Finally! My credit card rewards pay off

Ramit Sethi · June 14th, 2006

I witnessed a momentous occasion last week, when my god damned credit card finally paid for itself. I usually recommend that people get a no-fee credit card for their first one, but if you spend enough it can make sense to get an ultra-rewards card that has an annual fee.

(With my card, an annual fee of about $75 gets you twice the rewards as the free card. So I did a break-even analysis and decided to pay the fee.)

Anyway, after paying the fee for almost 2 years, I finally redeemed some of my miles for a flight that would have cost more than $600. It feels…almost free.

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  1. Trevor

    Wow…. in the summer no less… I suppose you have one of those Capital One type cards with “no blackout periods”? More curious than anything, because I’m thinking of getting myself that type of card.. my current “free” one gives me .5% return on my purchases… at least theoretically.

  2. Michael

    Dunn and Bradstreet performed a study. Turns out, people spend an average of 12-18% more when they use a credit card than when they use cash. They associate this with the ’emotional value of cash.’ In other words it is a lot more ‘painful’ to slap down 10-$10 bills, than swiping your card. I tried it and it has proven true.

    Additionally, the study showed that in certain markets, the difference is extreme. Have you noticed how the fast-food chains now accept cards? I think people spend 50% more in fast food. And in vending machines, people spend 100% more!!!
    Is it annoying to use cash? Sometimes. But to me, it is worth it…

    So those credit card rewards may not be free at all!

  3. I’ve been looking for a new rewards card, specifically to get flier miles. I looked at Citi’s AAdvantage because a friend’s mom uses it and recommended it. But I saw an offer for Capitol 1 that had no annual fee, could be used for 100 airlines with no blackout dates, and had 1 mile per dollar or 2 miles/$ for some purchases. I ordered one but haven’t used it yet.

    What does everyone else use and what have you had success/bad experiences with? I’d appreciate the advice, if you have any. Thanks.

  4. Which card is it?

  5. Maria loves pictures

    Using this type of credit cards is a great tip.
    I guess the rewards must be huge if you spend a lot.

  6. Anonymous

    Airline miles cards are awful. Get the Citi Platinum Dividends Select or whatever – it gives 5% cashback on purchases as supermarkets, gas stations, and something else (restaurants?). It’s better than anything you could have.

  7. So which credit card do you have?

  8. debt-free

    “when my god damned credit card”

    sounds like something I really want in my wallet. Any other “god damned” products that people should carry around?

    Oh! and don’t forget to factor in overspending into your break-even analysis. McDonalds found that customers spend 12-18% more when using plastic. I know! I know! You would totally never do that….

  9. my wife and I have gone back and forth on this. My argument is consumers win with rewards card ONLY when they fit into a very narrow category: they have their spending under control and they pay it off every month without fail. most people don’t fall into that category. And one mistake – a late payment, spending more than they can pay off or a postal service that takes 45 days to deliver a payment, can eliminate any benefit. this isn’t to say that I’m 100% against the cards. They have their uses. I use REI’s to get a free bike every couple of years. People need to have a realistic understanding of how they work and why credit card companies offer them before signing up.

  10. Elizabeth

    For no annual fee, through Chase Visa, I get 5% cash back on gas/pharmacy/grocery and 1% back on everything else. In the last year I have already gotten $200 back. (I got my car repaired at what registered as a “gas station” which ended up saving me nearly $50!) Though the rate is high after the introductory period, it doesn’t matter since I pay my card off every month.

  11. Airline cards can pay off for those who travel regularly, charge thousands of $ a year and pay off their cards in full. If not, a cash back card is a better deal. There are also people that are only interested in the sign up bonuses and apply multiple times for the same card. I recommend to see all the ways to get miles for free/cheap. The generally accepted value of a mile is 1-2 cents (a measly 1-2% cash back per dollar) but astute travelers can get 5-10 cents of value out of a mile by using them for premium class travel or upgrades.