2012 marked my first foray into the miles, points, and cash back benefit world. I discovered the various tools and tricks by accident and became pretty heavily engrossed in the practice, especially in the first half of the year. I like the hobby because it does actually improve your wealth and lifestyle if done properly and with care. For example, many of these products have minimum spending requirements and yearly fees on the card. If managed poorly, you could find yourself in an overall worse financial shape than when you began (a great example of this might be paying interest on charges made to meet a minimum spending requirement on a new credit card, since these rates are so high it would not do you any good to get 50,000 points but then pay 20% interest on a high credit card balance).
Here are my results, and I hope you find the list helpful. Many of these cards I plan to keep long term as I like their ongoing benefits and points earning power.
I received the American Express Mercedes Benz Platinum Card with a 50,000 signup bonus. This card carries a similar high yearly fee ($475) and most of the same excellent benefits as the “normal” American Express Platinum Card. These benefits include $200 in reimbursed airline charges on your airline of choice; Starwood Preferred Guest “gold” status; elite membership levels with several car rental agencies; free airport lounge access on Delta, American, and US Airways; reimbursed Global Entry fee; Priority Pass lounge admission; and a variety of other travel concierge perks. This Mercedes-Benz card also gave 5x points on Mercedes Benz products (if that’s your thing). I also signed up for the regular version of the card for 10,000 points as I was interested in getting 3x point multipliers on gas purchases and 2x points on dining.
I received a 25,000 signup bonus for the American Express Premier Rewards Gold personal card and another 50,000 targeted offer for the Gold Business Card for my rental apartment business. The Premier Rewards Gold card gives great 2x point bonus multipliers on groceries and gas with travel charges earning an outstanding 3x bonus when booked through American Express’s website. The business version of the card has American Express excellent OPEN cash back system (I got cash back on all of my Barnes and Noble purchases) and gives 2x points on advertising, gas, and shipping charges. I charge all of my Google Adwords fees to this card and get big bonuses on that every month.
I signed up for the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card as well, which gives a 25,000 point signup bonus. Starwood transfers their points to a ton of airline partners and gives a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 points transferred, making the card extremely valuable for everyday spending as you effectively earn 1.25 points on everything.
Finally, at the end of the year, I was offered an upgrade online to the Business Platinum card, netting me and additional 25,000 point bonus. This was targeted when I logged on to my account, and does not result in a credit pull. This card provides most of the same benefits as the personal Platinum card reviewed above.
Chase has many of the best offers so they are an important relationship to manage well. Do not over apply for their cards, and be careful about playing too many games with chase.
For just 2500 points, I upgraded my regular Sapphire card to the more powerful Sapphire Preferred card. This was actually my first “move” of the year, and it shows my noob status, as I could have received a much better offer by just applying for the new card. However, the nice thing was that this upgrading does not result in a credit pull, probably key in keeping my credit rating solid despite all of these cards I was signing up for. The Sapphire Preferred card is my favorite for most spending, it gets 2x points at restaurants and travel. Restaurants being one of my largest expenses, makes this a very important points earning machine. Also, it is darn cool looking with a more metal composite makeup over the typical plastic of most cards. It always gets lots of compliments from merchants and sheepish grins from myself as I don’t want to appear all blinged out. This card also provides transfers to airline partners through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program, the most valuable way to redeem credit card points. Partners include United, Hyatt, Southwest, Korean Airlines, and Amtrak. Even if you are not interested in airline transfers, Ultimate Rewards is by far the best Rewards program as it gives you cash back for $.01 a point.
United Explorer Visa, for 50,000 United Airlines miles. I liked that this card provides nice benefits on United; including a free checked bag, two yearly lounge passes, and priority boarding. It also had primary auto insurance coverage on rental cars, meaning your own insurance would never be touched if you charged the cost to this card. However, with no spending bonuses on purchases it is not a great card for daily spending. I did not travel United enough to have the rest of the benefits make a lot of sense for me, and anyway I can get into airport lounges with other products as well.
Chase British Airways Visa, for (so far) 75,000 points. This card provides 1.25 points on all spending and a huge signup bonus of 50k avios points on first purchase, 25k after $10,000 in spending in a year, and another 25k points if you can spend $20,000 in the first year. The avios program gets knocked a lot by frequent travel gurus, but it can be awesome for me since I live in Chicago and the British Airways avios award chart is distance based. This makes shorter travel (and one way travel) a real bargain with this program. Especially since it has a good earning rate on all of the spending you put on the card, it’s a card that works for me. If you can put $30,000 in spending on the card, you can potentially earn a travel together certificate which allows two travelers to fly together on BA metal for the cost (in points) of just one. The catch (and it’s a big one) is that BA charges crazy taxes and fuel surcharges on its transatlantic flights, making this deal more “pretty good” than “awesome”. I am not sure if I am going to go for this during 2013, but it may be do-able if I put student loan payoffs on it.
Chase Ink Bold Business Charge Card. I signed up for this card for my rental business and received 50,000 bonus points. This card is amazing in that it gets 5x points on wireless and land phone charges, cable TV, internet, and office supply stores. 5x is a stunning value for charges most everyone has to make. The office supply store benefit has been the source of much insanity in the travel points world with various gift card schemes.
American Airlines Visa and American Express cards, each for 50,000 AAdvantage miles for a total of 100k. These cards can both be had if you apply on the same day using two different browsers. The result is usually acceptance for both cards and only one credit inquiry. The two cards provide nice signup bonuses, and lots of great advantages with American Airlines, including reduced reward redemption rates with a 10% reduction in miles required, free bags, and early boarding. I went to cancel these cards and received great retention bonuses from Citi, including a 750 mile bonus after $750 spent on the American Express version of the card for the next 16 months. This effectively makes the card a 2x earner on the first $750 a month!
Hilton HHonors RESERVE Card. This card does not provide a point signup bonus, but does give two free weekend nights at pretty much any Hilton on Earth after you spend $2,500 on the card in 4 months. It also gives Hilton gold status and another free night certificate every year you put $10k in spending on the card. I think this is a real value to keep long term as it can provide a nice getaway once a year for my wife and I, more than offsetting the annual fee.
Bank of America
With Bank of America I got the Alaskan Airlines card for 40,000 points and the Hawaiian Airlines card for 35,000 points. Alaska I particularly like as they offer a companion certificate where your travel partner pays only a $99 airline fare that you can use once per year. Hawaiian card gives a 2k point bonus each year you have the card and a one time 50% discount on Hawaiian airline full fare coach tickets.
Barclays completes my crazy year of credit card signup bonuses with their US Airways Mastercard. I actually got this twice because I was angry that my first signup was coded incorrectly (it only gave me 15k instead of the 40k I swear I signed up for), so then I just cancelled the card and signed up for it again for the right bonus. At any rate, I quite like this card and plan on keeping it long term as it has two companion certificates for $99 (similar to the Alaskan Airline Bank of America card), gives 10k bonus points every card year anniversary, and right now is giving me 5x points on a range of spending categories including groceries.
Combined with a few other little minor bonuses (like 1000 for linking a card to get Hilton texts) throughout the year, my grand total bonus after all of this was a whopping 578,100 points! In addition, I got those two free hotel nights at any Hilton in the world. The only question now is what to do with all of these points in an efficient and fun way. It was kind of a bit of work tracking all of this, but amounts to free big money for spending I would have done anyway.
The downside is that my credit score did drop to around 755 from 800, but that still is considered excellent. I will never be able to have as huge of a year again (probably) as I did in 2012, since I got most of the best deals this time already. Still, this should show you the power of leveraging a little work, organization, and good credit for big savings and free travel.