Credit Cards for People Who Love Travel and Money

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For many years, I used one Chase credit card for pretty much everything. With a typical credit card bill of $4,000 to $5,000 a month, I was rewarded with $40 or $50 worth of points every month and I thought that was pretty darned good.

When I shopped at Amazon, I got triple the usual points, and there used to be some other perks, like using $250 worth of points for a flight worth up to $400. I knew the ins and outs of the card’s benefits pretty well, and I did my best to get the most value I could for my points.

When the redemption options changed and the points were essentially devalued, my eyes started wandering to these other shiny cards I was starting to hear about online. As they say, there are plenty of fish in the banking sea, and I was willing to cast a line to see if there were better options out there for me.

Boy, were there ever.

Since then, and then was not even three years ago, I’ve done much better.

I’ll bet you could do better, too.

Credit Cards Travel Money

a sampling of my card collection

 

Credit Cards for People Who Love Travel and Money

 

In the last two and a half years, I’ve booked at least 20 round-trip flights, about half of them to international destinations, using bonus points and miles earned mainly from introductory offers on various credit cards. The only out-of-pocket costs on those flights are the taxes and fees, which typically run $5.60 each way on domestic flights (and more for international flights).

I don’t keep a ledger of all the travel I’ve booked this way in the last couple years, but off the top of my head, I know I’ve booked all of these nearly-free flights:

  • Me to Colorado for a Golden Gophers football game
  • My wife to visit family in Michigan
  • My wife and mother-in-law for a “girls trip” in the Caribbean
  • My wife to accompany me on a CME trip to San Francisco
  • My family of four to Orlando for spring break and a Disney Cruise
  • My family of four to Guanajuato, Mexico for three weeks
  • My wife and 2 sons to accompany me (CME paid mine) to Hawaii
  • My family of four to Honduras (where we are right now)!

 

Those flights alone would have easily cost me over $10,000, probably closer to $15,000 if I had paid with cash. I’ve also stayed in some really nice hotels for free, and have also had a few thousand dollars worth of travel expenses reimbursed using points from cards that have flexible redemption options good for any travel expenses.

In total, I would guesstimate I’ve saved over $20,000 in travel costs in the last couple years, and I don’t spend a ton of time on this stuff. That $20,000 I’ve saved is the equivalent of earning an extra $35,000 or so when you factor in the taxes I pay on earned income. Bonus miles and points are not taxed.

 

Another way think about it is that, for a high-income earner, $10,000 in free travel is like getting an $18,000 raise. 

 

I have acquired a number of different credit cards, of course, but I can easily meet the minimum spending requirements in a month or two, and when you have a system to track your cards, it’s not difficult to manage.

And I’ve got just the thing you need.


 

Top Travel Reward Cards

 

Credit Card Spreadsheet — Track the Details

 

I’ve been on a spreadsheet-building spree lately, and I made another one just for you. Well, it’s for me, too. I took the one I’ve been using and spruced it up, including some of the better offers available for those who love free travel and money.

There are columns for all of the pertinent information, and I’ve pre-filled the current info for some of the top cash back and travel reward cards available, with some recent limited time offers highlighted in red.

 

Credit Card Spreadsheet

 

 

I’ve also summarized the best perks for these cards. This screenshot has been edited to fit the perks on screen.

 

 

 

Finally, if you prefer to start with a blank slate, entering only cards you currently own, the second tab in the file gives you an empty canvas on which to paint your card rewards masterpiece.

 

 

Subscribers to the site already have a link to the spreadsheet in the e-mail I sent out.

If you would like a copy of your own, please enter your e-mail below, and I’ll send you a link. You’ll be subscribed with the option to receive a weekly digest and can opt out completely with one click.

 

Credit Cards I Have Used

 

I plan to update this spreadsheet with new offers and updated information when it becomes available and subscribers will be alerted to new copies of the updated spreadsheet when it becomes available.

Note that I have not acquired all the cards listed on the spreadsheet, but I have used each of the following cards in recent years:

    • Chase Sapphire Preferred
    • Chase Southwest Premier
    • Chase Freedom
    • Chase Business Ink Plus
    • Amex Hilton Honors
    • Amex Hilton Honors Ascend
    • Capital One Venture
    • Citi Thank You Premier
    • Citi Aadvantage Select World Elite
    • Citi Business Aadvantage Platinum Select

 

  • Amex Gold Delta Skymiles

 

How One Card Saved Us $3,000

 

How valuable are these points? To give you one example, I booked our flights to Honduras (we left Friday, April 27th) on March 7th. Based on the AAdvantage award chart, we can get to Central America for 25,000 points round trip with MileSAAver Off Peak seats.

