Keeping 22 Cards, Downgrading 1, Canceling 7: Harlan’s Plan

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Keeping 22 Cards, Downgrading 1, Canceling 7: Harlan’s Plan

Million Mile SecretsKeeping 22 Cards, Downgrading 1, Canceling 7: Harlan’s PlanMillion Mile Secrets Team

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Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.

I asked Million Mile Secrets team members to share which credit cards are in their wallet.  And to let us know if they plan to make any changes.  We don’t reimburse writers for their credit card fees, so folks don’t have an incentive to pay unnecessary credit card fees.

Here’s team member Harlan!

Harlan:   I currently have 30 credit cards!  The majority of them have annual fees.  And I plan on keeping most of them!

2017 Credit Cards Worth Paying The Annual Fee Harlan
Just a Selection of My 30 Credit Cards. Most Are Sticking Around! 🙂

I’ll share my credit card strategy.  And let you know which cards I’m keeping, converting, and canceling! 

Team Credit Card Inventory Index

2017 Credit Cards Worth Paying the Annual Fee

Here are the 30 credit cards I currently have and their annual fees.

CardAnnual Fee
The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American ExpressNo annual fee
Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express$75
The Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz$475 ($550 for new applicants)
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express$95, waived the first year
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express$95, waived the first year
Two Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Cards$75
Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Business Card®$75
Barclaycard Arrival MasterCardNo annual fee
Barclaycard AAdvantage® Aviator™ Red World Elite Mastercard®$95
Chase Freedom®No annual fee
The Hyatt Credit Card
$75
IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card$49, waived the first year
Chase Ink Plus (no longer available)$95
Chase Sapphire Reserve$450
United MileagePlus® Explorer Card$95
Citi American Airlines Platinum Select AMEX (no longer available) $85
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®$99, waived the first year
Citi AT&T Access More (no longer available)$95
Citi Diamond PreferredNo annual fee
Citi Hilton Visa (no longer available)No annual fee
Citi Prestige® Card$450
Two Discover It® cardsNo annual fee
U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card$400
US Bank Club Carlson VisaNo annual fee
Fidelity Rewards VisaNo annual fee
Icelandair MasterCard (no longer available)No annual fee
Kohl's store cardNo annual fee

The annual fees for my cards total $2,399.  But a few have statement credits.  For example, I get back:

That brings my net annual fee cost down to $1,324.  But I also make the most of other card perks like:

The 4th night free perk alone saved me over $3,000 last year!  So I definitely hone in on how to get the most back from all my card perks.

If you can’t tell, I do NOT qualify for most Chase cards because I open more than 5 new cards every 2 years.  I do, however qualify for small business credit cards because I host on Airbnb.  And many small business cards do NOT count toward Chase’s card limit!

2017 Credit Cards Worth Paying The Annual Fee Harlan
My Credit Score Is Nearly 800!

Despite having so many credit cards, I maintain a great credit score.  I pay my balances in full each month.  And make sure to keep my oldest cards open to boost the average age of all my accounts.

Here are the cards I’m keeping, converting, and canceling.

Cards I’m Keeping

1.   AMEX Blue Business Plus

Link:   The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express

This card is still fairly new.  It had a sign-up bonus when it came out in May 2017.  Currently, there’s NO sign-up bonus.

But this card is still worth it because you earn 2X AMEX Membership Rewards points on your first $50,000 in purchases each year.  And there’s no annual fee, so it’s a free way to keep your points active.

Opening this card will NOT impact your chances of getting Chase cards in the future.  That’s because AMEX small business cards do NOT show up on your personal credit report.  And because I have other AMEX credit cards, I didn’t get a hard pull when I opened this card.

I plan on keeping this one forever and using it for non-bonused spend, like dentist visits, pet care, repair services, and anything else that pops up without a category bonus!

2.   AMEX Hilton

Link:   Hilton Honors Card from American Express

This one’s free to keep, too.  Hilton is my preferred hotel chain.  I find the points easy to earn and redeem.  And they’re everywhere I want to be.

