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Smart Money Podcast: How You Can Maximize Multiple Credit Cards for Cheaper Travel

Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money podcast, where we answer your real-world money questions. In this episode:

A personal finance enthusiast with 37 active credit cards shares tips to strategically open and maintain multiple cards to travel cheaply and answers common questions around maximizing rewards.

How many credit cards can you have at the same time?

What can credit card points and miles help you afford?

Hosts Sean Pyles and Elizabeth Ayoola discuss quirky money management techniques and the mastery of credit card rewards to help you understand how to make your money go farther. They begin with a discussion of unusual financial behaviors, with tips and tricks on juggling multiple bank accounts, managing a diverse collection of credit cards and the impact of such practices on credit scores.

Then, credit card point expert Erin Hurd joins Sean to discuss the art of optimizing credit card usage for travel rewards. She shares her experience having 37 active credit cards and shares tips for managing an extensive credit card portfolio. They also discuss her strategy for selecting cards for maximum rewards, the financial discipline needed to prevent overspending, how to maintain a healthy credit score while pursuing travel dream and the right way to close accounts while preserving credit history.

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Episode transcript

This transcript was generated from podcast audio by an AI tool.

Here at Smart Money, we’re all about the advice. The good rules to follow. The, well, smart ways to manage your money. We’re pretty much straight down the middle in terms of our ideas about money, but that’s not for everybody. Sometimes people go all in on different ways of handling their financial lives, and we’re going to hear all about them in our new series on weird money habits.

I don’t carry them all around. I have only a few staple cards that are in my wallet at all times, but all of the rest of the cards that don’t come around with me every day, I like to store them in baseball card folders.

Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money Podcast. I’m Sean Pyles.

And I’m Elizabeth Ayoola.

This episode kicks off our Nerdy deep dive into the odd, fascinating, kooky, interesting things that we do with our money. Whether it’s the things we do to make money or the things we do to manage money, sometimes with some people it’s just a little bit weird.

Right, and I never thought I would put money and weird in the same sentence until I heard some of the things that we have coming up in this series. Just to put it out there, when we say weird, we mean weird in a cool eccentric way, like weird as in unconventional or quirky like myself. We love exploring and hearing about all the different ways that people behave around and with their money, and maybe you have a zillion credit cards.

Or you’re an extreme couponer.

Or you like to tell the world, including thousands of perfect strangers exactly what’s in your bank account.

We’re going to hear about all of those and more in this series.

How about you, Sean? Do you as the host of a personal finance podcast have anything that someone else might consider, I don’t know, unusual?

Well, I do have 10 bank accounts and some people might consider that weird, but I think of it as more strategic.

10? We have to have a separate chat about this, Sean, about why you have 10. But that’s a lot of bank accounts, and I can just imagine that the management of those accounts for me personally would be pure chaos. That said, I can’t wait to hear this series, Sean. I love that we’re highlighting different ways that people make money and manage their finances because at the end of the day, we are all different. Even though there are smart rules of thumb and best practices when it comes to finance, you’ve got to do your thing, you’ve got to do your own thing.

That is the truth, and this is a judgment-free zone. So for our first episode of this series, we are going to rack up some credit card debt.

Oh, my gosh. You’ve gotta be lying, not with the current interest rates on debt.

Wait, wait, wait. No, no, no. We’re going to rack up some credit cards. Elizabeth, may I ask how many credit cards do you have?

I have four, but wait, are we counting store cards? I have one with American Express, one with Citi, shout out to y’all, and one with Bank of America. Then I have a business credit card and then a store card. Okay, that’s five.

All right. Well, heads up, folks. Some of those are NerdWallet partners but that doesn’t affect the way we talk about them, obviously. I personally only have five credit cards, but I really only use two of them regularly. But there is a corner of the finance world where they are able to manage way more credit cards than we do. Because of that, they’re able to utilize lots and lots and lots of points for everything from travel to shopping to filling up at the pump. But how do they manage all of that plastic and what happens to their credit scores? Most importantly, where do you put all those cards?

In a special place on the mantle, in a safe, maybe in your sock drawer. That’s where I put my stuff.

Well, we are about to find out. All right. Well, we want to hear what you think too, listeners. We would absolutely love to hear about the different and odd and wonderfully weird things that you do to either make or manage your money. So leave us a voicemail or text the Nerd hotline at 901-730-6373. That’s 901-730-NERD, or email a voice memo to [email protected].

