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Welcome to What’s in My Wallet article series! I’ll go first and start by sharing with you which credit cards I use regularly, which cards I keep just for the perks and benefits and which cards are on the chopping block. I’d be interested to hear your opinions on my card choices and which cards I should add to my chopping block pile, so let me know in the comments.

I won’t list every single benefit of the cards in my possession, just the perks and benefits I value the most and why I don’t mind paying the annual fees.

My husband and I play this game in a two-player mode, so I’ll refer to us as Player 1 (me) and Player 2 (him).

Hotel Credit Cards

Let’s start with the hotel credit cards in my possession. In general, in addition to generous welcome bonuses, hotel credit cards come with benefits like elite status or a free anniversary night.

Player 1 – The World of Hyatt Credit Card

Annual fee is $95.  

I’ve had The World of Hyatt Credit Card for over a year and I intend to keep it as long as I can get the same value out of this card as I’ve been getting the last couple of years. The card comes with one free night on the account anniversary at a category 1-4 hotel, and I could easily find a Hyatt property in that range that cost more than $95.

If you spend $15,000 on the card each cardmember anniversary year, you’ll earn one additional night at any Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel.

The hotels where you use your anniversary night don’t have to be glamorous to cost more than $95. Last year we had an overnight layover in New York and stayed at Hyatt Place Flushing near LaGuardia Airport, a category 3 hotel. We were traveling during the spring break and all hotels, even the most unattractive two star hotels near LaGuardia and JFK airports were in the $200+ range. By using my free anniversary night I’ve saved over $100, so I consider this a win.

World of Hyatt Credit Card

World of Hyatt Credit Card

Earn up to 60,000 Bonus Points
– 30,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
– Plus, up to 30,000 more Bonus Points with 2 Bonus Points per $1 spent on purchases that earn 1 Bonus Point up to $15,000 in the first 6 months of account opening.

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Player 1 – Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

Annual fee is $95.

I’ve had the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card for a little over a year. I like it for the Hilton Honors Gold Status and the annual free night after spending $15,000 in a calendar year. This year because of Covid, Hilton had extended the expiration of the free night certificates and they can now be used any day of the week. Moreover, Hilton’s free night certificates are uncapped, which means they can be used at any Hilton property, even their top most expensive resorts.

I find Hilton’s Gold status to be valuable because it comes with free breakfast. I love a good hotel breakfast, especially in Europe or Asia, so paying the annual fee for this card makes sense to me. Between the annual free night and the free breakfast this card is a keeper, for now.

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card

  • Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

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Player 2 – Hilton Aspire Card from American Express

Annual fee is $450.

A lot of people balk at high annual fees, but when you start adding all the benefits that come with the Hilton Aspire card, you’ll see that the card pays for itself and some! The card has lots of great benefits but let’s just look at the benefits I value the most and why I love this card:

  • Complimentary Diamond status which could be very valuable for upgrades and also comes with free breakfast benefit
  • One weekend night reward for new cardmembers and every year after renewal. Hilton’s certificates are uncapped and can be used anywhere. As a temporary Covid benefit, the certificates can be used any night of the week, so that’s an added bonus
  • $250 Hilton resort statement credit on eligible purchases made directly at participating Hilton resorts
  • $250 airline fee credit that can be used on seat selection, checked bags etc.
  • Priority Pass membership. Both of us have this benefit through another card, but if you don’t have any other high annual fee cards, this could be a great benefit

So, as you can see, there’s no reason to fear high annual fees if you can maximize the benefits. The $250 resort credit and the $250 in airline fee credits cover the entire annual fee and the annual free night is just a cherry on top. It is indeed free!  

Airline Credit Cards

Airline credit cards come with valuable perks such as priority boarding, free checked bags and access to better award space availability. Here’s what we have in our family.

Player 1 – United℠ Explorer Card

Annual fee is $95.

The United℠ Explorer Card‘s benefits include free first checked bag, two United Club one-time passes, $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit and expanded award space availability. In normal times, not during the pandemic, I usually take a couple of domestic United flights so I really like the free checked bag benefit of the card.

