Yes, I have 19 credit cards; here’s why

Jan 7, 2020

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I’ve been in the points and miles game for a long time.

My United Airlines MileagePlus number dates back to 1987 when I signed up for an account with Eastern Airlines. Yes, the original Eastern. Back then, the loyalty program was called OnePass and included Continental Airlines, which eventually merged with United and that’s how I’ve somehow kept the same frequent flyer number for 33 years. I got my first American Express card in 1998 and that’s when I started to realize that I could use my credit cards to earn free vacations and to make the travel experience more pleasant.

Over the years, there have been plenty of free domestic coach tickets, along with business and first-class flights to Europe, Asia and South America. Plus, some amazing hotel rooms and suites. But there are other reasons that I keep so many credit cards. (And I know you are wondering if I’ve got them all in my wallet. No. There are currently seven in my iPhone’s digital wallet, plus four in my actual wallet. The rest sit in Zip-Lock bags in my desk at home. I haven’t found a better way to organize them, but I am open to any suggestions.)

Here are my 19 current credit cards, and why I have each of them.

In This Post

The Platinum Card® from American Express 

Annual fee: $550 (see rates and fees) plus $175 for up to three authorized users (see rates and fees)

Yes, this is a steep price to pay each year for a credit card. But I find it more than worthwhile. First of all, I get back up to $200 a year on Uber rides (I haven’t owned a car in more than 12 years), up to $200 annual airline credit for incidentals and up to $100 a year at Saks Fifth Avenue (yes, I am a fancy shopper like that – sometimes). All of that brings the actual out-of-pocket cost down for me to $50. I then add in my wife and in-laws for $175 because I want them to have the same benefits I do.

Let’s start with the Centurion lounges. Any frequent flyer knows these are a step above most other lounges. American Express stopped allowing members in upon arrival and there is sometimes a waitlist, but I still find them very useful. There’s also access to the Delta SkyClubs when flying Delta and a Priority Pass Select membership. I get gold status with Hilton and Marriott – and here’s the really nice perk – and so do all of my authorized users. It also gives all of us status with Avis, Hertz and National. I practically find the National Emerald Club Executive membership very helpful when I rent cars. Each authorized user also gets their own credit toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.

The Fine Hotels and Resorts program adds free breakfast, early check-in, late check-out and other perks when staying at fancy hotels. I found myself using that benefit at least twice a year, which practically pays for the card itself. There’s 5x points on airfare purchases and American Express just improved the travel insurance and delay protections. Finally, if there are any issues with a purchase, I’ve found the customer service to be great.

Verdict: Keep

American Express® Gold Card

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael)

Annual fee: $250 (see rates and fees)

This card was not on my radar until the start of 2019. I thought it was crazy to pay an annual fee for both the Gold and Platinum cards. But then American Express started offering 4x points on groceries at U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000; then 1x) and dining and then sweetened the deal by extending the dining to global restaurants.

There’s an up to $100 credit for airline incidentals (and I can select a different airline than I have on my platinum card) and a $10 monthly credit for participating restaurants including Seamless and Grubhub. As a New Yorker, my family orders a lot of delivery and we never have an issue getting that credit each month, netting us $120 in annual savings. We eat enough meals out (and buy plenty of groceries) so that 4x really makes this card pay for my family. TPG values Membership Rewards points at 2 cents each, so I’m getting essentially 8% back on two of my top expenses.

Verdict: Keep

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Annual fee: $450 (see rates and fees)

I was a longtime holder of the SPG American Express. Let’s all pause for a moment and remember it. Ok, now back to reality. It’s gone. While I have moved much of my daily spend to other cards, I still do find the Bonvoy Brilliant card appealing.

First off, I get 15 elite-qualifying nights toward my status. You can’t stack it with other Marriott cards like folks used to do with Starwood, but I’ll take it. I already get Gold status through my Amex Platinum, but for those without the card, it’s a nice perk. The $450 annual fee (see rates and fees) is offset with an up to $300 statement credit at Marriott. I easily spend that at Marriott hotels in a month or two, let alone a year. The Global Entry or TSA credit (up to $100) is good since I typically end up paying for my extended family members — and a few friends. (In case you were wondering, I have a spreadsheet where I track all of this.) Each year, I get a free night at a hotel that charges us up to 50,000 Bonvoy points a night. That alone is worth $150 to me. I also earn 6x points at Marriott hotels.

The only benefit I haven’t yet used is $100 credit when I book a special rate for two nights or more at Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis properties – most of which I would normally book through American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts.

Verdict: Keep

Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express, Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card

Annual fees: Currently $195; $250 if application is received on or after 1/30/2020 (see rates and fees), $450 for both the Delta Reserve cards ($550 if application is received on or after 1/30/2020; (see consumer rates and fees) (see business rates and fees). As noted, these are increasing in January 2020.