2017 Credit Cards Worth Paying The Annual Fee Harlan
AMEX Offers Are an Easy Way to Save Money on Things You’d Buy Anyway

3.   AMEX Mercedes-Benz Platinum Card

Link:   The Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz

I always keep an AMEX Platinum Card in my travel bag to get into Centurion Lounges.  I’m based in Dallas, which has the best Centurion Lounge. 😉

2017 Credit Cards Worth Paying The Annual Fee Harlan
I Like the Full Meals and Craft Drinks at Centurion Lounges

I make a point to enjoy a meal and high-end cocktails before or after a flight at Dallas – Fort Worth.

2017 Credit Cards Worth Paying The Annual Fee Harlan
I Saved $200 on Alaska Airlines in 2017 Thanks to My AMEX Platinum Card

Plus, I get $200 in Uber credits each year.  And $200 per calendar year toward travel incidentals with an airline of my choice (I picked Alaska Airlines).  Between all these benefits, I feel like I get more than my money’s worth!

You also get:

4.   AMEX Starwood

Link:   Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

I keep this one for access to AMEX Offers – I save more than the $95 annual fee on this card.  Plus, I get elite-qualifying stay credits each year just for having the card.

5.   AMEX Starwood Business

Link:   Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

I charge my Marriott and Starwood stays on my AMEX Starwood small business card.  I also like:

But I mostly keep it for access to Sheraton Club Room lounges.

2017 Credit Cards Worth Paying The Annual Fee Harlan
Sheraton Club Lounge Access (Like in Prague) Has Saved Me Hundreds of Dollars in Drinks and Snacks. And Has at Times Kept Me Alive Abroad!

This perk is ONLY on the small business version of the card.  And on its own, it’s saved me some serious cash.  I snacked and drank for 3 days at the Sheraton Prague Charles Square.  Plus, I used points earned from the card’s sign-up bonus to stay there – so it was all completely free!

6.   Barclaycard Arrival Mastercard

I downgraded to this card from the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard because it doesn’t have an annual fee (for the first year).  And it kept my credit line and history intact.  I place a small charge on it every once in a while to keep it active.  But I don’t use this card for everyday spending.

7.   Chase Freedom

Link:   Chase Freedom®

I opened a Chase student credit card in 2002 (my first year of college).  Through the years, it’s changed into the Chase Freedom – so I’ve had the account open 15 years!  This is not only my oldest card, but one I use often.  I make the most of the rotating quarterly 5X categories – right now it’s restaurants (August 2017), which is awesome.

2017 Credit Cards Worth Paying The Annual Fee Harlan
You Can Easily Combine Points From the Chase Freedom With Chase Ultimate Rewards Points Earned From Other Chase Cards

Then, I combine points with my other eligible Chase cards and transfer them directly to airline and hotel travel partners like British Airways and Hyatt.

And this is another card with no annual fee.  So I’ll keep it forever to help age my other credit accounts!

8.   Chase Hyatt

With a free night at a Category 1 to 4 Hyatt every card anniversary, I can easily offset the Chase Hyatt card’s $75 annual fee expense. 

2017 Credit Cards Worth Paying The Annual Fee Harlan
I Stayed for Free in Philadelphia With My Chase Hyatt Free Night

I used it to book an award night at Hyatt at the Bellevue in Philadelphia.  Nights there can easily cost $300+.  As long as the free night benefit stays, I’ll keep this card!

9.   Chase IHG

Link:   IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card

Here’s another card I’ll keep forever because of a valuable free night perk.  I used my free night this year to stay in New York, which can be a pricey place!  The annual fee on this card is only $49, so it’s a no-brainer.

10.   Chase Ink Plus

I pay my monthly cell phone and internet bills to earn 5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on the Chase Ink Plus (no longer available).  I also shop at office supply stores quite a bit, and earn 5X there, too.

Because I earn so many valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points with this card, I’ll keep it for as long as I can.  It’s been key to getting free travel in Cancun, around Europe, and all over the US!

