What’s in MY Wallet (and how do I use each card)?

Just what is in that wallet of mine?

The first question I usually get asked when I begin regaling (or annoying) people with my tales of traveling around the world for free is “Are you rich?”.  As soon as the chuckle escapes my lips, the person immediately follows up with “Well, is your wife rich?”.

Again, I chuckle, and then begin explaining that I use frequent flyer miles to travel.  Question three is usually “how many freakin’ credit cards do you have?”.

As I enter my second full-fledged year in the the frequent flyer mile game, and prepare for my summer App-o-rama, I figured now was as good a time as any to take stock of the cards I have.

I’ll reveal which cards I prefer to use to maximize my points, and then ultimately decide which ones are worth keeping based on the anniversary bonus they offer and the annual fee they charge.

Hopefully, this will help prove useful for the many of you out there who are facing many of the same decisions of closing or keeping open accounts and also deciding which cards you should add to your stable.

I’ll list the cards in chronological order of the date I got them.

Without giving away the answer, I will tell you to settle in and get comfortable, because the number is quite large.

Sooo….how many cards do I have?

1.  Citi/AAdvantage Visa

See Best Current Deals page for further breakdown of this card, how to get both the Citi/AA Visa and Amex at the same time, which I highly recommend doing, and the application links for these cards

Signup bonus: 75k when I got it, 50k now

Date approved:  July 29, 2011

What I use it for:  Nothing after meeting the minimum spend and getting the signup bonus.

Annual fee:  $85

Anniversary bonus:  Nothing

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  25%.  If I call in to cancel and they over me a great retention bonus (7,000 AA miles or more, an $85 statement credit, etc) than I’ll keep it open.  If not, thanks for the signup bonus but this card is history!

2.  Alaska Airlines Visa

Signup bonus: 40k when I got it, 25k now

Date approved:  August 8, 2011

What I use it for:  Nothing after making the first purchase and getting the signup bonus.

Annual fee:  $75 (not waived the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  $99 companion pass.

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  0%.  If I made good use of the companion pass than this card might be worth keeping open.  However, I didn’t use the companion pass this past year, so I’m assuming I won’t make use of it this upcoming year either.  Plus, you can “churn” this card and get the signup bonus again, so if I’m going to pay the fee, I might as well get the extra 25,000 as a bonus again!

3.  Chase Sapphire Preferred

Signup bonus: 50k when I got it, 40k now

Date approved:  August 22, 2011

What I use it for:  Almost all my everyday spending.  I especially focus on using it for travel and dining, which earns me 2x.  Since I live abroad, I use this card all the time because it has no foreign transaction fee.

Annual fee:  $95 (waived the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  7% bonus on all points earned, including the signup bonus.

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  100%.  This is my favorite card and my go-to for almost all of my spending.  I love that it has no foreign transaction fee and also that it gives me 2x for travel and dining.  I almost always transfer my Chase UR points to United miles, which I love.  The 7% bonus is nice too, although I wouldn’t consider just that enough to keep the card open.  I’ll keep it open because I love the everyday earning potential!

4.  American Express Premier Rewards Gold

Signup bonus: 75k when I got it (after my points eventually posted), 0k now, which is absolutely ludicrous!

Date approved:  August 22, 2011

What I use it for:  Occasionally, and sporadically, for groceries because it offers 2x on groceries and gas.  However, I don’t even usually use it for airfare, which it offers 3x on, because I’d rather the 2x Chase points (for travel by using the Sapphire) than the 3x Amex points.

Annual fee:  $175 (waived the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  None.

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  0%.  The 3x on airfare and 2x on gas and groceries could be lucrative for some people but I don’t really put much value Amex points because they don’t offer good transfer partners.  I’d rather use my Sapphire for 2x on travel and my Ink Bold for 2x on gas and build up a nice point balance through Chase and then transfer those points to United.  The $175 is too high a fee to justify the extra points I’d get for spending on groceries.

5.  Barclays USAirways Mastercard #1

Signup bonus: 40k

Date approved:  September 25, 2011

What I use it for:  Nothing after the first purchase to get my signup bonus and once every 6 months to adhere to the terms and conditions.

