What's in my wallet? What you should know about travel credit cards, lounge access, and more

Editor’s note: AMEX ain’t paying me, fam. Neither is Barclays or any other credit card company I mention in this post.

I started to get into the points and miles game late last year and let me tell you; this life ain’t no joke.

I’ve always had excellent credit, which means (now that I have a salary) good credit cards with great benefits are available to me. So why was I opening credits cards that offered me virtually zero benefits? That’s right: because I didn’t know better.

But I know better now, and as a more seasoned traveler, in 2019 I resolved that I was going to take advantage of what the power of a good travel credit card could do.

What do you need in your wallet?
If you’re a traveler, and want to rack up points and miles with relative ease, there are a few cards worth opening. Obviously, this will determine on your credit history, credit card use, and your own travel and airline preferences.

  1. Travel/rewards card - I have one of these (AMEX business platinum, more below) that I use as my everyday card. I put my largest expenses (like rent) on this one because I get one point for every dollar I spend. I also use this card as my primary travel card when I’m abroad or booking flights.

  2. Airline card - If you’re married to one airline (like I am) it might be worth your time to open a card for that specific airline. All of the big three airlines offer branded credit cards with a variety of perks. If you’re not picky about airlines or you fly on whatever airline is cheapest, this method may not be the best for you as you won’t benefit from the perks. I use this card for expenses (such as groceries) and smaller bills such as internet and T-Mobile, as I get 1X for every dollar I spend.

So, what’s in my wallet?

Right now, I have four credit cards open. For this post, I’ll only be discussing two of them and two more that I may open up later on in the year.

American Express Business Platinum (Alt: AMEX Platinum)
I have the business platinum card to take care of Vikkie Ventures stuff and listen. This is an excellent credit card to have in your wallet, especially if you travel a few times a year internationally. The perks are limitless: 5X points on travel booked through AMEXTravel.com, No foreign transaction fees, $200 airline incidental credit, PriorityPass lounge access, Gold status at Hilton and SPG hotels, TSA Precheck/Global Entry credit, new WeWork access, and much more. It’s also an aesthetically pleasing card, as it’s made of titanium and makes a cool sound when you plunk it down on a table, if you care about that sort of thing.

PriorityPass lounge at London Heathrow Airport. Nov. 2018.

PriorityPass lounge at London Heathrow Airport. Nov. 2018.

I’ll break down some of these perks:
PriorityPass: I took advantage of this feature while connecting through London Heathrow on a flight headed to Newark Liberty. It was a nice change of pace from the hectic atmosphere of airport gates, and doubly so if you’ve ever flown through Heathrow, which a zoo on a good day. The lounge offered breakfast, coffee, a spa, and showers. With the AMEX business platinum card, you get access to over 1,200 PriorityPass lounges worldwide. You also get access to Amex Centurion lounges at DFW, MIA, HKG and more if you flash your card.

TSA Precheck/Global entry credit:
I wasn’t able to take advantage of this particular perk, as I’d applied for global entry in March and didn’t receive this card until July. You can get one Global Entry ($100) statement credit or one TSA Pre✓ ($85) statement credit every four years for an application fee charged your Business Platinum Card. A nice perk if you don’t already have PreCheck and don’t want to pay for it.

WeWork access:
This is a new service AMEX is offering only to its business platinum cardholders, and one that I’ll be making much use of in 2019. WeWork is a flex office space where you can get work done with amenities such as free coffee and snacks. If you live in a major city, there’s probably a WeWork near you as there are over 300 locations worldwide. With your business platinum card, you get access to all of them. If you get tired of working out of loud coffee shops (like I’m doing now!), this might be a selling point for you. TPG values the WeWork benefit at $2700.

A word of caution: The American Express Business Platinum card is expensive; with a $595 annual price tag that is not waived the first year. I’d suggest sitting down and crunching the numbers to see if you’ll really benefit from its perks. The regular platinum card comes in at an annual fee of $550.

AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard
As I said above, owning an airline-branded credit card isn’t useful if you’re not married to an airline. I primarily fly American Airlines as I live in one of its hubs and it offers the most international destinations worldwide. Last year, I realized that I was taking a lot of travel through AA and thought, “why not get a branded card?” I did some research and came across the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard. What I like most about this card is the insane sign-up bonus of 60,000 miles when you make one purchase and pay the annual fee. That’s right, you get 60,000 miles (which can get you a roundtrip economy ticket to Europe) for buying a pack of gum. I bought some gum and a candy bar, paid the annual fee, and only use this card for groceries and bills. With this card, you get 2X points for American Airlines purchases, a free checked bag, and preferred boarding.

What am I adding to my wallet in 2019?

I missed the 100,000 point sign-up bonus, but I’m strongly considering adding the Chase Sapphire Reserve card to my lineup. I went to the New York Times Travel Show late last month, and aside from the AMEX platinum card, all of the travel pros recommend this card. It offers much of the same perks as the AMEX platinum but offers a 50,000 point bonus, which can be transferred to other partners such as airlines, and a $300 travel credit. It seems like a useful card to have.

The American Express Gold is another card I’m considering opening later this year. It comes with a sizable welcome bonus of 35,000 points after spending $2000 in the first three months. This is a nice card to have if you spend a significant amount of money on eating out or groceries, as you get 4X points for both. You’ll get 3X points for travel and a $100 travel credit. If you’re appalled by the platinum card’s annual fee, you may be able to stomach the gold card’s $250 yearly fee.

Disclaimer: I’m not a financial planner, and I’m not your financial planner. All credit cards will run a hard inquiry so if you’re wary about that, don’t do it. Do what’s best for you, your credit, and your travel plans.