Wallet Review – Cards I’m Keeping and Cards I’m Cancelling

My wallet is getting a bit out of control these days.  It’s bursting at the seams with credit cards.  **  Thanks to many recent credit card app-o-ramas, it’s time to do a thorough review of my wallet contents and figure out which cards to cancel and which ones to keep.

Back in November, I attempted to cancel several cards, but I was lured back in with things like $75 and $45 statement credits.  But, I made a mental note to still cancel those cards before the annual fee came due.

Credit Cards I’m Canceling:

Chase AirTran Personal card.  We travel domestically a lot, and I wanted to get this card before it would be discontinued thanks to the Southwest / AirTran merger.  I applied for this card back when Chase was offering 32 AirTran A+ Rewards (good for two free roundtrip tickets).  I earned those points, and now the card has outlived its usefulness, so away it goes.

Nearly all of my Citi AAdvantage Cards.  I got hooked on these cards back during the 75,000 points double browser method days.  Then there was the whole applying for three cards every 60 days thing.  I have many personal and business versions of these cards.  I’m going to keep one, since it offers a 10% rebate on AAdvantage miles redeemed.  That netted me 10,000 miles when I redeemed 100,000 miles for our flight from St. Petersburg, Russia to Washington, DC.  But all the other ones will be cancelled.

US Airways Mastercard.  I already had one of these cards, so I wondered whether I would get approved for a second one.  But I really wanted an extra 45,000 miles in my account before this card went bye-bye as part of the US/AA Merger. Luckily, I was approved!  Now that I’ve earned my bonus miles, I don’t have much use for this card, so away it goes.

On a related note, I tried canceling my old US Airways Mastercard a few months ago (one I’ve had since 2010).  They offered me a $45 statement credit and basically “downgraded” the card to a no-fee Barclays World Arrival card, so there wouldn’t be an annual fee anymore.  So I kept the card open as the new no-fee World Arrival card.  But, in trying to streamline my wallet, I’ve kept their $45 and am going to cancel anyway.

Ken’s Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card.  We collected 50,000 bonus points on this and don’t need it anymore.

Not now, but canceling soon:

Amex Platinum card.  I scored this card during an amazing one day fluke of 100,000 bonus points back in January 2013.  It carries a $450 annual fee, and I used to think that you got a lot of value for that $450 fee, including free airline lounge access.  Now that the Amex Platinum is no longer offering lounge access in US Airways and American Airlines lounges, I don’t have much use for this card.  (Although I may see if they offer a credit or other bonus).  However, I’m holding on to the card for now because this is my only Membership Rewards points-earning card.  I used to have an Amex Gold Business card, but I cancelled it last year.  So if I cancelled with Amex Platinum right now, I’d forfeit all of my Membership Rewards points.  Hopefully a good sign up bonus will come soon, and I can apply for a new Amex Membership Rewards points card and cancel my Platinum.

On the fence

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.  My annual fee comes due for this card soon, and I think I might cancel it.  While the 2X points on dining and travel are nice, I don’t think it is worth the annual fee. I’m not sure, I need to think about this one.

Keeping in my Wallet

I’m keeping the rest of my cards, at least for now.  I especially get a lot of value out of the Chase Ink Bold card, my Barclays World Arrival card (different than the World Arrival card I mentioned above.  This was a new application back in November, not a downgraded card), and my Chase Freedom card.

Have you cancelled any credit cards recently?  Which ones did you ditch?  Which ones are you keeping?

**I don’t actually keep all these cards in my wallet.  Once I’ve met minimum spending requirements on one that I don’t plan to use anymore, I relegate it to a designated drawer at home.  It’s good to have a stash at home in case I lose my wallet!

End Note: A lot of people recommend keeping cards open so that you have leverage if you apply for a new credit card and are declined.  That way you can say, “Well, can you approve me if I cancel this card?”  1) Thankfully, I’m rarely declined for a credit card.  2) When I am declined, that technique never works for me.  So I just cancel them when I feel like it.

