10 Easy Steps That Could Earn New Award Travelers $10,228.25 in Rewards

All you have to do is follow this step-by-step guide, and you can earn a ton of valuable travel rewards to fuel your upcoming trips.
Last updated Sept. 23, 2022 | By Brandon Neth
10 Easy Steps That Could Earn New Award Travelers $7,042 in Rewards

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Talking about how credit card points work and helping others get into the award travel hobby are two of my favorite things to do. Some of the questions I get asked on a daily basis are:

  • Which card should I get next?
  • What’s the best order to apply for credit cards?
  • I'm short on time — can you just tell me which card might be right for me?

If you have any of those questions, this article is for you. You can use it as a roadmap or a starting point, whichever you prefer.

But if you follow this step-by-step guide, and use some of the best travel credit cards out there, you can earn a ton of valuable travel rewards to fuel your upcoming trips. Soon you could be traveling the world for free and staying at hotels for free. Ready? Let’s dive right in.

In this article

Important things to know before you start

Following this strategy could get you up to $10,228.25 in travel rewards value, assuming you’re approved for all these cards. But before we jump in, here are a few important items I want to make sure you understand:

  • This is just one strategy. There are any number of strategies you can use to earn travel rewards. This approach is what I think works best and what I typically recommend to others. It optimizes your Chase 5/24 status (more on that below) to earn you a sizable stack of points and miles.
  • Sign-up bonuses fluctuate. Sign-up bonuses are promotional and can change or end at any time.
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards points are transferable. You're not limited to redeeming your Chase Ultimate Rewards points only in the Chase travel portal. You can also transfer them to a number of Chase transfer partners, including many popular airlines and hotels.
  • Don't overspend just to earn points. Spending more than you should just to earn points is a bad idea and could hurt your credit.

Pro tip: Get to know points-and-miles acronyms. If there's an acronym you don't recognize when researching credit cards and rewards, check out our credit card and travel acronyms glossary.

Why the Chase application rules are important

Let’s talk a little bit more about the credit card issuer Chase and its application rules. Issuers like Chase have unofficial guidelines that can affect the credit cards you sign up for.

Here are some key rules to understand about Chase credit cards:

  • Chase 5/24: Essentially, if you have signed up for five new accounts (from any card issuer) in the past 24 months, your chances of being approved for a Chase credit card are slim to none.
  • Chase 1/30: This is short for one card every 30 days, and it applies to business credit cards. Your chances of being approved for a Chase business credit card are slim to none if you've applied for any card (business or personal) in the past 30 days.
  • Chase 2/30: If you've applied for two personal cards in the past 30 days, your chances of being approved for a new Chase card are slim to none.

So why am I telling you about these rules? The strategy I’m about to outline assumes:

Alright, let’s go!

My 10-step strategy to earn $1,000s in travel rewards

1. Track your progress

Start a spreadsheet to keep track of your cards, dates of accounts opened, bonuses, etc. Here’s the template Team FBZ uses.

2. Sign up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

For the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, spend $4,000 in the first 3 months to meet the minimum spending requirement. You’ll earn 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points for the sign-up bonus, plus at least 4,000 points for the spend. Those 4,000 points assume you spend in a regular category, not a bonus points category, so you could earn even more than this.

Total earned = 64,000 Ultimate Rewards points

For the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, spend $4,000 in the first 3 months to meet the minimum spending requirement. You’ll earn 60,000 points for the sign-up bonus, plus at least 4,000 points for the spend (assuming you just spend in a non-bonus category).

Total earned = 64,000 Ultimate Rewards points

Ongoing card benefits: Both Sapphire cards offer tremendous long-term value. Two of my favorite benefits for the Sapphire Reserve are lounge access with Priority Pass and the six-hour trip delay protection. I've used both benefits several times when travel gets delayed. Also, being able to earn travel (not booked through Ultimate Rewards and excluding the $300 travel credit) and dining points on travel (not booked through Ultimate Rewards and excluding the $300 travel credit) and dining, plus the $300 annual travel credit, makes this card a keeper.

The Sapphire Preferred comes in a close second, offering a lower $95 annual fee and you can earn 2X points on travel (not booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards). Both of these cards offer primary credit card car rental insurance, which can save you upwards of $16 per day on car rentals.