Annual fee:  $89 (waived the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  10k USAirway miles

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  100%.  The 10k USAirways miles are worth over $89 for me so this is a no-brainer.  I’ll whip it out every 6 months and use it once just to make sure I’m abiding by the terms and conditions, but other than that, it’ll collect dust on the shelf.

6.  American Express Hilton HHonors

Signup bonus: 60k when I applied, 40k now

Date approved:  November 9, 2011

What I use it for:  Nothing after meeting the minimum spend and getting the signup bonus.

Annual fee:  $0

Anniversary bonus:  None.

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  75%.  Normally, this would be 100%, as it never really makes sense to close a card with no annual fee.  However, it is being reported that some people have had success getting this card and the signup bonus again after closing their original card.  If that is the case, I may close this card so that I’m eligible to get the bonus again.  If not, then I’ll just leave it open indefinitely.

7.  Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Visa

If you apply for this card, the application page will show a 50k signup bonus.  Many people have reported that Chase will honor the 70k offer if you ask them to “bump the bonus” through a secure message after applying.

Signup bonus:  70k + 1 free night in a category 1-4

Date approved:  November 9, 2011

What I use it for:  Nothing after making the first purchase and getting the signup bonus.

Annual fee:  $85 (waived for the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  1 free night at a category 1-5 each year.

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  65%.  This one will be a tough decision.  If used right, the one free night can easily be worth up to $150, which more than makes up for the annual fee.  However, I usually prefer to stay at locally run boutique hotels and hostels when I go on vacation.  If I needed to “go out of my way” to use the free night, then it wouldn’t be worth it.

Odds are that I’ll keep this open, not only for the free night but also because keeping cards open helps your credit score and having this card open will give me more leverage with Chase when trying to get other Chase credit cards…Ok, basically I just talked myself in to keeping it open!

8.  Chase Ink Bold Business (old version)

Signup bonus:  50k

Date approved:  November 9, 2011

What I use it for:  Nothing after making the minimum spend and earning the signup bonus.

Annual fee:  $95 (waived for the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  None.

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  0%.  Now that I have the new Chase Ink Bold card (which is much better), there is no point at all for me to keep this card open.

9.  Citi Thank You Premier

Signup bonus:  50k

Date approved:  November 9, 2011

What I use it for:  Nothing after making the minimum spend and earning the signup bonus.

Annual fee:  $125 (waived for the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  1% on all Citi TY points earned through purchases (does not include the signup bonus)

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  0%.  There are a few reasons I won’t be keeping this card open;  the $125 is super high for a card of this (low) caliber, the anniversary bonus is of little value since I don’t put any spend on this card, and Citi TY points are not that valuable compared to Chase UR points.

Lastly, I had to fight tooth and nail with Citi not only to get this card, but also for them to credit me with the signup bonus (think 10+ emails and even snail mail letters) so needless to say, I’m not a fan of their company or their customer service.

10.  Barclays USAirways Mastercard #2

This is the exact same card as #4.  

Signup bonus:  40k

Date approved:  April 3, 2012

What I use it for:  Nothing after the first purchase to get my signup bonus and once every 6 months to adhere to the terms and conditions.

Annual fee:  $89 (waived the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  10k USAirway miles

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  100%.  The 10k USAirways miles are worth over $89 for me so this is a no-brainer.  I’ll whip it out every 6 months and use it once just to make sure I’m abiding by the terms and conditions, but other than that, it’ll collect dust on the shelf.

11.  Chase United Explorer

Signup bonus:  65k. See this post on how to make sure you get the higher, targeted 65k offer.

Date approved:  April 3, 2012

What I use it for:  Nothing after the first purchase to get my signup bonus.  However, if I were to purchase United tickets, I would use this card to get the 3x on United purchases.

Annual fee:  $95 (waived the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  2 free United Club lounge passes each year.

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  60%.  I’m completely on the fence about this one.  The lounge passes are nice (and $100 retail value) but I debate how much I actually value them.  Sure, its nice to have lounge access for a day, but I normally wouldn’t pay $50 for that privilege.