 

Results of my Recent Credit Card App-o-Rama

Did everyone survive the cold yesterday?  I decided to work from home, but Ken braved the cold (including waiting for the bus!) in the frigid temperatures.  It gave him a good excuse to try out his new coat and long underwear we purchased for our trip to Russia next month!

Last month, when temperatures were much warmer, I made an impulse decision to do a new credit card app-o-rama (AOR) before the new year.  What brought on this impulse?

Well, we met the minimum spending requirements for Ken’s September AOR sooner than I expected, so adding some new minimum spending amounts wouldn’t add any problems.  Then there was the unexpected increased sign up bonus for the Chase Freedom card.   Plus, I’ve depleted some of my travel points and miles reserves (like my Chase Ultimate Rewards points thanks to our awesome weekend in NYC and highly anticipated stay at the Ararat Park Hyatt in Moscow), but I’m swimming in other points (Hello 200,000+ AmEx Membership Rewards points and 140,000 AAdvantage miles).   So, I’ve decided to diversify my approach a bit.

I decided to do something sacrilege in the miles and points earning world.

I am incorporating some cash back credit cards into the mix.  (Gasp!)

Now, by “some” cash back credit cards, I mean one.  And because I can’t just apply for one credit card in a single day, I applied for three others which are mostly travel focused.

AmEx Blue Cash Preferred.  I opted for this cashback credit card because I spend an ungodly amount of money at the grocery store, especially just for a family of two.  I like to cook, I frequently try new recipes with ingredients lists a mile long, and I’m terrible at shopping the sales.  So, I decided to add some benefit to my out-of-control grocery spending.  The AmEx Blue Cash Preferred offers 6% cash back on up to $6000 annually at grocery stores.  This card also offers 3% cash back on gas and at select department stores.  While I will probably use this card for getting gas, I spend very little on gas because I commute to work using public transportation.  So this is now my go-to card for grocery store shopping.  We bought several gift cards as Christmas presents at the grocery store using this card, earning us 6% cash back as well.

Here are the details at the time of my application:

  • Bonus:  $100 Cash Back after spending $1000 in the first three months
  • Approval Details:  Immediately approved with a $17,000 credit line

Chase Freedom Visa.  At the end of November, Chase announced a temporary increased signup bonus of 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points (or $200 cash back) instead of its normal 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points (or $100 cash back).  I’ve been wanting to add this card to my arsenal for a while.  I like its 5% cash back rotating categories for each quarter, which can really help supplement my Chase Ultimate Rewards points balances!  I was a bit worried applying for this card, because I had been declined for a Chase AirTran A+ Rewards business visa back in July (apparently Chase didn’t like me applying for a personal and business card in the same day.  I was approved for the AirTran personal card, but not the business). So I thought they might decline me again for trying for another Chase card just over four months since my last approval (and decline).  But I was approved with no problem.

  • Bonus: 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $500 in the first three months
  • Approval Details: Immediately approved with a $22,000 credit line.

Hilton HHonors Reserve Card.  With many recent devaluations in the miles and points earning world, I’ve come to value cards that offer flat out “free nights” that don’t require a certain number of points to redeem.  The Hilton HHonors Reserve card does just that.  It offers two free weekend night certificates at pretty much all Hilton properties.  I was very impressed that the list of excluded properties is quite small, considering how many Hilton properties there are around the world.

I’ve been itching for a trip to Key West, so I think redeeming our stay certificates at the Waldorf Astoria property in Key West, Casa Marina, might be in order some time this year!  For reference, that hotel would cost us at least 60,000 points per night, so the “flat rate” option of the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card weekend stay certificates are great in these scenarios!

  • Bonus: Two free weekend nights after spending $2500 in the first four months
  • Approval Details: Received a “pending decision” message.  I do have five active Citi cards, so I assumed I would have to close out some old cards or move around some existing credit lines to get approval.  It was late, so I didn’t feel like calling the reconsideration line right away and decided to call in the morning.  But by the time I went to call, I had been approved with a $7500 credit line, one of the smallest credit lines ever given to me by Citi.  I guess I should close out some of my existing credit with them.

