Annual Fees and Credit Card Retention Bonuses

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Greg and I have a lot of credit cards, and most of them have annual fees. Some are a necessary evil for benefits the cards provide, and some annual fees actually pay for themselves. Depending on the card and its benefits, we’ll call when the annual fee is due and ‘threaten to cancel’ unless they offer us a ‘retention bonus’ for keeping it open. As an extra incentive for us to actually call, these annual fees come out of our travel savings account, which obviously directly affects our ability to spend less and travel more. This week we had two major scores and one inconsequential fail (see Citi Hilton and Citi Thank You). Here is a list of the cards we own that have annual fees, and how it benefits us to keep them going every year. And/or the bonuses they’ve offered for us to keep our accounts open.

Click here for links to these and other travel credit cards we recommend.


Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card: $75 annual fee. Includes a $99 + taxes/fees companion pass every year you keep the card open. Last time we were in Alaska we flew Alaska Airlines from Anchorage to King Salmon, about a 45-minute flight each way for $500 apiece(!). Thanks to the companion pass we paid about $625 for both flights, saving us $375 or five years worth of annual fees. Thanks, Alaska! Bank of America also offers its cardholders free museum entry to hundreds of museums the first weekend of every month. I keep meaning to hit up Gilcrease and Philbrook, but it turns out I don’t like museums much. Still, it’s nice knowing we have the free option.



amex goldAmerican Express Premier Rewards Gold: $0 annual fee for the first year, then $195. Includes $100 annual Airline Fee Credit at one airline. This year we used both our credits to fly Southwest Airlines round-trip to Vegas. Since we have the Southwest Companion Pass we only had to pay for my flights, and Greg’s cost just $11.60 to tag along. American Express cards also offer Amex Offers & Benefits, which by themselves can cover the annual fee. Our offers have included two free Sam’s Club memberships (we gave one away), 1000 bonus Membership Rewards points for paying our wireless bill online, and multiple cash back offers for online purchases, again including our wireless bill, but also Hilton and Caesar’s and MLife hotel stays and various online retailers. Last month I received $35 off a qualifying $50 Amazon purchase so I bought myself a new a new pair of shoes. With my allowance.


citi thank you premierCiti Thank You Premier Mastercard: $95 annual fee. This card doesn’t offer any annual fee incentives but the ability to transfer Thank You points to fifteen airline and hotel programs. BUT… this week when Greg called to ‘cancel’ his card (and ask for a retention bonus for keeping it open), they offered him a $95 credit if he spent $95 in two billing cycles. Done and done, and the card lives another year. Update: I also called about mine and it took three phone calls, but I finally got the same deal plus a 1,000 point bonus if I spend $1,000 on the card in the next 16 billing cycles. With 3x points on gas station purchases, I think I can handle that.


US Bank Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature: $75 annual fee. Includes automatic Gold status plus 40,000 Gold points every year you keep the card. Gold status means you earn 35% more points on paid stays, get a 15% discount on hotel food and beverages, and receive a free gift bag every time you check in. Ask my nephew Alex about that free gift bag (it was stuffed with junk food). He couldn’t stop thinking about it! 40,000 Gold points are enough for one free night in a category 4 hotel every year, or up to four free nights in a category 1. A category 1 example is the Country Inn & Suites at 31st and Memorial in Tulsa. Can the Warckens eat $75 worth of free hot breakfasts in just four hotel stays? The answer… is a resounding ‘YES’.


citi hiltonCiti Hilton HHonors Visa Signature: No annual fee. Citi recently lost their contract with Hilton so in January this card is automatically being switched over to an American Express Hilton HHonors card. What do we look like, simpletons? Why switch over automatically when we can apply for that card ourselves and get the bonus points? American Express was offering 50,000 bonus points at the time for spending $1,000 in three months, but I knew I had seen higher bonus offers. I asked Facebook if anyone had that card already to offer us a referral.

