“I don’t spend a nickel, if I can help it, unless it somehow profits my mileage account.” – George Clooney’s character in the movie Up in the Air.
There are two main ways to earn a significant amount of points with an airline to fly internationally in business or first class: (1) spend a significant amount of money with an airline, OR you can (2) earn points with credit cards through sign-up bonuses. Since most of us are not traveling consultants that fly every week, that leaves credit cards as a great way to generate enough points to treat yourself to an international business class trip. At DealsPoints, we will cover the best ways to both earn and use your points.
Signing up for travel credit cards is not for everyone. If one of the following applies to you, I would advise you stick to our Flight Deals section:
Bad Credit Score– If you have a credit score under 670, I would advise you work on bringing it up before you start. You can get an estimation of your score for free with CreditKarma.com. Credit Karma also will give you information to help you work on improving your score. If you have never had a credit card, consider asking a family member to add you as an authorized user to their oldest card. They can hold onto the card, and your credit score may rise.
Can’t Pay Your Full Balance– If you can only afford to pay a minimum balance on a credit card, do not sign up for a credit card. You want to make money off credit card companies, not the other way around. People who miss credit card payments are the reason why companies can offer such lucrative bonuses. The points you would get in return would not justify the interest you would pay.
Can’t Spend Enough for the Minimum Spend– Credit Card bonuses typically require you to hit a certain minimum threshold of spending on the card before they award the sign-up bonus. (eg., spend $3,000 in three months). We offer ideas for ways to increase your credit card spend from paying your bills with Plastiq, paying your taxes, manufactured spending, and several other ways. If you still don’t think you can spend that amount, then consider a card with a lower spend requirement.
Buying a House in Less than Six Months– If you are planning on buying a house and getting a mortgage in the next six months, you should pause signing up for credit cards until the financing is completed, since any new credit activity may affect the rate you receive on your long-term loan.
Hard Work– Overall, it’s going to be work, especially in the beginning. If you read everything on DealsPoints and follow all of our tips, it should be much easier than starting from scratch or reading other blogs. However, no matter what, you are going to have to put forth some effort reading, setting up accounts, knowing most of the rules, figuring out which cards are right for you, utilizing your benefits, and figuring out ways to maximize your spending on the cards you sign up for.
Be aware of Chase’s 5/24 Rule. Credit cards need to be opened in a particular order, and if you blow by Chase’s 5/24 Rule without planning for it beforehand, you will miss out on several valuable opportunities.
Credit Cards Won’t Ruin Your Credit- As long as you pay off your credit cards in full each month, your credit will not be ruined by opening up a lot of credit cards. Your credit will stay around the same level or even improve. For more information on credit scores, visit our page on that topic.
Don’t Be Afraid of $450 Annual Fees– A $450 annual fee might seem pretty intimidating at first, but it is actually a great deal. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve has a $450 annual fee, but offers a ton of benefits and earns 3x points on travel and dining. It comes with a $300 travel credit that can be used for almost anything travel related: hotels, flights, Uber, taxis, rental cars, parking garages, trains, etc. That reduces the annual fee effectively to $150. You also get a Global Entry or TSA Precheck credit (worth up to $100) every four years, which you can use in your first year. If you already have Global Entry, use the card to pay Global Entry for your significant other, family members or friends. You also get 6-hour travel delay insurance, which means if your flight is delayed more than 6 hours, you can be reimbursed for $500 per day in “reasonable expenses” such as hotels, food, and transportation. If your spouse or kids under 22 are with you, they also get $500 a day in reasonable expenses. Additionally, the Reserve also offers primary rental car insurance, which is usually $20 a day at Hertz or National. Lastly, when you factor in the other benefits such as purchase protection, return protection, extended warranty, trip cancellation insurance, and lost luggage insurance, you realize that your $450 annual fee brings in $600-1000 in value in return. Plus in the unlikely event that you or your immediate family member becomes very sick on a trip (and you paid for a portion of the trip with Reserve card), you’re eligible for up to $100,000 for an emergency medical evacuation.
