I talk a big game when it comes to credit cards, but I realize I’ve yet to share with you guys my exact credit card strategy and the cards that I’m holding onto at the moment. In this post, I’ll talk about my general approach when it comes to applying for new credit cards, and I’ll also provide a rundown of the ones I currently have open and why I have them open (on both sides of the border!)
How Often Do I Apply for a New Credit Card?
Back when I first started collecting points, my general strategy was to apply for two or three new credit cards every quarter. I’d carefully maintain a running calendar of the various good offers I planned on getting over the next 12 months, spaced out over three-month intervals, and every time a new quarter rolled around, I’d knock out two or three of them.
Knowing that playing the game in two-player mode was a key method of scaling my earnings, I’d do the same for applying for credit cards in Jessica’s name, and together we’d bring in a nice chunk of bonuses on a regular basis to get us closer to our next big trip.
Among these two or three new cards every quarter, there’d usually be one or two American Express cards of some sort (say, the Business Platinum Card and the Bonvoy Card), plus one of the sweet deals from one of the Big 5 banks (like the TD Aeroplan or the RBC Avion).
I had decided to keep to a quarterly schedule mostly to keep things simple and reduce the amount of bandwidth that this stuff took up in my life. Nevertheless, I’d occasionally deviate from that schedule if an AMAZING deal came up.
Take the CIBC Aerogold for Business 35k + First Year Free offer, for example – that’s the calibre of offer for which I’d “break” the three-month cycle without hesitation, just to snag that bonus while as soon as I can.
Sometimes, I’d get declined for a new credit card. It happens to everyone from time to time – even recently, for example, I was declined for the HSBC World Elite MasterCard late last year. If a bank declined me for a reason along the lines of “too many recent credit inquiries”, then I took that as a signal to take my foot off the gas for a bit and lay low for a few months.
(Banks are often reluctant to disclose the exact reason you were declined, but I found that it helps to follow up relentlessly to ask for a reconsideration, press them on the reason for the decline, and perhaps even lose your temper a bit!)
Remember, this stuff isn’t an exact science. Instead, it’s all about interpreting signals and taking action upon them, and getting declined for “too many recent credit inquiries” is probably one of the clearest signals you can get.
Nowadays, I’ve earned much bigger volumes of points than I can spend, so I’m no longer as aggressive with the two to three new credit cards every quarter. However, if you’re new to the game, I’d say that’s a reasonable pace for you to follow as you look to rack up the bonuses, especially if you already have a long and established credit history.
Over on the US side, I’d say that my strategy is a little different. Sure, there are big bonuses down there, but many of them are either strictly once-in-a-lifetime (Amex) or have defined schedules as to how often you can get repeat bonuses (Chase, Citi), so there’s no real rush to apply for new cards if you don’t urgently need the points at the moment.
Instead, US credit cards is all about playing the long game and allowing your newly-minted credit file to mature over time. To that end, I find myself simply applying for a new credit card whenever I feel like it – basically whenever an offer comes along that’s good enough to motivate me to apply right then and there.
And even with almost three years’ worth of US credit history now, I still have to contend with declined applications from time to time. For example, Chase approved me for the Sapphire Preferred over a year ago, but still won’t approve me for the Ink Business Preferred, even though I’ve applied three times already. Like I said, it’s about playing the long game…
What’s in My Wallet?
With that said, let me share with you the credit cards that I (and Jessica) have open at the moment. We’ll begin with the cards that we actually use on a daily basis, beyond just opening it for the signup bonus.
Obviously, points earned through daily purchases are far inferior to the huge welcome bonuses out there, but it’s still good to maximize them if you’re going to be making those purchases anyway.
Amex Business Platinum
In addition to its incredibly generous signup bonus of 75,000 MR points and referral bonus of 25,000 MR points, I also value the Business Platinum Card for its 1.25x earn rate on all purchases.
That’s one of the best returns you can get on non-bonused daily spending, since the versatility of Amex MR points means that all your purchases are getting you a step closer to cheap business class flights via Aeroplan, cheap short-haul flights via British Airways Avios, or free hotel stays via Marriott Bonvoy.
It goes without saying that the Cobalt Card’s 5x return on groceries and dining is simply unbeatable, so it gets all my spending in that category.
Otherwise, the only other occasion on which I’d use my Cobalt would be when paying for public transit, which earns 2x MR Select points with the Cobalt Card, but isn’t a part of the bonus categories on any other card.
MR Select points, despite not being eligible for airline transfers, still have a variety of uses for those who travel often. To learn more, you can read my analysis on the optimal ways to redeem MR Select points from the Cobalt Card.
