Here’s an American Express credit card strategy to get the best perks and offers

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Insider tip: The Platinum Card® from American Express offers more airport lounge access than any other credit card. If you fly frequently, then this card should be at the top of your list.

American Express cards are the pioneer travel rewards credit cards. Today they still stand among the best cards for travel rewards.

With so many American Express cards to choose from, it can feel overwhelming to know where to start, but with the right strategy you can get the American Express cards that benefit you the most and start earning your way toward more free travel.

Here’s what we recommend to get the right American Express cards for you.

Our favorite strategic tips for applying for American Express credit cards.
(Photo by Jacob Lund/Shutterstock.com)

American Express credit card strategy

The American Express Membership Rewards program is one of our favorite flexible reward travel programs, so it is important to have a card that can start earning these points. In addition, there are some very valuable welcome bonuses offered by American Express cards which can earn you huge amounts of Amex Membership Rewards points toward that dream vacation.

But before you start applying, it is important to have a strategy. Here are some tips everyone should know before they apply for their first Amex credit card and some ideas for how to create a strategy to get all of the cards you have your eyes on.

Credit cards and charge cards

One thing about American Express cards that sometimes throws beginners for a loop is that not all American Express cards are credit cards. Some American Express cards are charge cards that must be paid off in full each month.

Plenty of the American Express cards are credit cards. These cards have a credit limit and allow you to carry a balance, but we recommend you pay off your card in full each month to avoid high interest fees.

Here are some of the popular cards that American Express offers, separating the charge cards from the credit cards.

Charge Cards:

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • The Business Platinum® Card from American Express
  • American Express® Gold Card
  • American Express® Business Gold Card
  • The Plum Card® from American Express

Credit Cards:

The information for the Amex EveryDay Preferred has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

It is important to know whether or not you are considering a charge card or a credit card. It may effect your strategy from the start — for example, if you want a traditional credit card for emergencies.

Limit of five cards

Another important thing to consider is that most people report that American Express will only approve you for a maximum of five credit cards at a time.

All of the Hilton and the Delta Airlines branded credit cards are issued through American Express. So if you have had your eyes on getting either or both of these cards in the future, consider saving room under this application limit for these cards.

The limit only applies to credit cards, not charge cards. There is no limit to how many charge cards you can hold at one time and having those cards won’t count toward that limit of five or make you ineligible for American Express credit cards.

This is great news, since many of the best American Express cards are charge cards, like The Platinum Card and American Express Gold card.

Two cards every 90 days

You will want to space out your applications for new American Express cards because they enforce a limit on how often you can open new accounts. The limit is no more than two cards every 90 days.

This isn’t too big a problem for most people, but if you want to get several American Express cards at once, it could become an issue. As long as you plan a couple of months between new cards, this should never be a problem.

Welcome bonuses are once-in-a-lifetime

American Express offers some really valuable welcome bonuses when you open new card accounts for the first time. For example, The Platinum Card® from American Express offers 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after spending $5,000 on purchases with your new card in the first three months. That is enough to travel nearly anywhere in the world with Amex travel partners like Delta, Flying Blue or Singapore Airlines.

However, American Express is pretty strict about how they dole out these valuable offers and generally limit welcome bonuses to “once per lifetime.” This means that (with a few rare exceptions) you can count on only earning a welcome bonus once per product.

If you have had the same card in the past, it is likely that you won’t be eligible to earn the welcome bonus again, even if you are re-opening the account. When you apply for a card, American Express will inform you that you are not eligible for the welcome bonus on the application before they run the credit check. This way you can hold off if you decide it isn’t worth getting that card again without the welcome bonus.

Luckily there are lots of American Express cards to choose from and you can earn welcome bonuses from each card after you open a new account. These cards are also valuable long after you receive the welcome bonus, so they are still worth having even if you can’t qualify for a welcome bonus again.

Spread out the welcome bonuses

Welcome bonuses are the fastest way to earn points toward free travel. You want to make sure that you can meet the minimum requirements for a welcome bonus and have a plan to earn the bonus before opening a new card account.

