A reader recently asked us these questions and we thought our response would make for a great post. Here are the questions and our responses:
1) For a “newbie” like me, what are the top 3 or 4 cards you’d recommend? (We’re just looking to do some free travel within the USA to start out… flights, hotels, that kind of thing.)
I like the idea of having multiple travel rewards cards in each category – airline, hotel, and bank points, that way you can almost always arrange them to work together to pull off some awesome almost-free travel. Narrowing it down, though, at the moment, here are the 3 cards I’d recommend:
- Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard®: Even though American is joining the other airlines in devaluing their points, their program still represents some of the best value on international travel. This offer is for 50k AA miles after making $3000 in purchases after the first 3 months.
- IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card: A while ago I wrote that this card was the new king of the hill for hotel cards for 2 reasons – the Point Breaks hotels you can stay at for 5k points/night, and the ongoing benefit that every year you get a free night in ANY hotel in exchange for a paltry $49 annual fee. Furthermore, the offer is 60k points after $1000 in spending in the first three months.
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard®: This is the most flexible and best offer among the bank point cards which allow you to reimburse yourself for travel expenses. This way you can book on Airbnb or pay for a rental car and then reimburse yourself without having to worry about whether there’s availability. This offer is for 40k points after spending $3000 in the first 3 months.
2) Would you recommend doubling up (one for me, one for my wife) on each card (at the same time)? Or would you “stagger” them (I get a particular card today, my wife gets the same card a year from now)?
That really depends on whether the card your applying for offers enough bonus miles to do what you want to do, but as a general rule I’d say to stagger them. You certainly want to “pile” your points so that you have more with particular programs that you can use for bigger trips or bring along more people.
You may want to get an airline card yourself and have your wife get a hotel card, then switch next time, but I’ve done it simultaneously as well.
The one thing we always say is that you should never add a spouse as a second user because that removes the possibility for them to apply separately and get their own bonus.
3) Is there a “rule of thumb” for comparing the bonus points/miles from one card to the next? Or is it a completely different structure/program for each & every card? Is there an easy way to compare 50,000 “miles” with card A to 50,000 “points” with card B? Do most of the cards basically just equate 10,000 miles/points to $100, Or does each card have its own unique system for redeeming miles/points?
For the most part you can say that cards and point programs are somewhat similar with regard to redemption levels, but that doesn’t always hold true. Our Using Airline Miles and Using Hotel Points pages are the best to evaluate the different programs. For the most part, points within categories – airline, bank are fairly equal.
Some notable exceptions are that Starwood Hotel Points stretch a lot further – starting at 3,000 points for a night redemption, and that Club Carlson Gold Points program requires much more than most other programs per night redemption – that helps explain why the Starwood card gives 1 point per dollar spent while the Club Carlson offers 5. The trick is to learn these differences and exploit them to your advantage.
4) I’ve read that multiple credit inquiries of the same TYPE that occur within a certain time period (maybe 1-2 weeks, as I recall?) will only count as a SINGLE inquiry (and therefore only ding your credit 1 time). You know if there’s any truth to this? Any benefit to going gang-busters and applying for a whole bunch of different cards all at once (keeping in mind, of course, that I’ll need to make sure I can hit the minimum spend requirements within the 90-day time frames)?
My understanding is that credit inquiries only get lumped together on the same day with the same credit bureau. That’s why you see us going “app-o-rama” style.
There are some exceptions to this – be careful with Chase, they will not approve new applications within 60 days of a previous application, so don’t try to get two at once with them.
My suggestion would be to vary the applications with different offerers and, yes, to make sure that meeting minimum requirements won’t force you to spend money you wouldn’t otherwise.
These were great questions and we’re pleased to have Kevin wanderlusting with us.
You probably have a lot more questions and many of them can be answered at our FAQ page, but please don’t hesitate to comment with more inquiries and we’ll work them into another post to get more of you out and enjoying everything the world has to offer.