Flying from Buenos Aires to the US is expensive. Coach airfare routinely costs $1200 and up. With a family of three and a new one on the way, that means we’re looking at $3600+ for a simple trip ($4800+ when our son hits 2 years old) – and that’s just airfare! Add in a hotel, car rental, dining, etc. and costs skyrocket.
When I realized what these costs looked like, I started to really get focused on how to get big travel for less money. The most immediate solution? Frequent flyer miles and hotel points. The problem was that I was not flying frequently enough or staying in hotels enough to rack up points, so I needed another way. The most obvious choice I found was through credit card signup bonuses and following the points and miles blogs to learn about tips, promotions and other tricks of the trade.
I’m happy to report that by following these tips and tricks I was able to rack up over two million points in the last two years alone. This has involved signing up for credit card bonuses, buying miles when there were big discounts, earning miles from a mileage checking account, and even a couple of hotel stays at cheap rates to earn huge promotional bonuses.
Already these points have meant that I have had two international business class flights for less than the cost of coach, flown my mother and mother-in-law in business class between the US and Argentina, and even flew my family of three from EZE to JFK where we stayed at the Conrad New York for free. Our future travel plans include an 8-night trip booked at the Conrad Punta del Este Resort and Casino in the peak summer season. If we paid for that it would have cost over U$S 4000! With my Hilton Gold status (thanks to my Citi Hilton credit card) we’ll also get free breakfast and Internet for the entire stay, saving even more. We’re also going on an 11-day ski trip to Whistler, Canada next year at no cost for airfare and lodging.
Signing up for credit cards with bonuses is undoubtedly the best way to earn these miles and points. One of the best strategies to do this is what is known as the “credit card app-o-rama.” This is when you apply for a number of credit cards from different banks on the same day (often using different browsers and submitting them one after the other). There are several benefits to the app-o-rama approach:
- The banks cannot tell that you have applied for multiple credit cards on the same day, thus giving you a better credit score.
- Applications for credit cards generate a “hard inquiry” on your credit report. This will drop your credit score by a few points for 3-6 months. By grouping them all together, you can take the hit all at once and have the drop off at the same time.
If you’re truly dedicated to earning miles and points, you can do a credit card app-o-rama about every 90 days as these hard inquiries drop off your credit report. I’m currently on about a 6 month cycle as I just do not have the time to manage this every three months. My most recent app-o-rama was spurred on by an enhanced bonus on the Chase Ink Bold card which went from 50,000 points to 60,000 points for this week only. That was enough to get me to apply for all the cards I wanted, which included:
- Chase Ink Bold: 60,000 Ultimate Reward Points before 6/22/13 after $5000 spend in 3 months
- Chase Ink Plus: 60,000 Ultimate Reward Points before 6/22/13 after $5000 spend in 3 months
- Barclay World Arrival Card: $444 statement credit on travel purchases after $1000 spend in 3 months
- Club Carlson Rewards Business Visa: 50,000 points after first purchase, 35,000 points more after $2500 spend in 90 days, plus Gold benefits (see below)
- Kohls: I just got this one as they often offer amazing deals for charge card holders only and with kids they have great deals on clothes.
I was immediately approved for all the cards except for the Chase Ink ones. Those are pending and probably backed up due to the increased demand for them this week. These cards made my list because of their great signup bonuses and special offers. The Barclay World Arrival card is great because you get $444 back after only spending $1000! That’s pretty significant. The Club Carlson rewards card is awesome for a number of reasons including the fact that for every reward stay over two nights, you’ll get one night of points back. This is going to work out very well for us as we have a layover in Dallas on our Whistler trip. We get into Dallas at 6am and leave the next day at 10am. Rather than just booking one night and hoping we get in early to the room, we’ll now book two reward nights for the same cost as one night and be guaranteed a room.
There’s a lot of things to consider when applying for credit cards and it’s a lot to cover in just one blog post. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me and I’d be happy to try and help. Here’s some of the most important concepts:
- You’ll need a good credit score and financial history if you plan to apply for credit cards.
- You’ll need to figure out what cards and bonuses make the most sense for you. A number of the blogs listed at the bottom of this post have great summaries on the various bonuses and offers.
- You should not apply for credit cards if you’re doing any major financial transactions – mortgage, refinancing, etc. – as your credit score will take a temporary hit.
- You need to meet the minimum spend requirements. It helps if you have expenses for yourself or family members that you can charge. There are ways to “manufacture” spending, which basically means charging things at no cost and getting that money back through other ways. See some of the other blogs for more info on this as well.
- You’ll need to track your credit cards and make sure that those with an annual fee are cancelled if they no longer make sense for you.
This whole process is also a bit trickier to do when you’re not in the United States, but not impossible. Here’s the steps that work for me from Argentina:
- Use a VPN service when applying for credit cards. This will make it look like your computer is in the US and not cause any flags to be raised on your application.
- You need to use a US address for your application (no PO boxes). Use a mail forwarding service or family member’s address for this. It helps to have address history, so if you can, change your existing credit cards to use this address too.
- You may not have physical access to the credit card. I just have my mother send me the info, activate the cards and use them online until I have a chance to physically get the card.
This turned into a lengthy post on the topic, but hopefully it’s a good overview. There are a lot of other ways to earn miles and points, but hopefully this was a quick overview of credit card signup bonuses. I’ll be writing some other posts down the road, but feel free to ask me any questions you may have. In the meantime, here are some great miles and points blogs that you can follow: