Kelly for this two part series where you're going to get a peek inside our wallets and points itineraries. I hope you enjoy. 

Devon: Welcome back to the podcast, Kelly. I am so thrilled to have you here with me today.

Kelly: Oh, so happy to be here. Always great to see you and talk to you. 

Devon: Yeah, I've been looking forward to this conversation for such a long time now because I am a little bit of a points and financial voyeur. Like I love hearing and learning about what other people have going on in their points and financial lives. When I was thinking about doing sort of a year in review, thinking about taking a look back about what did 2023 look like in terms of just earning points and credit card strategy and using points. I thought the only thing for me that's more fun than just creating a spreadsheet and figuring out all of my own numbers is forcing someone else. 

Kelly: There's nothing more fun than a spreadsheet. 

Devon: To come on the podcast and do the same exact thing so I can learn from another person who has a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience in points, kind of how other people also like to approach these. Just bigger ideas about moving into a new year, how do you think about earning points? Or how do you strategize what your card plan may be for that year?

Also, I love traveling vicariously through other people. As will probably come up during our talk today, the way that travel and poisoning looks for me right now might not look exactly the same way it is for you. In a lot of ways, I travel very vicariously through you. 

So I'm just really excited to have a conversation just about the different ways that people can construct rewards card portfolios, the different ways that we can prioritize earning points and using points, and hopefully learn from one another as well. Maybe some things that we haven't really thought about before that we might want to incorporate into our points earning or using plans. 

So I'm just really excited to have you here and to dive into all of these beautiful numbers that you and I have been pulling from our multitude of various credit card accounts over the past year. But before we dive into some of our actual granular data, like how many points did we each earn, and how did we go about earning those, I kind of wanted to get your impressions about bigger trends across the rewards card and the points travel world in 2023. 

Unsurprisingly, we've seen changes this year, right? Like every single year, things change. New credit cards come out or credit cards are no longer offered. Things change in the loyalty programs and the airlines and the hotels. So when you think back over 2023, let's first talk about some of what we consider to be the big points winners or points losers over the last year. 

When you think about any specific points currency or loyalty program and the changes they've made or introduced this year, what were some of your top picks for who you think really came out on top this year in terms of just offering really great value or really great opportunities in their programs? 

Kelly: Yeah, well, it was a really great practice to go through or the preparation for this podcast because it showed me actually where I'm valuing my points and what I'm actually using. Some of it seems obvious and then some of it was a little bit of a surprise. I think the program that came out on top for me this year as far as transferable currency was membership rewards. 

I think we all know how American Express was really going heavy with the signup bonuses and the welcome offers at the end of 2022 and early 2023. I didn't realize how much I capitalized on that, but it just goes to show that you should take the opportunities with any card when it comes forward. But when I was looking at all of the things that I booked for last year and this year, almost all of them were transfers from membership rewards to programs like Flying Blue or Life Miles with transfer bonuses. Or to Avios to book Qatar Qsuite. So this theme came up from membership rewards over and over and over. 

So see, they had positive and negative changes in their program this year. So the positive was early on, they were offering all these welcome offers tons of opportunity. They had taken away their traditional lifetime language, which means that if you have one of their cards, you can't receive another welcome offer for that same card for the, quote unquote, lifetime of the card, which some reports say is around seven years. A lot of that lifetime language for the welcome offers had gone away.

However, towards the end of the year, they brought a lot of that back, and they brought it back for their high tier cards, like the personal Platinum and Gold, but also the business Platinum and Gold, which traditionally you could apply for multiples of those cards. So both positive and negative, but definitely my heavy hitter for this year was membership rewards. 

Devon: Yeah, I agree. You know, I think American Express and their membership rewards program, at least for me looking over the past number of years, has just reliably been what I think is one of the most valuable points currencies, one of the most valuable just programs in general in terms of the breadth of the credit cards that they offer, at least if you're based in the US and have access to the US based cards. 

The ease with which I think you can earn Amex points, at least in my experience, is so much higher than pretty much all of these other points currencies. Again, when we get into the part where we talk about how many points did we actually earn in our various preferred points currencies, I think some of these points will start to become reflected really well. 

But I agree with you. I have been a member of the Amex membership rewards points program for many, many years now, probably at least six or seven. I think every year I just continue to like the program more and more and find more and more uses for it. That being said, it's actually not the program that I have used the most in terms of using points to book travel this year, which I think is very interesting trend for me given I value those points and the ease of earning them. I've actually used fairly few American Express membership rewards. But I do have a plan for them. I'm not just hoarding them for no reason. 

But on top of American Express for you, as that being a really big kind of personal points winner, when you think about kind of the broader landscape of other rewards cards programs or other airline or hotel loyalty programs. Are there just programs in general that you think in 2023 were doing really innovative things or became much more appealing than maybe they had been in the past? Just to anybody who's in the points hobby in general. 

Kelly: I'm pretty biased when it comes to airlines because I've been an American Airline advantage member since ’91 and have seen all these changes in their program over the years. But I actually think that their program made some really innovative changes in the past two years that have made status more attainable for even people who don't fly a lot. Since American Airlines isn't a transfer partner of any currency except for Bilt, they're traditionally harder points to earn. 

But with the program changes over to loyalty points where you can now earn points not only through flying but also through spend, you can earn it through shopping portals, you can earn it through dining portals, through Simply Miles. So. All of that spend and all of those points add up to status as well, not just earning the miles. 

So I think they've made really innovative changes over the past two years that can open up One World status to a lot more people. Whereas I feel like the transferrable points currencies really focus on SkyTeam and Star Alliance. So if you have all three, you really have the opportunity to book with any airline alliance.

Devon: Yeah, I think that's such a great point. I think sort of, especially for those of us who've been in this game for more than a minute, you kind of, I think, sometimes we can become a little bit not jaded, but I think we're so used to seeing programs change for the negative, right. We're so used to benefits being reduced over time or awards costing more over time, that usually no news is good news. Like I think a program has a good if they made no changes at all. 

But it's not really that often that we see programs making, I think, like really, really positive changes. I think that's a great example of a program that, at least in my opinion, is very valuable and has either maintained or increased its value over time. So I love American Airlines miles. I think they don't get as much attention as some other airlines precisely because they're not easily transferable from points currencies outside of Bilt, at least not currently.

In the past, we have seen Citi points being able to transfer over to American Airlines, and I truly hope that that option comes back. But I think that American Airlines is a fantastic program. It's got some really, really unique partner redemptions for tremendous value. You're going to hear one of my favorite, my single most high value redemption of 2023 came from redeeming American Airlines miles. So you guys are all going to get the details on that in a little bit. 

But when I think about kind of 2023 and what we saw as either shifts or kind of innovations in the field, I was thinking about kind of two of the transferable points currency programs that I think have really come on strong this year. Then I've also been thinking about just some trends overall that I think have been improvements. 

In terms of the transferable points currencies that I think you've had a great year, I really think about Bilt and Capital One. Bilt is such an interesting program. This is, to me, I think a little bit of an outsider in the way that they do things, certainly in the number and the variety of the transfer partners they have when you compare that to other transferable points currencies and their transfer partners. 

But I think of Bilt as that sort of, well, first of all, let me age myself. I'm 42. Right? So I mean, that sort of weird generation in between like baby boomers and then all the people I don't understand because they were born like in the fully digital age. I feel like Bilt is that like millennial expression, or I don't even know who's younger than millennials. I'm sure now there's like three generations younger. 

But Bilt, to me, is like that newcomer, that disrupter, the really innovative new player in the rewards credit card space, right? Where like American Express is like your grandfather's points currency, Bilt comes in and they're like I'm just going to kick down the house and like do something totally different. I think that is such a breath of fresh air in the rewards card space. 

To have a credit card that allows you to earn points for rent, which for many people is a significant expense, I think that is just such an incredible opportunity. As someone who no longer is a renter and is probably not Bilt’s target market, this is the one credit card that I still do not have that I consistently, consistently think why don't I have that card? 

Kelly: Same.

Devon: Yeah, it's always on my list of this is such an incredibly valuable card that I don't have. At some point, I'm sure I will get it. But, again, I think they've just done such interesting and fun things in this space. They have these really great little competitions that you can play in their Bilt program to earn more points. I think that's so different than what we're seeing in a lot of other credit card points currencies. They've had some just phenomenal transfer bonuses. 

We get pretty excited when you see like a 25% or 30% transfer bonus from Amex or Chase to another airline partners. Bilt, like I said, they just came in, and they're like that's really cute. We're going to do 100% transfer bonus, or we're going to do some just ridiculous transfer bonuses that I think, and I'm hoping are really, really making the other transferable points currencies take notice that this is how things can be done. I still have no clue how they are able to be profitable and why they're not just collapsing under the weight of like the amount of amazing stuff that they give away in their program.

But I really think that Bilt has been such an exciting points currency to watch, especially from the outside as someone who doesn't currently have that credit card or earn those points. I'm really looking forward to see what Bilt does in 2024. 

Even beyond Bilt, I think about Capital One as well. This is a credit card points currency that, at least for me traditionally, was always a bit of a snoozer. It just couldn't compete in any way with Chase and Amex for what I was looking for in points. Like they didn't have any credit cards that I felt like were really competitive with Chase or Amex in the way that they were structured for their points earning or their signup bonuses. They didn't have any really, really unique transfer partners, again, that I felt like were great enough to kind of draw me away from wanting to put spend on Chase or Amex cards. 

I feel like Capital One should get like the most improved award over the last year or two in terms of traditional points currencies. I think that they've done such an amazing job expanding the transfer partner menu. I think they'd become much more competitive with some of kind of the older players in the field. I think too, especially bringing in new card products and not just a new card for the sake of a new card, but a new card that's actually really useful and compelling. 

I'm thinking specifically about the Business Venture X card. I don't think that this is a card that's going to appeal to every single person on earth. But again, for a certain segment of people with certain priorities or certain spend patterns. I think that that was a really, really powerful card. That was the card that convinced me to get into the Capital One points currency for the very first time this year after knowing about Capital One points and not at all being interested in them or finding that program compelling for many, many years.

So, to me, Capital One is kind of that sleeper. It's been around. It's not a brand new points currency, but I feel like they are actually making some really positive changes in their programs. So I think that Capital One and Bilt, to me, were points currencies that I think had a great 2023. Then just thinking about, again, like broader trends of what you just see across like loyalty programs in general. I think one of the big winners this year was just expansion of airline partnerships in terms of airlines that you can book award flights on being easier. 

Like being more able to access more airlines through partnerships, and I'm thinking specifically about like when Qatar joined Avios, formally joined the Avios program. I think that that was an enormous win for the points travel community. The downside is, if there is downside, they're now so much easier to book Qatar awards, but I see that as a good thing, right? 