All right, Sean, tell us what peculiar amazing human we are hearing from today.

We are talking with a fellow Nerd. Loyal listeners will recognize Erin Hurd. She’s been on the show many times before. She’s a credit card point expert, and that’s related to why we’re talking with her today, but we’re not going to be going into any specifics on points programs. Instead, we’re going to hear about Erin’s credit card collection, not credit cards in collection, her actual collection that she uses, and there are very, very many of them. That’s coming up in a moment. Stay with us. Erin Hurd. Welcome back to Smart Money.

Thank you. Happy to be here.

All right, Erin, let’s get right to it. How many credit cards do you have?

Well, that’s a great question, and the number is always fluctuating. I did count right before we hopped on our chat here and currently, in my household we have 37 active cards between my husband and me. Now my husband is, by the way, what we call in this weird hobby, my P-2. So in the credit card hobby, when two partners are opening up cards and earning rewards, we refer to them as Player 1 and Player 2, so P-2.

Okay, I want to hear a little more about that. How do you play off your P-2? Do you each have different tasks at different times? What’s your relationship, besides being married, of course?

So he’s a pretty passive P-2. I would say since this is my hobby and my job, I am super involved in all of the credit cards. So he really just does what I ask him to do in terms of opening cards, and I manage most of the rewards. But I do know of other couples where P-1 and P-2 are both active in this game, which is cool.

Okay, so is it more that you are Player 1 in the driver’s seat coordinating who’s doing what when, and maybe you are just asking your P-2 to open up a new credit card and essentially using them for their credit profile? Is that how it works?

Okay. As long as he’s cool with that, that’s awesome.

All right. So when did you start this collection? How old is it?

Well, like with many collections it grew slowly over time. I didn’t start out of the gate applying for 30-odd credit cards.

Yeah, you probably wouldn’t have been approved for those all at once.

Yeah, exactly. I really fell down the rabbit hole, though, close to 10 years ago when my family started to grow and now we had kids and we wanted to travel and we liked using the travel rewards, and so I became very interested in being able to earn a lot more rewards so we could take the whole family, which was growing.

So more cards is more rewards. You’re approaching 10 years. Do you have any plans for your 10-year credit card addiction anniversary?

Well, no, but now I should make some, huh?

Yeah, store up some points and have an especially amazing trip with all of your points.

Well, I need to ask, where do you keep all of these cards? Because I imagine you would need some gargantuan wallet to carry them with you on a day-to-day basis, or do you have some special box where you store them and just smile at your collection? What do you do?

Another great question. When you’re talking about a monster wallet, I’m picturing that Seinfeld episode where George Costanza has the giant wallet and he can’t-

… he can’t sit correctly. But no, that is not what I have going on. I don’t carry them all around. I have only a few staple cards that are in my wallet at all times. I also utilize a digital wallet a fair amount. I have a bunch of cards in there. But all of the rest of the cards that don’t come around with me every day, I like to store them in baseball card folders.

Oh, okay. That makes sense. So it really is a collection for you then?

It really is a collection. In the baseball card folders, they’re clear plastic, so I can see both sides and they fit perfectly, and it makes it easy for me to thumb through my collection to find what I’m looking for.

Do you have them ordered in a particular way, maybe most favorite in the beginning, least favorite at the end or alphabetical? How do you have them sorted?

No, I’m not quite that organized. Towards the back, I have all the canceled cards that I also like to keep, but other than that, they’re loosey goosey.

You mentioned that you use a digital wallet, so that would make it a lot easier to store 30-something credit cards with you on a regular basis. Do you find that you use your digital wallet in a regular way? Like you’re at Target and you think, “Oh, I have this one, this card way deep in my collection that might be best in this instance?” Do you navigate it in that sort of ongoing basis?

Sometimes. Some of the cards will often have various coupons or offers that can be added to them. So sometimes cards that I don’t use on a regular basis, I’ll notice that there’s an offer for a store that I’m planning to shop in. So in that case, I would make sure to add the offer to that card and then use that card whenever I’m going out. So the digital wallet is a great way to access that.

Well, I would love to poke around inside your brain for a moment and ask why you have so many credit cards. Is it all about points and rewards?

