It will be no surprise that a deal seeker like me has numerous “rewards” credit cards. My principal card is a Southwest card which earns me a free ticket each year. And it’s not because I fly that much. Most of my points come from car rentals and hotel stays.
But I ‘m always vigilant for a rewards card that may offer “more.” Some years ago, I stumbled on a Chase card that offered 5% cash back on gas, grocery stores and drug stores. After doing the math, I decided that I could divert those purchases from the Southwest card without endangering my annual free ticket. And the Chase card had no annual fee either.
But as the cost of gas and groceries rose, Chase did their math and decided that 5% was too generous. The program was changed to 3% back on those purchase. Still not too bad.
But then the Discover commercials offering 5% cash back on various purchases on a rotating quarterly basis caught my interest. That included gas, groceries, drug stores and… travel! And, a promotion offered $150 cash back if I charged $500 in the first three months of receiving the card. I of course jumped on that deal.
But in my excitement over the $150 I didn’t read the fine print. The 5% was limited to the first $300 or so of purchases. That meant my maximum cash back in any quarter would be $15. But it was better than nothing. My strategy became to use Discover for right up to the quarterly maximum for that category and then charge all remaining purchases in that category to the Southwest card.
Feeling the pressure, Chase decided to compete with Discover. I was notified that the 3% program was going away. It was replaced with a 5% cash back in quarterly rotating categories. With a big difference: the limit for 5% cash back was $1,500 a quarter, five times Discover’s limit. Yee-ha!
I was hoping that the quarterly categories for Chase and Discover would not overlap. But apparently Chase is taking Discover head on because the quarterly categories are identical. Consequently, my Discover card is not seeing much light. After I draw down my rewards, I ‘ll cancel the Discover card.
(I focus my Discover rewards redemption on discounts with participating merchants which offer more than the face value of the redemption, such as a $40 discount with Alamo for a $20 redemption. I’ve used that with a $20 weekend rate to get a three day rental for $40. That’s the $60 base rate minus the $40 discount plus the $20 I redeemed which I could have taken in cash.)
But I was still looking for a “permanent” cash back deal on groceries and gas. Those are regular purchases and 5% in one quarter each year wasn’t enough.
Google helped me find this Holy Grail… American Express Blue Cash. Three percent cash back all year on groceries. Two percent cash back on gas and department stores. I jumped on it. And no annual fee either.
So as this round of credit card musical chairs ends, Southwest retains its overall preeminence. Chase Freedom reigns in certain categories each quarter. American Express is my card for groceries and gas, unless Chase is offering 5% in those categories.
With apologies to Simon and Garfunkel…
The Sound of Cash Back
Hello AmEx, my old friend I have a card with you again ‘Cause Chase changed its rewards program No 3% on groceries… damn But the cash back that was planted in my brain Still remains With my new Blue Cash rewards card In grocery stores it’s three percent In gas stations, two percent Those two will bring me nice money But Chase can still be my honey ‘Cause Discover’s max on five percent is full of shit So I ‘ll cancel it And get more cash from the Chase card. Discover’s gonna lose their folks Their limits are so low they’re jokes Three hundred dollars on travel Will generate no street babble But Chase allows fifteen hundred each quarter Now that’s real nice When seventy five bucks comes back to me Fools", said I, "Who does not know Cash back like a tsunami grows Hear my words that I might teach you Get those cards and cash’ll come back to you" But if not, that money is your loss While I still Rake it in, every purchase And the people screamed and prayed For the cash they could have made When they see what the total is It’s clear that five percent is bliss And the math says, "As much as three hundred bucks back a year is a chunk of change And that‘s really true" So what you waiting for, get a rewards card