Guest Post – My Second Credit Card Churn: Laying a Foundation

New Cards!

Robert Dwyer is a deal hound who spends hours each day thinking about points, and how to use them for awesome family vacations. He writes about wine at The Wellesley Wine Press. You can follow Robert on Twitter: @RobertDwyer

It’s been four months since I applied for a credit card, and with my home mortgage refinance behind me it was time to apply for a new batch of cards. My first foray into credit card applications was a little short sighted, but you have to start somewhere, right?

The biggest mistake I made the first time around was assuming the best thing to do when signing up for cards was to go for co-branded cards of airlines I enjoy flying domestically. I’ve since discovered this is rarely the best way to go. In the points and miles game, the path to value isn’t always obvious.

For example, take the jetBlue AmEx. The 20,000 points I earned for signing up vaporized in a flash. And although I enjoy the 50% off in-flight benefit, they only offer 3x points on jetBlue flights. With the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card you can get 3x on any airline spend, so 3x on jetBlue is hardly a great deal. If they’d step it up to 5x for jetBlue flights it might motivate me to keep the card, but as it is I don’t see a future in retaining the card.

Goals

My goals in acquiring points and miles has so far has been to reduce the cost of travelling mostly domestically with a family of four, and an eye towards an international trip or two in the mid-term: Boston to Germany and/or Italy. My credit score was around 780 and I had 4 recent inquiries prior to this round of applications.

This time around I had two things in mind:

  1. Laying a foundation by applying for cards that are “keepers” for how they reward spend
  2. Acquiring cards with flexible rewards.

The Big Three

In terms of flexibility the three programs to know are:

  1. Chase Ultimate Rewards
  2. American Express Membership Rewards
  3. Starwood Preferred Guest (coupled with a co-branded AmEx)

Each of these programs offer an assortment of airlines you can transfer points to with the most valuable redemptions being for international business/first class travel.

After my first round of applications, thanks to Travel Summary, I was flush with AmEx Membership Rewards points. They’ve got some good redemption options but one of my primary goals is to travel from Boston to Munich with a family of four, so I’m looking for United miles to book Lufthansa flights. And SPG has some transfer options the others lack so I was interested in getting some points with all three of these programs.

The Cards

I’ve been waiting for a Southwest 50k business card off to appear to kick off this round of applications but so far one hasn’t appeared. I wanted to get the business version of the card so I could get a companion pass early in the year but I’m afraid that goal has gotten away from me. Oh well, there are other opportunities.

One of the nice things about being new to this game is that many of the best sign up bonuses are still available to me for the first time. So let’s get to it!

 

Chase Ink Bold (non-affiliate link, but available through my CreditKarma.com link)

Why I Wanted It:

50k Ultimate Rewards points (transferable to United) and 5x bonused spend at office supply stores, on cell phone bills, and cable bills. The card is good for the sign-up bonus and it’s good for the bonus spend.

Concerns:

It’s a business card, and not everyone feels comfortable (1) applying for business cards for their fledgling side businesses and (2) routing personal spend through the card to meet minimum spend requirements.

Application Result:

PENDING

Doh! Off to a rough start but based on what I’ve read it’s very common for business card applications with sole proprietorships to go pending. I called the Chase business reconsideration line right up and immediately got a helpful agent. He asked me to repeat a few basic things from my application, and asked me a bit about my business. It’s a wine blog that brings in a couple thousand dollars a year and has been in operation for a few years. Since the income level of my business was somewhat low, he asked if I’d be okay transferred $5k from my Southwest Personal card I opened a few months ago. Sure thing! With that the card was…APPROVED!

This might be the most valuable card available!

This might be the most valuable card available!

 

Chase Sapphire Preferred (non-affiliate link, but available through my CreditKarma.com link)

Why I Wanted It:

40k Ultimate Rewards points and 2x on restaurants and travel. Enables Ultimate Rewards points earned on the Chase Freedom card to transfer to airlines.

