My year in cash back

Rewards cards from Capital One, Wells Fargo helped boost my earnings in 2018


I redeemed over $1,600 in cash back in 2018, which amounts to about eight weeks of my family’s typical grocery spending. It’s a reminder that credit card rewards can really add up.

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I redeemed $1,602 in cash back in 2018, up 17 percent from $1,366 in 2017.

This is another reminder that credit card rewards can really add up. They offset close to half of my annual commuting costs, to pick one example. Or, you could say they added up to about eight weeks of my family’s typical grocery spending. Either way, getting cash back sure beats spending cash!

My biggest workhorse was the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card, which accounted for $770 in cash back, nearly half of my overall haul. I get 1.5 percent back every time I use this card. I often think about upgrading to the Citi Double Cash Card for its 2 percent return on all spending (1 percent when you buy, 1 percent when you pay). Moving all of my 2018 spending from the Quicksilver to the Double Cash would have earned an extra $257.

I’m also considering the Discover it® Miles card. In a cardholder’s first year, due to Discover’s Cashback Match™ program, Discover automatically matches all the rewards you earn. That means the card’s 1.5X miles essentially becomes 3X miles on all spending at the end of the year, which can be redeemed as a statement credit to cancel out travel purchases. However, my main hang-up is at the end of year one, the standard 1.5 miles per dollar return is the same as my Quicksilver card.

I should probably get over that, though, because if I had signed up for the Discover it Miles card a year ago and used it for all of my 2018 Quicksilver spending, I would have doubled my $770 return! I wouldn’t be able to get a sign-up bonus anywhere close to that on any other no-annual-fee card.

My biggest win in 2018

I continue to be very happy with my Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card, which I added in September. I earned a 30,000 point sign-up bonus after I spent $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months (offer no longer available), plus $150 in cash back mostly from the card’s 3X points travel and dining categories (expenses that used to go on the Quicksilver). I spend more than I thought on travel and dining, and this card is adding a lot of value.

See related:Tips for maximizing rewards in 2019 with a January spending reset

What went wrong

While the Propel card was a big win in 2018, my Chase Freedom card is on the decline. I only earned $177 in cash back from this card last year, down from $219 in 2017. I could have gotten $300 if I maximized the 5 percent quarterly categories.

I got off to a good start in Q1, particularly since Apple Pay was included and I used that frequently at the grocery store. I also got 5 percent back on my internet, cable and phone bills and at gas stations. That quarter was easy to maximize. Q2 was also a no-brainer (groceries).

Q3 was tough (gas stations, Lyft and Walgreens), and Q4 was nearly as bad (department stores, wholesale clubs and Chase Pay). I tried to use Chase Pay several times. I learned it’s not widely accepted, and even at stores which advertise it (such as ShopRite), it’s not easy.

The cashiers almost always had trouble scanning the app’s QR code, and after this happened a few different times, I spoke with a supervisor who told me Chase Pay only works consistently at one of their registers. And they have about 20!

I was disappointed to see that the 5 percent categories in Q1 2019 are gas stations, drug stores and tolls. Those aren’t going to get me out of my Chase Freedom rut. I’m going to keep the card (there’s no annual fee and my credit score benefits from the longevity and available credit), but I don’t feel like I’m getting a lot out of it at the moment.

Best of the rest

My final card is the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, and this remains a solid performer. I racked up $188 in cash back last year, almost all of which came from maximizing 3 percent cash back on $6,000 in annual spending at U.S. supermarkets. I picked up an additional $17 from Amex Offers. I plan to keep a closer eye on these in 2019, as well as the newly launched Chase Offers program.

Happy New Year!

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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