It is all about the points and rewards, 100%. For me specifically, it’s the travel rewards. I mentioned earlier my family was growing close to 10 years ago, so now it’s a family of four. We are able to travel several times a year and in much better style most of the time by using my points and miles than we really would be otherwise able to ever afford or even think about paying for.

Okay. So did you go into this thinking, “I’m just going to get a bunch of credit cards and use them for points?” Or did it just gradually happen over time?

Well, it happened over time. As I was opening up a few cards, then I started earning the rewards, and I really understood, “Wow, these rewards can be really powerful. They can really provide an avenue to go on trips that I never would’ve thought of before.” It was good timing too because in that time where I was getting curious and excited about the rewards, the landscape of the rewards and travel cards really started to expand. I remember when the Chase Sapphire Reserve® first launched in 2016, it had a 100,000 point sign-up bonus, which was really unheard of at the time, and that really heated up and elevated the whole industry. After that, so many new rewards credit cards came to the market, and it really changed the game.

Yeah, we should note that Chase is a NerdWallet partner, but that doesn’t affect the way we talk about them. But Erin, you’re right, that is a pretty significant sign-up bonus, and it’s exciting for people who might not fully understand what the points game offers. They might want to jump in and get that big sign-up bonus and then see what they can do with all these points. So how do you choose which cards to get? There are so many out there.

Yeah. Well, speaking of sign-up bonuses first, I never, and I don’t recommend, opening a card solely for the sign-up bonus. I recommend looking at the card holistically and understanding its perks and benefits. Of course, the sign-up bonus is a big perk off the bat, so any large bonus is going to get my attention because I know that I’ll earn more from that lump sum of a sign-up bonus than I’ll probably earn for a whole year or two of regular spending on that card. So it’s definitely a factor, but it’s not the whole factor. For me and for other people, once you have several cards, you really have to start paying attention to the various rules that different cards and issuers set around being eligible for the cards. Some issuers won’t approve you for a new card if you’ve opened more than a handful of cards across any issuers in recent history, so the rules are part of it.

That can be hard to navigate as well. Last year, I applied for a travel credit card and was accepted and was very happy to have it. Then a few months later there was a pretty big sign-up bonus special happening for another travel credit card. I tried to get it and was denied. My ego was bruised because I have a credit score over 800, I thought I was going to be an excellent candidate. I contacted this company. I said, “What’s going on?” I had actually a couple phone calls with them to get to the bottom of it. They said, “Well, you actually just applied and were approved for another travel credit card and we don’t like how recently you got that card, so it’s going to be a no-go for us.” It can be hard to figure out what rules might apply to you, though. Is there one way where people can sort out, “Okay, I might not be able to get this travel credit card because I just got another one recently?”

Well, some of the rules are pretty straightforward and laid out in the terms and conditions, but a lot of them, unfortunately, are unspoken rules. The issuers really are trying to find customers who are going to be good long-term customers. They’re not looking for customers who are going to be excited about a welcome bonus and then cancel the card. So they have internal rules, internal algorithms to distinguish from who’s going to be a valuable customer for us in the long-term and who maybe is not.

Are there any cards where you just are not interested in adding them to your expansive repertoire, just not your thing?

Yeah, for me, for the most part, I would say retail and store credit cards are mostly a no for me. I’m talking co-branded cards for Walmart or Target or any given retailer that you might spend money on. Some of them are really great, and in the right circumstances, some of them can be really rewarding if you spend a lot of money at that store. But by and large, the store credit cards are not as rewarding as many of the more general rewards cards, and the rewards you earn for those retail cards are for the most part going to be only good towards merchandise at that store. So you can’t get cash back for them. You can’t earn travel rewards. They’re really not flexible. So for me, I really prefer rewards that are flexible and have a lot of uses.

That’s partially just a personal preference, but this preference of yours also makes your point strategy much more adaptable?

Okay. So are most of your cards without annual fees, or do you have plenty of cards that do have annual fees? How does this factor in?

For me, it’s definitely a mixture. I do carry many cards that have annual fees and some of them are pretty pricey annual fees that have increased as time has gone along. But I find that in a lot of cases, really you get what you pay for and that cards with the annual fee tend to earn higher rewards, and they tend to come with a lot more perks. So if you are really using those perks in your everyday spending, in most cases, or I am at least able to justify the annual fee because I know that I’m getting enough value from it.

But keeping track of all of these perks, making sure that you are getting your money’s worth in that annual fee can be pretty time-consuming and complicated. How do you track all of this? Do you have a spreadsheet somewhere?

It is a little time-consuming. Personally, I prefer just keeping track of everything in a good old-fashioned spreadsheet. I think there are probably many apps that can do this for you, but I personally like just having it laid out in an easy spreadsheet. So I like to keep track of when I opened the card, how much I earned for the bonus and then what ongoing perks the card gives me so that I remember to use them. By keeping track of when I opened the card, then I know when the annual fee will be coming due next. So it’ll signal to me, “Okay, this card is about to charge an annual fee. Let’s go back and make sure that we are really using the perks for this card and reevaluate the card. Does it still have a place in our wallet? Is it still valuable?”

Do you ever feel weird for having so many credit cards? I only ask this because most people do not have nearly as many as you. Do your friends know about this? Is it some secret that you keep close to your chest?

Well, it’s a fun conversation starter at a party, but no, it is not a secret. I am very open about my love of credit card rewards and how they fuel our travel, and it’s hard to hide when your job is a credit card expert at NerdWallet.

Yeah, that’s fair enough. Okay. I would love to hear what having all of these cards has done to your credit score. If you have 37, how does that play with FICO and all that?

Yeah, that’s a great question, and it’s really one of the biggest misconceptions people have when I tell them that I have a lot of credit cards. They think that I must have terrible credit. They think that we must have a lot of revolving debt and that we must be paying a lot of interest, and really, none of that is true. In terms of the credit score, it’s actually the opposite. My credit score has increased over time the more credit cards that I have opened. That’s because part of your credit score is looking at that ratio of how much credit you have available to you, how many credit lines you have compared to how much you’re actually using. So having more available credit actually helps keep your credit utilization low and in turn, it actually boosts your score.

Okay, that makes sense, especially if you are making your payments on time. I’d love to hear how you manage payments, because I have maybe three credit cards that I use actively at any given moment, but sometimes that can feel a little bit stressful. So do you have autopay? How do you manage all of these due dates?

Yes, I do have autopay set up as a safeguard just in case I forget to pay. But one strategy is that you are able to change the due date with the issuer. So if you have several cards and it’s easier for you to know that they’re all going to be due on one day, or conversely, if you want to make sure that those due dates are spread out throughout the month because that works better for your budget, you can call the credit card issuer and customize what day your statement will close and thereby, when your payment is due. So that’s really helpful for some people.

Okay. Well if anyone is listening to this and saying to themselves, “I might want to try this out,” what advice would you have in favor of it and maybe any warnings against it?

Sure. Well, the number one rule here is if you are opening cards for rewards, the interest that you pay if you carry a balance is going to far outweigh the value of those rewards. So really, the first rule is to pay your bill in full every month. If you’re not able to do that, then opening a bunch of rewards credit cards is not going to be in your best interest. It’s just going to lead to temptation and potentially financial disaster, so we don’t want that. So I would really advise people to go slowly, and I’ve seen this happen with many friends over the years. Someone opens a travel card or two and they see how many rewards they’ve earned, and they get really excited about the potential. It can be tempting to go a little bit crazy and just start opening up a bunch of new cards.

But I really want to make sure that people always have a strategy and that they know the rules. Chase, one of the biggest credit card issuers, for example, won’t approve you for a new credit card if you’ve opened five or more cards across any issuer for the past 24 months. So people who are new to this think, “Oh, I’ll never open five cards. That’s crazy.” So they disregard that and then all of a sudden they’ve breezed right past that 5, 24 number and they’re not eligible for some cards that maybe they would have wanted. Another rule I would say is to really make sure you understand all the credits and the perks that the cards come with that you have. There is some fine print on them sometimes. Some of the credits are only good per quarter or they’re doled out monthly or whatever the rules are, just make sure you’re familiar enough to understand what the rules are and to make sure you’re getting enough value out of the perks.

Yeah, and a lot of people may not want to comb through fine print. I count myself among them mostly, but we do have plenty of very detailed reviews of credit cards on So I recommend folks check those out if they know they’re not the type to look through terms and conditions. So Erin, does it take a certain kind of person to manage this kind of financial situation?

I really think it does. First of all, you really need to make sure that you can handle the temptation of having that much available credit. It can be really exciting to have all these cards at your disposal and whip them out and walk into a store knowing that you could technically buy lots of things in that store. Buying them and affording them are not the same thing. So make sure you’re not buying things you don’t need, you’re not spending more than your budget allows. Really treat these credit cards as a debit card and spend the money that you have and pay them off in full every month hard stop.

