This article is Part 1 of our “What’s In Our Wallet” series. You can read Parts 2 and 3 at these links:
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.
I always enjoy reading and hearing about what cards people are getting and why. It’s eternally interesting to me 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. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’ve learned from smart people – some bloggers and some not – sharing their thought processes with me.
I’ve wanted to give back to Middle Age Miles readers and the points-and-miles community by sharing our own card portfolio and strategies. Even in the short time our site has been live, we’ve posted several “Keep vs. Cancel” and “card approval” articles with detailed analyses of how we choose our cards and get value from them.
So, ever since we launched Middle Age Miles, I’ve been looking forward to doing a comprehensive article (or series of articles) covering our entire card portfolio – What’s in our wallet, if you will. This article is Part 1 of What’s in our Wallet? 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, I’ll walk you through my thinking, which I hope will help you in terms of crafting your own card acquisition strategies.
In Part 2 of this series we’ll examine each of cards individually and let you know 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 December 1, 2018):
As you can see, we have a total of 39 cards – 29 for Craig and 10 for Philly.
The difference in the number of cards between us is worth some explanation. For me, starting in late 2015, I’ve gone full-speed ahead with acquiring and using cards. I’ve blown way past Chase 5/24, and I don’t mind managing a large portfolio of cards – and of course, with Middle Age Miles, it’s now my job to know about cards and how to use them! On the other hand, Philly’s 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 and bring her under 5/24 to give us access to Chase business cards.
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 11 Amex cards – 7 credit cards and 4 charge cards (personal Gold, Biz Platinum, Biz Rewards Gold, and 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 Ascend card. And somehow, I got a 7th card without having to cancel any others when I applied for the newly-released SPG Luxury card in August 2018.
From other issuers, I hold 6 Chase cards, 6 Citi cards, 3 from Barclays, 2 from Bank of America, and 1 from US Bank.
Philly’s portfolio is more Chase-centric. She holds 4 Chase cards, 3 from Amex, and 1 each from Bank of America, Barclays and Citi.
Looking at personal versus business cards – My 29 cards are 19 personal and 10 business. Philly’s 10 cards are 6 personal and 4 business.
What’s missing and what’s next in our card portfolios? For me, the glaring omission is an Amex personal Platinum card. I’d like to have 5x Membership Rewards (MR) points-earning for flights – and I’d especially like to pair that bonus category with the nicety that allows 4x MR points to be earned on flights “purchased” with MR points. I can also use the $200 annual airline credit and the monthly Uber credits pretty easily. I previously had the now-defunct Mercedes Benz personal Platinum card, but I canceled it earlier this year. I still have several other “flavors” of the personal Platinum card that I could apply for and cycle through.
For Philly, an Amex personal Platinum card might also be useful, but what’s really next on her agenda would be more Chase business cards. Right now, she’s comfortably below 5/24, so she’s eligible for a Chase Ink Cash (with a sign-up bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards (UR) points) and a Chase Ink Unlimited (also 50,000-UR sign-up bonus). She might also be able to get another Chase Ink Preferred card with a sign-up bonus of 80,000 UR points. The key with all of those applications will be to apply at the right velocity to get approvals and not trigger a shutdown.
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 the first-year annual fee is waived, we’ve indicated this as $0/$__ (the amount of the ongoing annual fee)):
No doubt, annual fees for us are huge. My cards total $4,194 for first-year fees and $4,931 if I held all of them on an ongoing basis. Philly’s cards total $1,640 for first-year and $1,735 ongoing. The totals are $5,834 for first-year and $6,666 if we held all of these cards on an ongoing basis.
I 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! And more 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 this “What’s in Our Wallet?” 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. Keep in mind that we’ve product-changed several cards (as described in the chart ), and we’ve also closed several cards (shown on the chart in red).
Here’s our chart of cards by date acquired (personal cards are in black, and business cards are in blue):
One thing to notice is that virtually all of our cards were acquired since late 2015 (in the past 3 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 (however, through the years I’d accumulated several hundred thousand miles on it that at that time counted toward AA lifetime Million Miler status). 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 Amex card, 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 I would get 3 club-level upgrade certificates – and this would be perfect for our trip! I was approved for the card, we used a certificate, the Ritz Kapalua club level was terrific, and I was hooked.
You’ll see from there that I 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, I was able to hit bonuses that were at or near their all-time highs. At the same time, though, I had much to learn and perhaps could have made better choices.
One important thing to note about our 2015-16 strategy was to put it into context 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 I didn’t worry about 5/24. I 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 has to pay more attention 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. By then, our applications were more strategic. We both got the Amex Mercedes Benz personal Platinum card in June 2016 when the sign-up bonus hit an all-time high. Philly jumped on the Chase Sapphire Reserve quickly when it released in September 2016. I waited a few weeks until November, because my knowledge of the Chase approval process at the time strongly suggested that this was the correct timing. In early 2017, we both got the newly-released Barclays AA cards, primarily to take advantage of the ability to earn extra AA Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) and Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs). I had in mind that we might make a run at earning AA Executive Platinum status during 2017. And indeed, we did make Exec Plat, with the card-earned EQDs and EQMs being indispensable to getting there.
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 group of 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 juicy 80,000-UR-point sign-up bonus (plus a nice referral bonus for JBTx!).
As for me, I’ve stepped up the applications a bit in 2018 as I prepared to launch Middle Age Miles. I’ve already been approved for 12 cards this year. I’ve managed to get 3 Citi AA Platinum cards using mailers with no 24-month language. After being denied once for the US Bank Altitude Reserve, I very strategically positioned myself for a second run at it, and I succeeded in June 2018. I got the Citi Premier card shortly after I emerged from the 24-month period for ThankYou-earning cards. I got the Amex SPG Luxury card in the 3-day window before I would have become ineligible. On the last day the “old” Amex personal Gold card was available, I got that card, receiving all of the “upgraded” benefits and a 50,000 MR-point sign-up bonus, on the last day the first-year annual fee waiver was available. And my acquisitions of the B of A Alaska Air Visa, the Chase World of Hyatt card, and my Citi AA Platinum #3 were also very strategic.
At this point, our current stats are:
- 15/24 (+1 AU card)
Looking ahead, as we discussed above, I’m seriously thinking about applying for an Amex personal Platinum card in the next few days, and we’ll keep Philly focused on Chase business cards. And of course, I’ll keep my eyes open for any other strategic opportunities to get more points and miles to travel for free!