Which Credit Cards to Get to Maximize Free Travel

How to Travel for Free: Part 4 of 7

In the previous posts in this series, I’ve shared an approach to getting a lot of free travel by taking advantage of credit card sign-up bonuses. I also explained why doing so usually has a positive, not negative, effect on one’s long-term credit score (provided you pay your credit card off each month)—a conclusion that would surprise most people. Two questions then arise: how often can I sign up for credit cards and which ones should I sign up for?

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How Often Can I Sign up for Credit Cards?

There is no cut and dry answer to this question. But I would offer these three points by way of reply:

1. Start Slowly

If you are new to chasing signup bonuses, I recommend you sign up for one card, meet the minimum spend, and receive the bonus. Go through the cycle once to make sure you are comfortable with the process.

2. Consider Minimum Spend

Every credit card that offers a decent or better signup bonus requires you to spend a certain amount on the card in a set period of time in order to be awarded the bonus.

I’ve mentioned, for instance, how to get the bonus on the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you must spend at least $4,000 on qualifying purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. That is an average of $1,334/month.

If you are accustomed to spending $3,000 per month on credit cards anyway, you can just shift that spend over to the Sapphire Reserve in order to get the bonus. From the standpoint of meeting minimum spend, you could probably even open a second (different) card at the same time.

But if you only typically spend $1,000/month on credit cards, a card like the Sapphire Reserve may be beyond your reach (without some advanced tactics for meeting minimum spend).

3. Get Ready to be Surprised

Finally, I will say this. If you have good credit and pay your credit card bills off in full each month, you could most likely open way more cards than you think. Many who play this game aggressively open more than 10 cards per year. No, that’s not a typo.

In his (successful) quest to earn 1,000,000 points in a single month, Greg, the “FrequentMiler,” in fact opened 10 credit cards in a single day! It’s an amazing story. But as Greg himself cautions, it is far from the norm and certainly not recommended for most people. As a result of his application spree, Greg’s three credit scores dropped by an average of 33 points, from the upper-700s to the mid-700s. That is a remarkably small impact for opening 10 cards in a single day. Plus, that negative impact is only temporary, while the long-term impact is positive.

To be clear, I would never recommend that anyone do what Greg did. I’m just using this extreme example to make the point that it is possible to open many more credit cards than probably 99% of people would think.

Which Credit Cards Should I Sign Up for to Maximize Free Travel?

I may have just convinced you that during the course of your life you could sign up for . . . more than one credit card. If so, the question then becomes: how do you decide which cards to sign up for?

Here, too, there is no cut and dry answer. In fact, this topic is rather complicated. That said, these are the basic principles I would recommend guide you.

Chase’s “5/24 Rule”

If you think you might open 5 or more cards within 24 months, your best bet is to open Chase cards first. That’s because Chase typically will not approve you for most of their best cards if you have opened five or more credit cards from any issuer in the past 24 months. Offers from Chase tend to be among the best anyway, so there is little to no harm in starting with Chase cards.

“Goal-pursuer” versus “Opportunist”

If you don’t foresee opening 5 or more cards within 24 months, then you are more at liberty to open cards from any issuer.

In that case, there are two basic approaches. The first is that of the “Goal-pursuer.” The Goal-pursuer has a specific travel redemption in mind. Let’s say the goal is to visit Rome. The idea, then, is to use a tool like Google Flights to research which airline can most readily get you from your home city to Rome, and sign up for one or more cards for that airline. Likewise, using a tool like AwardMapper, you can identify award hotels in Rome and sign up for cards from those hotels.

The approach I prefer is that of the “Opportunist.” As an Opportunist, I generally sign up for the very best offers available. For some issuers, like American Express, that is especially important because you can only receive the bonus once per lifetime on each of their cards. I am more than confident that I will find plenty of ways to put the points earned from top offers to good use later. Perhaps on my next trip, maybe on the trip after that, but soon enough.

Best Credit Card Signup Offers

I am putting together a list for you of the top 100+ current credit card offers. I am excited to share the beginnings of that list with you now. Regardless of your approach to earning free travel, you should be able to find what you are looking for here:

Best Credit Card Signup Offers

I highly encourage you to bookmark that page. I will expand it and update it regularly with all of the best credit card signup offers. By means of that resource alone I hope to help you have a lot more money for what matters most.

This post is the fourth in the following series:

  1. Imagining the Possibilities of Free Travel
  2. Leveraging Credit Card Sign-up Bonuses for Free Travel
  3. Understanding Credit Scores and the Effect that Credit Card Applications Have on One’s Credit Score
  4. Which Credit Cards to Get to Maximize Free Travel (this post)
  5. 5 Creative Ways to Meet the Minimum Spend Requirement in Order to Get the Sign-up Bonus
  6. How to Use the Miles and Points You Earn
  7. How to Decide Whether to Keep or Cancel Credit Cards

Question: Are you more of a “Goal-pursuer” or “Opportunist”? You can leave a comment by clicking here. And if you liked this post, sign up here so that you never miss a future post.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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