Yes, I have 22 credit cards; here’s why
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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 34 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 make the travel experience more pleasant.
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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.
I know you’re wondering if I’ve got them all in my wallet. No. There are currently 11 in my iPhone’s digital wallet, plus three in my actual wallet. The rest sit in my fancy Cardinal Card File wallet at home (I used to fill Ziploc bags until an astute reader introduced me to these leather folders with a 96-card capacity.)
Here are my 22 current credit cards and why I have each of them.
Yes, this is a steep price to pay each year for a card. But I find it more than worthwhile. First of all, I get back up to $200 a calendar year in Uber Cash, up to $200 annual airline statement credit for incidentals, up to $200 in prepaid hotel statement credit which requires a minimum two- night stayand up to $100 per calendar year in statement credits at Saks Fifth Avenue (yes, I am a fancy shopper like that – sometimes). Enrollment is required for some benefits. All of that brings the actual out-of-pocket cost down for me to $0. And by the way, there are several hundred more dollars in annual statement credits that make the card a no-brainer for me — you can read about that here.
I then add in my wife and in-laws for $175 because I want them to have some of the 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. Again, enrollment is required for some benefits.
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 up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year (booked directly with the airline or Amex Travel and 5x on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel) and American Express offers passable travel insurance and delay protections. Finally, if there are any issues with a purchase, I’ve found the customer service to be great.
American Express® Gold Card
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 per calendar year; then 1x) and dining at restaurants.
There’s a $10 monthly statement credit in the form of Uber Cash (up to $120 annually), which you can use for Uber Eats or rides in the U.S (you need to add your card to Uber as a payment method; enrollment required). There’s also a $10 monthly statement credit for participating restaurants (up to $120 annually), including Seamless and Grubhub (enrollment required). As a New Yorker, my family orders a lot of delivery and we never have an issue getting these credits each month, netting us $240 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.
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, I get 15 elite-qualifying nights toward my status. You can even stack this with a Marriott small business card to receive 30 elite nights each calendar year. I already get Gold status through my Amex Platinum, but it’s a nice perk for those without the card. The $450 annual fee is offset with an up to $300 statement credit on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program. 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 on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program.
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.
So this is the point where you may start to think I’m crazy if you don’t already.
Yes, I have two 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). I actually used to have THREE Delta cards — but Amex now allows more MQM bonuses for spending on these cards, so I decided to cancel one.
Each of my two remaining Delta cards 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 Delta Reserve card gets me into Delta Sky Clubs, but I already get that with my Amex Platinum. It does help me ever so slightly with the upgrade list, though.
Verdict: Keep both
Annual fee: $550
This card has been the top travel credit card ever since its 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, car rentals and more. 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 at restaurants 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 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 many airline and hotel partners.
Annual fee: $95
I opened the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card for one main reason: The gargantuan 100,000-mile sign-up bonus. That offer is no longer available, though the current bonus of 75,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months is still alluring.
I don’t have as much experience with Capital One as with other card issuers, so I thought now would be a good time to throw a little investment their way — especially after the significant improvements they’ve made to their rewards system in the past year. For example, you can now transfer miles to a sizable list of Capital One travel partners, such as Turkish Airlines, Avianca, British Airways, Wyndham and many more. TPG estimates Capital One miles are worth 1.85 cents each when you use them in this way. That means a 75,000-mile bonus is worth $1,388 in travel.
Capital One also plans to open premium airport lounges soon. Cardholders will receive easier access than others. Capital One’s renderings make the lounges look Centurion-Lounge-esque, so I’m anxious to try them out.
Verdict: Keep for now, future uncertain
Annual fee: $0
I’ve got two flavors of the famous no-annual-fee Chase Freedom:
I only recently picked up the Freedom Flex. Both cards earn 5% cash back (5x Chase 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 have the capability to spend $4,500 each quarter a strong category appears. For example, I tend to buy $4,500 worth of grocery gift cards and let that last my family for half the year. We then transfer the points over to my Chase Sapphire Reserve account for maximum value.
Another good reason to get the Chase Freedom Flex is my ability to refer friends and earn a small bonus. It’s a pretty easy sell, considering it’s got no annual fee.