I was able to find flights to Tegucigalpa that fit our itinerary at that point level, allowing us to partake in a medical mission with One World Surgery as a family, paying only the taxes and fees for international travel, which totaled $74.70 apiece for the round-trip flights. If we had purchased the flights ourselves, we would have paid about $3,300 for the four tickets.

So for 100,000 points, we were able to fly round trip to Central America. Using a Citi AAdvantage card to pay for the fees, we were credited 10% of the miles back, so it actually only set us back 90,000 miles.

 

 

Currently,  obtaining two Citi Platinum Select World Elite AAdvantage Mastercards with no annual fee for the first year (and $95 thereafter), and spending a total of $5,000 in three months ($2,500 per card) will get you enough points to get you to any American Airlines Caribbean, Mexican, or Central American destination and back.

The welcome bonus on two CitiBusiness Aadvantage Platinum Select World Mastercards will get four of you to South America and back (or you and a loved one to Asia or Europe and back).

 


Why wouldn’t you do that?

 

Tips to Simplify Managing Multiple Credit Cards

 

 

Always Autopay!

 

The first thing I do when I acquire a new card is set up autopay by connecting the online credit card with my bank account and ensuring the card will be paid on time automatically.

It’s a good idea to keep at least a few thousand dollars in a checking account and / or have an automated sweep from savings into checking at your bank.

If you can’t afford to pay credit cards in full every month, you should not be using a credit card, plain and simple.

If you have the option to set your monthly due date for the credit card, there is some advantage to having each of your cards due at the same time to keep things simple.

If you fail to do this, it’s not difficult to miss a payment — and, yes, I have. The late fee or finance fees may be forgivable if you call the credit card issuer and make an honest plea, but it’s best to set it, forget it, and not have to make that awkward phone call.

 

No Companion Cards

 

You will often be enticed to pick up a second card for a spouse on the same account with a bonus of points or miles that might be worth a small fraction of the welcome bonus.

I advise against this.

The better option is to apply for a new card under your spouse’s name and social security number using household income on the application.

By opening a new account rather than obtaining a companion card, you can get double the bonus for each card you choose to acquire.

 

Top Small Business Cards

 

Chase Cards First

 

If you are new to travel rewards, start with Chase cards. The bank has a “5 / 24” rule. If you have applied for five new credit cards in the last 24 months, you can expect to be denied. Companion cards count, unfortunately, even if you’re not the person who originally opened the account. We learned that lesson the hard way.

Chase Ultimate Rewards are among the most desirable and flexible reward points out there. They can be transferred to a number of travel partners including Southwest, United, Hyatt, Marriot, IHG, Ritz-Carlton, and a number of international airlines. Points can also be redeemed directly for travel at 1.5 cents per point with the Sapphire Reserve or 1.25 cents per point with the Sapphire Preferred.

If I were starting anew today, I would start with a Sapphire Reserve or Sapphire Preferred card.

 

If you have any kind of business, the Ink Business Preferred card is a great next option.

 

After that, consider a travel card branded with your favorite hotel or airline.

 

Finally, grab either the Freedom (1% back + 5% on rotating categories) or Freedom Unlimited (1.5% back on everything). These will give you Ultimate Rewards points that are more valuable if transferred to one of the Sapphire cards.

 

If you are still in the market for a fifth Chase card, I would consider a second travel branded card, but there are other options.

 

Don’t Carry a Dozen Cards

 

You don’t want the George Costanza wallet bursting at its leather seams. There’s probably little need to carry more than about three cards at any one time, and if you’re not a dedicated optimizer, one card will do.

You can always swap out the card(s) in your wallet, purse, or manbag before traveling overseas, flying a certain airline, or staying at a particular hotel chain.

In my manbag wallet, I keep one cashback card (Chase Freedom) and one card that I’m using to meet the minimum spending requirement in the first three months. Depending on our travels, I may also have a card that matches the airline on which I’m traveling. If travelling overseas, I make sure I have a card with no foreign transaction fees. Most of the cards on the spreadsheet qualify.

