Earning BIG travel rewards with Credit Cards

I have to admit, I am a bit of a credit card points junkie. I've picked up this hobby ever since I started reading travel blogs in 2010 and started researching ways to cover the cost of my travel. I had been heavily researching the credit card game and learned a lot when I read Chris Guillebeau's Frequent Flyer Master guide. From then on I have been applying for 4-8 credit cards a year earning over 1 million rewards points by the end of 2014 . Below is a list of the 24 credit cards that I've signed up for with the corresponding bonuses:

LifestyleAccountant.com - Credit Card Sign up Bonuses

Since the nearly four years that I've been applying for credit cards I'm estimating that I've earned more than $10,000 of free travel (net of credit card fees). I feel like I am still a beginner at this and am always learning about new cards and new ways of maximizing travel rewards. So far, I've taken trips to the following locations where most of my flights/hotels were paid with points:

  • Maui, HI
  • Monterey, CA
  • Carnival Cruise to Ensanada, Mexico
  • Seattle, WA
  • Portland, OR

To me this doesn't even seem like a lot of travel and I haven't even used a fraction of the current points and miles I have sitting in my various accounts.

If YOU want in on this game of  signing up for credit cards for the bonuses I recommend the following:

Make sure you have excellent credit

When I first got started, I already had a credit score of 720+ so I wasn't concerned with the potential drop in my score from applying for a few cards. For those with not great credit, I wouldn't recommend this hobby. You'll need to work on getting your score to at least above 700 but preferable above 720. Even then you're not guaranteed to be approved for cards you apply for. I still get denied from time to time and that probably has to do with too many credit inquires (from applying for credit cards) and too much credit with an issuing bank.

Actively monitor your credit

Not only should you start out with having great credit, you need to monitor your credit and make sure you don't dip too low with your score. This can also be really important not just having to do with your score but with credit inquiries. You may not want to start this hobby if you plan on applying for a car loan, mortgage, etc. where your credit inquires will matter. I use CreditKarma.com to monitor my credit score and credit report. I absolutely love this website and smartphone app, and I check on it for updates weekly (YES, weekly is a bit overkill but then again I'm weird and enjoy seeing my score go UP, even from applying for multiple cards).

Pay attention to the details

As an accountant, I pay extremely close attention to details and this could quite possibly be one of the most important skills to posses when playing the credit card sign up game. If you don't keep track of every little detail, you could not only mess up your credit, but also end up paying credit card interest thereby offsetting any potential credit card rewards in the process. Whenever I apply for a credit card I take the following steps:

  • I keep track of info such as Issuing Bank, Credit Card Name, Date applied, Credit Limit, Years open, Mimimum Spending Threshold, and Bonus Amount. Since I have over 20 active cards, I need a very detailed spreadsheet to keep track of all these key pieces of information.
  • I pay all of my bills either on the 1st or 15th of the month. I will add the new credit card to my spreadsheet and plan to pay on either of these days based on the credit card due date. I ALWAYS pay my credit card balance in full and on time every month as I want to avoid paying any credit card interest or late fees. 
  • Take all cards out of my wallet that I don't plan on putting any credit card spend on. I want to carry a maximum of 3 cards at a time so I don't have a George Constanza wallet. I keep the other cards locked up in my safe and will routinely go through the cards to make sure they are all accounted for.

Keep up to date on new credit cards

After reading Chris Guillebeau's Frequent Flyer Master, I began to scour various blogs that talked about the credit card game. Some of my favorite blogs that I read religiously are:

These are just a few of the sources I read to stay up to date on the happenings in the credit card sign up bonus world. I keep on top of this hobby on a daily basis so I can be immediately updated when there's a new card out that seems like a good deal. 

Have a plan for using the points

This is an area that I need to really improve on. I typically apply for credit cards that are being hyped up by the various blogs that I follow and if I think it's a good sign up bonus and the minimum spending and credit card fees are reasonable, I will pull the trigger. I've accumulated over 1 million points/miles through sign up bonuses alone, but I still have over 650K points/miles in my various accounts. I'm bad at planning and I blame part of that on the fact that I don't use a lot of my work vacation. After I quit my full time job this year, I plan on using up a lot of these points balances to fund my travels. 

Track points using AwardWallet.com

Another site I check frequently is AwardWallet.com where I link all of my various points and miles programs. This website and associated smartphone app allow me to easily check the balances, expiration dates and status levels of my programs. I also receive a weekly email detailing the changes in points balances. This comes in handy for when a credit card sign up bonus posts to my program and I don't have to constantly log into all of my 40+ programs' respective websites to check balances. It's all waiting for me once I login on AwardWallet. AwardWallet is free with limited information on your linked accounts, and for a small donation every 6 months, you can get all your points program's information updated instantly. 

Be responsible

Overall, it's important to just be responsible and use common sense when applying for credit cards for the sign up bonuses. It can be a fun an addicting hobby but there can also be a lot at stake such as your credit score and credit card interest. I pride myself on having never paid once cent in credit card interest, nor any credit card late fees. If you have great credit, can keep track of all the details of having multiple cards, and have a plan on how to spend the points, you can earn BIG travel and fund a life of leisure.