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Managing Credit Cards: Cost-Benefit Analysis

With the addition of two new cards earlier this month, I started to realize I was getting a little in over my head in my quest to play the “points game.” I now have ten credit cards, which seems a little overwhelming to me. A few of them are in “the drawer,” and I rotate them in and out of my wallet depending on spend requirements and bonus categories. If I’m traveling, I’ll only take cards that feature no foreign transaction fees.

Going another step further, I don’t think it’s feasible for me to keep 10 cards active all the time. Once annual fee time comes around, I might have to cancel one or two of these babies (at least). With that thought, I cataloged all of my current cards with a cost-benefit analysis. Here are the results:

Credit Card Info - Sheet1

 

A few observations:

  • This chart assumes I get at least .02 cents of value from each point
  • Amex cards are less than 1/3 of my total cards, but make up over 2/3 of the annual fee costs. I do think the Platinum Card is worth it. The others… not as sure.
  • Of the 325,000 points I’ve earned from these 10 cards, Amex cards only make up 35,000 of those (!!!). Amex LOVES to screw me out of signup bonuses. I’m sensing a trend here…
  • I was able to find obvious ongoing benefits in keeping ALL of my Chase cards. The only one I’m sure about keeping with Amex is the Platinum Card. The Citi AAdvantage card is in “the drawer” now that I’ve received the signup bonus in full. However, the 10% rebate on redeemed miles is more than enough incentive to keep the card in perpetuity. It also gives me a relationship with Citi just in case I ever want another.
  • The biggest wild card right now is Barclays. I am impressed with the direction they’re going in. I do think I will continue to keep the Arrivalcard, especially if it keeps giving TripIt Pro as a subscriber benefit. I really like the fare tracker feature. And hey, if it ever saves me money, it’s a no-brainer to keep the Arrivalcard.
  • I’ve had the Chase Freedom (in several other incarnations) since 2002. That’s a nice boost to the length of my credit history.
  • I’d like to keep one Visa Signature on hand and the one World Elite for now. You never know…
  • I haven’t assessed other perks like car rental coverage, trip cancellation, lost baggage, etc. I’d only ever rent a car with the Sapphire Preferred or Platinum Card anyway.

I do consider this analysis as a document that is very open to change. Airlines and credit cards slash and introduce benefits all the time. (So do hotels but I don’t have any co-branded hotel cards.) If I had to pick one or two to place on the chopping block, it would definitely be the Delta Amex and potentially the Premier Rewards Gold. Delta and Amex haven’t impressed me very much lately, especially with the customer un-friendly moves they’ve both been making. And American has been very generous, though I haven’t flown with them at all this year. Too bad Citibank doesn’t have better transferable points cards. If only United were better, I’d have the perfect bank-airline relationship (because god I love Chase!). More thoughts after the upcoming Chile/Easter Island trip. We’ll see how American & Co. fare with operations. This Saturday! Two days!

MasterCard: World Vs World Elite Benefits

Also see: 

When I received my Barclaycard Arrival approval email today, something in the wording caught my attention. I’d been approved for a “World” MasterCard.

What's

What’s “World”?

Then I flashed back to when I received my new Ink Plus card in the mail. I remembered flipping that beautiful baby over and seeing this:

2013-05-12 12.11.39

What’s “World Elite”?

Google searches didn’t really yield anything concrete. I did, however, end up on the MasterCard page and they lay out the benefits really nicely. Here’s what I’ve surmised:

World benefits are pretty limited. It’s like they’re competing with Visa Signature. I’m literally going to copy & paste:

CONCIERGE SERVICES

  • Enjoy exclusive, personal assistance with dinner reservations, event tickets, 
locating hard-to-find items, buying and delivering gifts, and coordinating business related arrangements. Knowledgeable experts can assist with whatever you need, whenever you need it – 24 x 7 x 365. This takes “Concierge Service” to the next level with robust, personalized features that will save you time and simplify your day.

PRICE PROTECTION

  • Should you find a lower price for a new item using your eligible MasterCard card, you may be reimbursed for the price difference.
For more information about the coverage you may be eligible to receive, 
call 1-800-MC-ASSIST (800-622-7747). To file a claim on-line, go to www.mycardbenefits.com.