 

Don’t Stress

 

I don’t always use the most optimal card for the situation. As is true with most facets of personal finance, I’ve found there’s a point of diminishing returns when trying to use the ideal card in each and every transaction.

Applying the Pareto principle, 20% of the effort is likely to get you 80% of the results. If you’re interested in the extra 80% of the effort for the optimal results, you can try one of the apps designed to help you choose the right card for every situation. Be prepared to carry a “Costanza wallet.”

The same is true for redemptions. Don’t do anything foolish, like getting 0.8 cents per point when shopping on Amazon when you could have 1 cent per point in cash (there’s actually a card that does this). And use your Chase Ultimate Rewards points wisely. This often means transferring to a travel partner for a better redemption.

Don’t stress if you can’t remember which category gives you the most points this particular quarter. I can’t, either. If you’ve got a system that works, let me know in the comments. I can see where a label maker could come in handy, but I’m just not that into squeezing every last point out of my card collection.

Finally, I wouldn’t be too concerned about the effect of multiple cards on your credit score. My understanding from what I’ve read and what I’ve seen is that a new card can temporarily decrease your score by five to ten points. This is what mine has done over the last six months.

 

 

Where to Find Top Credit Cards

 

 

Many of the best credit cards can be found via my relationship with CardRatings. I implore you to consider using a link on this page, as I donate half my profits to charity. Any site that refers you to a credit card issuer receives a referral fee, and I’m not aware of anyone else being as generous with their affiliate income.

With that in mind, you can find all of the cards from the spreadsheet here. You’ll see a couple of my favorites, along with some limited time offers below.

 

Top Cards

 

Chase Sapphire Preferred: 50,000 points

 

 

Chase Sapphire Reserve: 50,000 points

 

  • 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in 3 months
  • $450 Annual fee partially offset by $300 travel credit each year
  • Up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓
  • 3x points on travel & dining
  • 50% more value when booking travel with Chase portal
  • Many point transfer partners
  • Free Priority Pass Select = Airport Lounges worldwide = free food and drink at hundreds of airports
  • Click here to learn more and compare this card to others

 

Current Limited Time Offers

 

This section is updated regularly as the offers frequently change. The welcome offers are typically above what you would normally see for these cards.

 

Hilton Honors Ascend American Express 125,000 Points

  • 125,000 points after $2,000 spend in first 3 months
  • Weekend night free after $15,000 spend in a calendar year
  • 12x Points per dollar spent at Hilton, 6x or 3x in other categories
  • Automatic Gold Status
  • Diamond Status for > 1 year after $40,000 spend in a calendar year
  • Click here to learn more and compare this card to others.

 

Hilton Honors Business American Express 125,000 Points

  • 125,000 points after $2,000 spend in first 3 months
  • Weekend night free after $15,000 spend in a calendar year
  • 12x Points per dollar spent at Hilton, 6x or 3x in other categories
  • Automatic Gold Status
  • 10 Free Priority Pass Select Lounge visits per year
  • Click here to learn more and compare this card to others.

 

IHG Rewards Club Premier card 100,000 Points

 

Gold Delta SkyMiles card 60,000 Miles

 

Gold Delta SkyMiles Business card 60,000 Miles

 

Platinum Delta SkyMiles card 80,000 Miles

 

The World of Hyatt Credit Card from Chase: 60,000 points
  • 40,000 points after spending $3,000 in 3 months
  • Additional 20,000 points after spending $6,000 in first six months
  • $95 annual fee
  • Free hotel nights start at 5,000 points. Welcome offer worth up to 12 nights.
  • 1 Free night stay on cardmember anniversary
  • Click here to learn more and compare this card to others.

 

Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card: 75,000 points

 

Chase Ink Business Unlimited: $500. Straight cash, homey.

 

Chase Ink Business Cash: $500. Again, straight cash, homey.

 

Finally, a business card so good I’m not allowed to mention by name, but it will get you 70,000 Aadvantage Miles after $4,000 spent in 4 months. It only cost me 90,000 miles to take my family of four to Central America. The card also offers a free companion certificate if you spend $30,000 and renew the card the following year. Compare small business cards to find this offer.

