Maximizing credit cards is one of the best ways to elevate your travel. This can include signing up for the credit cards with the best welcome bonuses, using the right credit cards for your everyday spending, and also taking advantage of other credit card perks.
There are a lot of misconceptions about the impact that applying for credit cards can have on your credit score. I have over two dozen credit cards, and my credit score is excellent.
In this post I wanted to first share a brief intro regarding how applying for credit cards impacts your credit score, then I’ll talk about what goes into my credit card decision making process, and then I’ll share the cards I have open.
Many people have adjusted credit card strategies as a result of the current pandemic, so I wanted to share how I’m viewing the value of credit cards right now, and what the current situation means for my approach to credit cards.
How credit cards impact your credit score
There are a lot of misconceptions about how credit scores work, in particular people thinking that applying for credit cards hurts your credit score. That’s generally not true, and in many cases applying for cards can even help your credit score in the long run.
The beginners guide on the blog has a section about credit cards and credit scores, and should provide some insights on that. For context, I have a lot of credit cards, and my credit score is almost perfect, in the top couple of percent nationwide.
For those of you not familiar, here’s what factors into your credit score:
- 35% of your score is your payment history (the percentage of payments you’ve made on-time)
- 30% of your score is your credit utilization (how much credit you’re using compared to your total limits)
- 15% of your score is your credit age (the average age of your open accounts)
- 10% of your score is the types of credit you use (how many different types of requests for credit you have)
- 10% of your score is your requests for new credit (how many times you’ve applied for credit)
What’s most important is that you pay your bills on time, don’t utilize too much of your credit (meaning you want to ideally use 20% or less of your total available credit), and keep some cards long term, which will help increase your average age of accounts.
The only metric that’s lowered by applying for cards is your requests for new credit, but that makes up just 10% of your score. Furthermore, credit inquiries typically fall off your report after 24 months.
What I look for in credit cards
For me, there are three things I look for when applying for credit cards:
- Credit cards that offer a big welcome bonus — often the introductory bonuses on cards are compelling, and enough reason to pick up a new card
- Credit cards that offer a generous return on everyday spending — there are some cards you have because they help you maximize the points you earn for everyday spending
- Credit cards that offer ongoing perks that more than justify the annual fee — some cards are worth holding onto even if you don’t plan on putting much spending on them, because they offer things like elite status, annual free nights, etc.
The 26 credit cards that I have right now
Now let me share what cards I have at the moment. I have 26 open credit cards right now — so far this year I’ve canceled one card and downgraded one card, so this is roughly in line with how many cards I’ve had in the past.
Here are the credit cards that I have, broken down by issuer:
My seven American Express cards
- Platinum Card® from American Express (review) — this card has a $550 annual fee (Rates & Fees), though offers many perks that help offset it, including Amex Centurion Lounge access, Hilton and Marriott hotel status, a $200 annual airline fee credit, a $200 annual Uber credit, a $100 annual Saks credit, and 5x points on airfare purchased directly with airlines; many of these perks are of limited value right now, though Amex has done a great time adding limited time perks, like a $30 monthly PayPal credit and great Amex Offers deals
- American Express® Green Card (review) — this card has a $150 annual fee (Rates & Fees), and offers all kinds of great perks, including 3x points on dining and travel, a $100 annual CLEAR credit, and a $100 annual LoungeBuddy credit
- Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express (review) — this card has a $95 annual fee, and offers 3x points at US supermarkets (on up to $6,000 of spending per year) and 2x points at US gas stations, plus a 50% points bonus when you make at least 30 transactions per billing cycle
- Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card (review) — this card has a $125 annual fee (Rates & Fees), and offers an anniversary free night certificate on your account anniversary every year valid at a property costing up to 35,000 points per night, plus 15 elite nights per year, which more than justify the annual fee
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card (review) — this card has a $450 annual fee (Rates & Fees), but offers a $300 annual Marriott credit plus an anniversary free night valid at a property costing up to 50,000 points per night; I’ve gotten so much value out of this card
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card (review) — this $450 annual fee (Rates & Fees) card offers incredible perks, including Hilton Honors Diamond status for as long as you have the card, an annual weekend night reward (which is more flexible than ever before), a $250 Hilton resort credit every cardmember year, and a $250 airline fee credit every calendar year; this card offers unbelievable value
- Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express (review) — this card has a $0 annual fee (Rates & Fees), and I consider it to be the single most generous business card for everyday spending, given that it offers 2x Membership Rewards points on the first $50,000 spent every calendar year
I love the free night certificate on the Hilton Aspire Card
My two Bank of America cards
- Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card (review) — this card offers an annual $121 companion certificate, which has historically more than justified the card’s $75 annual fee, in my opinion
- Alaska Airlines Visa® Business Credit Card (review) — much like the personal card, this card offers an annual $121 companion certificate, which more than justifies the card’s $75 annual fee (for one user), in my opinion; you also get 20% back on Alaska Airlines inflight purchases, including of food, beverages, and Wi-Fi
I was prepared to dump both of these cards when the annual fees come due since I am not flying much and live in South Florida (which is weak for Alaska). However, with American and Alaska cooperating more closely, and even introducing reciprocal upgrades, I could see these once again coming in handy.
