I believe I have 17 open active credit cards. (This doesn’t include the other mileage-related financial products like the Delta Suntrust Debit Card, American Express Campus Edition, or the free American Express Bluebird.)
Four of those are business credit cards for my job like the American Express Business Platinum, but 13 are more discretionary so I thought I’d lay out my thinking for each one — the value proposition, whether it makes sense for me to hang onto or not.
With that many card I wind up paying a lot in annual fees, but in each case I’ll explain why the math works well for me. I also don’t want to pay for anything that isn’t going to bring me value.
In general I will suggest keeping no annual fee cards — there’s no reason not to, and hanging onto cards will ultimately improve credit score because it’ll increase the average age of accounts over time and because more available unused credit means lower utilization rates and a higher score. I don’t value these effects enough, though, to keep paying fees for cards that do not otherwise provide me with value.
So here are the cards in my stack, and my analysis of each:
Chase Ink Plus Business Card
For folks that will sign up for a business card, this is likely the king of all cards and more than earns its $95 annual fee (after $0 the first year).
Points transfer to United, British Airways, Korean Air, Southwest Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Priority Club, and Amtrak.
It has no foreign currency fees, and earns double points on gas and hotels. And it gets two free lounge visits per year.
But most importantly it earns 5x on my monthly internet bill, my satellite TV (also for cable), cell phone, and also all puchases at office supply stores. Coupled with a 50,000 point signup bonus after $5000 spend within 3 months this card is an earning machine. Keep.
I used to carry Chase Sapphire Preferred and I still think for most people that’s the best all-around product but Ink Plus actually earns the same kind of points and earns more of them. The only things I give up are double points on dining and on non-hotel travel and the 7% annual bonus. But I get triple points on airfare on my American Express Premier Rewards Gold. So I wasn’t using that card for airfare even.
Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express
This card duplicates my Starwood Preferred Guest business card, so maybe I don’t need it and its $65 annual fee (after $0 the first year). It currently has my biggest credit line, and I have had it for a dozen years. So it’s not going anywhere.
Starwood points are among the very most valuable currencies. Points transfer to the most number of airlines (although not in real-time) and with a built-in bonus of 5000 airline miles for every 20,000 miles redeemed for.
And having both the personal and business version of the card give me a nice head start as I consider picking up Platinum status in SPG again next year (to complement – not replace – my Hyatt Diamond status) since each one gives me 2 stays and 5 nights of elite credit.
Starwood Preferred Guest Business Card from American Express OPEN
This card is very similar to the personal version, it earns Starpoints which I love to build up balances of. The most unique thing about the business version of the card is that it’s eligible for Amex’s OPEN Savings program. That gets me a 5% rebate on my domestic Hyatt stays, in addition to earning Starpoints for my spend. As a result I give this card at check-in when staying with Hyatt instead of my Hyatt Visa, and on that basis alone more than cover my $65 annual fee (after $0 the first year). Keep.
American Express Premier Rewards Gold
This is the strongest Membership Rewards-earning card, and Membership Rewards is one of my three favorite currencies — largely for the flexibility to transfer to programs like Singapore Airlines which usually has great first class award availability for members of its own program (whereas you can’t get those same seats with partners like United).
The card earns triple points on airfare and double points on gas and groceries.
The kicker is the annual fee which is $0 the first year but $175 after that. Here’s why it makes sense for me to have the card not just in year one but beyond: I put over $30,000 a year in airfare on the card. And $30,000 spend nets a 15,000 point bonus. I view the 15k points as worth more than the $175 annual fee.
American Express Platinum
This card comes with a $450 annual fee and I consider it money well spent. Note that you can also get additional cards for others on your account and a lower cost per card and they get most of all the same benefits as the primary cardholder.
- Lounge access: Delta, American/US Airways (going away March 22), Amex’s own Centurion lounges (Dallas, Las Vegas, known additional lounges coming in New York and San Francisco and likely more), Priority Pass Select (Alaska Airlines and many international lounges)
- Status: Starwood Gold and National Car Rental Executive, as well as a recent addition (and possibly not ongoing) Hilton Gold
- $200 annual airline fee credit and $100 credit for Global Entry application
Now, the elimination of US Airways and American lounge access is a blow. I currently get my access via British Airways Gold status. I’ll be downgraded to silver come spring and still get access for at least another year that way. So the change doesn’t affect my value proposition at all.
American Express Business Gold Rewards
Like the Premier Rewards Gold, this card earns 3x on airfare. It also earns 2x on select advertising, shipping, and at gas stations plus double points on purchases from select computer providers.
I recently charged some computers for work to this card, it’s great to earn double points for that. I do have Amazon Prime membership and this card will rebate the first year fee on new Prime memberships. Those are nice benefits.
But I don’t spend a ton on advertising or shipping, so the earning benefits mostly duplicate what I get from other cards: 3x on airfare is covered by Premier Rewards Gold, which also gives me 15,000 bonus points for $30k spend in a year, and Ink Plus earns double points on gas.