However, the card does also offer a free checked bag ($50 value) on United flights and like the Marriott above, gives me leverage with Chase when I go to apply for other cards.  Those two reasons will probably be enough to push it over to the “keep” side, but I’m glad I have a while to decide!

12.  Chase Southwest Rapids Reward Business card

Signup bonus:  50k

Date approved:  April 3, 2012

What I use it for:  Nothing after the first purchase to get my signup bonus.

Annual fee:  $69 (NOT waived the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  3,000 Southwest points ($50 value).

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  60%.  I know I sound like a broken record, but I’m slightly leaning towards keeping this open just to have leverage with Chase.  The 3,000 points aren’t enough to justify the annual fee (although it’s close), so what I’ll most likely do is keep this card open for the time being.

When I go to apply for other Chase cards, they may say I have too many accounts open with them, and that time, I’ll happily give up my Southwest account in order to get a new card and the signup bonus.

13.  Chase Ink Bold Business (new card)

This card is no longer available. The Ink Plus is still available.

Signup bonus:  50k

Date approved:  April 23, 2012

What I use it for:  Cable, cellphone, and internet bill (5x points), gas (2x) and gift cards from office supply stores (5x) that help me earn a TON of Chase UR points.  I also flip-flop the Ink Bold and the Sapphire Preferred for everyday spend items that don’t fall in those categories.

Annual fee:  $95 (waived the first year)

Anniversary bonus:  None.

Odds of keeping it open after 1 year:  100%.  I absolutely LOVE this card.  The fact that I can buy gift cards at office supply stores for all types of products and get 5x for them is amazing and keeps the points continually rolling in.

The only downside to this card is the high minimum spend in the beginning (although there are tons of ways to make it easier than you think), so now that I’ve hit that, I’ll keep using the awesome earning power of this card for years to come!


As do I! If it’s a good bonus, I’m there!

If you’ve been tallying the cards up mentally, you’ll see that I currently have a total of 13 cards.  Many people ask me how I manage to have all those cards and not get confused, but if you break it down, you’ll see that I have:

  • 2 that I use for everyday spending (Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Bold)
  • 1 that I pull out very occasionally (Amex Personal Rewards Gold)
  • 10 that basically go unused after making the minimum spend

In reality, I’m not juggling 13 cards, but really only 2.  Most of the time I’ll carry one of them and my wife will have the other.  Pretty simple.

People also always ask me how I keep track of all of them and how I know when to cancel them.

I employ a simple system that even a caveman could understand; I use a really basic Excel spreadsheet (feel free to EPoP Credit Card Tracking Template) which lists when I need to cancel each card.

Additionally, if you do App-o-Ramas it is easier to keep track of your cancellation dates because a bunch of the cards fall on the same day!  Yet another perk of the AoR!

Lastly, here is the breakdown of which cards I will and won’t keep after the 1st year and pay the annual fee for:

  • 4 Definite Keepers- Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Bold, both Barclays USAirways cards
  • 4 On the Fence- Chase Southwest, Chase United Explorer, Chase Marriott, Amex Hilton
  • 5 Definitely Closing- Citi Thank You Premier, Chase Ink Bold (old), Amex PRG, Citi/AA Visa, Alaska Airlines Visa
As you can see, having a large amount of open accounts doesn’t have to be scary or difficult to manage.  Pick a few cards that you prefer to use for everyday spending and then supplement them with cards that you’ll use for the signup bonus and then close after a year.
That way, it only takes a tiny bit of brain power and small amount of organization to keep you on top over everything.
(photo courtesy of icedsoul, simonQbrutalworks, ladycynamin)
Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

The Top 5 Ways to Use British Airways Avios Points

Now that you’ve read the 4 Things You Should Know about British Airways Avios Points (if you haven’t, check it out first) and are up to speed with the program, let’s look at the top 5 ways to use your Avios points.

As I’ve mentioned many times before BA points can be incredibly valuable, but ONLY if you used in very specific circumstances.

Therefore, it is even more important with BA than with other airlines to know which circumstances give you the best bang for your buck because if you use them wrong, you could end up paying HUGE fuel surcharges…and nobody wants that!