Like when I think about points in that one of the best things about points being that the access it gives people just to travel to different types of travel, premium cabin travel. Being able to access Qatar now by having them join obvious and then also having them become a direct transfer partner of Amex, which they had never been previously. I think that increased access and availability is just really great. Having more people being able to fly those products or having more experience with them is really, really wonderful. 

I think about that the same way too like with ITA where, as of this year, you can actually start booking ITA awards through Virgin, which is a really easy program to use. They're a transfer partner have a couple of different transferable points currencies. We often see transfer bonuses from transferable points currencies over to Virgin. So to have these airline partnerships expand to where now you can use the points you already have and just be able to book more airlines with them or to be able to book more types of award flights with them. I think that's a really positive thing for the points community.

Kelly: Yeah, I mean, I want to echo what you said about Capital One and Bilt. I mean Capital One went from having no transfer partners at all in the past couple years to now really being my go to card for everyday spend, two times points on everything. For somebody who just wants to use one card, that's really going to be your best bet for earning. What I can see from Capital One is most of my earning was actually through spend on that card. 

Same for Bilt. I don't even have the card. It's on my wish list for this year. God, I wish it was around 20 years ago because medical people rent for so many years for training. But even just engaging with their app and connecting my cards through their dining program. I mean, I've earned nearly 40,000 Bilt points. 

This really speaks to the head of their loyalty program, Richard Kerr, somebody I've respected for a long time who's making this a sustainable program that is about engagement rather than turning cards and signing up bonuses and then canceling them and rinse and repeat. So I think they've done a fantastic job of engaging millennials, younger millennials, and Gen Z, the next generation who's coming out. Maybe leaving their parents homes and starting to rent. 

Then to your point to the partner expansion. That's actually one of the negatives that I have on my list for this year. Because I do think there has been a lot of interest around oh we're adding this partner to this program. Aeroplan is adding Etihad. Alaska is adding Starlux. Virgin is adding ITA. Then all of these initial partnerships get tucked up. They're put in initially at really low redemption prices. Then within days to maybe a week, the deal is dead. Then sometimes even the partnership availability goes away completely. 

What I see there is programs trying to maybe spread or market their program and say we're adding these great partners, artificially reducing the redemption rates, seeing that it's absolutely not sustainable in any way at all, and then completely getting rid of the partnership or doubling or tripling the rate that the booking goes at. So that's one of the negative things that I've seen this year. 

It's happened multiple times. I feel like it's getting more and more popular. I think when they're adding these partners and artificially lowering the rates, it's just the opportunity for points brokers, people to make speculative bookings who aren't going to keep them, and it just lowers the availability for everybody else. So that's probably my biggest negative take on this year on trends that have been happening in our space.

Devon: Yeah, and I think that's a great point that oftentimes changes, they're not always 100% good or 100% bad, right. I think you've done a really great job of highlighting when it's something that seems really great or looks really exciting on the surface, kind of what is the underside of that in terms of the long term impact? 

I agree. I am not a fan at all of doing these sort of just like the marketing version of clickbait, right. Like announcing some partnerships and oh, this is such an amazing opportunity. Then there's either no award availability or, like you said, they change it so quickly, so significantly that it doesn't actually stay as a value proposition to the consumer. I don't like that.

As someone who really does kind of value having my points and using them in a deliberate way, like I don't love it when programs do these little tactics and maneuvers to basically just get a lot of attention. But when there's not a lot of substance to whatever change it is they're making, I think over time that really kind of erodes the way that people look at some of these programs or the customer experience of them. So I'm not a huge fan of that aspect of some of these expanded partnerships.

But you said that was the major kind of negative thing that you see or sort of negative change from either airline programs or just the points world in general in 2023. But are there other sorts of changes that you consider to be not so great for those of us who are actually on the end of earning and using points in terms of just any specific either points currencies and changes they've made or other award programs that you think kind of come out on the bottom in terms of 2023 and not being so amazing.

Kelly: I'm not really one of their consumers. So it's probably not fair to criticize from afar. But of course, Delta got a lot of attention this year with their program changes that not only made it harder to engage with their credit cards, which apparently spending on Delta branded Amex was like 1% of GDP this year. So the fact that they would disenfranchise some of their credit card spend is really fascinating. 

Disengaging with their lounges, of course, by making lounge access harder, and then making status harder to attain not just from flying and engaging with their program, but also from spend. Then they said the reason that they did this was to reduce the ranks of high level elites so that their high level elites could get the experience that they really intended to give them. 

But then when they walked back some of the changes, they actually opened up the field for more high level elites from less flying. So it was actually quite confusing. It shows that maybe they didn't have a strategy in mind, except to really just devalue the program. 

I think we're seeing this more and more. It's not just Delta, but more and more premium seats are selling for cash prices ahead of time. Like 80% of business class cabins are now full from cash tickets. So that means that your likelihood of getting upgrades or having a word availability is going down. I don't see an incentive for any airline to really change that. That's fine. It's just a new game that we have to play. 

So, again, I think Delta is the leader in devaluing their points and miles programs, their status, and their lounge engagement. But I do think that the other airlines tend to follow along. We may see this in the years to come from our other airlines. But who knows?

Devon: Yeah, I agree. I think Delta certainly kind of wins the medal for worse choices made in terms of retaining loyalty and changes to their loyalty program this year. But when I'm thinking about sort of changes or things that are different this year that I'm not in love with as a consumer and things that I think will have overall a negative impact on just the points experience.

We spent a little bit of time at the beginning of this episode, both you and I, talking about how valuable we find American Express points, how we've been members of those programs for a long time, how much we really see the breadth of things that you can do with American Express points. That is true. 

But one thing that I don't love that Amex did this year that I'm actually curious if this, like you said with Delta, is this a little bit of a harbinger for what other programs might do in the year or years to come? When Amex kind of not at all formally announced but just started instituting a new change, I had the same exact thought of what is this going to mean for their program from a larger sort of perspective? How might this potentially trickle down to other programs?

What I'm talking about specifically is American Express, as they have made it to earn points in certain ways over the years, they also have some of the stricter restrictions in terms of, like you said, applying for new credit cards. They have traditionally had their once per lifetime rule in terms of their signup bonuses. So you had one shot to earn a signup bonus on a specific credit card over the course of your lifetime. Whether that's actually your lifetime, or seven years, for all intents and purposes, the American Express cards have not really been churnable in the way that we've seen other credit cards be churnable. 

The thing that American Express did this year that I was not at all happy when I first started seeing reported that I think is going to have enormous impacts on the way that people do think about their credit card strategies is sort of this institution of the, quote unquote, family rule. What I mean by that is that in the past, when you looked at the cards that American Express offers on the personal side, they have the cards where you can earn American Express membership rewards points. The Green card, the personal Gold card, the personal Platinum card. 

There had never really been restrictions about being able to hold one of every single one of those cards or the way that you went about accumulating those cards. Because American Express has always been very strict in terms of the ones per lifetime rule, I think the general approach up until now has been if you don't hold one of these personal American Express cards, and they come out with a really elevated welcome bonus for one of them, that's a great time to jump on it right. So you want to grab those American Express cards at the point that you're going to benefit from the highest welcome bonus possible.

Then this year, they slip in this rule that, at least to my knowledge, I don't remember there being any sort of announcement or for warning saying or letting consumers know that there was going to be a change in their program. Where basically, they just decided that if you hold the personal version of the American Express Platinum Card, you are no longer eligible to earn the welcome bonus on the personal Gold card.

Kelly: Correct, yeah.

Devon: I think that that had a really, really big impact on people. Because, again, in the past, it never really mattered what order you went and applied for your personal American Express cards. But those are two extremely different products. The American Express, the personal Platinum card and the personal Gold card, to me, have almost no overlap. Like they're very compelling reasons why a lot of people would gladly hold both of those cards. 

So for American Express to come along and institute this family rule where if you just already happen to have the Platinum card, no longer are you going to be eligible for the Gold card, I think that that was a really bad move on their part. Now, clearly, they must have had reasons for it. Maybe all the reasons I think are bad are reasons they think are amazing in terms of limiting the number of like signup bonuses they offer to people or just sort of limiting the number of card products that people can hold. 

But, again, sitting from the consumer side, I hated that change. I actually felt really, really terrible for anyone who was already a holder of the personal Platinum card who had intentions to apply for the Gold card who now just don't have access to that anymore. 

I think that the other thing that that kind of worries me is I do feel like a lot of programs, either you're Delta and you just kind of set your program on ablaze and wait for the backlash to be so terrible, you've got to walk it back. Or I think other programs, they kind of tiptoe into some of these changes, right? Like, they'll make a change and kind of assess, I guess, maybe the impact of it or assess kind of the response of consumers. 

Then we usually see like an expansion, right? An expansion of some of these restrictions or expansion of changes in programs that ultimately are negative for the consumer. 

I think one of my big concerns is okay, we see this initially on the personal side of American Express cards. But does that mean we should also anticipate the same kind of establishment of family rules on the business side? Because on the business side for American Express, right, we have kind of the same portfolio of cards in the business version. So right now, there is no restriction in terms of being able to get one business Platinum card and still being eligible to earn the welcome bonus on a business Gold card. 

It makes me really curious to see what is going to happen in terms of the family rules with American Express. Are we going to start seeing, again, just more and more limitations on the number of cards that you can hold, or the order in which you can earn welcome bonuses. 

So as someone who is already sitting underneath a pile of personal and business American Express cards, I don't think I'm going to be really significantly affected by this. But I am looking at the trend in general, and especially seeing people who are just coming into this hobby now or in the last year or two who don't yet have a full portfolio of American Express personal and business cards. I really hope that we don't end up seeing the business side expansion of the family rule from American Express. 

So I think that's probably, to me, one of the biggest kind of, quote unquote, losers of 2023 in terms of changes that we've seen in the credit card space. Then beyond that, as just this is not a specific program change, or, again, specific to one airline. I'm curious to hear what your opinion is as someone who does a lot of award bookings for yourself and probably helps people do award bookings as well. 

I feel like kind of one of the losers of this year was just kind of like, I don't even have a word for this. Almost just like award space, I want to say voracity. I don't even know why I want to pick that word. But I feel like a lot of websites or a lot of platforms just had inefficiencies or problems this year. 

I mean, I feel like there's been more phantom space on a lot of programs where you run an award search, you see that there's a flight available to book with points, you actually go to book it, and then you find out that space didn't actually exist to begin with. So I've seen I feel like more phantom space this year, more problems in terms of just infrastructure and tech. 

There have been multiple reports this year of different points currencies just having problems with points transfers where you go to transfer points. I know on the Chase side, there was a little while where if you were trying to transfer Chase points to Hyatt, that system was just down, right. Like, we don't know why. We don't know how long it's going to last. It's just points transfers can't be made for a certain number of days.

I feel like the same thing was happening with Capital One where there were just problems like, quote unquote, problems being able to just initiate points transfers during certain periods of time. 

