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Diversity is incredibly important in your credit card strategy for a lot of reasons. You need cards with different bonus categories, perks that don’t overlap, and ideally cards that earn different types of points so you’ll have more flexibility when you’re ready to redeem.
It’s also important to think about the role different cards play in helping you build your credit score. If all you ever do is open cards for the welcome bonus and close them a year later, sooner or later your credit score will take a hit. Today I’m going to talk about the three kinds of cards I carry in my wallet, and how each one helps me earn points, travel better or build a strong credit score.
Cards I actually spend money on
This is the simplest and most obvious category, as it represents the cards that I actually carry in my wallet as opposed to leaving in a desk drawer at home. Within this category you’ll find two different types of cards: cards with strong bonus categories like the American Express® Gold Card which I use for all my dining and grocery purchases at U.S. supermarkets and the Chase Sapphire Reserve® that I use for travel expenses. Prepandemic, I’d estimate that as much as 50% of my monthly expenses went on one of these two cards.
Knowing that I spend heavily on travel and food, I was able to target cards that offer high returns in those categories. With the Amex Gold I earn 4x on worldwide dining purchases and at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year at U.S. supermarkets; then 1x). TPG values Membership Rewards point at 2 cents each, making that a very solid 8% return. Similarly, the Sapphire Reserve earns 3x points per dollar on a very broadly defined travel category, letting me rack up thousands of bonus points a year paying for airfare, hotels, rideshares, parking meters, group tours and a host of other things.
The other half of my expenses don’t clearly fall into a single bonus category, so I use a card that offers a strong return on everyday spending. For me that usually means rotating between The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express (2x Membership Rewards points per dollar on your first $50,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x) and the Chase Freedom Unlimited® (1.5% cashback / 1.5x Ultimate Rewards points on all purchases).
Cards I keep open for their perks and benefits
The premium credit card market has continued to grow in recent years, with new offerings and product refreshes convincing customers to pay hefty annual fees to unlock luxury travel and lifestyle perks. I pay the $550 annual fee (see rates and fees) on The Platinum Card® from American Express every year, but I’d be shocked if I made more than 10 purchases on the card in a calendar year. While The Platinum is the original premium rewards card, it only offers one narrowly defined bonus category and I have other ways to earn Membership Rewards points (see above).
Still, I’m able to get a good value each calendar year by using the card’s up to $200 airline incidental fee credit, up to $200 annual Uber credit ($15 a month with a $20 bonus in December), the up to $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit (broken down to $50 from January to June and another $50 from July to December), and the occasional money-saving Amex Offer. Add in access to Amex’s growing collection of Centurion Lounges, some of the best airport lounges in the world, and I feel like I get my money’s worth every year.
One of my other favorite credit cards, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, falls into this category as well. I happily hold four different Bonvoy credit cards, but put all my spending on the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card, not the Bonvoy Brilliant.
Related: Which Marriott Bonvoy credit card is right for you?
Still, the Brilliant offers an incredibly compelling value proposition. In exchange for a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees) you get an up to $300 annual Marriott property credit that can be used for room rates, food and drink, spa treatments and certain other incidental charges. That’s as good as cash to me, knocking the out of pocket cost for the card down to just $150.
Enter the most valuable benefit on the card, the anniversary free night certificate worth up to 50,000 points. TPG values Marriott points at .8 cents each, meaning you “pay” $150 for a free night worth $400, but it’s easy to get even more value than that. This year I redeemed my 50,000 point free night certificate at the St. Regis Langkawi, for a room that would’ve otherwise cost $650. That’s to say nothing of the massive pool suite we were upgraded to or the incredible free breakfast we received thanks to my Titanium elite status, easily bringing the value of this one night to $800 or more.
No-annual-fee cards that boost my credit score
It might surprise you to hear that a decent portion of my wallet consists of cards that I don’t spend any money on andthat don’t offer any meaningful benefits. In many ways, these are the most important cards. A great example would be The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express, one of the first cards I opened after maxing out my 5/24 slots with Chase. The card doesn’t offer any valuable travel perks, and it’s earning rate isn’t as good as other cards in my wallet. But because this card has no annual fee, I plan to keep it open forever, increasing the average age of accounts and providing a serious boost to my credit score. The information for the Amex EveryDay card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
I have a few other cards that fall under this category, and the truth is these are the only cards I can say for certain I’ll always keep. While I love my Chase Sapphire Reserve, I could easily imagine Chase tweaking the benefits or raising the annual fee in the future to a point where I couldn’t justify it anymore. But for cards that have no annual fee, no amount of benefit changes or devalued earning rates would cause me to close the card as it costs me nothing to keep it open. Just be sure to put a small charge on the card every nine-12 months (like a pack of gum or a $1 Amazon balance reload) so the banks don’t close it for inactivity.
Holding different types of credit cards means more than just Visas and Mastercards or airline miles and hotel points. It means holding cards that serve different purposes and potentially even holding a large number of cards that you rarely spend anything on.
For rates and fees of the Platinum Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card, please click here.
Featured image by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy