Which Credit Cards to Keep, Close, Trade and Apply For
Rewards Credit Cards
Hilary Stockton

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Which Cards to Keep, Churn, Trade and Apply For


I'm taking stock of my current credit cards and considering whether to keep them, if and when I can churn for a new bonus, and which I can use to trade some of their credit limit for new cards. I also have a list of cards I'd like to apply for. Since the post What's In My Wallet provided a snapshot view of several months ago, this post breaks down how that mix of active (and more passive) cards is likely to change.

Before getting into it, some background will help put this in context.

Travel Goals: Primarily International First Class and Business Class Flights

My family does very little domestic flying--1 or at most 2 domestic roundtrip flights a year--and we either use miles or Jetblue for them, so we have no interest in the Southwest cards.

On the other hand, we travel internationally 1-2 times per year in first class and business class, and we need to earn enough miles and points to get award tickets for 3 people.

Since my business offers top luxury hotels with exclusive Virtuoso and preferred partner VIP perks (see How to Become a Client) and we prefer to stay in best in class properties such as the Four Seasons Hong Kong, Amankila, Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, and luxury boutique properties such as Le Burgundy that aren't available with points, we have much less need of hotel points, though we do use them occasionally. We are fortunate enough to be able to afford a few nights at wholesale prices at these properties, and consider the best use of our miles and points to be flying first class and business class, since best in class flight experiences are in fact available with miles and points, which is not the case for hotels. Moreover, we would never pay the $20,000 or more retail price for a roundtrip first class flight to Asia, though we would pay several thousand, so this represents tremendous nominal value and very good real value for our miles and points.


Which Miles and Points to Earn

We have already planned our major 2013 travel, so are now looking ahead to 2014. We're considering going back to Asia, either via Europe, for example in Lufthansa First Class, using United miles, again in Cathay Pacific First Class, using American miles, or on Singapore Airlines, using AMEX Membership Rewards points transferred to Singapore KrisFlyer. Possibly we'll use a combination of the above, with one of us will flying with the munchkin on one airline and the other on another. 

So our strategy is to replenish our Ultimate Rewards points, American AAdvantage miles and Membership Rewards points to give us plenty of options.


Current Active Credit Cards

I only have 9 active cards, 5 of them Chase cards, which isn't all that many compared to some folks, who have 12-13 Chase cards alone, let alone other active credit cards from AMEX, Citi, etc. See How Many Chase Cards Can You Have? I put far and away the most spend on the Ink Bold and the Freedom.

1. Ink Bold

Annual Fee: Waived first year, then $95

All of my business spend goes on the Ink Bold, and it's very useful for getting 5x points for all Amazon spend, and other 5X spend using gift cards bought at office supply stores. I also like that as a business charge card, utilization doesn't impact my credit score at all, since only personal credit card utilization is reported to credit rating agencies. 

Verdict: Keep or trade for Ink Plus


2. Chase Freedom

No Annual Fee

While I put more total spend on the Ink Bold, the Chase Freedom is the card I use most on a daily basis, for all kinds of small purchases, thanks to the rotating 5X category bonuses and the Chase Exclusives bonuses. Short $6 taxi ride? 17 points vs. 12 points using the Sapphire Preferred. $10 lunch when there's a 5X on restaurants? 61 points vs. 20 points on Sapphire Preferred.

Verdict: Keep



Annual Fee: Waived first year, then $65

I've had the AMEX Starwood Preferred Guest card for awhile, but only use it when there's a major purchase I can't use gift cards for and that wouldn't earn any category bonus. Since it charges foreign transaction fees, I don't even use it at Starwood properties abroad. I don't want to get rid of it, however, as it's one of my oldest cards.

Verdict: Keep, but aim to get annual fee waived or retention bonus


4. Hyatt Visa

Annual Fee: $75 not waived first year, though may get a waived fee offer when booking Hyatt hotel online

I got the Hyatt Card for the 2 free nights (see Best Park Hyatt to Stay 2 Free Nights with the Hyatt Visa) and don't put much spend on it, since gift cards bought with the Ink Bold, or the current Freedom 5X bonus on hotel spend, beat the Hyatt Visa in terms of earning Hyatt points, since Ultimate Rewards points transfer 1:1 to Hyatt Gold Passport. See Best Ways to Earn Hyatt Points Faster. Now, there are some new Hyatt bonuses and elite status benefits although I can still do better with the Ink Bold and Freedom. And there is a free night at a Category 1-4 hotel annually, although I probably wouldn't even use it, unless by chance we need an airport hotel for a quick layover.

Verdict: Keep only if have a specific plan for the Category 1-4 hotel night


5. Citi AAdvantage AMEX

Annual Fee: Waived first year, then $85

I got this card along with the Citi AAdvantage Visa back in 2011 when it was 75,000 miles for each, although the current best bonuses are 40,000-50,000 miles (see Best Travel Credit Cards). A few months ago prior to the annual fee being charged, I received a retention offer of 3000 AA miles after spending $500 on the card, and while not great, I took it and kept the card open to help with my average age of accounts and to keep the credit line open for churning this card later. Citi does not typically allow you to transfer a credit line between cards of two different types (e.g. Citi AAdvantage AMEX to Citi AAdvantage Visa).

Verdict: Keep but churn when possible (usually ~20+ months after initially applying for it)


6. Citi AAdvantage Visa

Annual Fee: Waived first year, then $85

Same as above, except my retention offer for this card was an $85 credit to offset the annual fee.

Verdict: Keep but churn when possible (usually ~20+ months after initially applying for it)


7. United MileagePlus Explorer

Annual Fee: Waived first year, then $95

I applied for this card primarily for the 65,000 mile signup bonus (effectively 55,000, since I did not do the spend to receive the final 10,000 miles), but I earn virtually all my other United miles as Ultimate Rewards points, using the Ink Bold, Freedom, and my husband's Sapphire Preferred. The current best public bonus is 30,000 miles, but check these posts in case you're targeted for the higher offer:

United Explorer 65,000 Miles Reader Question

United MileagePlus Explorer 65,000 Bonus Miles Offer Tips

Verdict: Trade credit limit for another card prior to closing


8. Marriott Rewards Premier

Annual Fee: Waived first year, then $85

I got the Marriott Rewards Premier card for the points, which I intend to use at a Ritz-Carlton at some point. It's not nearly as good as the Hyatt Visa, since the bonus only covers 1 night at the Ritz-Carlton and the Hyatt Visa is for 2 nights at any Hyatt, including Park Hyatts. As with the Hyatt Visa, I'll only keep it and pay the annual fee if I have identified a Marriott we would actually use the Category 1-4 anniversary night at.
Verdict: Keep only if have a specific plan for the Category 1-4 hotel night


9. Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa

Annual Fee: $75 not waived first year

I specifically got this card for the $99 companion voucher good for domestic first class on Alaska, right before Alaska Airlines eliminated the ability to use the companion voucher for first class. We plan to book before the voucher expires to use it for first class to Hawaii sometime in 2014.

Verdict: Close; possibly trade credit limit for another Bank of America card before closing


Credit Cards I'm Considering Applying For

Credit Card


Minimum Spend

Annual Fee

Ink Plus

50,000 points

$5000 in 3 months


Citi Business AAdvantage

50,000 miles

$3000 in 4 months


Mercedes-Benz Platinum AMEX

50,000 points

$1000 in 3 months


US Airways Premier World MasterCard

40,000 miles

First use


Hilton HHonors AMEX

40,000 points

$750 in 3 months

No fee

Citi HHonors Visa

50,000 points

$1500 in 6 months

No fee


280,000 miles and points

$11250 in 6 months, of which $6750 in 3 months




Ink Plus: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards Points and 5X Spend Bonuses

The Ink Plus is a natural successor to my current Ink Bold: it's exactly the same in terms of benefits. The only difference is that it's a credit card, while the Ink Bold is a charge card and must be paid off in full every month. I would pay off the card in full regardless, but by getting the Ink Plus, that gives me the option to cancel the Ink Bold when the annual fee comes up and still have an Ink card linked to Ultimate Rewards that I can leverage for 5X category bonuses. The $5000 spend over 3 months in and of itself isn't an issue (remember that with Amazon Payments you can do $1000 spend per month) but certainly it means that I'll aim to limit the amoung of minimum spend required for other cards that I apply for simultaneously.

Citi Business AAdvantage: 50,000 AAdvantage Miles

I meant to get this card earlier, so it's high time I got it. Citi Business AAdvantage cards can also be churned every ~90 days or so, so along with BankDirect, this is a good way to build up AAdvantage miles. $3000 minimum spend in 4 months isn't too bad, and I'm glad that it's 4 months, rather than the 3 months for the Ink Plus.


Mercedes-Benz Platinum AMEX: 50,000 Membership Rewards Points

This is a hard decision, because of the extremely high $475 annual fee and because we do so little domestic flying that the airline reimbursement is much harder for me to get value from. But neither my husband nor I have gotten any targeted offers for 100,000 Membership Rewards points, so I may bite the bullet and get this card for the 50,000 points bonus, at least for a few months, then perhaps cancel and get the prorated annual fee refunded.

I know there are many folks that will tell you that you get tons of value from the Fine Luxury Hotels and Resorts program, but I definitely wouldn't, as I get better hotel rates via TravelSort, and usually manage to get upgraded anyway. So to make this work, I'll need to figure out a specific use for the airline fee reimbursements (ideally be able to get them for both 2012 and 2013), take advantage of the Global Entry $100 reimbursement benefit, and potentially cancel the card after the reimbursements for a pro-rated refund. On the plus side, the minimum spend is just $1000 to receive the 50,000 points.

US Airways Premier World MasterCard: 40,000 US Airways Dividend Miles

I'll reluctantly apply for this card at some point. As regular readers know, I'm not a fan of US Airways or Dividend Miles at all, for a number of reasons: 1) Only roundtrip awards, not one ways; 2) Unable to search awards online, unlike United, so you must waste time calling in; 3) US Air blocks Lufthansa First Class; and 4) More rigid and more expensive ticket change policies. That said, 40,000 US Air miles are still worth something, and are available after first purchase. This card is not a keeper, however.

Hilton HHonors AMEX: 40,000-65,000 HHonors Points 

As I wrote in Hilton HHonors: Use Citi and AMEX Cards to Maximize Points, I'm really not interested in any Hilton hotel apart from the Conrad Koh Samui, so this card and the Citi HHonors Visa have *very* specific purposes. Why not the Hilton HHonors Reserve card? Well, that's possible down the road, but keep in mind the 2 free weekend nights expire 12 months after issue, and since we've already accounted for our major 2013 travel, we wouldn't be able to use them before they expire. This HHonors AMEX card currently (through November 30) offers up to 65,000 points if you spend $3000 within 6 months, but I probably wouldn't put the additional $2250 on it to get another 25,000 points, after the initial 40,000 points after $750 spend. I like that this is a no fee card that I'd keep and would help increase my age of accounts, while also giving me access to that AXON award at the Conrad Koh Samui.

Citi HHonors Visa: 50,000 HHonors Points

I'd apply for this card both for the 50,000 HHonors points and because it's a no fee card, although it could be tempting to churn as other have done every 3-4 months or so.

What are your plans for your existing credit cards, and which new ones do you plan to apply for?


Related Posts

Best Travel Credit Cards

Which Ink Business Card to Apply For?

When to Cancel or Close a Credit Card

Earn 1 Million Miles a Year Without Flying

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User_avatar_default Deborah B. commented 28 Nov 2012
I am curious as to why you mention waiting 20+ months before applying for another Citi AAdvantage card, since most bloggers seem to use 18+ months as the recommended interval.
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 28 Nov 2012
Deborah, 18 months is pretty much the minimum to successfully churn it. There are folks that haven't been able to churn it until 24-26 months later, so it's always YMMV (your mileage may vary). I personally would rather wait longer to have a better chance of a successful churn, rather than waste a hard credit pull and get denied because I reapplied too early.
User_avatar_default BT M. commented 28 Nov 2012
I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred (due for renewal in March 2013) and also the Ink Bold. Should I close the Chase Sapphire Preferred when it due for renewal or keep it? Currently I use the Ink Bold most of the time.
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 28 Nov 2012
BT, it depends how much you value the 2.14X for dining and travel that you get via the Sapphire Preferred. While I no longer have mine, my husband has a Sapphire Preferred and we do use it a fair amount for dining, when we don't have a gift card (bought either with the Ink Bold or when Freedom was at 5X for restaurants) handy to get 5X. Since you say you use the Ink Bold for most spend, you may not be giving up much by not renewing the Sapphire Preferred. If you do close it, just make sure you transfer your credit limit to another Chase card or use it when applying for another Chase card; you don't want to lose whatever credit limit you have on the card.
Picture?type=large Ehtesham Q. commented 29 Nov 2012
Why would you keep Amex SPG? I would dump it every year and switch it with the business version and vice versa. This card is churnable yearly so I do not see any incentive to hold on to that.
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 29 Nov 2012
@Ehtesham Because it's my oldest card, so I want to keep it for average age of accounts. Agree that if you need SPG points and it's not your oldest card can make sense to churn, but I've never found the bonus points for the required spend that compelling and have ample SPG points so that plus it being my oldest card means it's not worth it to me to churn it.
User_avatar_default Peter A. commented 06 Feb 2013
i heard that you can churn Citi AA business card every 6 months. Do i miss anything? thanks
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 06 Feb 2013
Peter, historically it's been possible to churn the Citi Business AAdvantage in as little as 91 days, although I agree that every 6 months is far more prudent.
User_avatar_default Peter A. commented 06 Feb 2013
Should I cancel the current Citi AA business card before applying again? Isn't it hard to make a case to apply an existing (Business) card? thanks.
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 25 Feb 2013
Peter, you can, although people have also gotten a second card either for a second business or by making a cogent argument for why they need to segregate expenses for the same business.
Picture?type=large Wes W. commented 24 Feb 2013
We now have four AMX-P cards, love the MR points (got 50K x3, 75K x1) with spend but since we cruise 2-3 times per year we also get $300 SBC for each paid cruise and a bottle of Dom. Rarely do we read travelbloggers mention the cruise bennies by being a AMX-P card holder; for us the airline fee, lounge access (incl Priorty pass) and global entry fee (used 3 yrs ago) are secondary to our most coveted bennie--the $300 SBC. Makes it worthwhile for us to have at least two active AMX-P cards.
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 25 Feb 2013
Wes, thanks for sharing--I haven't focused on this benefit at all since we don't cruise (and I suspect that's why it's never mentioned by other travel bloggers as well) but definitely valuable if you do. Apparently those lucky enough to have gotten the AMEX Centurion card back when it was open to new U.S. members get an additional $200 shipboard credit per stateroom, for a total of $500 SBC, on certain lines such as Silversea, Regent Seven Seas and Crystal Cruises.
Picture?type=large Peggy L. commented 25 Feb 2013
UR points have made me rethink my whole strategy! I'm never getting rid of Sapphire, Freedom, and my UA Select Visa (3x UA miles, 2x on gasoline, groceries, & home improvement stores). I'll hold onto the Alaska Airlines card til I'm able to collect enough miles for a trip, so I'll dump the BofA/HA credit line into that. Wanted to ditch the SPG card but think I'll keep it now to transfer points to Hawaiian and maybe American. Now getting rid of the two Hawaiian Airlines cards because there are rarely any chances for me to earn extra miles, not even at their online mall.
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 25 Feb 2013
Peggy, sounds like a good strategy, and great that you've held onto the United Select Visa as it's not available any more. Though if you later have a small business, I'd definitely recommend the Ink Bold or Ink Plus given how easy it is to earn 5X UR points = UA miles with Amazon and other gift cards. Agree that it doesn't make sense to hold onto the Hawaiian Airlines cards absent good retention bonuses, although they can be regularly churned: http://travelsort.com/blog/can-you-churn-bank-of-america-barclays-and-us-bank-credit-cards
Picture?type=large Roderick R. commented 28 Sep 2013
I enjoyed greatly your portfolio of cards review. I got a 100,000-mile Amex-Plat. Business offer (keeping fingers crossed.) Also heard of my attorney getting one for the people who used to own his home, and since he works out of home, he convinced them to match it (suggestion for you possibly?) I will try to find the code for the 100K Business Platinum. I had a freedom and now wonder if I should have not kept it open at MINIMUAL credit limit, as IT was MY oldest card. Oops. I love the Citi Hhonors Reserve, think it is worth $95 for Gold as long as I have it without a minimal yearly spend requirement. Don't like Citibank's inflexibility with moving credit limits to other products-guess we are spoiled with Chase. Note: the chase Ink Classic has foreign transaction fees and no 5X's bonus on tele/cell phone/internet category-I want to swap my Chase Classic for a UA Business card (as I have no pure UA cards.) Totally agree with your analysis of the price of airline tickets being available for points as where top tier hotels are not. Have the Ritz Carlton and they sometimes will give targeted no-fee or 140,000 points first year + $200 airline incidentals have had success with buying American 80-120 500 mile upgrades credited and one of only accounts that has emergency medical expense credits (think Montezuma’s revenge masking as appendicitis and not fooling with that to check into a hospital.) Also, most US Health care policies do not have foreign benefits (you usually will have to pay up front, but with a lot of work you can get the $ back-chart notes, hospital records, all lab work and tests, etc.) I also like the Plat. MB if the 100,000 Business does not work out. Hope one does soon. Finally, I did have success swapping out BofA Platinum for a 50,000 offer of Virgin Atlantic (or 100,000 Hhonors points.) I want to try Virgin one of these days but all that white leather scares me, kind of not my style, although Sir Richard must think it is classy! LOL. Excellent as always analysis for us lessor folk.
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 28 Sep 2013
Roderick, thanks for your comment. That's fantastic, that you were targeted for a 100K AMEX Business Platinum card--great offer, and hope you get approved! Likewise, congrats on that great offer for the Ritz-Carlton card--140K points makes it a much more worthwhile card than the usual 70K offer or even 70K points + $200 Ritz-Carlton gift card, since you can easily get more value than $200 out of 70K Ritz-Carlton Rewards points. I do think it's good keeping the Freedom, since it's no fee, for average age of accounts and incremental UR points from the quarterly 5X categories; for example, Q4 2013 is Amazon, which isn't that hard to max out, although it does mean saving Amazon gift cards bought with the Ink for later use.
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