11.   Chase Sapphire Reserve

Link:  Chase Sapphire Reserve

This card is always in my wallet, so I’m definitely keeping it!  Because I often spend on travel & dining and earn 3X Chase Ultimate Rewards points for these purchases.  I use it to pay for parking, tolls, and dining throughout the year – those points add up!

This card also comes with a $300 annual credit for travel purchases, like airfare and hotels.  So it effectively makes the annual fee $150 ($450 annual fee – $300 travel credit).

And when you pay for travel with the card, you get amazing trip protection benefits.

12.   Chase United

Link:   United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

I don’t put much spending on this card.  But I’m keeping it anyway because it gets me:

It’s hard to quantify those benefits.  How much is an extra award seat worth?  To me, it’s worth a lot.

2017 Credit Cards Worth Paying The Annual Fee Harlan
I Love Getting Exclusive Award Seats on United Airlines Because of This Card!

This card has a $95 annual fee.  But if it’s the difference between taking a trip or not, I’ll keep it.   Plus the bonus miles I earn through the MileagePlus X app add up over the course of a year!

13.   Citi American Airlines Platinum Select AMEX

This card is no longer available.  But I sync a lot of AMEX Offers to it via Twitter.  And get back 10% of redeemed American Airlines miles each year, up to 10,000 miles.  So between these 2 perks, the card is easily worth keeping.

14.   Citi AT&T Access More

This one’s also no longer available.  But it earns 3X Citi ThankYou points for online purchases.  And when you spend $10,000 on the card in a year, you get 10,000 bonus points.

2017 Credit Cards Worth Paying The Annual Fee Harlan
The Crown Jewel of My Credit Card Collection

I shop online a lot, so the bonus points easily recover the $95 annual fee.  I’ve used Citi ThankYou points for:

To say I use this card constantly would be an understatement.  I probably put the most spend on this card out of all the ones I have!

15.   Citi Diamond Preferred

I opened this no annual fee card to take advantage of its stunningly long 0% APR period.  I made a big payment toward my student loan and won’t have to worry about accruing interest until 2019.  In the meantime, I’ll save thousands of dollars in student loan interest!

This card also has access to Citi Easy Deals, which is handy for buying gift cards at a discount.  That’s not a bad setup for a card with no annual fee.  And I’m happy about saving so much money toward paying back my student loan!

16.   Citi Hilton Visa

Citi recently discontinued this card.  There’s no annual fee, and you earn 10,000 bonus Hilton points when you spend $1,000 each year on Hilton stays.  So if you stay a few times, it’s worth paying with this card for some extra points!

Plus, it’s free to keep long-term, so there’s no reason not to hang onto it.

17.   Citi Prestige

Link:   Citi Prestige 

I get the most savings with the Citi Prestige.  That’s because several times per year I take advantage of the 4th night free perk when booking paid hotel stays.

2017 Credit Cards Worth Paying The Annual Fee Harlan
Oh How I Love Seeing These Credits in My Online Account Activity!

In 2016, I saved over $3,000 with this perk.  And in 2017, I’ve already saved more than $500.  So continuing to pay the card’s $450 annual fee is a no-brainer.

The card also comes with $250 in annual statement credits for airline purchases such as airfare and baggage fees.  This is a terrific perk to offset the annual fee expense further.  Plus, its trip delay and cancellation benefits are the best of any credit card!  So I always charge my airfare to it.

18.   Discover It

Link:   Discover It® 

This card has rotating quarterly categories to earn 5% cash back.  But even better, Discover will match all your cash back earned during the first 12 billing cycles and post it to the 13th billing statement.  So you effectively earn 10% cash back in 5X categories the first year!

2017 Credit Cards Worth Paying The Annual Fee Harlan
I’ve Earned Over $1,500 This Year in Cash Back From This No Annual Fee Card!

There’s no annual fee on this card.  And most folks don’t have Discover cards, so you can likely open one easily.  If you shop a lot in the 5X categories, which in the past included restaurants, Amazon, and groceries, you can do well with with card – especially the first year.

