Boost Your Miles & Points Balances – Think Before You Spend

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It’s not a secret that one of the key elements to building up large miles and points balances is credit card spend, but simply using your credit cards when you go shopping isn’t where things end. If you put a bit of thought into what you’re doing before you hand over your credit card for a purchase it’s possible to earn significantly more miles & points than you may realise.

A lot of the more popular credit cards used by miles & points collectors come with category bonuses that encourage people to use a given credit card for a specific kind of purchase. For example:

  • The Chase Sapphire Preferred card earns 2 points/$ on restaurant spend & travel
  • The Amex Everyday Preferred credit card offers 2 points/$ on groceries (plus a 50% bonus with 30+ purchases of any kind in a billing period).
  • The Citi ThankYou Premier credit card offers 3 points/$ on travel (including gas)
  • The Chase Ink Plus credit card offers 5 points/$ at office supply stores and 2 points/$ for spend at gas stations.


Note: I’m not suggesting those are the best credit cards for those categories, these are just examples.

A lot of people will take a look at the credit cards they have in their wallet, pull out the card most appropriate for the transaction they’re about to engage in and think nothing more of it. That’s not a bad start (at least they’re considering which card they should be using) but often they could do better and they’re leaving points on the table by not thinking things through.

The Key To Maximizing Your Earnings

Gift cards are the key.

I’m not referring to Visa/Mastercard/Amex gift cards which would involve readers understanding the nuances of manufactured spend (I’ve nothing against MS, I just don’t discuss it a lot on the blog). Instead I’m referring to gift cards for stores, eateries, airlines and other everyday retailers which don’t require any special treatment whatsoever – you can spend them like cash.

The best way to explain what I mean is by using some examples:

Example 1 – Eateries

The Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) credit card offers 2 points/$ spent at restaurants and coffee shops but, while that’s a perfectly ok card to use (it’s better than a card that only earns you 1 point/$), using it at restaurants and coffee shops is not always the best way to rack up your Ultimate Rewards (UR) balance.


Using your CSP card at Starbucks, for example, will earn you 2 UR points per dollar that you spend recaffienating yourself but what if you’d bought Starbucks gift cards at Staples using a Chase Ink Plus credit card?

Purchases with the Chase Ink Plus credit card at office supply stores earn 5 UR points/$ so, if you purchase Starbucks gift cards at Staples and then use them to pay for your coffee, your coffee purchase goes from earning you 2 UR points/dollar to 5 UR points/$ just like that!

It doesn’t have to end at Starbucks either. Staples and Office Depot sell gift cards for all sorts of eateries like Applebee’s,  P.F Changs and California Pizza Kitchen so there’s quite a bit of scope to earn more points if you frequent any of these establishments.

If you don’t have a Chase Ink Plus credit card all is not lost.


Gas stations are another outlet that sell gift cards so using a credit card that earns good bonus miles for gas spend (Citi ThankYou Premier, Costco Anywhere Visa, etc…) can also be a good option for those looking to improve their miles & points earnings using gift cards.

Example 2 – Travel

Once again it’s worth knowing what gift cards are available and what your options are.

There are a number of credit cards that offer category bonuses for travel but, if you happen to be flying Southwest or staying at Hyatt properties and don’t have the co-branded credit cards that go with those travel providers, gift cards can be a good way forward.

Staples will happily sell you Hyatt and Southwest gift cards with email delivery (hassle free!) at face value…

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…so, if you happen to have a Chase Ink Plus credit card, that’s another way of earning more points than by simply handing over a credit card after your Hyatt stay or before you book a Southwest flight.

Example 3 – Retailers

I can’t think of any credit cards that have general retailers as a bonus category so, in most cases, the best you can hope to earn is 1 point or mile per dollar spent at stores like Macy’s, Nordstrom, Barnes & Noble etc… but, once again, gift cards can be the answer.

Office supply stores and a number of gas stations will happily sell you gift cards that you can then use to purchase whatever items you were going to purchase using your credit card.


I put this to good use last week when I used my Chase Ink credit card to purchase $750 of Nordstrom gift cards at Office Depot (3,750 Ultimate Rewards points) before walking two blocks and buying two jackets that I’d seen in the sale earlier that day. is a site that a lot of people use on a weekly basis but, with the exception of the Chase Freedom Credit card’s quarterly bonus, there aren’t any credit cards that come to mind that offer more than 1 point or mile per dollar spent at Amazon….and yet Amazon gift cards are readily available at Staples, Office depot and, in my area, even some gas stations.

Going Even Further

You can take this a step further by purchasing gift cards that you then use via the various online points-earning shopping malls (discussed briefly here) but this requires even more patience (you have to wait for your items to be delivered) and doesn’t always work as not all retailers will hand over bonus points for purchases made with gift cards.


Bottom Line

I’ve just given a few examples here but there are many others out there if you look hard enough. The key is to keep your eye out for gift cards to stores, retailers, eateries that you use/frequent regularly and see if you can purchase those somewhere where you can earn a credit card category bonus that outweighs the category bonus you’d get by simply using your credit card at the retailer/eatery/store.

None of this is difficult but it does take a bit of forethought and sometimes a bit of patience. When I saw the jackets in Nordstrom I asked the salesperson to put them on hold for me while I then went out and bought the gift cards which I then used to purchase the jackets.  I could have been lazy and just used my credit card but 3,750 UR points are worth 30 minutes of my time so the walk to Office Depot and back was worth it to me.

The Chase Ink credit card is a huge help if you want to exploit some of the examples I’ve given above and it’s a card I find invaluable when it comes to building up a significant points balance for things like Hyatt stays…but it’s not the only option. Gas stations don’t only sell gas and anything you buy in them will earn the gas category bonus…so make the most of credit cards that offer gas stations as a category bonus too!