How to Maximize Travel Benefits With Multiple Credit Cards

Juggling multiple credit cards can majorly boost your points and miles balance. But before you sign up, consider these tips for minimizing your financial housekeeping.

Illustration of woman holding three giant credit cards on pastel background

Savvy travelers have multiple credit cards—here’s how to do it wisely.

Illustration by Shutterstock

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Eye-catching introductory offers are designed to entice new credit card customers. However, for those already loyal to a solid credit card, the excitement of a points windfall is often countered by daunting questions like: Can I have more than one card? Will another card hurt my credit score? Can I get another welcome bonus through the same credit card company? How should I split charges among cards if I get a new one—and make sure I don’t miss payments?

Simply put: You can have multiple credit cards, maintain a high credit score, amass countless points through credit card bonuses, and never miss a payment. As someone who currently holds 16 credit cards and maintains a credit score over 800, I’m living proof it can be done. Why would I want so many cards? Well, besides stockpiling miles and points through welcome offers (and using them at max value for business-class flights and hotel suites), I have found each of these cards to possess enough travel perks or statement credits to keep me in the black on an annual basis. Yep, each one!

Based on my personal experience as a credit card collector—plus my professional experience as a credit card expert—here are some strategic tips for successfully getting and keeping multiple credit cards.

Be honest with yourself before signing up for multiple credit cards

It’s up to you to decide if you can handle a credit limit and not carry a large balance. A big step to mastering a multiple card strategy is the ability to pay on time and in full. That requires willpower. It’s also important to decide if you have the time or will to understand your credit cards and know when (or when not) to use each card. Furthermore, your credit history, credit score, and income are typically strong indicators of application approval, so make sure all of those are in good standing before going on the multi-card route.

What to know before you apply

Before hitting send on the application, you’ll want to be somewhat confident that 1) you’ll get approved and 2) you are eligible for the welcome bonus. For the former, there are rules—both official and unofficial—to be aware of before applying (all of which are floating around the internet). Timing is key. For any Chase-backed card, for example, you’re unlikely to get approved, no matter how high your credit score, if you’ve opened or closed five credit cards in the last 24 months with any card issuer. Though nowhere in writing, Chase’s unofficial 5/24 rule has been verified by countless data points and sometimes includes the opening and closing of accounts as an additional cardholder. If you’re planning on getting more than one card through Capital One, also time your applications correctly: You can only get approved for one card every six months, either personal or business.

You should also be aware of credit card limits among card issuers. Namely, you cannot have more than two personal cards with Capital One at any given time while AmEx generally has a limit of five credit cards. (Note: Chase has no official limit despite the strict 5/24 rule.)

In terms of welcome offers, there can be limitations, too. With American Express, for example, most welcome offers disclose a lifetime language that limits cardholders to one welcome bonus per lifetime per card product. However, getting the introductory offer from The Platinum Card® from American Express, for example, doesn’t preclude you from getting the bonus on the American Express® Gold Card or the Green Card, just the Platinum again (if you had it previously). On the other hand, you can get the bonus for a Chase Sapphire card more than once—but there must be 48 months between the two. That said, you can’t get the bonus for Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card if you have an open Chase Sapphire Reserve® or vice versa.

All this fine print may sound discouraging, but if you haven’t sent out a half-dozen applications in the past year, already landed welcome bonuses for most major cards, and haven’t maxed out your card limits among card issuers, you should be in the clear to apply.

Your credit score will take a small hit for an application’s hard pull. However, if approved, a new line of credit increases your overall credit on your credit report and if paid in full each month, this will lead to a higher credit score as a smaller percentage of your overall credit will be in use.

Add important dates to your calendar

While getting approved is one hurdle, integrating your card into the fold is the next. Once approved, note the terms of the welcome offer, which typically require hitting a certain spend threshold within a specified period (e.g., earn 100,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months of card membership). You wouldn’t want to miss the bonus by letting your card sit in the mailbox and not using it until it’s too late.

Once you are in possession of your new card, add it to any financial software you may use that keeps track of your bills (I use the free version of Empower while many friends used Quicken Simplifi). I personally go a step further and mark the welcome bonus end date on my calendar as well as the date for the annual fee. If you are getting a card with a zero percent introductory rate for, say, 15 months, mark that down, too, so you can pay everything off in full once that rate ends.

Another smart move is to request your payment due date be around the same time for every card you hold. You can usually do this online through the credit card website or by calling the number on the back of your card.

Manage your cards wisely

Once you’ve gotten used to your new card—and achieved your welcome bonus—ask yourself what’s next? It’s difficult to manage charges across myriad cards so this is truly where strategy comes into play. This is when it’s time to give your card a purpose, which often depends on the earnings structure by spend category and other benefits of the card. For example, you may want to use an AmEx Gold Card at restaurants since it earns four points per dollar spent worldwide but use the Platinum Card from American Express for airfare to get five points per dollar spent. Yet, it’s a good idea to consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve for trips depending on your level of risk aversion. Despite three points per dollar spent on flights (versus Platinum’s five), it does provide the best implicit travel insurance when charging travel to the card.

After hitting a certain number of cards, don’t feel obligated to use each one. In fact, keep it as simple as possible (within a complex credit card strategy, that is). Among my 16 cards, I actively use just 4 (aka my core 4). The others I keep (tucked away in a box in my drawer) and gladly pay the annual fee for the benefits and may use only when necessary to attain such benefits. Though I rarely use it, I love and keep my IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card. It costs $99 per year, but gives me a free annual night certificate (which I typically redeem for a value over $200) plus upper-rung Platinum status at IHG hotels (which I get to use multiple times per year). This makes it a cost-beneficial winner in my playbook. I scored 150,000 bonus points with the intro offer some years back and have enjoyed my free night certificate every year since.

It’s important to note that some card issuers may consider credit cards dormant or inactive after 12 months of no activity. In the case of my IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card, paying the annual fee keeps the card active. For my cards with no annual fee, however, I must add a calendar reminder to make at least one purchase a year to avoid dormancy. Once considered dormant, a credit card issuer may cancel the card, which could negatively impact your credit score.

For high-fee cards, you’ll also want to be sure to maximize the perks of your cards. After all, you’ll emerge in the black with these cards if you maximize the statement credits and other benefits. I love to brag about how I get back thousands in credits on my Platinum Card from American Express, which is in my core four.

But my new obsession is the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, thanks to a refresh in early 2024. Now, despite a $650 annual fee (see rates and fees), I am on my way to getting more than twice that in return thanks to credits and benefits galore. I am already earning $120 in rideshare credits annually (allotted in up to $10 back monthly increments after purchases) and $240 in Resy credits annually (allotted as up to $20 back in monthly statement credits after purchases), and I have used my $200 Delta Stays annual statement credit on a stay at a hotel in Doha booked via I am now deciding how best to use my Companion Certificate on a first-class flight to Hawai‘i this fall, which could amount to over $1,500 in savings. In total, I estimate to get nearly $2,000 in benefits from this card, and I haven’t even accounted for the card’s free checked bags or Delta Sky Club access. It’s definitely a keeper long term and a wise addition to my credit card portfolio.

While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they are subject to change at any time and might have changed or may no longer be available.

Paul Rubio is an award-winning travel journalist and photographer. His byline appears in AFAR, Conde Nast Traveler, Fodor’s, LUXURY, MSN, NerdWallet, Palm Beach Illustrated, Yahoo Lifestyle and more. He has visited 133 countries (and counting) over the past 20 years and won 27 national awards for his writing and photography. When he’s not plotting out his next trip, Paul loves to spend time at home watching reruns of Portlandia and Parks and Recreation with his husband and rescue dog, Camo.
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