I have 2 of these cards.  So I’ll keep one and cancel the other.

19.   US Bank Club Carlson

I downgraded to this from the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card to preserve the credit line and history.  I no longer care about Club Carlson hotels since US Bank changed the perks on my original card, so I just keep it because it’s free.

20, 21, 22.   Fidelity Visa, Icelandair MasterCard, Kohl’s Card

The Fidelity Rewards Visa earns 2% cash back on every purchase when you deposit to a Fidelity account.  But now that I have the The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express, I don’t use it much any more.  That said, there’s no annual fee, so I’ll keep it.

I’ve had the Icelandair MasterCard since 2005, so it helps to age my accounts.  I rarely use it.

2017 Credit Cards Worth Paying The Annual Fee Harlan
Don’t Judge but I Secretly Love Kohl’s. And I Use Discounts Throughout the Year From Having the Kohl’s Card

And I shop at Kohl’s a lot for my Airbnbs.  Having a Kohl’s card gets me frequent 30% discounts and free shipping, which I use regularly.  It’s not for everyone, but it’s free to have.  And if you shop at Kohl’s a lot it could be worth it to save on shipping and have access to more sales throughout the year.

Cards I’m Downgrading

1.   Barclaycard American Airlines Aviator Red

Link:   Barclaycard AAdvantage® Aviator™ Red World Elite Mastercard®

Not gonna lie, I got this card for the sign-up bonus. 😉  I’ll keep it for a bit because Barclaycard gives targeted category bonuses throughout the year.  So I’ll see how worthwhile it is to keep long-term to earn more American Airlines miles.  If they don’t make it worth paying the $95 annual fee, I’ll downgrade it to the no annual fee version.

Cards I’m Canceling

1.   AMEX Hilton Surpass

Link:   Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express

As mentioned, I have 3 Hilton cards and don’t need them all.  Although this card earns the most Hilton points per $1 spent, I’m not a fan of the $75 annual fee because the other ongoing benefits aren’t worth it for me.  So I’ll likely cancel it next year.

This card comes with Hilton Gold elite status, which gets you free breakfast and upgrades when they’re available.  That can make the annual fee more than worth it for many folks!  But because I already get that perk with The Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz, it doesn’t help to have the same benefit on 2 cards.

2, 3.   Bank of America Alaska Airlines Card

Link:   Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Cards

I have 2 of these cards, because Bank of America allows you to have more than one of the same card open at a time.  But I haven’t been able to use the companion fares that come with the card, so it’s not worth keeping them and paying 2 annual fees.

4.   Bank of America Alaska Airlines Business Card

Link:   Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Business Card®

This one is the same as above.  But applying for this small business card doesn’t impact your chances of getting Chase cards in the future.  Because the account does NOT appear on your personal credit report!  So it could be a nice way to earn miles toward a dream trip without harming your 5/24 status.

2017 Credit Cards Worth Paying The Annual Fee Harlan
I Should Probably Use These Companion Fares at Some Point

5.   Citi American Airlines Platinum Select MasterCard

Link:   Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

Citi tightened the rules so you can’t receive a sign-up bonus if you’ve opened or closed a card under the same family of cards within 24 months.  So I’ll cancel this card to reset the clock and avoid paying 2 annual fees on similar Citi cards.

6.   Discover It

Link:   Discover It® 

I’ll cancel one of my Discover It cards and keep the other to maintain access to the 5X rotating quarterly categories.

7.   US Bank Altitude Reserve

Link:   U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card

I had high hopes for this card.  And I’m still a bit on the fence about it.  I thought I’d use the 3X mobile payments category a lot more.  I added the card to Apple Pay.  But have only used it once or twice.  And I don’t want to go too far out of my way or change my normal habits just to use this card.

