How Much I’m Paying in Credit Card Annual Fees

I do a great deal of manufactured spending, which requires me to use multiple credit cards. After all, putting $100,000 worth of spending on a single credit card every month would be insane, not to mention, I’d get shut down very quickly. I’ve talked about which credit cards are best for manufactured spending, but reader Lindsey wanted to know which of these fee-carrying cards I actually keep in my wallet. The answer is “not that many.” At the moment, I have a total of six credit cards that have annual fees. The total amount I’m paying? $518 per year. Many of these cards offer benefits that exceed the fee in terms of value and I still make an attempt to get the annual fee waived by calling in, but that’s becoming more and more difficult. In any case, here are my fee-carrying credit cards and my reasons for keeping them:

Club Carlson Visa Signature Card ($75 annual fee)

I recently got the Club Carlson credit card again after realizing having Club Carlson points on hand might work out well for my future travels, not to mention the Club Carlson credit card is one of the best for generating free nights via manufactured spending. The annual fee on this card is just $75 and totally worth paying considering it gets you a 40,000 point renewal bonus along with a free night good at any U.S. Club Carlson hotel. For the ease of earning free nights alone, this card is a keeper.

Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard ($89 annual fee)

Despite last year’s devaluation, the Barclay Arrival Plus card remains a staple in my wallet, and totally worth the $89 annual fee. The card has my highest credit card limit and frequently gets used for gift card purchases, both online and in person. I also like it for the 5% travel redemption rebate and the fact that I can max it out without getting a fraud alert. So far, I’ve been able to still redeem miles for the $89 annual fee, but when that stops next year, I will use the 5% travel redemption rebate enough to make up for it.

Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express ($95 annual fee)

The Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express is one of only two credit cards that earn valuable Starwood points. The annual fee increased from $65 to $95 back in August of last year, but is easily off-set thanks to Amex Offers. In fact, in June alone I saved over $90 on online purchases via Amex Offers. Aside from the cash savings, I also appreciate the accelerated mile earning rate. Every 20,000 points transferred to programs like Alaska Mileage Plan and American AAdvantage comes with a 5,000 mile transfer bonus, meaning you’re essentially earning 1.25 miles per $1 spent with this card.

Chase Ink Plus ($95 annual fee)

The Chase Ink Plus card is a long-term keeper thanks to the 5x bonus paid out at office supply stores, phone, cable, and internet providers. On those occasions when Staples runs a special promotion on the sale of Visa gift cards, it’s possible to earn a good number of valuable Ultimate Rewards points at a small cash profit. The $95 annual fee seems well worth the ability to earn 250,000 points at a relatively low cost, so this card is definitely a long term keeper for me.

Alaska Airlines Credit Card ($75 annual fee)

The Alaska Airlines credit card doesn’t have a whole lot to offer, other than an annual companion fare that I have yet to put to use. The $75 annual fee hardly seems worth it considering it earns just 1 mile per $1 spent and thus isn’t an ideal card for manufactured spending. So why do I keep this card? Bank of America has given me a generous credit line for this card and considering the amount of manufactured spending I regularly do, I need several cards to spread it across. With this card, I’m earning valuable Alaska miles, which has a huge partner network and reasonable redemption rates.

Barclay Aviator Red AAdvantage Card ($89 annual fee)

The Barclay Aviator Red AAdvantage Card was rolled out last year to replace the US Airways MasterCard after the merger. Seeing as The New American Airlines has chosen Citi as its primary card issuer, Barclays doesn’t accept new applications for this card. Since the annual fee is just $89, as opposed to $95 for the Citi card, I like to keep this card in my wallet. It also helps that Barclay occasionally offers spending bonuses that make it easy to generate miles with less spending than usual.

Missing from my collection are Citi cards at the moment, so I may pick up a  Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card to maintain Hilton HHonors Diamond status. However, I feel like the Hilton Surpass Card from American Express is a better fit long-term, so I may go with one of the Expedia cards. I can’t get myself to justify paying the $450 on the Citi Prestige card and I have no use for the AAdvantage branded credit cards, but the Expedia credit cards have caught my attention recently and may be worth picking up.

That’s my round-up of credit cards that I don’t mind paying an annual fee for. What are yours?

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Ariana Arghandewal


  1. Barclay card devaluation??

    What are you talking about? The $100 minimum reimbursement amount?

    That’s not the same as the devaluation from Hilton, or hotel chains moving crappy hotels up in category, Delta’s BS award chart (or lack there of).

    I think devaluation & Barclay’s are not exactly words that go together compared to real devaluation in other programs.

    Otherwise, good points on annual fees and what ones are worth it for you.

    • Yes, the $100 minimum and the fact that the 10% travel rebate decreased to 5%. That is a bit of a devaluation because Arrival Miles don’t go as far anymore.

  2. Thank you for the valuable inside in minimizing the credit cards costs. Could you please explain again (or e.mail me ) how manufacturing spending works? I have several mortgages which I am paying now directly trough my checking account. In the past I have used BLACKBIRD checks but know it is not working anymore.
    Many thanks

  3. Do you find you are putting enough MS on the Alaska card to outweigh the sign up bonus? Asking because I get this card every 90 – 180 days and get the 30k plus the $100 statement credit (minus the annual fee of course). Just wondering.

    • I think so. But my main reason for keeping this card is that the credit limit is so high. I was able to get a second Bofa Alaska card a few months back, so I think I’ll keep this one and then continue to pick up/cancel a secondary card for however long that stays viable.

  4. I thought it was pretty dumb to post about which cards you’re MSing. You’re dumber than I thought. you have two thread topics saying the same thing.

    These dumb irresponsible blog threads are why this year has been hard on MSing.

  5. For the cards you do MS with – do you occasionally pay them with MOs ? or do you always deposit MOs and then pay the bills?
    I am asking because I often pay my Arrival Plus with MOs, but I often hear that some cards/banks are more intolerant of MO payments than others. wonder which ones, in your experience…

    • I use bill pay and occasionally pay in-branch with mo’s (if there’s a branch nearby for the card I’m paying). Unfortunately, that leaves Arrival out since there are no Barclays branches around here and I don’t want to mail a money order. Chase is supposed to be tough on people who pay with mo’s, so I try not to do that much. It also helps that most of my ms’ing is focused on Discover and Barclays these days.

  6. To me the ONLY card worth from the above list is the Chase Ink Plus. As an example:
    Club Carlson – 1 point worth ~0.3cents. Not worth spending “tough” $10K spend to get a free night in USA Club Carlson hotels (they are not so nice).

    Might as well just get a 2% cash back (Citi Double cash) card that you use for any purchase!
    Bloggers don’t mention these since there is incentive for them..

    • If you’re limited in the amount of spending you can generate, a 2% cash back card might work out best for you. But if you’ve got lots of spending power (via ms or otherwise), then you could spread it across multiple cards and earn cash back and hotel rewards.

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