Charlie contacted me wanting to share his experiences with his first credit card applications, hoping it would be useful for other newbies. Each person’s ideal cards are different. Charlie had to convince a skeptical spouse and had unique goals for his upcoming travel. For comparison, see how this shaped his card choices differently than Rookie Alli’s.
Charlie is a software developer and consultant, now mostly retired, in Poulsbo, Washington. He writes about testing and test-driven development at It’s the Tests.
After following Scott’s Free First Class Next Month posts over the past month or so, I finally got organized to get my first rewards cards. This post describes what I did, how I did it and what I learned. But first, I guess an introduction is in order.
I’m Charlie. My wife and I are in our 70s and are (mostly) retired. In the past, we had various mortgages, car loans, and credit cards. Between us, we have paid for four houses and half a dozen cars. But a bit over 20 years ago, we simplified our lives quite a bit. We generally have not been using credit. We now have one personal credit card between us, and I have a card for my consulting business. We pay our balance off every month.
You might imagine that a bank would consider someone like me as a good risk. Well, although I eventually got almost all the cards I wanted, it turns out that I have what they call a “thin” credit file. Essentially, to their credit departments, I don’t look much different from somebody just getting started financially. As you will see, I had to deal with this in one reconsideration call.
While I did most of the research and applied for most of the cards, this was a family effort. So the first thing I had to do was to convince my wife that applying for eight or nine credit cards was not completely insane! We talked about it several times. We discussed the impact it could have on our credit scores at length and took a lot of time to figure out how we would manage the required minimum spending requirements on all those cards. Eventually, Phyllis not only agreed but even began contributing her own ideas. That’s when I knew we could make it work.
Our talks also covered what my wife was willing to do in the process. She didn’t want to make calls to reconsideration lines or to attempt to negotiate in any way with the issuing banks, so we agreed that I would do it where necessary. She didn’t want to have to justify having a business card, so we decided to avoid those in her applications.
We were looking for a number of things in selecting the cards:
- Good signup bonuses that we could use for our travels. Mostly, this has been to Europe, but South America and New Zealand are on our horizon as well.
- One business and one personal card that could be used abroad without paying foreign transaction fees. This was particularly important because we’ll be making some of the required spending to earn bonuses while traveling in May and June. Some of the travel can be treated as a business expense, so a separate business card will make things easier.
- We wanted to earn a mix of airline miles and transferable points, so we could “top up” our airline accounts when we need to.
- I wanted to include a solid business card I’d be happy to keep using. This will replace my current Citi card, which doesn’t earn miles.
- Of course, we wanted to be able to earn good bonuses for the things we typically buy.
- Finally, since we already have miles with United and Delta, we decided to aim for at least one card for each of those airlines.
After a lot of research–much of it right on this blog–I ended up with this list of cards:
For me: Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, Delta personal, Delta business, US Airways personal and US Airways business.
For her: United MileagePlus Explorer, Delta personal, US Airways personal
This will be one of my two cards with no foreign transaction fee, a big savings on purchases made while traveling out of the country and even on certain online purchases, like paid tickets on some European airlines.
It gives us 40,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $3,000 in 3 months. We plan to hang on to those and use them to “top up” our airline miles when we need more miles to buy a ticket. We’ll also use this for a lot of our paid travel and for eating out in order to earn double points–at least when no better deal is available.
- 40k Ultimate Rewards after $3,000 in purchases in 3 months
- Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United, Korean, British Airways, Southwest, Marriott, Priority Club, Virgin Atlantic and more
- 2 points per dollar on travel and dining at restaurants
- 7% annual (calendar year) dividend on points earned from purchases
- No foreign transaction fee
- Human agent answers number on back of card
- No annual fee for the first year, $95 thereafter
2. Chase Ink Bold
This card gives us 50,000 Ultimate rewards after spending $5,000 in 3 months. It’s a charge card–the balance must be paid off each month–but that’s what we already do with all our bills, so no problem. I expect the Ink Bold to become my main business card. I’ll be able to put my telephone and internet on this card as well as all office supplies we buy. Like the Sapphire Preferred card, it has no foreign transaction fees, so these two cards will get a lot of use when I’m in Europe in May and June.
