June 17, 2021
Real estate syndication involves flight, hotel, food, mentorship groups, and many vendor payments. GPs have to travel a lot to their existing properties, look at new properties, attend real estate conferences, do due diligence, meet with potential investors, and participate in general meetups. We also have to build relationships with brokers, dine out with potential investors, do some guest speaking at local meetups, and more. So I decided to write this guide to help you choose the best credit cards for real estate syndicators in 2021. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to download the credit card tracking sheet and save our pocket guide.
I live in Seattle, WA, and I have two large properties in Dallas, TX. Before the pandemic, I was traveling to Dallas almost every month to check on the health of the properties. I also traveled to real estate conferences (like the Sumrok group, where the students meet every three months). As a syndicator, you know that there are so many conferences that you can end up traveling every two weeks to attend them.
When using credit cards intelligently, you can save a lot of money, get access to premium services and backdoor restaurant reservations, enjoy upgrades when renting cars and staying at hotels, earn free nights, benefit from complimentary lounge access, and more.
Credit cards are also a way for middle-class folks like you and me to enjoy a luxurious, comfortable lifestyle and travel worldwide by strategically using the cards for business and personal expenses.
Note: Credit card benefits and T&C can change every year or half a year. So make sure you follow the updates from your card issuer.
Some of these tips are very opinionated ways of using credit cards. For example, we assume that you have the financial means of spending quite a lot of money, which is not realistic for most people. Because you are a real estate syndicator, we assume you have the financial means to spend 50K, 100K or more every year for personal and business expenses. You can still reap the rewards if you spend less, but maximum rewards are achieved when you are willing to spend more.
On the other hand, this is NOT for syndicators who are just starting out, are still working on financial stability, or are working on their first syndication deal. Your job is to save, save, and save, and then invest that money to snowball your wealth. Case in point: in my late twenties, my personal expense was less than $1,500/month, including rent (well, I technically live for free). It is not until the last 2 years that I started expanding my lifestyle.
FICO credit score above 720 is best. They also assess your annual income and your debt to credit ratio. You should have a solid income and spend a substantial amount on your business (I spend $100K+ annually in business expenses and personal expenses).
The intro bonus has the most significant value, and banks usually want you to forget about it. So ensure you mark the dates when you applied for the card and when you received it in your calendar, noting down the credit limit. It is essential because the first-year benefits are the biggest ones.
I recommend setting up an automated payment or using your calendar to remind you about the payment dates. Don’t rely on your memory, especially if you have multiple cards. I have more than a $100K credit card limit, and I always make payments on time. Every month.
To be honest, I have to admit that the return on investment for hours spent is not worth it. However, to me, it is a GAME of some sort. I enjoy playing it because it’s exciting to figure out how to maximize the benefits credit cards. It’s like a puzzle.
Going for second and third-tier cards does not justify the effort, as the benefits are insignificant. You always gain the most when going for the most premium tier. If you are a big spender, choose the card with the highest annual fee. For me, working my way up the tiers is not worth it. I would rather be in a great financial position to go for the most premium cards on my first try. You get disproportionate value by going for the most expensive cards.
For example, a $95 annual fee card could deliver you $150 of value, and a $595 annual fee card could deliver you $1,200 of value. I would always go for the $595 annual fee card because it gives a disproportionate amount of value, in both absolute value and as a percentage.
This could be controversial. When choosing your credit cards, go for those that make sense to you in the short and long term. Hold on to them for a long time, and don’t churn your cards—only in this way will you reap the most benefits. This is like real estate investing — I am in the camp of buy-and-hold because it represents the best return on investment for my time, and I do not like “flipping” cards.
I have the following credit cards:
Quoting The Credit Shifu, “It’s a great card for pretending to be richer than you are.” The annual fee is $550, and you can add up to three authorized users for $175.
Welcome offer: Up to 100,000 bonus rewards points (most users get 75,000 points, and some users get 125,000 points). Besides that, you get a 10X bonus at gas stations (helpful for syndicators who drive around to visit their properties or meet with LPs).
$200/ year on Uber credits. You can use it for both Uber rides and Uber eats (vital if you order takeout). This benefit is paid out monthly and equals ~$15 per month + a bonus of $20 in December (i.e., $35 in December). This credit doesn’t accumulate, so make sure to add your Amex Platinum to your Uber Wallet as soon as you receive the card and redeem your credit every month.
$200/ year on airline incidentals at the airline of your choice. You will need to choose your airline by logging into the Amex website. I usually just use it as nice lounge access for flying Alaska Airlines. (It’s more complicated than this, I had a hard time choosing between Delta and Alaska and eventually decided Alaska mileage status is more worth than the Delta free flights.) This is a topic of its own, and I can write another article on this.
Important: spend your points on travel on amextravel.com or with Amex transfer partners to redeem them at the highest value (2c per point)
With a 10X bonus at gas stations, if you spend $1,000 on your purchases, you earn 10,000 points. You would have spent that $1,000 anyway driving to real estate conferences, looking at new properties (new deals), doing due diligence, and talking to brokers.
