Although I promised myself this wouldn’t be a credit card blog I’m allowing myself this one post to discuss the credit cards I currently have and why they make sense to me. Because after all, they are an integral part of how I am able to travel as much as I do.
Let me begin by saying that credit score is very important to me. There a few factors to your credit score. The most important factor is your payment history. For this reason paying on time and in full is crucial. The second factor is your credit utilization ratio; this means how much of your available credit are you actually using each month. The last main factor is the age of your lines of credit, both average age and the age of your oldest line. Having multiple credit cards that you don’t use directly help the last two of these factors. For this reason when a credit card is no longer useful to me, for whatever reason, I don’t cancel it. I simply call the credit card company and ask if they have a free version of the card I can downgrade my account to. Then I stop using the card. The one exception to this is if there is no free credit card available, then I do cancel a card. This way my total credit doesn’t decrease, and the average age of my lines of credit continue to increase.
For the longest time the reigning king of credit cards was the American Express Platinum charge card, not technically a credit card because you aren’t allowed to carry a balance from month to month. The Amex Platinum card has been feeling some pressure from other new comers to the premium scene, namely the Citi Prestige and Chase Sapphire Reserve (more on those below). But suffice it to say that Amex has revamped the benefits along with the physical card to better rival the competition. The new card now has some of the most competitive benefits as well as being constructed from metal. The earning potential is a major upgrade to the card as you now get unlimited 5 points per dollar spent on airfare. You also receive 5 points per dollar spent on hotels when booked through the Amex travel portal. This isn’t as good as it sounds because you lose any point bonuses given from the hotels directly and don’t receive credit towards loyalty statuses when booked through a third party like Amex’s travel portal. The benefits of the card are numerous but in my opinion the most valuable ones include a $15 per month ($35 in December) Uber credit. A $200 airline incidental credit applied to one airline of your choice. The platinum card comes with a free membership to PriorityPass, unlimited access to their network of lounges for the cardholder and up to two guests. With around 1000 lounges worldwide it’s not bad although domestically there are few options as the airline lounges have cornered the market. The Platinum card also gives you complimentary access to the Amex Centurion Lounges for the card member and two guests. Currently there are 7 in the US: Houston, Miami, NY LaGuardia, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Dallas with planes for a lounge in Philly and Hong Kong to open by the end of 2017. These are the some of the best lounges in the US and offer quality full meals, free open bar and often times free 15 min spa treatments. You recieve complimentary gold status at SPG, Hilton, and Hertz which come with varying perks such as upgraded rooms and free wifi. I don’t take advantage of these becasue I already have Platinum status at SPG. The Amex Platinum card also gives you a $100 credit towards TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. The last main benefit that I take advantage of is the Platinum Concierge. Easy to overlook, it’s like having a personal assistant a phone call away. They are currently handling all my restaurant reservations for an upcoming trip to Europe. All of these perks don’t come cheaply. The card used to cost $450 per year but with the revamped version the price is now $550. I only recommend this card if you travel a lot each year. Otherwise you may not get enough value from it.
Second on the scene for the elite cards is Citi Prestige. I initially got the Citi prestige because the 40k ThankYou points sign up bonus paid for the annual fee of $450 and it came with access to the Admirals Club which, although usually subpar, meant that I’d always have access to a lounge when flying domestically. This card comes with a $250 airline credit good on any airline, a huge step above Amex’s travel credit as this is good on airfare whereas Amex is only airline incidental charges such as checked baggage fees. Another potentially huge benefit of the Citi Prestige is their 5th night free perk. At any hotel worldwide if you pay for 4 nights you get a 5th night free. This can save you lots of money if you stay in hotels a lot. I unfortunately don’t usually stay in hotels for 5 nights though. Consequently I don’t value this perk as much. There are many benefits of the Citi Prestige card that overlap with the Amex Platinum and Chase Sapphire Reserve cards such as PriorityPass and TSA PreCheck or Global Entry Credit and a similar concierge. Unfortunately they are removing the Admirals Club access in July so consequently, as this is the only differentiating perk I take advantage of, I will be canceling this card come summer before I get charged a second yearly fee. This card is losing a lot in value come July. I cannot recommend this card unless you find great value in the 5th night free perk.