My wife also has the Chase Freedom Unlimited, which gets us 1.5% cash back (1.5x points) on purchases. I’m an authorized user, and this has become our go-to card for all non-bonus spending.
The information for the Chase Freedom has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Verdict: Keep both
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 helps me reach Globalist status. 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.
The card offers a free night at a category 1-4 hotel each year, which I have always used in past years. Finally, the card earns 4x points at Hyatt hotels and 2x points at my gym — a rare category to find a spend bonus.
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, internet, cable, and phone bills. Those points also transfer to my Chase Sapphire Reserve account. Before getting this card, I rarely shopped at office supply stores, 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?
Annual fee: $450 (see rates and fees)
Another recent acquisition for me is the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. A quick scan of this card’s ongoing benefits reveals that this is one of the best travel cards, period. Yes, it offers a large welcome bonus of 150,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. But its real power lies elsewhere.
I absolutely love that the card grants me automatic Hilton Diamond elite status (Hilton’s highest status). It comes with free breakfast, suite upgrades when available, a 100% bonus on points earned during Hilton stays and more. I also receive one weekend night (and potentially another, if I manage to spend $60,000 on my card in a calendar year), redeemable and nearly any Hilton hotel in the world — including five-star resorts in exotic locations, which may cost $1,500+ per night!
Read our post on 7 reasons to get the Amex Hilton Aspire to see the other benefits of this card, which can easily amount to $1,000+ in savings per year.
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.
Annual fee: $99
I really enjoy flying JetBlue, but I 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 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.
IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card and IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card
Annual fees: $89 (waived for the first year) and $49, respectively
IHG is not my favorite hotel chain. But the acquisition of Kimpton has made it more appealing to me. Some 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 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 award night certificate for hotels charging up to 40,000 points per 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.
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 Charlotte is an AA 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.
Annual fee: $99
I held the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® once before, but with the opportunity to earn a 60,000-mile bonus after just a single purchase… it was worth opening again. The card’s annual fee is even waived the first year. There might not be an easier win in the miles and points world than this card’s bonus. I opened it onboard one of my AA flights and even entered the flight attendant’s code to get another 500 miles.
I’m uncertain as to how long this card will stay with me. Having multiple American Airlines credit cards doesn’t often make a ton of sense because of the many overlapping benefits. I’m going to try it out for a year and see if it works better for me, but I’m not counting on it.
The information for the AAdvantage Aviator Red 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.
Verdict: Cancel (probably)
Amtrak Guest Rewards® World Mastercard
The Amtrak program has endured a few blows in the past few years, but its Amtrak Guest Rewards® World Mastercard still offers reasonable value. I opened the card just the other day and received a 20,000 bonus plus a $200 statement credit. I also got one upgrade coupon and two companion coupons.
After submitting my application, like clockwork, the Amtrak Guest Rewards card promptly unveiled a new offer of 50,000 points after making $2,500 in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening. Heartbreaking, but I’m still happy with the deal I got. Amtrak points are worth 2.5 cents each, meaning the current bonus is worth $1,250 in Amtrak travel. It comes with useful perks if you find yourself paying for Amtrak regularly, such as 2x points with Amtrak.
The information for the Amtrak Guest Rewards 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.
Verdict: Cancel if I find I’m not spending with Amtrak.
Annual fee: $0
For years I kept the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card with little justification. My favorite feature of this card has been going to certain museums for free on select dates, usually the first weekend of the month and during holiday breaks. However, you don’t need an annual fee-incurring credit card to take advantage of this program.
I’ve since downgraded my card to a Bank of America Customized Cash. Here’s the earning structure:
- 3% cash back on one of the following categories of their choosing:
- Online shopping
- Drug stores
- Home improvement/furnishings
- 2% cash back at:
- 1% back everywhere else
There’s a $2,500 cap on combined 3% and 2% cash-back purchases each quarter (then 1%). I take advantage of the 3% category (right now I have it for gas) and don’t use it for much else.
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.
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.
Annual fee: $0
This card is simple. I get 2% cash back 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 sometimes offers 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.
The information for the Fidelity Rewards 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.
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 came 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.
The information for the Brooks Brothers Platinum 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.
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.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Platinum Delta SkyMiles card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Hilton Aspire, click here.
Featured image courtesy of InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa
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