Taking Inventory: What’s In My Wallet?

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There are a lot of misconceptions about how credit scores work, in particular people thinking that having a lot of credit cards will ruin your credit score. That’s not true… at all.

The beginners guide on the blog has a section about credit cards and credit scores, which explains why that’s not the case. About a year ago I shared my Experian credit score, which was 837 at the time, better than 98% of US consumers. And that’s despite the fact that I had over two dozen open credit cards at the time.


For those of you not familiar, here are the things which factor into your credit score:

  • 35% of your score is made up of your payment history
  • 30% of your score is your credit utilization
  • 15% of your score is your credit history
  • 10% of your score is made up of the types of credit you use
  • 10% of your score is your request for new credit

Credit score breakdown

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 which is lowered by applying for cards is your requests for new credit, but that makes up just 10% of your score. Furthermore, credit inquiries fall off your report after 24 months.

With that out of the way, I’m often asked which credit cards I have open, so I figured I’d share my list. I’d note that I’ve made a concious effort to decrease the number of cards in my wallet lately, so this is a scaled back version of my “inventory” at some points in the past.

I’ll breakdown my credit card inventory into three categories:

  • Cards I have for the ongoing perks — these are cards which are worth keeping and paying the annual fee on exclusively for the perks they offer me, even if I don’t spend a dime on them
  • Cards I have for everyday spend — these are cards I use to supercharge the number of points I earn for my everyday spend
  • Cards I have for other reasons or a combination of reasons — these are cards which are valuable for other reasons, or maybe because I have them for a combination of everyday spend and the annual perks.


Credit cards I have for the ongoing perks

IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card

This card offers an annual free night certificate, valid at any IHG property in the world. That more than justifies the card’s $49 annual fee. On top of that the card also comes with Platinum status as long as you have the card, and a 10% refund on redeemed points, up to 100,000 points per year.

This year I redeemed by free night at the InterContinental The O2 London, when the nightly rate would have otherwise been almost $500.


The Hyatt Credit Card

The Hyatt Credit Card also offers an annual free night certificate, valid at category 1-4 properties. To me that more than justifies the $75 annual fee of the card. This year I used the free night certificate at the Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

While the card has a $550 annual fee, it has all kinds of perks which more than offset it. This includes a $200 annual airline fee credit (which I used to purchase American Airlines gift cards a few months ago), access to American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts (which I get a ton of value out of), Centurion Lounge access, and more.

Amex Centurion Lounge Miami

Citi® Hilton HHonors Reserve Card

This card offers HHonors Gold status for as long as you have the card. That’s a really useful status level, as it gets you breakfast and/or club lounge access at Hilton properties. However, I recently got matched to Hilton Diamond status, so I’m not getting much use out of that now. Furthermore, The Platinum Card® from American Express now also offers Hilton Gold status, so I’m probably going to cancel the card when the annual fee is due.

One cool perk of this card is that you get a free weekend night certificate valid at any Hilton family property (including Conrad and Waldorf Astoria) if you spend $10,000 on the card per year. That has the potential to be well worth it, given that you can redeem it at a property which would cost 95,000 points per night.

Redeem your annual free weekend night certificate at the Conrad Koh Samui

Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card

This used to be one of the single most rewarding cards out there, as it offered a second free night on all award stays, which was incredible. Unfortunately that was discontinued last year, so the card isn’t nearly as useful as it used to be.

However, the card still offers a 40,000 point bonus upon your account anniversary each year, which is worth more than the card’s annual fee of $75. So while the card isn’t as compelling as it used to be, it’s still well worth it, in my opinion.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

This card offers a 10% refund on miles redeemed through AAdvantage, and you can be refunded up to 10,000 miles per year. I easily redeem 100,000 miles with American per year. My thought process is simply that I’ll gladly pay the $95 annual fee to get 10,000 miles per year — that’s less than a cent per mile.

AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard

This is the former US Airways card issued by Barclaycard, which I got before the US Airways brand disappeared. To be honest, I was going to cancel it last week, but they offered to refund the annual fee when I called in, so I figured I might as well hold onto it. If it’s not costing me anything, I’d rather have a card which adds to my average age of accounts than not.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card

This card offers an annual companion certificate, where the companion pays just $99 plus taxes and fees. The best part is that the companion also earns miles, is eligible for upgrades, etc. That more than justifies the card’s $75 annual fee.

Redeem your annual coach companion ticket on any Alaska Airlines flight

Credit cards I have for everyday spend

Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card

This is the top card in my wallet nowadays. It offers triple points at US supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year), and double points at US gas stations. On top of that you earn a 50% points bonus when you make 30 transactions in a billing cycle, meaning you’re really earning 4.5x points at supermarkets, 3x points at gas stations, and 1.5x Membership Rewards points on everything else. This makes it my “go to” card for everyday, non-bonused spend. To me that is well worth the $95 annual fee.