I think also you had kind of mentioned this when you were talking about Aeroplan before when airlines announced new partnerships or the ability to book new airlines using their points. On the flipside of that, if that's not rolled out well or maintained well, I think that that's a bad thing. It seemed like for a while there were these supposed partnerships where you should be able to book at Etihad space through Aeroplan, or you should be able to book Emirates space through Aeroplan, or Etihad space through American Airlines. But when you actually went on to do award searches, basically there was just zero availability. 

I don't think it's because the airline itself didn't release availability. It was almost like there was some sort of problem of communication either between those two airline programs or something, again, on the tech platform or infrastructure where the award space existed, but there was just no efficient way to actually book it online the way these programs intended it to be. 

So I feel like this year, there's just been these tech and platform just inefficiencies that I don't feel like I've seen to the same level in past years. But I don't know if you've had the same experience, or if I'm just spending maybe more time on these platforms than I did in the past. I don't think that's true because I've always spent a ton of time on these platforms. But that just seemed to me to be like very glitchy this year in general.

Kelly: Yeah, yeah, I totally agree with you. I think there's probably a couple of reasons for it. One is just they're selling their points to tons and tons of more people. There's tons of more users in the space and the infrastructure. Two, there's many more points aggregators or point skimmers that are constantly looking through sites. 

I think that was Aeroplan’s biggest complaint against seat.aero. I mean, I think seats.aero is amazing. I don't know enough about tech to know who's in the right here. But one of Aeroplan complaints was that as a skimmer, it was using bandwidth on their site that was making it more glitchy. So it's more points going out, more users, and then also that pulling back strategy. 

So I also noticed with Aeroplan, and not to harp on them too much, but they used to have points availability. You could search a week at a time, and it would show availability for the week. So it could guide your searches. Now it's taken down to just one day at a time. So I think they're trying to restrict the more fine-tuned searches to especially for partners. Award charts have largely gone away, even for partners. So there's no consistency in the point values anymore, which makes the tech harder if everything is a variable point value. 

Then there's fewer programs with calendars that allow you to look for award space, and maybe more people are using those because there are fewer of them. So I think there's a bunch of reasons. I think some is intentional to make it harder to find award space and some is just the infrastructure is not built up for the demand. 

Then just going back to your point about Amex in the family thing. I don't know if that makes sense for them because their products are really high end products with high annual fees. So I don't understand why they would be discouraging spend within their family of products, quote unquote. 

Now Chase was kind of leading in this because with their Sapphire products, you couldn't have more than one Sapphire product. But I think Amex is really different because the value proposition with Amex is having cards that optimize every bonus category. Whereas Chase doesn't have as many bonus categories so you need fewer cards. So I guess we'll wait to see if they go back to their allowing the welcome offers for all comers, or if they're going to start grouping these things together. 

Another thing I don't like is their continual devolving into being a coupon book with their credits. Give me a $300 travel credit per year period. I don't want to use $10 a month. Now, I don't want to use $10 a month for 14 different services. Now clearly, they're trying to make people spend more on their cards and not just churn them. But I don't like having a $700 coupon book. That's why we used to have two personal Platinum’s in our family, but at the end of 2022 actually went down to one personal Platinum for the family because it didn't make sense to pay all those annual fees.

Devon: Yeah, I completely agree. American Express, I know no one from your company ever listens to this podcast. But if you ever do and you find it, please stop. Stop with a coupon book. Nobody likes it. Nobody likes it. Nobody likes the coupon book. That cry will go unheeded because, like I said, I'm sure nobody from American Express has any clue that people are talking about on these coupon books on this podcast. But.

Kelly: We all have the same complaints across the board. 

Devon: We do.

Kelly: Everybody complains about the coupon book for sure.

Devon: Absolutely. I would love to see that just be completely incinerated for 2024, but I don't think it’s going to happen. All right now before we start talking about the specific cards that we did or did not open this year and how many points we earned and how we earned them, I'm always curious to hear from other people. When you think back to the very beginning of 2023, and you were kind of looking at the credit cards that you already had. You were looking at the types of travel that you wanted to do during 2023 or beyond. Did you have an overall point strategy for the year in any way, shape, or form?

Kelly: I thought I did, but then looking back I think maybe I didn't as much. So I came into the year with 25 cards. My point strategy was really derailed by all of those really high Amex business offers at the beginning of the year. So in December alone of 2022, I had opened two business Platinums and a business Gold and the business checking account because of the combination of the welcome offers on those. Luckily, through taxes and everything was able to meet the minimum spend, or unluckily. 

But I think after that and opening those cards, I actually pulled back a lot for this year from what I normally do, which is open cards for every big expense. The only cards that I ended up opening this year actually were for P2 and just kind of held the line on the 25 cards that we already had together with plans for closing some of those this year. Then, you know, looking more towards 2024 for what I'm going to open. But that was actually surprising that I personally did not open any cards in 2023.

Devon: Yeah, I definitely have years where I don't open anything. Or I'm in a two player household as well. There are years where I don't open anything for my husband because it's just not something that we need to do based on our points and our travel goals. But it sounds like you kind of inadvertently, intentionally but inadvertently, went heavy on the American Express points towards the end of last year just because of all the amazing offers. But I know that that's not the only points currency that you have or that you focus on. 

So in terms of 2023, maybe not opening up brand new cards, but are there other points currencies in general that you do kind of try to maintain balances in or that are favorites of yours that even if you're not opening up brand new cards, you are kind of focused on making sure that you're still able to earn a certain number of points during that year?

Kelly: Oh, absolutely. I mean, by optimizing all of our expenses to the highest category possible, I always want to make sure that I have a good amount of Chase Ultimate Rewards around. I kind of start to get nervous if I get less than the 200,000 in any points currency. So maybe you have a cut off where it's completely irrational, but you start to feel a little bit angsty, and you need to build back up those points. 

But even by things like I switched the philanthropy spend from my Chase Ultimate Rewards to Capital One this year so I'd get more Capital One points. I had earned so many membership rewards that hit really in January, February, and March from the minimum spends that I felt like I really didn't need more of those. So yes, I adjusted more of the spend to Chase and Capital One.

But I'd also say, I always like to put some spend on the personal World of Hyatt card every year to make sure that I get a number of elite nights that I need for whatever status I'm going for. I happened to reach globalists through the Bilt promo, which spend didn’t count for anyway. But sometimes you need extra nights to meet milestone rewards. So I'm always looking at that card as extra spend. 

Then P2 largely puts her spend on our Advantage Executive card because she is consistently Executive Platinum, which is the highest level American status. Using spend, in addition to her actual travel and work travel, always gets us there every year. So those are in addition to the transferable currency, just two other cards that we think about putting spend on.

Devon: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Coming into 2023, I think my main points kind of mainstays for many years, again, have been Amex and Chase. Those are two points currencies that I have just frequently and reliably found a lot of value for. 

But one of the trends that I have noticed, especially in 2022 and 2023 for my family and the way that we earn and use points in particular is that even though I love American Express points, I think they are so incredibly valuable. Again, Amex makes it so easy to earn a lot of them actually been. I actually have not been using a lot of American Express points recently because I tend to favor those for international flights, especially international premium cabin flights. In the last two years, most of my travel has actually been family travel. So me, my husband, and then our two kids who are on the younger side. 

So I've realized, I mean, I knew this, but I didn't really realize the extent of this shift until I started looking at my actual patterns and my points earning and points spend for the last year in particular. But I feel like 90% of our points, especially in the last year, have been specifically Chase points transferred to Hyatt for us to book Hyatt stays for family vacations. Like it's been that boring and that conserved for this entire year. 

So even though I love American Express points, and as we'll get into, I have quite a few of them and still continue to earn them, I have not been using them at the same frequency that I maybe had in prior years, and that I certainly expect to next year and the year after. 

So for us in terms of our points strategy, which is really my point strategy that then I just force my husband to follow is that for 2023, it's really for us had been so much about earning Chase points specifically. Because I am a Globalist in the Hyatt program, and I value that a lot for the amount of money that it saves us, especially on family travel. It's been really extraordinary. 

A lot of our strategy starts with really prioritizing and my planning out how are we going to maintain earning Globalist. For us, that's always a combination of actual nights stayed in hotel and then actually using credit card spend, specifically on my World of Hyatt business credit card because it earns qualifying nights towards status at a higher rate or a faster rate than the personal card does. 

So, for me, a lot of our points strategy had been number one, how do I just make sure that I maintain my high Globalist status this year in between actual stays and then spend on my World of Hyatt business credit card? Then kind of like the second tier of that is just how do I always put myself in a position to earn as many Chase points as possible because the Chase to Hyatt transfer is, like I said, that's pretty much where all of our Chase points have gone in the last year or two. 

Then beyond that, I am always earning American Express points just through Rakuten, through the signup bonuses that are really compelling. But in it kind of a new area of focus for me this last year, and it took a bit of a turn, was I feel like American Express and Chase have been my mainstays for so long because between those two programs, they just cover so many amazing airlines. Like I have Hyatt as my hotel chain that's covered by Chase points. Between American Express and Chase, there's so many really, really great programs that are a transfer partner of one or both of those points currencies. 

So I never really felt there was a huge incentive for me to branch out and get additional points currencies. But the one gaping hole in terms of American Express and Chase and where their transfer partner kind of menus overlap or don't overlap, as the case may be, for me has been Turkish Airlines. 

Turkish Airlines, I think, is such an amazing program in terms of using and redeeming points. They have a huge airline network. You can fly almost anywhere in the world from their hub and Istanbul. Istanbul is just a phenomenal city to have an excuse to go to no matter what. For me to not be able to directly transfer points from a credit card to Turkish Airlines specifically, that always felt like just the one huge missing piece in terms of my overall credit card portfolio. 

So actually, in 2022, I had made the jump finally into Citi points, specifically so that I would have points currency that would be able to transfer to Turkish. I remember at the time debating should I go into Citi points or Capital One points because both of those have Turkish as a transfer partner. 

The reason I went for Citi in 2022 is because I felt like on the personal credit card side, they had stronger overall points earning credit cards in terms of having great bonus categories. So I ended up getting the Citi Premier card, which gives you three times points on a lot of spend, which is really great. Like gas, groceries, travel, so like solid areas to get three times points. 

Then I paired that with the Citi Double Cashback Card, which then earns two times points on everything. So I felt like okay, if I want to allocate a ton of my personal spend specifically to Citi, I am really, really well covered just by these two cards. It seemed like this really flawless plan. I’d earn all these Citi points and have access to Turkish. Ended up sucking. It's not that it was a bad plan, but there are things that we think in our heads and then you're just like that sounds amazing.

Kelly: That sounds good on paper.

Devon: Right? But they actually do it and then you realize like oh, maybe this wasn't so great. The reason it wasn't so great for me is first of all, I think those Citi cards are wonderful cards. I think they're very underrated. I think a lot of people can do amazing kind of points things if they have that pair of the Citi Premiere and then the Citi Double Cash Back Card. 