Our #1 Travel Card

Intro Offer

Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

Annual Fee

$95

Rewards Rate

5X points on Lyft rides and travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on eligible dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases; 2X points on travel; and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • 60,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 5X points on Lyft rides and travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 10% anniversary point bonus each year
  • $50 annual credit on hotel stays booked through Ultimate Rewards
  • Premium travel protection benefits

Drawbacks

  • Has annual fee
  • Typically need to spend thousands to reap rewards
Card Details
  • Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 5X points on Lyft rides and travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on eligible dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases; 2X points on travel; and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases

3. Sign up for the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

For the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, spend $15,000 in the first 3 months to meet the minimum spending requirement. You’ll earn 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points for the sign-up bonus, plus at least 15,000 points for the spend (if you only spend in non-bonus categories).

Total earned = 115,000 Ultimate Rewards points

Ongoing card benefits: You'll be hard-pressed to find a business card that offers more long-term value. It has cell phone protection when you use it to pay your phone bill and a low $95 annual fee. In addition, you can earn 3X points on the first $150,000 spent each year on travel, shipping, internet, cable, or phone services, and advertising purchases with social media and search engines.

Hot Sign-up Bonus

Intro Offer

Earn 100,000 points after spending $15,000 in the first 3 months

Annual Fee

$95

Rewards Rate

3X points on the first $150,000 spent each year on travel, shipping, internet, cable, or phone services, and advertising purchases with social media and search engines; and 1X points per $1 on everything else

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • 100,000 points sign-up bonus
  • 3X points on travel and common business spending categories
  • Flexible redemption options
  • Additional employee cards at no extra cost

Drawbacks

  • Has annual fee
  • No intro 0% APR promotion offered
  • Limited business-specific benefits
Card Details
  • Earn 100,000 points after spending $15,000 in the first 3 months
  • 3X points on the first $150,000 spent each year on travel, shipping, internet, cable, or phone services, and advertising purchases with social media and search engines; and 1X points per $1 on everything else

4. Sign up for a Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, or Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

For the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card, spend $1,000 in the first 3 months to meet the minimum spending requirement. You’ll earn 50,000 Rapid Rewards points for the sign-up bonus, plus at least 1,000 points for the spend (if you only spend in non-bonus categories).

For the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, spend $1,000 in the first 3 months to meet the minimum spending requirement. You’ll earn 50,000 Rapid Rewards points for the sign-up bonus, plus at least 1,000 points for the spend (if you only spend in non-bonus categories).

For the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, spend $1,000 in the first 3 months to meet the minimum spending requirement. You’ll earn 50,000 Rapid Rewards points for the sign-up bonus, plus at least 1,000 points for the spend (if you only spend in non-bonus categories).

Total earned = 41,000 Rapid Rewards points

Ongoing card benefits: If you fly domestic, to the Caribbean, or to Central America, flying Southwest Airlines using points is hard to beat in price and service. Plus, these cards can help you get one step closer to earning the coveted Southwest Companion Pass (more on that below). You can also earn generous rewards on travel and everyday spending. And each card offers an anniversary bonus, which means you'll automatically earn rewards every year for being a loyal cardmember.

Generous Welcome Bonus

Intro Offer

Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months

Annual Fee

$69

Rewards Rate

2X points for Southwest purchases; local transit, commuting, including rideshare; and internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming; plus 1X points on all other purchases

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
  • Earn 2X points on Southwest purchases and spending in select categories
  • Redeem points for flights, gift cards, and more
  • 3,000 bonus points after cardmember anniversary
  • Plus, 2 EarlyBird Check-Ins per year

Drawbacks

  • Has annual fee
  • Has foreign transaction fee
Card Details
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
  • 2X points for Southwest purchases; local transit, commuting, including rideshare; and internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming; plus 1X points on all other purchases

5. Sign up for a Southwest Business Card

For the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card, spend $3,000 in the first 3 months to meet the minimum spending requirement. You’ll earn 60,000 Rapid Rewards points for the sign-up bonus, plus at least 3,000 points for the spend (if you only spend in non-bonus categories).

For the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card, spend $5,000 in the first 3 months to meet the minimum spending requirement. You’ll earn 80,000 Rapid Rewards points for the sign-up bonus, plus at least 5,000 points for the spend (if you only spend in non-bonus categories).

Total earned = 63,000 Rapid Rewards points or 85,000 Rapid Rewards points

Ongoing card benefits: Same as the Southwest personal cards above.

