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To keep the What’s In My Wallet series going—and so that we can actually call this a series—I’ll go next and take you on a socially distanced tour of my wallet.

Some of my credit cards have high annual fees. Some have mid-range fees. Others are no-fee cards. Every card I apply for serves a purpose, and once that purpose is served, I decide whether to keep it or cancel. I’m going to illustrate how I make sure to get enough value out of every single credit card that I keep long-term.

Flexible Rewards Credit Cards

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Annual fee: $695 (Rates & Fees)

Since 2016, The Platinum Card® from American Express has been adding significant weight to my wallet—both in terms of perks and actual weight. The metal card boasts an annual fee of $695, yet I pay it every year. I got it along with an unexpected 100,000-point welcome offer then and never looked back.

My annual fee is due in June, and 2020 was the first time I contemplated canceling the card. Thankfully, the addition of a monthly $20 streaming credit, a monthly $20 cell phone credit and a $200 travel credit in 2020, as well as a monthly $30 PayPal credit in 2021, has put me back at ease. Offsetting that sky-high fee has been a breeze.

In addition to the temporary credits, I’ve been able to use my monthly $15 (increased to $35 in December) Uber credits when ordering Uber Eats, $200 airline incidental credits and $50 Saks Fifth Avenue credits. And let’s not forget the recently added Amex Offers giving credits against spending at popular merchants, such as Best Buy, Goldbelly, Home Depot, Home Chef and Instacart.

The Amex Platinum Card basically pays for itself once you take into account all the ways to recoup the annual fee.

The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express

Annual fee: $0 (Rates & Fees)

This card came into my life last fall, and I seriously don’t understand why it took me that long to consider it. The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express earns 2X Membership Rewards points on every. single. purchase. Did I mention the card charges no fees?

Sure, the double points are limited to the first $50,000 spent per calendar year, but it’s still a large enough limit with a maximum earning potential of up to 100,000 Membership Rewards points per year at no cost. All other purchases earn 1X point per dollar after the limit is reached.

I’ve been using this credit card everywhere that takes Amex on purchases that otherwise don’t fall into a bonus spending category.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Annual fee: $550

This is a brand-new addition to my lineup of credit cards—I recently upgraded my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. You might be wondering why in the world I’d upgrade my mid-range card to a premium card when most people choose to downgrade their cards instead. Let me explain.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® has been in my household since its inception in 2016 (my husband held it for four years), and I’ve always had access to the Chase travel portal redemption rate of 1.5 cents per point.

In preparation for applying for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card of his own, my husband downgraded his Reserve to the Chase Freedom Flex℠. However, I wasn’t ready to give up the higher portal redemption rate, so I chose to upgrade my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Although a $550 is no joke, and neither are two $550 fees when you add the Platinum Card to the mix, I know for sure I’ll be able to recoup most of it with a $300 travel credit.

I’ve recently made a portal redemption for a flight that saved me 9,200 Ultimate Rewards points worth $138, which brings me pretty close to breaking even with the fee already. And I’ll be happy to earn 3X points on all dining, travel and groceries (grocery bonus is a limited offer through April 30, 2021) instead of 2X points in the same categories with the Preferred Card.

Chase Freedom

Annual fee: $0

The Chase Freedom credit card was one of my first Chase cards I got after the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, and it’s a great supplement to earning Ultimate Rewards points without paying additional fees.

With this card, I earn 5X points in rotating categories (on up to $1,500 per quarter), which means I can earn up to 7,500 Ultimate Rewards points every three months by maxing out the bonus categories.

As I already mentioned, my husband now holds the Chase Freedom Flex℠ after downgrading his Chase Sapphire Reserve®, and I think I’m going to keep mine as is so we have access to both the Visa and the Mastercard versions of this card.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Annual fee: $0

This one is a result of a downgrade from my first Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. Before I re-applied for another Sapphire card after 48 months, I product changed it to the Freedom Unlimited credit card, which earns 1.5X points on all purchases. This preserves my credit history without paying a fee.

I use the Chase Freedom Unlimited® card for all non-bonus spending where I can’t use the Amex Blue Business Plus Credit Card. Not every merchant accepts American Express, so this is my back-up for earning more than 1X point in non-bonus categories.

Hotel Credit Cards

Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card

Annual fee: $95

The Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card is a convert from the old Starwood Preferred Guest Amex personal card and is not available to new applicants.

I rarely use this credit card but keep it around for the 15 elite night credits and a free night certificate (worth up to 35,000 Bonvoy points). Although I haven’t been successful redeeming my free nights yet, they’ve been extended a couple of times and I have some ideas for how to use them.

In a recent move to butter up its customers, American Express added some monthly credits to its co-branded cards. The Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card got a $10 dining credit good once per month through December.

