Have you ever played a video game which awarded you more points for hitting combos? You know the type; 5,000 points for launching a missile while driving a vehicle, or hitting a kick flip after a 50/50 grind in Tony Hawk Pro Skater. In video games the points aren’t real, or at least they don’t have any tangible value. Do the same tricks with credit cards however, and the points become very real. What we’re talking about is the idea of stacking, both with credit cards and other financial products.
Some folks would prefer to find a single credit card on which to put all of their spending. While this is fine, it’s not as optimal as choosing to stack rewards. What we’re describing in this guide, is how to pick an ecosystem, instead of just a credit card. Ecosystems in this case refer to banks, and their associated rewards programs. The overarching idea is that you want to pick a program that will provide you with the most value. Then you want to signup for the products that can help you best derive that value. Finally, you want to combine the points you’ve earned from those products to cash in.
How does credit card stacking work?
If you’ve already read our Chase Sapphire Trifecta post, you can move on to the next paragraph. For those of you who haven’t, let this serve as a brief intro to credit card stacking. With Chase you can choose to combine the point balances of any of your Ultimate Rewards earning credit cards. Examples of these cards include; Chase Freedom, Chase Freedom Unlimited, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, and Chase Ink Business Preferred.
Although these cards all earn Ultimate Rewards points, they can’t all be redeemed for the same thing, nor do they all carry the same value. The Freedom cards for example earn points which can only be used for cash back, travel, gift cards, etc. at a rate of 1 penny per point. You cannot transfer Freedom points to your frequent flier account, nor can they be redeemed at a bonus. Unless of course you’re a Chase premium cardholder. Premium cards in this case refer to the Sapphire Preferred/Reserve and the Ink Business Preferred.
Preferred cardholders are able to redeem their points for travel at a 25% bonus. Reserve cardmembers do so at 50%. All of these card members can transfer their points to Ultimate Reward partners which include; Marriott, Southwest, British Airways, and more. The beauty, if that you can combine the Ultimate Rewards balance of your non-premium and premium credit cards.
For a concrete example lets say you’ve got the Chase Freedom and the Sapphire Reserve. If you transfer your 10,000 Freedom points to the Reserve, they’re automatically worth at 15,000 when redeemed for travel. If you manage to transfer them to a partner and score a sweet redemption, they could be worth even more!
This is what we mean when we talk about credit stacking. Its this idea that you’re combining two or more financial products together, for the greatest gain.
What if the banks find out?!
I’ve explained the idea of stacking to people before, and gotten interesting reactions. Some people wonder if this is against the rules or frowned upon by the banks. After all, it can feel as if we (the consumer) is taking advantage of them (the bank). The reality however is that this is mutually beneficial for all parties involved. Credit cards make money for banks in a few ways. First, they make money off of fees and interest charged to the consumer. Second, they make money in the form of transaction fees every time you swipe your card or enter the number online. It behooves banks to have as many people spending as much money on their credit cards as possible.
Picture this, every time you spend money on card X instead of Y, you lose out on some number of rewards. This is known as opportunity cost. If you spent all of your money on card Y, you’d be better off. Chase does not want you to feel like every time you use your Freedom, you’re forfeiting rewards that you might get if you spent that dollar on your American Express card. For that reason, Chase gives you the opportunity to enhance the value of your Freedom spend, by combining it with your Sapphire spend. This is of value to the bank because they’ve got you spending more money on more of their cards. Its beneficial for you because you get to maximize every expenditure.
Most Popular Credit Card Stacks
Alright, so you’re interested in the prospect of stacking for maximum rewards, but you don’t know where to begin. Lucky for you, we’ve done the leg work and have gathered the best credit card combinations we could find. Be advised that new stacks may enter the marketplace at any time, this should not be considered an exhaustive list. If you know of a stack that we did not write about, please contact us. We’ll be sure to research it and add it to this guide if necessary.
