Credit Cards

Welcome to MMM Credit Card HQ!

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Unlike certain beginner personal finance gurus, Mr. Money Mustache is a big fan of cash-back credit cards. Not for borrowing, of course, but as a means of channeling through your standard spending and collecting significant rewards (for most of us, over $1000 per year).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy travel-hacking, part-time-mechanical-engineering, credit card afficionado friend Brandon Cronan keeps his eye on the changing and competitive credit card landscape and keeps his latest recommendation on the following page, which we host on the “cardratings” website. (click to open in a new tab):

Mr. Money Mustache Credit Card Recommendations now at Cardratings.com

On that page, you’ll find a list of our favorite credit cards for travel hacking, as well as Brandon’s commentary on strategies.

If you’re new to the game and find the whole thing a bit overwhelming you can ask questions in the comment section below or reach out to Brandon via his blog at LifeReengineeredblog.com.

 

 

You can also follow Brandon on Twitter for the latest credit card updates and other thoughts. Link here.
  • Justin November 3, 2014, 5:29 pm

    Hi Brandon – just want to make sure I’m understanding this correctly. I currently have a $1100 credit voucher with US Airways. I’m trying to get a round-trip ticket for 2 from the West Coast to Amsterdam next summer. If I get the US Airways Premier World MasterCard and Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage World MasterCard, I then have 90k points to apply to this trip. Is that correct? Also, do the AAdvantage points transfer to US Airways *now*? I see you reference “after the merger” so wanted to make sure. Thanks!

    • Brandon Cronan November 3, 2014, 8:06 pm

      If you got the US Airways card and Citi card (and made the minimum spend) you would have 40k US Airways points and 53k AAdvantage points which will combine sometime around the second quarter of next year, at which time you’ll have apprx 93k AAdvantage points. Checking AAdvantage award travel at that time it looks like you can get one round trip ticket (SFO to AMS) for 60k points next summer.

      Ultimately one of you would be booking through US Airways and the other through American Airways so you may have trouble getting on exactly the same flight. You may be able to book the US Airways flight first then call American Airways and talk to the agent to see if they can book award travel on the same flights. Both American Airways and US Airways are part of the One World Alliance so booking through American to get a US Airways flight is totally reasonable. However, by that time your US Airways voucher may have transferred over to American Airlines and you’ll both be booking through American. I’d recommend giving US airways a call to see what’s going to happen to your voucher.

      • Justin November 4, 2014, 3:40 pm

        Cool, thx, Brandon. I researched quite a bit more this morning (and read the guide on your website!) and have a better understanding of this. One last question – are there any drawbacks to if my wife and I BOTH apply for our own versions of the same bonus cards? That seems like the simplest way for 2 people to maximize the sign-on bonuses.

        • Brandon Cronan November 5, 2014, 1:35 pm

          Yeah I have heard this works. I’m not married so I haven’t tried it personally but the internet agrees that its a sound strategy.

          Thanks for reading!

          • Justin November 6, 2014, 4:16 pm

            Just wanted to confirm to anyone else reading that, YES, you can indeed get a card per spouse to double the sign-up bonuses. Just did it. Amazing, really.

  • Susan November 4, 2014, 7:45 pm

    After reading this page and the comments, I’m getting really excited about trying this cc churning! I just applied for my first three cards — Barclay World Elite, Capital Venture, and Chase Sapphire. I have about $40K worth of expenses in the coming 6 months. Can someone recommend how I can strategically do this to earn enough points to fund a family vacation sometime next year for a family of 4 (2 adults, 2 kids under 5), like Aulani Disney in Oahu, Hawaii?

    • Brandon Cronan November 5, 2014, 1:34 pm

      Susan, Sounds like fun. where are you flying from?

      You and your significant other can sign up for the same cards in order to get double the bonus, so that would be a helpful start.

      On your next round of applications you may consider getting a couple of the Chase Ink Bolds in order to accrue some additional Chase Ultimate Awards points, which you will be able to combine with the points from your Chase Sapphire to cover the cost of the flights.

      With a 2x Barclay Arrival Plus and 2x capital one venture that’s $1600 that you’ll be able to redeem for the hotel visit.

      • Susan November 5, 2014, 10:15 pm

        Thanks Brandon. We are in SF and are looking for family/kid-friendly destinations for next year. I read in the fine print that the Barclay card cannot be be inactive for 6 consecutive periods (not sure what happens if it is). I can easily meet the minimum within the first few weeks on all the cards and plan to cancel closer to the one year mark. Do you know how often you can reapply to the Barclay and Capital One Venture and whether you still get the same bonus?