MASTERCARD GLOBAL SERVICE

  • Get emergency assistance virtually anytime, anywhere and in any language. MasterCard Global Service helps you with reporting a Lost or Stolen Card, obtaining an Emergency Card Replacement or Cash Advance, finding an ATM location, and answering questions on your account.

MASTERCARD AIRPORT CONCIERGE™

  • Arrange for a personal, dedicated Meet and Greet agent to escort you through the airport on departure, arrival or any connecting flights, 24/7/365 at over 450 destinations worldwide.

WORLD HOTELS & RESORTS PROGRAM

  • Make your next travel experience truly priceless. Access our portfolio of some of the finest hotels and resorts the world has to offer – all presenting you with an exceptional lodging experience. Enjoy complimentary room upgrades, early check-in and late check-out privileges, exclusive World MasterCard amenities, and more.

For comparison, here are the Visa Signature benefits:

  • Cardholder Inquiry Service
  • Emergency Card Replacement and Emergency Cash Disbursement
  • Lost/Stolen Card Reporting
  • No Pre-Set Spending Limit
  • Purchase Security
  • Warranty Manager Service
  • Year-End Summary Statements
  • Zero Liability
  • Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver
  • Lost Luggage Reimbursement
  • Roadside Dispatch
  • Travel Accident Insurance
  • Travel and Emergency Assistance Services

Now on to the good stuff. I was sort of shocked (in a good way) when I saw the full list of World Elite benefits. They blow both World and Visa Signature out da water!

It includes all the benefits listed for “World” above + a TON more and is obviously the winner.

The basics

The basics

The one that immediately caught my attention was Priceless New York.

It grants access to lots of cool things going on in town like concert VIP packages, culinary experiences, shopping deals, and discounts on services.

I signed up for the email list and will be sure to report if I ever end up using it. Cool idea! I’d love to use it, being based in NYC and all.

But then, I started digging a little deeper and found a lot of other info. What caught my attention the most was the “Air” section of the Travel Benefits page, particularly the offerings on a diverse range of carriers like Swiss, Austrian, Etihad, Lufthansa, LAN, and Virgin Atlantic.

Interesting...

Interesting…

Some of the “upgrades” specifically say you need to’ve purchased a full-fare ticket, which can oftentimes be as much, or more than, business class to begin with. But LAN’s, for example, just says you can upgrade “from an eligible coach ticket.” What’s an eligible coach ticket, LAN? I’m assuming they mean a full-fare ticket, but I would definitely be interested in learning more.

Aer Lingus is very clear about their policy

Aer Lingus is very clear about their policy

LAN is super wishy-washy

LAN is super wishy-washy

Other benefits from a World Elite card include:

  • $1000 off a first class ticket on Etihad
  • 50% off a biz class companion ticket on Etihad
  • 20%-30% off biz class tickets on LAN
  • “Special savings” on Virgin Atlantic
  • Upgrades on these carriers: Aer Lingus, Austrian, Etihad, LAN, Lufhansa, SAS, and Swiss

Pretty awesome!

They also have quite an extensive list of tours, cruises, rental cars, private offers from companies like NorthShore Advisory (consultants), and hotels. I arbitrarily picked New Orleans from the hotel list and turned up a few good options:

Screen shot 2013-05-12 at 10.20.23 PM

World Elite benefits in NOLA

All the options include upgrade, late check-out, and daily breakfast for two. Also, a “guaranteed best rate”. Maybe I’ll test their pricing for an upcoming trip…

All-in-all, I was pretty blown away to find out my new Ink Plus gave me all these benefits. I’ve never read about these totally legit, published benefits on any other blog before – sorry if this is old news!

I probably won’t be booking a private jet or chauffeured car any time soon, but for rental cars, air tickets, and hotels, this could turn out to be a real hidden gem.

Just Got Two New Cards 5-3-13

OK. So I had another tequila-driven round of two new credit card applications.

The two cards I’ve been eyeing for a while are the Chase Ink Plus and the Barclay Arrival card.

