Do you maybe just want some fucking cash back instead of dealing with points bullshit?

I don’t really do cash back cards, because I want to travel in business class when I can, and points that can be turned into airline miles for award tickets are the best way for me to do that. That’s why I got into this nonsense.

But there’s a case for cash back cards if you don’t have biz class ambitions, and you don’t want to have to figure out the difference between paying with points vs booking award tickets and crap like that. Cash is cash, and it’s easy to understand and deal with. And with some of the cards that are available, you can get between 2% and 4% back on all your spending without even having annual fees.

While it’s true that a points system like Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards does let you use points as cash for travel, then you have to book via the shitty bank web site, which don’t always have the right prices, and sometimes come with restrictions attached, and then if you need to do anything with the ticket, you need to call them, which, in the case of Chase, is horrendous. Whereas with cash, you just book at the airline web site and call it a day. It’s, you know, cash.

And, if you really want to get fancy and look deep, there are cash back cards, often from smaller banks and credit unions, that give you bonuses for certain spending categories that might fit your particular spending. Like gas, or groceries, or porn. Ok, ok, not porn. But can a Hustler-branded card be far off? Does Hustler even still exist? I don’t know the answer to either of these questions.

The downside to cash back cards is that if a cash ticket is expensive, whether in economy or business, a cash back card doesn’t offer a way around the high price in the way that using miles for an award ticket sometimes can. But if you have flexibility, you can usually find fairly cheap economy fares, and sometimes come out better with a cash back card than you would with an award ticket.

As an aside, there are no “travel back” cards (like Capital One Venture Rewards, or Barclay Arrival Plus) that do much better than actual cash back cards. Just take the fucking cash.

Here’s the cash back cards that I think are pretty good:

 

General cash back

Citi Double Cash: $100 signup bonus. No annual fee. 2% cash back on all your spending. Beware: 3% foreign transaction fee.

PayPal Cash: No annual fee. 2% cash back on all your spending. No foreign transaction fee. Downside: lame bank with poor customer service (Synchrony); and, rather than getting a statement credit, redemptions need to be made to your PayPal account, from where they can be sent to your checking account.

Alliant Credit Union Visa Signature: No signup bonus. $59 annually. 3% cash back on everything your first year, 2.5% on everything subsequent years. No foreign transaction fee. Downside: you have to first join the credit union first before applying, which is not difficult — you just need to make a $10 contribution to Foster Care to Success, via the Alliant web site, during signup. The annual fee makes this card worth it (relative to a no annual fee 2% card) only if you’re going to spend $11,800 on it annually ($5,900 your first year).

 

Special category cash back, to supplement one of the above

Barclays Uber: $100 signup bonus. No annual fee. 4% cash back on dining, 3% cash back on airfare and hotels. No foreign transaction fee. Bonus: Secondary chip+PIN capability if you’re overseas and need it. Contrary to the name, this card has very little to do with Uber.

Chase Amazon Prime: $70 signup bonus. No annual fee. 5% cash back on all Amazon and Whole Paycheck Foods purchases for Prime members? Yes, please. No foreign transaction fee. (Alternative: Synchrony Amazon Store Card; same thing, pretty much, except it’s only usable at Amazon, and has a $40 signup bonus.)

Amex Blue Cash Preferred: $200 signup bonus. $95 annually. 6% cash back on groceries (up to $6,000 spent), 3% cash back for gas. Pays off very nicely for groceries, not that I ever buy any. Beware: 2.7% foreign transaction fee.

 

If you want to go real, real deep in your favorite category (e.g. 5% for gas, etc), check out this post to find the cash back card of your dreams.

Ok, that’s that. I’ll keep my Ultimate Rewards points, but if I were living a cash back life I’d probably do the Alliant+Uber+Amazon combo.

2 thoughts on “Do you maybe just want some fucking cash back instead of dealing with points bullshit?

  1. Tom

    You really should mention the BOA Travel Rewards & Premium Rewards cards… yes, there are some extra hoops to jump through to achieve the top relationship rewards level, but for lots of people that may qualify these are literally some of the best cash back cards on the market, essentially offering unrestricted cash back of 2.625% on EVERYTHING (and even more on travel/dining, in the case of the Premium Rewards card). The $100 annual travel credit on the BOA PR card more than covers the $95 annual fee, so it’s essentially free with anyone with a brain who knows how to cash out the credits.

    Reply
    1. Ivan X Post author

      You’re right! Thanks for the reminder. My holdings are elsewhere so I tend to forget about this option. I’ll update the post to include it.

      Reply

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