18
Jul

What’s in MY Wallet (and how do I use each card)?

Posted By Trav

Just what is in that wallet of mine?

The first question I usually get asked when I begin regaling (or annoying) people with my tales of traveling around the world for free is “Are you rich?”.  As soon as the chuckle escapes my lips, the person immediately follows up with “Well, is your wife rich?”.

Again, I chuckle, and then begin explaining that I use frequent flyer miles to travel.  Question three is usually “how many freakin’ credit cards do you have?”.

As I enter my second full-fledged year in the the frequent flyer mile game, and prepare for my summer App-o-rama, I figured now was as good a time as any to take stock of the cards I have.

I’ll reveal which cards I prefer to use to maximize my points, and then ultimately decide which ones are worth keeping based on the anniversary bonus they offer and the annual fee they charge.

Hopefully, this will help prove useful for the many of you out there who are facing many of the same decisions of closing or keeping open accounts and also deciding which cards you should add to your stable.

I’ll list the cards in chronological order of the date I got them.

Without giving away the answer, I will tell you to settle in and get comfortable, because the number is quite large.

Sooo….how many cards do I have?

1.  Citi/AAdvantage Visa

See Best Current Deals page for further breakdown of this card, how to get both the Citi/AA Visa and Amex at the same time, which I highly recommend doing, and the application links for these cards

Signup bonus: 75k when I got it, 50k now

Date approved:  July 29, 2011

What I use it for:  Nothing after meeting the minimum spend and getting the signup bonus.

Annual fee:  $85

Anniversary bonus:  Nothing

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  25%.  If I call in to cancel and they over me a great retention bonus (7,000 AA miles or more, an $85 statement credit, etc) than I’ll keep it open.  If not, thanks for the signup bonus but this card is history!

2.  Alaska Airlines Visa

Signup bonus: 40k when I got it, 25k now

Date approved:  August 8, 2011

What I use it for:  Nothing after making the first purchase and getting the signup bonus.

Annual fee:  $75 (not waived the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  $99 companion pass.

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  0%.  If I made good use of the companion pass than this card might be worth keeping open.  However, I didn’t use the companion pass this past year, so I’m assuming I won’t make use of it this upcoming year either.  Plus, you can “churn” this card and get the signup bonus again, so if I’m going to pay the fee, I might as well get the extra 25,000 as a bonus again!

3.  Chase Sapphire Preferred

Signup bonus: 50k when I got it, 40k now

Date approved:  August 22, 2011

What I use it for:  Almost all my everyday spending.  I especially focus on using it for travel and dining, which earns me 2x.  Since I live abroad, I use this card all the time because it has no foreign transaction fee.

Annual fee:  $95 (waived the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  7% bonus on all points earned, including the signup bonus.

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  100%.  This is my favorite card and my go-to for almost all of my spending.  I love that it has no foreign transaction fee and also that it gives me 2x for travel and dining.  I almost always transfer my Chase UR points to United miles, which I love.  The 7% bonus is nice too, although I wouldn’t consider just that enough to keep the card open.  I’ll keep it open because I love the everyday earning potential!

4.  American Express Premier Rewards Gold

Signup bonus: 75k when I got it (after my points eventually posted), 0k now, which is absolutely ludicrous!

Date approved:  August 22, 2011

What I use it for:  Occasionally, and sporadically, for groceries because it offers 2x on groceries and gas.  However, I don’t even usually use it for airfare, which it offers 3x on, because I’d rather the 2x Chase points (for travel by using the Sapphire) than the 3x Amex points.

Annual fee:  $175 (waived the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  None.

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  0%.  The 3x on airfare and 2x on gas and groceries could be lucrative for some people but I don’t really put much value Amex points because they don’t offer good transfer partners.  I’d rather use my Sapphire for 2x on travel and my Ink Bold for 2x on gas and build up a nice point balance through Chase and then transfer those points to United.  The $175 is too high a fee to justify the extra points I’d get for spending on groceries.

5.  Barclays USAirways Mastercard #1

Signup bonus: 40k

Date approved:  September 25, 2011

What I use it for:  Nothing after the first purchase to get my signup bonus and once every 6 months to adhere to the terms and conditions.

Annual fee:  $89 (waived the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  10k USAirway miles

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  100%.  The 10k USAirways miles are worth over $89 for me so this is a no-brainer.  I’ll whip it out every 6 months and use it once just to make sure I’m abiding by the terms and conditions, but other than that, it’ll collect dust on the shelf.

6.  American Express Hilton HHonors

Signup bonus: 60k when I applied, 40k now

Date approved:  November 9, 2011

What I use it for:  Nothing after meeting the minimum spend and getting the signup bonus.

Annual fee:  $0

Anniversary bonus:  None.

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  75%.  Normally, this would be 100%, as it never really makes sense to close a card with no annual fee.  However, it is being reported that some people have had success getting this card and the signup bonus again after closing their original card.  If that is the case, I may close this card so that I’m eligible to get the bonus again.  If not, then I’ll just leave it open indefinitely.

7.  Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Visa

If you apply for this card, the application page will show a 50k signup bonus.  Many people have reported that Chase will honor the 70k offer if you ask them to “bump the bonus” through a secure message after applying.

Signup bonus:  70k + 1 free night in a category 1-4

Date approved:  November 9, 2011

What I use it for:  Nothing after making the first purchase and getting the signup bonus.

Annual fee:  $85 (waived for the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  1 free night at a category 1-5 each year.

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  65%.  This one will be a tough decision.  If used right, the one free night can easily be worth up to $150, which more than makes up for the annual fee.  However, I usually prefer to stay at locally run boutique hotels and hostels when I go on vacation.  If I needed to “go out of my way” to use the free night, then it wouldn’t be worth it.

Odds are that I’ll keep this open, not only for the free night but also because keeping cards open helps your credit score and having this card open will give me more leverage with Chase when trying to get other Chase credit cards…Ok, basically I just talked myself in to keeping it open!

8.  Chase Ink Bold Business (old version)

Signup bonus:  50k

Date approved:  November 9, 2011

What I use it for:  Nothing after making the minimum spend and earning the signup bonus.

Annual fee:  $95 (waived for the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  None.

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  0%.  Now that I have the new Chase Ink Bold card (which is much better), there is no point at all for me to keep this card open.

9.  Citi Thank You Premier

Signup bonus:  50k

Date approved:  November 9, 2011

What I use it for:  Nothing after making the minimum spend and earning the signup bonus.

Annual fee:  $125 (waived for the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  1% on all Citi TY points earned through purchases (does not include the signup bonus)

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  0%.  There are a few reasons I won’t be keeping this card open;  the $125 is super high for a card of this (low) caliber, the anniversary bonus is of little value since I don’t put any spend on this card, and Citi TY points are not that valuable compared to Chase UR points.

Lastly, I had to fight tooth and nail with Citi not only to get this card, but also for them to credit me with the signup bonus (think 10+ emails and even snail mail letters) so needless to say, I’m not a fan of their company or their customer service.

10.  Barclays USAirways Mastercard #2

This is the exact same card as #4.  

Signup bonus:  40k

Date approved:  April 3, 2012

What I use it for:  Nothing after the first purchase to get my signup bonus and once every 6 months to adhere to the terms and conditions.

Annual fee:  $89 (waived the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  10k USAirway miles

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  100%.  The 10k USAirways miles are worth over $89 for me so this is a no-brainer.  I’ll whip it out every 6 months and use it once just to make sure I’m abiding by the terms and conditions, but other than that, it’ll collect dust on the shelf.

11.  Chase United Explorer

Signup bonus:  65k. See this post on how to make sure you get the higher, targeted 65k offer.

Date approved:  April 3, 2012

What I use it for:  Nothing after the first purchase to get my signup bonus.  However, if I were to purchase United tickets, I would use this card to get the 3x on United purchases.

Annual fee:  $95 (waived the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  2 free United Club lounge passes each year.

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  60%.  I’m completely on the fence about this one.  The lounge passes are nice (and $100 retail value) but I debate how much I actually value them.  Sure, its nice to have lounge access for a day, but I normally wouldn’t pay $50 for that privilege.

However, the card does also offer a free checked bag ($50 value) on United flights and like the Marriott above, gives me leverage with Chase when I go to apply for other cards.  Those two reasons will probably be enough to push it over to the “keep” side, but I’m glad I have a while to decide!

12.  Chase Southwest Rapids Reward Business card

Signup bonus:  50k

Date approved:  April 3, 2012

What I use it for:  Nothing after the first purchase to get my signup bonus.

Annual fee:  $69 (NOT waived the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  3,000 Southwest points ($50 value).

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  60%.  I know I sound like a broken record, but I’m slightly leaning towards keeping this open just to have leverage with Chase.  The 3,000 points aren’t enough to justify the annual fee (although it’s close), so what I’ll most likely do is keep this card open for the time being.

When I go to apply for other Chase cards, they may say I have too many accounts open with them, and that time, I’ll happily give up my Southwest account in order to get a new card and the signup bonus.

