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The 5 Amex cards we’re keeping in our wallets -- and why

May 13, 2021
10 min read
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In May 2020, American Express limited the number of cards you can have from five to four at a time. But according to reports, Amex has reverted to allowing five cards as of April 2021. This restriction excludes any cards without a preset spending limit* (such as The Platinum Card® from American Express) and business cards. However, it still does put some people in the difficult position of choosing which five Amex cards to apply for.

Being a creature of habit, I knew what my five picks would be in a heartbeat, but what about my TPG colleagues?

I asked some TPG staffers for their five-card Amex picks and the results were pretty consistent with my own. There was consensus on one popular hotel card and airline card. Based on these votes, I’ve put together the ideal five-card Amex line-up.

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Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

Few hotel cards can compete with the Hilton Aspire Card when it comes to travel perks and overall value. Perhaps that’s why TPG Editorial Director Scott Mayerowitz and credit cards editor Juan Ruiz both chose this card in their five-card line-up.

I’ve had mine for almost three years and I gladly shell out $450 (see rates and fees) for this card every year. That’s because it’s chock full of valuable benefits that save me thousands of dollars a year. Also, I’ve earned $292.17 in cash savings through Amex Offers in 2020 alone.

Related: How I got more than $1,300 in value from the Hilton Aspire Card — despite the pandemic

It’s not uncommon to have an annual airline fee credit on a premium card. But the Hilton Aspire kicks it up a notch with an additional resort statement credit of up to $250 per year. Plus, you can get an extra up to $100 on-property credit when booking two-night stays at participating Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotels and resorts. Between these perks, Priority Pass Select membership and generous category bonuses, this is an excellent Amex card to keep in your wallet long term. Enrollment is required for select benefits.

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If you’re looking to add the Aspire Card to your five Amex card line-up, it currently has a welcome offer of 150,000 points after $4,000 spent on purchases within the first three months of account opening. That’s enough for between one and 30 award nights at Hilton hotels worldwide, depending on the category you’re booking.

The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: Hilton Honors American Express Aspire credit card review

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

The Delta SkyMiles Reserve card is another popular Amex card worth considering for your five-card Amex line-up. TPG staffers love it for its status boost feature, allowing them to earn Delta elite status without stepping on a plane. Cardholders can earn 15,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $30,000 per calendar year, up to four times per year. In addition, $25,000 in annual spending gets you a Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) waiver toward Platinum, Gold and Silver status, while $250,000 gets you a waiver for Diamond.

Mayerowitz and Senior Reporter Andrew Kunesh both get tons of value out of the companion certificate. This annual perk lets you book a round-trip ticket for a companion for just the cost of taxes. The companion certificate is even valid on first-class tickets, potentially saving you thousands of dollars on airfare.

And between the free checked bag on Delta flights, Sky Club access on Delta flights, Amex Centurion lounge access and a bump in upgrade priority, the card makes flying Delta more comfortable regardless of which cabin you're traveling in.

Related: Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card review

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card

(Photo by The Points Guy)

If you’re not a Hilton fan, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card can be an excellent alternative. Marriott is the largest hotel chain globally, allowing you to redeem your points at more than 7,000 properties worldwide. Like the Aspire Card, the Bonvoy Brilliant offers tons of practical benefits for even the most disloyal Marriott members. In fact, Kunesh keeps this card in the rotation because it practically pays for itself with benefits.

Cardholders receive up to $300 in annual statement credits every cardmember year for eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy™ program along with an annual free night award valid at any hotel under 50,000 points per night. It also comes with automatic Bonvoy Gold elite status, with the ability to get Platinum after spending $75,000 a year on the card. Cardholders enjoy a similar benefit to the one Aspire Card, with an up to $100 property credit on two-night stays at the Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis luxury brands. (Effective 9/22/22, the $300 Marriott Bonvoy statement credit benefit will no longer be available).

The Bonvoy Brilliant card also includes 15 elite night credits annually to help you reach elite status faster. Once you’re flying again, you can get an up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Precheck credit every 4.5 years, plus access to some incredible lounges worldwide thanks to Priority Pass membership. The card has a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees). Enrollment is required for select benefits.

Related: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card review

Blue Cash Preferred® Card From American Express

(Photo by The Points Guy)

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card is a favorite around here, thanks to its generous category bonuses. Cardholders earn 6% cash back on up to $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets each calendar year (1x after) and 6% back on select U.S. streaming services.

Additionally, you’ll earn 3% back on transit, U.S. gas stations, and 1% on everything else. Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed for statement credits. The card has a $0 intro annual fee for first year, then $95 annual fee (see rates and fees), but you can offset that by maxing out the supermarket category bonus and taking advantage of Amex Offers.

Related: My mom got her first rewards card after using cash for 50 years

Keeping a cash-back card in your wallet is a good idea for those times when award availability is limited to redeem miles. You’ll be able to redeem cash-back rewards for virtually any flight, hotel or cruise or anything in between. This level of flexibility offered by cash back cards such as the Blue Cash Preferred® Card can be incredibly useful. Even if you end up redeeming miles for most of your travel, you can use cash back rewards to cover airline taxes and fees.

Related: American Express Blue Cash Preferred Review

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

If you don't like paying high annual fees of $400 or more, the Hilton Honors Surpass card is one of the best $95 cards out there with a $95 annual fee (see rates and fees).

Not only does it give you solid earnings at Hilton properties, but it also provides automatic Hilton Gold elite status. Hilton Gold status offers perks such as complimentary breakfast and space-available upgrades when you stay at Hilton properties. TPG Senior Editor Nick Ewen values Hilton Gold status at $1,255, depending on how often you stay.

Another nice perk on the Hilton Surpass is a complimentary night reward after spending $15,000 on purchases on your card in a calendar year. It also comes with 10 Priority Pass Lounge passes per year. For the casual traveler who stays at Hiltons sparsely, this is a solid card to have in your arsenal without breaking the bank on the annual fee. (Enrollment is required).

Bottom line

When choosing your own perfect five-card Amex line-up, think about which cards offer you the most perks and long-term value. The best strategy is to make sure that you have at least one card that offers generous category bonuses, another that earns more than one point on non-bonus spending, and at least one card that offers a suite of perks that will improve your travel experience and offset the (likely) high annual fee.

And if you’re worried about annual fees stacking up, remember to check your Amex Offers frequently for savings on everyday household spending.

Additional reporting by Chris Dong.

Featured photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy

*No Preset Spending Limit means the spending limit is flexible. Unlike a traditional credit card with a set limit, the amount you can spend adapts based on factors such as your purchase, payment, and credit history.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Amex, click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass Card, please click here.

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