Why I have 35 credit cards and which are my favorite

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Credit Cards plenty of cards
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Credit card bonus categories stickerWhen you start travel hacking, you quickly learn that applying for credit cards is the quickest way to earn bunches of miles and points.  Here’s why I have each one and which are my favorites.

Before I get into the cards I have, be sure to check out this link detailing the 11 immediate steps you should take when getting a new card to maximize your earning potential.

American Express – 5 credit cards (3 personal & 2 business)

American Express recently changed their rules on credit card bonuses.  You used to be able to receive a bonus every 24 months, but now the personal credit card bonuses are “once per lifetime.”  With so much turmoil at Amex recently (losing JetBlue and Costco), we’ll see how long that rule sticks around.

Amex Business Gold

I have this card for each of my real estate rental property companies.  The sign-up bonuses can be pretty healthy (usually 50-100k Amex points if you apply at the right time), the points are very flexible, and their customer service is usually impeccable.  The annual fee is coming up for one of them, so I may downgrade to a free version or switch to another card because it doesn’t make sense to pay the $175 annual fee on two cards.

Amex EveryDay Preferred

I recently got this card in September 2015.  It’s a great card, with 3x Amex Rewards points on groceries and 2x on gas, and no annual fee.  When you do more than 30 transactions in a month, all of your points earned that month get a 50% bonus.  I use it for minor purchases, like lunch and parking, to ensure I hit 30 transactions in a month.  I’ll be keeping this one a long time, even though it has a $95 annual fee.

Amex Hilton Surpass

I’ve kept this card a few years because you get 6x Hilton points for dining, grocery, and gas.  I used to buy tons of gift cards at grocery stores to earn 6x on the purchases, then redeem for stays like the Embassy Suites Mandalay Bay.  My local grocery store stopped accepting credit cards for gift card purchases, so that’s a bummer.  I keep this card because you automatically get Priority Pass Select membership, free shipping with ShopRunner, and Hilton Gold status.  When you spend $40,000 in a calendar year, you receive Hilton Diamond loyalty status.  It has an annual fee of $75, so I may downgrade to a free version or close it since some of the benefits are the same as the Citibank version that I have.

Amex Starwood Preferred Group (SPG)

This is one of the cards I’ve had the longest.  I don’t use it as much, but I love it due to the flexibility of the SPG points.  You can redeem points for a room, combine with cash for rooms at discounted rates, or transfer points to many airlines.  When you transfer points to airlines, for every 20,000 points, you’ll receive a 25% bonus in airline miles!  I keep it for the transfer benefit, but since I transferred all of my SPG points to American Airlines in 2015, I may close it this year when the $95 annual fee is due.

Bottom line, with American Express changing the bonuses to once per lifetime, you need to be patient and wait for the best offers to come available on each card to maximize your points’ earning.

Bank of America – 3 credit cards (all personal)

BofA’s selection is pretty weak.  The Alaska card is the best, with it’s annual companion pass.  Virgin Atlantic points can be used in the right situations, but they generally have high fuel surcharges on awards.  The Amtrak card recently came over from Chase, but Amtrak switched their program to be revenue-based in late 2015, so there’s not as much value in their points any longer.

BofA Alaska Airlines

I’ve received this card a few times and really like the $99 annual companion pass benefit.  Other than the sign-up bonus and the companion pass, there’s no reason to keep this card and pay the $75 annual fee.  So, if you get this card, be sure to use this awesome benefit!  Friends of mine recently got this card for trips to Mexico and Hawaii.

BofA Rewards

I have two of these cards from back in the day when they were with MBNA.  BofA bought the credit card issuer and has converted this cards to various iterations throughout the years.  I only keep them because they have no annual fee, but I never use them.

Bottom line, Bank of America’s cards don’t have much to offer by holding them long-term.  If you are able to travel with Alaska, I highly recommend the Companion Pass benefit.  Or, if you’re looking for cash back, their new Travel Rewards card has some worthwhile benefits.

Barclaycard – 1 card (personal)

Barlcay Arrival and meAt one point, I had several Barclay cards, but I closed the Hawaiian Airlines and Arrival cards last year.  I closed Hawaiian because I wasn’t planning on going to Hawaii (but then spent a week in Hawaii for $262).  I closed the Arrival card because they changed the program quite a bit and it wasn’t nearly as valuable or flexible as it used to be.

Barclay AA Red (formerly US Airways)

I pay the annual fee of $89 on this card because I get 10,000 AA miles each year.  Any time you can buy miles for less than $0.01, that’s a pretty good price.  Currently, I’m participating in a promo that Barclay sent where I can earn 15,000 bonus AA miles if I spend at least $2,500 a month from December 2015 through May 2016.  I definitely love it when promos like that are offered!