Amex Gold Rewards Card
I signed up for an Amex Gold Rewards Card via Perkopolis, so I didn’t have to pay a first-year annual fee in exchange for the 25,000 MR points. I put my travel purchases on this card for the 2x MR points, although I could achieve the same thing on the Platinum Card after the recent round of changes – I’m mostly sticking with the Gold Rewards Card out of habit.
Meanwhile, this card is also great for drugstore purchases at places like Shoppers Drug Mart or Rexall, which also earn 2x MR points and aren’t a part of the bonus categories on any card.
I actually just signed up for another round of the Amex Bonvoy Card after the bonus increased to 60,000 Bonvoy points last week. I stay at Marriott hotels a fair bit, so I’ll be putting all my Marriott spending on this card for the 6x Bonvoy points return.
When you’re staying at a hotel you can often charge all sorts of expenses to your room tab, so it’s a nice way to earn extra bonus points on dining, activities, and transportation along your travels.
CIBC Aerogold for Business
The above cards are all issued by American Express, so I also keep a few Visa and MasterCard options in my wallet for when the retailer doesn’t accept Amex. One of them is the CIBC Aerogold for Business, whose signup bonus of 35,000 Aeroplan miles with a first-year fee waiver is pretty irresistible.
I redeem Aeroplan miles for travel very often, so I’m happy to be earning them on regular purchases even though it’s only 1 Aeroplan mile per dollar spent.
Another Visa I keep in my wallet is the RBC Avion, which I got during the “flash” offer of 30,000 Avion points with a first-year fee waiver that we saw in November 2018 (nowadays it’s 20,000 Avion points and First Year Free).
Earning 1 Avion point per dollar spent is a great deal once you factor in the regular 20–30% transfer bonuses from RBC Avion to British Airways Avios, because it means I’m effective earning 1.2 or 1.3 Avios per dollar spent.
Depending on my mood, I use the CIBC Aerogold for Business and RBC Avion pretty interchangeably when I’m about to pay and the cashier utters those dreaded words of “oh sorry we don’t take Amex.”
I like to keep a MasterCard in my wallet as well, for those rare occasions when the retailer only accepts MasterCard (Costco and NoFrills come to mind).
Right now that’s the WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard, which offers 250 WestJet Dollars, a companion voucher, and free checked bags for a $119 annual fee.
I don’t fly WestJet too often, but the need for a cheap trans-continental flight does arise every now and then, and WestJet’s Member Exclusive fares are particularly good for that purpose.
HSBC World Elite
While I was declined for this card back when it offered a killer deal of 105,000 HSBC Rewards points, Jessica had been instantly approved (I don’t know what HSBC is playing at there, but I don’t like it).
As a result, she keeps this one as her go-to non-Amex option in her wallet, and the 1.5% back in travel rewards on general purchases is a decently compelling return.
What’s in My Sock Drawer?
Let’s move from the wallet to the “sock drawer”, which is a metaphor for where credit cards that are only good for their signup bonuses go to live out the rest of their miserable existence before facing cancellation. Cards that fall into this category include…
Maybe I’m being a bit harsh here, but with the Cobalt Card taking care of dining, the Gold Rewards Card taking care of travel, and the Business Platinum taking care of regular spend, I fail to see a place for the Platinum Card in my wallet.
After all, the recently implemented “3-2-1” earning system on the Platinum Card (3x on dining, 2x on travel, 1x on everything else) is matched, if not bettered, by using the above combination of Amex cards instead.
Sure, there’s considerable travel benefits on the Amex Platinum, but those are all offered by the Business Platinum as well, so as long as I keep the Business Platinum in my wallet, I have no real need for the personal Platinum.
I had opened this card last year, when it still seemed to be possible to “double-dip” on the $200 travel credit and bring your net outlay down to $299 for the signup bonus of 60,000 MR points. Now that Amex has removed that opportunity (meaning I did end up having to pay $499 out-of-pocket on this card), I suspect I’ll be cancelling this card very soon.
Amex Business Gold
The Business Gold is the other Amex card that I don’t tend to use much, because its measly 1x return on general purchases isn’t very competitive. The only time when I pull this card out of my sock drawer is when I need to make payments through Plastiq, because you can designate Plastiq as one of your “suppliers” on the Business Gold and earn 2x MR points as a result.
Having opened this card via the old Canada Post offers (may they rest in peace), I’ll likely be closing it before the first year is up and reapplying for the 40,000 MR points again sometime in the future.
