Middle Age Miles

What’s In Our Wallet 2020? Part 2: Why We Acquired and Hold Each Card

what's in our wallet 2020 why we acquired and hold each card
What’s in our wallet this year?

This article is Part 2 of our “What’s In Our Wallet 2020?” series. Here are link to Parts 1 & 3, and once published, we’ll add a link to the Epilogue.

* Part 1 – What’s In Our Wallet 2020? – Our Cards and Breakdowns by Annual Fee and Date Acquired

* Part 3 – What’s In Our Wallet 2020? – Our “Spend Matrix” – How We Use Bonus Categories to Maximize Our Points-and-Miles Earning and Travel For Less

* Epilogue – What’s In Our Wallet 2020? – Where Do We Go From Here? Our Credit Card Strategies for 2020

Introduction

In this article, Part 2 of our “What’s In Our Wallet 2020?” series, we’ll examine each of our cards individually and let you know why we acquired and hold each card in our portfolio. We hope that you’ll enjoy this card-by-card analysis. With any luck, it’ll help you understand the strategy considerations that go into the mix when we choose what card to apply for and when. And ultimately, we hope it’ll help you earn points and miles, and then use them for fun travel to your dream destinations! 

Hopefully, you already enjoyed Part 1 of our What’s In Our Wallet 2020? series. In Part 1, we looked at our card portfolio from a more macro perspective – how many cards we have from each major issuer; how many personal versus business cards we hold; our annual fees; and our card acquisition by date, order, and velocity of new cards. And we hope you’ll also look forward to Part 3, where we’ll present our “spend matrix.” There, we’ll look at what card we use for each category of spend in order to maximize our ongoing points-earning and get us closer to our dream travel destinations. Finally, we’ll close out our series with an Epilogue discussing where we go from here – our credit card strategies for 2020.

If you’ve read Part 1 of this series, you may be wondering whether having so many cards kills our credit score. The answer is no. Philly and I both have credit scores that are comfortably above 800. If you manage your credit responsibly, you can certainly hold many cards without hurting your score.

My credit scores according to Credit Karma, as of 2/5/2020

At this point, let’s jump into a card-by-card analysis of our portfolio. We’ll try to arrange them in an order that makes sense. First, we’ll separate Craig’s cards from Philly’s cards. Next, we’ll break them down by card issuer and personal versus business cards. And finally, within each grouping, we’ll place the cards in order of annual fee, highest to lowest.

Card-by-Card Analysis – Craig’s Cards

Amex Personal Cards

1 – Amex Platinum (personal) ($550)

Amex Platinum personal card

Why We Hold This Card – We acquired this card in December 2018, for the 60,000-point sign-up bonus and in hopes of triple-dipping the $200-per-calendar-year airline fee credits. We also figured we could make some use of the Uber credits ($15/month; $35 in December) and Saks credits ($50 Jan-June & another $50 July-Dec). The card is also best-in-class for paid airfare at 5x MR points per dollar, plus it’s potentially useful to earn 5x MR points on Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) bookings. Centurion & Delta lounge access would also be useful to some, although we rarely use these lounges and the benefits are duplicative of other cards we hold.

As we recently wrote in our keep-or-cancel article on this card, we were very much on the fence about keeping it and leaning toward product-changing to a second Amex Gold card until we received a fabulous 50,000-point retention bonus in January 2020. With that, we’ll look forward to another year of earning 5x MR points on our airfare. And that benefit is even better now that Amex has added trip delay and cancellation coverage on the card as of 1/1/2020. Plus, we’ll continue to squeeze some value out of the Uber and Saks credits.

2 – Amex Hilton Honors Aspire ($450)

Why We Hold This Card – The Amex Hilton Aspire card is one of the most valuable cards in our wallet. It has a slew of benefits that we regularly use:

To us, this suite of benefits gives us value well in excess of the $450 annual fee.

3 – Amex Gold (personal) ($195 now; will go up to $250)

Why We Hold This Card – We acquired this card on October 3, 2018, its last day as the Premium Rewards Gold card, before it “updated” to Amex Gold. In doing so, we got the first year annual fee waived, which is no longer available to new cardmembers.

We held on to this card at renewal in late 2019 with a $195 annual fee, despite not receiving a retention offer. We still would have kept it if the annual fee had been the full $250 that we’ll face going forward.

  • Earning 4x MR points at restaurants is roughly tied with Citi Prestige (5x TYPs) as best-in-class
    • At our baseline value of 1.5 cents per MR point, it’s a 6% points rebate
  • Earning 4x MR points on US supermarkets (up to $25k/year) is also best-in-class
    • With our experiments with MS and gift cards in the last few months of 2019, we’ve learned to utilize this card benefit to great advantage
  • $100 annual airline fee credit per calendar year
  • $10/month dining credit, which we use at Shake Shack during most months

Learning how to do some profitable gift card MS at grocery stores turned this card from a fairly close call into an absolute keeper.

4 – Amex Hilton Surpass ($95)

Why We Hold This Card – Given that we hold a higher-tier Aspire card, it would be easy to see the Surpass as unnecessary and duplicative. We believe exactly the opposite – having both Aspire and Surpass has allowed us to maximize the benefits on both cards, through (1) upgrade-downgrade strategies; and (2) the ability to earn a Hilton Free Weekend Night Certificate with $15,000 spend in a calendar year.