Barclays World Arrival Mastercard:  I have to admit, I had seen this card mentioned a lot in the past year, but I still didn’t quite understand it.  I would read about how great it was, but I just kind of glossed over it.  Well, I was trying to spread this AOR around multiple banks (as usual), and decided to try for another Barclay card, even though I had just gotten another US Airways Barclay card back in July.  So, I read and read about the Barclay World Arrival card, and finally understood its value.  There are many other more detailed posts about this card, but I’ll try to sum it up in a few sentences.  Use this card to purchase travel tickets.  Airfare, train tickets, hotels, cruises, whatever.  Then, when you see those purchases show up on your World Arrival credit card statement, you can use your points accrued as a credit for those purchases.  So for instance, we’re planning on taking a train next month from Moscow to St. Petersburg.  I expect the tickets will be around $300 for the two of us.  I will pay for them using my Barclay World Arrival Mastercard (Thanks to no foreign transaction fees!).  Then, when the train tickets show up on my statement, I can redeem 30,000 points and basically get a “refund” for our $300 train tickets. Plus, you get a 10% bonus on all points redeemed.  So after redeeming 30,000 points, another 3000 points will be added back to my account.  You earn 2x points on ALL purchases, so there’s no tinkering with quarterly bonuses or anything.

  • Bonus: 40,000 points after spending $1000 in the first 90 days
  • Approval Details:  Immediately approved with a $17,000 credit limit.  I was pretty surprised, as Barclay is usually pretty strict on approving credit to card churners like me.  So the instant approval and relatively high credit line was a nice surprise.

So, there you have it.  Luckily Christmas shopping has helped us with meeting the minimum spending requirements!

Trying for Hyatt Diamond Status Match

Thanks to my relatively recent hobby of earning travel points and miles, much of our upcoming trip to Russia will be free.

I’ve mostly been interested in earning large sign-up points bonuses through credit card offers.  I travel, but not frequently enough to earn the amount of miles that I can earn through credit card sign up bonuses!

But recently, I have become more interested in learning about elite status options on airlines at at hotels.  Unlike large quantities of points earned through credit card bonuses, elite status, generally speaking, are earned mostly by flying a lot on a particular airline (like 25+ times per year) or staying a lot at a single hotel chain (again, 25+ times per year).

There are typically different tiers of elite status, so depending on what tier you are, you can get additional perks when you fly or stay.  For instance, you might be able to get a free breakfast at a hotel, or earn additional bonus points on paid stays.  Similarly for airlines, you might be able to get upgraded to first class on a paid ticket, and you can also earn additional bonus miles when flying.  There are some dedicated folks in the frequent flyer world that do “mileage runs,” which are flights they take solely to make progress toward their “status.”  These flights are typically very cheap.  This time of year, you see a lot of folks talking about status, because status is usually earned on a calendar year basis, and then you get to keep it for the following calendar year.  For instance, if you have flown 48 times this year in 2013 on a particular airline, which means you might be two flights away from reaching a mid-tier status level achieved by flying 50 times, you might take a mileage run of two flights to make sure you achieve that status and are able to keep it all the way through the end of 2014.

A similar concept for hotel status exist, except it’s called a mattress run.  You might book some very inexpensive hotels at a chain you’ve been staying at, just to achieve status.

While I always saw the value in status, I can’t say that I paid much attention.  After all, I knew that I didn’t travel enough to get status, so I never really researched it much.

Well, I’ve been starting to research it a bit more.  Not necessarily to actually start doing mileage runs and mattress runs, but strategizing a bit to get additional perks out of my travel time.

