5 Things to know before diving into points, miles & credit cards

Once I realized that credit cards aren’t the evil I thought they were, I dove into the waters of sign-up bonuses pretty eagerly. Maybe too eagerly. I have some regrets. Some things I wish I knew.

Here they are:

  • Sign-up bonuses fluctuate, so get them at the right time. A card with a bonus that is 50K points in January may be 75K in June. This site has a pretty comprehensive list of the top cards, and whether they’ve had higher sign-up bonuses or not. Many cards, including all American Express cards, only allow you to get the sign-up bonus once in your life, so try to sign up for a card when the bonus is at its highest.
  • Source matters, so get them from the right place. While American Express may offer the Delta Gold card with a 30K-mile sign-up bonus on its website, they also send targeted mail offers for 50K or even 60K bonus miles for the same card. Chase’s United Airlines card has a bonus of 30K miles on Chase.com, but it’s fairly easy to find links online or targeted mail or email offers for 50K or more miles. Check out some of the various offers out there for this card:
  • Chase will likely only approve you if you’ve gotten fewer than five new personal credit cards from any bank in the past two years. This point is huge because almost all of the best points- and miles-earning cards are Chase cards. The Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus Business, Freedom, and Freedom Unlimited are all Chase branded cards that many avid travelers swear are essential, due to the strength of their benefits and bonuses. The Chase Hyatt, Marriott, and IHG cards each offer a free night at a hotel every year you have the card, for very reasonable annual fees. The Chase British Airways, United, and Southwest Airlines cards have some of the most lucrative sign-up bonuses of any airline cards ever. Because I’ve signed up for five credit cards(Sapphire was one of them luckily) in the past two years, my chances are slim of getting approved for most of these cards. And that hurts my heart.

*Update July 15: Sure enough, I was right at 5 cards in 24 months when I applied for the Chase Freedom, and I was denied. But I used the same credit inquiry to apply for Chase’s Hyatt card, since I heard it was exempt from 5/24, and was approved.

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  • Not all points are created equal. Capital One may have the best-advertised travel credit card, but it’s far from one of the best. Though the sign-up bonus isn’t bad, Capital One miles are basically just cash-back points that can only be used on travel purchases. Also, hotel loyalty points are usually worth about half of what an airline mile is worth, something I wish I understood better before I signed up for two Hilton cards. Check out TPG’s valuation for each program’s points here.
  • Every point is valuable. It makes me shudder to think about all the uncredited flights I flew before I knew how valuable points can be. Those thousands of loyalty miles were calling out to me, but I pushed them away. Florida to California several times. Orlando to Dublin. Orlando to London. D.C. to Nairobi, Kenya via Amsterdam. If there’s one thing I could go back and change about my life…

Any big things you think I should add to this list? Is there anything you wish you had known from points & miles day 1?

10 thoughts on “5 Things to know before diving into points, miles & credit cards

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