How chasing credit card rewards with 5 new cards actually improved my credit

Sep 7, 2021

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There’s nothing I fear more than having debt. I particularly fear credit card debt since it’s easy to drown in high interest rates until you pay your statement in full.

It’s that fear that has turned me away from having more than a handful of credit cards in my wallet. And I’ve typically reserved the few cards I have for emergencies, not everyday use.

But in the last couple of months, I’ve added five new cards to my wallet. So what changed?

I decided to get serious about the points and miles game. In particular, I decided 2021 would be the year to go after hotel elite status and get my finances in shape. As a result, I paid off all my outstanding credit card debt, got a jump start on elite status in several hotel loyalty programs and greatly improved my credit score.

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Paying off outstanding debt

Leezel at Six Flags
I paid off my outstanding debt. (Photo by Leezel Tanglao/The Points Guy)

Before coming to work at TPG, I had about a handful of credit cards. Most of them were store cards or bank cards.

And I paid for almost everything with my debit card. By using my debit card, I didn’t have to worry about getting a bill later. And I could easily curb any temptation to spend more than what I have.

However, that resulted in years of missed opportunities to earn points and miles on everyday purchases.

Related: TPG beginner’s guide: Everything you need to know about points, miles, airlines and credit cards

When things got a little rough in recent years, I used my credit cards to carry me over. Doing so resulted in thousands of dollars of credit card debt that I continued to carry on my accounts for years.

I eventually changed jobs but continued to pay my New York apartment rent and California home mortgage (long story, but you can read how I became an accidental homeowner here). But, the coronavirus pandemic finally set up a situation that allowed me some breathing room.

In March 2020, COVID-19 pushed my workplace at the time to move to remote work. So, with my immediate family all in Southern California and no clear indication of when I could return to the office, I decided to work remotely from Southern California until I could go back to the office.

Related: 6 tips for working remotely from paradise so you can extend your summer

Turns out, I wouldn’t see New York again until this past summer. But, I kept paying rent on my New York apartment and paying my California mortgage until finally deciding to break the lease on my apartment in late 2020.

With no more New York rent to worry about, I was able to accelerate my savings and finally make a dent in the revolving credit card debt I had accumulated over the years. Determined not to be shackled to the high interest rates I was paying, I paid off all of my outstanding credit card debt within eight months.

Related: How to transition your spending from a debit card to a credit card

Chasing elite status and rewards

Centurion Lounge in San Francisco
Centurion Lounge in San Francisco (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Working with such an expert crew of points and miles and credit card experts at The Points Guy, it’s hard not to have a little FOMO when it comes to fully maximizing credit cards, elite status and rewards.

In the last few months, I have added the following cards to my wallet:

Before signing up for these five cards, the last major new credit card I applied for was the Chase Sapphire Reserve in 2016. Back then, I didn’t really utilize and maximize its perks. But now, I’m much more aware of how to optimize spending and use card benefits.

Switching between my five new cards, I’ve been able to earn massive bonuses and take advantage of perks like lounge access and statement credits.

To date, the benefits offered by my Amex Platinum Card have already provided enough value to me to justify the card’s $695 annual fee (see rates and fees).

For example, I took advantage of Amex Centurion Lounge access during a recent trip to San Francisco. And thanks to the Amex Platinum’s new Clear credit, I’ve used Clear to get through security faster multiple times this summer. Additionally, as a big streaming and news junkie, I’ve used the Amex Platinum’s digital entertainment credit for several subscriptions, including the New York Times, Peacock, SiriusXM and Audible.

Meanwhile, the welcome bonuses from all five cards have given me many options to plan a larger trip using points and miles. Plus, these cards have given me elite status in three hotel loyalty programs (Hilton Honors, Marriott Bonvoy and World of Hyatt) — something that would have taken me a while to earn if only going by hotel stays alone.

Related: Still traveling less? Here are 7 Amex Platinum benefits you can use from home

Improving my credit score

Hyatt’s Mar Monte Hotel in Santa Barbara
I’m looking forward to more stays like the one I had at Hyatt’s Mar Monte Hotel in Santa Barbara. (Photo by Leezel Tanglao/The Points Guy)

Before paying off my credit card debt, I had a good credit score of 720. I was never late in payments, but I carried a large debt which impacted my overall credit score. I also didn’t have a long credit history. I didn’t get a credit card until 2007, well into my first job out of college.

As I continued to chip away at credit card debt on my existing cards, I saw my credit score improve as I paid each account in full.

Until recently, it had been years since I’d added a new card to my wallet. As such, I stayed well below Chase’s 5/24 rule. Plus, as I reduced usage of my credit limit, my credit score increased.

And as I applied for five new cards recently, I saw my credit score go from the 700s to 815. As such, now I have an excellent credit score.

Now that I’m armed with the tools and knowledge to maximize my spending and better strategize my points and miles game, I intend to keep moving forward. I don’t fear debt anymore — what I fear now is missing out on potential points and miles I could be earning toward my next dream trip.

Featured image by Leezel Tanglao/The Points Guy.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum, click here

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants in the first three months of card membership.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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.

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