 

For specific categories or issuers, please use these links:

 

You can always find these links quickly from the menu bar at the top of the page. On a desktop, it looks like this:

 

 

Finally, please be cautious with the language in the comments. The card issuers don’t like the terms that rhyme with “travel snacking” or “travel packing.” Also, please avoid the yearning to use any word that starts like “church” and ends like “burning.” Thank you for your discretion.

 

Have you scored some nearly-free trips using travel rewards? What has your strategy been?

If not, what’s stopping you?

 

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone.” Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses below have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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58 comments

  • Yuri Varzari

    Great post! We used to have a single credit card for everything until I’ve read your “Cruising to Cuba” post where you mentioned traveling using credit card sign-up bonus miles. Since then we opened several Chase cards and already planning a trip using accumulated points!

    What do you do with all these credit cards once you meet the sign-up bonus minimum? I guess if there is no annual fee, you can keep them forever in your sock-drawer. But these with annual fees, do you usually call and cancel them or perhaps downgrade to “no fee” card if available?

    • You mentioned two viable options. A third is to keep the card. A number of them give you additional points (or a free hotel night) on your card anniversary, which helps offset the annual fee.

      I wish I would have kept the Chase preferred card instead of downgrading since the Ultimate Rewards points are more valuable with the Sapphire cards compared to the Freedom cards, which I didn’t understand at the time. They really should give the points different names if they’re not the same.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

      • PoF, you can still upgrade back to the Chase Sapphire.

      • MG

        For these card with “50,000 miles for $3000 in the first 3 months” or something similar, is this typically an annual benefit or just a one time benefit? Wasn’t sure if it ‘resets’ every year and I can get the miles from using the card again the next year or if it’s more of a ‘one-time’ benefit then you just move on to the next card after you get the sign-up benefit. thanks!

        • One time, although new cards are issued regularly. You could pick up a new card every couple months for years without running out of quality cards.

          And with some cards, you maybe able to reapply after closing an account after some time has passed for a new bonus.

          Best,
          -PoF

      • BoneDoc

        Hey PoF,

        If you’ve got the ability to do so, you can still use Sapphire level Ultimate reward points with a Chase Freedom, per say. Here’s what I did:

        I had the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Loved it. Used it for every purchase. Then when the Reserve came out, with a decent sign on offer, I decided to take it. The problem is that you can only have 1 Sapphire card at a time. So what I did was downgrade my sapphire preferred card to a Chase Freedom. The points stayed in my ultimate rewards account, my card number stayed the same, and my credit history with the account was maintained. Then I got the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, making me eligible for the sign on bonus. On the Chase portal, I am able to convert/combine my Chase Freedom points to my Sapphire Reserve account on an equal 1-to-1 basis. So I’m basically earning nothing but Sapphire points, even though a good number are going through the Freedom card. If you haven’t pulled the trigger on the Reserve yet, I’d look into that option. I’m not sure if that combining points option works with other Chase cards besides the freedom.

        Thanks for the great info!

    • A fourth option is calling to see if any retention offers. In general, the banks want to retain you as a customer and don’t want you to cancel cards. Basically, what you do is call the customer service line in the back of the card and tell them you are thinking about canceling but not sure. The customer service representative may transfer you to retention specialist who may offer you bonus points or the annual fee waived for you to keep your card. It doesn’t work all the time. For me, it has worked for half of my cards. YMWV though, and I heard it’s harder to get a retention bonus nowadays.

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  • What a timely post! My wife and I have been thinking about taking our family of five on a trip to see my sister in Seattle, but wanted to find a good card to help us there. I started looking initially and found that the amount of points I get from the initial rewards program is only enough to cover one of our trips from NC to seattle. I stopped looking at that point.

    Maybe I need to keep looking? I’ll go check out the chase cards you mentioned.

    Thanks for the help, as always.

    TPP

    • At a minimum, I would look at getting the best card for each of you. As I said above, “no companion cards.”

      The further in advance you start planning, the more likely you are to find flights at the “saver” level with the lowest point requirements.

      Also, if you have any kind of business, you can get a business card. The current offer for 80,000 Chase UR points with an Ink Business card (times two) will get you a long way on Southwest or United.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • I started playing this game about a year go and it’s been a huge bonus. At a time that we were trying to find ways to save, travel was on the chopping block. Now we can go just about everywhere for free!

    • I was skeptical for awhile, but once I got my first card(s), I realized it really worked. I used to be afraid of using my points for less-than-optimal redemptions, but I’ve learned not to stress about it. Free travel is free travel.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • Were about five years into it. Two of the last three the cards have paid for all our trips. The number one fear I hear about this is credit score drops. Mine is still ranked excellent, the fear is overrated.

  • Jen

    Great post! We’ve been doing this for just over 4 years. My husband and I get the southwest plus and premier every 2 years to reach the points for the southwest companion passes, and then make our kids our designated companions- we typically fly domestically 5-8 times/year on southwest and it costs our family of four $44.80/trip!! The pass is good for the rest of the year when you reach it (we usually hit it in Feb) and then the entire following calendar year.

    • I have used Jen’s strategy before and it works great! The problem with SW is the timing. You have to apply in December then go nuts in Jan/Feb to get the benefit. It takes timing and patience. My question for Jen. Do you cancel all 4 cards after Feb to meet the 2yr requirement to reapply? For POF:. What is your cancel strategy?

      • Jen

        Hi- we’ve cancelled one and kept the other for regular spending. you can keep the card up until right before you reapply for another one, the restriction is that there has to be 24 months between receiving bonuses. Our passes expires 12/31/18, and I received my bonuses on 2/5/17, so I won’t be able to get my next bonuses until 2/6/19. A chase representative told me that I could apply for the card before that and make sure I don’t hit the bonus before that date.

        • Wade

          Jen,

          Is the date you received your bonus the date the bonus hit your account (i.e. a few days after the statement date in which you earned it), or is the exact date you reached your minimum spend?

          Thanks in advance!!!

          Wade

          • Jen

            Hi Wade, it’s the date the bonus was applied to my account. The bonus isn’t applied until your statement date- ie if you hit the minimum spend on 2/3, but your period ends 2/25, you won’t get the bonus until 2/25.
            hope this helps 🙂

  • lisa

    When DH travelled a lot for his job, he used to rack up lots of miles and the family would fly for free to visit relatives. Through the years, there’s been lots of restrictions with free seats and more blackout dates have cropped up.
    Nowadays, we have limited our use of CC’s and look at kayak for deals to fly within the US. We can usually books flights for under $100 round trip.

  • Rr

    Thanks for the info. I have not optimized travel cards at all and wasn’t aware of the various Chase schemes until you alerted me to this recently. In a comment on a different post.

    What I’ve been doing now that works well to optimally get points is a quick table in word that lists the various reward credit cards in rows and what category to use them in (gas, groceries, etc) b/c some get 5% back in gas, some 5% in groceries, etc. I have four columns for the four quarters of the year so I know which card to use for rotating categories. If I can’t remember which card to use in a given situation I just look at the picture Of the table that I snapped with my phone to remind myself. It took 30 mins or so to set up the table and I probably spend 5 mins every few months updating it. Ocassionally make mistakes but overall we are optimizing what we have pretty well, but we need to branch out to these travel cards to do better with this sort of stuff. Right now we mostly drive for vacation b/c it’s so expensive to fly with family, but clearly flying with family can be done without breaking the bank.

  • Aw man! I literally just created my own credit card spreadsheet this past weekend… for realz! I’m not as fast at this as some of the spreadsheet gurus out there either. Why didn’t you give me a heads up you were going to be doing this? Oh, well, I do see a couple columns that I’m going to be adding to mine.

    I just got into the credit card travel rewards journey at the beginning of the year. It started out pretty easy, but then I realized I would start forgetting where I left off at without putting it down on paper (digital paper). It’s kind of exciting to do this, but it can be a little confusing as the cards start to build up between my wife and I.

    — Jim

  • Adam

    Great article on an often overlooked pathway to saving money on travel costs. A few years ago we realized that vacations were by far our biggest ‘unnecessary’ expense. Through some creative use of travel rewards cards we’ve managed to decrease our costs and actually fly Business/First, as well as getting discounts and free nights in hotels. There are many great blogs devoted to this topic including The Points Guy and all the blogs on Boarding Area.

    One thing I don’t think you touched on is credit utilization (% of cc debt / total available credit) and its effect on credit score — many people fear that their score will drop if they open new credit lines, but the opposite is often true — new lines of credit increase the denominator and may even increase your score. We make a point of keeping all cards that have no annual fee, and downgrading any that have a fee after 11 months of use (before the next fee cycle). Easy when you have a good spreadsheet!