Stay Organized– It is essential to stay organized so that you know what cards are open, what cards still need to complete the minimum spend, what cards have annual fees coming up, etc. Reddit user garettg created a great interactive Google Spreadsheet template to help you stay organized. Click here to make a copy and here’s an example of what your sheet should eventually look like.
Not All Points Are Equal– One Discover IT “Mile” is very different from one American Express Membership Rewards points. We have a whole page detailing the differences in points and another page for valuations of those points.
Not All Cards Are Equal– If you check out our Credit Card Earn Rate Chart, you will see that different cards are better for certain things and certain cards are not that great despite their great marketing. Additionally, certain cards have really great benefits such as airport lounge access, $100 off airfare, trip delay insurance, travel credits, or an annual free hotel night.
Find the Best Offers– We make it easy and provide you with information on whether an offer is good enough to sign up, just make sure the bonus is close to the “target” we recommend. It is important to sign up only for the best offers because many card issuers restrict you from receiving another bonus on that exact card for a long period of time. (American Express has a lifetime rule, which restricts you from receiving a bonus again on the exact card in your “lifetime,” which actually only means about every 7-10 years.
If You are Not Auto-Approved– Do not give up. Many times the company just wants to take more time to consider your application. Many times you can check your application status online or by phone. If you get denied, you can call up their reconsideration line and ask for them to reconsider your application. Sometimes they just want to ask a few questions, but sometimes they will outright deny you (many times for a large number of hard credit inquiries)
Stop Using Cash or Debit Cards– You will have to learn how to start paying for as many things as you can using your credit cards including your rent, mortgage, student loans/college savings, utilities, etc.
Be Sure to Hit the Minimum Spend– As stated above, most credit cards require you to spend a minimum amount to obtain the sign-up bonus. I advise spending an extra $250-500 above the threshold just in case you return something or some of your spending falls into a card issuer’s exclusion (e.g., American Express has refused to award large bonuses to people who bought visa gift cards to hit their minimum spend). Your annual fee will not count towards your minimum spend requirement. Staying organized via the spreadsheet will help. I missed a sign-up bonus one time because I mistakenly thought the minimum spend was $2,000, but it was $2,500 (I spent only $2,300 and felt awful after discovering that).
Know your Benefits– Several of the premium cards offer really amazing benefits. Be sure to detail these in your spreadsheet or write them down. You may have to activate some of the benefits such as: signing up for Global Entry, setting up your Priority Pass account (airport lounges), etc.
Target Transferable Points Cards– These are cards that give you Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou, or Mariott points. These points systems give you the flexibility to transfer to multiple points programs, which also means their points value is more stable than points with a specific airline or hotel.
Cancel or Downgrade Cards– Some cards are worth keeping for their benefits or the fact that they offer a good return on spending after the bonus. For the cards not worth keeping, you should decide to cancel or downgrade the card before the annual fee hits. Before you decide to cancel the card, ask the card issuer if there are any retention offers and negotiate your way towards the best offer. I usually say “My annual fee just posted and I am thinking about canceling my ____ card and start using my (their competitor’s card) more. I like the card, but the annual fee is quite high. Is there a way to waive the fee or is there a retention offer available.”
Earn and Burn– Airline and Hotel points programs are routinely devalued, sometimes without notice. There was one situation where I was booking a trip for my parents and I was waiting for them to give me their dates. The next day, Etihad doubled the number of points required for that redemption. As stated above, transferable points programs are more stable, so you can generally feel safe having a large points balance with them, but after you reach 100,000+ points with an airline or hotel, you should start planning a trip using those points.
Enroll in Points Programs– If you have not already, be sure to enroll for free in each airline and hotels points programs. There are many other programs, but the programs below would be a good place to start.
- Airlines: American, British Airways, Delta, United, Southwest, JetBlue, Alaska, Aeroplan, and All Nippon Airways.
- Hotels– Marriott, Hilton, IHG, Wyndham, and Hyatt.
- Car Rentals- Hertz, National, and Avis.
Status Match- If you have elite status in one program, you can sometimes try to match that elite status to another program. For example, I match my Hertz President Circle Status to National to get Executive Elite status without having to earn National elite status the hard way. You can find datapoints on programs at StatusMatcher.com.