  • Kristi November 6, 2014, 10:20 pm

    Shortly after reading this article, I received an offer in the mail for the American Express Blue Cash Everyday Card with the following sign-up bonus: $250 back in the form of a statement credit after spending $1000 in the first three months. The cash back terms are 3% at grocery stores, 2% at gas stations, and 1-2% on other purchases. Just thought I’d mention it for anyone looking to do this churning thing – it’s a new one for me.

  • Jeff Bender November 7, 2014, 8:52 pm

    The US Airways MasterCard is crap. I signed up on a flight then called and added miles for three flights I had with US Airways in the last9 months. I thought I would have big time flight points and I did. HOWEVER, when you go to book a flight you find that things are not as you had imagined. Sure, you can have a free flight but the days I tried to book (in March, August, and December) were outrageously priced for points. I eventually gave in and got a cheap flight to PHL but had to fly Sat-Fri since my points would not cover Sat-Sat. I felt deeply cheated on this card.

  • Justin November 12, 2014, 4:51 pm

    I’ve been enjoying the simplicity of the Sallie Mae Rewards card. It’s a Barclays card that gives you:
    “5% cash back on the first $250 you spend per month on eligible gas and grocery purchases each and the first $750 you spend per month on eligible book purchases”

    And it counts Amazon purchases as bookstore purchases. 1% back on everything else.

    https://www.salliemae.com/credit-cards/sallie-mae-card/

  • Jessica November 14, 2014, 4:43 pm

    Regarding the Chase Sapphire Preferred card: I signed up right around the time of the credit card churning post for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card with 40,000 bonus points with the annual fee of $95 waived for the first year. I was billed the annual fee within the first month of signing up. I called to dispute the charge; the appeal went to the marketing department, which sent me a letter stating the card I signed up for in fact had an annual fee and Chase has refused to waive it. I spoke to a customer service representative who stated he had no authority to waive the fee, but would submit the appeal again for review. As of today, the advertising remains that the card has the fee waived for the first year. However, I would caution others regarding Chase’s false advertising.

  • Megan Caroline November 15, 2014, 8:16 am

    Hi all,

    Do you all have any recommendations for project cards to open? AKA we’d like to maximize up front and don’t care about cash back rewards as much. In addition we plan to pay it off quickly so something with no interest for a year/annual fee would be ideal. Let me know if you’ve come across anything like that=)

  • Gina November 15, 2014, 11:59 pm

    Ok. So I’ve been doing the cash rewards thing on our Wells Fargo credit card and realized that we could do better! Currently we’re getting $200 cash back/year but these articles hve inspired me. We go to Hawaii every couple years and to So Cal (we live in Nor Cal) every year…I was looking into either the Southwest card or the Hawaiian airlines card. Both have $89 annual fee and both offer 35,000 sign up points(SW actually offers 40,000). The HA card offers one 50% companion bonus and $100 off one companion flight /yr and offers 5,000 point annual anniversary bonus; SW offers 6,000 anniversary bonus and no companion bonus. I see your recommendations for a non-airline card that can transfer points to airlines but for some reason I’m afraid of that. (?) ((seriously–it’s silly but it makes me nervous like it might not actually work…???))
    Anyway–I’m leaning toward the HA card since we currently spend about $1700 /mo (groceries, household bills, gas, etc) and that adds up to 20,400 pts/yr +5,000 bonus = 25,400 pts/yr. that would give us a trip for the 3 for $445 (5 yrs $89). Sounds good to me… Am I missing something? Is there a better way to approach this?

    • Brandon Cronan November 16, 2014, 12:35 pm

      No reason to be afraid of the non-airline cards not transferring to your desired airline account, it works just fine. I’ve used both the AMEX SPG to transfer to US Airways and the Chase Ultimate Rewards points to transfer to United and Southwest. The points typically post within the same day that you transfer them. Just make sure to check which airlines the points transfer to before you sign up for the AMEX SPG or Chase Sapphire/ Chase Ink Bold.

      And if you’re trying to get from NorCal to Hawaii I think your best bet will probably be the Chase cards including the Chase Sapphire and Chase Ink Bold. There are a few sweet spot options from NorCal to Hawaii, booking through partner airlines, which are laid out in the comments from Brad above.