2017 Credit Cards Worth Paying The Annual Fee Harlan
These 2 Benefits Are Easily Worth Over $400, but I’m Still on the Fence About This Card

The $325 annual travel credit and 12 in-flight Gogo passes per year easily cover the $400 annual fee.  After the $325 credit, each Gogo pass only costs ~$6 ($75 / 12), which is a great deal!  I need to see if I’ll actually get use from this card.  I might end up keeping it.  But at this point, I’m leaning toward canceling it when the annual fee is due again.

How I Keep Track of My Cards

Link:   Evernote

When I tell people I have 30 credit cards, they think I’m crazy.  And maybe I am.  But the right kind of crazy, right? 😉

Evernote has been absolutely indispensable for keeping track of them all.  Each time I get a new card, I scan the card into Evernote.

2017 Credit Cards Worth Paying The Annual Fee Harlan
They’re All Here – I Keep Meticulous Records of All My Cards

To each note, I add:

  • Card number
  • Expiration
  • Date I opened the card
  • How long I have to meet the minimum spending and the amount to spend
  • What the bonus is
  • Any screenshots of the deal I applied for
  • Anything else useful in keeping track, or a note to myself to review the card with an added reminder

It takes me a few minutes to add all the details.  But over the years, I’ve saved so much time by having this file – I can’t even tell you how helpful Evernote has been by being my digital file cabinet.  Remember, you can easily check when you opened or closed a credit card if you want to keep accurate records.

The notes sync across devices and platforms.  And its note-notebook-notebook stack setup is so easy, anyone can use it.  I’ve found dozens of other uses for Evernote.  And this notebook is one I access the most.  Give it a try if you want an easy way to keep track of your cards!

Bottom Line

I have 30 credit cards right now – and plan to keep the lion’s share of them.

While my annual fee expense on the cards I’m keeping is ~$2,400 (really ~$1,300 after statement credits), I get amazing perks like free hotel nights and annual travel credits with several cards.  For example, in 2016, I saved well over $3,000 using the 4th night free perk with my Citi Prestige.

Having so many cards hasn’t hurt my credit score.  In fact, it’s nearly 800!  And I highly recommend Evernote to keep track of everything digitally – especially anything to do with travel, points, or credit cards!

What do you think of my credit card strategy?  Are there any others I should pick up? 😉

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These articles are SO valuable to me. Please publish more of your editors’ credit card decisions every six months or so!

I love the credit card offers and I love the travel with them, but I think it is important that people really understand some things about it all, especially if they don’t have a lot of fun money to play with. Sometimes I REALLY worry about people getting into this and not understanding a basic about fees.

“That brings my net annual fee cost down to $1,324.”

Sort of.

For example the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Take Sapphire Reserve – $450 fee. Some do the math this way:

$450 fee
-$300 credit
=$150

But it doesn’t doesn’t work quite that way,

$450 fee
-$300 credit
+ $300 travel bill
=$450 fee.

It was totally worth it to me to get the CSR – last year we got over $2000 in UR to go to Spain, but that fee was not reduced by it. Basically I had $450 in my travel budget and then I bought a bunch of travel for %75 off. If you don’t have $450 in your travel budget then it won’t be a good card for you. Now if you take the cash instead of the miles then you can bring down that fee, even if the overall monetary value isn’t as high.

I know many of you understand this, but sometimes I worry enough about those who don’t understand it that I just have to say something.

LastPass is also a good (and secure) way to keep track of your credit cards!

That’s a great tip! I use that too! 😉

Everyone should use a password manager if you don’t already!

I just downgraded my $95/year Chase Ink Plus to Ink Cash. No annual fee, 5x on cell, cable and office supplies. You can transfer the points 1:1 into Sapphire account. My 2 cents.

They may be spending more than the 25k limit on the Cash (50k limit on the Ink Plus)

I definitely exceed the 25K limit so it’s worth it to keep the Plus version and pay the annual fee. But I agree with Rico, if you aren’t spending a lot in the bonus categories, it’s better to downgrade to the Ink Cash.

will downgrading count as a new card application, since it’s a different card?

With Chase, no. But with Citi, yes.