One of these tidbits I’ve been researching are called “status matches.”  I’m not sure if there’s any formal definition (although I’m sure there’s a dictionary on Flyertalk somewhere), but basically it is a way for one hotel chain to attract an “elite” customer of another hotel chain by offering similar perks to what the customer is used to at the hotel chain he is loyal to.  For instance, if Bob has Marriott Mid-Level Status, Bob can call Hilton and say, “Hi, can you match my Marriott mid-level status at Hilton?” Hilton would almost certainly say, “Yes,” and voila, Bob has his status matched.  Then when Bob goes and stays at a Hilton during his next trip, he is afforded many of the same perks as what he would at the Marriott, like free breakfast, or whatever.  Typically that status “match” might only be temporary, or there may be some conditions if he wants to keep the matched status longer term.  For instance, he might have to stay 10 nights at a Hilton hotel within three months to keep that status for the next year.

So, what is the point of this big long explanation of status matches?  I’m going to try and get status matched for some of our upcoming hotel stays in Russia.  Specifically, I want Hyatt Diamond status for our stay at the Park Hyatt Moscow.

Since I don’t stay at hotels enough to earn status, how exactly am I going to get Hyatt Diamond status?  Well, although I don’t earn status through hotel stays, I do have some hotel status from being an American Express Platinum Cardholder.  Through my American Express Platinum card, I have Starwood SPG Gold and Hilton Gold status.  (My American Express Platinum Card was also great because I was reimbursed for the $100 Global Entry fee)

wpid-HyattGoldPassportMembershipLevels-2013-11-30-15-02.png

Luckily, with my Hilton Gold status, I can request from Hyatt a two month Hyatt Diamond status match.  Diamond status would be a HUGE benefit for our stay at the Park Hyatt Moscow.  It guarantees us the best room (excluding suites) when we check in.  It also provides us with a food and beverage amenity, 4:00PM check out time, as well as free breakfast.  Breakfast costs, especially in an expensive city like Moscow, can really add up over the course of three days.  Plus, I like eating a big breakfast when traveling because I feel like then I’m typically not hungry again until dinner time.

The Hyatt Diamond Status Match only lasts for 60 days.  Since we don’t leave for Russia until mid-February, I’m going to wait another month before applying for the status match.  (To earn long-term Hyatt Diamond status, you have to stay 12 nights at Hyatt properties within those 60 days.  I don’t think I’ll be able to achieve that, but I’ll at least be able to get some benefit from having temporary Hyatt Diamond status during our stay in Russia.)

Results of Recent Credit Card App-o-Ramas

I shared with you the other week that I have gotten quite addicted to the miles and travel points-earning world.  In the past 12 months alone, I’ve applied for 13 credit cards and have been approved for 11 of them.

To further maximize the points earning potential for our family, I recently involved Ken in these credit card application sprees!  Back in September, I wanted to take advantage of the temporarily increased sign-up bonus for the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card.  On our upcoming trip to Russia, I want to stay at a Starwood property in St. Petersburg, so this sign up bonus will allow us to stay there for three nights completely free of charge.  Whoop!

Generally speaking, when you are doing an app-o-rama (AOR), or credit card application spree as it is also called, you want to apply for several cards all on the same day.  Therefore, he applied for three cards on the same day, just a few days before the SPG increased offer expired:

  • SPG Amex Personal Card (30,000 SPG Points after spending $5000 in the first six months)

  • US Airways Premier World Mastercard (35,000 Dividend Miles after first purchase)

  • Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card (50,000 HHonors Points after spending $1000 in the first four months)

Each card was instantly approved and we received them over the next two weeks or so.  I had also completed an application spree in late July, so it was going to be a push to meet minimum spending requirements.  I still hadn’t completed the minimum spending from my July AOR, so ideally we would’ve waited to do Ken’s AOR, but I definitely wanted to take advantage of the increased SPG Amex that was expiring on September 3.

My July AOR consisted of the following applications:

  • Chase AirTran Personal Card (32 A+ Rewards good for two roundtrip flights after spending $2000 in the first three months)

  • Chase AirTran Business Card (I was ultimately declined for this despite some friendly calls to the reconsideration line.  Apparently five open cards with Chase was enough to get this one declined, even after offering to move around or close some of the unused cards)

  • US Airways Premier World Mastercard from Barclays (35,000 Dividend Miles after first purchase.  This was my second card of this type and I thought I might be declined since my first one is still open.  But it was approved with no issues!)