But here's what I realized, why this was not in actuality a great plan for me is that those cards from Citi, they're both traditional credit cards, which means they come with a traditional credit limit, which is not a bad thing. But the way that I was kind of intending to use them, especially with that Citi Double Cash Back card that earns the two times points on everything, was actually not for like a lot of little everyday spend. I was thinking this will be really useful when I've got some like really big personal spend, and I can just shove it all on the Citi Double Cash Back Card and earn two times points for all of that spend. 

It ended up being that it wasn't that useful for me because my Citi Double Cash Back card doesn't actually have that high of a credit limit in terms of what some of my single big expenses are. Like, if I'm going to do a lump sum payment of something one time a year, that is going to be a higher expense than if I were going to split that up into like 12 different payments. 

So I had expenses that I wanted to put on the Citi Double Cash Back card, and then I was like well, I don't have the credit limit for that. I don't like doing the thing where it's like I try to chop it up and pay it off like credit cycle. So it just ended up not being as useful as I expected. I think this is relevant for me that may not be relevant for everyone. 

My husband and I we each own our own businesses that have their business expenses that are totally separate from our personal expenses. Those, for us, can be really great ways, again, to leverage kind of big spend to earn a lot of points. Citi doesn't have a Citi Thank You points earning business credit card. There's not one in existence. 

So, for us, to be able to take one big business spend or business expenses over the course of the year and then be able to earn a lot of Citi points for it. Again, we just didn't really have that option. So even after holding those two Citi cards for now over a year and a half, I have what I consider to be like a stupidly low Citi balance. Like nothing that I can even do anything exciting with. 

So, for me, especially, like I mentioned, when Capital One introduced that Business Venture X card this year that was just easily appliable for online where you didn't have to have a business relationship manager. You didn't have to do anything that felt complicated to me to get it. That, for me, very quickly replaced what I had intended Citi to do for me. Just give me one very easy card. I can throw as much spend as I want because it's a charge card. So I'm not limited to a preset credit limit that I can earn two times points on, and it had a great signup bonus.

Whereas the Citi Premier and Citi Double Cash Back as a pair, they don't have some just amazingly overwhelming signup bonus. So I got the Capital One Business Venture card this year. I also forced my husband to get one. So in a matter. 

Kelly: Forced.

Devon: Right, exactly. In the matter of meeting the welcome bonus on those two cards, we already have almost 500,000 Capital One points that, again, gives me that direct line to Turkish Airlines. Whereas after a year and a half on Citi, I've had maybe 100,000 points total with the cards that for me and my spend patterns just weren't as useful as I thought they were going to be. 

So in terms of us for our points strategy this year, I think, really, again, staying focused on Chase points in particular and then kind of introducing our ability to earn the Capital One points for the first time, getting into the Capital One points currency. Those kind of ticked the big boxes for me and what I felt like were gaps in the cards we already had and the points we already had access to. 

I think that this is a little bit different, the position you and I are in, where we are not starting a rewards credit card portfolio from scratch. I think when you already have built up a bit of a rewards card portfolio, you get to the point where you've been earning points long enough that, at least this is true for me. I think it's probably true for you. I don't zero out the balances of all my points currencies every year, right?

Based on, again, my patterns of travel or what programs are more useful for me, there are some years, like this year, I earned a lot of Amex points and just didn't happen to use a lot this year. So I'm bringing in points balances to 2024 that I've had from 2023. So that also impacts when I'm looking at what new cards might I want or what is going to be my points earning strategy this year. It's a little bit different when you are carrying in a robust credit card portfolio from prior year and you also do have some points balances. 

So I think that that obviously can change from year to year to year. But I do think it is really helpful at the beginning of the year to sit down and just do a little bit of an inventory of like what are the rewards credit cards I have right now? Or what are the points currencies that I have access to right now or the points balances I've already built up? How do I want to supplement that over the next year? 

Or do I want to make any major changes in terms of focusing on a new points currency or going after one very specific award that's going to necessitate my earning a type of points that right now I haven't started building up yet. To me, that's part of the fun. Not just how do you do the same thing over and over and over again, but what's kind of the new challenge for the upcoming year in terms of what you're trying to do with your overall kind of points portfolio and your points balances?

Kelly: Yeah, absolutely. When you're in all the different transferable currencies or several of them, you can just shift your spend from year to year to make up the balances for what you need. That's totally why I also focused on Capital One this year. Turkish is only a transfer partner of Capital One, Citi, and Bilt. I had drained some points to Turkish for a conference I thought I was going to that I subsequently cancelled.

So I had these points orphaned in Turkish and then realized oh, I'm not going to be able to add P2 to one of these trips if I don't get more Turkish points. So I switched over a lot of the spending to Capital One that I would have traditionally put on my Chase Freedom Unlimited for 1.5 cents per point or my Amex Blue Business Plus.

The great thing about Turkish is not only their low rates for Star Alliance partners, but also if there are seats on the plane open, they make award space available on those planes. It might not be at that lowest saver rate that you've seen, but there will be space there. So especially from getting from the west coast to Europe. All the way to Istanbul and then back to Europe for the saver is 47,000, which is rare from the west coast. But even 115,000 points, again, for a 12 hour flight plus a layover in their lounge onto your next destination is still a really good deal. 

So I think Turkish is a very valuable program. It makes these other, other transferable currencies like the Capital One or Citi and Bilt really something to look into. That's not a program that shouldn't be overlooked. 

Devon: Okay, so Kelly, you mentioned that coming into this year, you all had 25 rewards credit cards already. So you had a nice little foundation underneath you coming into the beginnings of this year,  but that you actually did not open any new cards for yourself this year. So I'm curious to hear based, again, on kind of what you wanted to do in points and travel over this year.

Kind of, you don't have to list all 25 cards that you guys already had. But if you can kind of touch on where the main points currencies that you were already set in, and then what were the new cards that you guys decided to get this year, and why those cards specifically?

Kelly: Yeah, absolutely. I know some people hear 25 cards. Oh my god, that's so much. But they have to remember I've been doing this for a long time. Some of these cards I've had open for eight, nine, 10 years. So it's not necessarily I'm churning 25 cards every single year. It’s just these are my current players. Some of them have been heavy hitters for a long time. 

But for us, the Amex system, of course, the personal and business Gold and Platinum, the Green, which I think is really underrated, three times points on all travel for Amex, which really meets the Chase Sapphire Reserve there. The Blue Business Plus for everyday spend. 

Then the cobranded cards, I have the Marriott Bonvoy Business for the 15 elite night credits, and P2 has the Bonvoy Brilliant. One of our card openings this year was opening the Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless for her. I hate all of their B words. It's so ridiculous. 

For those of you who don't know, Marriott has a slew of cards, and half of them are American Express, half of them are Chase. They all have different rules for opening and when you can get welcome offers. But basically the Brilliant increased the annual fee I think to 650 this year, and then they took what was the $300 annual Marriott credit and changed it into a $25 a month dining credit, which is just horrible. I don't put any dining on a Marriott card. 

So with the goal of closing that Brilliant, we opened the Boundless for her with a great welcome offer. It was five free nights certificates, 50,000 point free nights certificates, which can be super valuable. So that's the Amex system. 

The Chase system, the Sapphire Reserve, the Sapphire Preferred for her, the Freedom Unlimited, the Ink Business Preferred, Ink Business Unlimited that we have two of, and then opened her an Ink Business Cash this year to put our property tax on. I have been over 5/24 For a long time. So when it comes to Chase cards, I've always open them for her for our big expenses. Now I'm really excited because next month, I'm going to be under 5/24 for the first time in several years. So I'm going to take that opportunity to open myself some Chase cards, but that'll be strategy for next year. 

Then in the Capital One system, the Venture X and the Saver One, which is also a really underrated card. I came into 2023 Getting that at the end of ’22, but that is 10 times points on Uber and Uber Eats. That goes all the way through the end of 2024. So really high earning for a zero annual fee card. It kind of complements those Capital One points there. So that's kind of overall strategy and the big hitters that we have in each of the system and then the two cards that we opened this year. 

Devon: Yeah. When you think about 2024, maybe you haven't gone so far as to strategize out all of 2024 yet. But when you think about the cards that right now feel like they're missing in your credit card portfolio or point currencies, again, that you want to really focus on for 2024, do you already have an idea of cards that you know that you want to apply for in the next 12 months?

Kelly: Well, I think with the 5/24 coming up, I am excited to get myself my own Business Cash card. So maybe I can start dipping into the gift card game a little bit, which I've always stayed away from. Then the Bilt card. I totally intend to open next year probably after I have exhausted any other Chase cards that I would like to open. 

The other thing I had looked at potentially for this year was a Miles and More credit card. Thanks to you for teaching me a little bit about the Miles and More program, which is Lufthansa and Swiss program. I'll let you speak more about it because you've been doing it longer than I have. But basically I saw a deal to purchase the miles in what's called a bundle. So the miles were selling for a really, really low amount. Flying Lufthansa First is one of my goals and has been for a long time. 

But the partner availability has gotten less and less. It had always been only bookable in the two weeks before departure, which, as a surgeon, that was always impossible to set that aside. So I want to book it further out. I want to have it on the calendar. The only way to do that is through Miles and More. The rates are actually pretty dang good, only 115,000 points, for example, all the way from Europe to LA. So I was able to purchase those points and book one of my aspirational products. 

But I considered getting the credit card because if you spin on the Miles and More credit card, it allows your points to stay active. Otherwise, Lufthansa expires your points, I think, after three years. So that's probably something on my list for this year to make sure that the extra points I had purchased don't go away with those three years is up. So either this year or next year.

Devon: Yeah, I love it. I think the Lufthansa Miles and More program is such a sleeper program for some good reasons. We're going to go so much more into this program on our next episode when you and I talk about how we ended up like specifically earning the points that we did earn because both you and I actually did decide to just outright buy miles in the Miles and More program this year, and for very good reason. 

It is a fantastic program. I do think it is worthwhile, especially if people are interested in getting into that program, to be very cognizant of the fact that those miles do otherwise expire every three years, which I learned the very, very hard way of having a bunch of Miles and More miles expire kind of post pandemic. It's really painful when that happens. 

So yeah, I think that there's a time and a place to think about actually outright buying miles. Also just another plug to make sure that if you are getting into certain points currencies that maybe you don't traditionally have a lot of experience with, always do check and make sure what their expiration policies are because it really does stink to have decent amount of miles in a program and to just not realize that some of them have hard stops in terms of their expiration. And that there's not much that you can do to get them back.

So that Lufthansa Miles and More credit card is one that's on my radar as well. I know you and I had kind of talked about when it had that temporary elevated bonus offer of about 100,000 miles, I think, earlier this year. In retrospect, that's kind of one of my points regrets. If I had been paying a little bit more attention and thinking about it a little bit more, I think it would have jumped on that offer. 