The Alaska companion certificate has allowed me to score great deals on flights
My one Barclays card
- JetBlue Plus Card (review) — this card offers a 5,000 point bonus on the account anniversary each year, plus a 10% refund on JetBlue points redemptions, which to me justifies the $99 annual fee
JetBlue Plus Card helps me save every time I redeem JetBlue points
My one Capital One card
- Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business (review) — this is one of my all around favorite business credit cards, given that it offers two Spark miles per dollar spent, and Capital One miles can be transferred to airline partners; the card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived for the first year
Spark miles can be transferred to Etihad Guest for first class redemptions
My ten Chase cards
- Chase Sapphire Reserve® (review) — this card offers triple points on dining and travel, which are categories in which I spend a lot; while it has a $550 annual fee, it also offers a $300 annual travel credit, so the real out of pocket on the card is $250 per year, and that’s not even factoring in all the other great benefits, including some temporary perks and expanded redemption options in light of coronavirus
- Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card (review) — this $95 annual fee card offers triple points on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases every cardmember year on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable, and phone services, and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines; the card also offers a great cell phone protection benefit
- Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card (review) — this no annual fee card offers 1.5x points on all purchases, so is one of the best cards for non-bonused business spending; points can be combined with Ultimate Rewards points earned on other cards
- Ink Business Cash® Credit Card (review) — this no annual fee card offers 5x points on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases every cardmember year on office supply stores, and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services, and 2x points on the first $25,000 spent at gas stations and restaurants; points can be combined with Ultimate Rewards points earned on other cards
- Chase Freedom FlexSM (review) — this no annual fee card offers 5x points in rotating quarterly categories, and these points can be combined with Ultimate Rewards points earned on other cards
- Chase Freedom Unlimited® (review) — this no annual fee card offers 1.5x points in non-bonused categories, and these points can be combined with Ultimate Rewards points earned on other cards; I downgraded my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (review) to this card in 2016
- British Airways Visa Signature® Card (review) — this $95 annual fee card is well worth it to me thanks to all the benefits it offers, like 10% off British Airways flights, up to $600 in reward flight statement credits, and more
- The World of Hyatt Credit Card (review) — I find this card to be well worth the $95 annual fee for the five nights towards status annually, anniversary free night certificate, as well as the ability to put spending on the card to earn more elite nights and a second anniversary free night certificate
- IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card (review) this card offers all kinds of great perks, including an annual free night certificate valid at any IHG hotel retailing for up to 40,000 points per night, a fourth night free on award redemptions, and a lot more
- IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card — this card offers an annual free night certificate valid at any IHG hotel retailing for up to 40,000 points per night, which more than justifies the card’s $49 annual fee; this card is no longer being issued
Transfer Ultimate Rewards points to World of Hyatt for the Park Hyatt Paris
My four Citi cards
- Citi® Double Cash Card (review) — this no annual fee card offers 1% cash back when you make a purchase and 1% cash back when you pay for that purchase, and those rewards can be converted into ThankYou points; this is my go-to card for everyday spending
- Citi Rewards+® Card (review) — this no annual fee card rounds up purchases to the nearest 10 ThankYou points, and offers a 10% refund on ThankYou redemptions, for up to 100,000 redeemed points per year
- Citi Prestige® Card (review) — this card has a $495 annual fee but offers lots of great perks, including a $250 annual travel credit, 5x points on dining and airfare, and more; I’m seriously considering downgrading this card to the Citi Premier® Card (review)
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® (review) — this $450 annual fee card offers an Admirals Club membership for the primary member, and also lets you add up to 10 authorized users, each of which gets Admirals Club access as well
The Citi Executive AAdvantage Card Admirals Club membership is a great value
My one US Bank card
- Radisson Rewards Premier Signature Visa Card — this card offers an annual bonus of 40,000 points, which more than justifies the card’s $75 annual fee
In 2016 I stayed at the Radisson Blu Longyearbyen, the world’s northernmost hotel
How is coronavirus changing my credit card strategy?
