Starting a few months ago, we took a break from signing up for new credit cards in order to refinance our mortgage and start saving over $300 per month. Aside from a small surprise when they pulled our credit, the whole refinance process went fairly smoothly even with tons of new credit accounts and inquiries on our credit reports. In fact, the only time we were asked about them was indirectly when we had to explain all of the inquiries on our individual reports in the past 3 months.
For each inquiry, we simply wrote “Rewards Credit Card” as the reason for the inquiry and put the credit limit we were granted on each one. Never heard about them again and at this point the entire refinance is closed out. This confirms what I’ve read from various people in the know at big lenders in that churning cards in and of itself won’t be a reason for denial or lower rates. The biggest thing to worry about when applying for a big loan is your credit score, outstanding debt, and income.
Now that the refinance process is officially closed, it’s time to jump right back into churning credit cards for out-sized travel rewards and other benefits. Despite several banks cracking down on who is eligible for signup bonuses, there are still a lot of different cards to choose from. I’ll break down our current strategy and what cards we decided to sign up for below.
The Basics of Our Credit Card Strategy
Aside from when we were first learning the basics of chasing credit card signup bonuses, we’ve fallen into a pretty consistent groove of moving from one card to the next. Every time we get close to meeting the minimum spend on the most recent card, we sign up for another one. This allows us to comfortably meet minimum spends without the need for any manufactured spend and still get a large return on all of our regular spending.
Up until the refinance process slowed us down, we were averaging just over 2 new credit cards per month between the two of us. It was actually quite painful to go from earning 10-20% back on everything thanks to signup bonuses to simply using our cards at their normal earning rates which drops the return to the 1-3% range. We didn’t have any specific travel goals, so earning various points and miles that we might not use for a long time would be risky and inflexible. Aside from taking advantage of a few bonus categories such as dining and travel to earn flexible points, we ended up putting the majority of our spend on a simple 2% back card. Cash is king if you don’t have a specific high value redemption in mind.
Now that the gates have opened back up, it’s time to get back on the signup bonus wagon and start earning big rewards once again.
Which Signup Bonus Should We Apply For?
As I mentioned, every time we get close to meeting a minimum spend on one card we try to sign up for another. This minimizes the low earning spending that comes after meeting a spend, but before the next card arrives in the mail. When we start looking for that next card, there are always a lot to choose from. So how do we determine which one to get?
First, we try to look out into the future and guess where we’d like to travel in the next 12-24 months. It doesn’t have to be specific, but being able to answer domestic vs. international and coach vs. business class is usually enough information to start out on. Maybe you’ve already earned the perfect airline ticket and would like to start trying to cover hotel nights with points. Regardless, having a rough idea of what your goal is will go a long way.
While it’s certainly possible to earn quickly enough to apply signup bonuses for trips in the next 12 months, this will reduce your flexibility and sometimes value of your points. Ideally, we will have earned enough points in the past 12 months to cover the next 12 months at any given time if we’re planning well enough.
After picking a rough idea of what big travel we want to earn miles and points for, it’s time to look at what we already have. Any miles and points that aren’t already committed to planned travel can act as a starting point for this future travel we want to earn. In general, adding more points on to an existing balance will get you to your goals a lot faster, especially if you’re seeking those international business tickets on miles.
Now that we know where we want to go and how far along we are to earning it, it’s time to look at what signup bonuses are currently out there. It then takes a little intuition and possibly some research to see which signup bonus will get us closest to our next goal. Right off the bat, we can eliminate any cards we’re not eligible for either because we’ve had them in the past or the bank won’t approve us for them. Then it’s good to look at what credit cards have a bonus higher than usual because it might not be possible to get that high of a bonus later on when you need it more. Finally, you cross reference the existing bonuses with your current point balances and pick one that sets you on the path to earning your next big trip.
Airfare, hotels, and more can all be covered by getting the right credit card bonuses and redeeming them for your next big trip. If you can’t think of any uses for additional points and miles in the next 12 months, it might be best to simply grab the highest cash signup bonus you can find. It’s hard to go wrong with more cash if you’re responsible with your day to day finances.
Our Future Travel Plans
Which signup bonuses we chase after seem to go in waves. If we have a big trip in mind, almost all of the cards we sign up for go towards that goal. For example, once we knew we were getting married, it was time to start planning an extravagant honeymoon. Extravagant doesn’t have to mean expensive though, so we started signing up for cards very deliberately to help cover airfare and hotels. With a few SPG cards, a few Alaska cards, and a couple American cards we were able to book business class to New Zealand and Fiji PLUS book 16 nights in hotels for less than $500 out of pocket!
The other side of the wave is after we finish earning for a big trip like our honeymoon and don’t really know what we’ll want to do next. At this point we’ll either chase increased bonuses for miles and points we’ll probably be able to find a use for in the next couple years or simply go after decent benefits and cash back. This explains why we picked up an Ameriprise Amex Platinum card (annual fee waived, $500 in cash-like benefits, and lounge access) and the USAA card ($225 back after 6 purchases) in between the big miles and points bonuses.
At this point, we’ve got most of our 2016 travel plans booked, a decent stash of airline miles and flexible points, and are thinking about a 2017 trip to “Europe”. We have no idea what country (or countries) we’ll visit or how long we’ll be there, but it’s a good enough starting point to start working towards covering our airfare with miles.
Which Cards Work Best For Us
With a large amount of Chase UR thanks to the Ink+ signup bonus (which can transfer to United) and about 20k in United miles thanks to shopping portal bonuses and such, United seems like a solid first choice. In addition, we also have a decent pool of Alaska and American miles, so earning more of those will give us options when it comes to actually booking something. For business class, it seems to be easier to earn 2 one way tickets in two different programs than it is to earn 2 full round trips in a single program. This is how we booked our Fiji trip and will probably end up being the easiest way to book our Europe trip.
For earning United miles, we’re pretty much locked out of getting any UR earning cards thanks to Chase’s 5/24 rule, but should still be able to bring a decent amount in each quarter thanks to reselling gift cards from ebay. I’ve already gotten the personal United card, but have yet to pick up the business version. Becky on the other hand hasn’t gotten either one, but also doesn’t have any United miles in her account currently.
As for Alaska, it should be easy for either of us to get another 25k + $100 signup bonus, while Becky has yet to sign up for any Citi AA cards. I’ve gotten 2 by taking advantage of the World Elite loophole, but have heard mixed results on whether or not it still works.
Based on our current miles balances, I decided to apply for the United business card for 50k miles after $2k in spend. The application went to pending, so I’ll have to wait it out to see what happens. Hopefully it doesn’t take close to a month like my Ink+ application did, but I suppose I’m plenty willing to wait if it comes back approved. In addition, I decided to get another Alaska card and was instantly approved. I recently cancelled an Alaska card, but this new one brings me back up to 3 total (2 personal and 1 business).
Becky decided to go for her first Citi AA Platinum Select card for 50k AA miles after $3k in spend and was instantly approved. Given the rumors of Chase’s 5/24 rule extending to all of their cards soon, she’ll probably apply for the personal United card if it bumps back up to a 50k bonus soon.
Summing It Up
With our applications today, we’ll definitely end up with 75k miles towards a future trip with $25 on top (after the $75 annual fee on the Alaska card) and with a little luck another 50k miles on top of that. We’re well on our way to this hypothetical Europe trip and I’m sure we’ll manage to squeeze in a few smaller trips between now and then aside from the ones we’ve already booked. All told, it’s good to be back in the saddle chasing signup bonuses again. Earning 2x in bonus categories just isn’t as much fun as earning 10x+ on everything.