But it is nice to know that that is a card that sometimes does have elevated offers. It's not a card emergency for me where I'm like oh my God, I have to get this thing immediately. But it is on my radar where I think if the Miles and More credit card has another elevated welcome bonus offer, I think that's something that I would very, very seriously consider just given how much value I have found in that program in general. 

I do have to say, I'm so excited for you to do one of your aspirational trips on Lufthansa First. That was actually my very, very first points redemption that I had ever made. This was many, many years ago where I had gone for flying. 

Kelly: Zero to a thousand.

Devon: Yeah, no really. I mean, I was like going from like the economy of economy options. Like whatever the most basic, cheapest flight you could ever book. That's all I had ever booked in my life. To flying first class from Chicago to Frankfurt, and actually being able to experience the Lufthansa First Class Terminal, which has its own entire sort of aviation and points experience of a whole terminal that you can only access with a first class ticket. I think it is one of the most fun and like nostalgic redemptions in the points travel world. 

So I'm super excited for you to be able to take advantage of that. We're absolutely going to talk more about this program on the next episode. We may actually even end up doing a full in depth, just deep dive into Lufthansa Miles and More because I think it's such an interesting and valuable program. But we're not going to spend the rest of today talking about that. 

I want to go into talking about the cards that we had coming in to 2023. Kind of what we got, why we got it. So I know you mentioned you all had 25 cards, and that was between the two of you, you and your partner. You had 25 cards coming into 2023. 

Kelly: That's right.

Devon: Yeah. I was looking at what my husband and I have. Between the two of us coming into 2023, we had 33 cards. The bulk of those were actually mine, no surprise there. But, as I said, I already came in pretty strong foundation in terms of rewards cards. At this point, especially in those points currencies that I have a long history with, Chase and American Express, I have basically all of what I consider to be the foundational points earning cards. 

So the cards that are going to be earning Chase Ultimate Rewards points, the cards that are going to be earning American Express Membership rewards points, as well as some cobranded cards. So some airline or hotel cobranded cards that I have found particular value out of over the last couple of years. So I did not walk into 2023 thinking that I was going to be opening up a bunch of cards. 

Like I mentioned before, there are years where I don't open up any cards at all. But I was surprised to actually see I did open up quite a few cards really over the last 14 months. So like you, I had started opening up some cards in December of 2022 that I'm going to count in this because their bonuses and some of the promotions they had are ones I took advantage of so I could earn points on them in 2023. 

So the card that I got first in December of 2022 was the Chase Ink Business unlimited. So again, the Chase Ink cards are just so great in terms of having really nice sign on bonuses. I actually needed and wanted a Chase business card for my business expenses that was going to allow me to earn that elevated bonus points on all the, quote unquote, non-category or non-bonus spend, which is a lot of my business spend doesn't fall into a bonus category on any of my other traditional business cards.

So that was a really, really great card for me not only for the welcome bonus, but for sustainable, ongoing spend. Then in December of 2022, I finally got a card that I'd almost vowed to never get because its structure is so freaking annoying to me.

Kelly: It’s so annoying. I can't do it.

Devon: Which is the Chase Freedom Flex card. This is a card that I think, honestly, for so many people is great. I'm not here to like poopoo that or to judge the cards that anybody else gets. But, again, I think cards have to match what you need from them and what you want from them. For me personally, as someone who even though I do have a lot of cards, I actually don't love complexity. I don't chase $10 a month credits because, for me, I think that's just too granular for my brain to keep track of. I don't like that. 

So I really do kind of look at more of like a maximizer kind of perspective of what are the cards that are going to be the easiest for me to use to earn the most amount of points for my type of spin. So the Chase Freedom Flex with rotating categories that you have to remember to go in and activate. Yes, you get five times points quarterly, but it caps at $1,500, which again, that's not an insignificant amount of money. But for the categories that it tends to bonus, I can easily spend more than $1,500 a quarter. 

So it's just another thing for me to keep track of. Like use this on Amazon for a day and a half until you meet your $1,500 cap and then you switch to another card. Which I am being a little bit facetious here, but to me the Chase Freedom Flex always felt too tedious. Like it did not feel like for me to take a Chase 5/24 slot, that was a card that I was really going to enjoy using. 

Chase read my mind and they forced me to get it in December of 2022 because they had one of their promotions. I have to give this to Chase that every once in a while they come out with promotions, especially on their Freedom cards, that are really, really compelling. 

This was, I think, the first time I can remember seeing the grocery bonus on the Freedom cards was late in 2022 where essentially on both a Freedom Flex and the Freedom Unlimited. If you got approved for those cards, not only do they just have their regular bonus points earning structure, but each of those cards had a grocery bonus where for the first year you held the card, you could earn five times points on grocery spend up to $12,000 spent. This became very compelling for me because Chase otherwise does not have any great card for grocery spend. 

I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve so I don't have access to the Chase Sapphire Preferred and its online grocery bonus category. So for me to be able to earn five times points, specifically Chase points, which, again, have been very high priority for me to earn recently. To be able to earn the five times points at grocery stores with a Chase card was compelling enough that I knew I would go through the dance of doing the quarterly bonus categories if I had the card. But what really tipped me over into getting it was that grocery bonus. 

So I got that in December of 2022 with the intention to max out that grocery bonus during 2023, which I successfully did and which allowed me to earn a good number of Chase points. So it served its purpose. It is the card that's in my wallet that I use but still use it very begrudgingly and reluctantly now that my grocery bonus is up. But that was a great card at that time. 

Then in terms of the cards I actually got in 2023. In February, I got the Chase Ink Business Cash card, which, again, another great Chase business card. Wonderful sign on bonus. It's not a card I use all that often for ongoing spend, but I do use it. I don't use it for personal spend because my husband and I actually have, speaking of cards that sometimes exist and then stop existing. My husband and I have the old version of what the Chase Ink Business Cash card is now. It's called the Chase Ink Business Plus card. 

So this was a Chase Ink Business card that was open and available for many years, and it functions essentially the same way the cash card does now, except that it has a much higher spend cap for earning five times points at office supply stores. So the Chase Ink Business cash card has a $25,000 annual cap on earning five times points at office supply stores. The older version, the Chase Ink Business Plus card, has a $50,000 cap. So he and I actually have.

Kelly: Whoa.

Devon: Between the two of us, I think three Chase Ink Business Plus cards from like back, back, back in the day. So the Chase Ink Business Cash card I got this year was specifically for that welcome bonus to earn Chase points and to have that for the times that I do sometimes make purchases at office supply stores for my business, which is not a huge amount of spend for me. But if I can get five times points on it if I have a card, I'm going to do that. 

Then the other cards that I got this year, talking about the Amex carousel of just getting amazing, targeted no lifetime offers. I got another targeted offers for an American Express Business Platinum card in April, and it was too good for me to pass up. Because as we all know, April is tax time. When you're a small business owner and you pay estimated quarterly taxes, we can oftentimes earn at least one signup bonus around April with our tax payments. So Amex came along. They gave me the targeted offer inside of my Amex account for my third American Express Business Platinum card. I took that and ran. 

So I wasn't really planning on getting another Amex Business Platinum card this year. But, again, when I had spend that was going to allow me to meet the welcome bonus really easily, I was targeted for it with a no lifetime language. It's just such an easy way to earn 150,000 Amex points. That's what the signup bonus was at that offer. I just took it and did it. So I wasn't expecting to get another Amex Business Platinum. I don't want to hold a bunch of Amex Business Platinum cards for the long term, but I felt like it made sense to get when I got it in April.

Then the two cards that I got in the second half of the year, that, for me, we're actually not surprises. But these were cards that I did not anticipate applying for coming into 2023. But I actually been so pleased with them. One of them I've already mentioned, it's the Capital One Venture X Business card, which I got in September. I have been really, really happy with this card. Again, I love a card that's just easy and simple to use. It earns two times points on everything, had a huge welcome bonus. 

Again, I do use this specifically for business spend, which I love charge cards for spend. I think when you have expenses that tend to be individual or very high expenses, I am just losing patience with traditional credit cards and their credit limits. Maybe if I had like huge, huge, huge credit limits, I wouldn't care. I don't really want to go through the hassle of contacting my banks and requesting credit limit increases. If Amex and Capital One are going to make amazing business charge cards, I'm going to use them.

So I got the Capital One Venture X Business card. Again, I forced my husband to get the same one so I can continue to siphon off all of his points and book Turkish Airlines award flights primarily for myself and myself alone. But I've been really happy with the Capital One Venture X Business card. So I got that one in September. 

Then the last card I get, which I was also not expecting to get, but it was a great offer. I really kind of wanted to get it to try it out to see if it would be a good fit was actually one of the cobranded cards. This is a card that's issued by Citi. It's an American Airlines card. It’s the Advantage Executive card. The reason I got this is because this is the card that just by holding it, it gives you access to American Airlines lounges. 

For a long time, I didn't really want to get a card, especially one with a pretty high annual fee, just for lounge access. But I am never going to qualify for significant airline status. I don't have enough loyalty to any particular airline to ever get status. 

Traveling in and out of O'Hare as my home airport, it's essentially United or American for me for all of my domestic flights. I travel enough, especially when I do travel with my kids. It is so nice to be able to access lounges. If any of you have heard me rant for a minute, you know O'Hare is a complete lounge desert. I don't understand why the second largest airport in the country has such a deplorable lounge situation compared to, I don't know, like Denver. Denver has amazing lounges. Denver's amazing as a city. I think it's a lovely airport. It doesn't have nearly the traffic that Chicago does. 

But at any rate, the whole thing is that we have crappy slash non-existent lounges at O'Hare. So, for me to have a credit card that just grants me access regardless of the class of service I'm flying because domestically, I'm actually almost always flying economy. I thought it'd be really nice to have American Airlines lounge access. 

That card has that added benefit of a great signup bonus. I think when I signed up for it, the signup bonus was 70,000 American Airlines miles, which I know doesn't sound like super sexy and compelling compared to Amex, which is dumping like 150,000 points on people's heads for welcome bonuses. But 70,000 American Airlines miles is incredibly valuable. You can book one way business class to Japan on Japan Airlines for 60,000 American Airlines miles. You can book Qatar Qsuites one way from the states to the Middle East or Africa or India for 75,000 American Airlines one way. 

Again, I think American Airlines miles when you understand where the sweet spots are, this can be an incredible currency to have. Because I don't take enough paid flights on American Airlines to earn hundreds of thousands of American Airlines miles a year, to be able to get 70,000 in one fell swoop with a welcome bonus, to me, is actually really compelling. 

So I was surprised when I looked at the fact that over the last like 14 months or so, I've actually signed up for six new cards, which I think is more cards than I'd signed up within the four years prior to this year. But it just goes to show that sometimes credit card issuers come out with really great promotions or really compelling signup bonuses. It's really worth considering expanding your credit card portfolio to take advantage of some of those opportunities. 