- 50k Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months
- Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United, Korean, British Airways, Southwest, Marriott, Priority Club, and more
- 5X points on the first $50,000 spent annually at office supply stores, and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services
- 2x points on the first $50,000 spent annually at gas stations and hotel accomodations purchased directly from the hotel
- No foreign transaction fees
- No annual fee for first year, $95 thereafter
3. United MileagePlus Explorer Visa
With the Sapphire and Ink Bold cards, I can’t apply for anything more from Chase, so my wife will apply for the United MileagePlus Explorer card. We already have United accounts with miles–earned the hard way–accumulated, although we have pretty much emptied them to buy tickets for this coming trip. Getting this card will add 35,000 miles to her account.
- 30,000 United miles after $1,000 in spending in the first three months
- 5,000 extra United miles when you add another cardholder to the account
- First Checked Bag Free on United Flights
- Two United Club Passes annually
- no annual fee the first year, then $95 thereafter
4. Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card and Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Card from American Express
Although Delta miles are often harder to use than United miles, we’ve gotten some good use out of them in the past and both of us have existing Delta balances. Originally, I planned to apply for the 30,000 mile offer that has been around for a while: 30,000 SkyMiles after spending $500 over three months. But only a few days before I was scheduled to do my applications, my wife received a targeted offer from Delta for a better deal. I got the same offer the next day.
The new offer came with a bonus of 50,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months and seemed too good to pass up. In fact, so good that we now plan to get three cards–personal and business cards for me and a personal card for my wife–for a total of 150,000 Delta miles. Each card’s offer was:
- 50,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months
- Double miles on Delta purchases
- Priority boarding
- One free checked bag on Delta flights
- Delta Sky Club access for $25
- 20% statement credit for inflight purchases
Note: The above link works the first time you use it. When I tried to go back to the page to check the link for this article, all I saw was a screen thanking me for applying for the card. I used a different computer to verify the link. Most likely, I could have cleared my cache and cookies to the same affect. If you decide to apply for both a personal and a business card, don’t close the initial window. Instead, either open the application link in a new window or use your browser back button to return to the initial screen after the first application. Here’s the link to see if you get a targeted offer.
5. US Airways Premier World MasterCard
Since we didn’t have anything from Barclay’s and since this card gives you 35,000 miles on first use, we added them to the mix as well. We’ll each get one. Of course, if we don’t use them right away, we’re anticipating that they will eventually change into American miles, which I plan to start collecting soon!
- 35,000 US Airways Dividend Miles after first purchase
- 5,000 mile discount on all awards operated entirely by US Airways
- 10,000 anniversary miles each year, upon paying the annual fee
- Two $99 companion passes annually
- First Class Check In
- Zone 2 Priority Boarding
- One Complimentary US Airways Club Pass Annually
- 2 miles per dollar on US Airways purchases
- $89 annual fee, waived the first year
Note: The link and deal above is better than the current US Airways deal, but it could stop working at any time! The current offer only gives 30,000 miles and doesn’t waive the fee the first year. There is no mention of the 10,000 mile anniversary bonus either.
6. US Airways Business MasterCard
The US Airways business card isn’t really all that attractive, but it does allow me to essentially buy 25,000 miles for $79. If approved, that would bring my US Airways total up to 60,000 miles.
- 25,000 US Airways Dividend Miles after first purchase
- One Complimentary US Airways Club Pass Annually
- 2 miles per dollar on US Airways purchases
- $79 annual fee
If we are approved for these nine cards, we will earn 370,000 bonus miles and points after spending $12,000 in three months. That’s a lot, but we’ve examined our upcoming expenses and we think we’ll do it pretty readily, provided we get into the habit of paying by credit card whenever possible. With 2X and 5X earnings in some categories, I expect that amount will earn us 20,000 miles over the three months, bringing our total up to 390,000 miles.
Next time, I’ll write about the application process and how it worked out.
After some careful thinking–and family discussion–about our goals for these cards, my wife and I picked out nine cards to apply for:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred for transferable points and purchases abroad with no foreign transaction fee.
- Chase Ink Bold for its transferable points and absence of a foreign transaction fee as well as for its 5X earnings in categories where we do a lot of spending.
- United MileagePlus Explorer Visa for my wife to earn United miles with minimal spending.
- Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express (one for each of us).
- Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Card from American Express to earn lots of Delta miles for a relatively low spend.
- US Airways Premier World MasterCard (also one for each of us), and US Airways Business MasterCard to earn US Airways miles on first use.
After spending $12,000 over the next three months, we expect to accumulate about 400,000 miles and points in our accounts.
Concluded in Charlie’s First Cards: Getting the Cards