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Whenever there’s a period of financial uncertainty, it can make sense to review your credit card portfolio to make sure that you’re not paying too much in annual fees. Since many credit cards have annual fees that are waived the first year, if you’re not cognizant of what fees are upcoming, you can find yourself paying fees on cards that aren't providing enough benefits to outweigh the cost. Since many travel credit cards come with high annual fees, it’s a good idea to regularly review your credit card portfolio — but it’s an even better idea if you’re actively looking to cut costs.
In this article we’ll look through some of the major credit card issuers and explore some of the no-fee cards available for each of them. Hopefully that can help you decide the right moves to make for your individual situation.
American Express has a wide variety of different credit cards. Some earn AmEx’s proprietary Membership Rewards, which can be very valuable when redeemed for travel, while others are co-branded with hotel or airline partners.
American Express Membership Rewards
If you have the American Express® Gold Card or another Membership Rewards-earning credit cards and are looking to possibly downgrade, one option might be the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card. It earns 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases and also a 20% bonus if you use your card 20 or more times on purchases in a billing period. Terms apply.
Another option if you have a small business would be The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express. It has a $0 annual fee and earns 2 Membership Rewards for every dollar spent, up to $50,000 in spending per year. Terms apply.
One nice thing about Membership Rewards is that you have just a single Membership Rewards account, regardless of how many American Express cards you have. So as long as you have at least one Membership Rewards-earning card, your points won’t expire if you cancel a different card.
Nerd tip: If you have The Platinum Card® from American Express, tread carefully. Because it qualifies as a "charge card" rather than a credit card, you will be unable to downgrade to a credit card. You would need to open a new Membership Rewards-earning credit card account first to ensure your points don’t disappear if you intend to close The Platinum Card® from American Express.
American Express Hilton Honors
American Express offers four different co-branded credit cards with Hilton. If you’re looking to downgrade, consider the Hilton Honors American Express Card. It earns:
7x Hilton Honors points at Hilton properties.
5x points at U.S. restaurants.
5x points at U.S. supermarkets.
5x points at U.S. gas stations.
3x points on all other purchases.
Plus, you get Silver Status with Hilton just for having the card. Terms apply.
American Express Delta
The Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card is a co-branded card with a $0 annual fee. It earns double SkyMiles at restaurants and on Delta purchases. Terms apply.
Bank of America®
If you’re looking to stay in the Bank of America® ecosystem, consider the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card or Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card.
The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card earns 1.5 points on all purchases, while the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card earns 3% cash back on your choice of various categories, 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 1% back everywhere else.
Any Bank of America® rewards points that you earn will need to be redeemed before closing or downgrading your card.
Capital One has a business and a personal credit card that both earn Venture Rewards with no annual fee. The Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card earns 1.25 points per dollar spent on all purchases, and the Capital One® Spark® Miles Select for Business card earns 1.5 points per dollar spent anywhere (plus 5 miles per dollar spent if you use the Capital One travel portal to make a hotel or rental car booking).
You should be able to keep your Capital One Venture Rewards when downgrading, but it is always best to ask the customer service reps.
Chase offers a wide selection of cards that earn Chase Ultimate RewardsⓇ points, as well as several cards that are co-branded with their hotel or airline partners.
Chase Ultimate RewardsⓇ
There are four no-fee cards that earn Chase Ultimate RewardsⓇ points — two personal and two business.
Chase Freedom®: 5 points per dollar spent (up to $1,500 per quarter) in rotating quarterly bonus categories.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®: 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases.
Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card: 5 points per dollar for office supplies, phone and cable (up to $25,000 per year) and 2 points per dollar at gas stations and restaurants.
Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card: 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases.
With Chase, your Ultimate RewardsⓇ are tied to your specific card, so you’ll want to make sure to either redeem or transfer your Chase Ultimate RewardsⓇ points before closing or downgrading your card. Also, keep in mind that Chase’s no-fee cards are not eligible to transfer points to hotel and airline partners.
If you have the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, you can consider the IHG® Rewards Club Traveler Credit Card, which also gives the fourth night free on award stays and a 20% discount on points purchases (with a $99 annual fee).
The Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card is Marriott’s $0-annual-fee card, and it comes with 15 elite night credits each year, which is enough to qualifiy you for Silver Status. You will earn 3 Marriott points per dollar spent on Marriott purchases, 2 points per dollar on travel purchases and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
Citi ThankYou Points
The Citi Rewards+℠ Card can be a great $0-fee option if you are looking to downgrade or combine points from the Citi Premier℠ Card or Citi Prestige® Card. It earns 2 points per dollar at supermarkets and gas stations (up to $6,000/year).
The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer can be another good option as it earns 2% cash back on all purchases (1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% when pay for those purchases) and that cash back can be converted to ThankYou points.
One important note for ThankYou points is that although you have only one ThankYou account, the points earned are kept per card. You can transfer points to another account, but you then have 90 days to spend them before they expire.
Citi American Airlines
The American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card is American’s $0-fee card. It earns 2 points per dollar at grocery stores and on purchases with American and 1 point per dollar elsewhere.
The bottom line
Remember that in most cases if you just downgrade your card to a no-fee alternative, you will not earn any bonus points or qualify for welcome offers. If this is important to you, consider first signing up for the no-fee card (and getting the welcome offer), transferring your points to the new card (if necessary) and only then canceling the card that has the fee. However, you should be aware of the impact that canceling a card can have on your credit score as well.
All information about the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card, The Platinum Card® from American Express, Chase Freedom®, Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card, Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card, Citi Premier℠ Card and Citi Prestige® Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card, The Platinum Card® from American Express, Chase Freedom®, Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card, Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card, Citi Premier℠ Card and Citi Prestige® Card are no longer available through NerdWallet.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card