We’ve written in detail about our Amex Hilton card upgrade-downgrade strategies, and you can read all about them in these articles:

5 – Amex Marriott Bonvoy ($95)

Why We Hold This Card – This card was originally an Amex Marriott Brilliant card (obtained in the narrow window in August 2018 when we were eligible for that card), and we recently downgraded to the mid-tier Marriott Bonvoy card. In short, we used our annual Brilliant benefits early in our cardholder year and downgraded to Bonvoy to receive a pro-rated refund of the Brilliant annual fee and have a lower-fee card to hold in order to keep some options open for the future. We’ll either (1) keep the Bonvoy card through the next annual fee cycle in order to earn another 35k Free Night Certificate (note that this option just became less attractive after Marriott seriously devalued the Bonvoy program again this week through category changes); (2) keep the Bonvoy card, hope for an upgrade offer to Brilliant, and re-upgrade if we get one; or (3) cancel the card to help open up a slot for a new Amex credit card.

We reviewed our strategy and each of our going-forward options in detail in this recent article:

6 – Amex EveryDay ($0)

Why We Hold This Card – This no-annual fee card is the oldest card in my wallet. It currently gets little use for spend. We’re keeping this card forever, though, for a few reasons. First, it’s very valuable to me to help my average age of accounts (AAoA). Second, 2 of the Middle Age Miles kids are authorized users (AUs) on this card, which has helped them establish credit and also helps their AAoA. And third, we can sometimes pick up valuable Amex Offers on the kids’ AU cards for some extra value out of this card.

Amex Business Cards

7 & 8 – Amex Business Platinum ($595)

Amex Business Platinum card

Why We Hold These Cards – There’s one key feature of the Amex Business Platinum card that makes us want to always have one in our portfolio – the 35% MR points rebate on pay-with-points airfare purchases. This feature has always been valuable to us, as using pay-with-points allows us to purchase “paid” fares that earn elite qualifying credits as well as redeemable miles on our flights.

But pay-with-points and the 35% rebate have become even more valuable to us recently, for two reasons: (1) we’ve undertaken spend and card strategies to bulk up on MR points recently; and (2) as of 1/1/2020, Amex added trip delay and trip cancellation coverages for flights paid with the Business Platinum card (and other Amex cards), which makes pay-with-points an even better deal. In short, the 35% pay-with-points rebate makes every MR point in my account worth at least 1.54 cents, minimum (and usually more when combining pay-with-points with “insider fares”). For us, this benefit alone may well justify the Business Platinum card’s hefty $595 annual fee.

In addition, we make the best use we can of certain other key benefits of the card, such as:

  • $200 annual airline fee credit per calendar year
  • $100 Dell credit Jan-June and another $100 Dell credit July-Dec
  • Centurion lounge access
  • Access to Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts program
    • Note that the Centurion and Amex FHR benefits are duplicative

I also signed up for the WeWork membership that was available last year. I have that membership through the end of 2020, although I haven’t used it yet and don’t foresee much value. The Priority Pass and hotel elite status that come with this card don’t hold any value for us.

Smart commenters have rightfully asked why I hold 2 Business Platinum cards, and the answer lies in upgrade offers. In June 2019, I upgraded a legacy (and not-very-useful) Business Rewards Gold card to Business Platinum. Then in November 2019, I upgraded a Business Green card to Business Platinum. Each time, I received an upgrade bonus of 50,000 MR points for $10,000 spend (worth $750 at our baseline value of 1.5 cents per MR point). And for each card, we used the airline fee & Dell credits for 2019 and we plan to use them again on each card in 2020 (and then probably downgrade the cards to Business Green).

We’re hopeful for further upgrade-downgrade opportunities with Amex MR-earning business charge cards in the future.

9 – Marriott Bonvoy Business ($125)

Why We Hold This Card – Sadly, the only feature of this card that’s valuable to us is the annual free night certificate worth up to 35,000 points. Does that justify paying the annual fee of $125? We believe that this is a close call. We’d previously leaned toward “yes,” as we believed we could easily get more than $200 in value from the certificate. And in fact, in 2019 we used Marriott 35k Free Night Certificates to save more than $500 compared to paid rates at The Hotel Lucerne, Autograph Collection, in Lucerne, Switzerland.

But alas, Marriott has devalued the 35k free night certificates by introducing Peak pricing in 2019, moving Peak dates for Category 5 hotels to 40,000 points, out of the reach of the 35k certificates. And this week Marriott hammered us with another severe devaluation to the 35k certificates, in the form of hotel category changes that will take effect in early March. Marriott is moving more than 200 hotels (217, we think) up from Category 5 (standard rate 35k) to Category 6 (standard rate 50k), taking even more hotels out of the reach of the 35k certificates. Not surprisingly, one of the hotels moving up is The Hotel Lucerne!

Everyone needs to check for themselves whether they believe they’d have a certificate use that would be worth paying the $125 annual fee for this card. We’ll be taking a close look very soon, and right now we’re leaning toward canceling.

10 – Amex Business Green ($95)

Why We Hold This Card – In and of itself, this card holds absolutely no value for us, as it’s not top-of-wallet in any categories and has no other benefits we can use. We hold it for one main reason – the potential for a lucrative upgrade offer, as we discussed in the Business Platinum section above.

Beyond that, there may be a small intangible benefit to holding this card and paying an annual fee, to help stay in Amex’s good graces.

11 – Amex Blue Business Plus ($0)

Why We Hold This Card – This no-annual-fee card earns 2x MR points on all spend (up to $50k each year), so it’s best-in-class for all unbonused spend, unless we’re working on meeting a spend requirement for a sign-up bonus or some other valuable spend bonus. This is an incredibly valuable card for us, and it won’t ever be leaving our wallet as long as its earning structure stays intact.

12 – Amex Blue for Business ($0)

Why We Hold This Card – This now-defunct legacy card was the forerunner to the Blue Business Plus card. It earns 1x MR point on all spend, with a 30% bonus at the end of the cardmember year; thus, ultimately 1.3x MR points per dollar on all spend (1.95% points rebate at 1.5 cents per MR point). We actually found a small potential use for this card recently, as it has an old AU card that’s eligible for Amex Offers. Beyond that, this card will be on the chopping block if we decide to cancel Amex credit cards to make room for a new one (we currently hold 7 Amex credit cards, and the limit is typically 5, so we might have to cancel 1, 2 or 3 cards in order to get a new one).

Chase Personal Cards

13 – Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450 now; will go up to $550)

Chase Sapphire Reserve card

Why We Hold This Card – For the past 3+ years, the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) card has been a mainstay in my wallet. It’s value has waned over time, given that Citi Prestige (5x TYPs) and Amex Gold (4x MRs) surpassed it for restaurant spend. But four key benefits of the CSR have kept it in a strong place in our portfolio:

  • $300 annual travel credit that’s easy to use
  • The ability to use Ultimate Rewards (UR) points at 1.5 cents each through the Chase Travel Portal
  • 3x UR on travel (with a broad definition of travel) makes it best-in-class for many hotels, for car rental, and for a fair number of other “travel” charges such as tolls and airport parking
  • Primary rental car coverage, which has been extremely valuable to us

Now, though, the CSR card is increasing its annual fee by $100 to $550, and the new DoorDash and Lyft benefits it’s adding, while valuable to some, are uninspiring to us.

We went through a full-blown analysis of strategy with respect to the CSR card in a recent article, which you’ll certainly want to read to understand our thinking and strategy going forward with the CSR. Remarkably, there’s a good chance you won’t see it in our “What’s In Our Wallet 2021?” series. Here’s our strategy article:

14 – Ritz-Carlton Visa ($395 for us; $450 if not grandfathered)

Why We Hold This Card – The Ritz-Carlton Visa (RC Visa) is one of the most valuable cards in our portfolio, even with its recent loss of the $100 Visa Infinite airfare discount. Our recent Keep-or-Cancel article on the card will fill you in on the details:

In short, the following benefits give us far more value than the $395 annual fee (we are grandfathered at $395; more recent applicants are at $450) costs us:

  • We use the full $300 annual credit for airline incidentals each year.
  • We use the Priority Pass that comes with the RC Visa as our primary Priority Pass card, given that its benefits are the most extensive with unlimited guesting.
  • Philly and each of the 5 Middle Age Miles kids are AUs; they each get their own Priority Pass card.
  • We usually use some or all of our 3 Ritz-Carlton Club Level Upgrade certificates each year.
  • We’ll also use the annual 50k Marriott Free Night Certificate.

15 – Chase Marriott Boundless ($95)

Why We Hold This Card – Just like the Amex Marriott Bonvoy Business card discussed above at #9, this card isn’t top-of-wallet for any spend categories, so our going-forward decision is pretty straightforward – will we pay $95 for the annual Marriott 35k Free Night Certificate? For this card, even with the massive Marriott devaluations, the answer is probably yes. We will probably still get comfortably more value out of the certificate than the $95 annual fee. And unlike with the Amex Marriott Bonvoy Business card, this card isn’t costing us a “slot” that could potentially be used for another card.

We recently wrote a full keep-or-cancel analysis of the Chase Marriott Boundless card, which you can read here:

16 – Chase World of Hyatt ($95)

Why We Hold This Card – For those who don’t hold this card and are under 5/24, the Chase World of Hyatt card is a really good one. Its current sign-up bonus of up to 50,000 Hyatt points (25k after $3k spend in 3 months plus another 25k after $6k total spend in 6 months) is worth about $750 at our baseline value of 1.5 cents per Hyatt point.

Beyond that, this card is a no-brainer keeper for the $95 annual fee if you stay at Hyatt hotels at all:

  • Category 1-4 Free Night Certificate (FNC) each year after your anniversary
  • Another Cat 1-4 FNC if you spend $15k during your cardholder year
  • 5 elite qualifying nights each year
  • 2 additional elite qualifying nights each time you spend $5k

Chase Business Cards

17 – Chase Ink Cash ($0)

Chase Ink Cash business card

Why We Hold This Card – The no-annual-fee Chase Ink Cash card is most useful for its bonus category of 5x Chase UR points at office supply stores (subject to a cap of $25,000 per cardholder year). We’ve earned a lot of UR points purchasing Visa, Mastercard, Amazon and other gift cards at Staples and Office Depot/Max at 5x over the past few years. This card is definitely a valuable long-term keeper.

18 – Chase Ink (legacy card) ($0)

Why We Hold This Card – This is an old legacy card that can actually have some useful applications. It’s a long-time keeper card, since it has no annual fee. And it earns 3x Chase UR points at gas stations, restaurants, hardware stores, home improvement stores, and office supply stores. At least with respect to hardware stores and home improvement stores, 3x UR points constitute best-in-class earnings. We don’t know of any other cards that have hardware stores or home improvement stores as full-time bonus categories.

Citi Personal Cards

19 – Citi Prestige ($450 now; $495 at next renewal)

Citi Prestige Mastercard

Why We Hold This Card – Historically, the $250 annual travel credit and 4th-night-free (4NF) hotel benefits have been way more than enough to justify keeping this card with its then-$450 annual fee. To put this in some perspective, we used the 4NF benefit 6 times during 2019 alone, receiving total rebates of $1,220.