Big Rewards For Southwest Travelers

Intro Offer

Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

Annual Fee

$99

Rewards Rate

3X points on eligible Southwest Airlines purchases, 2X on rideshare purchases and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners, plus 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • 60,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 6,000 points every year on Cardmember anniversary
  • 3X points on Southwest purchases
  • Two early bird check-ins per year
  • No foreign transaction fees

Drawbacks

  • Has annual fee
  • Rewards redemption limited to Southwest
Card Details
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 3X points on eligible Southwest Airlines purchases, 2X on rideshare purchases and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners, plus 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Congrats! At this point, you’ll not only have 104,000 or 126,000 Rapid Rewards points to book flights with, but you’ll also be close to earning or have earned the Southwest Companion Pass. This is a unique Southwest benefit that requires you to earn 125,000 Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year. But once you have it, it entitles you to buy-one-get-one-free flights for as long as two years if you time it right.

So you could get to travel with a friend for the price of one passenger (plus taxes and fees) for up to two years — that could save you thousands of dollars right there.

6. Sign up for the Chase Freedom Flex℠ or Chase Freedom Unlimited®

For the Chase Freedom Flex℠, spend $500 in the first 3 months to meet the minimum spending requirement. You’ll earn a $200 cashback bonus, which translates to 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points. (Ultimate Rewards are typically worth 1 cent per point, so you multiply the cash value by 100 to get the number of points.) Plus, you’ll earn at least 500 points for the spend (if you only spend in non-bonus categories). 

For the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, spend in the to meet the minimum spending requirement. You’ll earn a cashback bonus, which translates to 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points. Plus, you’ll earn 750 points for the spend (if you only spend in non-bonus categories).

Total earned = 20,500 Ultimate Rewards points or 20,750 Ultimate Rewards points

Ongoing card benefits: Keeping a spot in my wallet for the Chase Freedom Flex or Freedom Unlimited is an easy decision. The Chase Freedom Flex has a $0 annual fee and the Freedom Unlimited has a $0 annual fee, so there’s no annual cost to worry about with either card.

Unlimited Cash Back

Intro Offer

Earn an extra 1.5% cash back on all eligible purchases, on up to $20,000, in the first year

Annual Fee

$0

Rewards Rate

5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% on dining and drugstore purchases, and 1.5% on all other purchases

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • Earn an extra 1.5% cash back on all eligible purchases, on up to $20,000, in the first year
  • Bonus rewards on travel, dining, and drugstores
  • No annual fee
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers

Drawbacks

  • Has foreign transaction fee
Card Details
  • Earn an extra 1.5% cash back on all eligible purchases, on up to $20,000, in the first year
  • 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% on dining and drugstore purchases, and 1.5% on all other purchases
  • Intro purchase 0% APR offer: 0% for 15 months then 17.24% to 25.99% (variable)
  • Intro balance transfer 0% APR offer: 0% for 15 months then 17.24% to 25.99% (variable)

These cards both offer some of the best cashback rewards available. Couple one of these with a Sapphire card and Ink card and you'll have a highly valuable combination of rewards cards known as the Chase trifecta.

This trio of Chase cards could allow you to maximize the points you can earn on all your spending as they each offer different bonus categories. Plus, you can transfer Chase Freedom points to Sapphire cards. Both Sapphire cards receive extra value when you use them to redeem your Ultimate Rewards points toward travel. Because you can transfer points, you can boost the value of your rewards no matter which credit card you actually use at the register.

7. Sign up for the United℠ Explorer Card

For the United℠ Explorer Card, spend $3,000 in the first 3 months to meet the minimum spending requirement. You’ll earn 50,000 MileagePlus miles for the sign-up bonus, plus at least 3,000 miles for the spend (if you only spend in non-bonus categories).

Total earned = 63,000 MileagePlus miles

Ongoing card benefits: This is another card that any frequent flyer can easily find valuable, especially if you often fly United with points. The benefit of free checked bags alone can save you and a companion up to $140 per round trip, which more than covers the $95 (waived first year) annual fee. Couple that with the TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee credit, priority boarding, and miles that never expire and you’ve got yourself a winning card.

