My three-tier travel wallet system

I’m often asked what kind of a wallet I use given how many credit cards and airline/hotel elite cards I have, and how I switch it up when traveling. Here’s the short answer in a picture:

To explain a bit further, here’s how/why I organize my stuff the way I do.

My money clip changes the most, since I always have the top few cards in there that I’m using at the moment, either because they provide me with the highest return on everyday spend or because I’m trying to reach the minimum spend on a card. For example, right now that includes the American Express Prepaid card (highest all around return and no foreign transaction fees), Chase Sapphire Preferred (double points on dining and travel, and no foreign transaction fees), Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve (trying to reach minimum spend), and American Express Premier Rewards Gold card (double points on gas and groceries). Then I also have my Starbucks Gold card and drivers license in there as well. That’s what I always have on me, regardless of where I go. Like I said, I’ll often swap out the cards based on which card I’m trying to reach a minimum spend on, or whether I’m traveling internationally or not. For example, when I’m traveling internationally I’ll never have the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card in there, since it has foreign transaction fees.

Then there’s my “regular” wallet, which has all my elite cards and cards that I need frequent access to. That includes the airline and hotel elite cards I use most frequently (American Executive Platinum card, British Airways Gold card, Hyatt Diamond card, Starwood Platinum card, InterContinental Royal Ambassador card, etc.), American Express Platinum card (which I never use for spending but do use for lounge access), Priority Pass card, and credit cards that I occasionally swap out into my money clip based on the category I’m spending in (like both of my Chase Ink cards).

Then my travel wallet has my passports, foreign currency for the country I’m visiting, and cards I don’t need often but I still have on me. This includes stuff like my AAA card, Global Entry card, loyalty program membership cards (both airlines and hotels), etc.

And then lastly while it’s not a wallet, I do have an envelope with credit cards I keep but never use (either for the annual benefits that come with it or because they have no annual fee).

What organization system do you use?

Filed Under: Advice, Travel
  1. I essentially like a two wallet system – I have a local wallet, and a travel wallet for all my other stuff. Anything else I usually stuff into a messenger bag that I travel with, which holds my laptop and electronics. Not the most organized system, but it works and is efficient for me. The more containers I have, the more likely I’m going to forget something…

  2. Lucky – I’ve carried the Amex Plat card for years but recently moved to Asia and don’t have as much use for it. However, I love my Priority Pass access, and my most recent card expires in 2015. If I cancel my Plat card, will I lose my membership with Priority Pass?

  3. Are you ever asked to show your actual card at Hyatt/Starwood/IC? I never think to carry them since my number is already on the resie. If you just need the account number, wouldn’t you store it on your phone?

  4. Why bother carrying the airline/hotel cards? Isn’t just having the number always enough?

    I never carry those and I’ve never needed to.

  5. i still carry my AMEX PRG internationally, as every so often at check-in or when changing a flight booking, i am asked for the credit card used at purchase. I always carry the credit card i used to purchase tickets.

  6. I use one wallet. Granted, not a typical business/award guy but still a member of Starwood, MileagePlus and a few others. Never have needed Starwood card. Not sure why they even still offer it.

  7. I don’t bother to carry all those physical cards (old school) since I use a combo of storing loyalty card #’s and/or photos of loyalty cards in my iPhone. Overall I am seeking to reduce any unnecessary weight.

  8. I don’t travel as much as you do. And I don’t have as many credit cards (or status cards) to keep track of. But I also follow the local wallet/traveling wallet system. The traveling wallet has an easily accessed coin section which is good since most places have more coins than we do. Got it in Thailand a couple of years ago. I keep my no-fee ATM card in there and put whichever credit cards I want for my trip in it before I go.

  9. Ben, what about chase freedom? It is great for small purchases, because 10 points per transaction. Also, try the iphone starbucks app, unless you want to look cool with a gold card 🙂

  10. I also have a travel wallet and limit to the very basics in case it gets stolen. I never carry extra credit cards when traveling. I carry two, one card (no foreign trans fees) that I plan to use on the trip and a second card as a back up.

