Best Credit Cards for 2019: Travel, Rewards, Points, Apple Card vs. Chase Sapphire Reserve

I love getting free stuff, free international flights, business class upgrades, and cash back. As an American we're super lucky to have these credit card programs and are often the envy of people from other countries who wish they could credit card hack or get free sign up bonuses. However, I'm here to explain why it's usually a waste of time to become a credit card hacker and juggle reward points, and why it's better for most of us just to have a primary cash back credit card, and a back up instead. First off, credit card companies aren't stupid and aren't in the business of losing money. They're the casinos finance, the know that on average, 39% of people who sign up for one of their bonus reward cards will mess up, carry a balance, forget to cancel at the end of the year, miss a payment, or get into credit card debt and end up paying an insane 25.24% APR.

If you think you're different and won't accidently mess up or miss a payment, you might be right, just like everyone else, as no one who signs up thinks they'll be the one to mess up. But someone is paying the fees, and no one signed up thinking the would be the ones doing it. I personally know a lot of credit card mile hackers and gurus, and the one thing they have in common is that it's their full time or at least part time job. It takes a lot of mental space, research, reading, and keeping track of things to get the upsides without getting screwed. In this post i'm going to show you how to take advantage of the upsides with minimal stress, headaches, and find you the perfect credit cards for 2019, especially if you travel internationally like I do. We'll be comparing the new Apple Card, the popular Chase Sapphire Reserve, AMEX Platinum, as well as introduce you to a few other cards like the Barclay Arrival +, Capital One Venture, Quicksilver and Spark. Lets get started.

Credit Card Strategy

You might ask, "Johnny, why do you hate credit card hacking so much?" The answer is that I don't, I love free stuff more than anyone, but I also realize that nothing in life is actually free. Whether it takes our time, mental energy, or focus, getting free stuff often comes with a price or it would no longer continue to be free. I think it's a huge waste of time to spend 20 hours a week researching and thinking about credit cards, juggling and transfering miles to points, and keeping track of it all so you don't accidently get hit with an annual fee you forgot about, or accidently carry a balance, just so you can fly first class once every few years to go somewhere you didn't actually want to go anyways. 

My strategy is to find and use the easiest cards with the least amount of headache, mental space needed, that still gets a fair amount of benefits. That's why even though I used to be a credit card hacker who has personally racked up over 2 million miles and have flown business class internationally for the past 6 years mostly for free, I also realize how big of a waste of time it has been and that in the same amount of time and energy I put in to figure those things out, I could have been scaling up my business or have built a new one, used just 1 card with a basic 1.5% cash back reward structure which I never had to think about, and made enough money just to have bought the flights at full fare.

My strategy and what I recomend to most people is easy. Have just two credit cards, a primary daily use card that gives 1.5%-2% cash back on everything without thinking about it, and a second that gives some benefits or perks such as a priority pass membership, rental car insurance, etc. It's an easy 3 step process that you can easily learn and follow in minutes instead of hours, days or even years as most credit card hackers do. 

Choosing the Best Credit Card

Step 1: Daily Card

The reason why I'm so excited about the Apple Card is because it's a no brainer, easy to use, forever card that you never need to cancel. The downsides is that there are no sexy sign up bonuses or ways to "hack" the card. But the upside is that the cash back they give is super simple, there are no fees incuding no foreign transaction fees, annual fees, etc, and it's simple. I plan to use the Apple Card connected to my iPhone as my daily use card for all things like restaurants, coffee shops, cafes, metro tickets, bars, movie tickets, grocery stores, and basically everything I already currently use my phone to pay for 10x a day now. America is super behind with technology as many places still don't accept contactless payments or Apple Pay. But that's why Apple is pushing their card so hard as to encourage stores from adopting it. 

Ever since 2017, I've been using Apple Pay on a daily basis almost everywhere in Asia and Europe including countries such as Thailand, Portugal, Spain, Poland, Ukraine and Georgia. It's super simple to use and with the new Apple Card connected, you'll get 2% cash back with zero fees. It's a no brainer. If you don't have an iPhone, the next best substitute is the Capital One Quicksilver, which is very similar as there are no annual or foreign transaction fees and they give a flat 1.5% cash back on everything, making it super simple to use and is a great forever card as well.=

I suggest everyone have a daily use cash back card, either the Apple Card if you are an iPhone user, or the Quicksilver if you're an Android user. Below is a video explaining more about the Apple Card and why I love it so much as well as why I love cash back cards so much. Also as an update, it was super easy to apply and start using my Apple Card. I did it completely from my phone in under 2 minutes, and while I was traveling in the Republic of Georgia. A few minutes after getting it set up, I was able to use Apple Pay to buy a cup of coffee with it and have been using it since!

For Non-US Residents: Use the Revolut Card instead.

My Apple Card and Dashboard

Step 2: Rewards Card

The second card everyone should get if they want to take advantage of credit card benefits such as airport lounge access, rental car insurance, or other big perks. These are cards that I would get just to hit to minimum annual required spend, then forget about until the next year as dealing with the miles to points to cash transfers aren't worth your time as you could be using that mental energy to grow your business instead. 

