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Middle Age Miles

What’s In Our Wallet 2020? Part 1: Our Cards and Breakdowns by Annual Fee and Date Acquired

what's in our wallet 2020 part 1 cards annual fees date acquired card acquisition strategy
What’s in our wallet this year?

This article is part of our “What’s In Our Wallet 2020?” series. Here are links to Parts 2 & 3, and once published we’ll add a link to the Epilogue:

* Part 2 – What’s In Our Wallet 2020? – Why We Acquired and Hold Each Card

* Part 3 – What’s In Our Wallet 2020? – Our “Spend Matrix” – How We Use Bonus Categories to Maximize Our Points-and-Miles Earning and Travel For Less

* What’s In Our Wallet 2020? – Epilogue – Where Do We Go From Here? Our Credit Card Strategies for 2020

Introduction

There’s no faster way to increase your points-and-miles balances than through credit card sign-up bonuses. These are the points and miles that allow us to travel for less, get great value, and sometimes even give us incredible aspirational travel experiences. For that reason alone, it would be worthwhile to examine what credit cards we’ve acquired and hold.

Beyond that, we strategically spend in the bonus categories on our cards to maximize our points earning and get us even closer to our dream vacations. Using a variety of cards, we’re able to get a return of 4-8% on most of our spend, to be used toward travel. It’s a matter of having the right cards and using them at the right time.

And finally, some cards have valuable benefits such as hotel free night certificates that can even further reduce our travel expenses and perhaps allow us to experience things that would have been difficult or impossible for us otherwise.

We always enjoy reading and hearing about what cards people are getting and why. It’s eternally interesting to learn what features and benefits attract people, how clever people craft valuable portfolios from multiple cards, when people decide to sign up for cards, and how they make their keep-vs-cancel decisions. We can’t even begin to describe how much we’ve learned from smart people – some bloggers and some not – sharing their thought processes.

We’ve wanted to give back to Middle Age Miles readers and the points-and-miles community by sharing our own card portfolio and strategies. Among other things, we regularly post “Keep vs. Cancel” and “card approval” articles with detailed analyses of how we choose our cards and get value from them.

With that in mind, we’re kicking off the 2020 version of our comprehensive series of articles covering our entire card portfolio – What’s In Our Wallet 2020? This article is Part 1 of the series. Here, we’ll go over all of our cards. We’ll look at how many cards we have from each major issuer and how many personal versus business cards we hold. Next, we’ll look at the annual fees for each card we hold. And finally, we’ll look at our card acquisition by date, including our statistics in terms of card velocity. At each stage, we’ll walk you through our thinking, which we hope will help Middle Age Miles readers in terms of crafting your own card acquisition strategies.

In Part 2 of this series we’ll examine each of our cards individually and explain why we acquired and hold each card. And finally, in Part 3, we’ll present our “spend matrix.” That is, we’ll look at what card we use for each category of spend in order to maximize our ongoing points-earning and get us closer to our dream travel destinations.

What’s in Our Wallet?

Let’s start by looking at all of the cards we hold at Middle Age Miles. Here’s our chart, broken down by card issuer, and personal versus business cards (all data in this article is as of February 1, 2020):

As you can see, we now have a total of 44 cards – 30 for Craig and 14 for Philly. That’s up from 39 cards when we published the original version of this article a little more than a year ago.

The difference in the number of cards between Philly and me is worth some explanation. For me, starting in late 2015 and continuing into early 2019, I went full-speed ahead with acquiring and using cards. I blew way past Chase 5/24 in my first few months in points-and-miles (as we’ll discuss later, 5/24 had different rules then, which didn’t restrict me as a Chase Private Client). In addition, I don’t mind managing a large portfolio of cards. Of course, with Middle Age Miles, it’s now my job to know about many different cards and how to use them! On the other hand, Philly’s full-time job fully occupies her time and brainpower. And she doesn’t love keeping up with lots of cards or dealing with things like retention calls. Thus, we made the decision to keep her card portfolio more focused keep her under 5/24 after her initial spree, to give us access to Chase business cards.

As we mentioned earlier, we’ll examine why we acquired and hold each card individually in our next article in this series. But let’s look at some big-picture things now.

