So in this post I mentioned briefly how I got into the miles and points game. For those of you who asked about it, this is my experience! It’s a bit lengthy, sorry!
If your credit is in good standing (over 700+), you can potentially do what I’m doing now and travel very cheaply. BUT. I must tell you now that if you’re thinking of starting this, it’s not that simple and there is a lot of research involved. After all, you are affecting your own credit here.
I’m not an expert when it comes to miles and points, but once again I’ll mention some helpful links that got me started:
- Million Miles Secrets (Newbie guide)
- The Points Guy (Beginners Guide)
- Extra Pack of Peanuts (Beginners Guide)
Credit card bonuses are one of the most lucrative ways to accumulate miles and points the fastest. And after reading lots of miles and points blogs like the ones above and some thorough research and investigation on Flyertalk.com, here’s what I did.
1. I checked my credit score before I started any credit card applications. I just recently refinanced my mortgage and received a credit score from my lender. You can also get an estimation of your Transunion score through CreditKarma.com. Also check out Credit Sesame for another credit score estimation. (Weirdly enough, I just recently found out Credit Sesame is just down the street from my job!) Another way of checking your credit history is by getting 1 free credit report (but not score) every year from each of the 3 credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com.
2. I decided what my travel goals were and chose cards that fit my goals accordingly. This is what makes the miles and points game very personal. People have different travel goals or ways of doing things.. this is just my way.
Justin and I love Hawaii and other beachy destinations. So any airline or hotel program that can get me there is what I focus on. I wanted to find the credit card bonuses could get me the most nights at a specific hotel, or what bonuses could get us the airline tickets to destination “X” for little or no money.
I ended up choosing the AMEX Starwood card, which has a reasonable minimum spending requirement, 25K bonus points, and high cash and points redemption value. They have properties in Hawaii (and Fiji) with reasonable redemption rates.
I also focused on Chase cards that gave Chase Ultimate Rewards bonus points for their versatility in point redemption options, for both hotels and airline flights. I used Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book my hotel in Monterey just recently, as well as book my flights to Fiji for next year.
I was just recently asked if I closed my old cards when I got my new ones.. the answer is no. I’d recommend NOT to cancel ANY credit card that you have prior to getting new cards. You could potentially cancel a card with a longstanding relationship with that bank.. and the longer your average credit history, the better. Just put it in a drawer somewhere for safekeeping.
Before I started using travel rewards credit cards, I had only the Blue/Green American Express with cashback rewards and Costco membership, as well as some random Citicard with cash back.
This is what I have right now, and I’ve accumulated each over time:
1. AMEX Starwood (everyday spend card #1)
2. Chase Sapphire Preferred (everyday spend card #2)
3. Chase Ink Bold (will downgrade to the fee free one before my year is up)
4. Chase United (I just got the 50K miles from this, will cancel later when I get a new Chase card)
5. Chase British Airways Visa (I just got the 50K miles which equals 4 RT tickets to Hawaii, will cancel later when I get a new Chase card)
3. I made sure that I could meet minimum spending requirements for each card. Before I started, I took a look at my past credit card payment history to see what I had been averaging per month on everyday spending. Many rewards cards require minimum spending amounts that need to be finished within a certain amount of time. If a credit card had a minimum spending requirement that was higher than my baseline, I’d pass. There’s absolutely no point in applying for a card and taking a hit on your credit report when you can’t meet the minimum spend in the first place.
4. When applying for cards, constant bookkeeping and timekeeping are important. When meeting minimum spends, I checked my spending activity frequently. Checking your card’s activity online on the bank website or using a tool like Mint.com is helpful for this. Card anniversaries have to be noted before you get charged another year of annual fees, and then you have the choice to keep the card, cancel it, or downgrade to a fee-free card. Once again, checking Credit Karma and Credit Sesame is important for credit score monitoring as you get new cards. I also try not to get a new card until I’ve finished the bonus requirements for the old card. I space out applications as much as I can so there aren’t too many inquiries on my credit reports at one time. You can apply for lots of cards at the same time (aka the “app-o-rama”) but I’m not that brave.
4. As points accumulate, I check AwardWallet.com to see all of my rewards points in once place. I also upgraded my service for a small fee so I can be alerted when miles are expiring. This is also good for Starbucks, Sephora, Ebates, or other rewards program monitoring, just FYI.
5. I cash out my points! Once I hit that spending requirement (for some cards, there is none at all) and the points have been deposited into my account, I cash it in! There should be no surprises on what I use my points on because from Step #1 I have already planned out what I wanted to use them for anyway.
Phew. Does it seem a bit crazy? I did simplify it a bit, but please do your research to see if this ‘hobby’ is right for you and your travel needs. As for me, I don’t take my credit lightly…I watch my credit like a hawk. Justin said he realized how serious I was when I started printing out credit reports and figuring out which bank inquiries hit which bureau’s credit reports!
If you have any further questions, feel free to ask me. Also, Travis from Extra Pack of Peanuts has said in my last miles/points post that if you need some help or advice in how to earn and use frequent flyer miles, you can contact him here.