I sometimes find it hard to believe that just a year ago, I only had two credit cards to my name – a Citi Forward Card that I got in 2006 during my sophomore year of college, and a Target credit card that I got in 2013. My credit card life was pretty simple back then. I put all of my daily spend on my Citi card and any Target purchases went on my Target card.
In 2017, I made my first foray into the world of travel hacking and credit card signup bonuses. Over the next 12 months, my wife and I ended up opening 12 credit cards between the two of us. In the process, we accumulated over half-a-million points and miles – enough for us to pretty much travel anywhere we want, whenever we want.
For a lot of you reading this, getting into the world of travel hacking and credit card signup bonuses is a great way to get a significant return on the spending that you already have to do anyway. If you’re going to have to spend money to live your life, shouldn’t you do it in a way that gets you something back also? I suspect that a lot of you reading this post are like me – the type of person who wants to optimize the things they’re already doing. Credit cards are a tool that can help you do just that.
Obviously, this world of travel hacking and credit cards isn’t for everyone. It’s an intimidating process. The reason it took me a decade to get into this game was precisely because of how scary and complicated it seemed. The good thing is that, with the internet, anyone can learn the information they need and follow in the footsteps of others who’ve done it before.
For those of you who have been interested in jumping into the travel hacking world, this recap might give you some ideas about where to get started. I wasn’t a credit card expert 12 months ago (and honestly, I’m not an expert yet). I’m just a regular guy, trying to figure things out too.
Recapping The Credit Cards I Got In 2017
With that basic background out of the way, let’s look at all of the cards that I opened in 2017. I ended up opening a total of 8 cards for myself (4 personal cards and 4 business cards). My wife opened up 4 cards for herself (3 personal cards and 1 business card).
Below are the cards that I opened in 2017:
- Merrill+. The Merrill+ was the card that kickstarted my entry into the world of credit cards and travel hacking. I signed up for this card in February and earned 50,000 points after spending $3,000 (the 50,000 points translated to $1,000 worth of plane tickets). Hitting the minimum spend was no problem for me – I had wedding expenses to pay early in the year, so I was able to hit the spend on this card almost immediately. We ended up using the points to get two round-trip flights to Puerto Rico for our honeymoon. Unfortunately, the Merrill+ was discontinued, so this card is no longer available for new users.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred. I grabbed the Chase Sapphire Preferred in March, which earned me 50,000 Chase points after spending $4,000. Again, hitting the spend on this card was not a problem due to the wedding expenses I was already paying that month. What made the Chase Sapphire Preferred very appealing to me was the fact that the annual fee was waived in the first year, which meant that I could earn the bonus, then downgrade it in year 2 to a no-annual-fee card (essentially, allowing me to get these points for free). I’ll likely keep this card open since if I can refer just 1 person a year, it earns me enough points to cover the annual fee. If you’re thinking of getting this card, make sure you understand the One Sapphire Rule first.
- American Express SPG Card. The AmEx SPG card was the next card that I grabbed. I snagged the card in April, and with that, earned 35,000 SPG points after spending $5,000. SPG points are regularly touted as the most valuable point currency and 35,000 points is the historic high for this card, which made snagging this card well worth it for me. This card also had the nice benefit of having the annual fee waived in year 1. I’m still debating whether to keep this card open or not in year 2. Most likely, I’ll probably cancel this card since there are no downgrade options available.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve. I got the Chase Sapphire Reserve in May, which gave me another 50,000 Chase points after spending $4,000. This card was a little bit harder for me to stomach since it came with a $450 annual fee, but that fee was offset by the $300 annual travel credit that the card gives you. In fact, one of the big selling points of this card is that, in year 1, you can actually get the $300 travel credit twice, while only paying the $450 annual fee once. In essence, it’s like Chase is paying you $150 to get this card.
- Chase Ink Business Preferred. After starting off with four personal cards, I wanted to give myself a little breathing room in order to stay under Chase’s 5/24 Rule. Business cards are the secret weapon of travel hacking – they don’t show up on your credit report, and thus, they don’t impact your 5/24 status. The great thing is that if you’re side hustling, you are a business, which makes you eligible to get yourself business cards. I started out by snagging the Chase Ink Business Preferred in July, which earned me 80,000 Chase points. Right now, the Chase Ink Business Preferred card is, in my opinion, the card with the best signup bonus right now. If you’re side hustling, this is the card you should start out with.
- Chase Southwest Business Premier Card. I wanted to get some extra Southwest points since my wife was going to get the Companion Pass, so in September, I signed up for a second Chase business card – the Chase Southwest Business Premier Card. This card gave me 60,000 Southwest points, which will serve me well with my wife’s Southwest Companion Pass.
- American Express SPG Business Card. In October, I found out that the AmEx SPG Business Card was offering a historic high of 35,000 SPG points. It’s basically the same card as the AmEx SPG personal card, but since it’s a business card, it doesn’t impact my 5/24 status.
- American Express Delta Gold Business Card. Finally, in December, I found myself antsy to get one more card before the year came to an end. The Delta Gold Business Card seemed to make sense since it offered 60,000 Delta miles. Minneapolis is a Delta hub and my wife and I have a wedding we need to attend in South Dakota this summer, so this card will do a nice job of covering the cost of those flights.
