I’ll explain why people should ditch the concept of credit card trifectas because they are confusing, limiting, and can lead people to make poor decisions.
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You’re listening to the Hurdy Gurdy Travel Podcast. I’m your host, Justin Vacula, here to help you travel the world at next to no cost through credit card points, miles, benefits, and rewards. Make money, save money, and take advantage of great deals!
Thanks for joining me for episode 52: Rest in Peace Credit Card Trifectas. I’ll explain why people should ditch the concept of credit card trifectas because they are confusing, limiting, and can lead people to make poor decisions.
Day after day, I see people in online credit card groups talking about how they aim for the Chase trifecta or Amex trifecta – this specific group of cards. Popular mass-market financial sites and YouTube channels often use this term ‘trifecta’ or even worse, ‘quadfecta,’ leading to unneeded confusion.
The front page showing on a Google search has one website talking about “the Chase trifecta” but then lists four personal cards and three business cards. Their article continues “one possible combination” and then goes on to list even more cards. Another site mentions “the Chase trifecta,” then suggests one Sapphire card, one Freedom card, and one business card. The same site later says “the American Express trifecta” with three specific cards. Another result on “the Amex trifecta” suggests the Gold Card, Platinum Card, and Blue Business Plus. In contrast, another lists the Amex Blue Cash Preferred Card, the Schwab Platinum Card, and a “personal trifecta.”
You can see that several authors are using the term “trifecta” but aren’t on the same page. Feel free to delve into Google for more examples and more confusion. Rather than using the word “trifecta,” why not just mention individual cards or raise the open question of which Chase or American Express cards are the best? Even then, I’m reluctant to say that one card is “the best card” or that a group of cards is the ultimate combination. One person can get far more value from a card than others due to factors like average monthly spending, rate of travel, other cards people have, and so much more.
Consider the American Express Platinum Card – the vanilla or regular version, not the Morgan Stanley or Charles Schwab versions. I’m hesitant to recommend the vanilla Platinum, especially for people just starting in the miles and points space. Infrequent travelers also have little to gain from the vanilla platinum card. Most of the Platinum card’s value comes from its signup bonus and benefits including lounge access, merchant credits, statuses, travel benefits, and airline incidental credits.
Those who fail to maximize benefits or at least get high value from benefits don’t stand to gain too much when considering the $550 annual fee. The card’s signup bonus will lead to a massive win in year one, but the value may significantly drop in year two. The Schwab Platinum card, on the other hand, will allow one to cash out points at 1.25 cents per point, and for this reason, I’m much more likely to suggest the Schwab Platinum rather than the regular platinum even though I don’t get a referral bonus. Why not have the option to cash out points at a solid rate? Many proponents of the “Amex trifecta,” though, do not suggest the Schwab Platinum even though this could be a better option than the vanilla Platinum.
What about the American Express Gold Card? Are most people spending enough to get a solid return from the four times points at grocery stores? Are they using the $10 monthly dining credits and the yearly airline incidental credit? Clearly, the Gold card isn’t for everyone. In year two with the card, I see many saying they didn’t use the benefits in year one and are considering canceling. I couldn’t imagine canceling the Gold Card because I use the benefits, spend a significant amount at grocery stores, and signed up for the card knowing I’d get great value.
How about the Blue Business Plus? Why sign up for the Blue Business Plus if you’re not a big spender? How much more of a difference is two times points on so-called everyday spend going to make compared to 2% you’re getting from another card or even one times points on various cards? I mention many many times on this podcast that people overvalue returns from category spend and everyday spend. Low spenders don’t have much to gain from focusing on points returns when they miss the bigger picture of signup bonuses, benefits, and many ways to make and save money even outside credit cards.
Worse yet for the Blue Business Plus, its signup bonus in recent weeks has been $300 limited to purchases made with Dell, Docusign, and FedEx – and only $100 per merchant. I imagine that most listeners of the show don’t spend money with Docusign. Maybe they can get good value with Dell, and they probably won’t get much value from FedEx unless they’re using shipping services. At this very moment, I’m finding American Express business cards like the Hilton Business and Business Green to be front-runners, and again, that’s if they’re a good fit for people applying. Someone else’s trifecta simply won’t be a good fit for everyone.
