It is quite often that I receive requests for award suggestions/help. I am always happy to help and give what advice I can! But, a trend that I have been noticing is that many people have an abundance of miles and points – but across multiple programs. Having 500,000 miles and points in 8 different accounts is not necessarily preferable to having 250,000 miles/points in 2 programs. So, how do you plan your credit card bonus strategy to take advantage of the bonuses available without stretching your bonuses too thin?
Having A Credit Card Bonus Strategy
Plan In Advance
With the amount of credit card bonuses that we have available, it is easy to just apply for any bonus that we spot. While that can be helpful for emergency accounts/spare accounts, it helps to start by planning in advance of what you want to achieve with your miles and points.
We have seen that devaluations can and will occur with only months notice – and sometimes not even that! So, you should not be planning for some aspirational award 3 years in advance since the award calendars may change drastically in that time.
I advise this – select your preferred trip destinations up to 2 years out and plan for them. If you want to go a trip to Florida and one to Europe, make those your primary targets and collect miles and points for those trips, concentrating on the bonuses that feed into the miles and points you will need.
Example: A trip to Europe in coach costs 60,000 miles (there are some variables such as off-peak awards and distance-based awards, but figure 60,000). If you are planning a trip for 4 people to Europe, set your bonus strategy to accumulate 240,000 miles. That is primary as that is the biggest expense.
Pick Transferrable Programs
Award calendars do change – having transferrable points can help you to stay in a position to select a different airline/hotel if your preferred airline/hotel devalue their award currency.
That means to concentrate on bonuses with these cards (not that cards with an asterisk require an additional card in the program to be eligible to transfer points to travel partners):[table “” not found /]
By picking cards and bonuses in the above programs, you have the ability to transfer to a wide-range of airlines and hotels for your redemption needs. In the case of British Airways, Singapore, and Virgin Atlantic, you can actually use any of the 4 programs above to transfer into those airlines! That makes it insanely easy to accumulate miles in those programs!
In your credit card bonus strategy, it is a good idea to concentrate on accumulating the miles and points for your airline tickets first. That is because the hotel cards typically come with very low spending requirements. Not only that, but with cards like the Hyatt card, Hilton Reserve, and Fairmont card, the free nights issued as bonuses expire one year after issue.
Airline miles can take longer to accumulate for the amount needed for a trip. For our above example of 4 tickets in coach to Europe, that would require (average) 240,000 miles. If you choose to go the United Airline redemption route, that will require several credit card bonuses to hit that amount – and they are all issued by Chase. That means that you would need to wait at least 30 days between applications (unless you are applying for a business and personal on the same day). A smarter strategy is to wait at least 90 days, so that stretches out the time even more.
When it comes to hotels, a chain like Hilton can see you accumulate a massive amount of points in a very short time thanks to transfer partners (like Virgin Atlantic) and credit cards issued by different banks (American Express and Citi).
When it comes to selecting which airline to accrue miles in, consider what the awards look like to where you are going. For instance, I prefer to use United miles for travel to/from Europe because their network within Europe (thanks to major partners like Lufthansa and Turkish) is fantastic and taxes and fees are low. For Asia/Middle East, AA miles are great thanks to their partners (great partners like Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Qatar, Qantas, etc). Yes, United has great Asian partners as well, but (for now), AA’s partner award charts do not command an insane premium in miles for premium travel.
If you are saving for airline redemptions and traveling with family, do not rule out having your family members apply for their own cards. If some of the family traveling are children, they obviously will not be able to open cards. But, back to our United example, if a family of 4 (with two younger children) is traveling, the parents should definitely each apply for their own United card(s).
The downside is that the tickets will be on separate reservations, but it will help get you to your goal quicker. A plus is that Chase allows you to transfer points from Ultimate Rewards to other Ultimate Reward accounts or mileage accounts if the person you are transferring to is a spouse/domestic partner. By utilizing the transfer opportunities, you can transfer what you need to in the different United accounts to top them off to the level needed for award tickets.