So this is the point where – if you haven’t already – you may start to think I’m crazy.

Yes, I have three different Delta credit cards, but hear me out. I really value my elite status with Delta and am able to put a lot of spend on these cards, helping me earn valuable Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs). Plus, each of them comes with an annual companion ticket. I plan out my family vacations months in advance and have never had a problem using them to get a free ticket. The Reserve cards get me into the Delta SkyClubs, but I already get that with my Amex Platinum. It does help me ever so slightly with the upgrade list, though.

Currently, each card caps the number of MQM boosts from spending, but that all changes on Jan. 31 when Amex will allow more bonuses. I might consider dropping one of the three cards I have, depending on how many companion tickets I use this year.

Verdict: Keep at least two, maybe drop the third

Chase Sapphire Reserve

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael)

Annual fee: $550

This card has been the top travel card ever since it’s introduction to the market. While others are now giving it a run for its money, the Sapphire Reserve is still my go-to card for most hotel stays, taxis, Uber, Lyft and car rentals. I get 3x points on all of those purchases and more. Dining out and airfare are also 3x, but I already shifted my dining spend to my American Express Gold Card and will now move my round-trip airfare to the American Express Platinum Card for the 5x on those expenses (when booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel).

I still love this card for its travel protections on car rentals and for trip delays. It also has the best Priority Pass Select membership that also gives a credit for some airport restaurants — unlike the American Express Priority Pass benefit.

Finally, having this card in my wallet makes my other Chase cards that much more valuable. I can get 1.5 cents per point toward travel booked directly via the Chase travel portal or — sometimes an even better value — by transferring them to one of Chase’s 10 airline and three hotel partners.

Verdict: Keep

Chase Freedom

Annual fee: $0

This card earns 5% cash back (5x points) on up to $1,500 in spend each quarter after activation on a rotating set of categories. I tend to maximize this when restaurants or groceries are the categories. My wife also has this card, so we actually spend $3,000 during a strong category and then transfer the points over to my Sapphire Reserve account for maximum value.

My wife also has the Chase Freedom Unlimited, which gets us 1.5% cash back (1.5x points) on every purchase. I’m an authorized user, and this has become our go-to card for all non-bonus spend.

Verdict: Keep

Chase Ink Business Cash Credit Card

Annual fee: $0

This card gets me 5% cash back (5x points) on the first $25,000 spent each cardmember year at office supply stores, on internet, cable and my phone bills. Those points also transfer to my Chase Sapphire Reserve account. I rarely shopped at office supply stores before getting this card, but I am now constantly surprised at what the big box stores sell. Who knew that paper towels – bought in bulk – often go on sale at Staples?

Verdict: Keep

The World of Hyatt Credit Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Annual fee: $95

The card comes with five nights toward status every year. Plus, for every $5,000 in spend, I can earn two more nights toward elite status. Hyatt’s top-tier Globalist status is the best overall elite status to have, in my mind, and it otherwise requires 60 nights in Hyatt hotels.

Spend on this card in 2019 helped me reach Globalist status (and Hyatt then nicely gifted me and other Globalists American Airlines Executive Platinum status with four systemwide upgrades). That means I get free breakfast at Hyatt hotels and resorts, complimentary upgrades and four annual certificates to confirm suites in advance — even on points redemptions. There is a free night at a category 1-4 hotel each year that I have used in the past, but I am not sure if I’ll use it for this upcoming year. Finally, I earn 4x points at Hyatt hotels and 2x at my gym, a rare category to find a spend bonus.

Verdict: Keep

IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card and IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)

Annual fees: $89 and $49, respectively

IHG is not my favorite hotel chain. But the acquisition of Kimpton has made it more appealing to me. Some of the InterContinental properties are great, and Holiday Inn Express is a solid choice during road trips. The Club Select card, which is no longer available for new sign-ups, offers a 10% rebate on point redemptions. The Premier Club card offers a fourth night free on award stays. And yes, you can stack the two together.

Both cards come with IHG Platinum Elite status, which is better than no status at a chain I occasionally stay at. They both also offer me a free night certificate for hotels charging up to 40,000 points a night. The certificates used to be uncapped and an amazing value. These days, I find use for them at airport hotels or on road trips.

Verdict: Keep both for now. My wife also has the legacy Club Select card, so we might cancel her card this year.

JetBlue Plus Card

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Annual fee: $99

I really enjoy flying JetBlue, but don’t do it enough. We fly JetBlue at least once a year, and it tends to be with my family with at least one checked bag. Since I don’t have status with the airline, this card is a perfect way for me to avoid paying the $30 bag fee each way. I also get 5,000 bonus points each year when I pay the annual fee. TPG values those points at $65, covering most of my annual fee. There is also a $100 credit for purchasing a JetBlue Vacations package of $100 or more with the card. I’ve yet to use this but know that I will someday.

