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Navigating the American Express Four Credit Card Limit

As you think about the best American Express credit cards to apply for to help you travel the world on points, it’s important to be aware of a certain limitations on the number of different products you can hold concurrently.

In particular, while there’s no limit to the number of American Express charge cards you can hold, you are in fact limited to having four credit cards at any given time.

And since there’s quite a handful of American Express credit cards that are worth your attention, you’ll have to think carefully about which quartet of American Express credit cards you’re most interested in – and whether to swap a few of them around over time.

American Express Charge Cards vs. Credit Cards

American Express is the only major credit card issuer to offer charge cards in addition to credit cards:

  • Charge cards do not come with a pre-determined credit limit, although you must pay off the balance in full every month
  • Credit cards come with a credit limit and allow you to make minimum monthly payments and carry a balance (not that that’s ever a good idea).

You can hold unlimited charge cards, which means that you can collect the welcome bonuses on all of the Platinum Card, Business Platinum Card, Business Gold Card, and Aeroplan Card without worrying about running into card limits.

But the four-card limit makes things more interesting in terms of American Express’s revolving credit products.

The following American Express credit cards are generally considered to be the most powerful for elevating your travel (as you can see, there’s already more than four):

(Note that the Gold Rewards Card had transitioned from a charge card to a credit card as of its August 2021 relaunch, adding further intrigue to the decision of which four credit cards to hold.)

Meanwhile, the following products might also appeal to those who’d prefer more low-maintenance points strategies, or even cash back:

However, these are generally less useful products in the overall Amex lineup. If you want to collect Air Miles, it’s worth exploring BMO’s Air Miles credit cards instead to avoid taking up a more valuable slot among Amex credit cards.

And if you’re swayed by the lower-end SimplyCash or Choice cards, then you probably aren’t at the more advanced stage in the Miles & Points game where you’d be thinking about juggling four credit cards in the first place.

Which Four American Express Credit Cards?

To decide on the best strategy, we’ll need to trim down our list of American Express’s seven best travel credit cards (i.e., the first set of seven credit cards listed above) down to four.

Slot #1

The Cobalt Card should absolutely be among your first picks for an American Express credit card.

With its much-celebrated ability to earn 5x MR points on food and drinks (including anything you can buy at the grocery store), the Cobalt Card is a trusty points-generating machine and a core component of any optimal points strategy.

That’s especially the case ever since the card implemented favourable changes in the summer of 2021, now earning points that can be transferred 1:1 to Aeroplan and British Airways Avios to fund high-value flight redemptions.

Pick up the Cobalt Card, spend up to $30,000 per year on it in the eats and drinks category, and earn up to 150,000 MR points that serve as a formidable base for your annual points earnings every year. 

Slots #2 and #3

From the remaining six major credit cards, we can instantly tell that a key determinant in the optimal strategy is whether or not you’re interested in maximizing Marriott Bonvoy hotel loyalty points.

If chain hotels aren’t a part of your travel style, then you can simply skip the two Bonvoy co-branded cards, and there’s no further worry – you can load up on the three of the remaining four credit cards in the Aeroplan and MR families.

But for most travellers who are looking to maximize their credit card points and benefits, the personal and business Bonvoy cards will probably play a fairly significant role.

After all, you always need a place to stay, and these cards are some of the most accessible ways to save money and unlock greater upside for your accommodations.

By holding onto both the personal and business Bonvoy cards in the long run, you’re earning:

Taking only the Free Night Awards into consideration, a reasonable target valuation when redeeming these certificates would be around $300–350 (CAD), which would outstrip the value of your annual fees by up to $200 (equivalent to a $400 gain across two cards).

Under the right circumstances, this figure could be even higher. It’s primarily due to this potential upside that the Bonvoy cards are among the best American Express credit cards for keeping in the long run. 

Slot #4

With one final slot left, here’s where the strategy branches out a little, depending on your specific travel needs and goals.

If you’re heavily invested in Aeroplan and fly often with Air Canada, then the Aeroplan Reserve Card could make a lot of sense to hold in the long run, despite its $599 annual fee.

The card has seen very frequent annual credits and statement offers that effectively reduce the annual fee, all while carrying some excellent benefits like Maple Leaf Lounge access, Air Canada priority services, and eUpgrades rollover.

(The Visa Infinite Privilege cards by TD and CIBC could play the same role, but their $200,000 minimum income requirements can be prohibitive, and those two issuers have been far less generous than American Express in terms of ongoing engagement offers.)

I’d say the Aeroplan Reserve Card makes more sense to hold than the Aeroplan Business Reserve Card, as the two products are very similar and it doesn’t make sense to pay two annual fees here.

If you’re looking for a strong Amex card for your business, use the Business Platinum Card instead – it’s a charge card, so it doesn’t count towards your four card limit, and the earn rate is higher at 1.25x compared to 1x.

