What to do When Annual Fees Post

Many credit cards with annual fees waive the annual fee the first twelve months. Twelve months have passed since I got my first credit cards with an annual fees (AFs) so my twelve months of waived annual fees have ended. This means I have to decide what to do with these cards.

My three options are:

  1. Cancel the card and not pay the annual fee;
  2. Keep the card and pay the annual fee; or
  3. Keep the card, but product change the card to a no-AF version

Keeping a budget for the entire year has meant I budgeted enough money each month to be able to pay any annual fees (AF) once it came time to pay up. However, a year of use has helped me learn more about my spending habits, and how much I value each of the cards I have acquired.

So what am I doing with these cards?

The biggest reason I’m okay with signing up for credit cards is knowing I am building credit history, so I prioritize options 2 and 3 from above.

Now, I could cancel all of my cards and the accounts would continue to increase my Age of Credit History for 10 years until they fall off my credit report (10 years from now), but I’d rather keep them forever and have 30+ year old accounts. Plus, keeping as many accounts open helps me build a relationship with banks.

Product Changing

I wrote about flying to Hawaii using points from the United MileagePlus Explorer card and flying to the east coast to visit family using American Airlines miles from the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card last year. And I decided to product change these two cards instead of canceling or paying the AFs.

By product changing (PCing) these cards within 30 days of the AF posting, the $95 annual fees were refunded to my accounts. If the cards did not have fee-free versions, I would have canceled the cards and still been refunded the annual fees.

Canceling

Another card mentioned in the post about flying to Hawaii was the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card. I am still unsure of what to do with this card because it offers good category bonuses, but I’m not sure if I would benefit from earning Membership Reward points since I don’t spend enough to accumulate enough for a full trip. Fortunately, I have a couple more months to decide whether I will cancel the card or pay the AF.

A third card I used during my Hawaii trip was the Barclaycard ArrivalPlus. This card allowed me to redeem points to zero out the cost of the GoCity Card I bought to hit all the tourist attractions. These points are very flexible, but the ArrivalPlus requires a minimum of 10,000 points ($100) to redeem against a travel expense. I could have changed the card to the no-AF version, but I had too much trouble with the card so I ended up canceling it.

Keeping and Paying the Annual Fee

At the other end of the spectrum, I am planning to keep the Hyatt and IHG credit cards from Chase and pay the annual fees because I get a free 1-night stay from each card every anniversary. The Hyatt certificate restricts use to category 1-4 hotels. However, the IHG annual certificate has no restrictions on hotel categories, so I could spend the night in Times Square for the $49 annual fee on the card.

Advantages of the Barclaycard Arrival Plus Credit Card

The Arrival Plus from Barclaycard is a travel rewards card with an $89 annual fee (waived the first year), 2 points/$ on all purchases, but most important has Chip + PIN functionality (for use outside the USA).

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Barclaycard Arrival Plus

I signed up for this card with a waived first year annual fee and 40,000 points after spending $3,000. While I have not used the Chip + PIN functionality of this card yet, I have utilized the travel rewards and intended to let my parents use the card during their trip to Europe last month.

Free Dinner in Hawaii

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Polynesian Culture Center, where I enjoyed the luau and dinner show

Leading up to my trip to Hawaii in June I knew a few things I wanted to do: I wanted to snorkel in Hanauma Bay, to rent a bike so I could train for the Santa Cruz Tri and get around, and to attend a luau. Through my searches I found the Go City Card.

The Go Oahu Card allows for travelers to either select their own attractions and rentals (like individual ships at the Pearl Harbor museum or the Pearl Harbor-City Tour) or buy an all-in-one pass. The 3-, 5-, and 7-day all inclusive passes offer 1 premium attraction, so I picked the Alii Luau & Dinner show to go along with the Polynesian Culture Center entry because I purchased a 3-day all-inclusive pass.

Using the points earned from the 40,000 point sign-up bonus for the Arrival Plus card I paid off the $185 3-day pass. The Alii Luau & Dinner show alone was $113 making it easy to recoup the full price of the all-inclusive pass with visiting only a few more attractions. I stayed on Oahu for 5 days and the 3-day all-inclusive pass was perfect for my needs as a solo traveler.

Saving for a Triathlon

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Ocean Pacific Lodge

I raced in the Santa Cruz Tri and book a stay at the Ocean Pacific Lodge (review soon to come) for ~$300. This was a perfect price because after my sign-up bonus and spending then redeeming points on my Hawaii trip I had just enough points for a 1 night stay. It was not until I visited Santa Cruz a few weeks before the race that I was able to see that the hotel was not only a block away from the beach start but it was also directly across the street from the transition area. The proximity of the hotel to the start and transition area were easily enough to make this hotel and points redemption a great value.