  • Citi AA Personal Platinum Visa (50,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $3000 in the first three months)

Eight days later I applied for the following card using the now defunct trick described in this Flyertalk thread.

  • Citi Platinum Select Mastercard (35,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $1500 in the first three months)

So, there you have it.  We were really swimming in some points for a while, but we’ve been redeeming them a lot for our February trip to Russia and an upcoming trip to New York City.

What are Ken’s thoughts on his new involvement in my obsession?  He thinks it’s complicated, but since it also nets him free travel, he gives me free reign to do what I think is best.

Have any of you involved you spouses in the miles and points earning world?  How have they adapted?

Compulsive Vacation Planning

I mentioned the other day that many portions of our upcoming trip to Russia will be free.  This is all thanks to what I call “compulsive vacation planning” and “extreme credit carding.”

United Airlines Thank You for Choosing United Airlines

You see, I grew up flying for free. My dad worked for US Airways for nearly 40 years and, because of that, I had free flying privileges until I turned 23. In most cases, this privilege was awesome and allowed me to visit places I would not have been able to see otherwise. In other cases, because employees fly at the bottom of the bottom of the standby list, I would be stuck at an airport for days on end trying to figure out the best route that would get me home.

So, when I started having to pay for airfare and started a full time job that required occasional travel, I knew that things like signing up for frequent flyer miles and hotel reward programs were important. So I did that. And I collected some miles. I fly Southwest and US Airways most frequently, so I signed up for both their credit cards sometime around 2007. The Southwest credit card had been exceptionally kind. I’ve managed to redeem miles to Las Vegas in 2008, San Diego in 2009, two tickets to Orlando in 2010, two tickets to Las Vegas (again) for our honeymoon in 2011, and two tickets last year to Albuquerque for our two week-long southwest USA road trip. So I definitely earned miles and cashed them in, but I never gave it much additional thought.

But within the last 18 months or so, I’ve literally become obsessed with learning about the points world and all its intricacies. Two years ago, when we were spending lots of money on wedding-related expenses, I decided to sign up for a new credit card that offered 100,000 British Airways miles after just $3000 in purchases in the first three months. That kind of minimum spending limit is easy peasy to achieve when planning a wedding!

But then, I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. I had 100,000 British Airways miles to spend, which is about enough for two round trip coach class tickets to Europe. But I couldn’t figure out how to redeem my miles without paying exorbitant fees! Taxes and fees alone from, say, Washington Dulles to any city in Europe would cost like $500. I see deals on Travelzoo all the time for that amount of money and I wouldn’t have to fork over all those points!

So I started researching. Reading blogs like the Points Guy, Boarding Area, and also stalking the FlyerTalk forums. I started to learn all sorts of fun and useful tips for the best ways to redeem those miles without the high fees. I learned about another great credit card deal and applied for an AAdvantage Citi Card that netted me 75,000 bonus points (enough for a round trip first class ticket to Hawaii!). Then I applied for a Chase Ultimate Rewards card and I earned 50,000 bonus points that I can redeem on different airline and hotel partners.

And now, my friends, I am OBSESSED. Calculating CPM (cents per mile) and determining EQM (elite qualifying miles). I’m strategizing credit card app-o-ramas and am going to involve my husband in all of this so that we can space out our individual applications to make sure we can meet the minimum spending requirements. I’m learning about what hotel points transfer to airline miles and at what rates. I’ve become a snob when comparing different airlines’ first class service and seating arrangements.  While I’ve almost always used shopping portals to earn points, I’m now encouraging my husband to do the same.  I’ve learned about which airlines allow stopovers and which ones don’t so that you can really maximize the number of destinations you visit on the same amount of miles!

But the best part is seeing what we can experience for not that much time and money!You get the idea. The possibilities are really endless!