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):
- American Express Gold Rewards Card
- American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card
- American Express Aeroplan Business Reserve Card
- American Express Cobalt Card
- American Express Business Edge Card
- Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card
- Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card
(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:
- American Express Green Card
- SimplyCash Card from American Express
- SimplyCash Preferred Card from American Express
- American Express Air Miles Platinum Card
- American Express Air Miles Reserve Card
- American Express Air Miles for Business Card
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.
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.
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:
- An initial welcome bonus (currently at a record high of 70,000 Bonvoy points)
- An anniversary Free Night Award every year worth 35,000 Bonvoy points
- 15 elite qualifying nights that will help you get closer towards Platinum Elite status and all of its associated perks
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.
With one final slot left, here’s where the strategy branches out a little, depending on your specific travel needs and goals.
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.
|Credit Card||Best Offer||Value|
|90,000 Aeroplan points||$1,449||Apply Now|
|30,000 MR points||$564||Apply Now|
|80,000 Bonvoy points||$555||Apply Now|
|55,000 Bonvoy points||$399||Apply Now|
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.
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.
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.