Originally, I planned to do a series of short posts describing what I have been up to lately when it comes to earning miles and points. But I figured I might as well sum it all up in one post. The goal is to outline my strategy of collecting points, as well as minimizing recurring costs connected with this hobby. I know I repeat it often, but miles and points are not free. You usually have to give something up if you want to earn them. The question is whether it’s worth it. For me, the answer is still Yes.
Sign-up bonuses are the low-hanging fruit, but approvals are hard to come by these days
My goal is to use our limited spending towards new sign-up bonuses as much as possible. We put around $35k on credit cards each year, and when leveraged correctly, that can mean a lot of easy points. Unfortunately, many banks are on to us. Recently, I tried to apply for Citi Premier and got rejected. Ditto for my husband. Same story with Capital One Venture Rewards card, and we each got three credit inquiries as a parting present. Chase cards are out of the question for now, as we are both waaaay over 5/24 limit.
There is an occasional win here and there. We were both recently approved for Best Western credit card! Don’t laugh, I plan to put these points to excellent use during our next trip to Europe. And a few months ago I was shocked when I got approved for Bank of America Premium Rewards card (non-affiliate link)
Applying for Amex cards is a hopeless case these days. We’ve gotten a dreaded pop-up for the last few years. The only exception was when I got a pre-approved offer for Delta card in the mail. That one miraculously went through.
So, over the last six months, it has been slim pickings for my family. I figured I would focus on putting $2k on Best Western cards, so me and my husband could each get 40k points after renewal. It’s not a spectacular deal, but I plan to use them in expensive London. The cards will be canceled before the second renewal though.
I did decide to take a look at DoC page of best sign-up bonuses to make sure I didn’t miss anything. This is a super helpful resource, as the guys there dig up offers from weird corners of the internet. There I did see something that caught my eye: Amex Blue Cash Preferred from Morgan Stanley (see related post)
You do have to be E*trade customer to apply, and I happen to have a dormant account from the olden days. The bonus itself is $400, and the first annual fee is waved. That’s a pretty good deal, and you can get the bonus even if you had Blue Cash Preferred product in the past. I’m in. I applied, and this time there was no pop-up. Apparently, they are using a different approval formula for this card. However, the application went to pending status and I got an email telling me to call.
I did, and after verifying my identity, I was told the card was approved. Excellent. I have to spend $3k in 6 months, which shouldn’t be hard. I’m debating on whether to apply in my husband’s name as well, because he hates calling.
If you are a normal person, you likely won’t run into the same type of issue as me. Nancy has recently published a post mentioning some hot credit card deals, and I agree with that list.
Focusing on bonused spending
Since I have Amex Everyday Preferred, I can earn 4.5 MR points on groceries as long as I make at least 30 purchases each month. But I rarely bother because I almost always have an offer on another card that gets 5 or more points per dollar. I don’t do manufactured spending, and aside from occasionally buying gift cards, use it towards groceries we have to buy anyway.
It’s also very rare these days that I don’t earn 5 points or more on gas. Chase World of Hyatt card has been an absolute champ in this regard. We get targeted for various bonuses on spending at least 9 out of 12 months each year. Check this link to see if you are targeted on any of your Chase cards. Getting 5 Hyatt points per dollar is nothing to sneeze at, which is why I focus on these offers in conjunction with meeting minimum spending requirements on other cards.
We’ve talked about Chase Freedom Flex on this blog many times, as it’s one of the best no-fee cards out there. In fact, right now is a good time to apply for it via personal referral link because you will get 5x points on groceries on up to $12k spent in the first year. My referral link, thanks if you use it!
However, unless you pair it with a premium card like Chase Sapphire Preferred, you won’t be able to transfer points to travel partners. That’s my current situation, which is why I prefer earning 5 Hyatt points to 5 non-transferrable Ultimate Rewards points. But you can do both.
I also like US Bank Cash+ card, since it gives me 5% cash back on fast food. Sadly, we spend a lot of money here.
Regularly re-evaluating annual fees I pay each year
It’s almost always worth it to pay an annual fee in order to receive a juicy sign-up bonus. But what do you do when the renewal fee comes due? Obviously, the bank hopes you keep paying it year after year, which is why they offer such a nice incentive to begin with. Your goal is to be smarter than the bank. In this hobby the house doesn’t always win. In fact, 9 out of 10 times, it loses. Don’t be that one person who pays thousands in annual fees each year, but brags to his friends about his “free” trips.
I actually pay quite a bit in fees myself. But each fee is justified (for now). I always find a good use for my renewal hotel certificates, even it means treating a friend to a beach getaway that only cost me $49 per night (via renewal fee on IHG credit card).
Cards I currently renew (or plan to renew) year after year:
1) Chase IHG card X 2 (the old version with $49)
Why: free certificate upon renewal, capped at 40,000 points. Just used it at Hotel Indigo Hakone, that would otherwise cost me $250 per night.
2) Chase World of Hyatt card X 2 ($95 fee)
Why: free certificate upon renewal, valid at Category 1-4. Used it recently at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress resort, that runs at $280 per night.
3) Wyndham Visa Signature card x 2 (discontinued version with $69 fee)
Why: the card gives 15,000 bonus points upon renewal. That amount will cover one night at many Wyndham properties, including vacation resorts. I usually burn the points on Florida Vacasa rentals on the beach that run at 15k points per bedroom.
4) Capital One Venture X ($395 fee)
Why: 10k renewal points, plus $300 travel credit for bookings via C1 portal make the fee cost-neutral. The main appeal of the card to me is Priority Pass access for me and my husband , and my closest three friends (plus their friends ). I think this card will be devalued at some point, in which case I will cancel.
5) Jet Blue Plus card ($99 fee)
I did renew it last year because it gives 10% rebate on Jet Blue award bookings, plus 5k points each year. I felt it was justified. This year, however, I’ve decided to downgrade the card since I don’t have a lot of flights on Jet Blue in 2023. But when I called, the lady said it could not be downgraded for some reason. However, she could wave my $99 annual fee instead. Done! Even better.
As you can see, I don’t have any premium Chase or Amex cards at the moment and that’s ok. I can always upgrade my Chase Freedom Flex to Sapphire Preferred if I need to transfer points to travel partners. But for now, I’m focusing on burning what I already have. I do have Amex Everyday Preferred, but plan to downgrade it to Amex Everyday in a few months and save $95.
As I’ve said many times before, miles and points hobby is not a one-size-fits-all. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. For example, I’ll be the first one to admit that Amex Hilton Aspire card offers excellent value proposition on its annual fee. However, for me personally, making sure I maximize the $250 yearly Hilton resort credit is just too stressful. I would do it, but it would require mental gymnastics that I’m just too lazy to perform. But I’m not ruling out doing so in the future.
On the other hand, you may decide that Capital One Venture X is not worth the annual fee, especially with the recent downgrade of Priority Pass benefit (no longer covers airport restaurants). This could be a deal breaker for those who already have a superior Priority Pass benefit via CSR. But I’m not one of those people, since I canceled my CSR without hesitation back in the day because I didn’t want to pay $550 fee.
I’m always trying to cut the “fat”, and suggest you do the same. The goal is to reduce your recurring fees, earn points as cheaply as possible, and then use them. If you are sitting on millions of miles and points while going out of your way to earn more, I’d argue that you are wasting time, energy and money.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.