I drunkenly logged into the Chase website and located the card I wanted. I like the Plus over the Bold because it’s a credit card as opposed to a charge card, which gives me a bit of flexibility just in case. There’s also a pre-defined limit which is good for when the credit line is reported to the credit bureaus. Maybe I’m completely misguided here, but both cards are identical except for the credit vs. charge feature. So it comes down to personal preference anyway.

There it was: my bounty.

Ink-Plus-card

I honestly don’t remember filling out the application. It’s been on my mind for so long, I think I did it on autopilot. I hit submit and waited. Not instantly approved. More info needed. Crikey.

So then I headed over to the Barclays website thinking I’d be approved instantly. I’ve had an Icelandair card with them since 2007 and never missed a payment, so thought that would be a show of good faith on a new card. Same thing. Filled out the application, hit submit, and got a similar message about needing more information. Wah.

barclay-arrival-card

The next day, I called Chase and they asked me a ton of questions about my business. I answered confidently and honestly. The rep placed me on hold for a few minutes, then came back and said I’d been approved with a $5,000 credit line. I was ecstatic. She said I’d receive the welcome packet in a few days.

Then I called Barclays. What a shitshow. The rep sounded like he didn’t have a clue what was going on and just to wait 10 days. Hung up and called again. Same thing, except she gave me a website to visit: myapplicationstatus.com. Thanks. The website says the same thing. I swear the reps at Barclays are all robots.

Robot talk

Robot talk

Even though I don’t have an official confirmation, I’m sure I’ll get the card (pretty sure, anyway). I’m super excited about getting 50,000 more Ultimate Rewards points as well at $400+ dollars to spend on travel. Holla.

Bottom line

This is my last round of apps for a while, maybe a year or so. My next financial goal is to save up a good down payment on a house and to pay down my student loans, so I’m gonna let my credit simmer for a bit while I get it in order and let a few hard inquiries fall off. Plus, I’m a working boy now!

Unless there’s an amazing deal that pops up, I’m done with credit cards for now. I’ll probably eat my words later, but at this moment in time… I’m happy with my current credit card lineup. 🙂 Can’t wait to get the cards next week! Will update when I receive them.

American Express Vs. Chase: Why Chase Is Winning

Quite simply: signup bonuses with no BS.

I’ve been hating on Amex a lot lately, and with good reason. I now have four Amex cards, three with Amex as the actual issuing bank, and with two of those three, I’ve had to make numerous phone calls, write emails, and send tweets to their support team about not getting a signup bonus. After a lot of back and forth, they usually award me a fraction of what I missed out on as “good will”, but it always leaves a bad taste behind and is like pulling freaking teeth with them.

In my opinion, if an Amex cardmember holds the Platinum Card, their most premium card offering with a hefty $450 annual fee, any other cards should automatically come with an enhanced signup bonus. Something extra. Instead, we see this sentiment in a lot of the T&C:

Eff u 2!

Eff u 2!

What?! Why? That’s so stupid to punish people for wanting to open more cards. This is where Chase excels.

They have a few cards that feed into their Ultimate Rewards program the same way Amex has multiple cards that can be linked to Membership Rewards. But Chase doesn’t impose rules on signup bonuses with multiple cards. You can get a Freedom, a Sapphire, an Ink, and whatever else you want to get and get the FULL bonus on all of them. If anything ever goes awry, just give them a call and it’s taken care of almost instantly.

Not with Amex. They’re notorious for their Financial Reviews and for not awarding bonuses… at all. They’re also really slow and claim to have to “research” your claim. Not only that, but their Membership Rewards program has lost a few key transfer partners in the past couple of years, along with a few other consumer unfriendly changes while Ultimate Rewards continues to improve.

There are a few sweet spots with Membership Rewards. For me, it’s the British Airways Avios. They’re a transfer partner for both Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards, which is pretty fantastic. Membership Rewards also transfer instantly to Delta, which would help me out a LOT with my dream trip to Australia if Amex would ever give me the points I deserve as a customer and card holder.

It goes beyond this, though. It’s about how the customer starts to view the company after a while. I’ve been screwed over by them a few times by now to the point where I’m thinking of switching all my spend over to Chase and giving Amex the finger. I wish it weren’t like this, though. Delta is pretty much forcing their customers to have a co-branded Amex to avoid the upcoming dreaded MQD component of the SkyMiles program, and I love having lounge access with the Platinum Card. But Chase always treats me so right while Amex continues to kick me to the proverbial curb.