Verdict: Keep

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

Annual fee: $450

Delta is my main airline, but American tends to be my second-most flown. I frequently fly to Charlotte (CLT) to visit TPG’s parent company Red Ventures. Since CLT is a hub, American makes the most sense for those trips. I now have elite status with American, but I got this card in part so I wouldn’t be last to board. It comes with Group 4 boarding, right alongside AAdvantage Gold elite members. The card also gives me free checked bags. The real perk, though, is lounge access. The primary cardholder receives a full Admirals Club membership, which allows you and your immediate family (including children under 18) or two traveling companions access to the club when you have a same-day boarding pass for American or one of its partners. The card is linked to your AAdvantage account, so you don’t even need the physical card with you.

Here’s where it gets interesting. You can add up to 10 authorized users to your account for no additional cost. And each of them gets club access for themselves and up to two traveling companions (though they do not receive access to the partner lounges). And yes, I am currently using all 10 slots for family and friends.

This card became slightly less valuable on Nov. 1, 2019, when American limited lounge access to those flying the airline on the same day (Delta and United have identical policies). But that really only affects me at a handful of airports where I would use the Admiral’s Club when flying another airline.

Verdict: Keep

The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express

Annual fee: $0

I used to use this card more often. The 2x on groceries at U.S. supermarkets (on the first $6,000 per in purchases year; then 1x) was nice but not amazing, especially since I now get 4x with the Amex Gold. The 20 percent bonus for making 20 or more monthly purchases was also nice. But today, I rarely use this card. Since there is no annual fee, I will keep it open just to help to continue to build my credit history.

Verdict: Keep

The information for the Amex EveryDay 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. 

Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Visa® credit card

 

Annual fee: $95

This is a card that I’ve renewed for several years, but haven’t been using as much. The ability to use rewards as a statement credit is nice, but I don’t have a checking or savings account anymore with Bank of America. So, I’m not exactly finding outsized use of this card. My favorite feature of this card today is the ability to go to certain museums for free on select dates, usually the first weekend of the month but also during holiday breaks. My wife is an authorized user, letting her enter for free too.

Verdict: Downgrade to a no-annual-fee Bank of America card

Amazon Prime Store Card

Annual fee: $0

Love it or hate it, Amazon is a retail giant to be reckoned with. I’m a Prime member and have stuff shipped way too often to my Manhattan apartment. This card offers me 5% back on purchases and has been a mainstay in my Amazon account for years. Now, I do often buy Amazon gift cards at stores, using credit cards that get me a slightly better return. But when I run out of gift cards, my Amazon account defaults to this card. And sometimes, there are specials where I get 10% back on certain items and make sure to charge it to this card.

Verdict: Keep

The information for the Amazon Prime Store 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.

Fidelity Rewards

Annual fee: $0

This card is simple. I get 2% cashback on all my spending. It used to be my go-to card for all non-bonus spend. Generally, 2% is the baseline of what I think everybody should be getting as a minimum return. The beauty of this card is that you don’t have to spend time worrying about how a purchase will code — you know you are getting 2% back. But I’ve recently switched my non-bonus spend to the Chase Freedom Unlimited. That gives me 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent. If I transfer them to my Chase Sapphire Reserve, I can get 1.5 cents per point for travel booked through the Chase portal. That’s a minimum return of 2.25%, and as many TPG readers know, there are ways to get much more value out of those points by transferring to partners like Hyatt, British Airways or United. TPG values Ultimate Rewards a 2.0 cents each, giving me a 3% return on my everyday spend.

The Fidelity Rewards card does sometimes offer me bonus points for making big purchases or spending a certain amount. When those come around, I’ll use the card.

Verdict: Keep for credit history and occasional bonuses.

Brooks Brothers Platinum

Annual fee: $0

There was a time when I wore a suit and tie to work every day. For years after that, I still wore a button-down shirt and tie with dress slacks. Brooks Brothers was my go-to spot for my work uniform. I never put tons of spend on this card but it offered a good return for in-store purchases and also comes with a $20 annual gift card. These days, I’m not dressing up as much and I’ve moved on to other brands. I recently got an offer for $100 worth of Brooks Brothers credits for spending a minimal amount on the card outside the stores. It was a great return but I decided to pass. I just am not shopping there anymore.

Verdict: Keep for credit history.

Bottom line

Yeah, this is a lot to keep track of.

I would not suggest this many cards for any sane person. But having four, five or six cards can make a lot of sense for a savvy person who travels frequently. The free night certificates can be an amazing value, companion tickets can bring down the price of travel for folks willing to plan ahead and lounge access can make airports much more civilized.

If you do it right, you can charge your way toward elite status and earn enough points and miles to take the family away on a great vacation or two.

To kick off your 2020 credit card strategy, here are TPG’s picks for the best credit cards for airport lounge access and the top hotel credit cards.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Platinum Delta SkyMiles card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve Business Card, please click here.

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.