Earn 4.5x points at grocery stores with the EveryDay Preferred

Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

This card offers triple points on airfare, and double points at US gas stations, US supermarkets, and US restaurants. It’s a fantastically rewarding card, though given all the other cards I have for the purpose of maximizing points, I might cancel it when the next annual fee is due. As far as Amex products go, the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card is serving me very well.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

While the benefits of this card have been reduced somewhat over the past few years, it still offers double points on dining and travel, and most importantly, accrues “premium” Ultimate Rewards points. So if nothing else it goes very well with the Chase Freedom® Card and Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card, as those points couldn’t be transferred to airline and hotel partners if I didn’t have the Sapphire Preferred.

Chase Freedom® Card

This no annual fee card offers 5x points in rotating quarterly categories, for up to $1,500 of spend per quarter. This is basically an opportunity to earn 30,000 points on $6,000 of spend per year, in very popular categories. That’s a no brainer to me. Thanks to having the Chase Sapphire Preferred, I can also transfer these points to the Ultimate Rewards airline and hotel transfer partners, including Korean Air SkyPass and Hyatt Gold Passport.

Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card

This no annual fee card offers 5x points on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchased at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services each account anniversary year. That’s fantastic, especially since you can buy so many things at office supply stores. For example, I buy a lot of things through Amazon, and I always purchase Amazon gift cards at office supply stores so I earn 5x points.

gift cards
That’s a lot of opportunities for 5x points!

Citi ThankYou Premier Card

This card offers triple points on travel and gas as well as double points on dining and entertainment. Along with the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card, I consider this to offer one of the best returns on everyday spend, though I plan on cancelling it now that the annual fee is due. That’s simply because the Citi Prestige® Card is offering most of the same bonuses, and I’m holding onto it as well.

Earn 3x points on gas with the Citi ThankYou Premier

Credit cards I have for other reasons/combination of reasons

Citi Prestige® Card

I consider this to be the all around best card out there, so I have it both for the return on everyday spend and for the perks it offers. The card has a $450 annual fee, but for that you get a $250 annual airline creditan incredible fourth night free hotel benefit, the most comprehensive Priority Pass membership offered by any card, and a $100 Global Entry fee credit.

On top of that the card offers triple points on airfare and hotels, and double points on dining and entertainment. There’s also excellent travel coverage, making this my “go to” card for all my airfare and hotel purchases.

Simply put, this card is a no brainer.

I used the fourth night free benefit at the Westin Frankfurt

Hilton HHonors Card from American Express

This is a no annual fee card which I got several years ago, and have held onto ever since. It’s always good to hold onto some no annual fee cards long term to help your credit score. However, now that the Hilton HHonorsTM Surpass® Card from American Express has a 100,000 point sign-up bonus, I’m trying to decide whether to upgrade my existing card, or apply for a new card.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

I consider this to be one of the most lucrative cards in terms of return on everyday spend. I value Starpoints at ~2.2 cents each, so it’s a great card for everyday spend.

But the main reason I hold onto both of these cards is that they each offer two elite stays and five elite nights towards status annually. That means just for having both cards I start each year with four elite qualifying stays and 10 elite qualifying nights towards status. This should nicely help me requalify for Starwood Ambassador status.


Bottom line

I don’t think my card portfolio at this point is too unreasonable, though I’m always analyzing the merits of each card. I think I’m getting great value out of the cards I hold onto for the long term perks, while I think I need to cut 1-3 cards which help me maximize my return on everyday spend, because at some point annual fees negate the benefits of the increased return on spend.

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  1. What a coincidence! I was looking for a second credit card and curious as to what your inventory looks like. Heh thanks!

  2. With the AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard, I keep it because I am still getting 10,000 miles each anniversary of the card. Do you not have that benefit attached to your card or do you not think those miles are worth the annual fee?

  3. What’s your take on the Amex Centurion Card aka the “Black Card?” TPG got one and I don’t see how it appeals to his readers. I feel like he’s compensating for something else…

  4. @Jay Not all AAviator cards have that benefit – it was grandfathered in for cardholders who had it. The benefit was removed at some point for new applications of the US Airways card so thats why some card holders dont have that benefit. In terms of the 10% up to 10k miles refund on redeemed miles, it doesnt double when you have AAviator and the CitiAAdvantage cards so it doesnt make sense to have both long term unless you could get annual fees waived

  5. @P Well he can write off the fees as a business expense so he’s not actually paying out of pocket. Furthermore, theres not many details on the card and most people who have the card are not going to take time and blog about it. He’s basically trying to differentiate from other bloggers and make a few posts about the benefits of the card. While most people wont get the card since fees are so high, people also like to read about it. I’m certainly interested about TPGs experience with the card.

  6. I still have my old US Air Silver Aviator Barclaycard which gives me triple miles on AA purchases and the 10% back on redeemed miles for $195 per year. For my $15,000 in flight purchases on AA each year the triple points (as opposed to the normal double points) give me an additional 15000 miles which is worth the fee.