Best Rewards for United

Intro Offer

Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

Annual Fee

$95 (waived first year)

Rewards Rate

2X miles on dining (including eligible delivery services), hotel stays, and United purchases and 1X miles on everything else

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • Earn 2X on dining (including eligible delivery services), hotel stays, and United purchases
  • Free first checked bag
  • 2 United Club Passes annually

Drawbacks

  • Has annual fee after year one
  • Best usage limited to United flyers
Card Details
  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 2X miles on dining (including eligible delivery services), hotel stays, and United purchases and 1X miles on everything else

8. Sign up for the United℠ Business Card

For the United℠ Business Card, spend $5,000 in the first 3 months to meet the minimum spending requirement. You’ll earn 60,000 MileagePlus miles for the sign-up bonus, plus at least 5,000 miles for the spend (if you only spend in non-bonus categories).

Total earned = 65,000 MileagePlus miles

Ongoing card benefits: Free checked bags, potential $100 United travel credit, priority boarding, and 25% back on United in-flight purchases can easily offset the $99 annual fee and make this card a winner.

Great value for a low fee!

Intro Offer

Earn 75,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months (plus earn an additional 75,000 miles after spending $20,000 in the first 6 months)

Annual Fee

$99

Rewards Rate

2X miles on United purchases and dining (including eligible delivery services), at gas stations, office supply stores, and on local transit and commuting; and 1X miles on everything else

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • Earn up to 150,000 bonus miles
  • 2X miles on United purchases, dining, at gas stations, office supply stores, and on local transit and commuting
  • $100 annual United credit (terms apply)
  • 5,000 bonus miles annually if you also have a personal United card
  • Free checked bag, priority boarding, and 2 United Club passes annually

Drawbacks

  • Best for frequent United travelers
  • Has annual fee
Card Details
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months (plus earn an additional 75,000 miles after spending $20,000 in the first 6 months)
  • 2X miles on United purchases and dining (including eligible delivery services), at gas stations, office supply stores, and on local transit and commuting; and 1X miles on everything else

9. Sign up for an additional Chase co-branded credit card

Chase offers many cards in partnership with other companies, including these options:

The choice is yours on which co-branded card you’d prefer, but for this guide, we’re going with the World of Hyatt Credit Card.

For this card, spend $3,000 in the first 3 months to meet the minimum spending requirement. You’ll earn 30,000 Hyatt points for the sign-up bonus, plus at least 3,000 points for the spend (if you only spend in non-bonus categories).

Total earned = 33,000 Hyatt points

Ongoing card benefits: All these cards offer amazing value, but I especially love the World of Hyatt card. World of Hyatt offers some of the most valuable award bookings, which makes this card one of the best hotel credit cards available. The points are easy to earn, it has a low $95 annual fee, and you get one free night every year after your cardmember anniversary.

Big bonus points on Hyatt stays

Intro Offer

Earn up to 60,000 points: 30,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months, plus an additional 30,000 points by earning 2 bonus points per $1 spent on purchases that earn 1 bonus point, up to $15,000 spent in the first 6 months

Annual Fee

$95

Rewards Rate

9X points per $1 spent at Hyatt hotels; 2X points per $1 spent on eligible travel, dining, and health purchases; and 1 point per $1 spent on everything else

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • Up to 60,000 point sign-up bonus
  • Up to 9X points per $1 spent on Hyatt stays
  • 1 free night every year
  • Automatic elite status

Drawbacks

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks some perks of costlier hotel cards
  • No intro 0% APR on purchases or balance transfers
Card Details
  • Earn up to 60,000 points: 30,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months, plus an additional 30,000 points by earning 2 bonus points per $1 spent on purchases that earn 1 bonus point, up to $15,000 spent in the first 6 months
  • 9X points per $1 spent at Hyatt hotels; 2X points per $1 spent on eligible travel, dining, and health purchases; and 1 point per $1 spent on everything else

10. You've reached 5/24

At this point, you’ve maxed out your 5/24 status (assuming you got the cards mentioned above) and can begin opening non-Chase cards that aren’t affected by 5/24, such as American Express credit cards, Capital One credit cards, Citi credit cards, etc.

There you have it, 10 quick and easy steps to becoming a pro at award travel.

A look at how this strategy could work for you

There are a few paths you can take when following this strategy, as it depends on which cards you apply for. To make it easy for you, we’ll break it down into two different scenarios.

Scenario A

By following this strategy, you can end up with $6,986.25 of travel rewards. If you factor in the Southwest Companion Pass ($3,500 value) as well, your estimated total haul is up to $10,486.25.