    • MG

      Self-admitted credit card newbie here…If a card has an annual fee in the first year, if I downgrade the card after the first 11 months, can I avoid the annual fee but still get the benefits of the card if I already met the requirements for the miles? And for cards that have a free first year but then starting 2nd year have an annual fee, is it better to downgrade those cards or just cancel them? Thanks!

      • Adam

        The rules vary with respect to keeping miles / points accrued if you cancel a card. You can always transfer points out to an airline / hotel program to save them if necessary. Other benefits like Priority Pass (airport lounge access) and Global Entry / TSA Pre you keep if those came with your card. It is usually preferable to downgrade to a no-annual-fee card and “sock drawer” it, as canceling a card will cause a small hit to your credit score (more important to not cancel your oldest cards, as “age of credit history” carries more significant weight). In my experience, opening and closing multiple cards per year generally will not have a major effect on credit score as long as you do not carry a balance (i.e. pay off each month)

  • Astrid

    Thanks for this post. I had the chase reserve, capital one ventures, and delta Amex – all to get the bonus points. I have 100k delta sky miles but can’t seem to find award travel cheap enough to book our family of five. I always worry about booking three tickets then buying the other two out of pocket for fear our reservations won’t get linked and we will get separated. Is this unfounded? Maybe others can weigh in.

    I find for myself the venture card has been the most useful because of the travel eraser function, especially since you have three months to accrue the miles to erase the travel. Haven’t been able to erase a complete trip but have gotten pretty close.

  • Hey POF:

    You REALLY put a TON of great, usable information in your posts!

    We LOVE our Ritz Carlton Visa. It’s got tons of perks, but my #1 favorite is the ability to upgrade you 3X a year to one of their Club Level rooms during your stay.

    This is what I’m doing at the FinCon this year. Hopefully you can join me for an adult beverage there.

  • Dr J

    Great post! Just getting into credit card travel rewards.
    Planning to switch from Wells Fargo Visa and Cabela’s Visa cards to Delta Gold and Chase Sapphire. Is there any reason I shouldn’t cancel two cards and start two others all in 1 month or so ? Per POF looks like minimal change to credit score.
    Also, any tips on cancelling cards? For example with Delta Gold card when spending requirement of 1k/3mo. is met, then rewards received 6-8 weeks later. Okay to cancel after rewards received? No penalty during 1st year when there is not annual charge, correct?
    Thanks!

  • My experience with the credit score thing has been the same as yours. People say it’s going to tank it, but our credit has been just fine. I mean, I don’t turn over credit cards all the time or anything, but I’ve opened and closed my fair share and all is still well.

  • Uncle Pecos

    Kick butt post. I’ve been playing the general rewards/points/cash back game for years but haven’t gotten into miles until recently with my AAadvantage platinum. Great point to NOT do companion cards, I’m on this like a cheap suit. My question is, why not use general points earned and apply them to your statement as a credit for travel. I assume a higher rewards rate with using miles over general cashback, but what I’ve researched seems to be roughly equivalent.

    • There are definitely times where you can give more than a penny’s worth per point. There was a podcast — I believe it was the Mad Fientist interviewing Go Curry Cracker where Jeremy booked a flight and got 22 cents of value per point or something ridiculous like that.

      Borrowing from radonc23 on this thread on the WCI forum:

      “It’s a lot of time, but can be useful and save substantial amounts of money, particularly in this specific case – long haul nonstop flights.

      For example, from major hubs, it’s much more costly to take a nonstop flight to Japan from DC (my hub). If I want to take the IAD to NRT, that routinely costs $2100 to $2300 for the roundtrip flight (almost any time of the year), because it’s the only flight. If you use your Chase Saph Reserve points, you get 1.5x, so it would cost 140,000 to 150,000 points. But, because United is partners with ANA, that same flight utilizing United points is 70,000 round trip for each ticket. For the two us, we spent a cash value of $2100 to get $4200 worth of flights. To me, that’s a good deal and it costs me very little time/energy to do that.

      This works for Hawaii (book a United flight through Singapore’s program), through Korean airlines to go to Seoul and various other places in Asia. It’s not as valuable for Europe, but similar quirks happen – for whatever reason, the nonstop flight may be significantly more (even for a hub airport like Munich or Amsterdam or London). So, if you use points, it can be quite valuable.