    So glad you posted this – always gives me some ideas on my next card.

  7. Why not switch to the USBank Club Carlson Business card? Still get the anniversary 40k but with only a $60 AF. Plus, since you don’t have it already you can get the 85k sign up bonus. For someone with a legit business like you, there really is no reason to have the Personal version. Unless you enjoy giving USBank and extra $15 a year 🙂

  8. I’ve had my Amex Platinum for a long time, but I’m having a hard time justifying it these days. After a couple visits to various Centurion clubs, I’ve figured out that I don’t value that perk. As far as Fine Hotels & Resorts, the cities that I travel to most tend to be the expensive ones (San Francisco / Chicago / Paris / Amsterdam / New York). I see how you use it in different cities to your benefit, but having a $100 F&B credit at the George V in Paris when the rate is $1000/night doesn’t help me at all. I have Hilton Diamond through the status match, but let’s see if I even use that once. 🙁

  9. What is your income you are reporting? What do you earn from people signing up? I have to laugh a little. The average American makes 35-40K but you think they can get 20 credit cards LOL. Have you seen fantasy island before?

    Seriously what is your target audience with this post?

  10. @Lucky: Just plain curiosity but how much of the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card benefits do you really use it? You said:”This is the top card in my wallet nowadays. It offers triple points at US supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year), and double points at US gas stations.”. You live in hotels full time and as far as I know do not own a car and do not like to drive. So, how much value do you really take from using this card in US supermarkets and US gas stations?

  11. @Tim

    My income is only a little more than that, I have 15 cards and a total revolving CL of twice my annual income. Of course I don’t “need” most of those cards, and some of them will be closed after the first year. If you handle credit wisely, it’s not a fantasy island.

  12. Don’t forget the Barclaycard Aviator Red still gives you 10,000 miles on your anniversary.

  13. @Tim: Great, this doesn’t apply to you, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to others. There are lots of us out there that do make good money and get lots of good advice from this, it isn’t meant to be applicable to everyone.

    Personally I spend and pay off about $70,000 on my American Airlines credit card and get a huge amount of miles and benefits from it, and that doesn’t include the miles I get from flying and the miles my executive platinum husband gets from flying. In a few weeks we’re taking a trip to the Middle East on Etihad business class all because of the advice we got from this blog and others on accruing and using miles.

    If it doesn’t apply to you then move on, it’s not fantasy island to all of us.

  14. Great summary of all the CC options out there Ben!
    Do you know if any of these cards are also available for people outside of the US?
    If not, what would the best international alternative be?


  15. Hi Ben,

    What is your top-rated card suggestion for someone in Canada? All too often, sadly, US residency is required for the card you suggest.



  16. @David W – I understand that not all of the Barclays cards had the 10,000 anniversary miles attached, which is why I asked if Lucky had that benefit attached to his card. 10,000 miles for $95/year is .0095 cents per mile, which is a good deal, in my opinion. So was just curious if his opinion various depending on that benefit being attached to the account, especially given you can’t get that card anymore.

  17. That is a lot of AF’s…like travel for free says…you can go broke trying to save money. That cost is too high for me even if you save money with the perks I think you end up spending more money (taking a trip to use a free night) etc. I see why it would work for someone who doesn’t have a house but for most of us I don’t think it makes sense to have more then 2 AF cards in our wallet.

    Good point from Santastico….do you buy gas or groceries?

  18. I think it’s a safe bet a guy who lives in hotels full-time has quite different spending patterns than almost everybody else.

  19. I had the Citi AAdvantge and Aviator Red for a while. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the targeted bonuses Aviator has had for the last year or so. Currently I get 3 miles/$ on gas stations and restaurants, last quarter it was supermarkets, and 2015Q4 it was restaurants; all are useful categories for me. I don’t know how they choose who gets targeted (my roommate has received most, not all, of the promotions as well), but I’ve been maxing out the bonus categories in the hopes that the offers don’t end! Aside from the fact that the Aviator wouldn’t be available to new users in the future, the surprise rotating bonuses made it a no brainier to hold on to Barclays and say bye to Citi for now.

  20. Ben, not sure if you saw the tweets I sent, but you do NOT earn 4.5x on grocery on the EDP card. I’ve seen you mention this in posts from last year too, and I thought I should correct you on this.

    My brain was essentially thinking the same thing as you when I picked up the EDP card last year. So I ran an experiment and maxed out the $6k in spending in 1 visit to my local grocery store. I then continued to swipe my card over 30 times that month thinking I’d earn a 50% bonus on the $6k purchase.

    This was not the case. I did earn 18k MR points, and the additional 1.5 should have brought me up to 27k points. Sadly, I only earned like 20k’something points that statement. And yes, I did make sure to get the 30 swipes in way before the billing statement closed 🙂

    My SO just got the card last month. We’re going to run the same experiment again here in the next couple of weeks. If you’d like me to report back, just follow me back on Twitter and I’ll send you a DM.

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