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5 Things You Should Know After a Year of Using Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Feb. 23, 2019
7 min read
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Your first anniversary. Your child's first birthday. Your first year on the job. Like it or not, people put a lot of stock in one-year markers. We love to reflect back on the first year and look at what went right and what went wrong.

After a year of earning points and miles with travel rewards credit cards, you've likely crossed off a few firsts from that not-so-old bucket list, like booking your first award ticket and getting hotel elite status for the first time.

One can learn a lot in 365 days. And if you've been following The Points Guy, our hope is that you've picked up on the following building blocks of this really cool hobby.

Lesson 1: Before All Else, Chase Chase Cards

Whoever said "it's a marathon, not a sprint," must have been referring to points and miles. Trust us when we tell you that there are plenty of credit cards to pursue. Countless welcome bonuses to collect. But before you climb too far down the rabbit hole, make sure you carefully consider applying for a few Chase cards.

Why start with Chase? Well, because it has that 5/24 rule that you might have read about. For the uninitiated, Chase will deny you many of its finest cards if you've already been approved for five in the past rolling 24 months. That's not five approvals with Chase, but five with any bank.

Considering that we value Chase Ultimate Rewards points higher than many other loyalty currencies, you don't want to be shut out. The Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card tend to be great general travel cards. Get one -- but not both -- as there are restrictions on how many Sapphire cards you can have in a given period/at once.

Lesson 2: Know Each Credit Card Issuer's Application Rules

Yeah, yeah, we know you have spent the past year excited to collect more of those oh-so-valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards and other points and miles available via Chase's cobranded cards. But remember to pace yourself. Chase tends to allow people to get one personal card and one business card within a 90-day period. Is this a hard rule like 5/24? No, but remember it's a marathon, not a sprint. Chase also does not appear to put a limit on how many of its cards you can have, but does seem to pay mind to the amount of credit borrowed.

One year into the hobby, you have likely looked into other cards, knowing there is life beyond Chase. Other banks and issuers also have rules on how many cards they will give you and how often.

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American Express, for instance, is known to deny those looking to get more than three of its cards in a given 90-day window, although three could be doable if you were to bring charge cards into the mix. And, unlike Chase -- which in many cases will allow you to get the same credit card bonus after a two-year wait -- Amex has a once-per-lifetime rule on cards. What's the take-away? With Amex, it pays to wait for a card's bonus to approach its historical high point before applying.

Beyond Chase and Amex, there's still a whole lot to be learned about Bank of America, Barclays, Citi and other banks and issuers. And with a year under your belt, you've probably got a good handle on some of those unique nuances.

Lesson 3: Know Your Bank Points and How to Use Them

Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards always rank among the most valuable points given the flexibility each affords the would-be traveler. Among the three programs, points and miles enthusiasts have an array of hotel and airline transfer options to take them virtually anywhere on the planet.

For example, Amex allows Membership Rewards points transfers to an array of five-star airlines, such as Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Emirates. Want to book a hotel with your Ultimate Rewards points? No problem, as Marriott and Hyatt sit pretty as strong options, especially when both have top-tier brands such as St. Regis (Marriott) and Park Hyatt (Hyatt) with rooms that can retail for more than $1,000 per night.

While one can get a great deal of value from using their points directly through the banks' travel portals, transferring points often allows for outsized redemption value, as evidenced when one very savvy TPG reader flew around the world in first class for a mere $273.

This pool villa was a free upgrade on TPG staffer Darren Murph's award stay, thanks to his top-tier Hyatt status. (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)

Lesson 4: Earn Elite Status Just By Opening Credit Cards

A year earning and using points and miles is long enough to notice something key: Frequent travelers get treated better than the rest. For those willing to pay a pretty penny, room upgrades and free breakfast are more the norm than the exception. And understandably so, as hotels and airlines vie for the most profitable customers.

But even if you fall short of road-warrior status, many elite perks remain well within reach by opening the right cards. Take the Hilton Honors program. Diamond status, Hilton's top loyalty tier, can be achieved by 30 stays or 60 nights in a calendar year. Or you can achieve it by opening the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Lesson 5: Good Record-Keeping Matters

Now, for the last lesson you should have learned after a year in the points hobby. And if you just celebrated your one-year mark, this may be a fresh lesson. Many cards, particularly those with lucrative welcome bonuses and bonus categories, come with an annual fee. While the card perks often offset the fees and then some, it's critical to know your card anniversary dates so you can assess whether you want to keep a card for another year, seek a retention offer or possibly downgrade or close the card.

Seasoned points and miles aficionados should have a handle on when their card payments are due each month. A missed payment and unnecessary interest charges can easily offset rewards and benefits.

Bottom Line

A year in the points and miles and travel rewards card hobby is nothing to sneeze at. It's an accomplishment, and a reason to celebrate. Your second year will unlock even greater perks and, if you play your credit cards right, countless memories to remember forever.

Featured image by (Photo by Freestocks Org/Unsplash)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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