Total Points: 420,000
Altogether, I ended up accumulating 420,000 points and miles just from signup bonuses. When you add in the points I earned from hitting minimum spend requirements, that number is actually a little bit higher.
Recapping My Wife’s Credit Cards In 2017
One bonus with being married is that I was able to sign my wife up for a bunch of cards too. She doesn’t care too much about this credit card or travel hacking world – all she cares is that it doesn’t lose us money, that I don’t bother her too much about it, and that I don’t trash her credit. Luckily, I didn’t do any of those things this year.
Here are the cards that we opened up for my wife in 2017:
- Chase Hyatt. We opened up the Chase Hyatt Card for my wife in May. We had a trip to New York planned for September, so I thought it would make sense for my wife to get the Hyatt card so that we could get ourselves two free nights at the most expensive Hyatt hotel in the US. At the time, this card gave us 2 free nights at any Hyatt hotel as a signup bonus. Currently, it offers 40,000 Hyatt points, which isn’t bad and can actually get you more nights depending on the type of hotel you want to stay at.
- Chase Southwest Plus. We opened up this card for my wife in September in order to earn the Southwest Companion Pass (which I wrote about earlier this week). At the time, the Southwest Plus and the Southwest Premier card were both offering a 60,000 point signup bonus. By opening up both cards, we were able to qualify for the Companion Pass which will allow us to essentially fly for free on Southwest until December 31, 2019. The Companion Pass might be the best deal in travel right now, so it’s worth learning more about how I earned the Companion Pass.
- Chase Southwest Premier. This card was opened up in September at the same time as the Southwest Plus card. It gave us a 60,000 point signup bonus, which also allowed us to earn the Southwest Companion Pass.
- Chase Ink Business Preferred. My wife opened up this card in December, which earned her 80,000 Chase points. Even better, I referred her using my referral link for my Chase Ink Business Preferred card, which means that I earned 20,000 Chase points for myself. In essence, this card was good for 100,000 Chase points.
Total Points: 220,000 + Two Free Nights At Any Hyatt Hotel
So, for 2017, my wife and I earned a total of 640,000 points and miles, all from signup bonuses. Not too bad at all for my first year doing this.
Plans For 2018
Right now, my plan is to continue opening up business cards for at least the first half of the year. I’m currently in the process of trying to get a second Chase Ink Preferred card, which, if successful, will net me another 100,000 Chase points (I used my wife’s referral link, which means I’ll get 80,000 points and she’ll get 20,000 points as a referral bonus).
Once the second half of the year comes along, I’ll probably make my way back to the Chase personal cards. That way, by the time I get into 2019, I’ll be back under 5/24 again. Of course, all of this can change if something really good comes along. I think my ultimate plan in 2018 will be to open up somewhere between 4 and 6 cards for myself.
We’re laying off on opening new cards for my wife for just a little bit. She’s in the middle of buying a practice, which means that we’ll need to get a practice loan for her to do that. Getting a practice loan seems a lot like getting a mortgage, so we’ll hold off on doing anything that can impact her credit report for at least a few months.
The world of travel hacking and credit cards is stupidly addictive. In just one year, I’ve gone from having two credit cards over 10 years to having eight additional credit cards in just one year. And the amazing thing is that, contrary to what most people believe, opening up all of these new cards didn’t trash my credit. Indeed, my credit score is basically as high as it was at the beginning of the year.
For sure, make sure you read up on this stuff before you dive into it. It’s not as complicated as it seems, but it does require a little bit of upfront research. A great place to start are these two posts I wrote a little while ago:
- Chase 5/24 Rule – Maximize Your Travel Hacking
- What You Need To Know About The Chase One Sapphire Rule
I also highly recommend spending some time on the Reddit churning forum. It’s a great place with a lot of experts that show you exactly what you need to do and what cards you should get. That’s how I’ve learned a lot of what I know now.
Other things to consider:
- Track Your Credit Cards In A Spreadsheet. You need to stay organized. I keep a spreadsheet in Google Docs that lists all of my cards and when I got them.
- Don’t Fear the Fees. The thing that makes a lot of people scared to open cards are the annual fees that come with a lot of them. Don’t fear it! As long as you’re getting back more than what you pay in fees, you are profiting. If I tell you to pay me $95 in order to get $800 or $1,000 in travel, you’d do that in a heartbeat, right? Just think of it like that.
- Most Cards Can Be Downgraded. This is the thing that a lot of people don’t realize – most cards you get can be downgraded to no-fee versions of the card. If you’re afraid of annual fees, just remember that the fees aren’t forever.
- Get Cards Whenever You Have Big Expenses Coming Up. I can’t stress this enough – if you have a wedding coming up or you’re planning to buy something big, you should go ahead and get a new card so that you can earn a good signup bonus. You’re already spending money anyway, so you should get something back for that spending. Anyone with a wedding, for example, should be able to fly to their honeymoon destination for free. It’s just a matter of planning ahead and getting the right cards to do it.
Overall, 2017 was a good year for me in the credit card world and a nice introduction for this amateur travel hacker. For the savvy Financial Panthers out there, credit cards are a tool that can benefit you. It doesn’t have to be as scary as it seems.