13.  Chase Ink Bold Business (new card)

This card is no longer available. The Ink Plus is still available.

Signup bonus:  50k

Date approved:  April 23, 2012

What I use it for:  Cable, cellphone, and internet bill (5x points), gas (2x) and gift cards from office supply stores (5x) that help me earn a TON of Chase UR points.  I also flip-flop the Ink Bold and the Sapphire Preferred for everyday spend items that don’t fall in those categories.

Annual fee:  $95 (waived the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  None.

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  100%.  I absolutely LOVE this card.  The fact that I can buy gift cards at office supply stores for all types of products and get 5x for them is amazing and keeps the points continually rolling in.

The only downside to this card is the high minimum spend in the beginning (although there are tons of ways to make it easier than you think), so now that I’ve hit that, I’ll keep using the awesome earning power of this card for years to come!

Recap

As do I! If it’s a good bonus, I’m there!

If you’ve been tallying the cards up mentally, you’ll see that I currently have a total of 13 cards.  Many people ask me how I manage to have all those cards and not get confused, but if you break it down, you’ll see that I have:

  • 2 that I use for everyday spending (Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Bold)
  • 1 that I pull out very occasionally (Amex Personal Rewards Gold)
  • 10 that basically go unused after making the minimum spend

In reality, I’m not juggling 13 cards, but really only 2.  Most of the time I’ll carry one of them and my wife will have the other.  Pretty simple.

People also always ask me how I keep track of all of them and how I know when to cancel them.

I employ a simple system that even a caveman could understand; I use a really basic Excel spreadsheet (feel free to EPoP Credit Card Tracking Template) which lists when I need to cancel each card.

Additionally, if you do App-o-Ramas it is easier to keep track of your cancellation dates because a bunch of the cards fall on the same day!  Yet another perk of the AoR!

Lastly, here is the breakdown of which cards I will and won’t keep after the 1st year and pay the annual fee for:

  • 4 Definite Keepers- Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Bold, both Barclays USAirways cards
  • 4 On the Fence- Chase Southwest, Chase United Explorer, Chase Marriott, Amex Hilton
  • 5 Definitely Closing- Citi Thank You Premier, Chase Ink Bold (old), Amex PRG, Citi/AA Visa, Alaska Airlines Visa
As you can see, having a large amount of open accounts doesn’t have to be scary or difficult to manage.  Pick a few cards that you prefer to use for everyday spending and then supplement them with cards that you’ll use for the signup bonus and then close after a year.
That way, it only takes a tiny bit of brain power and small amount of organization to keep you on top over everything.
(photo courtesy of icedsoul, simonQbrutalworks, ladycynamin)
Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

23 comments

  1. greek2me says:

    why keep the Barclays USAirways cards and pay the annual fee when you can churn them for no annual fee and new 40k signup bonuses?

    1. ben says:

      1. 10k miles bonus makes up the fee
      2. show barclay you want a long time relationship.
      3. credit score will be slightly lowered if you cancel an aged card (>1 year), but this is not an issue.

    2. Trav says:

      @greek2me- Each card will get a 10,000 mile bonus each year, which I think is worth more than the annual fee. So far, there doesn’t seem to be any clear correlation between how many USAirways cards you have open and whether you get approved for a new one or not. I never closed my first one and still got the second one. Now, I’m going to try to get a third one AND keep the other two open, more to be a guinea pig than anything else. I think my odds of getting the third card are the same whether I have the other two closed or not. We’ll see.

  2. Ken says:

    Awesome post! The Chase SW card link is dead, it goes to the 25k point offer that’s no longer available. There’s new 50k offers that you posted yesterday ;)

    1. Trav says:

      @Ken- Thanks for the heads up on that. I forgot to change the link when the deal changed since I already had the post written and ready to go! What do you currently have in your wallet?

  3. James says:

    Thanks for the insightful post…

    Why not switch the Sapphire Preferred to the Sapphire to avoid the annual fee? You can still convert UR points to United miles, etc. by moving the points from the Sapphire to your Bold Ink account. Hotels and no forex are covered by the Ink Bold and you can keep the United card for paid flights/lounge access. The only thing you lose is the 7% bonus.

    1. Trav says:

      @James- That’s actually a really, really good idea, and one I hadn’t thought of. I’d have to accrue at least 100,000 Chase UR points a year on the Sapphire to make the 7% bonus cancel out the annual fee. However, there is one other difference; the regular Sapphire doesn’t offer 2x on travel, just 2x on dining. I do tend to use the card for a good amount of travel (including train tickets and other non-plane related expenses) so this might be something to think about as well. Also, I do feel like quite a VIP with that heavy metal card! Is that worth $95?

