I wrote yesterday that I don't chase signup bonuses as one of my principle methods of earning miles and points. But I also consider recurring annual benefits to be worth almost nothing.
I've written before that companion tickets are scams, with the exception of the very generous version offered by Bank of America's Alaska Airlines — if you happen to live in a city served by Alaska — since it can be paid for with any credit card.
I've written before that annual free hotel nights are scams, although the Citi Hilton Reserve and Chase Hyatt free nights are slightly better than the rest — if you otherwise manufacture Hilton HHonors points or transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt.
And of course, I'm the leading proponent of the argument that airline statement credits are worth (much) less than cash.
Five annual fees I'm willing to pay
As a result, I carry only five cards with annual fees, and I pay those annual fees solely because I believe manufacturing spend on the cards makes them worth keeping for my own miles and points strategy:
- Chase Ink+. Bonus earning at office supply stores and gas stations, and turns my non-flexible Chase Freedom Ultimate Rewards points into flexible Ultimate Rewards points. $95 annual fee.
- US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards. Makes flying on paid airfares very cheap. $49 annual fee.
- Barclaycard Arrival+. Makes hotels, Uber, and taxes and fees on award tickets cheap. $89 annual fee.
- American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass. Makes hotels cheap. $75 annual fee.
- American Express Delta Business Platinum. Makes Delta elite status cheap. $195 annual fee.
Even I'm willing to admit the Delta Business Platinum card is a marginal play, but I do really like checking bags, so the elite status is something I'm — for now — willing to pay for, as long as I'm also earning 1.4 SkyMiles per dollar spent with the card.
Don't pay annual fees you don't have to
Those are the annual fees I'm willing to pay. But I mostly don't.
- On Wednesday I called the number on the back of my Ink+ card and explained I was trying to decide whether to keep the card. The frontline representative (no transfer required) offered me a $95 bonus statement credit to keep the card. $0 annual fee.
- Every year I spend $24,000 on my Flexperks Travel Rewards card I receive 3,500 bonus Flexpoints, which I redeem against my annual fee. While the Flexpoints themselves are worth up to $70 when redeemed for airfare, this allows me to treat this card as a no-annual-fee card, which is my preference. $0 annual fee.
- Each year I call Barclaycard and ask them to waive my annual fee. They have been happy to oblige for the last two years. $0 annual fee.
- Also on Wednesday, I called American Express, told the computer I wanted to close my account, and was immediately directed to a representative who offered me a $50 statement credit to keep the card. $25 annual fee.
- I haven't yet called American Express about my Delta Business Platinum card, whose annual fee I paid back in May. Hopefully they'll offer me something, although gunning for low-level Delta elite status is such a marginal play that I'll probably cancel the card anyway once I've secured status for the 2016 program year. $195 annual fee, minus a prorated refund.
Conclusion: your miles will vary
I assume one reason I have had luck so far with retention offers is that I spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on these cards.
If you spend less — or more — you'll find that the credit card companies have different offers for you, or possibly no offers at all, which is why it's important to know what annual fees you are willing to pay if you can't get them waived.
Only once you know how much you value a card, whether for its recurring annual bonuses or earning rate on manufactured spend, will you be able to decide whether the offers you receive from your credit card companies make it worth paying to keep your accounts open.