I got the CIBC Aventura for both myself and Jessica back when it had a nice bonus of 20,000 Aventura points (worth at least $200), as well as the NEXUS Card application fee rebate. Now that our NEXUS applications have been completed and our interviews scheduled, I have no real use for this card anymore, since Aventura points aren’t nearly as useful to me compared to, say, Aeroplan miles.
The four Priority Pass vouchers on this card did come in handy when Jessica was travelling with three of her friends on a recent trip, though, I’ll give it that.
CIBC Aventura for Business
Like the personal Aventura, I applied for the Aventura for Business back when it offered 30,000 Aventura points and a first-year fee waiver and a $120 travel credit.
After using up all those perks, I have no real desire to accumulate Aventura points over other currencies, so I’ll be cancelling this card soon and reapplying if the offer is any good in the future.
BMO SPC Cash Back
This is Jessica’s oldest credit card, which is a no-fee, no-frills product that we’re keeping around purely for the credit history impact of maintaining a high Average Age of Accounts (AAoA).
On the US Side…
Hopping south of the border, I have five open credit cards in total moment (three personal and two business). Like I mentioned, I have a much more laissez-faire attitude when it comes to US credit cards, since I’m happy to allow my credit history build up slowly over time and applying for nice bonuses when I feel like it, instead of aggressively targeting them like I do in Canada.
Amex Gold Card
The Gold Card was my first US credit card back when it was known as the Premier Rewards Gold Card, for a signup bonus of 50,000 MR points at the time.
I’ve paid the annual fee of US$195 on this card for a few years now, but since it recently went up to US$250, I might cancel it before the next year’s fee is due. The card does come with an airline fee credit of US$100 per calendar year, though, which helps to sweeten the deal a bit.
When the card’s transition took place early on this year, there was a limited-time opportunity to obtain a Rose Gold metal version of the card, and needless to say I jumped on that opportunity. I don’t keep this card in my wallet on a daily basis, but I’m almost tempted to do so for the flashiness alone.
Amex Business Platinum
The US-issued Business Platinum has been insanely beneficial to me.
Besides the signup bonus of 100,000 MR points (after a hefty US$10,000 minimum spending in the first three months), I also received one US$200 airline fee credit per calendar year, so that’s US$400 in total during one membership year, which goes a long way to offsetting the US$450 annual fee that I had paid (it’s since been increased to US$595).
The card also comes with 10 free Go-go in-flight wifi vouchers, free Boingo hotspot access, two US$100 statement credits with Dell, and a complimentary year of global WeWork access, which as you can imagine has been invaluable for me as a self-employed individual.
And besides all those perks, one of the great things about US credit cards is the fact that there are no FX fees, so I actually do keep this card in my wallet to use when I’m travelling abroad.
Of course, this only makes sense when you have access to USD at a fair rate; otherwise, you’d still incur an FX difference when converting your CAD to USD to pay off your bill. In that case, you can read my article on the best Canadian credit cards with no foreign transaction fees.
Formerly known as the Amex SPG Card, this card is no longer available to new applicants, so good job if you managed to get it before it got discontinued.
I plan to keep this card around forever in order to build up my US credit history, since the annual free night certificate that’s worth up to 35,000 Bonvoy points should easily outweigh the US$95 annual fee.
Amex Bonvoy Business
The US-issued Bonvoy Business Card remains open to new applicants, and you can earn a bonus of 100,000 Bonvoy points after spending US$5,000 in the first three months. Furthermore, if you sign up before March 28, 2019, you can get a first-year fee waiver with a US$95 annual fee in subsequent years. After that, the annual fee will be increased to US$125 with no first-year waiver.
If you’re interested in jumping on that deal, by the way, I’d be grateful if you considered applying via my referral link!
Like the personal version, I plan on keeping this card around forever by making good use of the annual free night certificate to justify the US$95 annual fee.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Chase approved me for a Sapphire Preferred card back in November 2017, and I obtained a signup bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending US$3,000 in the first three months.
As above, if you’re considering giving this card a go, you can apply via my referral link to help support the site.
There’s a First Year Free offer on the card, but I’m happy to keep paying the reasonable US$95 annual fee on this card in order to build up my history with Chase, and I’ve also been using the card as a Visa option along my travels abroad because it has no foreign transaction fees.
Now if only Chase will start approving me for other products as well…
My philosophy for earning points has always been to focus on the huge signup bonuses instead of spending too much time thinking about which cards to use for which purchases. Having said that, it’s still worth developing an over-arching strategy and figuring out which cards provide the best returns for the majority of your spending, and then simply keeping those cards in your wallet and using them when the time is right.
In this post I’ve shared my approach for both claiming the signup bonuses on new credit cards and maximizing your returns on your regular spending, and I hope you find it helpful in guiding your own actions.