      Thanks for the advice though, and picking up on what never even crossed my mind. I’m certainly going to consider which makes more sense to me!

      1. James says:

        I’m glad to help. I’ve certainly benefited a great deal from reading your blog…

        Another idea: Do basically the same thing but keep the Sapphire Preferred and trade the Ink Bold for the Ink Classic.

        Pros:

        No annual fee
        Credit card instead of charge card

        Cons:

        Same bonus categories, but caps $25k/yr vs $50k/yr.
        No Lounge Club membership

        1. Trav says:

          @James- Yet another great idea! I’d probably consider changing the Sapphire Preferred first because I love the Ink Bold’s $50k/year limit since I’m planning on hitting the gift cards (and 5x points) at Office Depot once I return Stateside in August! Still, good to have both options! And who knows, maybe I’ll call in to cancel one and they will offer me a retention bonus and I won’t have to worry about changing either of them!

  4. waggera says:

    Very good summary Most helpful

    Cant see the link to your :

    I use a really basic Excel spreadsheet (feel free to download it and use for yourself) which lists when I need to cancel each card.

    Can you repost the link ?

  5. KateFromCA says:

    One additional benefit of the SW credit card that I really appreciate (and the main reason I am keeping the card) is that if you have it, you can use SW points to book hotels and cars, in addition to airfare, and since I usually have an over-abundance of SW points (I fly them weekly for work and earn a lot of points that way, plus the sign up bonus), I like using them for car rentals – beware, however, that you do have to pay taxes on those rentals, unlike say Citi Thank You points, which also cover the taxes. http://www.southwest.com/morerewards

    1. Trav says:

      @KateFromCA- Awesome point! I’ve never actually used them for booking hotels and cars so this is something I didn’t even consider. Thanks a ton for making all of us aware of yet another great perk of the card!

  6. Margo says:

    As usual I learn so much, never knew I need to use the US Air card every 6 months…Good to know. I would also appreciate a link to the spreadsheet. Thank you

    1. Trav says:

      @Margo- Glad you found it useful. Yeah, make sure you use the USAirways card once every 6 months. The Terms and Conditions state they they may rescind your points if you don’t, although I forgot and went over 6 months and it didn’t happen. Better safe than sorry, though.

      I’ll put the spreadsheet up as soon as I can get on my old computer. It has had some issues recently, and the data is saved on there. Sorry for the delay.

  7. D says:

    The Citi TYP is now only 25K on the landing page.

    1. Trav says:

      @D- As far as I can find, the offer is now down to 25k. Thanks for letting me know. If I unearth a better offer, I’ll link that.

  8. Trav says:

    @waggera @margo- The Excel spreadsheet is now linked at the bottom of the article in the Recap section. Please feel free to use it and share it! Hope it helps!

  9. Ben says:

    I’m a little confused…

    -On the cards that you only use for the rewards and then cancel…do you use the rewards right away? Because from what I understand, you lose the rewards/points/bonuses when the credit card gets canceled.

    -doesn’t it hurt your credit score to use the cards once and let them die?

    -do you actively seek to cancel the credit cards, or do you just stop using them and let the credit card companies cancel them?

    -are you able to combine all of those rewards and points in one convenient place to use/redeem them, even if the cards through which you got the rewards have been canceled? it seems like a hassle to have 10,000 points here, 5,000 points there, and not be able to combine them at all.

    1. Trav says:

      @Ben- Good questions:

      1. You DO NOT lose the rewards points and signup bonuses when you cancel your credit card. Once you’ve hit the spend requirement and they are in your account, they are yours.

      2. Canceling cards can hurt your credit score a little bit because it lowers your average age of accounts. As you can see, I’ll keep some open and close others to balance each other out.

      3. The credit cards will not cancel them even if you aren’t using them. If you want to cancel them, YOU have to be the one to call and cancel.

      4. Some points you can transfer, others you can’t. For example, you can transfer Chase points to United miles or Starwood points to American Airlines miles. However, you cannot combine all your points. If you have United miles and American Airlines miles, they are separate, and can never be combined.

      It is a hassle to have a small amount of points scattered across, which is why it is important to get large signup bonuses. 5,000 miles isn’t worth it because it won’t get you anything, but 50,000 is.

      Hope this helps, and let me know if you have any other questions.

  10. Poppy says:

    Could you do an updated version? Unless you already did but I just missed?

    Thanks!

    1. Trav says:

      @Poppy- Great idea, I’ll try to do one soon.

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