If you’ve already got a nice stash of BA Avios points, great!

If you want to start building up your balance, grab the Chase British Airways Visa (which can be found on the Best Current Deals page or the Airline Credit Card page).

Then, use those points in the following ways:

1. Short haul domestic flights

Using Avios points for short haul domestic flights can offer some incredible value.  Because of the distance-based award chart, you can get flights that are as low as 4,500 points one-way if the distance flown is below 650 miles.

Only 4,500 points?  That’s crazy, considering that the same flight would cost you almost 3x as much if you were flying with AA, United, or USAirways!

This works best for people who live near American Airline US hubs, which are Dallas/Forth Worth (DFW), New York (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago (ORD), and Miami (MIA).

There are tons of flights that fly out of these 5 hubs to places all over the United States, so if you live near one of the hubs, you can really make out like a bandit!

If you don’t start your journey at one of the hub cities, you won’t have as many options, and depending on where you are flying, you may have to pay for the leg from your home airport to the hub airport (minimum of 4,500 miles) and then pay for the leg from the hub to your destination.

This isn’t the end of the world, and can still be less than a regular airline would charge for a domestic flight, but its not the amazing deal that those lucky people near hub cities can get.

Examples (all examples in this post are for a roundtrip ticket in economy)

New York-Chicago
Using Avios Points: 15,000
Using regular carriers (AA, United, USAirways, Delta): All 25,000

New York-Miami
Using Avios Points: 15,000
Using regular carriers: All 25,000

Boston (non hub)-Miami
Using Avios Points: 21,000 (4,500 for BOS-JFK, 7,500 for JFK-MIA x 2)
Using regular carriers: 25,000

2. From the West Coast to Hawaii

Again, since the rewards chart is distance-based, it doesn’t matter that Hawaii is normally considered a different zone than the rest of North America by other airlines. All that matters is how many miles you are flying.

This means that by going to Hawaii from somewhere on the West Coast you can get a suuuweeettt deal!

If you are flying American Airlines, anywhere you fly from on that side of the country will route you through the main hub in Los Angeles, so if you can start in Los Angeles, you won’t have to pay for that extra leg to get there.

However, don’t forget that British Airways also partners with Alaska Airlines, meaning that you can also fly direct from Anchorage, Bellingham (WA), Seattle, Portland, Oakland, San Diego or San Jose to Honolulu using your Avios points.

Each route is under 3,000 miles, which means you’ll only pay 12,500 one-way or 25,000 roundtrip!  Hello, hula!

(huge thanks to reader planodude for pointing that out in the comments of last post…that’s why I love you guys; always helping each other, and me, out!)


Los Angeles-Honolulu
Using Avios Points: 25,000
AA 35,000 (off-peak) AA 45,000 (peak)
Delta, USAirways, United:  40,000 

San Francisco (non-hub)-Honolulu
Using Avios Points:  34,000
Using regular carriers: AA 35,000 (off-peak) AA 45,000 (peak) 
Delta, USAirways, United:  40,000 

3.  Boston to Ireland (Dublin or Shannon)

This is a very specific circumstance, but if you are able to make it work, this is the best deal out there for Avios points, even better than domestic short haul flights. Why? Two reasons:

1. Boston and Dublin are 2,993 miles apart, which puts it just below the 3,000 mile threshold in the Avios award chart, meaning you’ll only be paying 12,500 Avios points each way!

8 measly more miles and it’d be bumped up to category 5 (and cost 20,000 Avios points). Talk about cutting it close.

This route, from BOS to either Dublin or Shannon, is the only route that BA or it’s partners operate from the United States to Europe that falls under the 3,000 mile mark.

2. The route is flown by Aer Lingus, which for reasons unbeknowst to me, imposes only a small fuel surcharge ($150ish) when using BA Avios points and flying on their planes.

BA and every other one of its partners that fly between North America and Europe have huge fuel surcharges (think $400-600) when you use BA Avios points.

This makes it pointless to redeem Avios points on them, seeing as you could buy a ticket outright for the same price. For whatever reason, Aer Lingus has been spared (for now) so take advantage of it while you can.