Putting the Chip and PIN to Use in Europe

My intentions were to give my parents Authorized User cards for my Arrival Plus for when they needed Chip + PIN (not Chip + Signature) functionality on their Europe trip, but the cards did not arrive in time. I guess I will have to try this card at Target to see if the Chip + PIN is triggered.fd

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Alana – Waikiki Beach

Earlier this year, American Express was offering record high sign-up bonus offers for a variety of their cards, most notably to me were the Hilton HHonors cards. The fee-free Hilton HHonors card was offered with 75,000 HHonors points and the Hilton Surpass had a bonus of 100,000 HHonors points. Citi also had an offer for their fee-free Hilton HHonors Visa Signature card for 75,000 HHonors points. I decided to go with the free versions of these cards to keep long-term without having to pay an annual fee.

American Express and Citi HHonors credit cards

After meeting the minimum spend and buying some groceries I had 160,000 HHonors points at my disposal. United sent out an email for discounted flights to Hawaii around the time I finished the minimum spend so I decided I would go to Hawaii for the first time.

I looked for Hilton properties and the DoubleTree – Waikiki Beach was 40,000 points per night. The Citi HHonors Visa gave complimentary HHonors Silver so I received the 5th night of a reward stay free, making the DoubleTree 160,000 points for a 4 night or 5 night stay.  I elected for the longer stay because it increased the value of the points from about .78 up to .97 cents/point (cpp).

Upon arriving at the DoubleTree I was met by a tiered entrance:  first the driveway for cars, then the valet desk (no personal parking) with escalators leading to the lobby floor, then the front desk. I had already checked in because I was emailed with an option to check in and select a room a day before arriving.

The person at the front desk welcomed me to the hotel, the city, island and state, showed me a ground map of the area (TheBus map) and highlighted Waikiki beach. I got a welcome bag of 2 water bottles and a cookie (yummy) because of my status (Silver and up get an extra complimentary water bottle) and then made my way up to my room. I think it was peculiar that numbered floors started at Floor 5 even though the floors went LL, L, M, 5…

Welcome gift of 2 water bottles and a chocolate chip cookie

I was surprised by how big my room was (double queen) and quickly snapped photos then went out to my lanai to see the view. Once I got situated I explored the hotel and found the ceilings to be rather low, mostly about 6.5 feet with some sections being a little taller (tall people beware of sprinkler heads).

2 queen beds for a solo traveler
Panoramic view from my lanai

This property offered a digital key so I was able to use my phone (with Bluetooth enabled) to unlock my room door and access the fitness center (thanks to being at least Silver) and pool areas without needing my room card. Having a smartwatch meant Bluetooth was always enabled on my phone so I never had to worry about remembering to enable it when trying to open my room door.

I used my Platinum status with IHG (from the IHG Rewards Club credit card) to be matched to Hilton HHonors Diamond, which offered me free continental breakfast or a $9 personalized omelet (with access to the continental still). Despite being a continental breakfast, the selection was vast with several meats and cheeses, different dry cereals, oatmeal, various juices, coffee and tea, and some other food items. The omelet normally costs $25 but it really is only worth the $9 it cost me when I tried the omelet on my last morning in Hawaii.

As an incentive for guests to help the hotel be more ecologically friendly, DoubleTree allowestheir occupants to hang a placard from their doorknob to refuse room service. In return, guests receive a $10 voucher to the hotel restaurant & bar during dinner hours. I received a total of 3 of these vouchers for $30 total because there was a maximum of 3 consecutive nights and not available on day of departure.  The vouchers reduced my battered fish and french fry dinner with a cookie sundae to only $5 one night, and then a cookie sundae for free another night. I wanted to try the chocolate torte but both days they were out.

Battered fish and french fry meal
Cookie sundae

The hotel was booked to capacity each night I stayed so asking for a late a checkout was a reach but I was allowed to checkout at 1PM (12 noon is normal). This allowed me to have a more relaxed morning. Additionally, the valet desk offering free luggage storage after checking out meant I did not have to haul my suitcase and backpack around with me during my final afternoon. I was being picked up by SpeediShuttle around 6 PM so I did not want to sit around the hotel valet desk for 5 hours after check out.

