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- Eric Rosenberg is an avid collector of credit card points and miles who has 14 open credit cards.
- Cards that earn points for flexible use are most valuable and are often worthwhile despite annual fees, he writes. The Chase Sapphire Reserve and the American Express® Gold Card are examples of that.
- Those are two of his most-recommended cards when family and friends ask which cards to open, along with the Chase Freedom and the Chase Freedom Unlimited.
I started with credit cards like many people do: I found a favorite rewards card that didn’t charge an annual fee and excitedly redeemed cash back every time my balance reached the minimum $25 to cash out.
But after time working as a bank manager and doing a bit more research, I started signing up for new cards to earn large bonuses and earn even bigger rewards.
The cards in my wallet change from time to time. After all, the big credit card issuers regularly release new innovative cards with great features. Counting my wife’s cards where I’m an authorized user, we currently have 14 open cards.
Here are some favorites that I regularly suggest to family and friends and cards I would never go without.
One of the cards I’ve held onto for the longest length of time is my Chase Sapphire Card. It started as a Sapphire Preferred card years ago, and last year I upgraded it to the ultra-premium Chase Sapphire Reserve.
While this card charges a $450 annual fee, I find it to be totally worthwhile. It pays me 3x points per dollar on all travel (excluding a $300 travel credit) and restaurant purchases and 1x everywhere else. While I really only use it for travel purchases (read the next section to learn why), its benefits are great for a frequent traveler.
The card gives you a $300 annual statement credit for the first $300 you spend on travel per year. Because I would spend the $300 anyway, the annual fee is effectively just $150. It also includes a Priority Pass Select membership that gets me access to airport travel lounges around the world.
Over the last month, I’ve probably enjoyed $75-plus in value of drinks and meals at lounges in London, New York, Los Angeles, and Los Angeles.
The AmEx Gold card charges $250 per year. That’s another big annual fee, but one that is clearly worth it for me. It pays 4x points per dollar on dining with no limit, 4x points per dollar at US supermarkets up to $25,000 in annual purchases (then 1x), and 3x points for flights books directly at airlines or amextravel.com.
I like Chase points a little more than American Express due to the transfer partners, but you can’t beat 4x per dollar on all of your groceries and restaurant visits. That earns this card a permanent spot in my wallet.
It also gives you an annual airline fee credit up to $100 for things like in-flight purchases or baggage fees. If you like GrubHub, Seamless, Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris, or Shake Shack (at participating locations), you’ll get a credit worth up to $10 per month on purchases there. If you take full advantage, that’s $220 in annual fee credits. That brings your true annual fee down to an effective $30.
Chase Freedom gives you 5x points per dollar up to $1,500 on popular quarterly rotating categories once you activate each quarter, and Chase Freedom Unlimited offers an unlimited 1.5x points per dollar. The cards typically give rewards in the form of cash back, but you can convert to points at a rate of 1 cent = 1 point. I have Chase Freedom and my wife has Freedom Unlimited. We are authorized users on each other’s cards so we can get the best benefit available.
I actually bought a label maker so I could put a sticker on the back of each card to remind me where to use them. Keeping track of the rotating categories for Chase Freedom, which changes the bonus categories every three months, can be tough. But the effort is worthwhile when you want to book a flight or hotel night with points! Neither has an annual fee.
I have had the old Marriott Rewards Premier Plus card for a long while, which recently became the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card. I don’t use it for much shopping, but I keep it because I get an annual free night award worth up to 35,000 points. Compared to the $95 per year I pay for the card, I’m bound to come out ahead when I book the free night.
As a frequent flyer, I often find myself on the way to those hotels on a United flight. I keep the United Explorer card primarily for the free checked bag benefit. Whenever I use the card to pay for a flight, I get a free checked back each way. If I bring my wife and we both check a bag, that’s worth $120 per round-trip right there. The card also gives me a credit that covers my Global Entry cost worth $100 every four years. Those benefits alone outweigh the $95 annual fee (waived the first year).
Pick the right cards for what you value
I’m a big fan of travel, so for me, a card that covers my travel costs is hugely valuable to me. With a family of four, I’m happy to save on plane tickets and hotel nights whenever I can. For the way I travel and the brands I prefer, this combination of cards works very well. If you prefer cash back, you probably want a different list of cards.
What is most important is to focus on what works well for your needs. Because I love luxury travel and want to pay as little as possible, these are a good fit. If you love to travel, you may want to add one or more to your personal finance arsenal.