Aer Lingus also flies to Dublin from New York and Chicago, but those tickets will cost you 40,000 Avios points instead of the 25,000 from Boston because they fall in category 5 on the Avios award chart. Still a really good deal, especially for people who wouldn’t be able to easily get to Boston.

If you’re looking to stretch your Avios points and save your dollars (and who isn’t) and can make your way to Boston (or even New York or Chicago) fairly easily, jump on this amazing deal to Dublin for only 25,000 Avios points roundtrip.

This isn’t just for people wanting to visit the Emerald Isle.  If you want to continue on to the rest of Europe, down a quick pint of Guiness and then fly from Dublin to wherever else you want to go in Europe using a budget airline like Ryanair.


Using Avios Points: 25,000 
AA: 40k (off-peak), 60k (peak)
USAirways: 35k (off-peak), 60k (peak)
United and Delta: 60k

New York or Chicago-Dublin
Using Avios Points: 40k
AA: 40k (off-peak), 60k (peak)
USAirways: 35k (off-peak), 60k (peak)
United and Delta: 60k

4.  Flying to Central or South America

Sometimes the actual amount of Avios points required will be less than the amount of miles other airlines charge because the distance is fairly short (like Miami to Bogota, Colombio in the examples below).

If this is the case, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that you are getting great value.

Since you’ll never pay a fuel surcharge when using Avios points to fly LAN or for the AA flights that fly to Central or South America, this is a no-brainer if you are flying from somewhere pretty far south already (Miami, Dallas) or if you are flying to the northern part of South America (Bogota, Caracas, etc.)

However, even if the amount of points required isn’t less than other airlines, I still consider using Avios points to go to South America a good value.

If you ask me whether I’d rather use 25k Avios points or 25k United miles to get to Buenos Aires, I’ll pick the Avios points each time!

United miles are much more valuable to me, seeing as I’ll never get hit with a fuel surcharge when I use them, no matter where I fly, whereas the Avios points will often incur a huge fuel surcharge.

Any time you can get a flight using BA Avios points and not pay a fuel surcharge, take it, because they are few and far between.

Many of you may be unfamiliar with, so to give you a brief overview, LAN flies from Los Angeles, Miami, New York (JFK), San Francisco and Orlando in the United States and Toronto in Canada and flies to a ton of destinations in Central and South America.

Direct flights on LAN from North American include:

New York (JFK) to Santiago and Lima
Los Angeles to Lima
Miami to Bogota, Caracas, Santiago, Punta Cana
San Francisco to Lima

Of course, you can always fly in to one of these cities and then continue on from there, so your options are basically limitless.

In addition, AA operates a good amount of flights to Central and South America as well, hitting a bunch of cities in Central America and all the major ones in South America as well, including Buenos Aires and Rio.  Did someone say Carnaval?


Miami to Bogota
Using Avios Points:  20,000
AA:  30k (off-peak), 35k (peak)
United: 40k
USAirways: 60k
Delta:  45k

New York to Santiago, Chile or Buenos Aires, Argentina
Using Avios Points:  50,000
Using AA: 40k (off-peak), 60k (peak)
United, USAirways, Delta: 60k

5.  Flying to the Caribbean from the East Coast

Much of what was written about Central and South America holds true for flying to the Caribbean as well. If you are flying from somewhere pretty far south, such as Miami, you can get roundtrip tickets for as little as 15k Avios points to most places in the Caribbean (some are just a touch too far and cost 20k).

Amazingly, even coming from New York you can get tickets to places like the Dominican Republic for only 20k roundtrip!

Even the most generous of award charts, such as USAirways off-peak special of 25k roundtrip to the Caribbean, can’t match that!

Of course, if you are flying from further away, such as Los Angeles, you’ll be paying much more because its distance based.  Still, at 40k roundtrip to a lot of the Caribbean, the value isn’t that bad.  You West Coasters have cheap flights to Hawaii, us East Coasters can have the Caribbean!


