This is the 3rd post in a series I am doing targeted at those who qualify for credit cards in the USA. If you see this post first, please read the others as well because they all relate to each other.
Consider this more of a menu from which you will be deciding which credit cards suit your needs. Do not use these links to apply for the card, use the links you find while doing the steps in the Newbie Guide. You can use the links solely to read the T&Cs from the bank and learn what extra benefits are included such as lounge passes, elite status, checked bags, etc.
This is a must read as it tells you the proper techniques to decide which credit card is best for your individual situation and how to make sure you are getting the best possible offer on the credit card(s) you need. You should do all the steps for EACH credit card you are considering and do them on the day you apply. After awhile, you get used to the princples and will automatically know how to look for the best deal.
TAKING IT UP A NOTCH
If you follow the instructions in the Newbie Guide, anyone in the USA with a good FICO score and financial responsibility can get an almost free trip to Central or South America where many fascinating bird habitats can be found. You will still need to pay for the taxes on the ticket and the eco-lodges and other ground expenses. So what happens if you need more miles than you can get with one credit card sign-on bonus?
- You want to go someplace like Australia or the Pacific Islands that costs more miles
- You want to bring a companion who for whatever reason doesn’t qualify for credit cards in the USA.
- You want to travel in business or first class.
- You want more of your ground expenses covered.
Let’s say that you need 100,000 points all up for your dream destination. In the past, there actually were sign-on bonuses at this level but more recently the sign-on bonuses seem to range between 25,000-50,000 miles. No one credit card by itself is going to get you there. So what else can you do?
COMBINING BONUSES INTO ONE ACCOUNT
There are several ways you can do this. You can sign up for one co-branded card such as the United Explorer or Citi AAdvantage card. Then you can get other cards that give variable points such as Ultimate Rewards or SPG points that you can transfer into your airline miles account. For example Chase’s Ultimate Reward cards such as Freedom, Sapphire and the Ink business cards all let you transfer your points to United Airlines (amongst others). Or the Amex SPG card will let you transfer your points to many different airlines and even give you a bonus of 5000 points for each batch of 20,000 points you transfer.
USE CATEGORY BONUSES TO BOOST YOUR POINTS
For beginners, the best category bonuses are the ones you can use for your everyday spending. The Chase Freedom card has rotating quarterly bonuses in which you get 5 points per dollar instead of the usual one point per dollar. The bonus is capped at $1500 for 7500 points per quarter. At the time of writing, the categories are: Gas stations, Starbucks, Movie Theatres. It’s probably unlikely that you would spend $1500 even on gas for your car in 3 months. What you can do is look for gas stations that sell gift cards to places you do frequent such as supermarkets, drugstores, restaurants or whatever. Buy the gift card when a 5% bonus is active and now instead of the usual 1 point per dollar for your weekly groceries, you now get 5 points per dollar. Some credit cards such as the Amex PRG give you 2 points per dollar for supermarkets.
BUSINESS CREDIT CARDS
Most banks will limit you to getting only one bonus per personal credit card within any of their co-branded cards. The bank will however let you have a personal co-branded card and a business co-branded card. These cards are designed for small business owners such as E-bay sellers, bloggers, artists, or whatever. You don’t need a business ID, you can use your own social security number and apply as a sole trader. The bank may be stricter on their approval criteria for these cards so I wouldn’t try it until you have built a good credit history with personal cards first.
The Chase Ink Plus & Bold cards are favourites in this category because of their 5x category bonuses. The easiest way to use this strategy is to look for gift cards you can use for your daily expenses at office supply stores. Let’s say you spend $150 a week on groceries. That’s $7800 a year. If you can find a gift card to your local supermarket at an office supply store, that’s 39,000 miles just for buying groceries you would normally buy!
Patience can be a virtue in this game! Banks vary widely if they let you “churn” their cards. The bonuses are usually targeted to first-time applicants only. In most cases, if you try to get the card twice, they may give it to you but not give you the bonus. In some cases, after a period of time has passed, for example 18-24 months, you become like a “new” customer again. You may or may not need to cancel the first credit card to get the clock ticking towards become a “new” customer again. The data points on FlyerTalk are the best source of advice for this. In my experience, Citi let me churn the AA cards after 24 months. Barclays won’t give me any new cards because they don’t like it if you have too many credit cards with other banks as well as their own. Amex bonuses can usually be re-gotten 12 months after closing the old card. Chase is usually not churnable unless they change the product.
FIXED VALUE POINTS
The most popular Fixed Point credit card is the Barclays Arrival card which has a sign-on bonus that gets you $440 to spend on travel. This can allow you to redeem points for things you otherwise couldn’t such as eco-lodges. Or you can use the Ultimate Rewards mall to book your travel. Be sure to do the math to make sure you wouldn’t be better off just paying cash. If you are swimming in points (don’t we wish) perhaps from your job and would rather use them to pay for your other travel expenses, both the Chase Ultimate Rewards cards and the Amex Membership Rewards cards allow you to do this. In most cases, you do get better value from transferring your points to an airline.
GOLDEN OPPORTUNITIES & GLITCHES
For these you just have to be in the right place at the right time as they can appear out of the blue and be shut down without warning. Examples of these would be:
- One-day sign-on bonus bonanzas – Amex PRG and Business Gold cards are famous for this.
- Double-browser method – up until last year, you used to be able to apply for 2 AA Citi cards using different browsers and get up to 50,000 miles for EACH card! Use Firefox for one and Chrome for another, fill the app up to the last box on both browsers, then submit the apps at the same time. The bank’s computer used to not be quick enough to catch you applying for 2 of the same card and approve them both. I did it successfully in late 2010. Last year, they fixed the glitch and it hasn’t been possible since then. If the glitch comes back, it will be posted on FlyerTalk for sure so a daily skim through the credit card forum is useful.
This is probably the riskiest way to acquire airline miles but some people have been successful with it. I don’t consider myself knowledgeable enough on this topic to blog about it and many other blogs will downplay the risks because they want you to click on their links. The best place to learn about manufactured spending with unbiased advice is on FlyerTalk.