Credit Card Highlights and Lowlights of 2017
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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here: Citi Prestige, The Platinum Card® from American Express, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
2017 is almost over, and this year was a hectic one in the realm of credit cards. Compared to where we started in January, here in December we have everything from new products that wowed to rule changes that cramped many an elite flyer’s style. Let’s take a look back at the year and review some of the best and worst products, rewards adjustments and rule changes that credit card issuers announced, arranged in chronological order.
In March, American Express announced a new lineup of benefits in what appeared to be a move to compete with the incredibly popular Chase Sapphire Reserve and other premium credit cards. The Platinum Card from American Express (and all iterations of it) now offers an annual $200 Uber credit divided into $15 monthly installments (with a $20 bonus in December) and 5x points on hotels booked through Amex Travel (unfortunately not including Fine Hotels & Resorts). It’s now a metal card; it allows two free guests on Priority Pass lounge visits; and you can add 99 Gold cards as authorized users for no fee. The enhancements didn’t come without a price, however — the annual fee increased from $450 to $550.
Launch of the Alliant Cash-Back Visa Signature Card
The new Alliant Credit Union cash-back Visa Signature card offers 3% cash back, uncapped, on all spend for the first year and 2.5% cash back, uncapped, on all spend in subsequent years. The reasonable $59 annual fee is even waived for the first year. No hurdles, no gimmicks, no bonus categories; just a lot of cash back.
This new premium rewards card offers a large sign-up bonus, multiple travel perks with substantial value and points that can be redeemed for 1.5 cents each while being earned at 3x rate on travel and mobile wallet purchases. The new card includes lounge access via Priority Pass, 12 GoGo Wi-Fi passes, $325 in annual travel credits and a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck enrollment fee reimbursement. Earning 4.5% cash back toward travel on all mobile wallet purchases alone makes the card worth considering. Just be careful you don’t test the card with excessive cash-equivalent purchases (read: gift cards) with mobile wallet — US Bank has quickly closed the accounts of those believed to be gaming the card.
Having points and miles to cover hotels and airfare opens the door to travel that otherwise might not possible. That said, other expenses can still add up on a trip, and I’m constantly on the lookout for cash-back rewards to offset taxes, fees, dining and sightseeing expenses.
The new Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card gives you 50,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days of account opening — which is great, but not what sets the card apart. The ability to compound your rewards earnings based on how much you hold in Bank of America deposit accounts is fantastic. It ups your earnings to as much as a 2.625% cash back on all non-bonus spending and 3.5% cash back on travel and dining.
The first ride share co-branded card was introduced in October. The no-fee Uber Visa Card offers 4% back on restaurants, takeout and bars (including UberEats); 3% back on airfare, hotel and vacation home rentals; and 2% back on online purchases including Uber, online shopping, video and music streaming services and now even third-party payment services like Venmo. You’ll earn 1% on all other purchases.
The bonus categories are the best compared to almost all other cash-back credit cards (except rotating 5% categories), and points can be redeemed straight to your Uber account or as statement credit against all your purchases. Given the popularity of the card, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lyft strike a co-branded deal in 2018 as well as to see Barclaycard announce more enhancements for Uber Visa cardholders.
United Club Card Gets 50k Bonus
In October, the United MileagePlus Club Card began offering a 50,000-mile sign-up bonus after new cardholders spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Regular United flyers have always appreciated the United Club and Star Alliance lounge access the card comes with, but putting 50,000 bonus miles in the mix certainly sweetens the deal to the point that anyone eligible (who values lounge access and flies United) should get this card. You also get two checked bags for yourself and traveling companion when paying for the plane ticket with the card, plus Hyatt Discoverist and Hertz President’s Circle statuses.
October continued its hot streak when an amazing offer for California residents came from Southwest Airlines. State residents who opened a Rapid Rewards credit card account and made a single purchase would receive a South Companion Pass in return. Instead of having to earn 110,000 Rapid Rewards in a year, you simply needed to sign up for a card and make a single charge. Unreal.
I think everyone knew receiving 50% of your points back when paying for a ticket with points through Amex Travel was too good to last. The benefit was rolled back to 35%, which is admittedly still pretty attractive. If you applied for the Business Platinum Card from American Express between October 6, 2016 and May 31, 2017, you’ll be grandfathered into the 50% rebate for one year from when your card was issued.
Beginning January 1, 2018, Flexperks will be redeemable at a flat rate of 1.5 cents each toward paid travel through the US Bank travel portal. Currently, a tiered redemption system allows you to redeem points for up to 2 cents each if you find flights right at the top of a tier. While some have lauded the simplification of the system, anytime I lose 25% of the potential value of my points, it’s a definite lowlight.
On July 23, the Citi Prestige lost Admirals Club access, did away with three free rounds of golf (at courses that cost up to $500), lowered airfare redemption rates for ThankYou points from 1.6 cents with American and 1.3 cents with everyone else to 1.25 cents across the board, and changed the 4th Night Free redemption for the worse. I still hold the card for the fantastic three-hour trip delay protection, annual airline credit and 4th Night Free, but it’s still painful to even type this paragraph.
In an all-too-familiar news headline, another company — this time Equifax — reported to law enforcement a breach of sensitive personal information. Between mid-May and July of this year, hackers gained access to the personal information of 143 million Americans from Equifax. The scale of this breach, especially of a bureau charged with giving banks information that quite literally decides the quality of our lives, quickly caught the public’s attention. Monitor your credit report closely, and immediately address any unknown activity.
There’s no such thing as too many Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Once the general public realized this, Chase instituted a few new restrictions over the last year and a half. The issuer’s 5/24 rule is now firmly entrenched, and in August Chase said customers could only sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Because the Reserve carries all the same benefits of the Preferred and then some, the only reason customers were getting both was to take advantage of the two sign-up bonuses. It’s a logical move for Chase that unfortunately keeps our Ultimate Rewards balance in check.
Few industries ignite a passion in customers the way aviation does. When Delta and American Express decided to require ten (10!) times the spend on co-branded cards to waive the Medallion Qualifying Dollar (MQD) threshold for Delta Diamond status, frequent flyers went a bit crazy. Starting in 2018, to earn Diamond, you must either spend $15,000 on Delta tickets or put $250,000 dollars on Delta co-branded cards — of course, that’s in addition to the 125,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles or 140 segments.
Just this month, Discover announced the removal of five ancillary cardholder benefits. Explaining that these features were rarely used, the issuer did away with Extended Product Warranty, Return Guarantee, Purchase Protection, Auto Rental Insurance and Flight Accident Insurance perks on all cards. If you were going to make a large purchase to take advantage of the cash back match offered on several Discover cards, you should consider if it’s still worth it now that you won’t have extended warranty, return guarantee and purchase protection.
Even after re-reading the above paragraphs, I can’t decide whether the lowlights were lower than the highest highlights, or vice versa. There are some fantastic new products to apply for and utilize which will yield significant new rewards, but there are also some lost benefits that really sting.
I’m hearing rumors of some fantastic highlights awaiting in Q1 of 2018, so after a year of ups and downs, I’m thankful for everything these rewards allowed me to do in 2017 and eagerly looking forward to 2018.
Illustration by Eirian Chapman.
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