Freedom + Freedom Unlimited + Sapphire Preferred / Reserve
Since we’ve already spilled some ink on this one we’ll go ahead and finish it off. The Chase Sapphire Reserve made waves when it was first released with its 100k sign-up bonus. Years after its been released it continues to lead the pack as one of, if not the best rewards credit card on the market. It earns 3x on dining + travel, and all points are worth a 50% bonus when redeemed through the UR portal. The Preferred is often affectionately referred to as its little brother. That card earns 2x on travel + dining, and all points are worth a 25% bonus.
The Freedom earns 5x on specific categories which rotate every quarter. Freedom Unlimited on the other hand has a more straight forward approach, 1.5 points on every purchase. In my wallet i’ve got the Freedom, Freedom Unlimited, and the Sapphire Reserve. This allows me to maximize every dollar that I spend for the most number of Ultimate Rewards points. For dining and travel ill use the Reserve, for all bonus category spend ill use the Freedom, and everything else goes on the Freedom Unlimited. This ensures that I never earn less than 1.5 points per dollar, and most spend is 3 points or more.
Wells Fargo Propel + Wells Fargo Visa Signature
Listeners of the podcast should recall that I signed up for the Wells Fargo Propel live on the show. Propel carries no annual fee and is offering a sign-up bonus worth $300 as of the time of this writing. In addition to its signup bonus, you’ll also earn 3x points on eating out + ordering in, gas, ride shares, transit, flights, hotels, homesteads, car rentals, and popular streaming services. Those services include Spotify, Netflix, Apple Music, Sirius XM Radio, and Hulu. By itself the card can only redeem points at a rate of 1 penny per point. Combined with the Wells Fargo Visa however, its points are worth 50% more.
Wells Fargo Visa Signature earns 1x on all purchases, but has a signup bonus where you can earn 5x on up to $12,500 in spend at gas stations, drugstores, and grocery stores in the first 6 months. With the card you’ll be able to redeem your Go Far Rewards points at a 50% bonus when you redeem for airfare. This means that your 30k from the Propel are now worth 45k or $450, when redeemed for airfare. The best part about this credit card stack? Neither of these cards carry an annual fee.
Amex Everyday Preferred + Amex Premier Rewards Gold + Amex Platinum
Though not a requirement, the Platinum card from American Express definitely sweetens the pot for this stack. Here you’ll earn 3x on supermarkets, 2x on gas stations, and 1x everywhere else with the Everyday Preferred card. That card also earns a 50% bonus on all points earned when you make 30 or more purchases in a billing cycle. The Premier Rewards Gold is going to net you 3x on flights booked directly with airlines, 2x on restaurants, gas stations, and supermarkets, and 1x everywhere else. The Platinum is really only necessary if you’re traveling a lot, you value lounge access, and you can maximize its airline + Uber credit.
With this stack you’re going to be doing most of your spending on the Everyday card (hence its name), while the Gold + Platinum products help provide boosts for certain categories. Those cards also offer benefits outside of their earnings, but we’ll cover those in another guide.
Bank of America Premium Rewards + Bank of America Preferred Rewards
The Bank of America Premium Rewards card is another one that I signed up for live on the podcast. At the time of the show it was offering 50,000 points as a signup bonus which was enough for $500 in cash rewards. The card carries a $95 annual fee but offers cardholders a $100 yearly airline credit. For me I keep the card because I can use the $100 credit on a first class upgrade meaning that I net $5 year over year. It earns 2 points per $1 spent on travel and dining, and 1.5 points for every other dollar spent. The real benefit however is if you’re a Bank of America Preferred Rewards client and can stack up the benefits.