In other words, I can get $110 back through the rest of the year and erase the annual fee completely. I don’t even have to go out of my way to use these credits as I order takeout a few times per month to help out the struggling restaurants (and further justify my occasional lack of desire to cook).

Marriott Bonvoy® Business American Express® Card

Annual fee: $125 (Rates & Fees)

This is another card that I inherited after the SPG/Marriott merger. I use the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card a bit more than its personal counterpart because it earns 4X Marriott points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants, U.S. gas stations, on U.S. cellular service and shipping.

I also like the fact that I earn 15 elite night credits from the personal card and another 15 elite night credits from the business card. Thirty elite nights are enough to qualify for the Gold Elite status, which I already get from simply holding The Platinum Card from American Express.

However, Marriott has been adding elite night credits to program members based on their previous year’s elite status to help them requalify during the pandemic. Because of this, I’ve already reached Platinum Elite with 30 elite night credits from co-branded credit cards and 25 elite night credits from reaching Platinum Elite last year, thanks to these extra elite nights.

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex Card members also received a couple of Amex Offers: $15 per month toward cellular services through December and additional Bonvoy points on certain spending thresholds.

With the mobile service offer, I’ll be able to save $165 on my cell-phone bill—an amount that will not only wipe out my annual fee, but I’ll even come out ahead. The spending offer doesn’t excite me as much, but for every $7,500 I put on the Marriott Bonvoy Business Card, I’ll earn 3X points instead of the regular 2X in non-bonus categories that this card typically awards.

I also get a free night certificate (worth up to 35,000 Bonvoy points) every year I renew this credit card, which means I receive two certificates every year I renew both of my Marriott cards. Using these certificates for a hotel stay is another great way to offset the annual fees.

Airline Credit Cards

AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard

Annual fee: $95

As I already mentioned, I usually apply for cards with a trip idea in mind. The AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard and its 75,000 AAdvantage miles were supposed to help my husband and me travel to the Maldives.

Last summer, we purchased a TravelZoo voucher for a week at an overwater bungalow to be redeemed through December 2022. Unfortunately, by the time we narrowed down our dates, the availability was gone. The hotel has a fixed allocation for TravelZoo bookings each month, and we missed our preferred travel window (my husband’s work schedule isn’t as flexible as mine).

Now that I’ve met the minimum-spending requirement on the AAdvantage Aviator Business Card, the miles can sit in my AAdvantage account until we’re ready to use them next year.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card

Annual fee: $75

The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit card was to be the second piece of the puzzle making our trip to the Maldives possible. I applied for the card in the fall when I received a targeted mailer offering 65,000 Alaska miles.

I had already held an Alaska card in the past and had accumulated a stash of miles in my Mileage Plan account. The plan was to get another bonus and use 62,500 miles per person to fly to the Maldives in Cathay Pacific business class. Unfortunately, Cathay Pacific has canceled its route from Hong Kong to the Maldives.

The new plan is to keep earning Alaska Mileage Plan miles by putting purchases on the card and hopefully earn enough to fly business class with Emirates for 82,500 miles each when we’re actually ready to take the trip.

United Explorer℠ Card

Annual fee: $95 (waived for the first year)

I use the United MileagePlus program to book award flights at least twice per year, so I always want to get my hands on the United miles. Even though Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United at a ratio of 1:1, they’re too valuable to be converted all the time.

A few months ago, I applied and was approved for my third United Explorer Card since 2015. I’ve re-applied every 24 months between bonuses whenever I’m under 5/24.

In the past, MileagePlus miles helped me fly to Greece, Kazakhstan, Peru, Turkey and other countries. More often than not, I take advantage of the Excursionist Perk and book a stopover to maximize my miles. Using the benefit allows me to book an extra flight without redeeming extra miles.

Taking a selfie with a llama mural in Lima, Peru l Photo courtesy of Anya Kartashova

I also enjoy having access to expanded award availability for United cardholders. Yup, cardmembers get to see more flight options when it comes to United-operated segments. We all know that availability can make or break your trip, so this benefit alone is worth the annual fee.

Although I don’t have a specific redemption in mind for the 60,000 United miles I earned from the welcome bonus, I’m sure something will come up soon enough.

Final Thoughts

Yeah, yeah, annual fees are for suckers, et cetera, et cetera. Except they’re not.

Paying membership fees on premium cards and using the benefits and rewards strategically can help you offset most of the costs. Free annual hotel nights, free checked bags or lounge access can all make credit cards worthwhile as long as you get outsized value.

Having said that, don’t pay credit-card fees blindly. Whenever that payment is due, it’s worth reconsidering whether you keep getting enough value in return. There’s no shame in closing the cards that no longer serve their purpose and keeping the cards that do.