How to Be Strategic in Your Credit Card Applications

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I’m incredibly fortunate to have earned millions of miles with credit cards. The products and bank issuer policies — and best strategies — are constantly changing.

If you want to approach your credit card applications strategically — not just get the best cards, but in the right order, here’s my suggestions.

  1. Get the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card when you’re just getting started in the hobby. It has a great signup bonus (50,000 points after $4000 spend within 3 months). It earns points quickly with double points on travel and dining. And they’re valuable points that transfer to a variety of different airline and hotel programs which gives you real flexibility to redeem for the award you want from the program that has availability once you’re ready to do so.

    And it’s a $0 annual fee card the first year, so a really low barrier to getting started. You get this card, demonstrate to yourself how well you do earning transferrable points, and then later on you can choose to get a more expensive card.

  2. If you’re under “5/24” start with Chase cards. In order to root out customers who just want to sign up for credit cards, pocket the bonus and move on, many people who have opened 5 or more new accounts within the previous 24 months don’t get approved for new Chase accounts.

    That means you want to get Chase cards first while you’re under the limit. And in particular get the Chase cards that are subject to 5/24. I would start with the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card which has the best signup bonus — 80,000 point signup bonus after $5000 spend within 3 months. That can even be enough for a roundtrip business class award ticket between the US and Europe.

  3. If you’re over “5/24” you’re not shut out from Chase. Chase doesn’t enforce these rules when applying for all of their cards. If you’re over 5/24 some of the cards you can still get are the Hyatt Credit Card; the British Airways Visa Signature® Card; and the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card which offers 60,000 bonus points after $1,000 spend in the first 3 months of account opening. (I don’t have a referred link for the IHG card, information about the product is neither provided nor reviewed by its issuer.)

  4. If you’re trying to get or stay under 5/24 you can still apply for cards. Small business credit cards from several issuers don’t show up on your credit report, meaning that applying for those cards won’t count towards ‘5/24’.

    My favorite options are Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN offers 50,000 Membership Rewards points after $5,000 spend on purchases with the card within your first 3 months of cardmembership (offer expired) and the Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express which earns 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar on your first $50,000 in purchases each year with the card, making this the best most rewarding card for otherwise-unbonused spend.

  5. There’s no hard limit to the number of Chase cards you can have or at least no known limit, limits are placed on approvals and total credit offered not on number of open accounts.

  6. There’s no hard limit on frequency you can apply for Chase cards different people experience different things in terms of timing of getting more cards (eg no more than two cards in a 30 day period for some people, no more than one personal and one business card in 90 days). However the more cards you apply for quickly the greater scrutiny your accounts may get even after you’re approved.

  7. Lower-tier cards are easier to get approved for than higher tier cards. So Chase Sapphire Preferred – a Visa Signature – is generally easier to get approved for than Reserve, a Visa Infinite. They’ll also approve lower limits for Visa Signatures than for Visa Infinites.

  8. American Express allows only one signup bonus per lifetime per product. So for big bonus cards you want to look for the best offer. In contract Chase will let you have a bonus on a card you do not currently have and haven’t received the bonus for in the last 24 months (as long as they don’t exclude you from being approved by “5/24”). Chase also won’t let you have a bonus for a card in the same ‘family’ as one you already have open so if you have a Sapphire Preferred you can either product change to a Sapphire Reserve or if you want the Sapphire Reserve bonus you might product change an open Preferred card to Freedom before applying.

    Bear in mind that with American Express lifetime may not mean what you think it does, it means as long as American Express remembers you’ve had a card, ask them what cards you’ve had to determine whether you’re eligible for a bonus. Many report cards they had 7+ years in the past aren’t on that list.

  9. Typically you’re limited to 4 charge cards and 4 credit cards from American Express, although some people have reported getting more. That’s not a huge limitation for most people, I don’t find I want more than that at any given time.

  10. There’s no limit to the number of American Express cards you can be approved for in a day in my understanding though I wouldn’t apply for more than 2 (and the second one is likely not to be approved immediately).

  11. Charge cards are easier to be approved for — and approved for higher limits — than credit cards. American Express offers both charge cards you have to pay off your balance at the end of the month, credit cards you should pay off the balance but are permitted to revolve credit, pay interest. A bank has a harder time estimating not just your current circumstance but your likelihood of being able to pay off money in the future that it loans you now, so credit cards can be harder to get.

  12. Citibank doesn’t have a hard limit on the number of their cards you can have though of course how much credit they’ll make available for each person will vary. After you apply for one card they’ll consider another application from you 8 days later, but you can’t apply for more than 2 cards in 65 days.