Now, however, the annual fee is up to $495 and the 4NF benefit has been gutted. We’re about to face a keep-or-cancel decision on our Prestige card within the next few weeks. Its prospects don’t look good, unless we get a very nice retention offer. We’ll have a full-blown keep-or-cancel article on this card later, but we did a preliminary analysis of our thoughts a few months ago, which you can read here:

Note that, since the time of that article, Citi removed trip delay and cancellation benefits as well as other coverages. Given that Amex added these coverages as of 1/1/2020, now our paid airfare solidly goes on our Amex personal Platinum card instead of Prestige, so the Prestige 5x earning on airfare no longer matters to us.

20 – Citi Premier ($95)

Why We Hold This Card – For us, the Prestige card is an absolute keeper based on one feature – the ability to get 1.25 cents per ThankYou Point (TYP) for travel bookings through the ThankYou portal. With this benefit having been removed from the higher-end Prestige card during 2019, the Premier is the only Citi card that can get 1.25-cent portal redemptions. This won’t matter to people who transfer TYPs to Citi’s airline partners, but it’s very valuable to us.

For many people, the Premier can certainly be an interesting card for ongoing use, as its points-earning is solid. It earns 3x TYPs for travel (including airfare, hotels, car rentals, public transportation, tolls, parking, and even gas stations) and 2x TYPs on dining out and entertainment. We can achieve at least as much return value in all of these categories with other cards in our wallet, but someone with fewer card choices (or someone starting out) could certainly benefit from these categories.

21 – Citi AT&T Access More ($95)

Why We Hold This Card – As regular readers of Middle Age Miles know, the Citi AT&T Access More is one of our very favorite cards. It has one unique benefit – 3x TYPs on online retail and travel purchases. We’ve been able to use this benefit to generate many TYPs that we can then use toward travel. In addition, this card gives a bonus of 10,000 TYPs each cardholder year if you spend $10,000 or more. And finally, we’ve received outstanding retention bonuses each of the past 3 years on this card.

If you’d like to learn more about the Citi AT&T Access More card, here are a couple of helpful articles:

Unfortuantely, the AT&T Access More card is not available for new sign-ups, and it’s no longer available for product changes either. If you hold this card, we think it’s a forever keeper – and if not, we’re sorry you missed out on it.

22 – Citi American Airlines Platinum ($0 first year; $95 thereafter)

Why We Hold This Card – This one was all about the sign-up bonus. Unfortunately, it’s now presumably a cause of our biggest points-and-miles consternation, my AAdvantage account lockdown.

We won’t be keeping this card when it comes up for renewal in a few weeks. Instead, we’ll product change to another Citi card that we think will be most helpful for our portfolio. We’ll write more about this when the time comes.

23 – Citi Double Cash ($0)

Why We Hold This Card – The Citi Double Cash card had a monster year in 2019, due to one single change – the ability to convert cash back rewards into TYPs. This changed the Double Cash from a solid 2% cash back card to an excellent travel card that can earn 2x TYPs on all everyday spend (at least domestically; the card still has foreign transaction fees that make it a no-go for international purchases).

We converted an old Citi AA Platinum card to get my Double Cash card. Next steps for maximizing value are to link the Double Cash into a single ThankYou account that also contains a Premier card (for 1.25-cent travel redemptions) and a Rewards+ card (for its 10% rebate on TYP redemptions, up to 10k TYPs back per year). That makes for a powerful points-earning and redeeming combination.

24 & 25 – Citi ThankYou Rewards+ ($0)

Why We Hold These Cards – The Citi ThankYou Rewards+ card has one quirky interesting feature and one outstanding feature that makes it a truly useful card. The quirky feature is that it rounds up TYP earnings to the nearest 10 points. That makes it best-in-class for micro purchases of $2-3 or less. But you can’t earn many points this way!

The more useful feature is the one we referenced above when discussing the Citi Double Cash card – its 10% rebate (up to a cap of 10k rebated TYPs per year) on all TYP redemptions from a linked account. If you end up with at least 100k in TYP redemptions from your account, thus maximizing the rebate, that’s worth an extra $125 in value to you each year (at our baseline value of 1.25 cents per TYP). We wrote more about the Rewards+ rebate in this article:

So why do we hold 2 of these cards? For one, we had a Citi card that needed to be product-changed, and converting to Rewards+ was a no-fee way to keep the account open. But more importantly, we’re working on a long-term experiment to try to create 2 “pods” of Citi cards, to see if we can get the Rewards+ 10% TYP rebate on 2 different cards if they’re parked in separate ThankYou accounts. We’ll let you know how that experiment goes once it’s complete!

Barclays Personal Card

26 – Barclays American Airlines Aviator Silver ($199)

Barclays AA Aviator Silver Mastercard

Why We Hold This Card – This card gives us chance to earn Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) and Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) toward status on AA – 5,000 EQMs with $20k spend in a calendar year; another 5,000 EQMs with $40k spend; and 3,000 EQDs with $50k spend. I’ve used these benefits to help me earn AA Executive Platinum status for each of the past 3 years. The card also allows us to earn a two-guest Companion Certificate with $20k spend during a cardholder year plus paying the next year’s annual fee.