Kelly, I'm curious now that you've kind of heard me go through that laundry list of cards that I signed up for if you have any thoughts about those, if you think I had any wins or any misses in there. Tell me what I'm doing wrong so that I can adjust my credit card application strategy for the upcoming year.

Kelly: No, I mean, I think it's really in line similarly to how I think. I mean one, jumping on that third Business Platinum welcome offer that I didn't want to do or pay another annual fee, but it's just so good. It's too good to pass up. Then I really noticed that our card opening center around tax time. So in LA, taxes are due November and February. Then, of course, federal taxes due in April. 

So there's really a clustering of card openings like at the end of the year and then in the spring for us. I also, we have that American Advantage card as well. We've been long term holders of that because we fly AA and we use the lounges. I recently did a post on how to pick a lounge related credit card. I do think it's related to where you fly out of and who you fly through most. 

A lot of people complain about LAX, rightfully so, but the terminals are divided up by airline, and there aren't a lot of third party lounges. So if you want to routinely have access to a lounge right before you leave, you need to have a cobranded card that's going to give you access to the airline lounge because that's in the terminal that you're flying out of. Otherwise, you're going to have to walk three or four terminals over to find the one Centurion lounge in the international terminal. 

So just be really aware of what lounges you have access to in the places you fly through the most. A lot of times it is going to make sense to either buy a membership or have a membership through a cobranded card where you also get the benefit of that welcome offer or signup bonus.

Devon: Yeah, absolutely. I think that that is great advice. I think lounges is one of those things that it's not that it's hard to give people advice about, but I find that the advice around lounges or getting specific credit cards for lounges is so much more variable than trying to advise someone about what credit cards should you get for certain points currencies. 

Like if someone tells me they want to fly to Europe in business class. Yes, it kind of matters if they're flying from the east coast or the west coast, but I'm going to probably recommend the same kind of bundle of credit cards and say these are all really amazing. Get these, you're going to be in good position. 

But with lounges, it's very different because it is so geographically based in terms of either the airlines that service that airport, or again, for whatever weird reasons dictate what lounges are at which airports, some of them just have like 20 amazing options, and other ones, like O'Hare, have zero. So I think it when it comes to lounge access, it really does behoove you to sort of become familiar with what is your home airport. What are the lounges that exist there?

Or if you tend to have conserved travel patterns where if you do have to position, and you find that you consistently position to Washington DC, or you consistently position to JFK to take a lot of your flights, becoming really familiar with are there certain lounges that are just in the places I travel a lot? In those cases, doesn't make sense to get a card like a Capital One Venture Card that gives me a Capital One lounge access? Or an American Express card that's going to give me Centurion lounge access. Or I'm just going to have to go out and create my own because my home airport stinks, and I have nothing. 

So it really depends on kind of what your starting situation is. But I think it's really helpful to hear kind of you're take and your opinion on that as well. One of the last things that we'll dive into on this episode is what is it that when you think about allocating your spend over the year, do you have any specific strategy? Or you just kind of take it month by month, expense by expense in terms of what cards you actually want to use and where you want to put certain amounts of your spend.

Kelly: Yeah, it definitely depends on bonus category availability. So travel, almost all my travel goes on Chase Sapphire Reserve, three points across the board. But if I need more Membership Rewards, for example, maybe I'll put a big trip on the Amex Green instead of the Chase Sapphire Reserve. But in general, travel goes on Chase. Regular spend like dining, supermarkets, of course, goes to Amex. Round trip tickets, that might be domestic flights where I'm not as concerned about needing great travel protections, I'll put on the Amex platinum to get five times points.
Then everyday spend divided up between Capital One Venture X, two times points, Amex Blue Business Plus two times points, Chase Freedom Unlimited, 1.5 times points, based on the system that I really need. That's how I consistently think about my spend on a year to year basis. 

Then every time I have one of those big payments coming up, which is usually tax time, the November and February property tax and then the April federal tax, I'll usually go for a welcome offer. It's really funny because I'm a W2 employee, but I still have found that ever since the Tax Cut and Jobs Act where they lowered the amount of withholding, we still have a pretty big tax bill come due every April. So we kind of save up for that and prepare for that and have even tried to withhold more, and it just doesn't really work. 

So there's usually a good sized tax bill there. So those are three opportunities where I can easily meet in one payment a welcome offer for most cards. If not, then I'll deviate spend for that welcome offer until it's reached and then go back to its most optimized category on a month to month basis.

Devon: Yeah, I think I approach things pretty similarly. One of the things that I always think about really deliberately, especially at the beginning of the year in terms of how I want to prioritize and allocate my spend is, because I do use some of my spend every year to help boost me so that I can qualify for Globalist status in the World of Hyatt program. That's kind of one of my starting points. 

I know I'm probably never going to actually say 60 nights a year in higher properties, which is the requirement, not to stay 60 nights, but to earn 60 qualifying nights to qualify for the Globalist status. I will usually kind of start with, and because I'm a planner, I usually have all my vacations planned out a year in advance. I’ll have an idea about how many nights do I think we're actually going to be staying in Hyatt properties? Then what's the difference between that number and the number I need to qualify for status?

So one of the things that I personally kind of earmark is how much am I going to have to spend on my World of Hyatt business credit cards so I know I'm going to kind of make up that difference to qualify for Globalist. So I kind of always have that number in the back of my mind as something that I want to make sure I put enough spend on that card, which otherwise I wouldn't do because it's not otherwise a card that's going to earn me a ton of points. 

So I'm not putting the spend on the card to earn necessarily Hyatt points in and of themselves, even though I'll honestly always use them. It really is strategically so that I can make sure that I hit my Globalist status. 

Then beyond that, I do something very similar to you, which is obviously I always want to maximize my bonus categories on my existing cards for any type of spend I have. But once you get into, like you do and like I have, once you get into multiple different points currencies, oftentimes you will have credit cards in different points currencies that are redundant.

What I mean by that is, you can have the personal Amex Gold card that gives you four times points on dining and restaurant, and you might have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card that gives you three times Chase points on dining and restaurant. So usually what I'll do when I have that option of wow, I have now several different cards that all bonus a certain category is just to look at if I'm not saving up for one particular redemption, just which of my points currencies is running lower than the others. 

Because, like you said, I don't have that like a definitive floor when I really start panicking if I don't have certain number of points. But I do know that I don't like when I've really imbalanced points balances. I don't like having a million Amex points and 30,000 Chase points. So I will usually kind of allocate spend based on am I, quote unquote, running low on any of my points balances? Then kind of favor the cards in that points currency ecosystem that earns that type of points. 

Then the other thing that I do tend to do is for our personal spend and our business spend, I do kind of try to look at the whole entire year and identify are there going to be single high expenses? So beyond just the monthly things that you pay every two weeks or every four weeks? Can I anticipate something like a quarterly tax payment?

If we're going to sign up our kids for a particular activity where you pay for the entire activity in one year lump sum, kind of what are those numbers going to be? Because I want to make sure that I am going to be able to maximize the points I earn on that. 

I have realized after I forced you to do this exercise and I did the same thing where I actually went through all my credit card statements for business and personal spent and really broke down where am I earning points, where are a lot of my points coming from? I knew a lot of my points were coming from spend where I'm relying on cards that have increased bonus points for non-category spend.

Like I've known, I rely on my Chase Freedom Unlimited, my Chase Ink Business Unlimited. Now that I have the Capital One Venture X Business card, I know that I do tend to put a lot of spend on those cards because they earn me more than one point per dollar spent. But I was actually surprised how much of my points earning really did come from that type of card and not specifically from say earning welcome bonuses over and over and over again. 

So I think for me being really familiar, again, with what are my cards that give great return for non-category spend and just having that idea of over the course of the year now that I do have the Capital One points currency. Spend that I may have usually put on my Chase cards, I may actually be putting on Capital One this year because of my three points currencies, that is my lowest one by far for now. 

So that's just kind of things that I'm thinking about in terms of the way that I allocate spend with an obvious asterisk here that even for those of us who are compulsive planners, things do change during the year, right? Like our priorities may change, a new card may come out, an unexpected large expense can show up that we weren't planning for. So obviously we can be flexible around some of these changes. 

But I personally do find it really helpful at the beginning of the year to kind of have a basic plan of just like what am I trying to achieve with my spend this year? And to have a basic idea of if I have all the cards I already need for that, if there are any cards that feel like they're missing. We can get into habits where just because you've always put certain spend on certain cards, I think it is nice to reevaluate that and just say hey, is this still a good decision for me? Is this still a good plan for me? Or do I kind of want to shift the way that I'm going to be doing things in the upcoming year?

Kelly: I think too if you are starting out, a good way to know where to start is by working backwards and say okay well, what are your goals for this year? Do you have a travel goal? Do you have a location goal, a brand goal? Like I want to stay at this Hyatt or fly this airline product. I want to go to this location. Then by working backwards and seeing who goes there, who is in an alliance or a partner with that airline that goes there, and then who transfers to that. 

So I think when you have all systems open, you can divide it up and divide up your expenses by what you might need more of or what you're getting low on. Then if you're just starting out, start with a plan, a goal in mind, and then build from that over the years, I think, is a really good way to do it. 

Devon: Yeah, absolutely. Now we're going to get into the super fun part, which is how many points we earned this year and how we actually earned them. I had so much fun actually looking this up. I'm sorry that probably tells you a lot about my personality and my need to actually get different hobbies or more hobbies than I have.

Kelly: Oh man. I was like having some real jealousy over your, I went to my P2 and I said oh my God, I need to up my game. I am not earning nearly like Devon is.

Devon: No, well, it’s a double edged sword.

Kelly: It is.

Devon: It’s a double edged sword. If you have little humans that are freaking expensive, the best thing that you can do to kind of mitigate how much agony you have over that is just make sure you're earning points for it. So that is one of the reasons why I really wanted to do this episode with you is because we don't have the same exact life. I think that it is really, really helpful to see, again, different examples of the way that people approach points earning and points using because there is no one great or right or perfect way to do this.

I thought that it would be really fascinating to look at how you and your wife kind of think about earning points and using points, which honestly, like I said, your travel is a heck of a lot more exciting than a lot of my travel has been lately. So there are seasons to these things, of course. 

But what we're going to do now is first we're going to compare. Not compare and contrast. We're just going to share how many points we both ended up earning over the entire year of 2023 and not only just the overall number of points we earned, but how we earned those in different points currencies. Then once we compare and share that, Kelly, then will kind of break down into more granular details that hopefully more than just you and I will find really interesting to hear about. 

Kelly: Well, I'll go first so mine doesn't seem lackluster compared to yours. But it's true. It's two sides of the same coin. I only have two book tickets for two people and not four. You and your husband have your own businesses. We are both W2 employees. So everybody’s spend is different, but you can still play this game in a really satisfying way no matter what your situation is. 

