The hobby of racking up travel rewards can get quite addicting. And how can it not be? When you can take an almost-free trip with the help of just two credit cards, it’s easy to get caught in a welcome bonus game chasing the high of an approval only to repeat the cycle every few months.

However, earning welcome offers on multiple credit cards means paying multiple annual fees. It’s one thing to travel enough to offset those fees, but it’s another to shell out hundreds of dollars every year for cards you no longer use.

For tax reasons, spring is when I’ve applied for the majority of my credit cards in the past. Because the amount of plastic in my wallet has grown over the years, I’ve taken a look at my travel needs to evaluate which credit cards I need to keep, downgrade or perhaps cancel. Because every card I apply for serves a purpose, here’s what I chose to do with those that got hit with annual fees March through May.

Bonuses mentioned below may not be the current offer but were when Anya applied.

credit cards to keep

Chase Ink Business Preferred

Annual Fee: $95

I applied for the Chase Ink Business Preferred last year to cover my self-employment taxes and haven’t regretted my decision.

On top of earning the sign-up bonus of 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points, I continue to earn 3X Chase points by paying my cell phone bill, internet/cable bill as well as by making travel purchases on the card. With this card, it’s easy for me to earn points quickly.

Additionally, the card comes with cell phone protection (for up to $600 per claim), which is helpful for a klutz like me. The only condition is, the bill must be paid with the Ink Preferred, which it already is because of those triple points.

Spoiler: I renewed the card.

 

Chase Ink Business Preferred

80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points after you spend $5,000 in 3 months

Learn more

 

United MileagePlus Explorer Card from Chase

Annual fee: $95

When I first applied for the United MileagePlus Explorer Card, it came with a welcome bonus of 50,000 MileagePlus miles. The points went toward a honeymoon in the Galápagos Islands, and I haven’t used the card much since then.

The card’s additional benefits include one free checked bag for up to two passengers traveling on the same reservation on a United Airlines-issued domestic ticket, but as a Delta hub captive, I don’t fly United often. Nor do I frequent United Clubs during my travels. In fact, I gave away two United Club passes that come as a benefit of the card to a member of the 10xTravel Insiders Facebook group—feel free to join for the next giveaway—so they didn’t go to waste.

To keep the credit line alive, I called the number on the back of my card and chose to product change the card to the no-fee United MileagePlus Card, which offers no benefits.

United Explorer Card

40,000 bonus miles after $2,000 spend in 3 months

Learn more

 

American Express Marriott Bonvoy Credit Card / American Express Marriott Bonvoy Business Credit Card

Annual fee: $95 ($125 for new members of the Bonvoy Business Amex Card)

The Bonvoy Amex Card and the Bonvoy Business Amex Card are the former Starwood Preferred Guest credit cards from American Express. I applied for these cards three and two years ago, respectively, to earn the bonus points and was offered retention offers on both cards a year ago. American Express isn’t known for annual retention offers, and I knew I didn’t have any coming this year.

However, what’s new is that each card now offers a free night award certificate worth up to 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. Surprisingly, the Dumpster fire that is the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program didn’t scare me off from earning two of these certificates for $95 each, which means I can redeem them for two nights at any Category 5 property… theoretically. We are talking about Marriott after all.

I haven’t chosen a hotel yet, but I have until next spring to decide on the “worthy” property. Likely, it’ll be somewhere in the Caribbean or Europe.

Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Credit Card - Marriott Silver Elite Status

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card

100,000 bonus points after $5,000 spend in the first 3 months

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Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card

Earn 75,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. Terms apply.

Learn more

 

Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

Annual fee: $95

I have a special relationship with the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card. It was the first rewards card I applied for 10 years ago when I was still in college and didn’t know much about this hobby and all the possibilities. I remember earning a whopping 30,000 SkyMiles and—the horror!—redeeming them at a rate of 1 cent each toward a Delta Air Lines ticket to New York City. I was young and in love!