An Optimized Four Credit Card Portfolio
Credit Card Best Offer Value
90,000 Aeroplan points $1,606 Apply Now
30,000 MR points $636 Apply Now
55,000 Bonvoy points $429 Apply Now
55,000 Bonvoy points $399 Apply Now

Just keep in mind that picking up the Aeroplan Reserve Card would complete your set of four credit cards – and thereby lock you out of, say, the Gold Rewards Card and the Business Edge Card.

This may not be a great loss, as neither cards offer too many meaningful ongoing benefits that make them worth keeping year after year.

The Gold Rewards Card does offer four Plaza Premium lounge visits, but that can be replicated by picking up a cheap Visa Infinite like the CIBC Aventura or the Scotia Passport, or simply the Platinum Card for lounge access in unlimited quantities.

However, both the Gold Rewards Card and Business Edge Card’s value propositions as a one-time signup bonus are undeniable, at 75,000 MR points for a $150 net annual fee and 55,000 MR points for a $99 annual fee, respectively.

With so many enticing bonuses at play, my overall recommendation is to pick up the Cobalt and the Bonvoy cards, and then simply leaving the fourth credit card slot open for your short-term holdings.

Perhaps you’ll want to pick up the impressive Gold Rewards Card or Business Edge bonus while they’re at all-time highs. Or one of the Air Miles cards puts on a higher bonus that you find tempting. Or maybe you do feel like dabbling with the Aeroplan Reserve, but you like the look of its welcome bonus better than its long-term benefits.

While the Cobalt and Bonvoy cards make a lot of sense as long-term keepers, the fourth and final credit card slot can be a flexible one, allowing you to snap up any attractive bonuses that catch your eye without necessarily committing to the card year after year.

What About Two-Player Mode?

If you’re playing the game in two-player mode, then there’s a little more leeway for expanding your strategy beyond what we’ve discussed above, once we consider the fact that some of the credit cards can be held by one partner, but maximized by both.

Give some thought as to how many Bonvoy cards – and their associated Free Night Awards – makes sense for your household to keep in the long run.

Some households might be able to maximize all four Bonvoy cards and Free Night Awards every year. But others might not travel enough to justify holding all four – rather than fitting those certificates into their organic travel plans, they might have to go out of their way to stay four nights at the 35,000-point level, and that defeats the purpose. 

Keep in mind, four Free Night Awards could combine into a single free four-night stay.

The Cobalt Card is another interesting one. Supplementary cards are free, so there’s little reason for both partners to get a Cobalt of their own – you can simply share the same account and earn 5x points on all of your household’s food and drinks purchases.

The only exception is if you tend to rack up huge bills at your local grocery checkout, and you find yourself running up to the $30,000 annual purchase limit in the 5x category. In this case, you could bypass the limit by having your partner open a Cobalt Card of their own and then adding you as an authorized user.

As for the Aeroplan Reserve, the partner who travels more frequently could pick up the card, sharing the benefits with the other partner when you travel together. 

That would leave 2–4 open slots between the two of you for any other attractive welcome bonuses that pop up on the remaining credit cards. By pooling your efforts in two-player mode, you’re able to capture more ongoing benefits and one-time bonuses alike through your combined credit card portfolio. 

Conclusion

Here in Canada, American Express limits cardholders to four revolving credit cards at any given time.

While you can load up on as many of the charge cards in the Membership Rewards family as you’d like, it’s important to give some thought as to which products to keep in your four credit card slots. 

In my view, the Cobalt Card and the twin Bonvoy cards make the most sense to keep open in the long run, with the final spot either dedicated to the Aeroplan Reserve Card or kept flexible for the purposes of strategically snagging signup bonuses. 

What does your optimal portfolio of American Express credit cards look like? Do you value the Bonvoy cards for their ongoing free nights, and is the Cobalt locked-in? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 

30 Comments
  1. Chris W YCD

    In certain cases, the Business Edge card can be a big earner – anyone who is an IT Pro, “Office Supplies person”, or even the family & friends tech guru, these points can really add up. I am an IT Consultant, and I can easily spend $10k/month at Dell, Apple, Staples, Best Buy etc for my clients. $5000 at Dell at 3x on the Business Edge while estore points are at 5x + 3x status multiplier means 55,000 MR points. If your business spending can align with this card, its 15,000 MR points extra just for hitting the SUB. Great niche card.

  2. Lisa

    I previously held the Cobalt. I suppose I would not be entitled to bonus points even after having cancelled it 2 years ago but I intend to apply for it again and retain it since the points are now MR point and are so easy to earn. As for Marriott Bonvoy credit cards, I find that being in solo mode, I do not extract good enough value out of them. Moreover, I held both cards previously. I just started with US credit cards so not sure if it’s worth for me to apply for Marriott there although the new Bonvoy Brilliant card is tempting.