Preferred Rewards is a 4 tier system at Bank of America. It looks like this:
- Silver – Up to $20k
- Gold – $20k – $50k
- Platinum – $50k – $100k
- Platinum Honors – $100k+
The balances are combined between your Bank of America bank accounts and your Merrill Lynch investment accounts. Gold members earn a 25% credit card reward bonus, Platinum is 50%, and Platinum Honors comes in at a cool 75%. This means that if you’re a Platinum Honors member with Bank of America you can earn 3.5x on travel + dining and 2.62x on all other purchases with your premium rewards card. Pretty impressive! There are of course other benefits to being a Platinum Honors member, but we’ll save those for another guide.
U.S. Bank Customer + U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card
This stack is not so much a stack as it is a gate. The U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve credit card is pretty incredible from a points perspective. Its annual fee is $400, but it offers $325 in travel credit. The card also earns 3x on net travel purchases and mobile wallet spending. Its signup bonus is a cool 50k after spending $4.5k in 3 months. Thats worth $750 when redeemed for travel. The card also offers 12 complimentary GoGo wifi passes per year, priority pass lounge access, TSA Precheck / Global Entry credit, and more.
Well the catch is that you can only get this card if you’re a U.S. Bank customer. Customer in this case means that you’ve already got a U.S. Bank account. This will be true if you’re an existing credit card holder, or if you’ve got a U.S. Bank bank account. If you’re interested in getting this card but not yet a member, fear not. Readers have had success opening bank accounts, waiting a month, and then applying for the card. The sign-up bonus has been around for a while so I don’t expect it to go down. With the $325 in travel credits you’re paying a net of $75 for some pretty good rewards. This is a card i’ve got my eye on.
HSBC Bank Account + HSBC Premier World Elite MasterCard
This stack, like the last one, is less of a stack and more of a requirement. The HSBC Premier MasterCard is one of the best credit cards that I know of in terms of rewards earning. Its annual fee is $395, but if offers $100 back on Uber/Lyft purchases per year.It also offers a $100 airline travel credit, $85 TSA Precheck credit, Unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi access, MasterCard LoungeKey lounge access, 10% discount when you book your hotel or vacation home stay through Expedia, Agoda, or onefinestay. Lastly, points are worth 50% more when redeemed for airfare through HSBC Rewards.
The card earns 3x on travel and 2x on dining, with 1x going to all other purchases. As of the time of this writing the sign-up bonus is a cool 50,000 points, worth $750 when redeemed for travel. The catch is the same as with the U.S. Bank card in that you must be a customer. The difference here is that you can’t just be any old customer. You need to be a HSBC Premier checking customer. To be eligible for such a checking account you’ll need $100,000 in combined personal deposit account + investment balances.
Now that we’ve covered some of the most popular credit card combinations, lets talk brass tacks. While I am a Chase Trifecta stacker, I built up that portfolio of cards over a number of years. In that way I was able to take advantage of multiple sign-up bonuses including the 100k Reserve bonus. If you’re new to the points and miles hobby my advice is to start slow, and grow with time. To that end, I would not recommend signing up for all 3 Chase or Amex cards on the same day. Instead, start with the card that either has the best sign-up bonus, or will be most valuable day over day. As time goes on and you grow more comfortable, add more products. Eventually you’ll become a grizzled credit card stacking veteran.
I am at the point now where i’m trying to figure out ways to get on the HSBC + U.S. Bank trains. Those cards are harder to get, but the juice is well worth the squeeze, in my opinion. I believe that banks will continue to extend the best benefits to those who are well within their eco system. They want you to bank with them, spend with them, save with them, etc.
Theres a lot to digest here, but know that we’re here to help. If you’re trying to decide what stack is right for you, or if you should avoid stacks altogether. Feel free to contact us. Remember, the best thing you can do if you want to move fast, is move slow. That means gather more information than you need. Consider all of the pros and cons. Understand your goals. Execute where it’ll benefit you the most.
We hope you enjoyed this guide. Be sure to let us know what other guides you’d like to see us write in the future.
Bonus – Podcast Episode
For those who would rather listen than read about credit card stacking, you’re in luck! Episode 24 of the Pursuing Points podcast is all about credit card stacking. Check it out and let us know what you think!