Note that the Ultimate Rewards values calculated in this table are based on the bonus 50% travel redemption rate provided by the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. You're able to pair Chase cards and combine points together so your other eligible (non-co-branded) Chase cards can also take advantage of this bonus rate.

Card name Rewards earned Minimum spend requirement Rewards value
Chase Sapphire Reserve® 54,000 Ultimate Rewards $4,000 $810
Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card 115,000 Ultimate Rewards $15,000 $1,750
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card 41,000 Rapid Rewards $1,000 $615
Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card 85,000 Rapid Rewards $5,000 $1,275
Chase Freedom Unlimited® 20,750 Ultimate Rewards $500 $311.25
United℠ Explorer Card 63,000 MileagePlus miles $3,000 $819
United℠ Business Card 65,000 MileagePlus miles $5,000 $845
The World of Hyatt Credit Card 33,000 Hyatt points $3,000 $561
Total 476,750 points/miles $36,500 $6,986.25

Remember, you can also earn the Southwest Companion Pass ($3,500 value) with this strategy. So in the end, you can earn up to $10,486.25 in travel rewards after spending $36,500 on minimum spending requirements.

That may seem like a lot to spend, but when you figure in your annual costs from groceries, gas, and any large purchases you have to make, it becomes more reasonable. Overall, it’s nearly a 30% return on your spend.

Note: Rewards values are based on calculations from our article about how much credit card points are worth.

Scenario B

By following this strategy, you can end up with $6,546.88 of travel rewards. If you factor in the Southwest Companion Pass ($3,500 value), that's $10,046.88 of travel rewards.

Note that the Ultimate Rewards values calculated in this table are based on the bonus 25% travel redemption rate provided by the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. You're able to pair Chase cards and combine points together so your other eligible (non-co-branded) Chase cards can also take advantage of this bonus rate.

Card name Rewards earned Minimum spend requirement Rewards value
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card 84,000 Ultimate Rewards $4,000 $1,050
Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card 115,000 Ultimate Rewards $15,000 $1,437.50
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card 41,000 Rapid Rewards $2,000 $630
Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card 63,000 Rapid Rewards $3,000 $945
Chase Freedom Unlimited® 20,750 Ultimate Rewards $500 $259.38
United℠ Explorer Card 63,000 MileagePlus miles $3,000 $819
United℠ Business Card 65,000 MileagePlus miles $5,000 $845
The World of Hyatt Credit Card 33,000 Hyatt points $3,000 $561
Total 484,750 points/miles $35,500 $6,546.88

As you can see, if you follow Scenario B, you can earn $6,546.88 in travel rewards after spending $35,500 on minimum spending requirements.  

With the Southwest Companion Pass, your total travel rewards end up at $10,046.88. That would also be a nearly 30% return on your money.

The bottom line

Almost anyone can succeed at this strategy — even if you're short on time and whichever path you choose to fulfill on these steps. Just looking at our two examples, you could reap a return of around 30% on your spending. That’s a major payback.

Just remember the foundation of the award travel hobby is making responsible financial choices. Make sure you pay your cards off each month and don’t spend just to earn rewards. But if you play your (credit) cards right, you can earn major rewards and travel the world nearly for free.

Are you convinced to join the world of award travel yet? If you have questions or want to discuss this strategy further, join our Facebook group, FBZ Elite - Travel and Points.

Our #1 Travel Card

Intro Offer

Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

Annual Fee

$95

Rewards Rate

5X points on Lyft rides and travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on eligible dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases; 2X points on travel; and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • point sign-up bonus
  • points on
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 10% anniversary point bonus each year
  • $50 annual credit on hotel stays booked through Ultimate Rewards
  • Premium travel protection benefits

Drawbacks

  • Has annual fee
  • Typically need to spend thousands to reap rewards
Card Details
  • Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 5X points on Lyft rides and travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on eligible dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases; 2X points on travel; and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases

Author Details

Brandon Neth Brandon Neth is a credit card and award travel expert. He runs social media and audience growth for FinanceBuzz, including the FBZ Elite Facebook travel group. He’s spent the last 11 years using credit card points and miles to travel the world, taking him to 600 cities in 76 countries and counting. He's well-versed in credit cards, early retirement, real estate investing, and frugal living. He's been featured in Business Insider, Yahoo, MSN, Credit.com, U.S. News, Reader's Digest, and The Wirecutter (A New York Times Company).