  3. WT

    Disagree on Cobalt Card. Points generating machine??? Most grocery stores/chains won’t even take an Amex…which makes it difficult to maximize the 5x points. $30,000/year?? Oiy…..that is a lot of dining out!!!!!

    1. Ricky YVR

      Shop at grocery stores that do take Amex, the 5x earnings will easily justify the switch.

      1. jacob

        or better yet use your cobalt to buy something of value, then look online to exchange that value using a partner service that earns cash back to extract the service fees you may have paid to get that initial value. Can only do so much of God’s work Ricky.

  4. Jay

    I’ve read in a few places that holding the 15 elite night credits from the personal and business Bonvoy cards can be stacked (meaning 30 nights if you hold both). Not sure if this is only for US-issued cards, or does this apply to the Canadian Bonvoy cards as well? Trying to figure out if it’s worth signing up for the business card and going for Platinum. Thanks!

    1. Ricky YVR

      That’s only if you hold both a US personal and a US business Marriott Bonvoy credit card. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come into play with the Canadian cards.

      1. Sam

        I’ve heard that if you hold a Canadian Personal Bonvoy, it ruins the American 15+15 stack. Is this true?

        1. Ricky YVR

          False.

        2. Jay

          Thanks Ricky. Adding on to Sam’s question. Is there any combination including a Canadian Bonvoy card that would allow for the 15 + 15 stack? Either Canadian Bonvoy + American personal or Canadian Bonvoy + American business?

          1. Ricky YVR

            Like I said above – it’s only the two US cards that will give you 30 nights. No combination including a Canadian card will work.

  5. Jonathan Hidber

    The amex Aeroplan business reserve card is set up as a charge card in my amex account with a 50k limit. yet its still considered a credit card or is that an error in the article?

  6. Jimmy

    Did the 4 card rule changed? I currently have 6. Wondering if I can also get the Business Edge card or not now.

    Aeroplan Reserved
    Aeroplan Business Reserved
    Marriott Bonvoy
    Marriot Business Bonvoy
    Cobalt
    Smart Cash

  7. Mike

    What is a safe time frame between applications for Amex cards? And should you put multiple applications in at the same time or would the raise flags? I applied for platinus card in July and was denied cobalt card in august. Was that to short of a time to build histry with them?

  8. RockiestMountains

    Is this a change in Canada? I had thought for a long time the rule was 2 credit cards (maybe 3 if you had a really strong relationship with Amex with limited churning).

    1. Ricky YVR

      This changed back in 2017 when the Cobalt Card was first introduced.

      1. RockiestMountains

        Awesome, thanks for the reply! Awesome site and videos (yes, I make sure to click the like button)!

  9. Kai

    Is it fine to apply for 4 Amex cards in quick succession? (e.g. apply for 1 business and 1 personal on the same day) I have enough spending to fulfill 4 sign up bonuses. What would be the most optimal strategy to get them while avoiding getting a financial review or getting Amexile.

    1. Ricky YVR

      If all of your spending is organic, then a Financial Review wouldn’t be any trouble to pass. You also wouldn’t get Amexile just for opening cards in quick succession – it’s more about what you do with those cards after you’ve opened them.

      Also, don’t apply just yet – wait just a while longer. 😉

      1. Kai

        If I plan on cancelling the cards after the 2nd annual fee hits, would it cause any issues with Amex?

      2. Kai

        Ah ok, so if its all organic. Amex is gucci with me. I posted this on the churningcanada subreddit and received message from someone about the reserve getting the SUB increasing in the next few weeks.

  10. Dym YYC

    One other question… The Scotia Gold AMEX doesn’t count as part of the four credit cards for Canada?

    1. Ricky YVR

      Correct.

  11. Jo

    Were there any more account closures by Amex recently (people who churned)? I haven’t been affected but I’m scared to get new cards from them since it might trigger a review from them or something.

    1. Ricky YVR

      I’ve heard of far fewer instances of this in 2021 compared to 2020, so the trend is certainly looking less punitive than last year. It makes sense given that this is a time of resurgence for Amex’s business, rather than having to stem losses during the pandemic.

  12. Ishan Godbole

    Nice. I just asked this the other day in the group!

  13. Dym YYC

    Does the four card limit extend to cards that you hold in the US? Or can I hold 4 canadian credit and 4 american credit?

    1. Ricky YVR

      You can hold 4 Canadian credit cards and 5 US cards at a time. We’ll follow up this post with a guide on the Amex US 5 credit card limit strategy.

      1. milegosu

        Has the US Amex cards increased to 5 cards? I know they reduced it to 4 last year. I’ve heard some DPs of people getting a 5th one approved, but I didn’t think it was an official YES from AMEx.

        1. Ricky YVR

          It was reduced to 4 last year, and is back to 5 this year. In neither case was it an official “yes” I believe, but rather cardholders’ data points that led to the discovery.

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