      Note that Southwest does not fly to Hawaii. However, the link provided above does offer 50k Southwest points which are useful in getting from NorCal to SoCal. If you have a spouse or significant other note that each of you can sign up for the same card in order to get double the bonus, as long as you can make double the minimum spend. The juiciest part of these deals is in the sign-up bonus, not the long term return on your points. However, for long term return on your points I think the Barclay Arrival Plus is at the top of the list for point value as well as flexibility.

      • Gina November 16, 2014, 6:58 pm

        Awesome thank you! I think you’re right with the Chase Sapphire since we could use it on BOTH trips. I there an affiliate link I should use for the referral?

        • Brandon Cronan November 16, 2014, 7:38 pm

          No problem! No we don’t have an affiliate link for Chase Sapphire but thanks for asking.

  • MoneyRx November 25, 2014, 4:21 pm

    Has anyone done the Discover It card? It currently gives a $100 amazon gift card sign on bonus with any purchase. I read a couple places that the reward changes (was apparently once a $75 amazon gift card with first purhcase and a $150 amazon gift card after $750 in purchases). I signed up today and will see how it goes, only making 1 purchase with it as I already have other cards for cash back.

  • Zalo November 26, 2014, 4:53 pm

    Hi Brandon,

    Thank you for your guide to Credit Card Hacking, it’s been really useful. I have a question if you’d be willing to help me find an answer. The details and question are below.

    I feel overwhelmed by the many different credit card options and the inconvenience of owning more than one card. I’m 20, I’ve never owned a credit card (I have a debit card from my credit union), and I’m discovering my credit score for the first time as I type (I’ve never had debt and have a nice ‘tache accruing).

    Anyway, I spend about 5-7k a year for all of my living expenses–housing, food, transportation, utilities, etc.–via ERE strategies, so a lot of these rewards credit cards don’t apply to me since they require half a year’s to more-than a year’s expenses to get a small cash reward.

    I travel from Massachusetts to Minnesota to visit my partner during Thanksgiving, J-term (late December through late January), and spring break. These trips cost about $400 each, and my partner and I share the cost. That’s $200 for me for a total of three trips, or around $600.

    —————————————–

    From your greater experience and knowledge with Credit Card Hacking, which card(s) can I use to give me a reward of around $600 a year if my annual expenses are 5-7k?

    I look forward to reading your thoughts if you’d like to write them,
    Zalo

  • DrFunk December 1, 2014, 11:14 am

  • Franklin December 5, 2014, 8:58 am

    Important info for anyone who signed up for the US Airways CC before Dec 4th. If you signed up anytime after Nov 1st you can get an additional 10,000 mile bonus to equal the current offer (50,000). Just call and ask to speak to the “reward center” of whatever they call it. Ask for the extra miles and, poof, now you’ll get an additional 10,000m.

  • Kerry Supplee December 9, 2014, 1:58 pm

    Brandon,

    My wife and I have an alternative motive for the time being. Recently we bought a house and have been using these cards for redemption of “gift cards” for home repair to slowly update the house at a minimal expense. Obviously we are aware that we aren’t getting as much cash back as we would be we were in a position to travel. That being said, we were curious to know if anyone knew of the exchange benefits of the “Barclay Arrival +” card and what that 50,000 point bonus translates to in regards to gift cards. Their website requires a log in, but we want to ensure that it is our next best option. We have both, on separate accounts, used the “Chase Sapphire Preferred” and our looking for our next outlet. Thanks to anyone and everyone for any considerable help. Happy Holidays.

    Kerry

    • m December 10, 2014, 7:57 pm

      Gift card and gift certificate redemptions start at 5,000 miles for $25. Currently offering, for a limited time, $25 gift cards for just 3,000 miles instead of 5,000 miles for several retailers including Lowes. I am a new user of this card so I don’t know if this happens regularly.

    • Brandon Cronan December 10, 2014, 8:40 pm

      The value for the Barclay arrival + is definitely in the travel redemptions. Points can be redeemed in 2500 point increments, and 2500 points is worth $25. That means each point is worth 1 penny for travel reimbursement. Their definition of travel includes hotel, rental car, train ticket and air ticket so if you’ve got any of those types of expenses coming up in the next year or so it’s a sweet deal.

      If you’re redeeming for gift cards or cash the deal is half as sweet – 2500 points will get you $12.50 in cash, so each point is worth 1/2 a penny. This would make the 40,000 point bonus worth $200 rather than $400.