Each welcome bonus comes with minimum spending requirements and a timeframe to meet those requirements. Normally, whenever you get a new card, we recommend moving the majority of your spending to that card until the welcome bonus spending requirements have been met because the points earned from a welcome bonus almost always outweigh the value offered from spending in another card’s bonus categories.

If you apply for too many cards too close together, you can run into a situation where you are actively trying to earn welcome bonuses on multiple cards, which could make it impossible to earn a welcome bonus for a new account you opened.

So make sure you consider each card’s welcome bonus and have a plan for meeting those spending requirements before you apply for a new card. This means spreading out card applications and making sure you can complete the requirements for one card before applying for the next one.

Prioritize your favorite bonus categories

Now that you know all the restrictions surrounding the process of getting American Express cards, you can start prioritizing the cards. Which cards offer the bonus categories you are likely to use most often? Start by signing up for cards that earn bonuses for your biggest spending categories. This way you can earn rewards much faster.

For example, if you travel frequently you should consider The Platinum Card® from American Express because it earns 5x Membership Rewards points on hotels and airfare booked through the Amex travel site. If you eat out often, the Amex Gold Card might be a better option since it earns 4x Membership Rewards points at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets.

Finish by getting cards with your favorite perks

Last, target American Express cards with the the perks that you would enjoy the most. One of the best things about holding certain credit cards is many of them offer special perks just for keeping the card open.

For example the Amex Hilton Aspire card offers a free weekend night at nearly any Hilton hotel in the world each year you keep your card. It also offers up to $250 in annual airline-fee credit and up to $250 in annual Hilton resort credits. All of these perks (and there are many more you can read about in our full Hilton Aspire review), make this card more than worth paying a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees).

Having the right card can get you benefits like a free hotel night each year you keep the card open.
(Photo by robinimages2013/Shutterstock.com)

The Delta Reserve card from American Express, on the other hand, offers a Delta SkyClub Lounge membership. It also offers an annual companion certificate, free checked bag, 20% back on inflight purchases, priority boarding and more.

So even if you didn’t use either of these cards for anything other than Hilton or Delta purchases, it can still make sense to have them in your wallet. But it can make sense to hold off on getting these cobranded cards until after you have cards that earn you lots of flexible travel rewards for your everyday spending.

Consider the Chase 5/24 rule

A final consideration while planning your Amex card strategy is to think about whether you intend to apply for any Chase credit cards in the future. If so, it would be a good idea to apply for the Chase credit cards early because of Chase’s 5/24 rule.

This rule prevents you from opening a Chase credit card if you have opened more than five cards in the last 24 months. As you can imagine, opening several Amex cards can easily throw you over that limit. Most of the business Amex cards do not count toward this limit, but the personal cards will.

If you want any Chase cards, you should apply for them before you hit the five-card limit. After you have opened the Chase cards you want, applying for American Express cards won’t be a problem since American Express doesn’t have the same rule.

Bottom line

Getting started with the American Express Membership Rewards program can be very exciting because it opens up new opportunities for earning free travel, but before you dive into applying, it is a good idea to have a plan for getting the American Express cards that you want.

There are several restrictions that Amex puts on new card accounts that you must consider, including:

  • Limit of five credit cards (does not apply to charge cards)
  • You can open no more than two Amex cards within 90 days
  • Welcome bonuses are only available once in a lifetime per card

After you consider these restrictions we suggest building a strategy that considers:

  • Spreading out all welcome bonuses so you can meet the minimum spending requirements
  • Prioritize the cards that offer bonus categories you will use most
  • Choose cards that offer the perks you want
  • Apply for Chase cards first so that the Amex cards don’t throw you over the 5/24 limit

With these tips, you can build an American Express credit card strategy that will earn you tons of travel rewards and incredible perks.

For the latest tips and tricks on traveling big without spending a fortune, please subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets daily email newsletter.

Alex Curtis is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, he covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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