A year ago, I signed up for the Chase Sapphire credit card.
Although this was the first card I'd ever gotten that charged an annual fee, the deal seemed too good to pass up.
At least initially.
Not only was the fee waived for the first year, but I received a signing bonus of 50,000 reward points. (Since then, Chase has lowered that to 30,000 points for new cardholders.)
I used my bonus, which was worth more than $700, to pay for my hotel during the Chicago Marathon.
Point accrual was also skewed toward travel expenses — and I travel a lot.
I get two points for every dollar spent on dining and restaurants, one point on everything else, no foreign transaction fees and the chance to transfer those points to my Amtrak Guest Rewards account if I'm close, but don't have quite enough, for a free train ride.
Plus, Chase had its own internal travel website that would compare rates and deals on flights, car rentals and hotels.
It was a great relationship at the start. I used the card for everything, and the points added up.
But then I found I wasn't using those points as I thought I would.
One benefit Chase promotes is that you get a 20% discount if you pay with points using its travel website.
But as a travel writer, I want to pay for travel out of pocket because I write off those costs on my taxes. I can’t write off points, so, after that first Chicago hotel booking, I started swapping points for gift cards that I’m using to buy Christmas presents (and, OK, a few things for myself).
I kept running up too close to the limit on the card, which is only $6,000.
I pay off my balances every month, but even then, when I was putting everything on this one card, I could quickly brush close to using 50% of my available credit.
In one month where I used the card to book a trip for two to Key West and buy a tablet computer, I hit about 70%, which knocks down my credit score. I don’t stalk my credit score, but the idea made me uncomfortable.
Plus, Chase's travel website wasn't all that easy to use, and my travel agent found me better deals without the hassle. (Yeah, I still use a travel agent. I ought to write about that. But I digress ...)
Then my year was up, and a $95 membership charge was added.
That’s when I decided to break up with Chase Sapphire.
The $95 fee isn't worth it.
I’d rather stick with my Chase Freedom card, which has a $17,600 limit. I can still earn points toward gift cards with regular purchases and additional point bonuses when using their Ultimate Rewards portal to get to some of my favorite shopping websites.
Every quarter, they also do 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in specific categories or stores. This quarter, it’s hotels, airlines, Best Buy and Kohl’s.
So when the last Chase Sapphire bill comes, I’ll pay off the balance, transfer the remaining points to my Chase Freedom card and close the account.
I don’t regret trying a card with an annual fee. The paid-for hotel for the Chicago Marathon made the experiment worth it.
But over the long term, the fee eats into the benefits of the card, so I’ll stick with the fee-free credit options for now.