I use four primary credit cards to accrue points (which, compared to some travel freaks, is nothing). They each serve a distinct purpose for me.
Three of my cards are Chase cards. I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Chase Ink Business Plus, and the Chase Freedom Unlimited. I also have the American Express Platinum card.
For everything I buy, I ask: How can I get points for this? And: What's the most possible points I can get for this? The answer dictates which credit card I use to make the purchase, and where exactly the transaction takes place.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
This is my go-to card for restaurants (2x) and travel expenses (2x). The sign up bonus is 50K points. I used it for flights and hotels in the past, but now I use my Amex Platinum for those purchases (I'll explain why below). However, I still use this card for miscellaneous travel expenses like rental cars, train tickets, and Airbnbs.
Chase Ink Business Plus
I got this card with a 60K bonus. I love it (even more than the newer Ink Business Preferred card) because it pays 5x points at office supply stores. My favorite all-time travel hack is buying Amazon gift cards at Office Depot (in person), to essentially get 5x points on everything I buy on Amazon (appliances, camera equipment, etc.), including groceries which I buy on Amazon Fresh or Prime Now. I drive to Office Depot every couple weeks and buy a $500 Amazon gift card. That's 5,000 points per month--over 50k miles per year--with practically no extra inconvenience (the small inconvenience of going to Office Depot is negated by having my groceries delivered to my doorstep). Keep in mind: instead of Amazon gift cards, you could buy Starbucks gift cards, Nordstrom gift cards, or standard Visa gift cards. Meaning you could potentially score 5x points on countless everyday transactions.
The Ink Business Plus card also pays 5x on phone and cable bills. I've automated payments of my AT&T bill to this card. That's another 500 points per month without doing any extra work.
I also use this card for gas (2x). That's another 200-300 points per month.
So from this card alone I'm getting enough points for a round trip international ticket (~30k miles each way on the low end).
Chase Freedom Unlimited
I got this card to improve my "credit mix", which is a small factor in your overall credit score. (Having more cards actually improves your credit, assuming you use them responsibly). I thought about upgrading my Chase Sapphire Preferred card to the snazzy new Chase Sapphire Reserve, but because I already have the Amex Platinum card (the Chase Sapphire Reserve's main rival), adding another card with overlapping benefits and another hefty annual fee didn't make sense. I needed a new card, and after much deliberation, I settled on the Freedom Unlimited.
The Freedom Unlimited is a cash-back card. It pays 1.5% cash back. But if you have another Chase credit card like the Sapphire Preferred, that cash back counts as Chase Ultimate Rewards points (1.5 points per dollar).
Even though the Freedom Unlimited has only a meager sign-up bonus ($150 or 15K points back after you spend $500) and therefore might not seem like the best travel card, I've found it to be an excellent supplementary card. Getting 1.5x points on ALL purchases is nice! I use this card for every purchase that I cannot get a higher bonus from with one of my other cards (or from shopping with on the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, which I will say more about below). It's my default card. I use it for buying clothes. I use it at Target. I've even used it to pay taxes. I use it when there is no better option. And I feel great about it, because at least I'm not settling for 1 measly point per dollar. 1.5? I can live with that.
This is a boss card. I got an offer in the mail for a 100K sign-up bonus and couldn't resist. I believe the current bonus stands at 60K.
The perks with this card are ridiculous. Mainly, I love it because it covers my third goal: lounge access. I now start every trip out of my home airport, Sea-Tac, with yogurt and fresh berries (and the occasional mimosa) in the Amex Centurion lounge. If you fly Delta, the Platinum card will also grant you access to Delta lounges. (There's a massive Delta lounge at Sea-Tac, so when I fly Delta I can take my pick.)
But best of all it includes a Priority Pass membership. I remember waiting to board a long-haul flight from Papeete, French Polynesia, to LAX. The computer system crashed at the airport and the boarding situation was pure madness. There was also no air conditioning in the terminal. Luckily there was a comfy Priority Pass lounge up one flight of stairs from my gate. I washed my face, brushed my teeth, changed clothes, and had a cocktail before finally boarding my flight. Amex Platinum FTW.
The new Chase Sapphire Reserve card put a lot of pressure on Amex to boost the benefits of the Platinum card. Amex responded by offering 5x points on airline and hotel bookings. Amazing! (Although they also raised the annual fee from $450 to $550--not so amazing.) I previously used my Chase Sapphire Preferred card to get 2x points on flights and hotels. Now I use my Amex Platinum instead with no hesitation. The $15/month Uber credit they just added is also a nice touch. Not to mention the preferred status with Starwood, Hilton, Avis... This card is just sweet.
If the $550 annual fee sounds brutal, this hack takes some of the sting away:
The Platinum card offers $200/year in "airline credit" for the airline of your choice. This credit is intended to cover things like baggage fees and seat upgrades. But it also works on airline gift certificates (in denominations of $50 or less, according to word on the street). So in four separate transactions, I bought four $50 Delta gift cards and was credited back all $200. Essentially $200 worth of Delta, for free. Yes, please.
The Amex Platinum card also helps me accomplish Goal #2: Never Wait in Line at Airports. Another perk of the card is a Global Entry fee credit. (Global Entry includes TSA pre-check, but TSA pre-check does not include Global Entry, so make sure to get Global Entry first to avoid paying both fees). I actually had Global Entry before I got this card, BUT I used the credit to get free Global Entry for my wife. In other words, you will still get reimbursed if you buy Global Entry for someone else.
The next credit card I get will probably be the Chase Ink Business Preferred. It would give me 3x points on travel (instead of the 2x I'm currently getting with my Sapphire Preferred), plus 3x for shipping expenses and 3x for the social media ads I intend to start running this year.