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Which Card Should I Get? Part 2 – American Express

The Military Churning Guide to American Express

This Part 2 Lineup nets $700 in airline incidentals, $200 in Uber, $100 in Saks, Centurion/Delta/Priority Pass lounge access, $325 in travel, Delta companion pass, $600 in Marriott/SPG credit, 2 Marriott/SPG nights, Gold Bonvoy Status, $500 in Hilton resort credit, 2 Hilton weekend nights and Hilton Diamond status. Every year. How do you like them apples?

BLUF: Aquire the Amex Platinum, 5 Amex Credit Cards, and the US Bank Altitude Reserve

1. American Express Platinum

2. US Bank Altitude Reserve (see below instructions)

Then, in the order that makes sense to you, 5 from:

Delta Reserve

Bonvoy Brilliant

Hilton Aspire

Amex Application Rules

One sign-up bonus per card for life, 5 credit cards max, Only 1 credit card application every 5 days, Only 2 credit card applications every 90 days, unlimited charge cards, if you apply for multiple cards in a day the hard pulls on your credit report combine into 1.

Have you gotten 5 cards in the last 24 months? No? Go back and make sure you’ve made the most of your 5/24 slots.  If you have (or just can’t wait, no judgment here) then your next card should be the AMEX Platinum. End of discussion.

Amex Card Strategy

  1. This one is easy. I wish I could recommend the Amex Plat as your very first card, as it’s the granddaddy of luxury travel options, but Chase got clever and monopolized everyone’s first 5. It was the original heavy hitter, the sultan of spend, the king of credit. There isn’t a single reason why you shouldn’t have an Amex Platinum (short of maximizing the 5/24 rule).  Its perks are extreme, its sign up bonus is tasty, it’s FREE to Active Duty. Amex essentially pays you to own this card; you don’t even have to use it if you don’t want to.  Honestly, BOLC should make it part of in processing. At this stage, you’ll want to apply for SCRA/MLA benefits here for the annual fee waiver. Once applied, they should auto-apply to all subsequent accounts. Another key step to accomplish at this stage is to open a US Bank checking account.  Often you can even find a sign-up bonus for US Bank accounts (check with Doctor of Credit).  You want this to establish a relationship with US Bank, and you want it now so that it can sit and marinade for the duration of your minimum spend on the Amex Plat. Pro Tip: if you do a search and there are no US Banks in your area, call in to create an account. The automated system will deny you, but a customer service rep will punch in a military override code.
  2. The Altitude Reserve is an outlier in Part 2 of card acquisition since it has nothing to do with Amex. I fought a deep-seated desire to keep Part 2 Amex only because it’s neat, tidy, and easy to follow. However, the Altitude Reserve is just too good of a card to push to the side due to it’s $325 annual travel credit. If you don’t go after it now, it will become difficult to get approved for later as US Bank has been known to get picky with applicants having churning activity on the credit report. The rules are either not known or not hard standing, but my wife and myself were able to get approvals with 6 new accounts in the last 12 months (and a laughable number in the last 24 months aka lol/24), so this is the latest in order of precedence I’m comfortable recommending it. This card is only available to existing US Bank customers, and because you followed the instructions in step 1 above, you are an existing US Bank customer. Go you. Then just head over here and contact them for your MLA benefits.
The charge cards are lagging behind the number-on-the-back power curve. These freehand blurs aren’t quick.

As noted above, these next cards have no particular acquisition order, and you can elect to swap them out for others. The overarching rule is that Amex only allows you to hold 5 credit cards (credit limit, interest rate on unpaid balances) at a time. Not to be confused with charge cards (no credit limit, must be paid in full every month), which the Amex Platinum is. I have suggested what I feel is an optimal 5 card holding, but you might find better value mixing and matching.

  • The Delta Reserve is the ultimate goal of this card slot if you value a Delta first class companion pass and lounge access each year. Arguments can easily be made for this slot being better occupied with a different card but I find the convenience of lounge access hard-coded into your delta tickets (even though you get Delta lounge access with the Amex Plat), the companion pass value, and the bragging rights of having all 3 major airlines’ top tier cards worthwhile. The other Delta cards (Gold and Platinum) shouldn’t be discounted either because of the sign-up bonus values. Keep in mind you can only hold 5 of these cards at a time, and once you get one you should hold it for a year before closing. Is the opportunity cost worth the Delta miles? It was for me, but that was before the next two cards were on the market.
  • The Bonvoy Brilliant is arguably a no brainer. $300 and a 50k point night annually to SPG/Marriott properties is worthy of a slot, and I even have two from upgrading my old SPG turned Bonvoy blank card. The SPG/Bonvoy blank card is no longer available for application, but recent data points suggest you can apply for a Brilliant while already holding a Brilliant. This rule may change at any time, but for the time being, it seems as if you can get away with it (sans signup bonus on the 2nd of course).
  • The Hilton Aspire is the favorite of many for these slots from a sheer numbers perspective. $250 in airline incidentals and $250 in Hilton resort credits are already over the annual fee, with a weekend night to boot, but I foresee the airline incidentals becoming harder and more restrictive to use in the future, the Hilton credit is already restricted to resorts, and the free night is restricted to weekends. What I love is the automatic Hilton Diamond status, and it deserves at least one slot for that. Many will suggest getting the Hilton Ascend and regular old Hilton cards for the upgrade to Aspires in a year, netting three Aspires (and if the second Brilliant rule changes this might become the only path to filling your 5 slots). I landed on two so I could have two Brilliants. I’m all about balance.
Behold, your available charge card options…

At this point, you can move to Part 3 or play around with Amex some more in the charge card arena. The Platinum card has 3 more co-branded versions that are viewed as different products, thus different sign-up bonuses, that you could go after. The Morgan Stanley requires opening an Access Investing account to meet the Morgan Stanley client requirements. It’s $5k to fund the account, and you cannot remove it without account closure, so if you can’t float $5k indefinitely, this might not be a great option. Some have had success without funding the account, but most on this path have had their Platinum cards shut down eventually. The Charles Schwab requires you to open a brokerage account with them. You even get a $100 bonus for doing so if you can find a code (check Doc of Credit). Finally, the Ameriprise flavor says it requires a relationship with Ameriprise, but I’ve never heard of it being enforced. You may as well grab an Amex Gold and Amex Green for the sign-up bonuses too. Yes, you can upgrade these to more Platinums in a year, and many have, but at some point, we are going to individually or collectively piss off Amex with these perpetual fee waivers, and I for one have settled on one of each charge card product as my limit. Their business cards work the same way as charge cards with varying bennies.

Have you optimized your Amex holdings? Continue to Which Card Should I Get? Part 3 – Citi Bank

2 Comments

  1. When creating the US BANK checking can I get the platinum checking with fees waived under military. I chose military banking and then selected platinum but didnt want to continue and have to put in 25k to keep fees away.

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