Concerns:

None. This is a fantastic card.

Application Result:

PENDING

Another pending!? You’ve got to be kidding me! No worries, I called the Chase personal reconsideration line right up. This call got more involved than the Chase Ink Bold card. Some of it was due to confusion over the credit line transferred from my personal Southwest card from the prior call for the business card. The system hadn’t updated completely from my prior application so it looked like my Southwest card still had a limit of $23,000 when in reality it had been reduced to $18,000 to enable the Chase Ink Bold to be approved. The agent also wanted to know about my recent inquiries. I explained I like to optimize my spend to take advantage of bonus categories. After some back and forth we agreed to move some of the credit line from a couple cards to enable this one to be…APPROVED!

Can't go wrong with this card either!

Can’t go wrong with this card either!

 

Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard (my affiliate link)

Why I Wanted It:

40,000 points and 2.2x back towards travel. You purchase travel on your card and “erase” it with points. So it’s effectively a cash back card (with a very generous percentage) so long as travel expenses are a cash equivalent for you.

Concerns:

I’d heard some things about Barclays being strange about recent inquiries. And I was a little confused by how this program works. But it sounds like a Capital One Venture clone and I get that so I think this is a good card to use for non-bonus spend once minimums have been met.

Application Result:

INSTANTLY APPROVED

My first instant approval! That was easy. So I figured why not try for another Barclaycard – they’d already pulled my credit.

 

Great card for everyday spend...assuming you're going to travel, that is.

Great card for everyday spend…assuming you’re going to travel, that is.

Lufthansa Premier Miles & More World MasterCard (my affiliate link)

Why I Wanted It:

50k Lufthansa miles good for United domestic first or p.s. Premium service from JFK to SFO/LAX round-trip for 35k.

Concerns:

$5k minimum spend. Barclaycard shenanigans like being approved for a lower level card with a lower bonus.

Application Result:

PENDING

Another pending!?  I had a hard time getting a reconsideration agent on the phone but Travel Summary helped guide me to the Credit Line Questions line at (866)408-4064 rather than the Application Line. Since I’d just applied and been approved for the Barclays Arrival card with a $15k limit the agent told me he couldn’t approve me for new credit. But he could transfer half of my credit line from the newly approved Arrival card to this new card. Perfect! APPROVED!

Everyone's new favorite!

Everyone’s new favorite!

 

Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express (non-affiliate link, but available through my CreditKarma.com link)

Why I Wanted It:

For the flexibility, the 25k transferable SPG points, and the ability to supplement my new found Lufthansa miles.

Concerns:

High minimum spend ($5k) but it’s over 6 months so I’ve got time.

Application Result:

PENDING

Pending!? Even from my pals at AmEx? I couldn’t believe it. Thankfully this was probably the easiest call of the bunch. They just wanted to make sure my account wasn’t hacked and I intended to apply for the card. APPROVED!

Another card you just can't go wrong with.

Another card you just can’t go wrong with.

 

Summary

5 for 5 with 4 pending decisions that were cleared up with calls to the reconsideration line. A total haul of 205,000 points with annual fees the first year of $79. Total minimum spend: $14k over the first 3 months, $19k over the first 6 months. That’s a pretty healthy amount of spend but I think I can cover it with a little creativity.

Lessons Learned

  • An application going pending isn’t cause for concern. Often it’s just a formality and they’re looking to make sure you actually submitted the application.
  • Submit your applications on weekdays so you’ll be able to call reconsideration lines and square things away quickly.
  • When deciding which cards to apply for, think of each card as if it’s the last card you’ll ever apply for. This will steer you to cards with longevity. Apply for them first.
  • Your credit report includes up to the minute applications. Each application will be aware of prior inquiries. The reason to apply for multiple cards on a single day isn’t to sneak in a bunch of applications before they land on your report (though you might get lucky if you’re really quick). It’s to allow multiple inquiries from a single bank to be combined into a single inquiry thus diminishing the number of recent inquiries on your credit report.
  • The Points Guy’s list of reconsideration line phone numbers is helpful.
  • Million Mile Secrets guide to filling out Chase business card applications is helpful.
  • Million Mile Secrets guide to Chase business reconsideration calls is helpful.
  • Be honest on your applications and when talking on the reconsideration line. The agents you’ll be dealing with want to help get you approved. Help them help you!