Since other cards have me covered on most of the benefits of this card, I likely will not hang onto it. I do need to have at least one Membership Rewards-earning card remain open in order to maintain my points balance, but I’ve got that covered. And I want a card with OPEN Savings but my Starwood business card handles that too. As a result it’s not worth the $175 annual fee (after $0 the first year) for me.
Citi AAdvantage World MasterCard
The signup bonus on this card is valuable, I got 50,000 miles when I picked up the card. And I consider it a keeper because I receive a 10,000 mile rebate each year that I redeem 100,000 miles from my account as a cardholder (those miles more than covering the $95 annual fee).
But I don’t see the card offering strong value for spending.
My next move could be the Citi Executive AAdvantage Card because — despite a $450 fee — it comes with Admirals Club access (a benefit the American Express Platinum card will lose) and because spending $40,000 on the card earns 10,000 elite qualifying miles and I could see myself flying fewer miles in 2014.
Korean Air Skypass Visa
I signed up for the card when I was targeted for a 40,000 point signup bonus. That was too hard to resist.
There’s amazing first class award availability on Korean Air (and from more US cities than any other Asian airline). The miles are fantastic for redeeming on Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian (and with no fuel surcharges). I’ve also written about some really good value Skyteam awards using Korean miles.
You can top off a Korean account with transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards, so a signup bonus on this card pairs nicely with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Chase Ink Plus Business Card. Since those cards offer stronger earning for Korean points, and flexibility to transfer elsewhere, the Korean Air Skypass Visa probably is not a long-term keeper at $80.
Virgin Atlantic MasterCard
The card was an easy 50,000 point bonus on signup. That’s the strongest value proposition for the card, even though Virgin Atlantic points are among the most frustrating because of high fuel surcharges on redemptions, generally expensive partner awards, and an inability to stitch together creative routings on multiple partners.
The card does earn 1.5 miles per dollar on all spending, so if you want Virgin Atlantic miles it’s the strongest value proposition for earning them. But given a decent chunk of Virgin miles already, and the ability to transfer in more from both Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards I do have the ability to top off the account as-needed. I don’t think this card is a long-term keeper at $90.
British Airways Visa
I got this card for the 100,000 point signup bonus and I did receive those miles. I have plenty of Avios. For those looking to earn BA’s points, it’s a good card since it earns 1.25 miles per dollar on all spending — then again you can get that effectively by transferring points from Starwood. Given that points also transfer from both American Express Membership Rewards (often with transfer bonuses) and from Chase Ultimate Rewards, I have access to plenty of these points and probably won’t spend on the card going forward. So I’m unlikely to hang onto this card at $95.
Here’s how to unlock the value of British Airways Avios, and of course the caveat of fuel surcharges on award tickets that British Airways issues.
United MileagePlus Select Visa
This is my oldest credit card. I’ve had it about fifteen years. And so I keep it. There’s very little value in it on an ongoing basis, although I do get some bonus miles upon renewal each year. I probably should have upgraded it to a United Explorer card by now, but I’ve had plenty of United miles so more hasn’t been my priority and I’ve de-emphasized the accumulation of United miles (as opposed to flexible currencies that transfer to a variety of frequent flyer programs including United) with the announcement of a devalued award chart starting February 1. I’ll keep it even at $95, but I wouldn’t sign up for it if making the choice today.
US Airways Dividend Miles Premier World MasterCard
When I got the card it had an offer to receive 10,000 bonus miles each year upon card renewal. The 10,000 miles are worth more to me than the $89 fee (I’m buying miles at 9/10ths of a penny apiece). I keep the card on that basis alone.
My airline elite status plan for 2014 has me spending $25,000 on this card to earn 10,000 elite qualifying miles — on the bet that US Airways and American Airlines elite miles will be combined for 2015 status. The threshold to earn qualifying miles is lower with US Airways ($25,000) and with a lower annual fee ($89) than with the American Airlines card that offers the prospect of elite status ($40,000 spend and $450 fee). Nonetheless, I could see myself meeting the spend on both cards as a hedge against possibly flying less in 2014.
The opportunity to get bonus miles for this card will go away at some point after the two airline mileage programs merge (best guess for that merger being around early March 2015). But I wouldn’t really spend money on this card other than earning status miles, outside of targeted bonus miles earning offers, since other cards offer faster mileage accumulation.
The Hyatt Visa isn’t even the card I use to pay for Hyatt stays. That’s my Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express.
Nonetheless, I could put spending on the card to help me requalify as a Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond member. And I keep it because the annual free night up to category 4 is worth more to me than the annual fee. I can easily find a use for it, like the Grand Hyatt DFW for an airport overnight when that hotel is pushing $300 or more, to justify paying $75 for the card – and for me it’s a hedge on maintaining my preferred hotel elite status.
(Note that cards in this post offer credit to me if you’re approved using my links. The opinions, analyses, and evaluations here are mine. The content is not provided or commissioned by American Express, by Chase, by Citibank, US Bank, Bank of America, Barclays or any other company. They have not reviewed, approved or endorsed what I have to say.)
Bottom-line: I anticipate letting three of these cards go.