  • Joe December 10, 2014, 11:10 pm

    In search of some advice…
    My wife and I are planning to travel to Europe in spring 2016. I’m estimating $8000 for the trip. We currently pay cash for everything but I’d like to take advantage of a credit card to get some miles and/or points to cut down the cost of the trip. Which card would be best for us? We do the majority of our shopping at Costco, King Soopers and Sprouts.

    • Brandon Cronan December 12, 2014, 12:27 pm

      Joe, first of all great job planning so far in advance you should have plenty of time to make a couple of minimum spends to cover one if not both of your flights.

      Since a lot of your shopping is done at Costco and they only accept AMEX a good starting point would be the AMEX SPG. It’s a classic travel hacking card and the AMEX SPG points are transferrable at a one-to-one to many airline programs.

      Do you have any airline mileage programs already established with points accrued? For example if you already have American Airlines points it may be worthwhile to get the Citi AAdvantage World Mastercard which has a nice 50k bonus going right now. Even if you do not currently have any AAdvantage points that Citi card has a nice synergy with the AMEX SPG as the SPG points will transfer to AAdvantage points at a rate of 1:1. With the combo of the AMEX SPG and the Citi AAdvantage you should be able to get at least one round trip to Europe through American Airlines.

      Although it’s not ideal you could cover the second flight with a combination of the Chase Sapphire and Chase Ink Plus Business card. I say it’s not ideal because you’d most likely be using those points to book that flight through United and therefore you and your wife may have to fly separately (one on United, one on American).

      Alternately you could decide to get the Barclay Arrival “+” and/or the Capital One Venture which would each give you $400 cash back to be used towards travel redemption which could cover the cost of flights, hotels, rental cars, taxis, etc.

      Hope this helps.

  • David December 14, 2014, 9:21 pm

    Hi! I just got the Chase Freedom card to get the $200 cash reward bonus. Will I still be able to apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred in a few months and get the $400 cash rewards/points? I know some credit card companies state the cash bonuses are only for new customers, and I’d feel weird calling them with the express purpose of milking their cash bonuses.

    Also, I’ve been churning credit cards for the last few months, so my credit score has dipped slightly from 770s to the high 750s. I’m planning to apply for one more in a few months then wait about a year for the next one to let my credit score recover a bit. Which is tougher to get approved for, the Sapphire Preferred or the Ink Business Plus? I’m thinking I should apply for the easier one first, then the tougher one a bit later. I’m getting married in 2016, so it’ll be easy to hit the spend minimums.

    Thanks so much!

    • Kim January 18, 2015, 9:46 am

      We’re on the same path of cc churning. I used Chase Freedom, then Chase Sapphire, and then just finished using Business Ink. It seems like there was a bit of a delay in getting approved for the Business Ink, but it came through. I like cards where I just get a cash bonus. I just wanted to say that your plan should work fine. I need to find another one with a great cash reward for opening.

  • Carissa December 19, 2014, 11:35 am

    I’d love some advice from MMM and some of the other helpful commenters on this thread about which airline cc to get.

    I primarily bank at US Bank and currently have an REI Visa and a Costco AmEx. I’m not unhappy with the REI Visa, but it seems to be fairly pointless and I’m needing to get a credit card that will give me airline miles. I’m currently living in Montana, going to school, and my husband lives in Washington DC. So far, he’s used his Gold Delta SkyMiles AmEx to amass and redeem miles. Obviously, we’re wanting to take advantage of our flights back and forth to see each other, as well as business trips and my eventual trips for med school interviews.

    I’ve been trying to do my research and compare my options but feel a bit torn between the Delta Gold, United Mileage Plus Explorer, Alaska Air Visa or a card (like Capital One) that allows me to apply miles to different carriers. I’m ok with the annual fee (under $100) but would ideally like to get the most miles at sign up (50,000 compared to 30,000.) Plus, I will be paying tuition for next semester soon and would like to apply that to the minimum spending requirements in order to redeem those miles.

    In the past, I have a tendency to fly Delta or Alaska. Over the past decade or so, I’ve flown United, Frontier, Allegiant a few times. American and US Airways don’t fly to/from MT.

    If I’m missing anything else to take into consideration, please let me know. Otherwise, any tips about which cards might be best are greatly appreciated! Thanks in advance.

    • Brandon Cronan December 23, 2014, 12:05 pm

      Your best bet for maximum bonus and flexibility right now is either the Barclay Arrival plus or Capital One Venture. The airline specific cards you mentioned do not have stellar bonuses at the present moment. For example, I’ve seen the Chase United Mileage Plus Explorer card with a 50,000 point sign-up bonus before, and right now it sits at 30,000 miles. Another good option would be the Chase Sapphire preferred as those Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United at 1:1.