In addition, the card has some benefits for spend on AA flights – $25 per day for in-flight food & beverage, and $50 per cardholder year for in-flight Wi-Fi – plus a free checked bag on domestic flights for the cardholder plus 8 companions, “preferred” Group 5 boarding, and a Global Entry application fee credit up to $100 every 5 years.

My current AA lockdown situation complicates things with this card for my own upcoming keep-or-cancel decision.

More generally, if I wasn’t Executive Platinum with AA, the card might carry its annual fee weight through the in-flight food & beverage and Wi-Fi credits. The card’s opportunities to earn EQMs and EQDs toward AA elite status could also be helpful to some people, although it comes at a cost. The card is that it earns only 1x AA miles per dollar on most purchases. That creates a huge opportunity cost compared to other cards you can use.

Bank of America Personal Card

27 – B of A Alaska Air ($75)

Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa card

Why We Hold This Card – The card has a nice sign-up bonus – 40,000 Alaska miles that are worth about $600 at our baseline value of 1.5 cents per AS mile. We’ve held on to it for three reasons:

  • The $99 Companion Fare (plus taxes & fees) that comes with the card each year
    • We don’t fly Alaska much, but usually someone in the family can use this to get some benefit
    • Note that the Companion Fare now requires payment with an Alaska co-branded card, so you have to keep a card in order to use the Companion Fare
  • Free checked bags on Alaska, which is useful when we fly Alaska about once a year
  • BankAmeriDeals, which get us a few dollars in cash back each year.

Thinking this through, we wonder whether it would be better to just cancel the card. Until recently, the card was churnable and you didn’t have to use an Alaska card to pay when using the Companion Fare. In those days, we’d get a card, hold it for about a year, cancel at renewal time, then apply for a new card. Now, though, B of A has an anti-churning restriction – this card isn’t available to you if you currently have or have had the card in the preceding 24 month period. We’re now wondering if it makes more sense to cancel the card and start the 24-month clock until we can get a new one. The sign-up bonus in 2 years would probably out-weigh any interim benefits, plus we may be able to finesse using our existing Companion Fare by using our B of A Alaska Business card to pay. Hmmmm.

Bank of America Business Card

28 – B of A Alaska Air Business ($75)

Why We Hold This Card – This card is all about getting another sign-up bonus of AS miles and getting a Companion Fare. There’s no real reason to hold this card long-term. The better play is to hold it for a while (we suggest a year), cancel, then re-apply again after a few months. The anti-churning restriction that applies to the B of A Alaska personal card does *not* apply to this business card.

We wrote about our most recent application for another B of A Alaska Air Business card here:

US Bank Personal Card

29 – US Bank Altitude Reserve ($400)

US Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite card

Why We Hold This Card – Similar to the Citi AT&T Access More card, the US Bank Altitude Reserve is one of our favorite cards because of one bonus category – 3x US Bank points for payments made using a mobile wallet. This, coupled with US Bank’s real-time mobile rewards that allows redemptions (at 1.5 cents per point) on a broad range of travel expenses, results in effectively a 4.5% rebate on all spend that can be made using a mobile wallet. (We use Apple Pay as much as we can, plus I have a Samsung watch paired with an Android phone that allows me to make mobile payments at even more places.) The huge win on this card is on our trips to Europe, where virtually every merchant accepts mobile wallet payments and we can easily turn otherwise unbonused spend into 3x US Bank points.

The $400 annual fee on this card is largely offset by a $325 travel credit that is automatically applied and therefore very easy to use. And the card’s benefits also include 12 complimentary Gogo Inflight Wi-Fi passes every year, which have some use to us.

This year, our “keep” decision was made even easier by receiving a retention offer of 4,000 US Bank points (worth $60). We wrote a more detailed analysis of this card here:

US Bank Business Card

30 – US Bank Radisson Rewards Business card ($60)

Why We Hold This Card – This card is no longer available to new applicants. We picked it up in its dying days, in June 2019, and we’re glad we did. We scored a sign-up bonus of 85,000 Radisson Rewards points (worth about $340 at our baseline value of 0.4 cents per point), plus we think the card is a long-term keeper.

Each year, the card comes with an anniversary bonus of 40,000 Radisson points, which are worth about $160. That alone more than justifies the annual fee. In addition, you get Radisson Rewards Gold elite status just from holding the card, which should help a little when we redeem our points, plus there’s the ability to earn up to 3 free domestic nights with each $10,000 per year in spend.

Card-by-Card Analysis – Philly’s Cards

Chase Personal Cards

31 – Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450 now; will go up to $550)

Why We Hold This Card – Our full analysis of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card is at #13 of Craig’s cards above. The question here is, why do we hold two Sapphire Reserve cards? The truth of the matter is, we might not need two. We could transfer all points earned on Philly’s Chase UR-earning cards to my CSR account, or vice versa, and still get the same benefits. Generally, I wouldn’t recommend that a couple keep two CSR cards.

In our specific situation, though, I think we’ve made the right call to keep two so far. First, the $300 annual travel credit offsets a lot of the annual fee. Second, Philly has the ability to put some work travel and dining on a personal card; the CSR is a perfect card for that and putting those charges on her CSR card keeps those charges isolated. Third, we’ve long worried whether the number of UR points transfers from different family members could cause problems, or whether Chase would shut off UR transfers between people entirely; holding two CSR cards has insured against that. And fourth, there’s the intangible benefit of keeping her in Chase’s good graces by paying the fee. As we say, it’s not for everyone, but in our case, we think it’s made sense.

