Which Credit Cards to Keep, Close, Trade and Apply For

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

 

3. AMEX SPG

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

 Bonus

Minimum Spend

Annual Fee

Ink Plus

50,000 points

$5000 in 3 months

Waived


Citi Business AAdvantage


50,000 miles

$3000 in 4 months

Waived

Mercedes-Benz Platinum AMEX


50,000 points

$1000 in 3 months

$475

US Airways Premier World MasterCard


40,000 miles

First use

Waived

Hilton HHonors AMEX


40,000 points

$750 in 3 months

No fee

Citi HHonors Visa


50,000 points

$1500 in 6 months

No fee

Total

280,000 miles and points

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

$475

 

 

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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