Bottom line, Barclaycard is starting to become a major player in the travel world.  They recently released the JetBlue card and the Arrival card can have good value, too.  Continue watching them for new offers as they step up their game.

Capital One – 1 credit card (personal)

Capital One is another bank that doesn’t offer much in their card portfolio.  The Venture card is one that is advertised a lot, but it’s essentially a cash-back card focused on travel.

Capital One GM Flexible Earnings Card

This is another card I’ve had forever.  When I first opened it, this card was with Citibank, and I cannot recall when it made the switch from Citi to Capital One.  I never use this card because it’s basically a cash-back card, where the rewards only have value when buying a GM-branded vehicle.  I just paid off my Chevy Tahoe, and I’m not looking to buy another car for another 4-5 years.  I keep this card because there’s no annual fee and long-tenured cards have value in increasing your credit score.

Bottom line, Capital One doesn’t offer much.  I would suggest getting a Capital One Venture card only to diversify your applications and for the Venture bonus.

Chase – 7 credit cards (5 personal & 2 business)

Chase probably has the best diversity of rewards programs among all of the credit card companies.  Unfortunately, Chase recently implemented a “5/24” rule on their cards that earn “Ultimate Rewards” points (Sapphire, Freedom, and business Ink) and there is rumor that this will soon apply to all of their cards.  The 5/24 means that you will be declined if you’ve had more than 5 new cards from ANY BANK within the last 24 months.  So, if you’re planning on getting a Chase card, I recommend getting one now… or you’re going to have to put your “app party” activity on hold for a long time to qualify again any time soon.

Chase Business Ink

I have two of these cards for my businesses.  One, I’ve had for years before my real estate was incorporated and the other I got last year after I opened an LLC for my rentals.  These cards earn Ultimate Rewards points, which are very flexible and can either be turned into cash or transfer to many travel partners (like Hyatt, British Airways, United, and Southwest).  There’s an annual fee of $95, but this card gives good value with 5x spend at office supply stores and telecom spend (ie: cable, internet, and phone).

Chase British Airways

This is the 2nd time I’ve had this card.  Both times, the bonus has been 100,000 British Airways Avios.  These points are fantastic for domestic travel on BA’s partner American and several other international partners.  I used Avios to fly to Dublin and London from Boston in October 2015 and from Los Angeles to Hawaii in March 2016 for $11 each person.  Once you spend $30,000, you get a Companion Pass, good only on British Airways, which has suspect value because it requires you to buy one ticket and pay fuel surcharges on the “free” ticket.  There’s an annual fee of $95 after the first year, so I may not keep this one.

Chase Freedom and me 2014 4th Quarter bonusesChase Freedom

This is a great no-fee card, which you can keep forever.  Each quarter, there are 5x bonus categories that earn Ultimate Rewards points.  If you don’t have another UR card (like Sapphire or Ink), the Freedom’s URs can only be redeemed for cash.  But if you do, then you can combine points and transfer to the travel partners.  I’ll be keeping this card a long time.

Chase IHG Rewards

This card is for IHG properties, such as Holiday Inn and Intercontinental hotels, and generally has a 60,000 to 80,000 bonus offer, which is nice.  However, the two best benefits are automatic Platinum status and one free night per year at ANY IHG property after paying the $49 annual fee.  With IHG buying Kimpton, I’m looking forward to seeing how this card will evolve.

Chase Marriott Rewards

This is another card I keep for the annual “free” night.  I pay the annual fee of $85 because I can stay at Category 1-5 properties worth up to $150-200 a night for only $85 and the card provides automatic Silver status with Marriott.

Chase Southwest

This is one of my favorite cards because it helps me earn the Southwest Companion Pass each year, based on my combined flight activity and credit card spend, which allows Anna to fly free with me wherever Southwest flies.  I pay the annual fee of $99, but that is offset with 6,000 annual bonus points (worth $86 in Wanna Get Away fares) and the potential to earn up to 15,000 Tier Qualifying Points (1,500 per $10,000 spend).

Bottom line, Chase has the best portfolio of cards, however, their recent rule changes make getting credit card applications approved so much harder.

Citibank – 9 credit cards (7 personal & 2 business)

Citibank has a good selection of cards and their Thank You points have become so much more valuable with the recent addition of some valuable transfer partners.

Citi AAdvantage for Business

This card was opened in 2015 with the incorporate of my real estate business.  It generally offers 30,000 to 50,000 as a sign-on bonus and provides a 10% rebate on AA miles redemptions, up to 10,000 miles annually.  There is an annual fee of $85, which is valuable if you fly on AA a couple times a year since you get Priority Boarding and can avoid the checked bag fees of $25-50 per bag per flight.