      • Carissa January 31, 2015, 3:39 pm

        Thanks so much Brandon! Sorry for the delayed reply. I wound up getting the Delta Gold AMEX after tracking down an offer for 50K. I determined that I will likely continue to fly Delta the majority of the time. I don’t expect to use it for the bulk of my purchases but the $1K minimum spend was easy to reach. I also opted for the Barclay Arrival Plus (though the Capital One Venture was tempting.) I won’t get into the details but the experience of actually applying for and getting the card was HORRIBLE. However, using the card has been smooth so far. Thanks to a recent unexpected car repair, I’ll easily meet the minimum spend. I’ll be curious how that card pans out to meet my travel needs. Thanks again!

        • Brandon Cronan February 2, 2015, 10:17 am

          Carissa – where did you find the 50k bonus for Delta Gold AMEX? If you could share that here that would be much appreciated.

          • Carissa February 2, 2015, 1:08 pm

            Somehow, I tracked down a 50K offer that expired at the end of December 2014. I think I found it through The Points Guy (perhaps your rival?) It’s not valid anymore. My boyfriend got an offer in the mail back in May for 50K.

            Additionally, I was directed to this site (https://www.deltaamexcard.com/) to check if you were eligible for a better offer.

  • Jen December 27, 2014, 12:10 pm

    I am new to MMM. I currently have 2 credit cards (one an old college credit card through Wells Fargo, and a Southwest Visa through Chase I opened earlier this year). I am a recent college grad working multiple part time jobs & am trying to build my credit. I have NO debt and pay off my bills in full each month.

    1. Does it matter if I open a second card with Chase? I am interested in opening a new credit card and have been considering the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

    2. Or, is it more prudent to try and open a second card with a different company?

    • Brandon Cronan December 27, 2014, 3:12 pm

      Jen, at this point in the game I’d recommend getting whichever card has the best benefits for your particular situation, regardless of which bank it’s from. I cannot guarantee it but it’s likely you’ll be approved for another Chase card.

  • Justin December 31, 2014, 10:27 am

    Is there a definitive approach for how frequently to apply for new cards? For example, I got a few in Nov to hack some travel for next summer. For my next round, I’d like to apply for cash-bonus cards to cover some expenses. Can I do that now or should I wait X number of months? Also, for cards with good cash bonuses (like the CapOne Venture), could I get a few of those per year, and close each after approx. 11 months?

  • Nancy January 10, 2015, 2:58 am

    Ouch, I didn’t know US credit cards with cash rewards paid back so little! I had to cancel my Banamex card because of a crap issue about never being able to enter their electronic portal and they now demanded you to pay the card on the internet in exchange for waiving the annual fee (if I hadn’t had any problem access into their electronic account I would have kept it with their 10% guaranteed cash back).

    I’m setting my eyes on opening an account at Bancomer, with my credit history I’m sure they will quickly offer me their platinum card in no time, just haven’t had a lot of free time because of the holidays to get to the bank when it’s open. For the extra one timer fee of around 60 USD their rewards card can be boosted to a whopping 30%!! Whoa!!!! Imagine going to the grocery store buying your beer, beef steak and pork rinds spending a good 100 bucks knowing you are gonna get back 30 bucks in rewards points. No fuss, no muss. Only drawback is the annual fee of around 180 USD and the obligatory 16% double wammy in Mexican taxes which is another 20 bucks but the cash you earn in rewards seems to be tax free.

    I don’t know what Bancomer’s international transaction fees are but the few times I used my regular not as good Banamex CC the international fees were a slap in the face expensive. The card is still a good deal if you’re in Mexico living long term.

  • Theresa January 15, 2015, 12:53 pm

    Help!!! I am new at this and plan to fly from Houston to California several times this year for vacation. I just started with the cash back cards and have had success, but realized my largest expense by far was from traveling (Air, hotel (if I don’t stay with family), Rental car, parking, etc).

    I prefer flying Southwest because I don’t have to worry about baggage fees (but everyone seems to think United is amazing; I get they have more flight options but I am not sold on the United credit card yet) and I rent through National due to a work discounted rate. If I am looking at about $3K in forecasted travel expenses, what would you recommend I sign up for to get as much as possible? I also spend at least 1-2K/mo if I pool everything on one card so I can take advantage of current intro points offers.