Most recent on the stage of elite credit cards and making a huge splash in the market is the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, which also costs $450 per year. They were initially offering a 100k sign up bonus which caused much of the fervor. I was able to redeem those points for an upcoming flight on Singapore Airline’s A380 in suites class. I’m excited for that trip as it’ll be my first flight on the double decker A380 and my first flight in an enclosed suite in first class. The Sapphire Reserve comes with a $300 travel credit good on any travel coded purchases including, flights, hotels, trains, parking, tolls, taxis, Uber etc. This is by far the most generous and most flexible travel credit offered by a credit card. This essentially lowers the fee to $150 as almost everyone spends $300 a year on travel a year anyway. Of the elite cards this one offers the best point earning potential as it offers x3 points on all travel and dining, which is the majority of my spend. This card also offers the PriorityPass and TSA PreCheck or Global Entry Credit and a similar concierge. The PriorityPass membership on this card comes with guest access similar to the Amex Platinum. While many cards offer car rental insurance this is one of the few that offer primary insurance worldwide. Most cards still force you to file a claim on your insurance and then will cover any shortcomings. This is my favorite single card. The earning potential, signup bonus and perks offered by this card are only rivaled by the American Express Platinum and the effective cost of this card is a fraction of the Platinum card.
Starwood Hotels (SPG) was my favorite hotel loyalty program because it was the easiest to achieve top tier status and it had the most generous benefits, in addition to having awesome hotels. I’m speaking in past tense because SPG was bought out by Marriott. Marriott, on the other hand, has one of the worst loyalty programs. So currently I’m waiting to see what happens to the programs and how they merge the two. I got both Amex SPG cards, personal and business, because the sign up bonuses helped me stay for a week at the St Regis Hotel in Aspen. In addition I keep both of these cards for the moment because they make achieving elite status with Starwood easier by lowering the total number of nights needed each year by 10% each so 20%. Currently I don’t recommend signing up for these cards until we know what will happen to the SPG loyalty program. I suspect these cards will be discontinued.
Hilton was my hotel brand of choice before Starwood and that’s why I have the HHonors Visa Signature. I used to have their high-end card, which gave me two free nights at any Hilton property, which I used at the Waldorf Astoria in Boca Raton. The card was free for the first year and before being charged the yearly fee I downgraded the card to the free version, which has lower earning potential, but this isn’t a card I use anymore so it doesn’t matter to me.
Since AA is my airline of choice I opened both personal and business Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select credit cards. These cards each gave 50k AAdvantage Miles as the sign up bonuses. They come with other perks such as free checked bag but these are surpassed with my Executive Platinum status anyway. I’ll downgrade these cards in the near future and open the BarclayCard AAdvantage cards for their sign up bonuses. Which I believe are 40k each.
The Chase Ink Business Plus is one of the best business cards out there for various reasons. It gave me 60k points as the sign up bonus, which I transferred, to my personal Chase Sapphire Reserve card.
The Chase British Airways Visa Signature card is my newest card. This card is one of the few Chase credit cards that is outside of Chase’s onerous 5/24 rule. Chase doesn’t approve anyone who has opened more than 5 cards in the past 24 months; I guess they are trying to weed out people like me. Anyway the BA card has a tiered signup bonus of up to 100k BA Avios Points. I’ll receive 50k after I spend $3,000 within 3 months and then 25k and 25k after reaching subsequent spend thresholds in the following 12 months. I’ll have to calculate if it’s worth it to allocate my spend on this card. My gut reaction is I’ll stop at the initial bonus which will be enough for a Qatar Airways flight I have my eye on, more on that later.
One thing you may have noticed is that I don’t have cash back or fixed point reward cards like Capitol One, Chase Venture. . . The reason being that I save my rewards for aspirational redemptions. For example, an American Airlines business class round-trip flight from the US to Europe cost 115k AAdvantage miles. If I were to book with Capitol One points, which are valued at one cent each, I’d need anywhere between 300k and 500k points depending on the price of the ticket at the time. Yes they are more flexible but I don’t value the flexibility at a 400% price increase. And the discrepancy only grows as the reward becomes more exclusive. If, however, you use your rewards on domestic flights then a card like Capitol One may be the way to go as the price premium for the flexibility will be much lower.
Having this many credit cards can be very rewarding on many levels if handled properly. Not only do they allow me to essentially travel for free they also have helped raise my credit score. I realize that having this many cards and constantly cycling through them isn’t for everyone. I’m constantly dodging the yearly fees where possible by keeping a card for 11 months before downgrading it to the free version of the card. Another thing to keep in mind is that it is never worth paying 18% APR in interest to earn a few extra points. Pay in full every month! If you takeaway one thing from this post, I hope it’s a realization that the high-end cards, especially the Chase Sapphire Reserve, aren’t exclusively for the wealthy. You need to calculate the value it will yield. But if you start with the $450 annual fee and subtract the yearly travel credit you are now at $150. Then you look at the value of all the other perks and in my opinion they far outweigh the mid tier cards with annual fees of $69-$99.