To get an idea of the value of my Diamond (and comparing Gold) status from being matched I looked at comparable pricing for the same type of room at the same DoubleTree but for a 5 night stay this month (off-season for this hotel is Jan-June, Sept-Nov). I found the following rates:

  • Best Available Rate: $229/night ($217 for HHonors discount)
  • Bed and Breakfast: $242/night
  • Breakfast and WiFi: $252/night
  • Family Fun Package: $249/night (same as Breakfast and WiFi but $3 cheaper for the different name)

These prices put the value of Gold and Diamond at $13-25/night because of the complimentary continental breakfast. Diamond has an added $7-10/night for free premium WiFi compared to standard WiFi for the other HHonors levels. Since this DoubleTree has a 13.96% fee, these values increase to roughly $15/night and $25/night.

Overall, booking a Best Available Rate (with the HHonors discount) for the 5 night stay would have cost about $1550 making my redemption of HHonors points valued at 0.97 cents/point (cpp).  If you look at other bloggers and travel experts they’ll value HHonors points at around 0.5 cpp at most, so I nearly doubled the value of HHonors points with a stay in Hawaii.

 

You can apply for the Hilton HHonors credit card from American Express and earn 50,000 HHonors points after spending $750 in the first 3 months of owning the card if you apply from this link. 

Flying on United to Hawaii

United sent an email to me about a sale they were having for United’s 35th anniversary so I decided to use my newly acquired United miles from my United MileagePlus Explorer (MPE) card. I ended up not flying one of the discounted flights so my flight ended up being 45,000 points and $11.20.  If I had paid cash I would have paid over $700, which made my redemption of United miles valued at 1.57 cents/point (cpp).

I flew out of SFO and used 1 of my complimentary United Club passes from the MPE to get into the lounge. This was my first time in a lounge so I was excited and nervous. I enjoyed the lounge. The food choices were nice snacks and the espresso machine made a nice latte. A bar is available but I didn’t visit it this time around.

Another benefit from the United MPE card was my 1st checked bag was free.  I saved $50 for my round trip flight because the 1st checked bag on United is usually $25. This card saves $100 for a round trip flight for two people traveling together.

The United Club lounge was nicely furnished with almost no hanging decorations, although the architecture could be considered artistic.  I arrived around 10:30 AM so I barely made it in before the breakfast snacks were changed. I got some yogurt, a blueberry muffin (my favorite), a latte (no mocha options but a hot chocolate + espresso should work), and some fruit. I was listening to music and using my laptop so I was unaware of the switch from breakfast to lunch snacks, but I grabbed some carrots and another latte shortly after finishing my breakfast snacks.

My flight to Honolulu was enjoyable. My United MPE card gave me Priority Boarding Group 2 so I was able to get into the airplane, find my seat, and store my overhead bag quickly and early. I used to only fly Southwest and their 737 airplanes so it was nice flying on a 777 for the first time. The Economy seats on this 777 were just fine for me, at 6’2″ with 36″ legs, even though the person in front of me reclined at one point.

I was thinking about buying Wi-Fi access on my phone so I could talk to people via Facebook Messenger and Snapchat, but I forgot my United password (and subsequently locked myself out) so I only used the complimentary Wi-Fi and entertainment found in the United mobile app. I originally booked my flight before I had my hotel so I needed to make a change to my flight which incurred a $75 change fee. Instead of worrying about eating up $75 of my trip money I used the airline fee credit on my Premier Rewards Gold (PRG) card to have the fee reimbursed.  By having United selected as my airline for my PRG I ordered some food (pasta and meatball) and tea which ended up being “free” because of the airline fee credit.

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Pasta and meatball dinner and black tea

When I left I used my 2nd United Club pass at the HNL lounge and I was impressed in a different way. The Club was more spacious because it was longer, but the furniture and decorations were rather dated. There were maybe 15 people in the lounge which meant there were about 4 seats for each person which meant plenty of room for everyone.

For my HNL to LAX flight I was on a 777 again, but from LAX to SFO I was on a 737 which meant de-boarding the plane in SFO took forever. Each flight I was in Economy, no Economy Plus or business for me. Seat E going to HNL was cushioned and comfortable, but going to LAX I was in seat H and that seat was not so soft.  There were plenty of open spaces if I wanted to change to a more comfortable seat but I decided not to.

A TV screen was featured on the backs of each seat during my flight from LAX to SFO so everyone on board the flight was able to either watch the Food Network, courtesy of DirecTV, or pay to change the channel.

The 777 flights were over 4 hours each and we cruised at 36,000 feet, but the LAX to SFO flight was only 55 minutes so we only had about 10 minutes of flying leveled off. My ears hurt more on the shorter and lower flight than on the longer and higher flights which I found strange.

 

You can apply for the Premier Rewards Gold card from American Express from this link and earn 25,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000.