Choosing a credit card that matches your lifestyle and spending habits is a simple way to save money on everyday purchases.
Better yet, the right combination of credit cards can offer savings that significantly add up over time. Many cash back credit cards offer bonus rewards across specific spending categories — such as dining, entertainment, travel, and more. But these categories are limited on any given card, and may not cover all the categories in which you spend most.
If you like cash rewards, one strategy to help maximize nearly every purchase you make is to pair cash back cards with complementary bonus categories or different cash back rewards structures that match your most frequent spending. With the right combination and a little bit of strategizing, there’s potential to really maximize your savings.
Let’s take a closer look.
How to Combine and Maximize Rewards
By pairing certain cards together, you can maximize the amount of cash back you earn. Think about where you spend most, and then look for the specific cards that best match where you spend.
For example, if you spend a good amount of money on dining out, you might benefit most from a card like the $0 annual fee Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards credit card, which earns 3% on dining, as well as grocery stores, entertainment, and streaming. Then, for all of your spending not within those categories, you could use a card like the Wells Fargo Active Cash Card (also with no annual fee) to guarantee at least 2% cash rewards on purchases you make.
But remember to seek out cards that suit your spending habits. If you don’t spend a good amount of money on dining out or entertainment, you won’t get as much out of the SavorOne, and may need to reevaluate your card choice.
After you determine which cards suit your spending, the most important thing to keep in mind if you decide to combine credit cards is to pay down your balances in full and on time each month. Credit cards have very high interest rates, which can quickly wipe out even the highest cash back bonus rewards if you carry a balance.
While it will take a bit more time and effort to keep track of bonus spending categories, combining different cash back rewards cards can unlock some significant savings over time.
Types of Cash Back Credit Cards
Often, you can find the most effective cash back card combination by pairing different types of rewards.
There are three major types of cash back credit cards: flat rate, tiered bonus categories, and rotating rewards. Before deciding which one might be best for you, you’ll want to “evaluate how you actually spend” your money, says Chris Dong, a reporter at The Points Guy (which is also owned by NextAdvisor’s parent company, Red Ventures).
Flat Rate Cash Back
With a flat rate cash back credit card, you’ll earn the same amount of cash back on all of your purchases, regardless of where you spend. These cards may earn a lower rate than other cash back types, but you’ll earn more on spending that doesn’t fall into common bonus categories.
The Citi Double Cash card is a great example of a flat cash back card. It earns up to 2% on every purchase: 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases. Its straightforward earning structure can be ideal for those looking to maximize rewards without putting much thought or effort into which card they should be using for a given purchase.
“For simplicity, you can’t go wrong with a card like the Citi Double Cash,” Dong says.
For the same reason, flat cash back cards can be the most effective type to pair with other card options. If you already have a card that earns bonus rewards on dining or groceries, for example, you can use a flat cash back card to earn up to 2% on all your non-bonus spending, like online purchases or monthly utility bills.
Tiered Cash Back Credit Card
With a tiered cash back credit card, you’ll earn a different amount of cash back depending on your spending category. Most often, you’ll find these cards offer rewards in common categories like dining, groceries, gas, travel, and streaming.
For example, with the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, you’ll earn 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%), as well as on select U.S. streaming subscriptions. Plus, get 3% cash back on transit (including taxis, trains, rideshares, buses, and more) and gas stations, and 1% cash back on everything else.
While the Blue Cash Preferred does have a $95 annual fee ($0 for the first year), the tiered structure encompasses a handful of bonus categories that can help you maximize your cash back earning potential. And if these align with where you already spend most, you can more than make up for the fee each year.
Dong notes that “during the height of the pandemic, one card I was recommending was the Amex Blue Cash Preferred, since its bonuses really aligned with how people were spending.”
Rotating Cash Back Credit Cards
Cash back credit cards with rotating rewards categories earn additional cash back on select spending categories that change quarterly. These cards typically offer 5% (up to limits) cash back in the rotating quarterly category, which is higher than many flat or tiered cash back cards. They also may offer a broader array of categories than tiered bonus rewards — including superstores like Walmart and Target, or warehouse clubs like Costco, which are often excluded from grocery spending. But because the highest rewards categories change, these cards can be more difficult to maximize, if the new category doesn’t always align with where you shop.
The Chase Freedom Flex℠ is a great example of this card type; it earns 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in select rotating bonus categories every quarter, such as at Walmart, Amazon, streaming services, and even gas stations. In addition to rotating rewards, the Freedom Flex earns 5% back on up to $12,000 in grocery spending the first year, 5% back on travel booked through Chase, 5% back on Lyft rides (through March 2022), 3% back on dining and drug store purchases, and 1% back on all other spending. It also carries a $0 annual fee, so strategically using it on corresponding bonus categories each quarter could be a savvy way to earn 5% cash back on your purchases.
Citi® Double Cash Card
- Intro bonus:N/A
- Annual fee:$0
- Regular APR:13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)
- Recommended credit:670-850 (Good to Excellent)
- Learn more At our partner’s secure site
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Recommended Cash Back Card Pairings
The exact card pairing that works for you will depend on where you spend most, and there’s no right or wrong way to pair your cards. As long as the combination in your wallet is helping you save money, stay within your budget, and accomplish your financial goals, it’s certainly a win in our book.
That said, here are some examples to get you started.
Chase Freedom Unlimited® and Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card
The no annual fee Chase Freedom Unlimited offers a combination of flat cash rewards and bonus categories. You’ll earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year, as well as 5% cash back on travel purchased through the Chase travel portal. The card also earns 3% on dining and drugstores and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
For an even broader range of bonus categories, you could pair this card with another no annual fee option like the Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards card. With this card, you’ll get:
- 3% cash back on a category of your choice, between: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings
- 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases)
- 1% cash back on all other purchases
You can choose a 3% category for your Bank of America card that you’re not already earning bonus rewards in with the Freedom Unlimited, like online purchases. Earn another 2% (up to limits) at wholesale clubs — and grocery stores after you max out the first-year grocery rewards with Freedom Unlimited. Finally, switch back to your Freedom Unlimited for non-bonus category spending for a baseline 1.5% cash back on everything else.
Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card and the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
The Wells Fargo Active Cash Card is a flat cash back card that earns 2% cash rewards on purchases you make, for no annual fee. By pairing it with a card like the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, you can maximize savings on everything you buy, with added rewards on everyday spending categories like supermarkets, streaming services, and gas station spending. Because this card does have a $95 annual fee, this strategy works best if you spend a lot in these categories each year.
As a reminder, the Blue Cash Preferred earns 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%), as well as on select U.S. streaming subscriptions. Cardholders also earn 3% cash back on transit (including taxis, trains, rideshares, buses and more) and gas stations, plus 1% cash back on everything else.
Simply use your Blue Cash Preferred for any spending in bonus categories, and then swipe the Active Cash Card on any purchases outside those select categories. That way, you’ll earn a minimum 2% cash back on every purchase you make with a credit card.