I’m only slightly tweaking my credit card strategy due to coronavirus, so let me explain why. First of all, I’ve always viewed optimizing credit card rewards as a long term strategy. I do everything I can to collect transferable points, since these give me the most flexibility, and they also devalue the least.
I’m confident that travel will recover, and that loyalty programs will be robust during a recovery, as airlines look to fill seats, and hotels look to fill rooms.
Therefore in many ways it’s “business as usual” for me, while noting that my strategy gives me a lot of flexibility:
- My go-to card for everyday spending is the Citi® Double Cash Card, and that card gives me the flexibility to earn cash back or transferable points, all at a great rate; cards with this kind of flexibility are more valuable than ever before
- Having the Chase Sapphire Reserve® gives me a lot of flexibility within the Chase Ultimate Rewards ecosystem; while I still intend to use these rewards for travel, Chase has a “Pay Yourself Back” feature that allows you to redeem points for 1.5 cents each towards everyday expenses
- I’ve long loved hotel credit cards that offer annual free night certificates, and as of now I find these cards continue to offer great value, as these free nights largely have more flexibility in terms of where they can be redeemed, and expiration on many has also been extended
To approach my credit card portfolio a bit differently:
- Seven of my credit cards have no annual fees, so there’s no cost to holding onto those
- The math is continuing to work for me on the “premium” cards earning transferable points (Chase Sapphire Reserve, Amex Platinum, Citi Prestige, etc.), though I’ll continue to assess that as annual fees come due
- All of my hotel credit cards are offering rewards that more than offset the annual fees, even in this environment
The only cards I’m questioning are the following:
- I might not renew the Alaska cards when the annual fees come due, since there will likely be limited value to me for the companion certificates for the time being, which is the only perk of value to me for having these cards
- I might simplify my business card portfolio a bit and get rid of the Capital One Spark Miles Card when the annual fee comes due, as I’m pretty well served by my Amex and Chase business cards
- I’m not sure the Amex EveryDay Preferred is worth much to me right now, given that other cards are offering bonus points on supermarkets, I don’t spend anything at gas stations, and there are better cards for everyday spending; however, I’ve had the card for a long time, so will likely just downgrade it to the no annual fee Amex EveryDay Card in order to maintain credit history
Hopefully the above is an interesting rundown of the credit cards I have. I’d like to think that almost all of these credit cards serve a purpose as part of my long term credit card strategy, either because they offer an excellent rewards structure, or because they offer perks that make the cards worth holding onto.
There are a few cards that I plan on canceling at their account renewal, though I’ll deal with those situations as they arise. Coronavirus might make it harder to justify some cards in the short term, but long term I think my strategy is sound.
As you can see, my credit score is also excellent in spite of how many credit cards I have, which should hopefully put some of you at ease who are considering applying for new cards.
How many credit cards do you have right now?
The following links will direct you to the rates and fees for mentioned American Express Cards. These include: The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express (Rates & Fees), The Platinum Card® from American Express (Rates & Fees), Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card (Rates & Fees), Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card (Rates & Fees), Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card (Rates & Fees), and American Express® Green Card (Rates & Fees).