      It’s also pretty good booking hotels from Chase’s program, b/c at 1.5x, you’re getting a nice deal.

      If you have the time/energy, it’s can be worth “nerding out” on The Points Guy or similar websites. Even if you have specific questions like “how do I use points to go to ___”, they will have articles showing you possible ways to do it.

      The real value is business class/first class (in terms of points -> dollars benefit), but I’d rather have more 2-3x more coach flights than a business class flight (although I’m jealous every time I walk past first class).”

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • PoF, you’re speaking my language!

    I’ve been doing this credit card rewards game and travel rewards hobby for several years now. Through this, I’ve been able to score 3 long haul first class flights (one in Singapore Suites Class), 1 long haul business class, and a number of free economy class flights for my wife and I (pre baby). Four years ago I was skeptical too, but it’s a total game changer. If you consider the retail price of some of these premium class flights, I have redeemed a value of around $50,000 with normal every day (frugal) spending. 😀

    • That’s fantastic! Sounds like you’ve eeked more than $10,000 a year from it, maybbe $15,000 or so. I’d say that’s the equivalent of at least a $25,000 raise, probably closer to $30,000 in California.

      Cheers to nearly-free travel!
      -PoF

  • Great timing. I’m looking for a new card to pay for our new HVAC.
    The Citi AAdvantage Platinum looks good.
    I thought they don’t like you to mention credit cards companies by name. All kind of rules. 😉
    Thanks!

    • I had the compliance team check this one out before publishing. If you use my link, I’ll be grateful!

      Regarding naming cards, different companies have different rules. I can’t have a text link to the card site in the same “section” that I discuss specific Citi cards — whether that’s a paragraph or a subheading is probably open to interpretation, but I do my best to comply and avoid gray areas.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • Great info POF!
    One suggestion to add is the date you applied for each card and date you cancelled each card. With multiple cards it sometimes gets confusing when you hit the anniversary date. Also maybe running total of open cards/24 status to determine if you can get more chase cards.

    I also have a points total for each type of travel card as well as expiration date for those to make sure I retain my points.

    • Great thoughts, Michael. I have the date opened column, and adding a date closed column is a good one — I have the “notes” column in there as a catch all.

      When I close a card, I change the text in that row to gray. I can still see I had it, but in an instant, I know it’s no longer active.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • Just got back from a trip to Europe and while I was able to make it relatively inexpensive, I wish I had the foresight to open up a new card and take advantage of the bonus points to book my travel.

    Oh well, this is some great advice so I’ll be opening a new card soon to start getting those points!

  • All the advice is appreciated but has anyone calculated the time you have to spend to manage this? And calculate $200 per hour for your time. And the question becomes “Is it worth it?”

    Also, if you plan ahead, due to a highly competitive economy, you can get really non-expensive tickets for flights, hotels, and rentals …. How is $200 for an international travel? I do travel internationally 13-20 times per year on a great budget without using any of these tactics. Instead, I use that time and bill it to my clients 🙂

    I have a number of credit cards both personal and business that I keep to generate points that can be used to pay bills or by stuff. Does not require you to spend any time for management.

    One thing we tend to forget as human beings, is that the time is the most valuable thing we have at hand.

    • To be honest, I spent more time putting this post and spreadsheet together than I’ve spent on credit card applications and research in the last few years.

      I’ve gotten about $20,000 worth of travel for maybe 5 to 10 hours of effort, and I shared my tips so the readers can spend even less time. But I’ve been reimbursed at $2,000 to $4,000 per hour by that estimate.

      Worth it? Absolutely!
      -PoF

  • Travel has been free for me and my better half for the last year thanks to these cards! I was able to turn my Southwest Rapid Reward Points into $1,200 of amazon gift cards and still secure the companion pass for Southwest flights as well.
    Great post and I hope you are enjoying Honduras mi amigo!

  • Liz

    Check out AlaskaAir’s card. You get a companion fare for only taxes and fees first year, and $99 plus taxes and fees on anniversary date. Nice for Minneapolis to Hawaii 😀

  • I am going to have to start looking at travel credit cards since that is what we are planning to do. I have only one or two credit cards at the most. This would be new to me

  • Linda

    I’m just dipping my big toe into the world of travel with the use of credit cards and their generous bonus offers. Thanks for the info and encouragement to move forward with the spreadsheet you have designed. So far we only have one card, but are ready to pursue the next. Our kids are spread out, so it will help facilitate visitation. Game on!!!

