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I currently have 23 active credit cards, and my credit score is consistently in the high 700s. Earlier this year I canceled and applied for 4 new cards for 230,000 miles/points, and recently I did another round of applications to bring my year-to-date sign-up bonus total to 435,000 miles/points. Some people’s eyes pop out of their heads when I tell them this and act like it can’t be real, but I assure them it is, and my travel habits show for it (See also: How credit card applications affect your credit score).
The answer is simple- these miles and points allow me to travel more frequently and comfortably than if I had to shell out the cash to fly. I don’t mind dropping a couple hundred in fuel surcharges and 62,500 Amex points to fly first class on Lufthansa home from Europe when that seat would have cost (and probably did cost others in the cabin) almost $10,000. Even though I wouldn’t have paid for that $10,000, I still got huge value out of the flight, and when you don’t dread your flights (especially as someone who is 6’7″) you can enjoy your travels more. In fact, sometimes getting there is more than half the fun.
No matter how you value your mileage redemptions- by the retail value of your ticket or by the price you would have willingly paid for a flight, there’s no disputing that miles and points enable you to travel better and more frequently than if they didn’t exist, as long as you know how to maximize them.
So for my newest round of applications, I snapped up four cards that will allow me to bulk up my points balances and diversify. One will help my Amex Membership Rewards, one will boost my US Airways mileage balance, and two will augment my fixed points balances, which will help defray the costs of travel (and hopefully add some other perks along the way). Here are each of my new cards and a quick explanation of why I got them. At the end of the post I’ll list all of my other current cards and what my long term plan is to keep/hold or cancel.
Amex Business Platinum: Amex is sending out lucrative targeted offers for their Business Platinum card- I’ve even heard of up to 150,000 points! I received a targeted offer in the mail addressed to the new LLC I recently started for 100,000 Membership Rewards points after $10,000 spent within 5 months, with a $450 annual fee. Per my July point valuations, I value Amex MR at 1.8 cents apiece, so 100,000 points = $1,800. Even with the $450 annual fee (which I’ll more than make up by leveraging the perks of this card), I’m looking at a gain of $1,350.
Although the big bonuses like 75,000 – 150,000 points are normally targeted, the current public offer that is available to everyone will get you 40,000 points after $5,000 spent within the first 3 months of card membership.
Amex lets you redeem for 1.25 cents apiece when booking travel directly through them, so that should be a base level for anyone who wants to use their points for travel. However, I get more value by transferring to partners like Aeroplan, Delta, Flying Blue, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and ANA. For example, as mentioned above, my recent 62,500 points transferred to Aeroplan got me a sweet ride home from Europe in Lufthansa First Class for $364 in fees.
This card also provides $200 a year in airline reimbursements, which I’ll use to buy four $50 American Airlines gift cards both now and January 1. In the next year I’ll get $400 in airline gift cards, plus access to Delta lounges (albeit now with no free guests), Priority Pass select lounges and Amex Centurion Lounges, where new snazzy clubs are opening this year at my two main airports- LaGauardia and Miami. Many people, myself included, were upset when the news came out at the end of 2013 that Amex Platinum and Business Platinum members would no longer get access to American Airlines Admirals Clubs and US Airways Clubs. I called American Express to voice my concerns, and was offered a $100 statement credit and 25,000 bonus points, so as I often say – it never hurts to ask.
There are a ton of other perks, like $100 Global Entry rebate (which will be good since my 5 year membership is running out soon) plus free Boingo and other perks like purchase protection and access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program. I used to have the Mercedes-Benz Platinum, but I cancelled it once I was approved for the Business Platinum and my 100,000 points posted. This also proves that you can get the Business Platinum bonus even if you’ve had personal Platinum cards in the past (at least in my experience). The major downside of switching from a personal Platinum to a Business Platinum is that each additional card will cost $300 annually versus the personal Platinum card, which lets you add up to 3 additional cards for $175, then pay $175 for each card after that.
US Airways Premier World MasterCard: This offer gives you 40,000 Dividend miles after your first purchase and payment of the $89 annual fee. I value US Airways miles at 1.9 cents a piece, so 40,000 miles is worth $760 to me, but you’ll be getting a minimum gain of $671 once you account for the $89 annual fee. Plus, the card has some really valuable perks, which made it a no-brainer for me.
The key perks I plan to use are the 5,000 mile discount on awards for solely US Airways operated flights ($95 value each time I save 5,000 miles), and two $99 companion tickets. Even though these perks will go away next year, I got in now to use them before they’re gone. I have elite status on AA, but the card also now offers free checked bags, which can save hundreds of dollars if you normally pay for bags on US Airways.
Capital One Venture: The current offer gives you 40,000 miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. 40,000 miles is equal to $400 towards travel, and the $59 annual fee is waived for the first year. This is the primo Capital One card, and the bonus has been as low as 10,000 miles for over a year. They did used to run 100,000 mile deals, but I think those days are gone, so I decided to get in on it now.
Note, Capital One does pull from all 3 credit agencies, so this may not be for everyone, but they generally have great customer service, no foreign transaction fees, and a simple way to redeem miles- you can purchase whatever travel expense- even fuel surcharges on an award ticket and earn miles on those purchases, then go into your statement after the fact and erase the charge at the rate of 1 cent per mile. The card is similar to the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, in that you can’t transfer to any frequent flyer programs, but you can use points to cover expenses not covered by typical frequent flyer miles and hotel points- like taxis/Uber/bed and breakfast stays/ boutique hotels/ subways/parking, etc.
Visa Black Card: This is the wildcard in my latest round of applications. This card has always been a mystery to me (and I always assumed the points and perks were worthless), so my application is really all about getting firsthand experience with a card that very few people have written about- at least in a detailed way.
The current signup bonus is 25,000 points after $1,500 spent in the first 90 days and a $495 annual fee, but the points are worth 2 cents each when redeemed for travel, so basically the fee is covered. While a net-zero bonus isn’t something to brag about, the card has a ton of perks, and I want to see whether it could make sense for someone to use this exclusively if they wanted a solid return on spend (2%) towards travel plus concierge level service and lounge access.
This card is issued by BarclayCard; I applied for it a month after the US Airways card, and had to call the reconsideration line to explain that I wanted this card to see if it could compete with my Amex Platinum. The card is also a fixed value point card that doesn’t transfer to any frequent flyer/guest programs (which I hope changes in the future, especially now that Barclays has relationships with a ton of travel brands like US Airways, Hawaiian and Wyndham). The points are worth 2 cents each, and you earn 1 point per dollar spent, whereas Amex points redeemed through Amex travel only earn 1% back (or 1.25% if you have the Business Platinum).
Visa Black Card also gives you access to priority pass lounges, exclusive gifts and concierge level service. The 25,000 points are worth $500 in travel, so basically the signup bonus covers the $495 annual fee for the first year, and I plan to put the card to the test over the next year to see if all of the benefits warrant paying the fee again. The Black Card has an uphill battle with so many other cards offering strong benefits, but I look forward to testing it out since I get asked about the card so often and have had no personal experience with the rewards system and service benefits.
Premier Rewards Gold: Keep – I spend money on airfare, so the 3x per dollar earned with this card on flights booked directly with airlines is the main way I boost my Membership Rewards balance to take advantage of their (seemingly less frequent) transfer bonuses. It also offers 2x points per $1 at US gas stations, so it’s a good everyday option there when other cards like the Freedom aren’t offering higher category bonuses. Plus, I get 15,000 points at $30,000 in calendar-year spend, which more than justifies the $175 annual fee in my mind.
Mercedes-Benz Platinum- Canceled because the Business Platinum is basically the same thing, but gives better redemption for travel, plus OPEN Savings additional earning and credit utilization sits on my business credit report. The main downside is that additional cards cost $300 each, versus $175 for up to 3 additional cards with a personal Platinum.
Starwood Preferred Guest Personal: Keep – Due to recent United and Hyatt devaluations shrinking the value of Ultimate Rewards points in my eyes, I value Starwood points the most. That’s thanks not-only to great award night redemptions at hotels, but also the versatility they give me to transfer to over 30 airline partners with a 25% bonus on 20,000-point transfers. I also like the 2 stays/5 nights worth of elite credit this card automatically confers every year. All that justifies a $65 annual fee to me.
Starwood Preferred Guest Business: Keep – (see above) This business version of the card also offers Amex OPEN business card benefits like discounts at FedEx, Hyatt and more, as well as an additional 2 stays/5 nights of elite status credit, which have helped push me over the edge to 75 nights (and even 100 nights) for Platinum status in the past.
Bank of America
Alaska Airlines Visa: Reapply - Given all of Delta’s recent negative changes, including a revenue-based mileage-earning scheme, new elite revenue requirements, and hacking away at elite benefits, I have decided to dump Delta. However, it’s still likely I’ll have to fly the airline and many of its partners fairly regularly. So with that in mind, I was looking around for partners to whom I could credit mileage, and Alaska seems to be the best choice given that MVP elites enjoy benefits on both Delta and American. Also, Alaska has some amazing partners in both SkyTeam and Oneworld, like Cathay Pacific, British Airways, Air France and Korean Air, plus non-alliance partners like Emirates and Fiji Airways – all of whom you can not only redeem miles on but also accrue full mileage and elite-qualifying miles on. All in all, it makes a lot of sense to me, especially after my experience of redeeming Alaska miles for a flight in Emirates first class in November, I’m hooked and want the miles to do so again.
Virgin Atlantic: Cancel – I got this card for the 65,000 bonus miles (20,000 bonus miles after first purchase, 25,000 additional bonus miles after $2,500 in qualifying purchases in the first 90 days, 5,000 bonus miles when adding two additional Cardmembers, and up to 15,000 Anniversary bonus miles if you hit a threshold of $25,000 in spend). Virgin Atlantic has high fees on most awards, and if I ever want to boost my account, they’re transfer partners of Amex, Chase and SPG, so I don’t want to put my valuable spend on this card. These perks make sense if you fly Virgin Atlantic and value the tier points you can earn and the half price companion economy award ticket, but Virgin’s fees are too high to make sense for economy award redemptions, even at half the miles.
Arrival Plus: Keep – I’ve been talking about this card since the new offer launched back in April. The sign-up bonus alone is worth $440+ towards travel purchases, and there’s no annual fee the first year ($89 thereafter). I plan to renew because I like the Chip + PIN capability and the ability to earn 2.2%+ back towards travel purchases. You can put the miles you earn towards a variety of travel purchases, like award ticket fees, train tickets, car rentals, Airbnb rentals (which I’ve been doing a lot more lately), Uber and more.
Ink Bold: Potentially cancel down the line and instead use the Exclusives/Plus – This is my workhorse business card. I use it to make purchases at office supply stores where I can buy gift cards for major retailers like Starbucks while earning 5 points per dollar. It also offers 2x points per $1 at gas stations and hotels, and no foreign transaction fees, making it good for travel abroad. I may cancel since I prefer the Ink Plus (flexibility to pay over time) and benefits are essentially the same.
Ink Bold Exclusives (Discontinued, but I am grandfathered in): Keep – Once you spend $100,000 in a calendar year, you start earning 1.2 points per dollar spent. When you spend $25,000 you get a 7,500 point bonus (which is 1.5 points per dollar spent on average), if you spend $50,000, you get another 15,000 point bonus (which is about 1.65 points per dollar spent on average), and if you spend $100,00, it nets you another 25,000 points bonus (which equates to 1.675 points per dollar spent on average). So on large purchases, like tax bills, for me it makes sense to spend the 1.8 cents per dollar in fees for using a credit card to get 1.67 Ultimate Rewards points, since I value UR points at over 2 cents each. However, there is a 3% foreign transaction fee, so I never use it abroad.
Ink Plus : Cancel – It’s basically the same as Ink Bold, but a credit card instead of a charge card, so you could theoretically run a balance and pay over time. I pay all of my bills off every month, so I don’t need this duplicate version. If I were spending more than the $50,000 in some of the 5x categories I’d think about it, but I’m focusing spend on other cards to hit bonuses/perks, so I plan to let this one go. I like the benefits of this card, so I recently opened up a new one for a new business I started to get the 50k boost again!
Sapphire Preferred: Keep – I spend a ton on travel and dining (2x points per dollar spent), plus I’m grandfathered into the 7% annual bonus on all points earned (except for sign-up bonus), so in addition to great portal earning, the Sapphire Preferred is one of my main workhorse cards. I’ll be sad to see the 7% dividend go in 2016, but I’ll save some money on auto rental insurance coverage, since they recently added primary collision damage coverage to the card. Plus, there are no foreign transaction fees, making it a no-brainer card for travel abroad.
Freedom: Keep – I earn 7,500 points per quarter by spending $1,500 in the rotating quarterly 5X bonus categories. They are currently gas stations and Kohl’s until September 30, 2014 . Since there’s no annual fee, I’m going to keep it around, especially since I’m a Chase Checking customer and get an additional 10% bonus on all points earned.
British Airways: Keep – Even though British Airways charges high fees on companion ticket redemptions, the bottom line is that I can get two business class roundtrip tickets from NY/Philadelphia to London for a total of 80,000 Avios and $800 a ticket (when I find the opportunity to redeem them). I value business class roundtrip to Europe at $2,500, so I’m coming out way ahead here even with the fees, and the 1.25 Avios per dollar spent is a solid base earning ratio.
United Explorer: Cancel and open business version when targeted with a high bonus – With this card I like the anytime awards and two annual United Club passes, as well as the 10,000 bonus miles after hitting $25,000 in annual spend. However, I’m going to switch to the business version so that I can earn 2 points per dollar spent at restaurants, gas stations and office supply stores in addition to the 2 miles per dollar spent on tickets purchased from United.
Hyatt Visa: Keep – I don’t put any spend on this card, but the automatic annual free night I get at a category 1-4 hotel as a cardholder far outweighs the $75 annual fee. Plus, having it often gives me bonuses during Hyatt promotions.
Citi Executive AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard: Keep 1, Cancel 2 after I reap their retention bonuses since I already paid the annual fee on all 3 – I now have three of these cards open, and the one I most recently opened only came with a $4,000 credit limit. Once I hit the minimum spend on that, I’ll cancel it and keep one of the other two cards open. I got the first card with a 60,000-mile sign-up bonus, and have enjoyed the American Admirals Club access it gives me (especially since that benefit of the Amex Platinum cards will be discontinued on March 22), and the ability to earn 10,000 elite-qualifying miles by spending $40,000 in a calendar year. The other two cards I got with 100,000 mile sign up bonuses, so between the three cards I was able to rack up over 260,000 AAdvantage miles.
Hilton HHonors Reserve: Keep – The annual free weekend night at top-tier hotels after $10,000 in spend more than pays for the $95 annual fee, and Diamond status at $40,000 in spend is a nice option to have, though I’m rarely staying at Hiltons these days, so I probably won’t strive for Diamond, since Gold has good enough perks like free breakfast.
US Bank Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature: Keep - My plan is to hit renewal, earn the automatic 40,000 points and then also get the business version, since it only has a $60 annual fee instead of $75, and offers another 85,000 bonus points as well as the last-night free award benefit that means half-priced awards on two-night stays. To me, the 40,000 point anniversary benefit pays for the fee each year.