    * I signed up for the cash back rewards cards Dec 2014 (Chase Freedom, Blue cash Prefered Amex, Fidelity Amex, Discover It )so I am not sure I am stuck in a window where I need to wait 6 months before applying for more.

    • Brandon Cronan January 17, 2015, 11:13 am

      Theresa, I think Southwest is a great airline and I’m very happy with their awards program. I’d recommend getting the Chase Southwest Premier Credit card (link above) which will get you 50,000 southwest points after you hit the minimum spend of $2k. Southwest actually has 4 similar cards – the Premier, the Plus, and a business version of each. And you can get all 4 for a total of 200,000 points.

      Another option would be to get the Chase Sapphire which is offering 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points, which will also transfer to Southwest.

      The Barclay Arrival Plus and Capital One Venture are also great options with very flexible travel rewards.

      Regarding timing I typically wait 3-4 months between “App-o-Ramas” and apply for one or two cards from different banks. For example, one card from chase and one from Barclays.

      • Theresa January 18, 2015, 8:25 am

        Thank you so much! I didn’t realize that some of the SW flights were as low as 5-10K points. I will def get those cards (also I really like the low spend minimum). In between that, I was going to use the barclaycard for everyday purchases until I hit the 3K spend and can move on to another one like CSP, Starwood, etc.

        As for strategy for future cards, I was thinking of getting the rest (by most relevant to my needs) one at a time when I hit the bonus spend. I really do like a lot of the major ones, but trying to hit 3 separate 3K spend minimums at one time will be tough to swing. Thoughts?

        Also, I just recently applied for my passport with the intention of finally traveling internationally in the next 1-2 years. What airline would you recommend that has the best rewards program that I could focus on exclusively flying internationally with & also build up points to travel with? (this is where I was wondering if international & domestic travel options is why United is so popular).

        Much appreciated!!!

        • Brandon Cronan January 18, 2015, 11:12 am

          As far as international flight deals go I’d recommend getting that Barclay US Airways card. It has a 50k bonus with no minimum spend. US Airways is merging with American Airways this year so those points will eventually transfer to AAdvantage points, and this deal is going away.

          If you also got the Citi AAdvantage and made the minimum spend you’d get another 50,000 AAdvantage points which will eventually combine with your US Airways points. The more points you have in a single airline program the better, as it gives you access to better rewards (longer flights or upgrades).

  • Reed January 20, 2015, 10:32 am

    FYI, Brandon – The Chase Ink Plus business link on this page shows a $95 annual fee and does not say it is waived the first year. While this link – https://creditcards.chase.com/ink-business-credit-cards/ink-plus-card?CELL=63WS – does say the annual fee is waived the first year. Same result, just don’t want anyone to get confused.

    • Brandon Cronan January 20, 2015, 11:09 pm

      Nice, thanks Reed. Link updated.

  • Kristin January 21, 2015, 8:45 pm

    Which card(s) would be the best bet for my family? We will be living in Europe but keeping US bank accounts and would like to accumulate points for flights to and from. I guess the majority of our charges would be from outside the US so we would need no foreign transaction fees. Also would be great to redeem points for European hotels. Sorry, totally new to this game & would love some advice!

    • Brad January 22, 2015, 11:59 am

      Hi Kristin,

      Without additional information it is almost impossible to give you perfect answers, but I’ll try to address your larger questions:

      Generally speaking the normal award chart price for a round-trip in economy between Europe and the US is 60,000 miles.

      You often can find bonuses of around 50,000 miles. So to accumulate any significant number of ‘free’ trips, you’ll have to open more than one card.

      I don’t know where you are in Europe, but I usually find United miles to be the most broadly useful for European flights. You can book all their Star Alliance partners with these miles and the miles are quite easy to rack up since Chase Ultimate Rewards (Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus primarily) transfer to United.

      That said, if you are flexible with your flight timing, the American Airlines ‘off-peak’ award chart is fantastic! It is only 40,000 AA miles to fly round-trip from 10/15 through 5/15 (yes, off peak is a full 7 months!).

      Just avoid flights on their partner British Airways or you’ll pay huge “fuel surcharges.”

      If you by chance live on the East Coast there are some other ways to get reduced-points tickets using BA Avios on Aer Lingus or Air Berlin, but that’s beyond the scope of this comment.

      Hotels:

      Again, hard to say without info on where you’re going, but I find Starwood to be solid in Europe (MMM has a link above) as well as this amazing deal with Club Carlson (Radisson):

      http://www.richmondsavers.com/best-hotel-rewards-club-carlson-hotels/

      I’ve helped people with 3 week trips to Europe who got 20+ nights from just 2 Club Carlson cards. If you wanted to really maximize it, you could get 40+ nights (not a typo) from those two cards!