  • xyz

    How about a 2% cash back card with no annual fee..? Lets say you put most of your annual expenses on the card & pay off monthly. 50K annual expenses translates to $1000 cash back that you can spend/save any which way you want.

  • Alisha

    Thanks for the post, looking forward to using the spread sheet. I am interested in the Chase Sapphire Preferred. The main thing holding me back is my Discover it card, which I opened last November. You get 1% cash back on all purchases, and 5% on certain items in a different category each month every 3 months (restaurants, gas, groceries, etc). The card matches your cash back at the anniversary of your card, so taking spending away from this card and using it to get the minimum on the Chase card would impact the potential cash back that can be received. My current thought is to wait until the anniversary of the Discover card before opening the Chase account. Any ideas of other strategies that might be better?

  • epc

    If I receive the miles bonus from the credit card and cancel it after a while would I ever be eligible to the bonus again if I reopen my account?

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  • Great job summarizing this all!

    I’ve been seeing so much on this since joining the FIRE community and have been quite weary, even though I do travel relatively often. It seems a little risky to suggest ‘everyone’ sign up for as many worthwhile points cards as they can, especially if they haven’t yet mastered the more basic principles of truly managing a spending budget (data is power). If one is too fixated on the points, the money spent to earn the points could be ‘underrated’, so to speak. However, it does seem to be working magically well for some.

    One thing I’ve found is that the rewards outside of the USA aren’t nearly as lucrative, which is why it all seemed a little unbelievable to my Canadian living in Mexico perspective. I have also read that the banks were trying to attract customers following 2008 in the USA, and that a lot of the most lucrative offers are starting to disappear. As with anything, it depends on the user I suppose.

  • Sam

    Great post. Very timely! I have couple of international trips coming up next year, and going to try this

    I also read up some stuff on Pointsguy site. There has been repeated mention that business cards does harsh pull on credit. Does that affect credit more? Any experience?
    Thanks

  • Andrea

    anyone have luck getting the fee waived for chase as active duty? we did with Am Ex but chase won’t give me a clear cut answer when i called.

    https://www.budgetchaos.com/chase-sapphire-reserve-military-fee-waiver/

  • Jeremy

    I don’t see this card mentioned anywhere, but if you want just 1 card with good returns, I’d recommend the Bank of American Premium Rewards or Travel Rewards. The key is investing with Merrill Edge. If you invest in Vanguard funds, you literally can just move some over and have it sit there. This card gives you 2.625% everywhere and 3.5% on travel/dining (cash for the premium rewards) with 100K in Merrill Edge. You can then add on a Discover 5%, US Bank Cash + 5%, Chase Freedom, and/or Citi Dividend. Now you have set a floor of 2.625%. These returns are all cash, so you don’t have to manage miles/points, etc. I had the Constanza wallet, but on a day to day basis I usually just use either my Amex Blue Business Plus or BoA Premium Rewards and whatever 5% card is applicable that quarter. I also use my Amex Old Blue Cash for groceries and BoA Cash Rewards for gas and Costco. I usually average 4.5% in miles/cash. I’ve been switching to cash more and more because of lack of time to travel and devaluations.

  • FrugalMD

    Current spreadsheet lists Chase Reserve as 2x travel/dining when it’s 3x (article is correct).

    Also worth more of a highlight is the power of combining Chase Ultimate Rewards points and the value of the portal 50% boost. With the Reserve you redeem points at 1.5x their value (and the portal had the same best price as a discount travel site for a trip I recently booked). If you just combine it with a free Chase Freedom (and transfer all points to Reserve) you can earn bonus category points at 5% up to $1500 spending/quarter and redeem them at 1.5x. This means you’re actually getting 4.5% Reserve return on travel/dining and 7.5% bonus category with Freedom- better than almost anything else out there. On the bonus category spending alone that’s up to $450/yr. Categories have been as liberal as “anything using Apple Pay” but otherwise are pretty typical and together with the Reserve can cover most spending. With the 50% Reserve boost, the absolute minimum return is 1.5% which IMO negates the need for any 2% card.

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