One of my nursing friends had the card and sent me a referral that offered 75,000 bonus points instead of 50k! We were both approved for individual cards and have already met the minimum spends making us 150,000+ Hilton points richer. Since the Citi card is going away anyway, I called this week to ask about a retention bonus and/or cancel the card. I was denied, so I cancelled the card. BUT… when Greg called yesterday to ask for the same thing he was offered 5,000 Hilton points for keeping the card open another month! What a score! Our new AmEx Hilton cards don’t have annual fees either, so this is a real win-win for the Warckens. Thanks for the referral, Katie!


Chase World of Hyatt Visa Signature: $75 annual fee. Includes one free Category 1-4 night every year and automatic Discoverist status. For us, the biggest perk of Discoverist status is the complimentary Pearl status with M life Rewards, the loyalty program of MGM Resorts International. Pearl status with M life means free parking at MGM resorts in Vegas. This saved us at least $12 every time we parked in Vegas this year, which went a long way toward our 24 hour Buffet of Buffets passes. 🙂 And speaking of Vegas, Category 4 hotels include MGM Grand, Monte Carlo, and New York-New York. Free nights in Vegas? Free parking? NO BRAINER.


Chase IHG Rewards Club Premier Mastercard: $0 annual fee the first year, then $49. Includes automatic Platinum Elite status and one free hotel stay at any property worldwide. We’ve used our Platinum Elite statuses to match Hilton the last two years, giving us automatic Diamond status which means free upgrades and free breakfasts for the Warckens- AMAZING. We stayed four nights at the Hilton Addis Ababa this year, and got five free buffets out of the deal (we checked in early enough the first day), which easily covered the $49 annual fee every single day. Did I feel guilty for eating my weight in smoked salmon every morning in Ethiopia? Now that I mention it, yes. But at the time… it was incredible. And speaking of incredible…  IHG has some incredible properties around the world. Check out the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa. We haven’t gone out of our way for a stay yet, but we’ve used our free nights in downtown Chicago and in Prague, which together would’ve cost us nearly $2,000 if we’d paid cash. We linked these cards to Shell’s Fuel Rewards program to save $0.06/gallon when we fill up at Shell stations. These cards are in our wallets to stay.


Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Visa: $99 annual fee. Includes one free category 1-5 night every year and automatic Silver status. Silver status means you’ll earn a 20% bonus on points earned during stays, get late checkout, and a 10% discount at Marriott gift shops (which I didn’t even know existed). We’ve only had these cards long enough to earn a free night apiece, both of which we’ve used for last minute hotels near an airport after insanely long travel days. Both of which included free breakfast, of course. But I’ve always got my eye on the Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii, which is a lovely category 5 right on the ocean.


chase sapphire preferredChase Sapphire Preferred Visa Signature: $0 annual fee the first year, then $95. This card is so lucrative in its ability to transfer Ultimate Rewards points to different travel programs that we’ve never even asked for a retention bonus to keep it open. Which sounds really dumb when I type it out. THIS IS THE YEAR. I’ll let you know how it goes. p.s. We can transfer our UR points 1:1 to British Airways, Air France/KLM, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic. As well as IHG, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, and Hyatt. Because of the major airline alliances – Oneworld, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance – we can use UR points to book award travel on just about any airline we could imagine. Plus the card itself is very pretty. This was the year. Greg called for a retention bonus and they said no. 


American Express Starwood Preferred Guest: No annual fee the first year, then $95. Includes annual credits for 5 nights and 2 stays toward Elite status, and free point transfers to over 30 frequent flyer programs with a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 points transferred. Plus it comes with its own array of Amex Offers & Benefits to offset that $95 fee.


Other cards have offered us retention bonuses as well. In the past I had my Citi American Airlines card’s annual fee waived multiple times. When I asked what I should do the next year when it was due again I was told to “Call and ask for the same thing.” I wasn’t ever able to get the annual fee waived on my Chase United Airlines card, but when I called about it they offered a $95 statement credit to keep the account open. My annual fee was $95.

My brother has successfully had annual fees credited back to him on both Capital One Venture and Frontier Airline MasterCard.

It never hurts to ask! Best of luck!



I love to hear others’ success stories! Have you ever called to get an annual fee waived?

Click here for links to these and other travel credit cards we recommend.

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