  11. In the age of a smartphone who would carry a loyalty card with them? There are 4-5 great apps to store your cards. Seems like overkill to have 3 wallets.

  12. I have a business card folio where I keep cards that are out of rotation at the moment, as well as elite membership cards, business cards of particular hotels, etc… I am working on getting a library of the support phone numbers for each, along with the first several digits of each card (I have the last 4 memorized for each) so that I have a go-to list for making the stolen-card phone calls in case anything should happen to my folio.

  13. I also don’t carry my loyalty card with me. I have the loyalty # stored on my phone. Does showing the actual loyalty card with status helps with upgrades?

  14. I haven’t carried loyalty cards in 20+ years. I had a printout (now migrated to smartphone) with all the numbers and that it’s all I’ve ever needed, save for an elite card or two where when the psychological effect of showing it may be important.

  15. @ John — I believe it would expire. The expiration date is just when you’d need a new card, while they can “deactivate” it before then. But I could be wrong.

    @ colleen — On the hotel front I always hand over my credit card, loyalty program card, and ID together. I find it often expedites the process, because sometimes as soon as they see it they’ll send you to the club lounge for check-in, as opposed to having to pull the information up on the computer first.

  16. @ romsdeals — I desperately need to get the Chase Freedom, though Chase has had so many great offers lately that I haven’t been able to fit it into my cycle just yet. Obviously a GREAT card, though.

  17. @John-when I cancelled my Amex platinum just after I applied for the Amex Mercedes platinum, they cancelled my priority pass from the platinum and I had to register another one with the mercedes platinum

  18. hey – a question about “elite” cards: should I be carrying them? I assume the hotel/air/whatever system has all my info in it, and my perks should be automatic. If I have to press an issue, they will certainly see in their system that I am gold/platinum/whatever, right?

  19. @Lucky Just a space saving thought. You mentioned that you keep your Starbucks Gold Card in your money clip. Just download the Starbucks App to your smartphone and you can scan your phone screen for any registered card when u make a purchase. Can also re-load the card, etc. from the app. I did that a few months back to free up a card slot for a frequently used card! 🙂

  20. Good post Ben – I’m like you but I like a 2 wallet system – I have one wallet for CC’s & currency, and a travel wallet for Passports & all my other stuff.

    One tip I pass on — on the back of the CC – put “”PHOTO ID REQD “”rather than a signature.

    My iPhone has a photo of my Passports, too — just in case of loss. It also contains all my FF #’s.

    What do U think ?

  21. @ Patrick Mc — Interesting. My Starbuks has a drive thru which I usually use, so any clue how it works there? Don’t really want to give Barista my iPhone…

  22. I wouldn’t want to hand someone my phone through a drive through. Seems like you’re just tempting someone to mess with it, or post something on your FB wall…

  23. @john
    I am not sure if the benefits are te same but you can buy a priority pass membership separately. Just google it.

  24. @lucky if they have a drive through at your Starbucks, they should have a handheld scanner that they point at your phone while you hold it up. No handing off the iPhone needed. At least that’s the case here in Houston.

  25. Is it really necessary to carry the Global Entry card? Since the info is embedded in my passport I assumed the card was unnecessary.

    I now carry an RFID protected wallet, as my two most often used travel ccards have chips in them.

  26. @ meegabroad — It isn’t just for clearing customs & immigration at an airport, though if you’re crossing the US border by land, it is useful.

  27. Another use for the Global Entry card — a (mostly) untraceable but legitimate Photo ID. Some buildings and subdivisions I go into have gotten paranoid and insist people show Photo IDs for some strange reason. Even some stores will ask for photo ID for buying cold medicine. The Global Entry card has pretty much the least amount of information on it. It can’t be swiped by a register, no home address, no height/weight/etc. The PASSID is useless to anyone but Customs/DHS. People also don’t even get to know if you’re a US citizen or not with the card.

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