Now that I’ve gotten older and wiser, I decided to reevaluate my relationship with the piece of plastic. (Gosh, I sound so codependent…)

The sole reason I’ve kept the Gold Delta Card for so long was for the free checked bag benefit. The card allows checking bags for up to nine travelers at no additional cost when flying Delta on the same reservation. Speaking of being wiser, I’ve learned to travel with carry-on only and no longer depend on free baggage allowance.

It took everything in my power to pick up the phone, but I took control of my own life and called up American Express to product change my beloved Gold Delta Card to the no-fee Blue Delta SkyMiles Card. I feel so free!

Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card

60,000 SkyMiles after $2,000 spend in the first 3 months plus $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase in the first 3 months

Learn more

 

The Platinum Card from American Express

Annual fee: $550

The Amex Platinum Card is the most expensive travel investment I’ve made, and it’s the one that evokes the most shock from my friends when they ask how much I pay in membership dues every year. In my defense, the fee wasn’t always this high—it was $450 when I applied for it a few years ago.

Now that an important benefit is going away—American Express is cutting restaurant access from its cards with a Priority Pass Select membership—it was once again time to weigh all the pros and cons of holding onto such an expensive card.

No doubt, there are plenty of ways to offset the Platinum Card’s annual fee: $200 annual airline fee credit, $200 annual Uber credit and $100 annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit nearly erase the cost of holding the card. [Read about all of the ways to offset the annual fee.] However, lounge access is what matters to me most, and eliminating restaurant access is a blow to the membership value.

I reached for the phone one more time and spoke with the company’s retention department. The agent offered me 30,000 Membership Rewards points in exchange for spending $4,000 on the card in the next three months. I voiced my concern about the spending requirement being too high, but there were no other offers. I caved and agreed to keep the extra points and all the perks for paying the fee again.

$100 Annual Saks Fifth Avenue Credit
A woman walks along the window display of Saks Fifth Avenue with haute couture by Dior, Carmen Marc Valvo, Monique Lhuillier and Nina Ricci.”

The Platinum Card from American Express

Earn 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months. Terms apply.

Learn more

Final Thoughts

If you learn one thing about credit card rewards, it’s award travel doesn’t necessarily mean free travel. Not only do you have to account for the cost of points, but you also have to think about how much the privilege to keep earning discounted travel year after year actually costs. To be successful in the points and miles world, you must extract enough value to overshadow the annual fees. If you don’t, think about rearranging your credit card lineup to keep the hobby lucrative.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

New to the world of points and miles? The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best card to start with. With a bonus of 60,000 points after $4,000 spend in the first 3 months and 2x points on dining and travel, this card truly cannot be beat! 

Learn more

Disclosure: 10xTravel has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. 10xTravel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. You can read our advertiser disclosure here.


Anya Kartashova

About the Author

Anya Kartashova is a travel junkie who wants to visit everywhere in the world. As she crosses destinations off her list, that list grows even larger with new places being added. There’s no way to determine whether her wanderlust will ever subside. Probably never.

Learn More About Anya

22 Responses to “Spring Cleaning: Which Credit Cards I Kept, Canceled or Downgraded”


Soyoung Choi

I do not have some of cards you mentioned above but I love the tactics that you used here. I will be doing the same thing in order to improve my wallet situation. Thank you again

Susan L Solomon

Just what I needed to read. This month I have to start making decisions about canceling cards. I am curious as to why you changed a couple of cards rather than cancel. The cards are new so it wouldn’t effect credit history much. On the Delta card you mentioned that you no longer check bags so that wasn’t needed. So why keep at all? We like our Delta card because we get a decent boarding group, will you still get that with the Blue Card? Trying to learn more about all this.

Anya Kartashova

Thank you for asking! My Delta card is 10 years old and has a rather large credit limit. The $0 fee card doesn’t cost anything and lets me keep both. Unfortunately, it no longer offers priority boarding.

David Spilkia

I’m not sure why you are keeping the Chase Ink Business Preferred. If you product change to the no fee Chase Ink Business Cash card you get 5x points for Internet/Phone/Cable.