32 – Chase Freedom Unlimited ($0)

Why We Hold This Card – Philly doesn’t want to have to worry about what card to use for everyday purchases. She’ll carry and use 2 cards, or at most 3 if there’s a special reason. The Freedom Unlimited, with no annual fee and 1.5x UR point-earning on all purchases (2.25% points rebate at 1.5 cents per UR point with her CSR), gives her a perfect card for her to use and get a solid return without having to think much. And unlike the other possibility (an Amex Blue Business Plus card with 2x MR points earning), the Freedom Unlimited is a Visa card that’s accepted everywhere in the US. For Philly, using a Freedom Unlimited card in combination with her CSR works perfectly.

33 – Chase Freedom ($0)

Why We Hold This Card – Philly has held her no-annual-fee Freedom card forever, so this card is great for her Average Age of Accounts. In addition, we can take advantage of the 5x bonus categories each quarter to earn some extra UR points along the way. I’m also an AU on this card, which helps in terms of making sure we maximize the 5x categories as best we can.

Chase Business Cards

34 & 35 – Chase Ink Preferred Business ($95)

Chase Ink Preferred Business Visa card

Why We Hold These Cards – For starters, the Chase Ink Preferred (CIP) business card has long had a great sign-up bonus of 80,000 UR points (worth $1,200 toward travel at 1.5 cents per UR point). This has made the CIP a very attractive play for us.

We’ve also learned that it’s possible to get more than one CIP card and receive the sign-up bonus, as we wrote about here:

Just because you can get more than one CIP card, though, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. Especially in light of AA taking aggressive actions against those who got multiple Citi AA cards in a short time, we can’t be sure that Chase wouldn’t do something similar in the future. With that, we’re not sure we can recommend multiple CIP cards any longer.

On a going-forward basis, we find some value in keeping an active CIP card, despite limited incremental benefits over other cards we hold. The CIP earns 3x UR points on travel, shipping, internet/cable/phone, and advertising purchases with social media sites and search engines (up to a cap of $150,000/year). None of these bonus categories are best-in-class in a category that we currently use much.

Yet, we continue to use the CIP card for some charges:

  • Each month we pay our cell phone bills with a CIP card to get the cell phone insurance coverage, even though an Chase Ink Cash (CIC) would earn more points (3x UR on the CIP versus 3x UR on the CIC)
  • The CIP can be enrolled with Visa SavingsEdge, which can result in some savings; for us, the main use has been at certain MGM hotels where we’ve been able to earn 4% statement credit in addition to 3x UR points per dollar
  • Even one referral bonus a year on the CIP, at 20,000 points (worth about $300) turns the CIP into a profitable card

When the annual fee has hit for Philly’s CIP card, we’ve converted it into a no-fee Chase Ink Cash card, which we’ll discuss next.

36 & 37 – Chase Ink Cash ($0)

Why We Hold These Cards – As we discussed in Craig’s card #17 above, the CIC cards are extremely valuable for their bonus category of 5x UR points at office supply stores. Holding multiple CIC cards gives us $25,000 more office supply store spend per card, with no additional annual fees, which is very valuable to us when we want to purchase gift cards at Staples and Office Depot/Max. We’re quite happy to have and keep more than one of these cards!

Amex Business Cards

38 & 39 – Amex Business Platinum ($595)

Why We Hold These Cards – Philly has 2 Amex Business Platinum cards, which have very different histories. Her first Biz Plat dates back several years. We may not have needed it the whole time, but it’s worked out fine and paid for itself. She’s gotten the 35% pay-with-points rebate on MR pay-with-points redemptions for airfare, she’s always had Centurion & Delta lounge access if she needed it, we’ve used the airline fee credits each year and now the Dell credits, she’s signed up for WeWork if she needs it this year, and she’s gotten a couple of referral bonuses.

More recently, Philly received a targeted invitation to sign up for a second Biz Plat card and get another sign-up bonus on the card. The offer required a lot of spend – $10k for a 50k MR point bonus, and another $10k for an additional 25k MR points – but it was worth doing as we had college tuition payments coming up where we could earn 1.5x MR points for $5k+ charges.

Going forward, does she need 2 Biz Plat cards? No way. As soon as we’re finished using the 2020 $200 airline fee credit and the Jan-June $100 Dell credit on her original card, we’ll be downgrading to a Biz Green card, where we either (a) wait for a useful upgrade offer; or (b) cancel the card outright and take less of a hit on the annual fee.

40 – Amex Business Green ($0 first year; $95 thereafter)

Why We Hold This Card – As you just read, we knew we would be wanting to downgrade one of Philly’s Biz Plat cards to get a pro-rated annual fee. The obvious downgrade would be to Biz Green. But Philly had never had a Biz Green card before, and downgrading would make her ineligible for a sign-up bonus on the Biz Green card going forward. The obvious solution was for her to apply for a Biz Green card and collect its sign-up bonus before downgrading her Biz Plat to Biz Green. Thus, Philly applied and was approved for a new Biz Green card last month. She has met the spend requirement and collected the sign-up bonus, so her path is now clear for her Biz Plat downgrade.

41 – Amex Blue Business Plus ($0)

Why We Hold This Card – See #11 of Craig’s cards above. Holding a second one of these great no-fee cards allows us to double the $50k annual spend cap for 2x MR earning, plus we use the different Blue Business Plus cards to segregate expenses.

Citi Personal Card

42 – Citi American Airlines Executive ($450)

Citi AAdvantage Executive Mastercard

Why We Hold This Card – Beyond the sign-up bonus (Philly got 75,000 AA miles way back in Summer 2017), this card is a keeper for one excellent benefit that more than justifies the hefty annual fee for us – Admirals Club membership for Philly, plus Admirals Club access for up to 10 AUs (we have 6 AUs – the 5 Middle Age Miles kids and me). The member and each AU receive guesting privileges for up to 2 guests each.