So to Chase, I’d say keep doing what you’re doing. It’s working, and it’s so great. I have such a positive association with the company at this point. And Amex. Oh, Amex. Step up your game, because you’re getting your butt beat. I look forward to the day where I’m down to just the Platinum Card. In fact, Delta’s bid for more revenue is kinda sorta slowly driving me over toward American. But that’s a post for another day, and that post will be highly speculative.

When I think of Chase: I trust them, like them, want more of them.

When I think of Amex: Starting to shudder, need energy to deal with them, apprehensive about continuing to use their products. TOO. BAD.

Winner = Chase, hands down. Thoughts, anyone?

Do You Get Double Points on Chase Sapphire for MTA in NYC?

Answer: YES. Absolutely. As a fellow disgruntled forced loyal MTA rider (like most of NYC), I always use my Chase Sapphire Preferred card when I load up my MetroCard. I also use it on all my other travel and restaurant spend, except when I’m trying to meet minimum spends on other cards.

You’ll also get double points for these other travel expenses:

  • Rental cars
  • Anything remotely related to air travel (tickets, drinks on the plane, baggage fees, change fees, booking fees [OK – any fees], gift cards, and some points purchases)
  • TAXIS (important to also know in NYC!)
  • Any type of car service (for the Brooklyn people)
  • Public transportation anywhere (Tube in London, BART in SF, CTA in Chicago, etc.)
  • Hotels, even including Airbnb – I confirmed this with a phone rep

Restaurants is another huge category:

  • Fast food
  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Catering
  • And pretty much anywhere that’s coded as an “eating place” – meaning they serve food (or drinks!). I use my Sapphire in bars all the time.
Eating Place

“Eating Place” (also, I love Mexican food)

 

Interesting to note something that’s not included in the “travel” category, though: GAS. If you fill up your rental car with gas before returning it, you’ll only earn one point per dollar. Better to use the Chase Ink Plus/Bold or the American Express Premier Gold Rewards card for those transactions since they do earn two points per dollar at gas stations.

Since travel and restaurants are my two biggest spend categories, I love love love the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Worth every penny of the $95 annual fee.

The Feeling of Travel

It occurred to me today as I stepped on Delta metal after being on United and Aeromexico flights the past day or so. It felt right.

There are so many options when it comes to carriers. I think people who travel often should sample a wide variety of them before committing. I’m sort semi-dating American right now though I do like Delta a lot. The feelings I like when I’m on Delta are of being assured, feeling safe, and stepping into an old habit or groove. I feel like I can relax as the MQMs are flowing in. I understand the (arguably shitty) SkyMiles program, and know what I want to use it for (hint: trip to Australia later this year). I know the hubs, the routes, how to wring blood out of a stone AKA book an award flight with them. I dunno, it just felt natural somehow.

That’s the feeling I seek when I travel. That sense of rightness, and of exploration, and of comfort. I know my upgrade chances are always slim with Delta, and I wish that would improve, but I always look forward to the SkyClubs. Delta giveth and Delta taketh away.

On the contrary, being on United metal felt kinda icky to me. It’s a shame because I love Chase Bank so much. Their credit card signup bonuses are the best in the industry. If Chase partnered with Delta, that would be the best-case scenario. But they don’t. They have United. Bleh. I avoid giving them revenue whenever possible. I would really only use them if I were flying free or booking an award on another, better airline. Why don’t I like United?

Just in that same way that Delta jives with me, United just doesn’t. I find the FAs and CSRs to be almost kind of spiteful and vindictive. It’s like there’s this mean streak running through the core of the company and I can’t quite place, but that shows up from time to time. And each time, like yesterday, I’m reminded why I avoid United. Some people love United, and that’s great. Maybe they live in Houston or Chicago, or just really like the service or clubs or destinations.

There are many reasons why people like the things that like. But some of them just can’t be placed.

Am I off here? I love being up in the air. Love it. But more and more lately, I’m becoming very aware of the company I’m sharing the experience with.