So I earned a total of 1.3 million, roughly, transferable currency this year. That includes about 395,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards, 789,000 Amex Membership Rewards, hello multiple welcome offers. Then 120,000 Capital One Venture Rewards. Then I mentioned Bilt as well, which I don't even have the card but have earned nearly 40,000 points in the Bilt system simply by engaging with their app and playing all their games and then a couple referral bonuses there. So it felt like a very large amount of points which I was happy to get.

Devon: Absolutely. That is an amazing amount of points. When I went through, again, I feel like context is really important here that. When I went through all my statements and was looking at what are the different points currencies I have, what points did my husband and I as a partnership earn over the last year, where did those come from.

I do want to be very explicit about the fact that this is one way that it can look. My husband and I have joint finances. So all of our personal expenses I consider as a bundle. Then he owns his own medical practice. I have my own business. We do actually have business spend. So not businesses that we use to qualify for cards and then put all of our personal spend on, which is a totally legitimate approach. But we each have our own businesses that generate their own spend. 

That is one enormous benefit of having businesses. That I have always said your expenses are assets. So I think that when I look back over the number of points that we earned over the year, it really just is an expression of that which I already believe to be true. That if we're going to have to be spending this money to support our life or support our businesses, well then we better be earning a crap ton of points in order to then not have to spend a lot of money on our actual travel.

So for us over the year of 2023 and again, this is joint. This includes all of my personal expenses for my whole family and then all of the points that my husband and I both earned from our businesses and our business expenses. But we earned a little under 4.2 million points total this year, which I was actually surprised when I went and tallied everything up. Yeah, I was like hey, that's not so bad. 

Because one of the things that is just my personal approach to earning points is that I don't tend to open up what I consider to be like an aggressive amount of credit cards. I don't actually want to open up a new credit card every single month, especially because I do manage the credit card portfolios for myself and my husband, our personal life, and our businesses. For us to be opening up three or four new credit cards every single month between all the different options, that is not something that has ever appealed to me. 

So I am not earning big welcome bonuses all the time. But, again, I think this just goes to show that you don't have to only rely on new welcome card offers if you do have the ability to generate spend from other mechanisms. So of that like little less than 4.2 million points we earn, it was mostly from Chase and American Express, which to me was not a shock. These are the points currencies that we have very heavily focused on for a number of years. 

For Chase we earned, let me start at the top. So again, American Express makes it so darn easy to just earn points. We earned 1.7 million points total in American Express over the course of the year. When we get into the details of like what actually went into that number. Again, it's actually not a lot of welcome bonuses. I think this is an area that American Express really shines. The ability to earn a lot of points if you don't only want to do that through welcome bonuses. So we got 1.7 million Amex points this year.

Then it was Chase, which we very deliberately and worked very hard to earn because we spend them almost as much as we earn them. We earned just under 1.5 million Chase points this year. Citi came in with a raging 15,000 points. This is what I'm saying. This card duo that I thought was going to be so valuable for me was like yeah, okay. At this rate, in 27 years, I will book one award ticket. 

So Citi, I know you're great. I think it's fantastic for a lot of people. Obviously, Citi was not the big hitter for me this year. That's totally fine. You win some and you lose some.

Capital One, for us, which was the new points currency that we got into this year because we both did apply for that Venture X Business card. It had a great welcome bonus. It was something like 150,000 points as the welcome bonus. But because you're also earning two times points on all spend and you had to do $30,000 spend to get that welcome bonus, kind of all told between the two of us we earned over 450,000 Capital One points this year. 

So I think that was actually a big win for us. Then this was not traditional points earning, but I wanted to throw this in here because it was a significant part of our points balance. Kelly and I can talk about why we both did this in a minute. But I did actually deliberately purchase some miles for Lufthansa Miles and More programs. 

So there's a limit on the number of miles you can purchase per year. Lufthansa does it a little bit differently than the US based airlines because I think there are European regulations where the airlines are not actually allowed to just sell miles the way that they are in the US. So in order to get Lufthansa Miles and More miles that you've purchased, you have to buy this thing called a bundle where you're essentially buying the miles and then they throw in a bunch of other stuff so that it's not violating whatever their European policies are around selling miles to you. 

You buy a priority pass membership. Well, if you're in the US and you're playing this game, chances are you already have 17 cards that gives you priority pass membership. So it's not like that's why we were buying them. But I ended up buying the maximum number of miles in Lufthansa Miles and More for 2023. This year, the maximum number was 500,000 miles that you could purchase from a combination of purchasing miles. 

Then when you purchase them when they're having a promotion, you also earn bonus miles on top of that. So you could between those two things get up to 500,000 miles, which I did buy. That cost $6,000 out of pocket. So this was a pure expense. I spent $6,000 in order to buy essentially 500,000 Lufthansa Miles and More miles. 

But in next week's episode, when we start talking about how we actually used some of the miles that we earn, I will make it abundantly clear when I think that that was a screaming deal. So not that $6,000 is cheap or not a lot of money. But I did this, again, very deliberately because I have very particular uses for Lufthansa Miles and More miles where I knew with 100% confidence that I was going to turn those 500,000 miles purchased into significantly more in value than $6,000. 

So I do want to say that not all of us only earn points from credit card signup bonuses or even like I do, the bulk of my points just putting sustained spend on my credit cards. That I do think there's a time and a place to consider actually outright purchasing miles. I think it can be a very strategic and useful decision. So 500,000 of our miles came specifically from buying them this year. 

Now that we have those kind of umbrella numbers, like how many points did we both earn and kind of what are the currencies that those came from? This was a part that was actually very surprising to me when I walked through and said okay not only how many points did I earn, for example, in American Express, but where did those points come from? What points earning mechanisms were ones that actually were really valuable for me this year or which ones didn't play a big part. 

So, again, I forced Kelly to go through the same exercise where I told her okay, don't just tell me what points you earned and the main points currencies. But let's actually break down just for comparison sake what are the actual ways that we earned our points within these points currencies? Then what are the trends that you see from that, that are just useful for your own decision making around points so that we can share with you all so that you can think about either additional ways that you can earn points or really boost your ability to leverage the expenses you have. 

So Kelly, I'm going to let you go first. You can tell me kind of the main ways that your points earning breaks down and then any kind of big trends from that that stood out for you. 

Kelly: Okay. So looking at the breakdown was really interesting. I love that you had put the percentages in, and I could see exactly what your breakdown was. Some of this surprised me as well. So overall, out of that 1.3 million transferable points, about 55% was from welcome offers, 15% were actually from referrals, which thank you to those of you who signed up for links through my Instagram this year or for friends who signed up. That's a lot of points. Then about 25% of it was through spend. 

I was actually surprised that the majority of our Chase Ultimate Rewards earnings was actually from spend. I think that just shows how much I like to spend on travel and how I put it on the Chase Sapphire Reserve and how that earns three times points. That's a really great return for me. 

Another points currency I didn't mention before was American Airlines, but that's an area where we earn a significant amount of points. We did earn about 287,000 points this year through that. But actually 46,000 of that was through the shopping portal. 

So just like Rakuten, where you can earn a ton of a Amex membership rewards, of which I earned about 70,000 membership rewards that way, we also earned a significant amount of American Airlines rewards through their shopping portal. So just to put it out there, never overlook your shopping portal on every purchase you make. Even if it's consumable, like grocery. I think a significant amount comes from Chewy for our pets, so for our cats. So never overlook those shopping portals because that can contribute. So I think about 10% of our overall earnings was from things like shopping portals.

Devon: Yeah when you looked at the breakdown of where your points were actually coming from. Did anything surprise you or just reaffirm the way that you guys are spending? Or do you think you're going to use anything from what you looked at to change the way that you're using cards or earning points this year?

Kelly: I think, actually, that it's going to make me sign up for some more welcome offers. Because for American Express, about 500,000 of our points were from welcome offers. I would love to recreate that in the other systems as well. Of course, making sure I open them deliberately at times when I can meet the minimum spend for that. 

But otherwise, I felt like our spend was pretty optimized into the categories that they belong in. It just shows that you can really earn a lot of points that way without having to churn a ton. To your point about having high expenses. 

People who have high expenses who have their own businesses can't be opening a card for every single purchase that they make. They just have to have a strategy for what cards can accept that level of spend. So I think that's a really important thing to remember is that, even though I'm getting from my spend, I would love to do more welcome offers next year. I don't think that is the right strategy for everybody at every point in time. It was certainly something that I did not need to pursue this year. 

Yeah, I think that's such a great point. When I look at the number of points that we earned in our different points currencies, and I broke it down, I noticed a couple things I expected to notice, I was surprised by some stuff. So let me tell you guys kind of what I earned, how I earned it, and then what stood out to me. 

So I mentioned that we earned, over the last year, 1.7 million American Express points and really only one signup bonus factored into that. So I mentioned that I had signed up for my third Amex Business Platinum card with 150,000 points signup bonus. So I did earn that welcome bonus, which was great. But this is what really stood out to me with American Express. 

I think I mentioned a couple times now that American Express just makes it so easy to earn points. They make it easy in ways that I think are unique to American Express. One of those ways is Rakuten. So, again, airlines, different points currencies, they all have different shopping portals where you can earn additional points in that points currency by doing your online shopping through their portal. 

I still do not think any of them hold a candle to Rakuten just in terms of the sheer number of points that you can earn for the same amount of spend. That really stood out to me when I realized that over the last 12 months, 576,000 of the Amex points we earned came from Rakuten. I promise you I swear I'm not spending $576,000 on online shopping. I mean, this really speaks to specifically during the holiday periods when Rakuten will offer 10, 15, 20 times points or more for every dollar spent. 

When you are very strategic, as I think I am about holding certain spend until when a store is going to have a very big payout on Rakuten. I think that that has allowed me to really, really take advantage of what I think is an offer that I hope Amex never realizes is too good to be true in terms of the amount of points that they allow you to earn from Rakuten. I mean that alone is worth several welcome bonuses.

So that's why I think some people actually find it easier and more strategic just to open up new cards every time they have spend and earn their points that way. I don't think that's a bad strategy. Again, for me, I don't actually want to be opening up new cards every two weeks, every four weeks. So the fact that I can earn almost 600,000 points, and that's in addition to the points I earned from the actual spend I made for all those purchases because that's how the online shopping portals work, I think is really incredible. 

The other thing that American Express does that I think it's not that it's unique to other credit card points currencies, but I do think they do it better, in some ways, are what I consider to be like promotions or one time offers. One of the things that we saw Amex do this past year is they had what I consider to be an amazing promotion where if you were a card holder of the American Express personal Gold card, and you referred someone for the card, and they got approved for it, that not only did you earn the traditional welcome bonus or the referral bonus, excuse me, that you get for referring them. 

But for three months, you actually earned an extra five points per dollar spent on grocery stores. So what this meant was that for a three month period, your personal Amex Gold card, if you qualified for this promotion, instead of earning four times points on grocery spend, it earned nine times points on grocery spend. There was a cap on that. It was $25,000 spent. But, again, when you know how to strategically leverage grocery spend, that, to me, was essentially like earning another welcome bonus. 