I also like that as a United credit card holder I get better award space availability on domestic United-operated flights. United is a dominant airline at my home airport, and most of my international itineraries include a domestic flight to a bigger hub, usually Chicago ORD or Newark EWR.

The annual fee is definitely worth it if you fly on United a couple times a year with a checked bag.

Membership Rewards Earning Cards

Between the two of us we have quite a few Membership Rewards earning cards. Generous welcome bonuses and excellent category spend bonus allowed us to amass a good stash of American Express Membership rewards points.

Player 1 – Rakuten CashBack Visa Credit Card

No annual fee.

I’ll start with the most unusual choice – Rakuten CashBack Visa. You might be asking, how can a Visa card earn Membership Rewards points? That was my question too when I first came across this card, but let’s take a step back.

I am a big fan of shopping portals, and one of my favorite portals is Rakuten. You can either cashout the cashback earned through Rakuten in the form of cash OR Membership Rewards points. I chose Membership Rewards, because they are one of the most valuable transferable “currencies”.

Signup for Rakuten

Rakuten is currently offering a tremendous best ever new account bonus.

Signup for a new Rakuten account using the link below, spend $40,
and you’ll earn $40!

 

Rakuten CashVisa earns extra 3% cash back on qualifying purchases made through Rakuten.com, in-store cash back and Rakuten dining. So if my online purchases don’t fall into any bonus category spend, and Rakuten has the best payout rate, I’ll use this card. The card doesn’t leave my desk, actually, I only use it for online purchases.

So for example, if I am shopping at Macy’s, and the current Rakuten payout is 6% or six Membership Rewards points per dollar, then I’ll earn nine percent back, or nine Membership Rewards points per dollar. Not bad for a purchase that usually doesn’t fall into any bonus category!

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If your head’s spinning, or you want more details on how to optimize your shopping, give our post about shopping portals another read.

Player 1 and Player 2 – The Platinum Card® from American Express  

Annual fee is $550.

I couldn’t resist the recent wildly targeted 100,000 Membership Rewards welcome offer for The Platinum Card® from American Express. I’ve never had this card before and I was waiting for the elusive 100,000 points offer to pop up instead of the 75,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 on purchases offer. The targeted offer also includes 10X back on grocery and gas in the first six months on up to $15,000 back on combined purchases. This offer came with an extended period of time to meet the $5,00 minimum spending requirements, we got six months instead of three.

Note: If you’re looking for the 100,000 welcome offer outlined above, be sure to checkout CardMatch. Lots of people recently are having success getting the offer.

The high annual fee could easily be offset by a whole lot of benefits, and the card is highly profitable during the first cardmember year. The perks include:

  • $200 airline fee credit that can be used on seat selection, checked bags etc.
  • $15 in Uber Cash a month January through November and $35 in December. Uber Cash can be used on Uber rides or Uber Eats
  • $50 in Saks credits January through June and another $50 credit July through December
  • Access to the Global Lounge Collection that includes Priority Pass and Amex Centurion lounges
  • $100 TSA Precheck or Global Entry fee reimbursement credit every four years
  • Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors Gold status

Airline fee credits, Uber credits and Saks credits are per calendar year, so by straddling 2020 and 2021 in my first cardmember year, these credits combined add up to quite a bit more than the card’s annual fee.    

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $5,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

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Player 1 and Player 2 – American Express® Gold Card

Annual fee is $250

Both of us got the American Express® Gold Card when the welcome bonus went up to 60,000 Membership Rewards Points after spending $4,000 within the first three months. The card earns 4X at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets, so it’s a great card for anyone who spends a good amount in these categories.

The annual fee could be offset by $120/year dining credit. You’ll get up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations.  

In 2022 the $100 airline incidentals credit will be replaced with the $10 in Uber Cash each month for UberEats orders or Uber rides in the U.S, for a total of up to $120 per year. Up until then, American Express Gold cardholders will earn both the $100 airline credit AND $120 in Uber Cash credits.