Domestic or International?
If your travel goals are all domestic, then there are cards that will get you tremendous value in your travel needs. Getting the Southwest Airline cards at the 50,000 point level will help you to get the Companion Pass which will really help! But, those points should not be your first choice for international travel (outside of traveling on Southwest to the Caribbean/Central America).
At the same time, getting an international carrier card like the British Airways card can help with domestic travel on Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and US Airways. That is because of the awesome distance-based redemptions that British Airway Avios give.
If your travel plans are wholly international, better to skip over things like the Frontier cards, Spirit cards, Southwest cards, and JetBlue cards. There is always time to get those cards later! Stay focused!
Use Discretion With “Great Deals”
There are credit card deals that we all talk about that are pretty great deals. Some of these deals include things the AAdvantage 50,000 mile credit card offers. While this is a great deal, if your goal is for Delta or United miles for that trip, getting AA miles will not really help you at this time. Not only that, but it could prevent getting a card/fulfilling minimum spend on a card that you really do need to help you with your trip.
While Citi is pretty great about approving credit cards even with many inquiries on the report, if you need Hilton points, it is better to not use a Citi application for AA instead of Hilton.
Also, while Southwest points are great and the Companion Pass is awesome, if your travel goals for right now are international travel (and you can find easy award availability for the international trip from your home airport), it is far better to push off the “great” 50,000 point Southwest deals that come up. Since they are issued by Chase, you certainly do not want to waste a credit card application from them and jeopardize your mileage earning for your big trip.
As is the case with most of the deals on credit cards we have seen (with the exception of Citi’s 100K Executive AAdvantage card and the 100K Amex Platinum offer), these deals come back again and again. If it does not work with your earning strategy right now, just wait until later because it will come back.
Do Exercise Flexibility For The Rare Deals
This may seem to contradict the instance above, but there are times that deals like the Citi 100K AAdvantage card or Amex 100K Platinum come around and they are pretty rare! If such a deal does pop up, be flexible to jump on such a deal because it may be a great start towards your next trip!
The one major consideration to have is what the minimum spending requirement is. If you comfortably meet the minimum spending on the Chase Sapphire Preferred ($4,000 in 90 days) but do not feel like you could do much more than that, than it may not be a good idea to go for something like the AA 100K offer. That required $10,000 spending 3 months! That is a lot of money to spend (and easy enough to do with manufactured spending but not everyone feels comfortable with handling all of that).
So, keep track of your travel goals and application schedule. If a big deal comes up and you can jump on it without jeopardizing your earning schedule for the trip(s), by all means, give it strong consideration. Tip: Be more willing to jump on the big deals if they are offered by banks that you are not currently concentrating on for your main goal!
Track Your Miles and Points!
This is imperative! If you do not keep track of your miles and points, you could easily find yourself missing your goal. Two great tools for mile and point tracking are – TripIt Pro (comes free with Barclaycard Arrival Plus) and AwardWallet. Both of these do a great job of tracking your miles and points so that you know exactly where you are at in your collecting.
Don’t Forget The “Other” Cards
The Barclaycard Arrival is a fantastic card for paying outright for travel. If you are traveling in Europe and want to hop around on some of the low cost carriers, having Arrival miles can go a long way towards paying for that part of your trip. With 40,000 miles (good for $400 redeemed on travel spending) plus 2 miles for every dollar spent, that can be a big help in further lowering travel expenses. Do work that card into your credit card bonus strategy if you are going to have big out of pocket travel expenses.
Credit card bonuses are great and they have given our family an insane amount of almost free travel. But, it is very easy to get carried away. When that happens, we end up earning miles and points with no plan (or even, sometimes, possibility) of redemption. If you approach your credit card bonuses with a strategy to maximize your earning, it will become much more beneficial and enjoyable in the long run.