Step 9: Credit Cards

Now that you have an idea of what miles and points are out there and which ones may be most useful to your situation based on location and travel goals. Presumably your credit score is high enough to take advantage of some great offers (above 700) and you can start collecting.

But before we get into that, there are some things you should know about applying for credit cards over the internet.

Important Information Regarding Credit Card Links

  • Many sites get paid referral fees if you apply for a credit card using their link. Often times, the sign-up bonuses on the cards being pushed by these sites are inferior to other available offers. You should watch out for this conflict of interest and research if there are any other available offers for a particular card. I don’t get paid for any links, and if I did, would rather guide readers to the best offer than have them regret signing up for a card and missing out on a higher bonus.
  • Sometimes you will get approved instantly, sometimes you will get a “decision pending” or the like, and sometimes you will be denied. If you get a denied or pending decision, all is not lost, as you can call the bank to attempt to reconsider your application. In many cases they are just missing some information and will approve you after you call.
  • Sometimes, limited-time offers come out that give applicants a higher bonus than what is normally offered for signing up. These cycles can be predictable in many cases, so its worth it to hold off on some applications under a higher bonus comes back around. For example, the Starwood AMEX card currently has a 25,000 point sign-up bonus, but every year for the past five years there has been a month-long period where the bonus is raised to 30,000 points. Simply by timing your applications you can get extra value out of them.

How to Apply For Your First Rewards Cards

You can apply for multiple cards on the same day or space them out over several weeks. It doesn’t matter.

For your first applications, I recommend no more than 2-3 cards to get your feet wet, as long as you can comfortably meet the minimum spending amount required to obtain the bonus.

Starting out with 1 is fine too, to build your confidence in your credit score: Apply for a card, and check your scores in a week or two. You’ll see minimal effect.

Before you apply for any cards, have a pen and paper handy. Ensure you take note of the requirements to earn the bonus. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card will give you 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $3,000 on the card within 90 days. If you spend $2,999 and the 90th day passes, you won’t get the bonus. I set a reminder in my calendar for future dates when bonus spending is due, so I never forget. It’s important to stay organized so you don’t miss a bonus due to lack of planning.

Always pay your statement balance in full each month. If you pay any interest at all, you’re losing value on the miles and points gained from credit card bonuses. You’re basically shooting yourself in the foot.

Never sign up for more credit cards than you can handle meeting the minimum spending requirement for. If you normally charge $1000 per month on credit cards every month, you can handle $3,000 in 3 months and nothing more (for now; we’ll talk about manufactured spending later).

Which Cards Should You Choose?

Nearly every major airline and hotel have co-branded credit cards that will give you a sign-up bonus. This is in addition to credit cards that in Flexible Point programs discussed in step 6. And still, there are other cards that offer cash back toward travel expenses that can be used to offset other parts of your trip, such as rental cards, food, or activities.

MileNerd has a great list of credit card offers that he updates monthly. As far as I know, they are the best offers for each card currently available, but feel free to email me to ensure your getting the best deal for each application.

If you need help figuring out which credit cards will get you where you want to go, I offer free credit card consultations for those new to miles and points. I don’t earn any money from this service and am unbiased toward any product based on financial compensation. Feel free to email me with any questions you may have.

I have earned an average of one million miles and points per year for the past three years. It’s an easy system to learn and a not-too-difficult system to master. With a good knowledge of the basics described in this beginner series, you can earn tons of miles, points, and credit towards free travel with very little effort.

Finally: Do not be tempted to lie on credit card applications. List your real income, real job, etc. This is serious business and can constitute fraud. Besides, you don’t need to risk anything when it’s so easy to earn miles and points by being legit. With a high credit score, you’re likely to be approved by nearly every card product out there.

What To Do If Your Application is Denied or “Pending”

If you are denied or receive an application pending status, do not panic. This happens all the time, and many times all it takes to be approved is a phone call. Sometimes all it takes is waiting a few days and you’ll be automatically approved.

I compiled a list of phone numbers for each bank here .

I’m here to make free travel available to anyone, for free, no strings attached. If anything in this beginner guide has you confused or if you are unclear on anything, I’m available by email .

At the end of this step:

  • You researched which credit cards you want to start with, and may have submitted applications.
  • You’ve taken careful notes of the bonus terms for each card you’ve applied for, in order to be awarded the sign-up bonus. This includes how much you need to spend and in what timeframe you need to spend it. Also take note of the date you applied for the card and if there is an annual fee.