Miami to Santo Domingo
Using Avios points:  15,000
USAirways: 25,000 (off-peak on USAirway flights), 35,000 (peak and on partner airlines)
AA, Delta, United:  35,000  

New York to St. Thomas

Using Avios points:  40,000
USAirways: 25,000 (off-peak on USAirway flights), 35,000 (peak and on partner airlines)
AA, Delta, United:  35,000

Final Word(s)

As you can see, it’s not all bad news when it comes to the British Airways Avios program.  When used properly, Avios points can be much, much cheaper than other airlines (I’m still shaking my head at Miami to the Caribbean for 15k roundtrip!).

Just remember that you must use them in very specific situations.

Obviously, it’s best to use them if you can for shorter flights (since the chart is distance-based) but more importantly, only use them on routes that don’t impose a fuel surcharge, which are the ones above.

Do that, and you’ll be singing a different tune than the ol’ doom and gloom that typically accompanies Avios!

If the above trips sound enticing, go and grab the Chase British Airways card and start planning your trip!

If you want to apply for the Chase BA card and help support the site, please use the links on the Airline Credit Cards page or Best Current Deals page.

(photos courtesy of usa map-Don Hankins, hawaii magnets-calsidyrose, ireland-acediscovery, south america- squirlaraptor, caribbean- Vox Efx)

The Free Flight Primer, Part Six: Getting Your Miles

The Free Flight Primer is a series of posts which will show, step by step, how to earn and then redeem frequent flyer miles.   

I’ll be providing links to tools and websites that are helpful, tons of screenshots or video tutorials of various steps that may prove confusing, and of course, my own thoughts and opinions on the process.

I’ll also be providing a real-life case study using an actual client to better illustrate the process.

Getting Your Miles

Parts 1-5 have focused on picking a destination and finding availability to that destination.  Now, it’s time to shift our focus and actually begin getting you the miles you need to fly for free.  If you’ve been following the Free Flight Primer and already have a stockpile of miles, great!  But for most newbies, building up your miles balance is a crucial step.  Let’s jump right in.

Step 1:  Determine How Many Miles You Need

You did this back in Part 1, so I’ll just recap it quickly.  If you want to re-read the full version, go here and scroll down to Step 3.  The best place to start is milez.biz, which will give you the amount of points needed to fly to your destination across almost all airlines.  Consider the following:

What airlines did you find availability on in Parts 3-5?  

How many people are flying?

What cabin class do you want to fly?

Case Study:  Remember Rob, our case study?  He’s looking to fly from New York to Rome in late September.  We found good award availability with OneWorld for the dates he wants, he is flying with his wife, and they are looking to fly economy.  By looking at milez.biz or at the AA award chart we know that it will cost him 60k roundtrip per person, so he needs 120k AA miles.

Step 2:  Determine What Credit Cards Will Get You Your Miles

Credit card signups are far and away the best way to earn miles quickly.  There are other ways to pad your balance (which we will discuss later) but to get your free flights, you’ll need to apply for a credit card or two (or three, or four…).  So now the question becomes which one?

If you are completely new to the game, I’d recommend you read my Tips For Picking the Right Card page, which gives you a simplified, general overview of what to look for in a credit card.  On top of those considerations, we now must also look at our specific scenario and what airlines we are looking to fly.

Two basic recommendations:

1.  If you are looking to fly OneWorld, by far the best sign up bonus available is the  Citi/AAdvantage cards.

2.  If you are looking to fly Star Alliance, there are a few Chase cards that make sense for you.  Since Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United, the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Bold [No longer available], and Chase Ink Plus are all good options.

In addition, the Chase United Explorer card is another good option.

Case Study:  Rob is flying OneWorld, so he needs 120k AA miles.  He already has 38k in his AA account, meaning that an extra 100k would put him over the 120k mark we need for him to fly to Europe and back.

Step 3:  Apply for the card(s) and start making the minimum spend.

After getting approved for the card, every card has some requirement to meet before you get the miles in your account.  For some cards, this is simply “after first purchase” meaning that you can buy one thing, no matter what, and you’ll get the miles.

For other cards, you must spend a certain amount in a certain time frame (i.e. $2,500 in 3 months).  IF YOU DON’T HIT THE MINIMUM SPEND, YOU WON’T GET THE MILES.  Always, always make sure you can hit the minimum spend.

Since you have already found the flights you want, the sooner you make the minimum spend, the sooner the miles post to your account.  The sooner the miles post to your account, the sooner you can use them to book your flight.

See the pattern?  The sooner, the better.  Every day you wait is another day that the flights you wanted could be snatched up, so while I don’t advocate going out and spending just to spend, if your travel is coming up fairly soon, then I’d suggest making the spend as quickly as you feasibly, and responsibly, can.

Morals of the story:

1.  Plan ahead if possible.  It is going to be very difficult to go from 0 miles in March to booking a 100k worth of flights for travel in May.  Not impossible, but difficult.  Even if you do make the minimum spend and your  miles post quickly, the award space that close to the travel date will most likely be gone.

2.  If you do find yourself in the above situation and are under the gun to get miles, be flexible with your dates.  Something may not be open on the Saturday that you want to leave, but it might be available on Tuesday.  Make sure to check all options.

Case study:  Rob’s wife applied for both the Citi/AA Visa and Citi/AA Amex using the two browser trick (now dead).  She was instantly approved for both.  She has met the minimum spend on the Visa and is now working on the minimum spend on the AmEx.

Step 4 (if necessary):  Transfer the Points

For some cards, the miles you earn will go directly to your account with that airline (for example, the Citi/AAdvantage card earns you American Airlines miles).  For other cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred. you’ll need to transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to the airline of your choosing (such as United).  This can be done online and if you are transferring Chase or American Express points, the transfers are instant (the only exception to this is if you are transferring AmEx to ANA, in which case it usually takes 48 hours).  If you a transferring Starwoods points, be aware that they can take anywhere from a few days to two weeks.

Case study:  Rob and his wife will not need to transfer points, since they are earning AA miles using the Citi/AAdvantage cards and will also be redeeming AA miles for their tickets.

Step 5:  Earn Miles Through Ways Other Than Sign Up Bonuses

While signup bonuses will give you the bulk of your points, you can also pad your mileage balances in a variety of other methods.  This is especially helpful when a signup bonus leaves you a few thousand points shy of the amount you need for an award ticket.  For example, let’s say you sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the 50k signup bonus but you need 60k for your roundtrip ticket to Europe.  If you are smart, you could end up with these 10k just by meeting your minimum spend.

Shopping Portals

The easiest way is to use shopping portals.  I document why you should use them in this post and then show you how to use my personal favorite, the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall, here.  To highlight our above example, if you went through the Chase UR Mall and spent $350 at Groupon, which was running a 30 points/$1 promotion, you’d already have your extra 10k.

I’ve harped on it continuously in other posts, but if you aren’t using shopping portals than you should start considering it, at least for the online purchases you already make.

“Regular” Spending

Each card, in addition to a sign up bonus, will offer some sort of mileage earning for using it.  For most cards, it is 1 point/$1 spent, although some offer special bonus categories where they’ll give you 2 points/$1 or even 5 points/$1 spent.  For the Chase Sapphire, you’ll get 2x points on travel and dining, meaning that if you used it only these two categories to make your minimum spend of $3,000, you’d end up with an additional 6k points above your sign up bonus.

If you only have one card, it makes sense to use it in lieu of cash as much as possible.  You’ll be earning miles and not paying anything extra.  If you have more than one card, start being cognizant of which cards give bonuses in what categories and tailor your usage accordingly.

Case study:  After the sign up bonus, Rob will have enough AA miles to make his trip.  The AA cards only offer 1/$1 for all categories, so after meeting the minimum spend, he’ll have an extra 5k AA miles in his arsenal.

Step 6:  Sign up for Award Wallet to Track Your Points

The more involved you get in this game, the more confusing it can get to remember what points you have with what airlines.  Why not use a free product that does all hard work for you?  Award Wallet will store your account balances for all types of airlines and hotels (except AA, which has blocked Award Wallet) and will update automatically once you set it up.  I can’t think of a single good reason not to use it, and recommend it to everyone I know.

Next up, Part 7:  Booking Your Award Ticket



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