Maximize Your Miles: Master the Two-Card Strategy Every Smart Traveler Uses

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It’s never a good idea to spend money on a credit card an earn just one point per dollar. Would you buy an airline mile for two cents? (I hope not.) That’s what you’re doing, though, since you could easily be earning 2% cash back instead.

That means in most cases you need at least a two-card strategy for your spending. Each of the major banks issuing points transfer currencies has more than one card, including one that earns more than one point per dollar on all of your spend. And all of them let you combine your points to transfer to airline and hotel partners.

  • Perhaps you have the The Platinum Card® from American Express
    (See rates and fees.). I do. But the only spending I put on this card is airfare since it earns an amazing 5 points per dollar spent, up to $500,000 of flights per calendar year.

    I don’t put the rest of my spend on this card at only 1 point per dollar, though. Fortunately those who want to stay in the Membership Rewards ecosystem have The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express which earns 2X Membership Rewards® points on all eligible spending for the first $50,000 in purchases per year. It’s a no annual fee card, too (see rates and fees).

    And the points transfer to:

    • Star Alliance: Air Canada, ANA, Avianca, Singapore Airlines
    • oneworld: British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Iberia, Qantas, Qatar
    • SkyTeam: Aeromexico, Air France KLM, Delta, Virgin Atlantic
    • Non-alliance: Aer Lingus, Emirates, Etihad, Hawaiian, JetBlue
    • Hotels: Choice, Hilton, Marriott

  • Maybe you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®. Those cards are great for travel and dining spend but really not for the rest of your spending since they’d earn just one point per dollar. Chase loves that spend since it doesn’t have to invest as much rewarding you for it, but that’s not what you’re after.

    You can apply for a no annual fee Chase Freedom Unlimited® which earns 3x on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5x cash back on all other purchases. Then, combine those points into your Sapphire Preferred or Reserve account in order to redeem them for travel through the Chase portal or transfer to a variety of airlines or hotel programs:

    • Star Alliance: Air Canada, Singapore Airlines, United
    • oneworld: British Airways, Iberia
    • SkyTeam: Air France KLM, Virgin Atlantic
    • Non-alliance: Aer Lingus, Emirates, JetBlue, Southwest
    • Hotels: Hyatt, IHG, Marriott

  • With Capital One, both their Venture and Venture X cards earn 2 points per dollar on all spend, and those points transfer to:

    • Star Alliance: Air Canada, Avianca, EVA Air, Singapore Airlines, TAP Air Portugal, Turkish Airlines
    • oneworld: British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Qantas
    • SkyTeam: Aeromexico, Air France KL, Virgin Atlantic
    • Non-alliance: Emirates, Etihad Hotels: Accor, Choice, Wyndham

  • Citi Premier® Card (See rates and fees.) cardmembers are earning 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Other Hotels; 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets; but 1 point on other purchases – so don’t use it on other purchases.

    The Citi Double Cash Card has no annual fee and earns 2 points per dollar on all spending. Combine those points with your Premier card, then transfer to:

    • Star Alliance: Avianca, EVA Air, Singapore, Thai, Turkish Airlines
    • oneworld: Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways
    • SkyTeam: Aeromexico, Air France KLM, Virgin Atlantic
    • Non-alliance: Emirates, Etihad, JetBlue
    • Hotels: Accor, Choice, Leading Hotels of the World, Wyndham

Always consider getting the card that best bonuses the spend you do the most, with a currency that’s most valuable to you – and pair it with a card with the strongest earning in the same ecosystem for your unbonused spend. That will avoid leaving too many points on the table, and avoid ‘overpaying’ for points, essentially buying points at at least two cents apiece when you’re earning just one point per dollar spent on your card.

For rates and fees of The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express, click here.

For rates and feess of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of advertisers Citibank, Chase, American Express, Barclays, Capital One or any other advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.


  1. Interesting after saying AE gold card, undervalued wasn’t even included. Nor was the AE Everyday preferred.

  2. If I book through the chase travel portal, do I get the same travel protections as when I buy airfare with my Chase Sapphire Reserve?
    If I book Hyatt hotels through the chase travel portal, do I get my globalist benefits?

  3. You forgot about the Chase freedom card. It can earn 5% (or 5x points) on rotating categories every quarter

  4. Note that an unpublished benefit of Capital One cards is that you can transfer rewards from cashback cards to points cards (but not in reverse) at 1 cent to 1 point.

    You can therefore have a Capital One two-card strategy, earning 4x/3x on dining/steaming/entertainment and 3x on groceries with Savor/Savor One and 2x on everything else with Venture/Venture X.

  5. Well that was a whole lot of nothing but card advertising from a clickbait headline. You never actually explained how to double up the cards, just mentioned that banks offer multiple cards. You don’t even explain what you’re talking about with this concept at all.

    How can you spend on something and have it get value on multiple cards when you’re only using one to pay for it with?

    The only tip you managed to give was the obvious cautionary of not trading points for greater cash back opportunities, but again that’s not a double card situation or anything like it, it’s just normal spending.

  6. Thanks for the cliff note version of how the ecosystem works. Once one understands the ecosystem it’s hard to leave points on the table! You have to be open to using more than one card and remembering the benefits of each. Some people use stick notes on their cards other have their own written notes they look back to. After a while you remember how to use them on auto mode because one uses them frequently. What Gary has indicated in the article is not a full version of how to use the ecosystem. That would take a lot more space to write about it. That is something any reader that wants to know more about can easily find in his articles and others. Go read the archives. It was a good reminder if you want to maximize points take the time to learn about the ecosystem. It took me a few articles to grasp the ecosystem then I tried it out and finally got it!

  7. My recent experience with Chase Credit card approval.

    I am a long time Chase Sapphire and Freedom Unlimted card holder. I applied for Chase Freedom Flex two weeks back and it has not been approved as yet. I have called Customer service twice including the lending division and they refuse to commit to a timeline beyond 4 weeks. They claim that they need to verify a few things. One guy did mention that it is sitting in the system and has not been allocated to anyone.

    It is interesting that I earn a high salary with a credit score of 840 and usually get instant approval whenever I have applied for other cards. I am not in breach of Chase’s 5/24 rule as this is the first card I have applied for in 4 years.

    The lack of any consideration by Chase customer service is makeing me reconsider my existing relationship with them.

  8. I am under the impression that I am getting 3 miles per dollar at grocery stores with Aeroplan. I guess I haven’t checked. Is that correct?

  9. Since you list the Amex Biz Blue+ don’t forget about the Cap1 Spark Miles card which also earns 2 points/$1 spend. Unfortunately it has a $95 AF but then so do many others.

    With Amex, Citi and Chase offering better cards for everyday spend, how does Chase stay in the game? 1.5 really doesn’t cut it.

  10. I finally gave up trying to remember and wrote the relevant bonus categories on the card with a permanent marker. Half the people who notice say, “OK Boomer”, the other half, “good idea!”… I do not care about other’s judgement anymore.

  11. Citi Ecosystem in order of importance:

    1. Premier ($95). 3x on travel, dining, gas & supermarkets. You need this card to access the full range of Thank You transfer partners.

    2. Doublecash. No annual fee. Use this and get 2% on general spending (vs 1% on Premier, outside the 3% categories.

    3. Custom Cash. No annual fee. 5% in top category, otherwise 1%. Use it to add an extra category to the Premier cats…and use it only for that.

    4. Rewards+. No annual fee and low rewards rates. Won’t help you rack up. Citi points but will give you a 10% rebate every time you ‘spend’ points.

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