How you use 10,000 points is an art. The worst way to use it is to redeem for cash or at retail stores. For example, this calculator shows that you can redeem 10,000 points for $70 at Amazon or Best Buy. Don’t do that. We are going to find more lucrative ways to redeem your points.
5X points/ $ for flights and hotels (prepaid bookings only) when booked directly with an airline or through amextravel.com. Suppose you book a flight worth $1,000, you earn 5,000 points + bonus points from your airline loyalty program. You can redeem 5,000 for $50 in gift cards and use the gift card at one of the partner restaurants or retail stores. Note: with American Express Business Platinum, you earn 5x only when you book through the Amex portal.
Important: it’s better to book the hotel directly with Hilton or Marriott if you are a member of their loyalty program because for hotels, AmexTravel is equivalent to a third-party website (Expedia, booking.com, etc.).
As a result, you won’t earn Marriott points on prepaid hotels through Amex. You can call Marriott after you’ve made your booking and add your Bonvoy number to the reservation so that you might still get elite benefits. However, it’s not guaranteed, neither are room upgrades.
2X points/ $ for bookings on Amextravel.com on purchases other than flights and hotels. Rental cars, for example.
We measure how valuable a point is by using a term called cents/point, or c per point. If a point is worth 1.5 cents, then it’s 1.5c per point. Higher the cents per point, the more valuable each point is.
For example, if you use Amex points to redeem for your purchase on Amazon, it’s 0.7 cents per point, which is very bad.
What is a good use of point for American Express, then? In general, 1 cent per point is bad, 1.5c per point is good, and 2c per point or better is great.
American Express can give you 2c per point if you are creative, making it one of the best bonus rewards programs. Amex points never expire as long as you have an open Amex account (regardless of the card type).
American Express Business Platinum offers you a 35% rebate if you book your flight on Amex Travel. You can choose to redeem points to pay for all or some of your flights at the booking time. Once booked, Amex will refund 35% of your points to your account in about 8-10 weeks. It effectively means every point is worth 1.54x more (i.e., 1.54 cents per point)
However, you have to select an Airline of your choosing (in my case Alaska), and that 35% rebate only works for that airline.
Did I mention that the time spent to figure these things out is not worth it? For example, you have to get a different card just to get that rebate, and you have to consistently fly on Alaska Airlines. Yeah, but it’s a game for me. 🙂
Lastly, it’s not clear to me yet if I can claim these points as an expense when filing taxes. So I usually book flights for business trips using cash and use points when I fly on vacation.
You can transfer your Amex points to an airline of your choice. Check this list to see what airlines are included in the program. All you need to do is click on the airline logo and then on the “transfer points” button. It is an excellent perk because it can save you up to 50% or more of the flight ticket cost.
For example, I transferred 26,000 Amex Membership points to Avios British Airways and could buy tickets as cheap as $260/ person.
If I were to book it using cash, it would have been $550/person, or 550 * 3 = $1,650. In this case, we are getting $550 * 100 / 26,000 = 2.11 cents / point. Anything better than 2x cents / point is considered amazing.
When you travel to scout properties, attend seminars, or meet with investors, you want to be comfortable. Sometimes you want to wow your business partners or investors by inviting them to an exclusive venue for dinner. Here is where Amex benefits can save you money and help you feel comfortable and look awesome in front of your partners:
These cards are perfect for dining out. Amex Gold offers 4x Membership Rewards points at restaurants worldwide and US supermarkets for up to $25,000 in purchases per year. Moreover, this card also comes with up to a $120 annual dining credit. As of January 2021, cardholders receive up to $10 per month in Uber Cash to use for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the US. So, if I am eating out (including Starbucks) or ordering takeout, I use Amex Gold or Amex Business Gold.
These cards are considered loss leaders to American Express. If you take the annual fee of $250 and subtract the $120 dining credit and $120 uber eats credit, you are essentially paying $10 for the annual fee.
Then, I spend about $600/month on food (easily). That’s about 600 * 4x * 12 = 2,400 = 28,800 points. If I redeem them for 1.54x per point via American Express Business Platinum, I am getting 28,800 / 100 * 1.54 = $443.52 in value every year. Alternatively, you can think of it as getting anywhere from 6-8% back on all your food purchases (4x base points, and then you can redeem them for 1.54 to 2 cents per point).
Annual fee: $450
Up to 50,000 Bonvoy points for renewing your card for the second year, and each year you keep the card.
Real-life example: I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton hotels in Hawaii with my family for 280,000 Bonvoy points. I received 100,000 Bonvoy points by signing up with the Bonvoy Brilliant card. Then I received 100,000 more points with the Bonvoy Business card.
You may argue: “Well, I don’t want to stay in Ritz Carlton, it’s so expensive.”
