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One of the questions I’m asked the most is, how to decide when to cancel a credit card. This comes up a lot because many of the best points-earning travel credit cards carry annual fees ranging anywhere from $49-$495. That’s why, every year when it’s about to hit their statement, readers write in asking whether keeping this card or that for another year is worth it.
When taking my own personal credit card inventory, like I did just last month before a round of credit card applications that netted me 230,000 bonus points and miles, I ask myself certain questions like how long I’ve had a card since credit history contributes to your credit score, and is there a duplicate card I can get a similar sign-up bonus on. However, the most important question I ask myself is: do the perks and benefits of this card outweigh the annual fee?
The good news is, many of the cards I carry – as well as a lot of other airline and hotel co-branded out there – offer anniversary bonuses that can often far outweigh the annual fee including free hotel nights, companion tickets and bonus points and miles. Here are my top picks.
Anniversary Benefit: Receive 1 free night every year on your cardmember anniversary at any Category 1-4 property. Some properties where that certificate’s value is maximized to far outweigh the card’s $75 annual fee include higher-end properties within categories 1-4 such as the Park Hyatt Toronto, Hyatt Escala Lodge Park City and the Park Hyatt Seoul, where room rates can easily top $400 per night. To qualify for this, your account must be open and in good standing. The award night is good for one night in any available standard room within 12 months from the issue date of the certificate.
Current Sign-up Bonus: Receive 2 free nights after spending $2,000 within the first 3 months with the Hyatt Credit Card (for first time Hyatt Credit cardmembers)
Other Benefits: Receive automatic Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum elite membership (and up to 20% off room rates thanks to Hyatt’s new Elite Nights benefit), earn 3 points for every $1 spent at all Hyatt properties with your Hyatt Credit Card. Earn 2 points for every $1 spent at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline and at car rental agencies, and earn 1 point for every $1 spent anywhere else you use your card. No foreign transaction fees. Smart Chip technology and extra protections. Redeem for free nights with no resort fees, and with as few as 5,000 points at any Category 1 property
Annual Fee: $75
2. IHG Rewards Club Visa
Anniversary Benefit: 1 free night stay every year of membership. Cardholders can use their free night at any IHG Rewards property, including Intercontinentals, without category restrictions, so that’s like getting a 50,000-point bonus every year since high-end Intercontinental properties like the Intercontinental Hong Kong require 50,000 Priority Club points for free night redemptions and room rates can easily run well into the $400-500 range, more than making up for the card’s $49 annual fee, which is waived for the first year anyway.
Current Sign-up Bonus: See this thread for information on how to get an 80,000 point offer for this card
Other Benefits: Earn 5X points per dollar spent at participating hotels, earn 2X points per dollar spent on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants, earn 1X point per dollar spent spent on all other purchases, automatic 10% point rebate, no foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: $0 introductory fee for the first year, $49 thereafter.
3. Platinum Delta SkyMiles American Express
Anniversary Benefit: Annual Companion Certificate for one roundtrip economy ticket in the 48 contiguous United States. It must be on an economy ticket in the 48 contiguous United States purchased in L, U, T, X or V fare classes. However, even though these aren’t the most deeply discounted fares, you can still save hundreds of dollars or more on an itinerary by not having to buy a second seat. Just make sure you’re getting more than $195 in value to counterbalance the annual fee.
Current Bonus: Get 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles and 35,000 miles when you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months and a $100 statement credit when you make your first Delta purchase within 3 months.
Benefits: 2X miles on Delta purchases, 1X on other purchases. First checked bag free for you and up to 8 people on your reservation. Earn up to 10,000 MQM’s a year (10,000 for $25,000 in calendar year spend, and another 10,000 MQM’s for a total of $50,000 in calendar year spending, Priority Boarding and 20% In-Flight Savings. On the business version, save 3% to 10% automatically on business expenses from FedEx, Hertz, OfficeMax, and more with OPEN business program savings.
Annual Fee: $150 before May 1, 2014, $195 after.
4. Alaska Airlines Visa Signature
Anniversary Benefit: Coach Companion Fare every year from $118 (USD) ($99, plus taxes and fees from $19). Even though Alaska stopped letting cardholders redeem these for first class tickets, even with economy fares, you can get tons of value out of these on expensive routes like those to Hawaii.
Current Sign-up Bonus: 40,000 miles when you spend $10,000 in 6 months (there’s also another offer for Earn 3 miles for every qualifying dollar in purchases of Alaska Airlines tickets, Vacation packages and Cargo purchases. 40,000 miles when you spend $10,000 in 6 months (there’s also another offer for 30,000 miles with no spending requirement)
Other Benefits: Earn 3 miles for every qualifying dollar in purchases of Alaska Airlines tickets, Vacation packages and Cargo purchases. Earn 3 miles for every qualifying dollar in purchases of Alaska Airlines tickets, Vacation packages and Cargo purchases, 1 mile per $1 on everything else. No mileage cap. There’s no limit to the number of miles you can earn with the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card
Annual Fee: $75 annual fee not waived
5. US Airways Premier World MasterCard
Anniversary Benefit: Receive an annual companion certificate good for up to 2 $99 companion tickets upon approval and every year and a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus. The bonus miles alone are worth about $150-$180 in my opinion, far outweighing the annual fee, but those companion tickets can also prove quite valuable if you leverage them correctly. They are good for economy flights in the contiguous 48 States on US Airways flights only, and the airfare purchased must be $250 or more, so if you can apply them to an expensive flight, you’re saving hundreds of dollars. Note: read the terms carefully, some readers have noted that when they apply the terms don’t explicitly state the anniversary bonus, so you might prefer this offer instead with 30,000 miles on first purchase and the anniversary bonus of 10,000 miles plus $89 annual fee waived.
Current Bonus: 40,000 miles after first purchase in the first 90 days – but I have a hunch that this bonus might be going up soon, or the card could roll out new benefits to entice new cardholders while Barclaycard is still permitted to sign up new customers for it.
Other Benefits: Receive an annual companion certificate good for up to 2 companion tickets upon approval and every year, 5,000-mile discounts on awards, 2X miles per $1 on US Airways purchases. Also receive 1 complimentary US Airways Club day pass and get first class check in and Zone 2 boarding.
Annual Fee: $89
6. Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card
Anniversary Benefit: Receive 40,000 points each year when you renew your card. No spending requirement. 40,000 Carlson points is almost enough for a night at a Category 5 property (44,000 points), like the Radisson Blu Berlin, where room rates in May are 199 EUR ($280). Plus, don’t forget that by being a cardholder, you can get half-price awards on two-night stays since your last night of an award stay is free, so you’re essentially doubling the value of your points if you maximize them.
Current Sign-up Bonus: 85,000 Gold Points, 50,000 of which will be earned after your first purchase, plus 35,000 more points once you spend $2,500 within the first 90 days.
Other Benefits: You will earn 10 points per dollar spent at participating Carlson Rezidor hotels and 5 points per dollar spent everywhere else. Club Carlson cards come with Gold status and a bonus award night.
Annual Fee: $75
7. Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard
Anniversary Benefit: Earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage miles back, up to 10,000 AAdvantage miles each calendar year – it’s not exactly an anniversary bonus, but it’s a calendar year one that I wanted to include. Getting 10,000 miles back on up to 100,000 redeemed miles is equivalent to about $180 in my estimate. Twice the annual fee on this card.
Current Sign-up Bonus: 50,000 American AAdvantage miles after $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of cardmembership
Benefits: Earn 2 AAdvantage miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, 1 mile per $1 on everything else. Your first eligible checked bag is free, priority boarding and 25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases, reduced mileage awards, earn a $100 American Airlines flight discount every cardmembership year when you spend $30,000 or more on eligible purchases.
Annual Fee: $95 waived the first year
8. Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
Anniversary Benefit: 6,000 points after your cardmember anniversary. That’s worth about $86 – just under the $99 annual fee on this card, but still worth it considering those points count toward Companion Pass Qualification.
Current Sign-up Bonus: 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months.
Benefits: With this card you will earn 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways purchases as well as Rapid Rewards Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
Annual Fee: $99
9. Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card
Anniversary Benefit: Every account anniversary, you’ll receive a free night stay in category 1-5 hotel. That’s the equivalent of a 25,000-point bonus. Category 5 properties include the JW Marriott Beijing, where rooms in May go for 1,530 CNY, or $245.
Current Sign-up Bonus: Sign-up bonus of 80,000 points with $3,000 spend in the first 3 months
Other Benefits: Earn 5 points per dollar spent at Marriott locations, 2 points per dollar spent on airfare, car rentals and dining and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Receive 1 credit toward elite status for every $3,000 spent. No foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: $85
10. The New Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard
Anniversary Benefit: Primary Cardholders are eligible to earn a $100 discount off one coach companion ticket for roundtrip travel between Hawaii and North America on each credit card account anniversary.
Current Sign-up Bonus: Earn 35,000 bonus miles when you make $1,000 in eligible purchases in the first 90 days.
Other Benefits: Enjoy a Complimentary Checked Bag for the primary cardholder when you use your card to purchase tickets directly from Hawaiian Airlines; receive a one-time 50% Off Companion Discount for roundtrip coach travel between Hawaii & North America on Hawaiian Airlines; discounted award travel (5,000 miles off roundtrip award fares from North America to Hawaii); 2X miles per $1 on direct purchases from Hawaiian Airlines, 1X miles on everything else; earn up to 10X miles per $1 with participating partners; every membership year you spend $10,000 or more on the card, you get 5,000 bonus miles; Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard cardholders can receive HawaiianMiles from friends and family online at HawaiianAirlines.com up to 10 times per calendar year; no foreign transaction fees, SmartChip technology.
Annual Fee: $89
11. LANPass Visa Signature Card
Anniversary Benefit: 4,000 bonus miles with annual renewal, 20% discount on LAN purchase of up to $1,000 once per year, 3 one-way upgrade coupons to use at check-in per year when you spend $15,000 or more each calendar year. Though those upgrades can be valuable, even if you buy a ticket of $375 or over each year, you’re making up for that $75 annual fee thanks to the 20% discount you get on one ticket each year.
Current Sign-up Bonus: 20,000 bonus kilometers with first use.
Other Benefits: 2 miles per $1 on LAN ticket purchases, 1 mile per $1 on other purchases, 25% flight miles bonus, Visa Signature benefits.
Annual Fee: $0 first year then $75.
For more information on hotel credit cards, check out these previous posts:
Top 10 Hotel Credit Card Perks
Maximizing Travel Credit Cards Calendar Year Spending Threshold Bonuses
Hotel Credit Cards That Offer Annual Free Nights
Top 10 Airline Credit Card Perks
Top 10 Almost Too Good To Be True Credit Card Benefits
When To Cancel a Credit Card