Hawaii: 10 Days and 3 Islands for $100 a Day

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card was my first premium credit card.

Before that, my credit history was full of collections, defaults, and charge-offs. My credit score was in the low 500s.

In early 2012, I resolved to finally get my credit under control. I used my tax return (in conjunction with my full-time job at the time) to pay down my credit cards to $0. I started making big payments at the end of January.

By late February, my credit score shot up to 702! Pretty amazing – but was I ready to apply for a premium card?

My relationship helped

Read More

My First App-O-Rama 2.22.13

On the evening of February 22, 2013, I had a little too much tequila and decided to do an app-o-rama. Not the best idea ever, as I caused myself to miss out on yet ANOTHER Amex bonus by not paying close enough attention to the T&C. I think I was little nervous about applying for three cards in one night.

I would’ve applied for four, but I’m sorta between jobs/projects right now and didn’t want to push it with the minimum spend requirements. Here’s what I ended up getting:

british-airways-visa

Chase British Airways Visa Signature® Card

  • 50,000 Avios after spending $1,000 within three months
  • 25,000 more Avios after spending $10,000 in the first year
  • 25,000 MORE Avios after spending $20,000 in the first year

Why I got it:

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Smart Chip Technology
  • Great earning structure: 2.5 Avios/dollar on BA and 1.25 on everything else. Pretty fantastic.
  • Avios are GREAT for short-haul trips under 650 miles – only 4,500 Avios each way in economy. But for short flights of ~2 hours, I couldn’t care less about class of service. This is great for visiting Montreal, Toronto, Boston, and other cities in the near-Northeast region. And it’s only 7,5000 Avios to Chicago (I love Chicago).  They’re also great for repositioning for mileage runs (I haven’t done one… yet.) This post from Extra Pack of Peanuts has a lot of great info about the Avios program.

AAdvantage Citi card

Citi Select® / AAdvantage® American Express® card

  • 50,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $3,000 within four months
  • 2 Admirals Club lounge passes
  • $150 Statement Credit on American Airlines

Why I got it: 

  • To build up my AAdvantage balance
  • I am thinking of switching the bulk of my flying from Delta to American
  • 1 free checked bag, priority boarding, and get 10% of miles redeemed back (up to 10,000 miles per year)
  • $85 annual fee is waived for the first year (so why not)

premier-rewards-gold amex

And the sore spot. The American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card

I got in didn’t get in on this offer:

50,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $1,000 within three months

Why I wanted it:

To build up my Membership Rewards balance

It has the best earning structure of all the MR cards (three points/dollar on airfare (four if booked thru Amex Travel), two at gas stations (moot point for NYC) and grocery stores (which could encourage me to not spend so much eating out!), and one point everywhere else.

I went ahead and put $1,000 of spend on it the first day JUST TO SEE if it would trigger the bonus or not. I’m not eligible for it because I already have the Platinum Card, but whatever. Anyone know how good Amex is about blocking bonuses for this reason? It’s entirely my fault – I should’ve read the T&C more closely. I blame first app-o-rama jitters and too much tequila.

I also really wanted to pick up the Ink Plus card from Chase while I was at it, but alas. The $5,000 spend within three months was a little bit much. Plus, I’ve got a lot of spending to put on the new British Airways card to unlock the full 100,000 Avios.

So that’s it. My first app-o-rama. I was instantly approved online for all three with nice credit lines on each, which made me feel really confident about my credit health. My travel goals for this round of apps are Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Dublin, Seattle, Alaska, and eventually, Australia. I’d also LOVE to fit in Vienna/Prague sometime this summer. 🙂

Chase Sapphire Preferred 7% Annual Points Dividend Posted

Screen Shot 2013-03-01 at 3.45.05 PM

I LOVE this card. Chase consistently knocks it out of the park with their Ultimate Rewards program. I’m saving up 150,000 points to redeem a dream trip to Australia and Tokyo this winter (Australia’s summer). This little perk of the Sapphire Preferred card is worth more for travel than the annual fee of $95 (assuming each point is redeemed for over .02 which I always do). Definitely a keeper. I almost feel bad about having to route most of my spend onto the British Airways Visa. But it’s still a Chase product. Well played, Chase. Well played.