I agree with you. However, the more significant purchases you redeem via points, the more your points are worth. I would never stay in Ritz Carlton if I had to pay cash. But I was getting 1.24 cents/point with Bonvoy points (3,475 * 100 / 280000 = 1.24 cents/point). It’s way more than $0.8 per point, the benchmark redemption rate for Marriott points.
Before going to Hawaii, I stayed at various Marriott hotels for multiple nights on business. I got approximately 6-10x points for every dollar I spend for my stays at Marriott properties.
What’s more, I also earned points (like outlined above) by spending money on those credit cards. I have spent around $5000-8,000 on things that I would have spent on anyway (food, Upwork, vendor payments). As a result, I earned 80,000 points. So I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton for five nights completely free! If I paid for my stay, it would have cost me around $695/night, so by getting five free nights, I saved $695*5 = $3,475.
Overall, the Chase Reserve card is fantastic and offers many benefits for an annual fee of $550. This card is so diverse that I will write another blog post to describe how to use it in detail, but here are some highlights of the perks that you must take advantage of:
Real-life example: At first, I purchased a Peloton using the American Express Business Platinum (which gives me 1.5x points for purchases higher than $5,000). The total amount was $5,136.19 because I threw in some accessories to make the amount more than $5,000 to get back 1.5X points from Amex.
Recently, Chase Reserve announced that they give you 10x points on the purchase of Peloton! Consequently, I canceled my previous order that I made using Amex and re-purchased it for $4,728.80. At this time, I didn’t have a $5,000 minimum spent requirement, so I could buy the Peloton without adding any accessories.
How much did I gain? Chase Reserve points are worth 1.5x per point, meaning an actual 15% off. So I pay $4,019,48 instead of $4,728,80 for my Peloton. However, if you calculate that initially, I wanted to buy accessories (that I didn’t need so much anyway) to reach $5,000 min. spent on Amex card, here is the math:
Initially paid with Amex: 5136.19 *. (1 – .025) = 5136.19 * .975 = $5007 (after deducting 1.5x points from my purchase)
$5007 (Cost when paying with Amex, including 1,5x points) – $4019.48 = $987 gained from this purchase!
Chase is amazing in that each Chase point is worth 1.5 cents in travel services when you book through the Chase site, including car rentals. So I always rent cars via the Chase Travel Portal.
Chase offers you perks with National, Avis, and Silvercar. Honestly, I don’t have a loyalty to any car rental, and I usually found Enterprise to be the most reliable.
Real-life example: When I was in Maui with my family, we rented a car. I used my Chase Reserve card to pay for the rental using points. I rented a BMW 5 series for ~$108/ day for three days (total $325). Since I used the points and redeemed them for 1.5X on the Chase Travel Portal, I spent 21,600 points, translating to 35% off my car rental.
Hyatt is my favorite hotel chain, and it’s very business-friendly. So I recently signed up for the Hyatt Chase card. The annual fee is $95.
New perks as of Jan 2021:
As I am still in the intro bonus phase, I use this card for all “misc” spent.
You might be saying” “Why should I get this card if the Marriott card gives me 6X points per $1 and Hyatt only 4X point”?” That’s right. However, each individual Hyatt point is worth a lot more than Marriott’s or IHG’s points. The average point value is 1.7c per point (or 3.4% off), compared to an average Bonvoy point value of 0.8c.
For quick math, Marriott gives you 10x on hotel base fare + 6 points via credit card, and they are worth 0.8c per point, so it’s essentially 16 points * 0.8c per point = 12.8% back. Note, since I am a Titanium status, I got 75% bonus points, so it’s technically (10*1.75 + 6) * 0.8 = 18.8% back. The way you interpret this is I get a ~19% discount on my Marriott hotel stays.
For Hyatt, it gives you 5x points on hotel base fare + 4 points via credit card, and they are worth 1.7c per point, so it’s essentially 9 points * 1.7c per point = 15.3% back. When I reach Globalist status, I get 30% bonus points, so then it would have been (5*1.3 + 4) * 1.7 = 17.85% cashback.
You can use these points to cover other services at Hyatt hotels as well. Although in this case, the point value will be a bit lower at 1.0c-1.5c per point, and I won’t use it.
I got a free trip to Maui worth $8,000 for my family and me just by using credit cards, and I get many other perks every day, like free food delivery, discounts, cheap taxi rides, and much more.
I essentially get 18% back on hotel stays, have 4pm check-out, suite upgrades all the time, 8% on dining out, and about 15% back on airlines.
I prepared a Pocket Guide for you with my tips on using different credit cards to reap maximum benefits. Under this guide, you can also download a tracking sheet that can help you keep your perks and credit card statuses in check. Feel free to make a copy for your use. Check back in a couple of weeks for the next part of our credit cards in real estate series.
Download the credit card tracking sheet.
In the meantime, try Cash Flow Portal for free and start raising equity faster to boost your earnings and get more premium credit cards!