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Maybe a trifecta can be a starting point or a guide for people new to points and miles or the online credit card space, but even then, I’m not sympathetic. Why not just individually consider cards based on current offers and value for the individual or specific situations? Suppose you, writer for some popular finance site, say you’d encourage people to look at current offers and think about their particular situation. Why bother using the term trifecta in the first place?
Some tout the benefits of a particular trifecta saying that you’ll gain extra points spending in specific categories and will have many of your bases covered. Again, this misses the bigger picture of overall return from credit cards because the biggest returns come from large signup bonuses and card benefits.
Anticipating another argument, people might be looking for simplicity and may only want to get a handful of cards with just one issuer. Sure, maybe someone will draw the line at five credit cards for some reason, but even then, some cards will work better than others, as I mentioned earlier. A frequent traveler who likes Hilton properties, flies occasionally, and visits Hilton resorts may get great value from the Hilton Aspire card and favor an increased offer with the Delta Reserve card when it comes around. One can still have simplicity and cards with one issuer without using the concept of trifecta and focus on three specific cards.
How about simplicity which comes with the US Bank Altitude Reserve and its wonderful real-time mobile rewards feature that sends text messages to redeem points for qualifying travel at 1.5 cents per point? Its three times points on all mobile spending for an effective 4.5% return trumps returns on so many cards offering bonuses for spending in specific categories. For a review of the Altitude Reserve card, listen to episode 40.
Simplicity, too, comes at a high cost because having only a handful of cards and worse yet, sticking with only one credit card issuer will lead one to leave a tremendous amount of value on the table. For just one example, using that popular Citi DoubleCash for all spending and not signing up for cards, well, you’ll indeed get 2% back on everything. Still, you won’t get substantial signup bonuses, travel benefits, and you’ll have to pay full price for your trips sadly.
Of course, signing up for multiple cards involves some level of management and time, but the payoff is super worth it as long as you’re disciplined. For a deeper dive into this, listen to episode 38 – ‘Are credit card points and miles worth the effort.’ I encourage people to get many cards for a good reason.
Talk of credit card trifectas further limits people because trifectas don’t account for changing trends, increased offers, and new offers. Earlier in this episode, I mentioned the value of the Blue Business Plus card tanked. Undoubtedly many also won’t get great value from Amex Platinum benefits during this pandemic.
Offers for American Express Delta cards go up and down from week to week. If it had to be one or the other card for some reason, or at least one card before another, why not get a card like the Platinum card at a later time, if at all, when you can get a great offer on a Delta card which is much better than usual?
How about Chase? People spoke about a “Chase Trifecta” for some time, and now we have a new Freedom Flex card, which could be an excellent fit for many. Cards like World of Hyatt are rarely included in “the Chase trifecta” and could be fantastic for some users. Ah, so a trifecta isn’t static, you say, there can be multiple trifectas? Again, just dump the term, talk about individual cards, and avoid confusion.
Worse yet, those aiming for multiple cards with Chase might be better off giving up on Chase entirely if they have to wait several months to get a new Chase card. Chase’s infamous 5/24 rule that I’ve mentioned in other episodes is extremely restrictive. To put it simply, you will be denied for Chase cards in almost all situations if you’ve opened five or more credit card accounts appearing on your personal credit reports in the past 24 months. Additionally, approvals for the Amex Gold and Platinum cards will strike one’s 5/24 status, and this could have been avoided if one were to get American Express business cards instead.
Wrapping things up, hopefully, you can see why the concept of credit card trifectas are problematic. Rather than buying into hype, promoting hype, adding unneeded confusion, restricting yourself, and perhaps worst of all, encouraging or buying into a one-size-fits-all model, ditch the concept of credit card trifectas. Consider cards individually, consider a wide array of offers (especially increased offers), and pick cards best for your situation.
Thanks for listening and stay tuned for more content! Leave comments on this episode with your thoughts and questions!
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