Matt Brown

It’s a great card to keep for the cell phone protection, but it has the best referral bonus of any Chase UR card at 20k UR points for each referral. If you refer 1 or 2 people per year to it, the $95 AF pays for itself by that measure alone.

Anya Kartashova

I put my taxes on the credit card to earn a sign-up bonus. For example, the minimum-spending requirement on the Chase Ink Preferred Business Card was $5,000, and paying taxes with it helped me get there. There’s a fee associated with doing this, but it’s worth it for the big bonus.

I’m just starting on all this process so I have a newbie question: why would you want to keep a credit line alive for a product that offers no benefits? Will closing the line affect your credit?

Anya Kartashova

A large credit line helps the overall utilization (debt-to-credit) ratio and affects your credit score positively (you want to keep it below 30%). Since the downgraded card has no fees, I keep it alive to keep my utilization low and maintain my strong credit score.

Lisa Spicer

This was a great post. I too, had questions about downgrading to no annual fee cards. With AMEX’s once-in-a-lifetime rule, I understand the Delta decision since you wouldn’t be eligible for a sign-up bonus on the same product again. I am curious about the United decision. Can you re-apply for the sign up bonus on the United Mileage Explorer card if you downgrade it? I hope to cancel my United Explorer and re-apply in about a year to receive another sign-up bonus (for reference I received the signup bonus 4 years ago).

Anya, I gave an unrelated newbie question. My husband has Chase Sapphire Preferred which has no fee for first year. I have a CSR that we can use merge all the points. Should he cancel the CSP before the 1 year mark?

Matt Brown

Never cancel cards before the 1 year mark. Keep it at least until the annual fee, and then assess. Since you’ll have a CSR, it will likely overlap most of the benefits, so you’ll be ok to get rid of it. But wait until the annual fee posts before doing anything.

Anya Kartashova

I agree with Matt. Hold the card for at least a year before doing anything with it to maintain a good relationship with the bank. In this case, though, instead of closing, I would downgrade one of the Sapphire accounts to the Chase Freedom or the Chase Freedom Unlimited (both have no fees) and earn points in combination with the Sapphire card.

Hi, thanks for your article. I am trying to figure out what to do with my Delta gold amex. I kept it after the first year for the free baggage as well. I will use it once again in Sept (actually for the Atlantis trip that was written about on this site!) but I don’t think I will be using it again afterwards. Being that it is only a year and a half of credit history and I currently have 5 other credit cards (3 with 10+ years credit history), would you recommend a downgrade or just cancellation of the card? Thanks!

Anya Kartashova

Keep in mind that free bags apply to domestic trips only (Bahamas isn’t domestic). Additionally, Amex limits each cardholder to five credit cards. If you’re worried about taking up a slot, cancel. If not, downgrade to the Delta Blue version and keep the credit line.

I am not an expert travel hacker, new to the game, but I’ve upgraded my Delta Gold to Platinum. Used it’s free companion ticket (domestic flights only) to get one (out of 4) of my family from FLL to JFK for free and then used my Delta points to get all of us from JFK to the wild and gorgeous Azores. With my family of 4, free checked-bags on Delta usually saves us $240.00 (I can’t roll with carry on, my kids are young and it’s too much to drag around 4 bags; we drop and go). I use my (less than a year old) Chase Sapphire for all spending when we travel. Now I have around 150k CSP points (and enough Capital One Venture points to put towards offsetting hotel costs), I am excited to figure out how best to use these points :-).

Ps, one thing I wasn’t a fan of: I expected to be able to use my Delta Amex to get us into the Delta Sky Club Lounge but nope, not without shelling out more money then it’s worth, for 4 of us.

Last, I have a (semi) useless Chase Slate card, is it possible to product change that into a reward card?

Thanks for all of the tips,
Jen

Anya Kartashova

I would recommend opening a Chase Sapphire card (either Preferred or Reserve). Opening one will earn you a bonus, and the points are a lot more flexible than Delta SkyMiles.


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