Citi AAdvantage Executive

This card has been pretty fun to use.  You get access to the AA Admirals Club Lounge, even if you’re not flying on American (which I rarely do), which makes the whole airport experience so much better — free wifi, free beer, and a much more comfortable seating area.  And Global Entry fees are reimbursed once every 5 years.  This card has a steep annual fee of $450, which makes sense only the first year or if you’re already paying for the Admirals Club Lounge membership, so this would cancel that fee.  Unless I can get Citi to waive or severely discount the fee, I’ll be closing this card when the fee is due.

Citi Double Cash

I like this card for the 2% cash back.  It has a twist though… you get 1% on your purchases and another 1% as you pay the balance.  With no annual fee, it is a good card to keep forever.

Citi Hilton HHonors Signature

This Hilton card is the no-fee version, so I plan on keeping it forever.  It had a nice 50,000 point bonus, but sometimes the bonuses go higher to 75,000.  You get 6x at Hilton and 3x at supermarkets, drug stores, and gas stations.  However, Hilton has devalued their rewards program several times over the past few years, so the points don’t go as far as they used to.  You get automatic Silver status with Hilton and upgraded to Gold with $20,000 in spend per year.  A Loyalty Bonus of 10,000 Hilton points is given when you spend $1,000 per year with the card.

Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve

I had two of the no-fee Hilton Signature cards, but upgraded to the Hilton Reserve card last year to get the 2 free weekend nights at ANY Hilton property.  I’m looking to book a room at the Waldorf Astoria in Park City ($299+ per night) with those certificates.  This card provides 10x at Hilton, 5x on plane and rental car, and 3x on everything else.  It has an annual fee of $95, but you get automatic Hilton Gold status, 5th night free on reward redemptions, an anniversary bonus of 1 free weekend night after $10,000 spend, and an upgrade to Hilton Diamond status when you spend $40,000 or more each calendar year.  Although the annual fee is $20 more than the Amex Surpass and doesn’t come with the Priority Pass (airport lounge membership), I’ll be keeping this card instead for the extra weekend night annually.

Citi Thank You Business

I’ve had this card a long time, and with no annual fee, I don’t put any spend on it and keep it only for emergency purposes.  It was opened several years ago before I incorporated my real estate business.

Citi Thank You Preferred

This no annual fee card is good to keep your Thank You points safe in case you close one of your other Thank You points cards.  You get 2x on dining and entertainment, but that’s the only other benefit worthwhile with this card.

Citi Thank You Premier

The Premier version has an annual fee of $95 and a current offer shows 40,000 in bonus points.  You get 3x on travel and gas, 2x on dining and entertainment, and your Thank You points can be redeemed for 25% more when you book with Citi Thank You travel (flights, cars, hotels, and cruises).  So, rather than redeeming for $400 in gift cards, you can book $500 worth of travel.  I’m going to cancel the Premier version if I decide to keep the Prestige.

Citi Thank You Prestige

The Prestige card is one of the hottest premium credit cards available today.  It has a current bonus of 50,000 points, which is good for $500 in gift cards, $665 in airfare, or $800 on American Airlines.  You receive a $250 air travel credit per calendar year, which can be used to buy tickets, upgrade, or pay fees and taxes on award travel.  Access to the Admirals Club Lounge is free when flying on AA and you get Priority Pass Select lounge membership.  When you book hotels, you get the 5th night free, and you can use that benefit an unlimited number of times!  Global Entry fees are reimbursed once every 5 years.  And you get access to the MasterCard Airport Concierge, which dedicates a concierge to meet you at arrival, escort you through all checkpoints, and assigns porters for your luggage.  My favorite benefit is the 3 free rounds of golf per year.  The annual fee is $450, but it is reduced to $350 if you’re CitiGold.  If you’re CitiGold, you also receive a 15% bonus on all points earned that year.  Even though the fee is high, I’m going to keep this card since there’s so much value.

Bottom line, Citibank’s relationship with AA and Hilton and the increased value of ThankYou points make their cards a must-have for your wallet.  They’ve been very accommodative with my applications, given that I now have 9 cards with them.

Discover – 1 credit card (personal)

Discover isn’t always accepted at smaller stores, but their cards can be worthwhile when the bonus categories are good.

Discover it

I applied for this card solely for the quarterly 5% bonus categories and that there’s no annual fee.  I plan on keeping it forever and spend on it only when the 5% makes sense.

