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Don’t try to optimize your credit card strategy for every last mile. I only carry three cards right now.

About two weeks ago, I made a large deposit in my Kiva account to meet the minimum spending requirement on my Citi Executive American Airlines card.

That spending unlocked 100,000 bonus miles (offer now dead), so for three months I had been putting all my spending on the Executive card.

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Now that I am not clearing any sign up bonuses, though, I have taken the Executive card out of my wallet. Its 1 American Airlines mile per dollar on day-to-day spending doesn’t entice me when I have several cards that earn a higher return. I’ll put the card back in my wallet whenever I travel for the free American Airlines lounge access that came with the card’s $450 annual fee.

In the Executive Card’s place, I have put three cards in my wallet that come close to optimizing all my spending while keeping things very simple for me. This is the balance I advocate instead of “optimizing” your credit card strategy to earn every last mile at the expense of cluttering your wallet and brain.

  • What three cards are in my wallet?
  • What is the benefit of each card?
  • How many more miles could I earn by adding more cards to my wallet?

Right now, I am carrying a Citi ThankYou® Premier Card, a Chase Freedom, and a Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard®.

Why ThankYou Premier?

I’m carrying the ThankYou® Premier because it earns 2 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent on purchases for dining at restaurants and entertainment and 3x on gas and travel.

Between restaurants and bars, this is easily 60 swipes at 3x for me each month.

The card comes with 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months.

ThankYou Points are transferable to12 airlines plus Hilton. Now I feel like I can’t earn enough ThankYou Points because transfer partners Singapore miles and Flying Blue miles both have amazing sweet spots that I want to take advantage of.

Why Chase Freedom?

I carry the Chase Freedom for its 5x quarterly-rotating category bonus. For the next four days, I can get 5x Ultimate Rewards at the pump, and for the fourth quarter of 2014, I can get 5x at Amazon, Zappos, Sears, and More on my first $1,500 of spending.

I have an Ink Plus also, so I transfer my Freedom’s Ultimate Rewards there and from my Ink Plus account to airline and hotel programs like United and Hyatt as explained here.

Why Arrival Plus?

The Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® earns 2 miles per dollar on all purchases. I pull it out every time I have a purchase that doesn’t fit into a bonus category of the ThankYou Premier or Freedom.

I can redeem those Arrival miles for 1 cent toward any flight with no blackouts, so they are ideal for domestic flights, economy flights, and flights on airlines without frequent flyer programs.

I can also redeem Arrival miles to avoid paying the taxes and fees on award tickets; for airbnb stays; or for any hotel, car rental, or cruise.

I originally got the Arrival Plus for the 40,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months, but it has evolved into my everyday card.

Why I’m Foregoing Miles

I could earn more miles if I carried around all my cards with category bonuses.

I could earn 2x miles next month on gas if I carried my Ink Plus or FlexPerks card. (I do carry my Ink Plus for 5x if I make a trip to an office supply store.)

I could earn 2x on groceries if I carried my FlexPerks card.

But I barely spend any money in those categories, like under $50 per month. That means the extra value I’d get from using those cards versus simply using my Arrival Plus for those purchases is less than $1 per month in each category.

It’s not worth it to me to clutter my wallet and brain for $1 per month. Maybe it is to you., in which case, carry more of your cards. It isn’t to me, so I limit myself to just a few cards.

How many cards do you carry, ie how much do you optimize your category bonuses?

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