      Hyatt can be useful too, though their footprint isn’t enormous. Chase Ultimate Rewards do transfer to Hyatt, so that’s something to remember.

      Hope that helps! Follow up if you have additional questions…

  • Travis January 23, 2015, 7:52 am

    Question on the strategy of applying to credit cards every quarter as well as having 2 us airways premier mastercards. Does applying for 4-6 each quarter lessen the impact to your credit? Whats the approximate hit to your score for this and how long does it take for the score to recover? Also whats the impact of cancelling a card after youve gotten the intended impact on your credit score? Finally do you get the 50,000 bonus twice if you have 2 cards? Why would they allow you to receive 2 if that’s the case?

  • Jack January 28, 2015, 11:00 pm

    Question as to my son traveling to Australia to study in fall of 2015. What cards would be the best to apply for that would be applicable for travel to that country? Also can I buy airline tickets for him with my points?

    Thanks for all the insight and help!

    • Brandon Cronan January 31, 2015, 3:21 pm

      Jack,

      Checking the American Airways award chart it looks like one way travel from North America to Sydney costs 37.5k points. The same flight on United is 40k points. Hawaiian Air is 60k points. So I’d recommend racking up the American Airways points.

      A few cards listed will help you get there. I’d recommend the Barclay US Airways Premier World Mastercard with 50k bonus and no minimum spend. US Airways points will transfer to American Airways AAdvantage in 2nd quarter 2015. I’d also recommend the Amex SPG which will transfer 1:1 to American Airways. With just those two cards you will have 85k points. The math works like this:

      50k bonus from US Airways dividend miles card
      10k bonus on AMEX spg after first dollar spent on that card
      15k bonus after minimum spend on AMEX SPG of $5k in 6 months
      5k points accrued from spending $5k on the AMEX SPG
      5k bonus when you transfer min. 20k miles from AMEX SPG to American Airlines AAdvantage

      Total 85k points. That will get your son there and back, and yes you can use your points to book travel for him.

      To put a cherry on top, you could apply for the Citi Platinum select personal and business cards and get an additional 100k AAdvantage miles to get yourself there and back as well.

  • JK January 31, 2015, 9:31 pm

    Thought I’d chime in here. First, thanks Brandon for keeping this updated and all the good info. I decided to get into this a little more last fall. In October, I opened up a US Airways and Barclay Arrival Plus. This was the only one that had a minor issue since they are both issued by Barclay. They had given me a large credit line on one and were hesitant on the other. I told them I didn’t need that large of a line why not just split it. That’s exactly what they did and I reaped the bonuses of both of those cards.
    I also opened up AA Citi Advantage at the same time. I now have about 90k frequent flier miles and am waiting until the second quarter like Brandon mentioned to move all my US Airways to my AA Advantage account. This gives me enough frequent flier miles to travel with my two daughters on off peak to Hawaii. (if still available).
    I also got a Cap One card w/ 40k bonus pts. I’ve redeemed some of those from a hotel stay on a weekend trip and still have a good amount left.
    My credit score dipped initially. It went from 770’s down about 18 points. A couple of months later with those cards in use and paid off in full (duh..of course) my credit has risen to 790..the highest it’s ever been.
    There was a little issue I was trying to figure which was how to meet the spending threshold of all those cards. In addition to normal spending I decided to put my house taxes on them. The cost in CA. in the county that I live was just over 2%. Since I was getting 2 pts. for travel awards the cost was minimal for the return that I was getting here. And somehow I didn’t get charged the 2 plus percent on one of those house taxes charges. Whoo hoo.

    So to recap, my credit score has gone up, and I’ve received 170,000 pts. or miles from bonuses from 4 cards.I have Oct. to decide if I will keep the cards.

    I’m holding off doing anything else for now as I’m watching interest rates drop and may refi my home in the near future.

  • Debra February 10, 2015, 10:49 pm

    Do miles/points expire? I have a trip planned in 18 months and wonder if I should start collecting miles now or hold off until it’s closer to my trip.

  • dca-sea February 11, 2015, 4:33 pm

    Start collecting now. These days most programs’ miles/points do not expire as long as there is account activity (earning or burning) within 18 months.

    There are many good blogs out there on how to do the points/miles travel hobby – The Points Guy is one that has a how to get started page. One Mile At A Time does also.

  • Matt Sanderson February 12, 2015, 11:59 am

    In the descriptions the Barclays arrival plus and Barclays arrival appear to be identical except for the bonuses ($400 vs. $200) and the annual fee (no plus=free) but when you actually click the link you find that the Barclays arrival plus gives you 2% (and 2.2 with the extra 10%) back on everything while the Barclay’s arrival only gives you 2% on travel purchases, and 1% on everything else.

  • Dustin March 2, 2015, 3:33 pm

    I’ve done a bit of this after reading some articles on The Points Guy’s website, but two things still trouble me.

    1) Different rewards cards are associated with different airline alliances. Throwing all of your normal spending (bills, groceries, gas, etc) at a new card every few months allows you to meet the spending threshold to get the signup bonuses, but it also spreads your rewards around between alliances. Some might see this as a positive (diversification), but when you’re trying to lead a frugal lifestyle and travel using rewards, it’s tempting to want to focus all of your efforts toward one alliance so you can actually travel somewhere that much sooner. It’s also worth mentioning that the signup bonuses alone probably aren’t going to get you a flight to your dream vacation. You’ll need to keep using cards associated with a given alliance for a while in order to eventually build up enough rewards to actually use them for something fun and interesting. To me, that points toward focusing your efforts, not diversifying them.

    2) Amazon.com has always felt like the elephant in the room when it comes to rewards cards. Beyond the signup bonuses, a key strategy to getting the most out of rewards cards is to use the associated shopping portal when you buy things online. So instead of going directly to Macy’s website you would do a search for Macy’s in the shopping portal and go through that to do your shopping to earn more points than you otherwise would have. But 99% of my online shopping happens on Amazon, and I know I’m not alone. The problem is, Amazon is almost never included in credit card shopping portals or, if it is, it’s for very specific items where the odds of you actually needing that specific item is slim to none.

  • John March 23, 2015, 2:38 pm

    Hey Brandon. Will the credit card companies delete your bonus points/miles you’ve earned if you cancel your credit card before using them? Do you have to leave the card open in order to use the points/miles? For instance canceling the Citi AAdvantage card before the annual fee kicks in.

    Thanks for all your help!

  • JPrez March 28, 2015, 10:58 am

    Have you explored using the Google Wallet card in your hacks?

  • Becky April 13, 2015, 3:55 pm

    Thought I’d ask if anyone else has run across this. I just applied for the United Mileage Plus Explorer card and received notice stating I needed to call in to provide additional information. The representative I spoke with said that due to the U.S. Patriot act, I need a verifiable business name and tax id. I explained that I owned rental properties and run it under my name and SS number, but would be happy to provide a copy of my Schedule E so he could verify that this would be for business expenses. He said that would not qualify me. I’ve never applied for a “business” card before, and hadn’t realized the regulations were so strict. He kept referring to the “U.S. Patriot Act” and I’m not exactly sure how that ties into a credit application. This isn’t a credit issue as my scores are all nearly at 800. Has anyone else come across this and it’s just more common than I realize? Thanks for any input!

    • Ryan April 14, 2015, 2:23 pm

      That’s really odd. I signed up for the Chase Business Ink card and had no issues. I simply put my SSN and my “business” name. I wonder if they are getting more strict on making sure actual business owners get the cards?

  • FA April 13, 2015, 8:01 pm

    Any recent updates on these rewards? I am considering entering the churning game, but on the lower end of the spectrum. My wife and I have credit scores of 800+ and always pay our credit card bills each month. We just started using the Citi DoubleCash as our regular card, however the idea of churning and gaining additional benefits is intriguing. We routinely put $3k-6k/month on our credit cards (some of that is regular bills, some regular expenses, some occasional work expenses for me that are reimbursed).

    We live in St. Louis so Southwest and United are our main airline sources. We would love to take a 10-year anniversary trip to Hawaii next year but the cost is daunting, particularly with 2 children. Shorter term goals would be smaller trips that are coming up that would probably use Southwest Airlines.

    Any recommendations on how to get started? Also, my wife isn’t sold on this idea yet, in part because we think at some point we’re going to move houses (not this year but in theory we could make the move anytime in the next 5 yrs). So that has her worried about the credit scores.

    Thanks
    FA

  • Ryan April 14, 2015, 2:20 pm

    Hi guys,

    Can the Chase United Mileage Plus card with 50,000 mile signup bonus be cashed out? Can I get $500 for meeting the minimum spend?

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