Maxing Out Bonus Spending Categories — Reader Mistake Story

Oct 10, 2017

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here: Chase Freedom, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Freedom Unlimited

We often publish stories from readers that illustrate how points and miles can help you get where you want to go. However, it’s important to learn from our mistakes as well as our successes, so I’m calling on you to send us your most epic travel failure stories. Email them to and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls. If we publish your story, we’ll send you a gift to help jump-start your next adventure!

Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Joann, who used the wrong card for some of her dining purchases. Here’s what she had to say:

I focus on earning Ultimate Rewards points, so I was very excited about the 5x bonus at restaurants on the Chase Freedom this summer.  I put all my dining charges on the Freedom card rather than my Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn the extra 2 points per dollar.

One day I was checking my account online and noticed that it said I had reached the  limit for the quarterly bonus. I hadn’t even considered the cap, since I was so used to the Reserve having no limit on earning 3x points for dining purchases. The extra $544 I spent on the Freedom card only earned 1 point per dollar, so I received 544 points instead of the 2,720 points I expected. I would’ve earned 1,632 points by charging that extra spending to my Reserve card instead.

On top of that, I learned that Chase doesn’t count certain purchases as dining (like bakery products). I lost a handful of points from not using my Freedom Unlimited card before I realized that mistake. Overall, I missed out on around 1,100 points — it’s not much, but I hope this story will help people be more aware of which card they use to maximize their spending!


To maximize your points, make sure you know the dates and limits of your quarterly spending bonuses.


Joann’s mistake wasn’t too costly — I value Ultimate Rewards at 2.2 cents apiece, so she only lost about $24 worth of points. Still, her story highlights the importance of tracking your purchases on cards that offer limited spending bonuses. One missed opportunity is no big deal, but those rewards add up quickly.

The Freedom card offers 5 points per dollar on up to $1,500 in purchases in rotating quarterly categories. Beyond that $1,500 threshold (or after the bonus period ends) you’ll only earn 1 point per dollar, so you should switch to another card that offers a better return. If you need help tracking bonuses or deciding which card to use for a given purchase, check out the TPG To Go app.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Joann for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on future travels.

I’d like to do the same for you! If you’ve ever arrived at the airport without ID, booked a hotel room in the wrong city, missed out on a credit card sign-up bonus or made another memorable travel or rewards mistake, I want to hear about it. Please indulge me and the whole TPG team by sending us your own stories (see instructions above). I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured image courtesy of Kathleen Finlay via Getty Images.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.