However, the reason why I mention a rewards card as step two is because there is no other way to get the Priority Pass without it. Yes, you can buy the unlimited lounge access Priority Pass for $399 directly on their website (or 10% off here). But unless you really don't want to deal with getting it through a credit card, and you travel more than 15 times a year, it's not really worth it. Also only with the "Priority Pass Select" card that comes with credit cards can you bring in guests for free, so it's actually a better card than the one you can buy direct. 

The best two cards to get the unlimited Priority Pass with is The Platinum Card by American Express, or the more popular and recommended Chase Sapphire Reserve. I prefer the Chase card as it's both cheaper annually, especially after the travel credits, and also to add additional authorized users. Also the Chase Card has more perks such as "non-lounge airport experiences" which are basically $30 or so restaraunt credits at certain airports in additional or instead of using their lounges which often get full. If you've never used an Airport Lounge, they're great! Free food, drinks, showers, wifi, comfortable quiet spaces, all add up to making a layover something to look forward to instead of dread. Here's a video of one of the lounges I've visited, this one in particular isn't a Priority Pass lounge but I've been to over 40+ lounges all around the world and most of them are very similar, just not always quite as nice depending on the country and airport. 

For Non-US Residents: Sign up for AMEX Platinum or buy a Priority Pass directly. 

Step 3: Bonus Cards

Technically all you need to do are the above two steps if you want an easy, no brainer setup for the best credit cards to get cash back, rewards and travel with. You'll get a good amount of cash back, enough points to be able to fly internationally year or so, and if you run your business through your rewards card like I have with all of my dropshipping stores you can get even more. In fact when my stores were doing $20,000 or more in sales every month, I'd be spending usually $15k in fulfilling products, shipping and advertising which meant I'd get around $300 a month in travel rewards which added up to a round trip international business class flight each and every year. 

That being said, if you already have an online business or plan to start a dropshipping store, getting a 3rd card such as the 2.05% cashback Barclay Arrival+, or the better customer service 2% Capital One Venture or Spark Business Cards would be a great way to squeeze out a bit more value each year. However, these are only useful if you're spending over $3,000 a month on average on your card. If you're sending less, then it's easier just to stick to the cash back options from step 1 as the bit of extra rewards you'll get won't even cover the annual fees or time spent juggling cards. 

Other cards you can look into getting are ones with high sign up bonuses, as long you plan to hit the $4,000 minimum spend within the first 3 or 4 months. Although tempting and not a terrible move to sign up for a new card every 4 months once you've gotten and the rewards, it really is a huge use of time and often isn't worth the sign up bonus. As I'm typing this I'm literally on hold with Capital One trying to downgrade one of my cards to a no annual fee version. Even though I'm a seasoned credit card user, I completely messed up and didn't hit the $4k spend minimum in the first 3 months, meaning, I signed up for the card for nothing, and now have to waste a bunch of time calling in, being put on hold, then calling back during normal business hours to not have to pay the $95 annual fee. This is the part no one ever talks about, the wasted time, and the risk of fees and why even though technically it's really nice to get $200-$650 in "free" travel, the fact is to get it, you'll need to spend a minimum of a few hours transfering over your credit card spend to these accounts, then remember to transfer them back after you're done, use the miles before they expire or you cancel the card, spend a few hours researching how to actually spend or transfer your miles, then book something through a rewards portal instead of getting the best cash deal using Kayak or SkyScanner. 

Credit Card hacking and guru sites make it look like you get $1,200 or even $1,600 in "Bonus Value" from these cards, but in reality, what you really get is $500 or less in travel or hotel credit, and a bunch of headaches and wasted time. Unless you want your part time job to be wasting time trying to get something for free, instead of building real wealth through an actual profit generating business, don't fall for the credit card reward trap.

Non-Americans: Don't feel like you're missing out. You're not. =)

*Bonus Value doesn't equal actual value

What I Do

I can't believe I just wasted 2 hours researching and writing Step 3, just to reconfirm that juggling reward cards is a huge waste of time. Things change every few months which means it's a full time job keeping up with the changes. Yet, everytime I see BS like "$1,200 Bonus Value" on sites, I get tempted yet again to research and sign up for these cards just once to get the freebie. But if you follow the links and read the how to actually redeem, you'll fall into a complicated maze that is designed to waste your time in hopes you mess up and trick yourself into thinking you're getting a better value than reality or that it was worth the effort. 

So instead, here's what I do and what I recomend to everyone. It's an easy 3 step system and I have one primary card I use for everything, and another card I use for all business purchases that I can write off at the end of the year as a business expense. 

Get a daily spend card, either the Apple Card if you have an iPhone and or the Quicksilver card. The if you want a Priority Pass, then get the Chase Sapphire Reward card, or better yet, offer a friend who already has the card $150 to put you down as an authorized user so you can get the pass as well. It'll cost him $75 to add you, and they'll keep the other $75 as a thank you for their time as well as helping pay part of their annual fee. This is what I personally do and it's worked out great for both my friend and I as it's a win win. It's also perfect to have both the Apple Card as well as the Quicksilver (personal) or the Spark Cash Select (business) as then you'll have one Visa and one Mastercard which is helpful when you travel as one will always work.