Do you ever say goodbye to a credit card? If so, what sort of special ceremony do you conduct for these cards?

I do. I do say goodbye. So every year, I will reevaluate that card and its place in my wallet. When I feel that I’m not getting enough value from that card anymore, I will think about closing it. So before I would actually close one of my cards, I would first look into the availability of product changing that card. So does this credit card issuer offer a different card that maybe is a better fit for me now instead, or can I downgrade this card? If it’s a card with a high annual fee, is there another version of this card that has less perks but less of an annual fee? That way, that allows me to keep the credit history open on that card, which helps the score. So you keep the same credit line and you keep the account history, and that is helpful.

Well, what about getting rid of these cards that you have? You have to do something with them, right? You can’t just keep them in the drawer forever.

That’s right. So because I am a big credit card nerd, I do keep a graveyard of my old cards of collection. I like to especially keep cards that are no longer available anymore and look through wistfully. If you do close a card, you need to make sure you can properly destroy it. So the more traditional plastic credit cards, they’re pretty easy enough to cut up with scissors and throw in the trash. But those heavy metal cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® that we had mentioned earlier, those metal cards cannot be destroyed in the same way. They actually need to be mailed back to the issuers. But if you call the issuer, they will send you a special envelope, and you can mail it back to them

So you can have some farewell ceremony as you put your metal card back into the mail and send it back from whence it came.

Well, Erin, thank you so much for talking with me.

Wow. I learned that I probably need to get more intentional about travel credit cards. Now at the moment, I only have one that helps with travel, but it has gotten me in first class quite a few times, so love it. But hearing that Erin travels multiple times a year in style as a family of four was all that I needed to hear to get me started because I have a family of two, and the travel bill has my chest hurting several times a year. But on that note, multiple credit cards still isn’t for me because I cannot imagine adding another task to my plate. I’d hate to blow up my credit because I’m not being organized enough. I do have a high level of respect for how organized and efficient she is, though, with managing those cards and maximizing the benefits.

Oh, you have to be at that scale. I am always blown away that folks like Erin can stay on top of so many credit cards simultaneously, and I know that I’m leaving money or I guess points on the table by not being an ultra point optimizer, but you know what? Sometimes it just feels nice to be lazy and make the most of a couple of cards and have that be it.

I’m with you, Sean. So I’m going to stick with the cards I have, at least for now. Maybe when I become a jet-setting, rich auntie, I will get some more cards. Yes, moms can be rich aunties too. Okay?

I think I might one be a rich auntie myself.

I love that for you, Sean.

Maybe if that does happen, I’ll get some more cards too. But I will say that one of our producers was inspired by Erin and opened another travel points card because of this series. So she’s on her own way to her own collection.

Look at that. We’re just inspiring a whole generation of credit card collectors. I love that. I think that it really can make travel more accessible though, among other things, if it’s done correctly. All right, Sean. So we’ve heard about extreme credit card collecting. What else do we have in this series on weird money habits?

Well, we’re going to look at extreme couponing with someone who’s known as one half of the Krazy Coupon Ladies. We’ll talk with someone who decided to make all of her finances public, like on TikTok and everywhere else. Everybody’s all up in her account balances because she invited them to be. But next week, we’re going to hear about what it’s like to make a living from collectibles.

One of them years ago was a Carrie Fisher movie script. So after she had passed away, her family started selling off her items as well as her mother Debbie Reynolds’ stuff. So there was an auction that had a script that she had owned from Star Wars from A New Hope. We actually cut up the movie script, and we sold every page out of the scripts.

For now, that’s all we have for this episode. Do you have a money question of your own? Turn to the Nerds and call or text us your questions at 901-730-6373. That’s 901-730-NERD. You can also email us at [email protected]. Lastly, visit for more information on this episode. And remember to follow, rate and review us wherever you’re getting this podcast.

This episode was produced by Tess Vigeland. I helped with editing. Kevin Berry helped with fact checking. Sara Brink mixed our audio. A big thank you to NerdWallet’s editors for all their help.

Here’s our brief disclaimer. We are not financial or investment advisors. This nerdy information is provided for general educational and entertainment purposes, and it may not apply to you or your specific circumstances.

With that said, until next time, turn to the Nerds.

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