Broken down by card issuer, you can see that we hold more cards from Amex than any other issuer. I alone have 12 Amex cards – 7 credit cards and 5 charge cards (personal Platinum, personal Gold, 2 Biz Platinums, and a Biz Green). Typically, Amex’s limit is 5 credit cards. I was able to have a 6th when the Citi Hilton Reserve card was acquired by Amex and became the Surpass/Ascend card back in early 2018. And somehow, I got a 7th Amex credit card without having to cancel any others when I applied for the then-new SPG Luxury card (now Amex Marriott Brilliant) in August 2018.

From other issuers, I hold 7 Citi cards, 6 Chase cards, 2 from Bank of America, 2 from US Bank, and 1 from Barclays.

Philly’s portfolio is more Chase-centric. She holds 7 Chase cards, 4 from Amex, and 1 each from Bank of America, Barclays and Citi.

Looking at personal versus business cards – My 30 cards are 20 personal and 10 business. Philly’s 14 cards are 6 personal and 8 business.

What’s missing and where do we go next with credit card portfolios? We’ll cover that subject in detail in the Epilogue to this series.

Cards by Annual Fee

By this point, you’ve probably wondered – just how much does Middle Age Miles pay in annual fees on credit cards? So, let’s take a look at our cards, ordered by the amount of annual fee. For cards where we’re paying a lower annual fee now but the amount will increase when our card renews this year, we’ve put the increased amount in parentheses. For cards where we’re in our first year holding a card where the first-year annual fee is waived, we’ve indicated this as $0 FY ($__), with the number in parentheses being the amount of the ongoing annual fee.

Here’s our list of cards by annual fee:

No doubt, annual fees for us are huge. The fees on my own cards total $5,283 at this time, and they’ll increase to $5,582 if we continue to hold them all. Philly’s cards total $2,479 at this time and $2,674 if we continue to hold them all.

The totals are $7,762 at this time and $8,256 if we continue to hold all of these cards going forward.

We know that this level of annual fees isn’t right for everyone, but it works for us. We travel a lot – and that’s also what we hope many, many Middle Age Miles readers will do! A large part of our annual fees can be considered as the cost of prepaid discounted travel, as our annual fees generally convert, directly or indirectly, into travel benefits and points-and-miles that we use for travel.

And most importantly, examined individually, we get more benefit out of each card we hold than we pay in annual fees. We’ll examine each card individually in Part 2 of our “What’s in Our Wallet 2020?” series.

Cards by Date Acquired

The order and velocity of acquiring cards is also a fascinating subject, so we’ll take a close look at when we acquired each card. Note that there are many cards that we’ve product-changed after we acquired the card, including some that we’ve product-changed several times. For product-changed cards, we’ve listed the current card first and included a parenthetical identifying the original card and the product-change history.

Here’s our chart of cards by date acquired, using the following color key:

  • Personal cards are in black
  • Business cards are in blue
  • Where one of us holds an AU card, it’s shown in green
  • Closed cards are in red

One thing to notice is that virtually all of our cards were acquired since late 2015 (in the past 4 years as of the date of this article). Prior to that, we had only a few cards and virtually no focus on travel rewards. I’d had a Citi AA card for several years but had ultimately canceled it. And – though it makes me cringe to type this – I was putting some personal spend and in excess of $100,000 in annual business spend on a Costco card (then issued by Amex), most of which was unbonused spend earning me 1% cash back. Ouch!!! At least the good news is that my law practice was thriving, and my time was certainly best-spent on that endeavor! Philly’s situation was similar; most of her spend was on a Chase Freedom card at 1%.

Fortunately, my good friend JBTx finally persuaded me to pay attention to credit card rewards. I always thought it was something of a scam – that the benefits were illusory, that whatever I wanted to use them for, they couldn’t be used for that. (Perhaps this was influenced by my historical experience with the AAdvantage program!) But Philly and I were planning a Maui vacation for October 2015, and JBTx extolled the virtues of the Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa card. One of the benefits was that we would get 3 club-level upgrade certificates, which would be perfect for our trip! I was approved for the card, we used a certificate, the Ritz Kapalua club level was terrific, and we became hooked.

You’ll see from there that we jumped in fairly aggressively – within the next 5 months I’d gotten 7 cards and Philly 3. Our card choices were somewhat strategic – we got sign-up bonuses of points that fit our travel patterns, and with JBTx’s guidance, we were able to hit some sign-up bonuses that were at or near their all-time highs. At the same time, though, we had much to learn and perhaps could have made better choices. 

