Update: This post references offers that have since expired. See current offer information here.
In later posts we will examine some of the top points and miles programs in detail, but first we will look at how to accumulate those points and miles quickly. In this section I’ll show you how I plan credit card sign-ups and I’ll give you a sample plan that will earn almost 400,000 points in one year. Other resources cover ways to earn points and miles that don’t require any (or many) credit card sign-ups.
Constructing a Plan
Chase often denies applications if you’ve opened 5 or more credit cards (with any bank) in the past 24 months. As a result, it’s a good idea to front-load Chase applications in your planning. When first starting out, it makes sense to apply only for Chase cards. Later, once you’ve opened 5 or more credit cards, you can continue to apply for Chase cards, but your success rate may be lower. At that point, you may be able to improve your success rate by applying in-branch, by accepting targeted offers, or (if you have a high net worth) by joining Chase’s Private Client program.
American Express only allows a person to earn a signup bonus if it is the first time they have ever had that card. As a result, it makes sense to wait for really good offers. My Best Offers page indicates, for each card, whether there have been better offers in the recent past. If so, consider waiting until a similar offer resurfaces.
Citi often has competitive offers for their ThankYou points earning cards (Premier, Prestige, AT&T card, etc.), and it is often possible to find great offers on their AAdvantage & HHonors co-branded cards as well. Citi allows you one card per 8 day period and two cards per 65 day period. Citi will let you sign up for the same card again, but only if it has been at least 24 months since you either signup up for the card or cancelled the card. Citi is generally my third choice after considering either Chase or Amex cards. That’s not because their cards are less valuable (not at all!), but because Citi tends to have more lenient rules about application signups.
Barclaycard is a bit tougher than most other banks and doesn’t like to approve too many cards. Stick to just one or two per year. If you apply for cards too often, they have been known to auto-deny you without even running your credit. Data points suggest no more than one application per six months is generally safe. Barclaycard also likes to see a history of active use on their cards. If you already have a card and apply for another one, you’re more likely to have success if you’ve used the first one regularly.
On my “Best credit card offers” page, I have the best offers from other banks such as: Discover, US Bank, Wells Fargo and more. Pick cards from these banks when attractive offers are available.
Most signup bonuses come with spend requirements. For example, with the Sapphire Preferred, the current offer at the time of this writing requires that you spend $4K (four thousand dollars) in 3 months. Always make sure that you have a plan for meeting these spend requirements before signing up for cards. And, as I’ve said before, don’t jump into this unless you have a good credit score and you habitually pay off your credit card bills in full and on time. If you only have a few years of credit history, then start slowly. Sign up for one or two cards a year until you’ve built up a longer credit record. Favor cards with no annual fee so that you can keep them forever. In the future, those cards will be the foundation of your long and strong credit history.
A Sample Credit Card Plan
The following example plan was written in February, 2016. Depending on when you read this, the specific credit card offers listed may or may not be currently available. See my “Best credit card offers” page for the current top offers, but read on because the general ideas still apply…
Here is an example plan for one year of applications. This won’t work for everyone, but it should give you an idea of what’s possible. I tried to keep spend requirements at or below $2,000 per month. (You can find tips for meeting minimum spend requirements in other sections).
The following plan front-loads Chase cards since they will become harder to get after you’ve opened 5 or more cards.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred. 50K bonus requires $4K spend in 3 months. Add an authorized user to increase the bonus to 55K. First year free ($95 per year thereafter).
Spend required: $2,000 per month over 2 months
- Chase Hyatt Visa Signature. 2 free nights after $1K spend in 3 months. Add an authorized user for an additional 5K points. First year free ($75 per year thereafter)
- Chase Ink Plus business card (you do need a business to get this card). 60K bonus requires $5K spend in 3 months. First year free if you apply in branch. ($95 per year thereafter).
Spend required: $2,000 per month over 3 months
- Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus. 50K bonus requires $2k spend in 3 months. $69 annual fee is not waived the first year.
Spend required: $2,000 per month over 1 month
- Chase Freedom. 15K bonus requires $500 spend in 3 months. Add an authorized user for an additional 2500 points. No annual fee.
- Amex: Hilton HHonors Surpass from American Express.
85K bonus requires $3K spend in 3 months. $75 annual fee.This offer has expired. See our Best Offers page for the best current offer.
Spend required: Less than $2,000 per month over 2 months
- Citi: ThankYou Premier. 40K bonus requires $3K spend in 3 months. First year free ($95 per year thereafter).
Barclaycard: Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. 40K bonus requires $3K spend in 3 months. First year free ($89 per year thereafter).
Spend required: $2,000 per month in 1.5 months
The list below shows the points and miles you would earn if you were to follow the plan given above. Note that these totals include points earned from both the sign-up bonuses and from using the credit cards to meet minimum spend requirements (but does not include bonus points that may have been earned through category bonuses or other means):
Bank Points Earned
- 142K Ultimate Rewards points
- 43K ThankYou points
- 46K Barclaycard Arrival miles
Airline Miles Earned
- 52K Southwest Rapid Rewards
Hotel Points & Nights Earned
- 2 Free Nights + 6,000 Hyatt points
- 94K Hilton HHonors points
Breaking It Down
- Total Points & Miles Earned: 383,000 points and miles plus 2 free nights at any Hyatt!
- Total Cost: $144 in annual fees
Hopefully this gave you an idea of what can be achieved in about a year of credit card applications. Planning which cards to get can be a challenge, though. Feel free to reach out to me if you’d like help with your planning.
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Last updated on December 20th, 2018