Bottom line, Discover is a good way to round out an app party.  They don’t have many sign-on bonuses, but the generous 5% cash back on quarterly categories is a good way to maximize the return on your spend.

US Bank – 3 credit cards (2 personal & 1 business)

US Bank is not that popular with most people.  Their FlexPerks program is not spoken of much, but it has great value.  They don’t have very many branded relationships, so your options are limited.

US Bank FlexPerks American Express

The FlexPerks program has been pretty valuable to our family.  Each point is worth up to $0.02 and you get double points at gas, grocery, airlines – whichever you spend the most at.  I used to buy a ton of gift cards at grocery stores using this card to get up to 4% back in travel credits.  Double points are also offered on restaurants and cell phone spend.  For redemptions, 20,000 points is equal to $400 in airfare when booking through their online portal.  The problem is that, for example a $450 ticket would cost 30,000 points (up to $600 value), because their program allows redemptions only in 10,000 increments for travel.  When flying on flight redemptions, you also get a $25 allowance to spend on baggage fees or in-flight treats.  You get 3,500 FlexPerks points (up to $70 value) when you spend $24,000 per year.  There is an annual fee of $49 after the first year, but it is waived if you have a mortgage or home equity line of credit with US Bank.  I keep this card since the fee is waived for me.

US Bank Club Carlson Premier Visa

The Club Carlson card used to be much more valuable with the “last night free” redemption benefit.  Basically, whenever you redeemed points for a stay of 2 nights or longer at any Club Carlson property (Radisson Blu’s are especially nice), the last night was free.  So, most travel hackers would book stays of only 2 nights at each property, effectively doubling the value of your points!  This benefit was changed a year ago so that you can only earn 1 free night per year at US domestic properties after spending $10,000 on the card… serious downgrade!  The current benefits are 40,000 points each year upon renewal, Gold status with Club Carlson, 10x at Club Carlson and 5x everywhere else.  The fee is $75, which is a good value for the 40,000 points.

US Bank Club Carlson Premier Visa Business

The Business version of the Club Carlson Visa is exactly the same, except the annual fee is $60 vs. $75 for the personal version.

Bottom line, US Bank has a couple of cards worth considering.  If you’re looking to travel internationally, the Club Carlson points become really valuable.  However, domestically, they aren’t that good, except for the Radisson Blu properties in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis.

Store Branded Cards – 5 credit cards (personal)

Store-branded cards can have a valuable place in your wallet.  I use them when I can get 0% or a discount on my spend.

Ashley Furniture

We’ve used this card several times for furniture for our home.  Having 0% for several years is a great option and Ashley usually also has discounts available in addition to the attractive financing terms.

Home Depot

If you’re a homeowner, you know Home Depot.  When we first bought our home, it seemed like we were there every weekend.  Recently, we used this card to get 24 months 0% financing on our carpet.  In the meantime, my cash continues to be invested, and we’ll pay off the balance before the 0% comes due.

Lowe’s

Lowe’s also offers attractive 0% financing regularly.  However, if you don’t take the 0% offer, you have the option of receiving a 5% discount on your purchase.

Sears

Unfortunately, Sears has become really run down over the years, and we really don’t shop there any longer.  However, this card has no annual fee, and I’ve had it since I was 18 years old, so I keep it to maintain my credit score.

Toys’R’Us

Now that we have kids, this card has become so much more valuable.  The card itself isn’t that great, but you do earn points that can be redeemed for gift cards.  125 points is equal to $5, and you earn 2x on spend at TRU, which equates to 8% cash back.

Bottom line, department store cards can offer valuable perks not available to Visa, Mastercard, and Amex cards offered by banks.  Just remember, though, that these cards have limited value since they cannot be used anywhere else.

Conclusion

I do have a ton of credit cards, but each one is valuable in their own way.  Some I keep forever, while others are just “test driven” during the first year to see if the benefits are worthwhile for the long run.

If you’d like a review of your cards and help picking your next card, please fill out our free travel advice form so we can schedule a time to talk.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Have wanted to get started on this since the travel bills to visit family in the U.S. are getting expensive. Thanks for the list. How do you decide where (which airlines) to use the points? Are there any that offer better points travel?

    • Thanks for asking Joseph. For my family, Southwest is the best option given that there are so many airports in the SoCal area (LAX, SNA, ONT, BUR, and SAN) and because of the Companion Pass. Each credit card can be “better” than others, depending upon your circumstances. Mostly it depends on where you want to fly from and where you want to fly to. Airlines usually operate in “hubs” where they have more flights originating from – Seattle has Alaska, Atlanta has Delta, and Dallas has American – so the airline having a nearby hub may be a better option for you. I’ll send you an email, and let’s continue the conversation.

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