The simplest advice for people who are picking up miles on credit card bonuses is that you open a card, meet the spending goal for the bonus, and sock the card away until a month or so before the annual fee is due and then cancel. That said, there’s more to it than that. Gary @ View from the Wing describes some of the other considerations and I’d encourage reading that before closing cards (or, frankly, before opening them). I decided to document an experience with the aspect many people dread (including Mrs. Points) – the closing/conversion of many cards as they approach their annual fee.
Note – I’ve been a little credit card heavy on content (but no affiliate links, at least of my own) as we’ve been busy with a lot of business spending, a lot of cards reaching a year old, and a new batch rolling in. I’ve got a slew of other content half written that I was hoping to post this week but it’s been very busy at work and this was nearly complete so here it is…
Mrs. Points and I opened quite a few cards between May and July last year and it’s time to go through them as annual fees are about to be due. I think examples are often useful so I’ll lay out how we went about it and what considerations we had. Since many of you have the same cards, these might be good data points to know about before your own call.
Bank of America US Air Debit Card
I opened this last year for the Grand Slam promo. Due to regulatory changes, many banks are withdrawing debit card reward programs and BOA announced they’re terminating this one. That said, there’s a chance that I might get one more hit out of it by 9/30 if the Grand Slam comes back so I’m reluctant to close it. BOA already rebated a prorated part of my debit card annual fee… I also recently refi’ed our mortgage though which was allowing me to have the bank account underlying it open with no monthly maintenance fee. Now the mortgage is elsewhere and that fee waiver is gone. Of course, I don’t want to start paying that fee now so it’s time to call BOA.
Intended Outcome: Call and see how I can avoid my checking account’s monthly fee through 9/30 (when the debit card stops earning US air miles).
Actual Outcome: BOA’s surprising me recently with pretty good customer service on my calls. They pointed out that I can downgrade my checking account to an eBanking account which will have no fees and keep the debit card rewards (at least until 9/30 when those stop). Great outcome and positions me for the US Air Grand Slam.
Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa
Reportedly these are churnable and you can even have more than one at a time with BOA. We have a couple older BOA cards so no need to establish ourselves there. The card does offer a $99 annual round-trip companion ticket which is really useful if we flew Alaska Airlines but we don’t live in a city served by them and it’s been recently devalued by restricting the companion fare to coach only.
Intended Outcome: Close unless a compelling retention offer is made.
Actual Outcome: No compelling offer. Closed.
Barclays Airtran Visa’s (3 of ’em!)
Almost a year ago, I picked up a business and personal Airtran card. Mrs. Points picked up the personal card. Airtran’s merging into Southwest and this card isn’t available anymore. At the same time, we’ve pushed our Airtran credits to reasonable thresholds (4 = upgrade to business class; 8 = one-way economy ticket) so we don’t need to earn more. With an annual fee approaching, I don’t see us keeping these. I took a look at Barclays other offerings and it’s an interesting assortment. Since we don’t maintain any Barclay’s cards, a conversion to another card might be useful here. The two most interesting candidates to convert to and hold are:
- Travelocity Amex – The no fee option gives 3 points per $ on travelocity purchases which are worth up to $.02 each so up to 6% back. We occasionally use Travelocity so it doesn’t hurt.
- Choice – This no fee card gives 10% bonus on Choice stays and 5 extra points per dollar on spending at Choice hotels. It also expands the award booking window from 30 to 50 days.
As for my Airtran business card, there’s a US Air business card which has no annual fee. The benefits are generally pretty poor but it could be very useful for US Air grand slam hits if that promotion returns.
Intended Outcome: Since I have some Choice points, I’ll try to convert my Airtran personal card to Choice and Airtran business card to US Airways. Mrs. Points will try to convert to Travelocity.
Actual Outcome: Barclay’s doesn’t allow conversions from Airtran to other branded products. We closed Mrs. Point’s card. My business card couldn’t be converted to anything so it’s closed. I did, however, convert my Airtran Personal Visa to their no fee rewards card as it gives me an account to let age and perhaps some credit line to trade. It may have been better to do this with Mrs. Points personal card. Read this post for suggestions on closing the Airtran card.
Citi AA Business Visa (2 of them)
We both picked this up a year ago with 75k AA on $1,500 in spend. I’ve tossed a little on the card here and there but the annual fee is due and we have other AA cards.
My Intended Outcome: I wanted to convert it to a no-fee Citi Business Thank You card that offered 3 TY points per $ spent on computer/software merchants this month but it doesn’t seem that Citi can convert Citi AA business cards to non-AA cards. Oh well.
My Actual Outcome: They did however offer me a $75 statement credit and 750 bonus miles each month I spend $750 on the card for the next 16 months. Effectively it’s now a 2 miles / $ card so long as I stop at $750. Not bad and lately I have some excess spend so this card may just get some charges here and there. My call was in June.
Mrs. Points Intended Outcome: Doing this after I called in myself, I expected the same offer. A family member also had received it.
Mrs. Points Actual Outcome: Interestingly, Mrs. Points got a different offer. 10k AA on spending $5,000 within 6 months but no fee waiver (perhaps it changed in July). We decided to take it. I think I actually like this one better just because it has less hassle.
Other considerations: I’ve kept it so it helps the overall age of my credit report (and thus my score) and should help my credit file with Citi. This card also offers free first checked bag but I’ve got that from other Citi AA cards. If I had to pick one Citi AA card to keep it would be a Citi Platinum Select card since that also offers 10% back on all mileage redemptions (up to 10k back) which is pretty great.
Citi AA Personal Amex
This was nearly 2 years old. Last year I got a simple fee waiver to keep it and it’s not been used since.
Intended Outcome: I really wanted to step this down to a Citi Forward card (no annual fee, nice restaurant category bonus).
Actual Outcome: Citi was more than willing to get me into a Thank You family card but seemingly any card other than the Forward card was possible. They were professional and really worked to keep me but it wasn’t meant to be. Closed. Notably, this was AFTER I was instantly approved for a Citi AA Personal Amex and Citi AA Personal Visa.
Of 7 credit cards and 1 debit card, we closed 4, stepped 2 down to avoid fees, and accepted retention offers on 2 more. Citi was the most aggressive in trying to keep us and mostly succeeded. Long-term, I like to keep a few accounts open while minimizing fees and have access to quite a lot of spending so that makes it easier for us to accept offers like 10k bonus AA on spending $5k. For most people, that offer wouldn’t be worth accepting though and they should seek a smaller retention offer (preferably with a fee waiver) and direct the spending toward new sign-up bonuses.
Additionally, as a long-time card curner, I’m also inclined to try to do a few things that keep me in the banks favor – that includes keeping accounts open and showing them some spending. Retention offers also allow me to fill the gap created by the fact that I’ve had so many (but definitely not all) of the cards on the market so my pickings are a bit fewer than someone new to this.
We actually have a couple more accounts not documented here which are around a year old and about to receive substantial spending. It’ll be interesting to see how retention calls go on those. In the past, I’ve been pretty successful.