As you can see, when you add up all the credits, the card pays for itself and some in 2020 and 2021.

American Express® Gold Card

Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.

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Player 1 and Player 2 – The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express

No annual fee.

The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express should be in every small business owner’s wallet. The card earns 2X on all purchases, up to $50,000 a year, then 1x on all other purchases. The simple earning structure, plus no annual fee, make this one of my favorite cards. I reach for it every time I am paying for something that doesn’t fall into any bonus category.

Ultimate Rewards Earning Cards

Ultimate Rewards are my favorite transferable points. I love them for their versatility, many great transfer partners and the ability to redeem them for travel through Chase travel portal. Ultimate Rewards points are easy to accumulate thanks to a large number of cards that earn these points and the generous bonus spending categories, such as 5X at office supply stores or 3X on travel and dining.

Player 1 – Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card

No annual fee.

I actually didn’t apply for the Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card outright because I am currently over Chase’s 5/24 limit for new card applications. But I really wanted this card for its 1.5X earning rate on all purchases, so I decided to downgrade my Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card because it has a $95 annual fee and I wasn’t maxing out its bonus spending categories.

In that case a no annual fee Chase Business Ink Unlimited card was a clear winner.

Chase Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card

75,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points after you spend $7,500 spend in 3 months

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Player 1 and Player 2 – Chase Freedom Flex

No annual fee.

The Chase Freedom Flex is a fantastic new card from Chase with refreshed bonus spending categories. Chase surprised everyone by coming out with a brand new Mastercard product and I am so glad it did! I am mostly excited about the cell phone insurance benefit, and as soon as Amex pulls the temporary $20 cell phone credit perk at the end of 2020, I’ll switch my cell phone bill to this card.

Player 2 – Chase Sapphire Reserve Card

Annual fee is $550.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve might have lost its initial luster four years after it was debuted as THE card for any travel rewards enthusiast, but I still like it for its excellent benefits such as Priority Pass access that includes participating airport restaurants, trip delay insurance and rental car coverage.

The annual fee is offset by the $300 travel credit (which is far more versatile and easy to use than Amex’s airline credits) and the $60 DoorDash credit in 2020 and 2021.

The main reason why we still have this card is the 1.5 cent/point redemption through the Chase travel portal. I love staying at non-chain hotels and I redeemed a good number of Ultimate Rewards points for some excellent hotels all over the world.

ThankYou Points Earning Cards

ThankYou points aren’t as versatile as Ultimate Rewards but they could be valuable in certain situations. Citi points transfer to Turkish Airlines which has a great award chart for domestic flights as well as some international “sweet spots”. ThankYou points also transfer to Air France Flying Blue and Avianca and both have good award redemption options for Europe and beyond.

Player 1 and Player 2 – Citi Premier® Card

Annual fee is $95.

I would like to downgrade one of our Citi Premier® Card cards to the no fee Citi® Double Cash Card. However, we still have a good number of ThankYou points in each of our accounts. One of the biggest disadvantages of Citi ThankYou points is their inflexible policy when it comes to combining points. It’s easy to combine points with other cardmembers, however, the transferred points have to be used in 90 days or they will expire.

We haven’t traveled much this year and I didn’t have a need to transfer flexible points to a specific airline. I never speculatively transfer points to partners, so for now I am keeping both cards. Last year I was able to get the annual fee waived on my card with modest spending requirements, and I’ll try again soon as my annual fee just posted.

Citi Premier® Card

Earn 60,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

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Final Thoughts

Many people, especially beginners in this hobby, are scared of annual fees and are set against paying them. But when you start digging deeper, it might become clear that some of the best travel credit cards have high annual fees. These fees, however, could be offset by the cards’ various benefits.

It is very important to evaluate each and every card every year and decide if it’s worth paying the annual fee again. If you are still enjoying the benefits (I am spoiled now, I can’t imagine traveling without the access to Priority Pass and Centurion lounges), then it’s worth it to keep paying the annual fee.

Travel well,

Anna