So I never get those offers. Again, Amex clearly doesn't understand that I tell one or two people about their cards and that they're really great because they never offer me specifically anything good on any of my cards. But my husband had that referral bonus offer on his personal Amex Gold card, and he qualified for it.

So for three months, we made sure  for all of the grocery spend and all the things you can leverage grocery spend for that we really took advantage of that. That was, again, a significant amount of points earned from that grocery bonus that, again, in and of itself could have equaled or exceeded a traditional welcome bonus on a card. 

Then they also every once in a while have other what I consider to be spend bonuses that are not in and of themselves seem like they're that compelling. But if it's a card you are going to use for an expense anyway and then you get some extra bonus points, that's great. 

We tend to see these on our Amex Business Platinum cards, where, again, in some ways, it's sort of laughable because the offer, the Amex offer will be like spend $30,200 and get an extra 7,500 points. Where you're like, wait a minute. That doesn't seem like okay that's not that amazing of an offer. 

But, again, if you had already decided well, I'm going to use an Amex Business Platinum card for a quarterly estimated tax payment or for a business expense because that's the card I was going to use no matter what, and you also have an Amex offer to earn you extra points on top of it. That's when I think it makes sense to take advantage of those. 

We don't use that to determine our spending. But if we're already going to spend in a certain way and Amex is going to give us extra points, we're going to take them. So we do actually earn not a huge amount, I think it was this year 30,000 just extra points in terms of spend bonuses. 

Then when I look at Chase where we earned, again, a little under one and a half million points this year, we did earn a couple of signup bonuses between the business cards I opened and then the Chase Freedom Flex, which, of course, only comes with 20,000 points. So it's not like it's making a huge dent, but we earn about 200,000 Chase points just through signup bonuses. 

But again, this is where Chase, I think, does a really good job. This is an area that because it's unpredictable, and we can't plan for it, I think it's very hard to develop a strategy around but I wish more people were aware of it. Is that Chase oftentimes offers really, really compelling what I consider spend bonuses where it's a card you already hold, and then they target you. 

You either find out from an email, or a pop up in one of your accounts when you log on that when you put spend on one of your particular cards, and it's always during a period of time, like a three month period of time, you just get extra bonus points. We actually got multiple ones of those this year.

Those were things, like I mentioned, the Chase Freedom Flex, that grocery bonus which was part of the welcome bonus when I signed up for the card. But on my Chase Ink Business Unlimited card this year, that's a card that already earns one and a half times points on all spend. So for me, that is a great card for my business spend. 

But I got targeted for a bonus where all you have to do is click the button to say you want the bonus. It was something like for every $15,000 you spent, you were going to get an additional 15,000 Chase points. You could do that up to three times during a time limited period. 

So, again, if you have personal or business spend where that actually falls in line with what you were expecting to spend, I ended up getting 120,000 Chase points this year just from different card bonuses. We see this on the personal side a lot with the cobranded cards. So if you've got a Chase United card, a Chase Hyatt card, a Chase Southwest card, these oftentimes get targeted for things like five times points on like gas or five times points on grocery up to a certain amount spent, maybe like $2,500 over three months. 

But, again, if it's a card you already hold, and you've got this sort of limited time like mini welcome bonus is how I think about them then it's just such an easy way to earn extra points. So I think those spend bonuses, there's no way to plan for them because we have no clue when Chase is going to offer them or what they're going to be, but I think it is definitely worth looking out for them because it's so easy to earn extra points that way. 

In terms of our Chase balance, we also earn 240,000 points total from referrals. These are just personal referrals. These are not referrals where I have some sort of affiliation with Chase and send those referrals out. This is just when I tell friends, essentially, about cards. This is, again, between me and my husband, the two of us, I think we did 11 total referrals over the year. So, again, it's not like we're referring out 8,000 people a year, but the points add up. So I think it's worth keeping those in mind. 

Then in terms of the really only other kind of big thing that I mentioned was Capital One basically all of the points we earned in that this year came from those welcome bonuses. So that was a very traditional way of earning points. But I do anticipate holding those Venture X Business cards for the long run and allocating either between both of us or one of us at any given time a significant amount of our business spend onto those cards to earn Capital One points. 

So for me, for my family, that 4.1 million points that we earned, most of them, 41%, just came from spend. Like just came from putting our spend on cards and, again, making sure that we are always earning more than one point per dollar spent and stacking that either with like card specific promotions, things like that, to earn a lot of our points. 

For us new cards, welcome bonuses, it did account for 770,000 points over the year, which is a lot. But that was about 20% of our overall points earning that we did. Rakuten, God bless Rakuten. I love you. That, for us, those 576,000 points, that was 14% of our overall points earning.

Kelly: Wow.

Devon: Which, again, I think is just so incredible, and I hope it never goes away. Then lower amounts from there, those Lufthansa miles that we purchased overall, that half a million miles accounts for about 12% of our overall points earning for the year. Then spend bonuses and referrals were each like six to 8% of our overall points earning. 

So one of the things that stood out to me, like I mentioned, I know that at least recently, a lot of our points earning is not coming from welcome bonuses. So that's not where we're putting all of our time and attention in terms of points earning. So I wasn't shocked that the majority of our points as just one single kind of points earning strategy or category is from just organic spend. 

But what I was kind of surprised about when I looked at, again, our individual cards and where that spend is coming from was just the amount of points that we had earned specifically in the Chase ecosystem on our Chase Freedom Unlimited and our Chase Ink Business Unlimited cards. Again, that's between me and my husband and our personal and business spend. 

It really just reinforced, for me, the idea that if I don't want to be signing up for new cards all the time, I really need to make sure that I've got some solid foundational cards that are going to be earning me more than one point for every dollar spent. 

It also, for me, when I was thinking originally, I don't have a lot of plans right now to open up, again, a lot of new cards for myself or my husband this coming year. But one specific card that had been on my radar that I hadn't really strongly considered, but after I did this breakdown, I realized no this would actually, for us, be incredibly strategic is that the Chase Freedom Unlimited card, as I mentioned, Chase sometimes offers these amazing promotions on them. My husband has never.

Kelly: This is amazing.

Devon: Yeah, yeah. Has never had his own Chase Freedom Unlimited. That's one card that I had product changed. So when I got my Chase Sapphire Reserve, I product changed my Chase Sapphire Preferred to a Chase Freedom Unlimited and made him an authorized user. So he's never had his own Chase Freedom Unlimited.

Kelly: Same exact thing we did.

Devon: Yes. You know where I'm going with this. Now I'm going to tell everybody.

Kelly: Yes. Yes I know where you're telling like the most exciting promotion of next year.

Devon: Yes. Chase right now has a really incredible promotion on the Chase Freedom Unlimited card. I've no idea how long it's going to be valid. For all I know, it’s going to be gone by the time this episode airs in like literally a week or two. But they have a promotion right now called the Double Cashback Promotion which is essentially a double points promotion where for the first 12 months that you have the card, instead of earning its regular points earning structure, it's earning twice that in all categories.

Where this really counts for me, I don't care so much about earning six points per dollar spent at drugstores because I don't have incredibly high drugstore spend, per se. But the Chase Freedom Unlimited baseline offers one and a half times points on all spend. So this is great, again, for non-category spend with no limit to the number of points you can earn. But if you apply for that card right now and you get this promotion, you're going to earn three times points on all spend with no cap the first 12 months you have the card. 

When I looked at how much money, especially from the personal side. We put basically all of our personal expenses that aren't like dining or travel on our Chase Freedom Unlimited. I realized that for us, the ability to earn three times points on all of that spend was ridiculous. So I think now for sure I'm going to force him to at least apply for the card. Hopefully, Chase will approve him. As much as we can really just funnel all of our personal non-category spend onto that card for 12 months, we're going to do that.

Now the thing I do want to note about that offer is that that extra sort of one and a half times points that you earn on all spend, you don't actually earn that until the end of the first year. Like your points are being tallied up and accrued, but that extra one and a half times points on all spend, Chase is not going to issue you until the end of that 12 month period. So I wouldn't sign up for this if I thought I needed those points as I was earning them. But I don't necessarily need them every month I'm earning them. 

But for us, I think that that is going to be such a compelling offer. So basically, when we get off this call, I'm going to go make him sign up for that in case the offer goes away really, really soon. That is the one thing that stood out to me. Again, it reinforced like the trends I already knew. But it also really showed me wow, there are still opportunities to really, really leverage this spend. So kind of tell me your thoughts about that, where you think I got it right, where I got it wrong, and then we will wrap up this episode for this week.

Kelly: I think our breakdowns really make a lot of sense in the context of what our family and our businesses look like. So it totally makes sense that a little bit more of mine was from welcome offers and then a little bit more of yours was from spend, but we both have those percentages worked out. I love that 8% came from spend bonuses. It just shows how powerful that is. 

I was going to say once you get the three times or the double points on everything on the Chase Freedom Unlimited, I mean, that's just an incredible opportunity for this coming year. I'm going to have P2 do the same thing. I think she's still an authorized user on my CFU. So I don't know if I have to get rid of that first. But that makes sense for everybody. 

If you have a reluctant P2 or you're just starting out, I mean this is a great one card strategy to use for all of next year and then start adding in additional cards. But yeah, again, I think the breakdown makes a lot of sense for what our lives look like. It's great to keep track of this from year to year. We'll see how it changes for next year. 

Devon: Yeah, I'm going to keep much better track during this year. So when we repeat this episode 12 months from now, I will actually have all my numbers in front of me, and I won't have to spend quite as long digging through 12 months’ worth of bank statements. 

But this was so much fun to talk about. The fun is not over because we haven't even started digging into what I think is the whole benefit, and no pun intended, point of earning all these points to begin with, which is to use them and to use them for travel that we love that we might not otherwise book using cash. That is what we are going to be diving all the way into the next time we meet.

Kelly and I are going to be breaking down how we actually used our points for travel in all of 2023, the trips we booked, how we booked them, the highlights, the not so highlights about some of those redemptions. Also thinking about our points plans for 2024. What is all the travel that we've already booked, how we booked it?

So come back again next week, and you are going to hear the second half of this conversation where we break down the points redeeming part of 2023 and the points redeeming planning we've already done it for 2024. Thank you as always for joining us today. I hope you all have an absolutely fabulous week. Thank you, Kelly for coming with me. Thank you preemptively for coming back for us to be able to record the second half of this episode that I know I can't wait for to have even more conversation with you. So thank you for being here today.

Kelly: Of course. This could be an audiobook. We could keep going, but always great talking to you. Thanks, everybody.

Thank you for joining me for this week's episode of Point Me to First Class. If you want more tips on turning your expenses into travel, visit pointmetofirstclass.com to learn more. See you next week.

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