In addition, this card gives Philly the ability to earn 10,000 AA EQMs if she spends $40k on the card in a calendar year. There’s a high opportunity cost to this spend, but we’ve done it in 2 of the past 3 years to help Philly reach Executive Platinum status.

Barclays Personal Card

43 – Barclays American Airlines Aviator Silver ($199)

Why We Hold This Card – See #26 of Craig’s cards above. The card has been very valuable to earn EQMs and EQDs that have helped Philly reach Executive Platinum status.

Bank of America Personal Card

44 – B of A Cash Rewards (Notre Dame edition) ($0)

Bank of America Cash Rewards cards (Notre Dame edition)

Why We Hold This Card – Philly’s card has a picture of the Golden Dome on it. Go Irish!

To do a little deeper dive, this no-fee card can be useful with its flexible 3% bonus category where you can select which category you prefer: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings. Unfortunately, the cap is only $2,500 per quarter. We know some people really enjoy the online shopping category with this card. In addition, the card can become more valuable if you’re a B of A Preferred Rewards member. Preferred Rewards members can earn 25-75% more cash back, depending on the level of assets they have with B of A. At the 75% level (which generally requires $100k+ in assets with B of A or Merrill Lynch), cash back rewards can go up to 5.25% in your choice category.

What do you think about our card portfolio and rationale for holding each card? Where do you think we could do better? Please let us know in the Comments!


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7 thoughts on “What’s In Our Wallet 2020? Part 2: Why We Acquired and Hold Each Card

  1. Bob Johnson

    Craig: Just read this, and another home run! Great analysis and reasoning. I do have a number of comments/questions (sorry about the length, but interested in your take):

    1. Congrats on a banging credit score! Wish I could measure up (I hang at around 760-810).
    2. Totally agree on the Aspire. Diamond status is key for me (lounge access) and the a/l fee and resort expenses reimbursements are grand. It’s so strong a keeper, why don’t you have two? What are the prospects and timing for the inevitable Aspire card downgrade of these benefits?
    3. Best in class for groceries is the AMEX Everyday Preferred – with 30 transactions a month, you get 4.5 MRs per $ spent (as well as 3 MRs per $ on gas). Why not get this card? At $95 AF, it beats the AMEX Gold card by a large margin in terms of annual return.
    4. I do really like the AMEX personal Gold card, but its AF is a little rich when you can beat the groceries category return with the EDP and the dining with the Prestige (at least for now – more on Prestige later). Do like the MS idea with grocery store housed gift cards. Been doing that at Staples, but not so much at grocery stores. Must start. May keep this card anyway.
    5. Like the Aspire-Surpass upgrade-downgrade strategy idea.
    6. Still processing the Bonvoy 2020 hotel category downgrades. I do like the Brilliant card, but increasingly hard to justify its high AF with the downgrades.
    7. Agree that the AMEX Biz Plat is a keeper (despite its pricey AF and A/U cost). Particularly strong keeper if you tie it completely to a business that pays the AF (which then becomes a business expense). Looking to see what AMEX will do to replace the WeWork benefit that expires at the end of this year. Any ideas?
    8. Bonvoy Business card – after much agonizing, I decided to pay the AF, get the free nite cert, then cancel and try for a pro-rated refund of the AF.
    9. AMEX Business Blue Plus is definitely a no-brainer. Get 2+ of these.
    10. CSR – agreed that it’s becoming a card to drop. Will downgrade to CSP to maintain a 1.25 travel portal, partner transfers, and a CSP/Freedom/Freedom Unlimited trifecta. Also tie in the Ink trifecta (through the combine points option) for a UR surge.
    11. Ritz Carlton – after long consideration, it’s a keeper, despite $450 AF. As you pointed out to me earlier, it’s the AU full PP membership that does it for me.
    12. Bonvoy Boundless – probably my downgrade option from the Brilliant. Keep it as a hedge that Marriott has not completely gutted their Bonvoy value proposition. Separate consideration, but the key for me, is Plat status to get free breakfast and lounge access. And Plat status is getting harder each year with Marriott further limiting manufactured ways to get the elite nites.
    13. World of Hyatt – a keeper for all the reasons you state. You should have two of them. But too hard for me to get Globalist (as you did). I’m envious.
    14. Chase Ink Cash – need at least two of them. A big-time keeper.
    15. Citi Prestige – Not sure your math would show to cut it. One third of your 6 ea. 4-night stays (i.e., the two that Prestige now allows annually) still represents (using your figures) a $406 savings. That, coupled with the annual $250 travel credit, justifies the increased AF. For me, I don’t use the 4th-nite free benefit at all, so this is a card to downgrade to Rewards+ to use as part of a Premier/DoubleCash/ Rewards+ trifecta. Looking forward to see how your experiment works on setting up two such “pods.” As I’m in full 2-player mode, I’ll have it by setting up my wife, too.
    16. BoA Alaska Air Biz card – I, too have churned this. But I’ve been more aggressive, churning both my wife’s and my card at least three times a year for the last two + years.
    17. Agree that the US Bank Radisson Rewards Biz card is a non-brainer. The legacy Chase IHG Select card (at $45 AF) is likewise a no brainer (HINT: do not upgrade to the new version with the higher AF). Unfortunately, only the new version is available for first-time applicants. Still, the value proposition remains strong for this newer version.
    18. Chase Freedom – get two of them, if you can.
    19. Chase Ink Preferred – a card I just picked up with a Chase black star special. Looking forward to the 80k UR bonus, as well as using it to segregate business expenses from other Chase charges. Others, I think, have called this the Ink trifecta (Preferred/Cash/Unlimited).
    20. Airline cards – I don’t play the airline elite status game (except when I can easily get lowest tier status – mostly with AA and UA), but I do hold a low cost ($95-$99 AF) version of the AA, UA, DL cards to take advantage of priority seating and enhanced award travel access.
    21. Missing from your cc strategy is a set of cashback cards. Is that intentional? After about a year or two of playing this “game,” I saw it as a big gap in my strategy. I’ve grabbed some key bonuses with the Discover IT Miles, Cap One Spark Business, US Bank Business, and BoA Business cards. Especially useful is the BoA Preferred Rewards or Business Advantage programs (I have the latter) – results in cashback cards that earn best-in-class returns. I use the cash to help defray cash expenses that points/miles can’t cover (e.g., cruises, car rentals, tours, etc.).
    21. Finally, any thoughts on best cards to use with Plastiq? I use the Discover IT Miles (during its 1st year), BoA Adv Travel Rewards MC, Citi DoubleCash MC, and AMEX Business Blue Plus as they all more than cover the 2.5% fee Plastiq usually charges. Of course, I also use cards that I’m working on bonus spends – the returns are always way above the 2.5% fee.

