Home Credit Cards Stop Falling In Love With Travel Credit Cards!

Stop Falling In Love With Travel Credit Cards!

by joeheg

I’ve admitted that I have an irrational attachment to certain travel credit cards. You know, the cards I’ve had for a while and keep paying the annual fee, even though the benefits aren’t worth what the card costs every year. I tried to come up with reasons why paying for the card made sense. My arguments were somewhat convincing but when I took a step back and gave a long and hard look at the money I was spending, I realized I was giving away too much value to the “possible uses” for the card instead of looking at the value I was getting.

I give the credit card companies credit; they made me think I was winning at this game. I had all these perks, got statement credits for expenses and my out-of-pocket cost whittled down to almost nothing. It’s like they were paying me to keep the card. Wait, I know that’s not true. No bank is going to pay you to keep a card for the long term. They’d eventually go out of business.

So how’d the person who is proud of not being loyal to any airline, hotel or rental car company end up in an unhealthy relationship with credit cards? Here are just a few of the traps that I fell into that led to making irrational decisions.


This is the main way that cards try to make a large annual fee look less imposing. I’ll use the American Express Platinum as an example. It’s the most interesting one because it’s a card that I canceled because it wasn’t worth it and I signed up again when the card benefits changed.

The personal AMEX Platinum card has a $695 annual fee. If you call to cancel, the representative will tell you all the credits you get to offset the fee:

  • $200 Airline Fee credit
  • $189 CLEAR credit
  • $200 Uber credits
  • $240 Streaming Media Credit
  • $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit

That’s $929 right there. By keeping the card, you’re making money! You gotta spend money to make money, right? No, not right. Not all of these credits are all they’re cracked up to be.

The airline fee credit is only good for one airline and you need to pick the airline at the beginning of the year. It’s only good for extra fees like seat upgrades, luggage fees or lounge entry, not airfare. Too bad if you pick an airline where it’s difficult to find charges that qualify for the credit.

The CLEAR credit is great but most people aren’t going to pay more than $179 for a membership, once they enroll in the Delta SkyMiles and/or United MileagePlus frequent flyer program (which are both free). If you’re a Delta Diamond or United Premier 1K, your CLEAR membership is free, making the credit worthless unless you give it to someone else.

The Uber credits are issued monthly and if you don’t use it that month, you lose it. The Saks credit is only issued as a $50 statement credit every 6 months.

I was able to use all of my credits because, well, I paid for them. So I made sure to use them. I booked flights on airlines only because I had a credit to use, even if they weren’t the best options. I used an Uber (or ordered from Uber Eats) to use the credit every month. I have a nice Saks bathing suit that I’ll use a few times a year (although I could have just as easily bought one at JCPenney). Of course there was the time that Saks made me lose one of their credits, but I try not to think about that.

If you’re going to use all the credits without having them affect your choices, then you’re doing great. For me, I was making choices BECAUSE of the credits. That’s exactly why I don’t care about loyalty programs. I finally realized this.

Overlap of Perks From Different Cards


While the American Express Platinum has a CLEAR credit, many other cards offer Global Entry or TSA Precheck reimbursement. I have multiple cards that offer the same benefit and I only need to use two of them. The other cards offer no additional value.

The same goes for Priority Pass. We have five cards and each one provides entry for the cardholder and guest. We really only need one, or at most two memberships to keep one in each of our names for the rare case when we travel separately. Not all Priority Pass cards are created equal, so I do give extra value to the ones who provide restaurant credits and the most liberal guesting policies.

Perceived vs. Actual Value


This is one of the harder things to account for. Trust me, credit card marketing teams count on this. It’s easy to see how you “might” use something but what’s important is how often you actually use it and what that’s worth to you. I’ll use the American Express Centurion Lounges as an example.

You get entry to the clubs with the Platinum card. They are some of the nicest lounges in the US, but there’s some competition coming from Chase and Capital One. I’ve always felt my time spent there was better than anywhere else I could have been at an airport for that time. But how many times did I go? I’d need to be at an airport with a Centurion Lounge, but there are only thirteen of them in the US and eleven more internationally. I’d have to have enough time to visit the lounge and it would have to be convenient for the airline I was flying. That’s a whole lot of “ifs” that need to happen for me to visit.


In the last year, we visited three times. Were those visits worth $25, $50, $100? Not to mention that we had to pay an additional $50 per visit after AMEX started charging to bring a guest. Would I have gotten to the airport as early if I wasn’t able to visit? For 30-45 min, I could sit at the gate. Many airports have charging ports at the seats. If I really want a drink, there are no shortages of bars in airports. I have noise-canceling headphones if I need to drown out the yelling, snoring and babbling from the TV heads playing overhead.

The same goes for the free checked bags that many cards offer. You’d need to fly on that airline and be checking a bag to make the benefit make sense. I get a free checked bag with my JetBlue Plus card but I didn’t need to check a bag on my most recent Newark flight.

What about early boarding? If you’re a frequent flyer, you get this anyway. The only reason to want to get on a plane early is to have access to the overhead bin space. If you only have a small bag that fits in the space under the seat, why would you want to get crammed into the plane any earlier than you’d have to?

A benefit you don’t use isn’t worth anything. A benefit you have but only use because you have it isn’t worth more than what you’d spend on the alternate. Remember that.


noun: a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged.

This is probably the hardest thing to overcome and the banks count on it. If you’ve had a card for a while, you’ve already convinced yourself once that it’s worth keeping. The annual fee hits and you see it but remember that you’ve kept the card before. It would require an effort to figure out if the card is still worth it.

Even if you’ve looked at a card before, things may have changed. Maybe you’re not staying at that hotel chain that much anymore. Maybe you don’t fly that airline anymore because they removed a route you often used. You might decide since the annual fee went up, the card isn’t worth it anymore.

You still need to call and cancel the card. That takes time. You’re a busy person and maybe you don’t like talking to people on the phone. The bank is counting on every one of these things to keep you from canceling. Don’t let them win.

Final Thoughts

It only takes a few minutes each year to look at a credit card and decide if it’s still worth keeping. Give a good hard look. Did you use any of the benefits the card provided in the previous year? Will you be using them in the next year? Does the card benefits overlap with other cards or statuses you already have? Are you paying more to use the benefits of the card? Could you pay cash for the benefits you’re getting (checked bag, early seating)? Do you really need the card benefits based on your travel patterns?

I looked at my cards this way and I have five cards possibly on the chopping block over the next few months. I’m not getting rid of all of them, but I’ll give a good look at which ones still give me value for my money.

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Island Miler November 8, 2019 - 8:53 pm

This is the right take. And it’s why I decided to ax four cards this year; the Amex Plat, Disney Premier, Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select, Citi AAdvantage Amex. But, to be fair, I product changed the Citi cards and reallocated all my available credit away from the Disney Premier.

joeheg November 12, 2019 - 12:10 am

Not a huge fan of the Disney Premier but I think keeping a Disney card (even the no AF one) is worth it for the perks you get at the parks.

Point For Four November 12, 2019 - 6:10 pm

The only reason we keep our Disney card is no annual fee so keeping the credit history and you can get a discount in the store. You can find better perks in so many other cards.


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