I have 26 credit cards — here’s how I decide which one to use

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  • The author, Holly Johnson, has 26 credit cards, but she uses a specific formula to determine which one to use.
  • Johnson keeps her eye out for credit card bonus categories on specific types of purchases, particularly when it comes to cards that offer 5% back in categories that rotate each quarter.
  • While rewards are great, there are times when it makes sense to use a specific credit card to gain consumer protections or free insurance benefits instead.

My husband and I have 26 different credit cards across our personal profiles and business accounts. I’m painfully aware of how crazy that sounds, but to me, it feels totally normal.

We have credit cards for different businesses we own, and we each have several of the same rewards cards we use to rack up airline miles and flexible travel points. I’m organized, so keeping track of a slew of different cards and their details isn’t a big deal.

Still, we never carry them all – not even close. In fact, I only carry three or four credit cards with me when I go somewhere, even though sometimes I do trade cards in and out of my wallet. And even that might sound like too many for some people, but keep in mind that each card has a purpose.

Here’s how I decide which credit card to use for everything I buy:

Which card offers the most points or miles?

Since I mostly use credit cards to earn rewards, the first question I ask myself is which of my favorite cards will dole out the most points or miles for any purchase.

I always use my beloved Chase Sapphire Reserve card for travel and dining purchases, but I will sometimes use my Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard for regular purchases so I can earn 2x miles for every dollar I spend. And of course, I always use my Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express for Hilton Hotel stays since I earn 14x points for each dollar I spend.

Do any bonus categories apply?

Then there’s the question of bonus categories, which I mostly focus on with my Chase Freedom card. Like the Discover it® Cash Back, this card gives you 5% back on up to $1,500 spent in categories that rotate each quarter once you activate, plus 1% back on all other purchases.

The Chase Freedom categories are usually ones I can utilize, although they change every quarter. For April of June of this year, for example, I am using my Chase Freedom more than normal to earn 5% back at grocery stores and home improvement stores. I can easily max this category out through grocery spending alone, so why not?

Do I need access to insurance or travel perks?

Still, there are times when I use credit cards for the consumer perks more than the rewards. When I’m booking travel and especially airfare and car rentals, for example, I always use my Chase Sapphire Reserve. This is due to the myriad travel benefits it offers, including primary auto rental coverage, trip cancellation/interruption coverage, baggage delay insurance, trip delay reimbursement, lost luggage reimbursement, and travel and emergency assistance.

When it comes to the insurance benefits specifically, you only qualify for coverage “when the common carrier fare for the transportation has been charged to an eligible Chase card or purchased with rewards earned on an eligible Chase card,” according to Chase. In other words, you have to pay for travel with your Chase card to get Chase benefits. Fortunately, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 3x points on travel purchases (excluding its $300 travel credit) so it’s a good card to use anyway.

Believe it or not, my husband and I have had to use this coverage before. We wound up stranded in Jamaica for two extra days a few years ago when a snowstorm blanketed the southern US. This meant paying for two extra nights at our all-inclusive hotel plus a few airport meals. I submitted our claim through our Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which is what we paid with at the time, and I was reimbursed for all the charges within a few weeks. Ever since then, I’ve been extra careful about paying for travel with a card that offers different types of travel insurance. You never know when you’ll need it!

The bottom line

Having a lot of credit cards may not be for everyone, but I’m happy with the perks we get in return. Not only do we earn travel rewards we use to see the world, but we get consumer protections and insurance that helps make travel a lot less stressful.

However, you may notice that I never consider credit card interest rates before I make a purchase. That’s because I’m 100% debt-free and plan to stay that way. Before you jump into credit card rewards, you should make sure you’re free of consumer debt.

Curious which credit cards I use the most and why? Here are some of my favorites: