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There are plenty of travel sites that tell you how to do things the right way — but as every traveler (and credit card game player) knows, sometimes things go wrong. In his bi-monthly Mistake Monday series, TPG Contributor J. Keith van Straaten invites you to learn from his mistakes — his many, many mistakes.
I don’t remember exactly when I discovered that maximizing points and miles was a thing, but I do know that I started maximizing mistakes shortly thereafter. It doesn’t seem like I could make a mistake when getting a bonus on a credit card offer — after all, bonuses by definition are free! — but I somehow found a way …
In the fall of 2012, I was relatively new to the game and eager to learn more. I attended a Frequent Traveler University weekend in Los Angeles. The university campus was nestled in the bucolic splendor of two ballrooms at the Sheraton near the airport. I dutifully took notes as I gained all sorts of tips for acquiring and spending points and miles.
I had a lot to learn, but at least felt assured that I was on the right track. I had heard of all the credit cards being recommended and was already implementing a strategy that worked for my goals. Then I heard a speaker bring up the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Business card. “Oh, great!” I thought. “I just got that card. I’m ahead of the game!” But when he casually mentioned the sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles and a $50 statement credit, my face went flush in a wave of panic.
I’d only gotten a bonus of 30,000 miles — and no statement credit!
And just like that, I was struck with a case of Applicant’s Remorse: the discovery of a better credit card deal after you’ve already applied.
Just to be sure I heard correctly, I went to find the speaker afterwards, and he confirmed that the same product I’d gotten was available with a 65% larger bonus and the $50 credit. Seeing my crestfallen expression, he then proceeded to talk me off my metaphorical ledge by suggesting something I never would have considered: Send a message to Chase through the Secure Message Center and ask them to match the current offer.
I couldn’t imagine this would actually work, but what did I have to lose? I logged into my Chase account, opened the Secure Message Center, and sent a message explaining my situation. And wouldn’t you know it, within 24 hours I had a $50 statement credit and 20,000 miles on the way to my MileagePlus account! It took several minutes for my shock to pass; I couldn’t believe my mistake had been erased so quickly.
Why would Chase do this? Were they legally required to match an offer within x days of my account approval? Did they have pallets of MileagePlus miles taking up space in their warehouse? Did they know that a few years later I would be writing for a popular travel-and-points site and publicly praise their service? Whatever the reason, I’ve continued to be a Chase customer since then, and to be on the lookout for the best bonus offers.
Research. Before applying for a card, see if you’re getting the best offer. TPG has a handy way to show you the current top credit card bonus offers. It also has a handy search function, which you can use to look up the history of bonus offers for each card; same with online forums like FlyerTalk. While there’s no guarantee that any offer will be increased or repeated, you can get a sense of what’s possible — or even available.
Ask. The most valuable takeaway I’ve gotten from my experience with banks and travel is that asking for a break can yield hidden treasure. (As The Points Guy himself says, it never hurts to ask.) I have received literally thousands of dollars and tens of thousands of points and miles that would have been otherwise lost if I hadn’t simply … asked.
Follow up. Even after you’ve received a new card, look around for what bonuses are being offered on the product. I wouldn’t have known what to ask for if I hadn’t known what was available. And don’t limit your search to increased offers of mileage and points. Banks often add other perks for new applicants (discounts on travel products, lowered/waived annual fee, etc.) that you may wish to request.
Socialize. No traveler is an island. Participating in the community of mileage-and-points enthusiasts is not only fun; it’s profitable. Whether attending events like Frequent Traveler University, engaging in the comments section on posts like this one or interacting with people on Twitter (you’ll find TPG at @thepointsguy and I’m at @J_Keith), you’ll learn more tips and get more of your questions answered than by merely going it alone.
Have you had any experiences trying to get a better bonus? Share your story in the comments below!