Aside from that, I'd also get a Schwab or Fidelity debit card so you withdraw money from ATMs worldwide with all fees reimbursed. Fidelity however charges a 1% foreign transaction fee, so you'll still be paying $2 on a $200 international ATM withdrawal, but get reimbursed for the actual ATM fee itself, which is often $5 or more. With either card, just make sure you don't abuse the perk by withdrawing $30 twenty times a month as they'll close your account. Also having some savings or investments with the actual companies helps them see you as a legitimate customer as well instead of just a leecher. I've heard of a few budget travelers get their accounts closed as they were more more of a liability to Schwab than they were a valued customer. I personally buy and hold some stocks through my Schwab brokers account and have been using their free worldwide ATM withdrawals for 7 years now without an issue.

And that's it. I'm closing my Barclaycard soon, and will close the Venture One Card as soon as I get my Apple Card which will become my daily use card as soon as I get it. I'll continue to put all business expenses on my Spark Cash Select for 1.5% cash back, no annual fees, and ease of sending the entire year end statement to my tax accountant, use my Apple Card on all Apple Pay purchases for 2% cash back, and use my QuickSilver as the card for all other personal purchases. For cash I use my Schwab ATM card to withdraw cash for local spending.  That's it.

Non-Americans - The Revolut card gives free ATM withdrawals worldwide!

What's in my Wallet

The Wrap Up

I hope this article helped and that you didn't get too excited and down a rabbit hole thinking about applying for a bunch of cards and getting all the sign up bonuses. To be honest, if I lived in American full time and had a lot of free time on my hand, I'd be tempted to juggle a new card each year or even once every 6 months to take advantage of the bonuses and incentives like $0 annual fees the first year, $300 sign up bonus and 4% at restaurants with things like the Capital One Savor card. But being a digital nomad, living outside of the US most of the year, and running an online business, its just not worth the headaches and the hassle.

I'd rather get a very fair 1.5% cash check or statement credit for all purchases, zero annual fees, and be able to keep the same credit card for 7+ years without thinking about it or switching things over, than to have another part time job being a credit card hacker. Out of all of the 200+ successful entrepreneurs I've interviewed on the Travel Like a Boss Podcast, by far the majority of the ones making over $100,000 a year got there by spending their time and mental energy starting and scaling up their actual business instead of looking for ways to save money or get $600 in free travel. It's up to you, you can either dedicate your time to start a business and make $5,000 a month and buy your own flights, or you can spend it learning how to transfer miles and juggle cards in hopes to get a free hotel room or fight.

I personally choose and would recomend being your own boss, and not taking on the part time job of being a travel hacker. Just be happy with the 1.5% as cash as it's more than fair, and more importantly, it's super easy and research free. Time really is king. 

Watch and Read Next:

How to Fly Business Class for the Price of Economy!

Warm Regards,

Johnny FD

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Post a Comment

  1. What's in your wallet and what would be your ideal stack?

  2. Love it. I personally use the Sapphire Reserve and Citi Bank Double Cash Back. It sounds like I can't use Apple Pay because I don't use an iPhone and I love the Google Pixel phone especially for photos. The Double Cash is 2% cashback on all purchases, I use that for employees and anything in America. The Sapphire I use for all international travel since it has no foreign transaction fee and also use it for all flights, Uber, Hotels, and restaurants as I get 3% on those items.

    1. Good setup, especially since you only use the Double Cash in the USA where there isn't that insane 3% fee.

  3. I love the amex gold for 4x mileage points on all my online advertising spend.

    1. That's a great business hack for anyone who runs a lot of online ads!

  4. I use BofA Travel Rewards, it's FTF 0% / AF $0 and gives me 2.625% back on all purchases. The starting point is 1.65% if you have an account with them, and with a high enough balance (NAV in Merrill Edge included) it can go up to the 2.625%. Not a bad deal.

    I also use and love the Schwab debit card.

    1. Nice find. I like that it's travel statement credits, and not miles, as that's basically the same as cash back! I looked it up and that's cool that if you have large investments with Bank of America or Merrill Lynch you get the bonuses.

      I looked it up and based on spending $2k a month ($24k a year) you'd get 1.5% plus a bonus:

      10% customer bonus (BofA & Merrill Lynch customers): $396
      25% Gold bonus ($20,000 minimum balance): $450
      50% Platinum bonus ($50,000 minimum balance): $540
      75% Diamond bonus ($100,000 minimum balance): $630

  5. Hey Johnny, curious about the Fidelity and Schwab bank accounts. It appears that Fidelity reimburses ATM fees, but charges a 1% FTF, whereas Schwab reimburses ATM fees and there is no FTF? Is that correct? Much appreciated in advance

    1. Good reading of the fine print! Yes you are correct. I personally use Schwab and love their card.


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