Carried Away

The one piece of advice I always give people when opening credit cards is to have a goal in mind. I don’t see the point in opening cards just for the points or just to have more cards, with no plan in place. I have plenty of cards, many of which I will look for retention offers/canceling once the fee comes due, but this still doesn’t stop me from looking at others. I can’t count the number of times I have had an application filled out, ready to submit and had to think back to the advice I give anyone. With all the cards out and with so many bloggers saying why you must have this card,  it can be difficult not to apply for every single offer out there. There is one thing I have come to learn in the few years I have been doing this…

Whenever you see a BIG credit card offer and see countless bloggers telling you that this is the greatest thing to grace the earth, remember this…There will always be large credit card offers because banks want your business. In the past couple of weeks alone, we have seen Citi increase their Thank You Premier to 60,000 points, going incognito or calling, you could find the American Express Platinum 100,000 point bonus, Marriott had an 80,000 point offer and SPG just did their annual increase to 30,000 points, American Express. There will always be a large bonus, but I think it is important to have a goal before applying for a new card.

So many offers, so little time!
So many offers, so little time!

With so many increased offers, you might feel if you don’t have these cards, you are missing out. If you don’t stay at Hilton’s or Marriott’s odds are you didn’t need that card anyways. If you planning a trip and a Hilton or Marriott is the best property there, then you should consider it. Again, it is all about having a plan.

Think of applying for a rewards card like making meal, you wouldn’t go to the grocery store and just buy random ingredients then look for a recipe (some might!). When picking out a credit card (ingredients), you should have a goal redemption (meal) in mind and know what cards you will need for that redemption. You’ll want to know how much of a product you’ll need (points) to make your meal (redemption). Sometimes the amount of product you need, can make you look for a better option.

Sometimes the best offer is not the best offer for you at that time. For example, in a couple of months I am going to Budapest and Prague and I was looking for a reason to have the Hyatt credit card, which came with 2 free nights anywhere in the world PLUS $50 statement credit. When I looked for my options, there wasn’t a Hyatt in that area, not even close to it. So that would have been a complete waste for me! You should always to do your homework and find out what airlines fly to the area you are traveling too. Also, which hotels you can stay at in the area and the estimated cost in points. If you have questions, I am more than happy to send you in a direction that works best for you :-).

I’ve seen countless times where someone will say, “Hey I have so many (fill in a rewards program) points, but I can’t use them because there are no (fill in a reason).” I have gotten better at selecting the cards that work for us, but that doesn’t mean I don’t stray and want to apply for others.  This is a perfect example, I was totally prepared to fill out 2 Hyatt applications and Hilton application, here was my problem. I had no redemption in mind. I would have 4 free nights anywhere in the world plus 75,000 Hilton points! All of which would be a complete waste for me. I had no plan to use them.

I’m sure I am not the only person to get carried away and think of all the awesome things I can do with my points. I see awesome pictures and post about the trip someone just took and how they got there. When I read different blogs, I realize that I am different from them because my job isn’t one I can just call in sick, take a day off at the last minute, or take months off at a time.

I also realize I don’t put much emphasis on the hotel stay, because we are in the hotel just to sleep, not hang out in an upgraded suite. I make my plans well in advance and I apply for credit cards the same way. At the same time, I don’t manufacture spend and have no intention to start either. So most of my points come from real spending or credit card bonuses. That means it can take me a little longer to earn more points, so maximizing my rewards is important to me.

Besides having a goal in mind before applying for a new card, some of the other rules I make for myself and I’ll gladly tell others. If I receive a hotel credit card, I better receive a free night every year I renew my card with that bank. With so many cards out there, I fail to see any reason to hold a hotel card and pay a fee that does not give me a “free night.” I usually prefer a certificate instead of points because all programs, inevitably are going to devalue.  If there is no free night, I do not want the card. Plain and simple.

Airlines cards, I don’t keep many of these because I am not loyal to one airline. I usually fly the airline that gives me the best value, while also costing me less points for my trip. I will gladly redeem for a lower value, if it means redeeming less points.  For people who check bags, that could be a very important perk, since it could save you money. Having a companion pass where you either pay a reduced fee or have a free ticket could be extremely useful for some. I would always figure out who flies from the airports closest to you. If you live in Miami, then having the Southwest Companion Pass is useless since Southwest doesn’t fly to or from Miami.