 

Question of the Day: What do you think of this batch of cards? What tips and tricks have you found helpful lately when applying for cards?

Comments

  1. As luck would have it, the 75k AmEx business gold came out yesterday. I definitely would have worked that one into the mix if it had been available Tuesday when I applied but I’m not going to add that one at this point. Too much spend for my comfort level when combined with these other applications and I’m still a bit nervous about putting personal spend on business cards – especially a bunch of $1007.90 transactions at drugstores. :)

    @TravelSummary – thanks for publishing this post. Nice montage of the new cards headed my way!

  2. Did you have any trouble getting two Chase cards in one day? I read somewhere that’s a nono.

  3. $14K is a breeze. That sort of min spend can be done in a week. I’ve done more in a day.

    CSP and Inks are great cards. The rest are at best second tier. I’d have grabbed the Amex PRG long before I’d waste my time with SPG – signups are often better/bonus categories are better (like 2x at grocery) and hence much better for long term churn.

    It seems you are getting a bunch of disparate programs going at once – with few of them being able to combine. And cards like SPG are a waste – they take forever to build points if you are looking at aspirational properties. And if you aren’t, Carlson has a significantly better card for low/mid tier properties (go read Loyalty Lobby’s comparison of the major hotel chains – SPG comes in dead last by a country mile). Heck, even Hilton is attractive at the low end despite the devaluation (and at their best hotels, can still make sense in some cases).

    If I were you, I’d spend more time learning how to manufacture spend as you seem to think $19K in 4 months is a bit daunting. You could do that in a week without much trouble and for very little cost. As a guy on his second churn, you should have become much more proficient already. Time to learn about gift cards/prepaid cards etc…you should have a wallet full already…

    I’d also take a gander at the Barclays NFL card in future – yup, it seems an odd recommendation, but you can get $600 cash back for minor spend. First bonus is worth $400 (40000 pts), but then almost everyone gets an offer to get another 20000 pts (which you can redeem as cash at 1cpp to pay off your CC bill). It’s one of the most undervalued cards out there – nobody talks about it (because of low affiliate bonus?).

    As a throwaway, I’d get a no-fee Discover card and just park it forever – the Discover shopping mall sometimes has best portal points so is occasionally a good card to use. With no AF, it will start to help your average credit age after a few years and will give you access to Discover’s portal should you ever need it.

    With only ~8 recent inquiries, you are nowhere close to running into “too many recent inquiries” issues, unless you get Barclays cards (they are the screwiest bunch to deal with).

    • Thanks for the feedback Ron! I appreciate it.

      It’s a great point you raise that this game is more than just racking up points from signup bonuses. We also need to know how to manufacture spend efficiently and redeem effectively for it to work out well.

      The thing I’m struggling with in my mind is whether it’s better to meet spend organically and top off with manufactured spend as needed or quickly meet minimums mostly through manufactured spend. Most of the manufactured spend techniques I’m familiar with (VRs/gift cards->BB, AP, etc) do have some cost or risk associated with them and if possible I’d like to avoid paying to meet minimum spend if I can avoid it.

      For example, I have a hard time getting my mind around $6.95 for a $200 gift card at an office supply store. Sure 5x is nice but would I rather spend $173.75 for 25k URs (to meet the 5k min spend on the Ink) or would I rather just buy gas, telecom and other normal stuff to get to 5k without incurring the overhead of the gift card fees (and hassle of loading piles of gift cards on BB at WM)?

