Newbie questions about almost-free travel

Valley of the Temples Burma

Sunrise in the Valley of the Temples

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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.

Cypress Garden South Carolina

The blackwater swamp of Cypress Garden

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.

St John

Powdery white sand of Trunk Bay

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9 Responses to Newbie questions about almost-free travel

  1. Joel says:

    Well dang. I added my wife on the AA master card. I guess she isn’t going to get the other card then. I wish I had read this beforehand.

    • Shay says:

      Over the past two years me and my wife have swaped on many cards having each other as authorized users. Chase Southwest premier and Plus, Chase Preferred Sapphire, Barclay Arrival + ,
      Neither of us have had any issue receiving the bonus. I just recently applied for the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum with my wife as an authorized user and plan on her getting it after I hit the $3000 requirement in 3 months just like we have done with all the others. Right now we have 141,000 Delta miles that I have been hoarding, that’s after having 216,000 and finally just using 75,000 to take a family trip to Disney World from Boise, ID. We have over 200,000 Southwest miles from swaping between the Premier and Plus cards. After getting my Citi/AAdvantage with 50,000 miles bonus will have 150,000 AAdvantage miles. Between both of us having the Chase Sapphire and Barclaycard Arrival + we have received $2000 in travel bonus and went on a free Cruise last year and paid for Disney world & Universal tickets this year. I also just discovered Citi has a card very similar to Chase Sapphire and Barclaycard Arrival + Where you can redeem for all types of travel including cruises ect.. I think the redemption bonus equals $625 multiply that times 2 for spouses and that is some more free travel. That is my plan for the next two cards. I love this cheap travel thing.

    • Doog says:

      I haven’t had this issue either. I almost always add my wife as an authorized user, and she has been approved for the same card (with me as an authorized user!) within months or even weeks of each other. Brad, are we missing a clarification here?

      Thanks again for all the great tips and inspiration!

      • I should have said, “adding your spouse as an authorized user has the effect of adding a credit inquiry without any corresponding bonus,” and where you want to minimize your credit inquiries and maximize your bonuses, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to add them as authorized users.

        I made my wife an authorized user on a Continental card years ago and it kept her from getting it herself, but it’s good to know that many of you have had experiences with still being able to get more bonuses.

        • Joel says:

          I should have clicked that box that says to notify me when someone responds. I just checked back here and noticed that I may not have messed up. I read the post and immediately removed my wife as an authorized user to see if it would make any difference. Right now you can get the chase sapphire card with 50K miles. Shay mentioned that it is a pretty good card. We want to get the family to Cancun in October. Should I get that one after I hit the 3000 dollars on my AA card? Or should I have my wife apply for a second AA card?

          • Joel says:

            I just read about the companion pass upgrade for southwest, but the current bonus is only 25000 points right now. I wonder if the 50k from the sapphire would work towards the companion pass.

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