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Bob – Many thanks for the detailed and thoughtful comments. Some of your points have questions, so I’ll do my best to answer them.

      2. Very fair question about why we don’t have an additional Aspire (or Aspire-Surpass combo) for Philly. I believe we could justify this. Part of the reason we don’t is to keep Philly’s side of the equation simpler, at least while she’s working full-time. She doesn’t like to make calls to the credit card companies, and there are some times when that’s necessary. Another reason is that the marginal benefits of the free night certificates decrease as we get more. I end up getting about 5-6 of them per year, and between (a) our primary hotel chain now being Hyatt, and (2) the FNCs only being good on the weekends, they become harder to use (especially for high-value). Similarly with the airline fee credits – we have several of these already, and with GCs no longer working they’re harder for us to use. So, although it would still probably be “profitable” for us, it’s a less compelling case for Philly than for just me.

      3. Very reasonable point on the EveryDay Preferred card. On groceries, it’s only 0.5 MR/$ more than the Gold, it’s limited to $6k/year, it requires the 30 transactions/month (and the last thing we need is *more* time-consuming CC activity), and it requires an additional $95 AF. We could probably make it a profitable card, but it would require a fair bit of effort. If we did this, the obvious play would be to upgrade my EveryDay card to EveryDay Preferred, I suppose.

      7. Not holding my breath for a meaningful replacement for WeWork on Biz Plat. Seems like that was a one-shot deal.

      8. Thanks for responding to HS on this one. I think we’d all be interested in hearing your DP on this.

      13. Yes, I think there’s a compelling case to get a 2nd Chase WoH card for Philly to get the sign-up bonus, then cancel after a year.

      15. Problem with the Prestige 4NF is that it doesn’t work the same now as it did last year. Last year, we could make 4NF bookings using the Concierge, and those bookings would be eligible for elite night credits and points-earning, plus you could book any discounted rates that were available to you such as corp rates. Now, you have to make the bookings through the portal – no elite night credits or points earning; no discounted rates. Also, you can only make 2 4NF bookings per year now. If 4NF had not been gutted like this, Prestige would be a keeper.

      16. Nice on the B of A Alaska Air Biz card. You’ve been more bold than I have!

      17. Good advice on the legacy IHG card. I agree.

      20. Very interesting on the airline cards. I think the ballgame is completely different with respect to those cards for people who fly a lot but are not hub-captive like we are. Agreed that holding airline co-branded cards makes sense in your circumstances.

      21. Yes on intentionally not going after cash back cards. We’ve just found that we’ve been able to do best with points-and-miles cards for now. I can see our strategy evolving over time, though.

      22. Sounds like you’re playing Plastiq correctly and as I would suggest. I’m not sure Citi DC is worth paying the 2.5% fee. At least, it wouldn’t be for us, as we almost always use TYPs at 1.25 cents each through the Citi travel portal. But for those who transfer TYPs to airline partners at higher values, it could certainly be worth it. Honestly, we’re not doing much on Plastiq at the moment, after they quit accepting GCs. We’d pretty much just do it to utilize a promotion or when using FFDs we’ve accumulated. As you say, though, if you need it to hit a sign-up bonus, it’s almost always worth it.

      Thanks again for the great thoughts! ~Craig

  2. HS

    Re 8: Bonvoy Business … Bob, can you let us know if the get-free-night-then-cancel actually does yield a pro-rated refund? Hadn’t thought about doing that. Thanks in advance.

  3. Anup

    One suggestion for alaska personal is to try and get it converted to BofA cash rewards card to increase the quarterly 3 % category to 2500 spend per quarter. This clubbed with the BofA status can lead to upto 5.25% for selected category.

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Anup – Good idea. We haven’t tried this, and I haven’t researched DPs on it. Have you been able to product change from Alaska personal to B of A Cash Rewards? If so, how recently? Many thanks! ~Craig

      1. Anup

        I converted a premium rewards card and not the Alaska card. I have not applied for a personal Alaska recently trying to get out of 5/24 jail.

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