  13. Generally Citi will give you the bonus on a new card account if you haven’t opened or close a card in that product’s family in the past 24 months.

  14. Credit scores improve with more unused credit so opening up new cards, getting more credit, that you aren’t using can make your score go up — although most people don’t need to obsess over their credit score or pulls of their credit report. The most important thing for a good credit score is paying your bills on time. You care most about your credit score when seeking significant credit for things like a residential mortgage.

  15. Try to retain credit even if you cancel a card. Chase frequently lets you move your available credit from one card (the one you’re going to get rid of before a fee hits) onto another card (that you’re keeping). American Express has offered the ability to move around your credit between cards as well.

  16. It doesn’t take as high a credit score to get approved as you think

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.


  1. “Typically you’re limited to 4 charge cards and 4 credit cards from American Express”

    No, that’s really outdated info. It’s five charge cards now.

  2. On the Business Cards, I realize they don’t count towards 5/24 but do the banks “see” each other’s Business Cards in any way? For instance, I know Chase “sees” my other Personal Amex Cards, but would they know if I had 20 other Business Cards with other banks since it doesn’t show up on my Credit Report for 5/24?

    The reason I ask is as I come up on dropping to 4/24 there are a lot of cards I want across many banks, and I’m tempted to go heavy there – but am I risking that they’ll look at my other Business Cards and say “Ok, you’re not at 5/24 but you have a stupid number of Business Cards”?

    Same general question for Chase – I have 2 Ink and 2 SW and would really like to add Marriott and the new Business Ink. Is there a point where Chase just says “this is stupid. No.”?

  3. There is a very tiny chance that if you apply for a business credit card and you have an EIN for that business, that they could pull a commercial bureau on your business (I have never had one pull a Dun and Brad on my business, but it is possible) for a new business card app, but otherwise, no, they cannot see your business cards if they are under an EIN. If your business cards are under your SSN, there are a couple of issuers (Capital One and Discover) that report to the personal bureau and they could see those, but they could not see any other business cards on either personal applications or business applications using your SSN. They will see the inquiries for most issuers, but not the new cards.
    For Chase, they occasionally say you have gotten too many too quickly or that you have hit the most outstanding credit limits that they will allow you, but as noted in the post, they do not have a limit on the number of different accounts you can have with them.

  4. Chase also won’t let you have a bonus for a card in the same ‘family’ as one you already have open so if you have a Sapphire Preferred you can either product change to a Sapphire Reserve or if you want the Sapphire Reserve bonus you might product change an open Preferred card to Freedom before applying.

    Are business and personal cards considered the same family? I have a Marriott personal and I just applied for the business…

  5. I want to help my twin girls, they are 18 and 1 month… already have Amex everyday card with $2k limit, few accounts as authorized users on my oldest credit cards with good limits, both girls have high FiCo scores near 800, can/should they apply for a chase sapphire now? or wait?
    I also want to refer them to my personal SPG Amex too but I think chip away at chase first is best.

    Notes: I’ll help them with the minimum spend, I have big purchases coming up.

    We no longer have chase branches in Massachusetts but we go to nyc almost every month, should we go to a branch?

    Am I creating point monsters? I already have dozens of cards, they seam interested in harvesting points too.

  6. I used an online upgrade link from Amex Hilton Honors no fee card to the Amex Hilton Surpass for 100k after 3k spend. I met the spend but never got the points. Called and talked to different reps about a dozen times and escalated it to the point where they said the option to upgrade was not on my account and if I don’t have screenshots of the link I used they can’t help me. I then downgraded back to hilton Honors no fee just before the names changed, in hopes that a) I would get my annual fee reimbursed (I did) and b) I could apply for the newly rebranded Hilton Amex fee cards for bonuses. Since I have never received a bonus on the Surpass do you think I’ll be eligible for the new Ascend bonus? Or will they decline based on me having “had” the Surpass for a few months.
    Lesson learned: always take screenshots of upgrade offers and approvals.

  7. Any info on Barclays Bank credit card limitations. I’ve have a Barclays AAdvantage card for years, with a perfect payment record and an Excellent credit score. When I applied for a Barclays Frontier Credit card — Barclays keep asking me for more persona, info. And when I sent them proof of everything they asked for, plus my AAdvantage payment record and credit score, Barclay’s declined me for too many recent applications — and I’ve only applied for 1 or 2 other cards, which I got, while waiting for my expected Frontier card.

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