Credit Card Hacking Update

largeBack at the beginning of November, I let you all know I was going to dip my toe into the world of credit card churning: applying for credit cards one after another to get their sign-up bonuses and rack up points and miles. The goal was simple: I use my credit card almost exclusively for everything I buy, and I pay it off in full each month, religiously. So why not put all that credit card usage to work for me? I read all about how easy it was, and how it wouldn’t hurt your credit score, yada yada yada.

So here I am, four months later, and I have a bit of experience in the area now. (Not a ton, but enough to give some feedback.)

Basically, if you fall into the same category that I described myself above, then you should be doing this. Flat out no brainer. I applied for the Chase Ink Business Preferred card for my first one. I used my author job as my business, but they’re quite flexible on what they count as a “business.” Basically, if you do anything where you’re buying or selling stuff on the side, you can count it for the purposes of Chase. Ebay sniping? Sure. Antiquing? Why not. Selling eggs? You betcha.

Signing up qualified me for 80,000 free points IF I spent $5,000 in the first three months. I had already done the research to know I spent more than that on credit cards on average, so it seemed like a low enough risk. And sure enough, I spent the money and got the bonus. I then referred Denisa for the same card. (They give you 20,000 free points if someone else uses your referral code to get the card.) She got the card. We used it as our main card for the next bit, and now we just completed our spend for that. I got the 20,000 free points for her signing up, and she’ll get the 80,000 free points.

I now have something in the neighborhood of 200,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points kicking around. (If you’d like to sign up for the same card, please use my referral code by clicking here. But please only do it if you’re going to spend responsibly.) Do be aware that this card has a $95 annual fee. At the end of the first year, you don’t cancel it. (That’s bad for credit scores, and largely unnecessary.) Rather, you downgrade the card to an Ink Business Cash card. That has no annual fee. So even though I’ll have paid $190 in annual fees for a single year, I’ll have gotten 180,000 points out of the deal, which can be turned into $1,800 of cash at the least. (More on that in a minute.)

One of the big concerns was what this would do to my credit. I had excellent credit to begin with, and for the first month or two, my credit score did indeed dip by about 50 points. However, as of just now, my credit score is actually up 10 points higher than it started. It recovered and even improved. So it looks like having more credit available really does outweigh applying for more cards. And that’s even after I applied for another card yesterday.

My next card is the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which should indicate my confidence level in this. See, that card has an annual fee of $450. Earlier me would have said I was nuts to get a card that you have to pay that much each year to keep. But now I didn’t just apply for it, I’m planning on keeping it active year after year. Why?

  • Each year, it credits you with $300 to go toward travel expenses. So if you fly or stay at hotels at all that year, that basically covers $300 of the $450 right there. $150 sounds much more reasonable, doesn’t it?
  • Better still, when it comes time for me to redeem my points for airline tickets, it gives me a 50% bonus on those points. So that turns my 180,000 bonus points that I’ve earned so far into 270,000 bonus points. (Which is why I’m not turning them in for cash back. Since I fly so often, it makes so much more sense to just use those points for travel.)
  • Beyond that, it has awesome travel insurance perks, airport lounge access, and other nice bonuses. Back in September when my brother in law’s flight was canceled because his airline went insolvent, I was left hanging out to dry. If I’d bought those tickets with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, I’d have gotten reimbursed. I’ll pay a bit of money each year for that peace of mind.

To get the 50,000 free points for signing up with this card, I’ll need to spend $4,000 in the next three months. I’ve got trips to DC and New Orleans planned that I have to pay for. I’ve got that covered.

What do 270,000 Chase points get me in airfare, though? Well, let’s look at that trip to New Orleans I’ll be taking in June for ALA. Right now on Kayak (my typical go-to source for flights), I can get a roundtrip, non-stop ticket from Boston to New Orleans for $187 on Spirit Airlines. Or, if I’d rather go with luggage and fly Delta, it would be $224. I can buy the exact same flights through Chase’s rewards sites, only using points instead of dollars. So my 270,000 points would buy me 14 round trip, non-stop tickets to New Orleans on Spirit, or 12 on Delta. (Multiply the price by 100, and that gets you the approximate point price. So 270,000 is about $2,700 in flight value.)

It doesn’t just have to be flights, either. I could rent cars with those points. Buy tickets to Universal Studios in Orlando. There are some restrictions, and I might be able to find a better deal outside of Chase’s site, but that’s okay. I don’t have to spend all those points by a certain date. They don’t expire.

I could also transfer those points over to United or British Airways or any number of other programs, so I can shop around for the best redemption value of the points as well.

What I mean to say is, these points have real value.

There is a learning curve involved. I did some research on what cards to get and in what order. (Chase in particular can be finicky about what they let you get, and how many cards.) I personally felt like the Ink Business Card was the way to start, since its reward is the best, and that might go down at any point in time. If you decide to go with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, I’ll have a referral link for that in about a week. (EDIT: Here it is.)

Anyway. There you have it. I keep track of all these cards in a simple spreadsheet. I set up automatic payments on all of them. It’s a slight pain to juggle the different pieces of plastic, but not overly burdensome, and I really feel like it’s worth the hassle. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them.

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1 Comment

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