I think the best cards are flexible bank point cards, like Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards and Thank You Points. I think SPG is overrated, but for many they think this is the best reward program. These keep your points a little more sheltered from devaluation and allow flexibility. This is where I keep most of my points, because not only am I a little safer for devaluations, I have so many more options!

It is easy to get carried away and apply for cards for big bonuses, especially when there are many people telling you what these points can do for you. I wouldn’t worry about missing out on a particular offer now, because odds are in your favor a large offer is just around the corner. If you work backwards and have a goal in mind there is no reason you can’t plan a trip and pay close to nothing for it. Always remember, the best redemption is the one that works best for you.

What are your rule when applying for a rewards credit card? Ever apply for a card and realize you had no use for the points?

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6 thoughts on “Carried Away

  1. Great great great post. I struggle with this all the time, as I look at more cards being advertised. When I started a year and a half ago, I was doing app-o-ramas signing up for about 3-4 cards every few months. I didn’t really have a hard goal to start out with, but eventually developed a couple lofty ones along the way (Southern Africa: flying this week!) and South East Asia (Feb). Though now that those are covered, I see I have a surplus of miles and points. An opportunity came up to go to Europe in December, which I am leveraging a change to also try to see the Northern Lights in northern Norway. With my surplus of points, however, I was lacking in Star Alliance miles, as I used them for Africa so I’ve been focused on earning Aeroplan miles to fly on SAS. So I have a Membership Rewards focus, and hopped on that 100K Amex Plat offer. This will come in handy for flights and hotels to northern Norway (as the Choice Hotels seem to be the only ones available in the region).

    In 2015, I abandoned the App-o-rama system to focus on just limited time increased offers as they come up, and flexible points, doing on average once a month. That did get out of hand, though in the last 3 weeks (as I applied for a few in that span). I have had many recent inquiries so I wasn’t sure if I would get approved for the Amex Platinum offer, but I did get approved. So I made a promise to myself that I would hold off on any new apps at least for 3 months (but likely until 2016).

    Since my travel for the next year or so is more than covered, I will shift the focus to cash back, and likely earn more Chase UR with the category bonuses, and the ability to cash out with the Freedom at 1 cent per point, with some Citi Double Cash purchases mixed in.

    1. Thank you! I know the feeling! I have only done 1 AOR but I usually wait for large bonuses as well. Very overwhelming with so many cards out there.

      I think switching over to cash back is a great plan especially since you have the travel already booked. Points and miles are great but sometimes cash back is a better option. I think you have a solid plan!

  2. This a great post, Dustin, and I certainly agree with you not to get caught up, especially as someone relatively new to all of this!

    However, for my situation, I feel like I should sign up for cards even if I don’t have all my travel plans in order. Why? Because I’m still a college student. I currently subscribe to the AOR philosophy because I’m luckily able to pay tuition with no fees via credit card. I’d rather sign up for credit cards with a lucrative bonus than swipe to get 5k points or $100 on a $5000 tuition bill (grad school is expensive!!). Because I’m signing up for several cards quite often, I currently have way more points/miles than I can spend right now. It’s a problem I don’t mind having. Keeping in mind potential devaluations and the knowing that these points/miles are worthless unless used, I’ve taken the opportunity of taking family and friends on trips with me with the surplus of miles/points. 🙂
    And once I’m done paying for grad school, I’ll most likely only sign up for credit cards if they fit my travel goals and I believe I’d shift more towards cashback.

    One last thing, a suggestion: As someone who also blogs (not about points and miles), it may be helpful and more pleasing to the eyes of the reader, especially when a post becomes lengthy, if there were headers to break up the paragraph. Kudos!

    1. Thanks Patrick! I graduated a few years ago from grad school, so I completely understand your reasoning! If I knew about points/miles while I was in grad school I think I would have done the same.

      Thanks for the feedback on the headers, I will start doing that! I appreciate it

  3. I am still new to the hacking points and I had a good chuckle, because I did get carried away until I realized the points you pointed out! I do appreciate you keeping it real whereas most bloggers only tell the potential and make it look really easy. Thank you :]

    1. Thank you! :-). It’s so easy to get carried away. I do see some bloggers who only tell you the potential of each card (15 free nights category 1, etc). Or you should only use your points at 5 star hotels. If you have a plan and follow it, meet your travel goal, it was a successful redemption I think!

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