      So if it’s a matter of familiarity I’m all for learning more. But if it’s a matter of cost, hassle, and risk I need to think about it.

      • Inks at 5x are hard to beat as you can generate a lot of points in a hurry. $6.95/$200 = $0.0067 cpp, which is slightly cheaper than SPG when buying VRs ($0.0079). But what people overlook is that all you need to get 25K UR is put $5K on your Ink, while you’d need $25K spend on your SPG (which is where 1x vs 5x affects you the most, especially those with low CL). You can cash out that $5K spend at WM on BB in a month, but would take 5 months if you were trying to cash out $25K of VRs.

        It’s a no-brainer from my point of view, especially as to get $25K on SPG via VR, you’d have to make 25 trips to pharmacy (vs only a couple to office supply). Your time is a cost that has to be included (I assume 15 minutes per visit to a store – just for time to park, pay and get back on your way – so those 25 trips will cost you 6+hours of your life, plus gas – what’s that cost? Even at $25/hr for your time, that’s another $150 plus gas, which makes SPG “cost” twice as much as UR via Inks). And even if you could pile on $25K via pharmacy in a hurry, you might be dealing with a few calls from Amex Fraud or even get a FR for your troubles.

        Finally, SPG redemptions for hotels are piss poor to horrific. They rank dead last in all categories when compared to the major chains and are simply obscene in the top tier categories. By contrast, URs transferred to Hyatt offer outstanding value on top tier and can also be transferred to Marriott for wide range of properties at decent values.

        About the only redeeming thing about SPG is ability to transfer to airlines (albeit only in 20K chunks, up to 60K a year) and get a 25% bonus. That 25% bonus is regularly touted by the shills as if it were available on all miles in any amount at any time, but they almost always “forget” to mention the tiny detail that only 20K chunks can be redeemed at a time in order to get that 25% bonus. I hate that limitation and it makes the real world value much less. Remember URs and MRs can be redeemed/transferred in 1K increments. If you only needed 5K to top off your airline account, I’d hate to have to move over 20K simply to take advantage of the only real perk that SPG offers (assuming I had 20K SPG to transfer in the first place). And if you are a serious churner, SPG’s limit of 60K with 25% transfer per year is a serious limitation.

        And there are other cards that offer better airline bonuses. If you have a United Explorer, you get 1.4x if you spend $25K ($25K on Explorer gives 35K UA. $25K on SPG will only give 30K airline miles with the 25% bonus). Or if you really wanted to pile spend on a card for airline miles, get the United Club that gets 1.5x on all spend (you’d need to put close to ~$80K a year on it to offset the $400 AF, but that can be done easily if you are a serious churner).

        Amex PRG gets 2x at grocery is a better bet than SPG even though MRs have fewer partners.

        Personally, I’d concentrate on URs and MRs and then selectively target specific programs like Hyatt//Hilton/United. Between those programs, you are well diversified, yet have the ability to transfer from partners to top off accounts if needed.

        Since there are multiple versions of cards that generate UR and MRs, you have continued opportunity to churn cards on regular basic (4 Inks, 4 Sapphires – biz and personal/Visa and MC, plus Freedom, then the slew of Amex cards that give MRs – Plat/Gold etc). While SPG only has 1 card – personal and biz, with paltry sign up bonuses that make churning painstakingly slow – and more expensive overall.

        For me, SPG fails in so many areas. It is higher cost, has severe limitations, and takes forever to build points in any quantity. A lose-lose-lose from this churner’s point of view.

        • Great info Ron, thanks for sharing.

          I’d love to hear more about tips and tricks for getting 4 Sapphire cards, or 4 Inks even! There’s no biz version of the Sapphire and getting a MC *and* Visa version is non-trivial. I don’t see the Sapphire listed on mastercard.com so I don’t know how to get a Sapphire MC if I already have a Visa.

          And for the Inks I can see getting an Ink Bold and an Ink Plus for a single business. But again – how do you get the Visa and MC versions?

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