In understanding our 2015-16 credit card strategy, it also helps to put it into historical context, particularly with respect to the Chase 5/24 Rule. The 5/24 Rule was implemented in mid-to-late 2015, and it took a while for the crowdsourced data analysis to figure it out. And even then, as of 2016, Chase Private Clients were exempted from 5/24. We were Private Clients, so we didn’t worry about 5/24. We believe that I was one of the very last Chase Private Clients to get approved for a Sapphire Reserve card while over 5/24, when I got the card in mid-November 2016. Now, the Private Client exception is gone, and everyone is subject to the 5/24 Rule – so everyone focused on points and miles should be more strategic about to the order and timing of their applications. 

Beyond that original application spree, I accumulated cards pretty steadily, a little less than one per month. We got cards for Philly at a slower pace. Our applications became more strategic. On Philly’s side, we made a decision in late 2017 to scale back her applications to bring her back under 5/24. At that point, the defunct Private Client exception wasn’t going to help us any more, and Chase was introducing a new lineup of Ink business cards with great sign-up bonuses and interesting bonus category benefits. We finally got her under 5/24 in July 2018 and immediately picked up the Chase Ink Preferred business card with its sweet 80,000-UR-point sign-up bonus. 

On my side, I continued to apply for numerous cards in 2017-18 as we prepared to launch Middle Age Miles. In 2018, I was approved for 12 cards, an average of one per month. After all, it would become my job to have in-depth knowledge of as many credit cards as possible, right? Strategic applications were quite valuable, as we covered in articles such as The “West Coast” Offer Works! – Approved for a 40k Bonus on the Alaska Air Visa (October 9, 2018) and A Case Study and Success Story of Strategic Card Applications – Approved for Chase World of Hyatt & Citi AA Platinum Cards (October 25, 2018) (at least the World of Hyatt card has turned out well!).

In 2019, though, you’ll see that our card acquisition rate slowed dramatically. For one thing, I was starting to have trouble with approvals for new cards, as we wrote about in articles such as Experiment Foiled! Denied for the Ebates Visa Card (March 27, 2019) and Case Study – Should I Execute on a 15-Month Plan to Get Under 5/24? (July 22, 2019). We’ve stuck steadfastly to that plan, and my only card applications since March 2019 have been a couple of business cards. Assuming that the plan holds, I’ll be under 5/24 in November 2020.

On Philly’s side, we’ve continued to play things quite conservatively. We’ve only picked off some Chase Ink business cards, said yes when Amex offered her a second Business Platinum card with a nice sign-up bonus, and strategically gotten her an Amex Business Green card to help with upgrade-downgrade strategies.

In addition to our card openings, it’s also interesting to look back at the cards we closed in the past year. That list is:

  • Craig
    • Feb 2019 – B of A Alaska Air Biz
      • Basically closed in order to churn; opened a new one in Sept 2019
      • See our keep-or-cancel article here
    • May 2019 – Barclays Wyndham Rewards
      • Card benefits reduced; Wyndham Rewards program devalued
    • Jan 2020 – Barclays AA Aviator Biz
      • Card benefits don’t justify annual fee; potentially churnable
      • See our keep-or-cancel article here
  • Philly
    • Dec 2019 – Amex Marriott Biz
      • Increased annual fee to $125; only useful benefit to us was 35k free night certificate, and we have a lot of other certs

At this time, our current stats are: 

  • Craig
    • 10/24
    • 1/12
    • 0/6
  • Philly
    • 0/24
    • 0/12
    • 0/6

Those numbers are almost embarrassing for points-and-miles bloggers!!!

Wrap-Up

We hope you’ve found the first article in our “What’s In Our Wallet 2020?” series to be interesting. Credit card points-and-miles strategies always fascinate me, and it’s enlightening to take a step back to see an overview of long-term strategies as well as look at card-by-card strategies along the way.

As we mentioned at the outset, we have 3 more articles coming in this series – Part 2 where we’ll review why we acquired and hold each card; Part 3 where we review our “spend matrix” of how we our cards to maximize points-and-miles earning; and an Epilogue where we look forward into our credit card strategies for 2020. We’re looking forward to those articles and the discussion that they generate!

What do you think of our credit card portfolios and long-term acquisition & closure strategies? What does your own portfolio look like? Please let us know in the Comments!


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11 thoughts on “What’s In Our Wallet 2020? Part 1: Our Cards and Breakdowns by Annual Fee and Date Acquired

  1. Pingback: What's in Grant's (iPhone) Wallet?

  2. HS

    If unloading that Amex Marriott (Bonvoy) Business was not a no-brainer in December, it sure is today after the many category 5 to category 6 revaluations. $30 more a year in AF *and* loss of a great many of the potentially worthwhile hotels.

    I admit to having a hard time letting cards go as their value diminishes, but here — like you — we’re going to make an exception!

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi HS – Yes, we cut Philly’s Bonvoy Biz card. We were actually planning to keep mine but now need to re-evaluate in light of the category changes. Seems quite likely that we’ll now cut mine too. My initial reaction was like yours – looks like a brutal gutting of cat 5 properties. ~Craig

  3. Bob Johnson

    Craig: A very thorough lay down. Remarkable how your experience mirrors mine. I entered “the game” in 2016. Between my wife and me, we have 57 credit cards, with a strong mix of personal and business cards. Like you, I’m “retired” and my wife owns her own business (so I act as her business manager – taking advantage of her cash flow spend and managing both sets of our credit cards). I, too, have entered the “slow down” period in order to get below 5/24 (right now I’m at 10/24 and my wife is at 9/24). Where I may be departing from your approach is a reassessment of annual fees. I’m becoming convinced that we can get 70-80% of the benefits with an annual fee “light” approach. I’m looking at dumping most premium cards, except one Aspire and a Biz Plat w/AU, and cutting to a half dozen AF cards that focus on airline and hotel programs (mainly for the benefits). As you noted in a separate response to a comment from me, the Ritz is a hard premium card to let go – with the AU benefits, etc. But I think Marriott is going to bail on the card and I want to establish a “light” approach that is sustainable for at least a couple of years. My question – why are you so heavy with AMEX Biz Plats? They are one of the most expensive premium cards around.

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Bob – Thanks, I really enjoyed this comment. Sounds like you’ve done a great job maximizing over the past 4 years!

      I fully appreciate the idea of going lighter on the annual fees. Frankly, I think you can get about 80% of the miles-and-points benefits with about 20% of the effort and corresponding fees (ok, maybe a little higher than 20%!). There are 3 main reasons we’ve stayed heavier – (1) we do travel a lot & actually use the benefits, (2) I’m overly compulsive about maximizing, and (3) with the blog it makes sense to have a lot of cards and experiment to maximize them for content purposes. Clearly only factor #1 should rationally apply for most people.

      Great question on Biz Plats. We’ll cover in more detail in Part 2 but upgrade offers have played a huge part as you might imagine.

      Thanks again for a great comment and your support of Middle Age Miles! ~Craig

  4. Grant

    Craig – great summary and very detailed. I look forward to hearing why you and Philly keep 4 AMEX Biz Plats and 2 CSR CCs. I eagerly wait to read the rest of this series 🙂

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Thanks Grant! Great questions, of course, which we’ll cover in Part 2. On the Biz Plat side, upgrade offers have played a huge part as you might imagine. Just got home from Seattle but I’ll finish up Part 2 and get it posted no later than tomorrow. ~Craig

  5. Rob

    Been enjoying reading your articles.

    In regards to AMEX’s “upgrade-downgrade strategies,” does the upgraded card must not be present in the same account/login/profile? For example, if one has Biz Plat and Biz Green in the same login account, would AMEX offer an upgrade from Biz Green to Biz Plat? Would it be better to have Biz Green and Biz Plat with separate login accounts?

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Rob – Thanks for the comment, and I’m really glad to hear you’ve been enjoying Middle Age Miles. On your question, I don’t know that there’s a clear answer as to whether you’ll be *prohibited* from upgrade offers if the cards are on the same online account/profile. But I’m pretty sure that it’s more likely and easier to do upgrade-downgrades if the cards are on separate online accounts/profiles. You can call Amex to separate them if needed – just call the customer service number on the back of the card you’d like to separate. ~Craig

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