2017 Credit Card Inventory: Senior Points and Miles Contributor Nick Ewen
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It seems hard to believe that I am now firmly into my second decade of playing the points and miles game. When I graduated college back in 2005 and opened my first credit card (as the primary cardholder… my parents had wisely added me as an authorized user on their cards to build up a positive credit history), I absolutely refused to pay an annual fee. Since then, my philosophy has morphed significantly, as you’ll see in just a bit.
That being said, it’s important to really analyze your wallet and determine whether the combination of earning rates and included benefits covers any annual fee you’re paying. I knew going into this analysis that one of my cards was ripe for cancellation, but by crunching some numbers, it became clear that at least one more should be on the chopping block. However, thanks to some other strategic decisions I plan on making in the next few months, the overall amount of annual fees I’ll be paying is not set to change that dramatically.
What’s Currently in My Wallet
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||$550||American Express|
|The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express||$0||American Express|
|Hilton Honors Card from American Express||$0||American Express|
|Major League Baseball Platinum Plus Mastercard||$0||Bank of America|
|JetBlue Plus Card||$99||Barclaycard|
|The Hyatt Credit Card||$75||Chase|
|IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card||$49||Chase|
|Ink Business Cash Credit Card||$0||Chase|
|Citi Hilton Honors Reserve Credit Card||$95||Citi|
|Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card||$75||US Bank|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred Card||$95 –> $450
|Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express||$95||American Express|
|Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard||$0||Barclaycard|
|Citi Prestige Card||$450||Citi|
|TOTAL IN ANNUAL FEES BEFORE CHANGES: $1,583|
|TOTAL IN ANNUAL FEES AFTER CHANGES: $1,393 ($190 in savings)|
Keep reading for a look at why each card earns a place in my wallet.
The Platinum Card from American Express
Annual fee: $550
My take: I just became an Amex Platinum cardholder last December when I was targeted for a 50,000-point offer for upgrading my Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express. Even though the card now carries a hefty $550 annual fee, I continue to get great value out of it. I enjoy $200 in yearly credits for fees on an airline of my choosing (which I typically use for Even More Space seats on JetBlue) and $200 per year in Uber credits. I also get a ton of value from the 5x points on airfare purchased directly with the airline, and I’ve been targeted for some great promos through Amex Offers.
It’s also great to have access to Centurion Lounges, Delta Sky Clubs (when flying on Delta) and Priority Pass lounges, and this extends to additional cardholders as well. I currently have my wife, my brother and my sister as authorized users on my Amex Platinum, since you can have up to three for the same $175 fee.
I haven’t utilized the Fine Hotels & Resorts program yet, but that’s another way to get some great value from this card. I also haven’t had a need to activate complimentary Gold status with Hilton Honors and Starwood Preferred Guest, but I plan to do that in 2018 as my current shortcut to Hilton Gold is being shut off (more on that later) and my SPG Gold status (earned the hard way) will expire.
The Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express
Annual fee: $0
My take: This is the newest Amex small business card, and I just added this to my wallet in early June. Even though it carries no annual fee, I earn 2x Membership Rewards points on all purchases (up to $50,000 in purchases each year; then 1x thereafter) for a fantastic 3.8% return (based on TPG’s valuations) at merchants that don’t otherwise offer bonus points.
Hilton Honors Card from American Express
Annual fee: $0
My take: When it comes to your credit, average age of your accounts plays a small but significant role in determining your FICO score. My Hilton Honors Amex is currently my second-longest card, and with no annual fee, keeping it open is a no-brainer. The card does earn 7x points at Hilton properties and comes with automatic Silver status, but I have other more rewarding cards for these purchases and have complimentary Gold status available in other ways. I do use this card for grocery purchases, but my long account history is the main appeal to me.
Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express
Annual fee: $95
My take: I opened the SPG Business Amex last year when it was offering an enhanced sign-up bonus. Based on TPG’s valuation of SPG points, this card offered a very healthy 2.7% return on non-bonus category purchases, and it also comes with 2 stays and 5 nights of credit towards elite status each year plus complimentary Club access on Sheraton stays. However, it’s been almost a year since my last Sheraton stay, and I’m nowhere near requalifying for SPG Gold status. In addition, with the Blue Business Plus card now offering a significantly higher return on everyday purchases with no annual fee, I can no longer justify incurring an annual fee to keep this card.
Bank of America
Major League Baseball Platinum Plus MasterCard
Annual fee: $0
My take: This is currently the only credit card issued by Bank of America that’s in my wallet, and it also happens to be my longest tenured card (hey, we all need to start somewhere!). I don’t find the World Points program to be very rewarding, as each point is worth just 1 cent toward redemptions like gift cards and free travel, but since I’m not paying an annual fee on the card and since the long account age helps my credit score, there’s no reason to cancel it.
Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard
Annual fee: $0
My take: This card in in my wallet after I downgraded my Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard. I initially opened the Arrival Plus thanks to the sign-up bonus and ability to redeem points toward just about any travel purchase with a 10% rebate. However, the issuer dropped the rebate to 5% a couple of years ago, and I downgraded to the regular Arrival Card last year to avoid the $89 annual fee. However, I haven’t spent a dime on this card in the past year, and I have several other no annual fee cards with much longer histories to help my credit score.
JetBlue Plus Card
Annual fee: $99
My take: I’ve extolled the virtues of the JetBlue Plus more than once on the site, most recently highlighting my first two (valuable) years of cardmembership. The 5,000 bonus points I get each year on my cardmember anniversary (worth at least $60) almost cover the entire $99 annual fee, and the myriad other benefits easily put me past that mark. From a free checked bag for me and up to four travel companions to an uncapped 10% rebate on award redemptions to the 50% in-flight discount, this card truly is a no-brainer if you live near an airport with even semi-regular JetBlue service.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Annual fee: $95 (waived for the first year)
My take: I have been a proud holder of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card for a number of years now, and it used to be my go-to card for travel and dining. However, that all changed when my wife opened the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which offers 3x points on these purchases. This is the last Chase card I have that earns full Ultimate Rewards points, so I was initially inclined to keep it in order to preserve my ability to transfer points to Chase’s travel partners like United and Hyatt.
However, after thinking through my options, I’ve decided to actually upgrade this card to the Sapphire Reserve in September. This is when my wife’s Sapphire Reserve will renew, so she’ll downgrade to the Chase Freedom Unlimited. Since Chase allows you to share Ultimate Rewards points within the same household, she can then transfer her points to me to enable partner redemptions.
While I would love to apply for the Sapphire Reserve myself to earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of cardmembership, I am right on the verge of no longer being subject to Chase’s 5/24 rule. As a result, I’d rather keep my options open for other cards like the United MileagePlus Explorer Card rather than “wasting” a new card application on a sign-up bonus that isn’t nearly as lucrative as it was initially (the card launched with a 100k offer).
Annual fee: $0
My take: As I’ve written about before, no annual fee cards should play a key role in your credit card strategy, and the Chase Freedom is one of my favorites in this category. I love the rotating quarterly bonus categories that offer 5x points on up to $1,500 in purchases, and since I have another Chase card that earns full Ultimate Rewards points, I can convert these earnings into fully transferable points. As a result, this card will stay in my wallet.
The Hyatt Credit Card
Annual fee: $75
My take: I recently wrote a post on the most underrated travel rewards cards out there, and the Hyatt Credit Card earned a spot on the list. While this card does carry a $75 annual fee, it also provides two key benefits that make it worthwhile (in my opinion). The first is automatic Discoverist status in the World of Hyatt program, which I pegged at $150 in my valuation of Hyatt elite status (not a huge windfall but better than nothing). The second and more valuable perk is the anniversary certificate given each year, valid at Category 1-4 properties worldwide. In essence, you can think of the annual fee as “buying” a free night for $75. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Hyatt where you’d pay less than that, and I’ve always gotten at least double that value for stays at properties like the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, Grant Hyatt Seattle and Andaz Savannah.
IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card
Annual fee: $49 (waived for the first year)
My take: This was another card on my underrated list, giving cardholders great perks like automatic IHG Platinum Elite status and 5x points at IHG properties. However, what makes this card truly valuable is the free anniversary night you’ll get every year when you pay the card’s $49 annual fee. Unlike with the Hyatt card, this anniversary certificate is valid at any IHG property worldwide, including InterContinental hotels and resorts. Last November, I used my second year’s free night at the InterContinental in Lisbon when revenue rates were well over €150 per night, though you can easily get even more value at higher-end properties.
Ink Business Cash Credit Card
Annual fee: $0
My take: The final Chase card I’ll be keeping is the Ink Cash, another one that carries no annual fee. My favorite benefit of this card is the 5x points I get on purchases at office supply stores as well as on telecommunications purchases (internet, landline and TV). Those points are typically only redeemable for cash back, but as I mentioned earlier, since I have a card that accrues full Ultimate Rewards points, the earnings from the Ink Cash can be combined across my accounts and transferred to travel partners.
Citi Hilton Honors Reserve Credit Card
Annual fee: $95
My take: I’ve held the Citi Hilton Reserve in my wallet since it was first introduced thanks to the automatic Gold status and free weekend night certificate that you get each year when you spend $10,000 on the card. Unfortunately, Hilton just announced that in 2018, it’ll be shifting to an exclusive credit card relationship with American Express, so this card is no longer available for new applicants. I’m not rushing to cancel or shift to another card, as my cardmembership year ends in mid-December and I fully intend on earning one final free weekend night certificate by reaching the $10,000 spending threshold.
Fortunately, there are a number of other ways to enjoy Hilton Honors Gold status (like with my Amex Platinum), so while I will miss the free night, I won’t be heartbroken to say farewell to this card once it’s gone.
Verdict: Keep (for now)
Citi Prestige Card
Annual fee: $450
My take: For a while, I was a huge fan of the Citi Prestige. While some of the transfer partners leave a bit to be desired, I loved perks like a $250 airfare credit every year, a fourth night free on paid hotel stays, three free rounds of golf and complimentary access to Admirals Clubs (plus Priority Pass Select membership). However, as of July, the golf and Admirals Club benefits are no longer available, and even the 4th Night Free benefit lost some of its value (though stays can now be booked with points, and online). As a result, I simply can’t justify keeping this card in my wallet given the $450 annual fee that comes due this August.
Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card
Annual fee: $75
My take: Another card that’s been in my wallet from nearly the first month it was introduced is the Club Carlson Visa. Even though the bonus night benefit is long gone, I still receive 40,000 bonus points each year on my cardmember anniversary and enjoy automatic Gold status in the Club Carlson program. The points alone are worth $160, which easily outweighs the $75 annual fee, so the Gold status is just icing on the cake. However, it’s been a while since I’ve stayed in a Club Carlson hotel, so I’ll be looking closely at this card in early 2018 when my next annual fee comes due to determine if it’s still worth keeping.
Verdict: Keep (for now)
Even though I still have nearly 20 open credit cards to my name, I’ve definitely slowed down the pace at which I’m applying for new ones. Instead, I’ve started focusing on making the most of the cards that are currently in my wallet, especially when it comes to transferable point currencies and the incredible flexibility they offer. As a result, I am now in a great position to jump on new cards (like the Blue Business Plus Amex) or take advantage of enhanced sign-up bonuses (like the United Explorer) when they become available. I still have some decisions to make regarding a couple of cards within the next year or so, but for now, I’m quite happy with the make-up of my wallet.
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