Rookie Alli’s First Cards: Picking the Cards


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Introducing Rookie Alli: Rookie Alli will be MileValue’s resident expert-rookie. She’ll write posts about getting started with miles and points from a beginner’s perspective. From the first cards and the first award booking to first class (hopefully), folks of all levels can learn from her triumphs and rookie mistakes.

Rookie Alli, scaring dogs since the ’80s

I just signed up for five cards and got 110,000 miles and points, two free hotel nights, $500 worth of statement credits, access to the best cash back mall, and a number of other perks.


Being new to the miles game, I currently only have two credit cards: the Citi AAdvantage Visa and American Express cards, which I applied for using the now-dead, two-browser trick in November. I met my minimum spends and collected my 105,000 American miles, and now I’m hooked.

Should I use the AA miles to go back to Hawaii?

Scott always says to wait 91 days between credit card applications, then apply for any cards you want the same day to maximize your approvals and rewards. After my 91 days passed, I was eager to see what my my next cards could be.

There were a couple of personal factors I kept in mind when deciding which cards I was going to include in my applications.

1. I wanted to keep my minimum spends relatively low, since I will be out of the country during part of the minimum spending period in countries where it is tough to use credit cards.

2. I have not hopped on the Bluebird/Vanilla train just yet, but I am comfortable using Amazon Payments to help meet minimum spends.

This goes along with my biggest piece of advice to fellow rookies: only dip your toes into the miles world to the extent you are comfortable. For instance, at first I was only comfortable getting two credit cards at a time. When I saw I could handle that, I decided I could handle more cards this time.

When I heard about Amazon Payments, I tested it out one month by sending $990 to a friend. I was comfortable with the results, so I continued using the service each month.

I signed up for a Bluebird card, but I have not activated it yet because I am still not comfortable with the idea.

3. I only wanted to apply for cards with an annual fee if I felt the card’s perks justified that fee.

I got into this game for free travel, so I don’t want to pay annual fees. But I am willing to pay an annual fee if I know I am getting way more in return than the fee costs.

4. I’m not ready for any business cards. I do probably have some small money-making activities that would qualify as businesses, but I’m not comfortable applying for business cards yet.

I know that most people can get business cards easily from reading How to be Approved for a Business Card, and that I am missing out on some of the best sign up bonuses, but business cards aren’t for me yet.

Using MileValue’s Best Offers and Best Practices, I ultimately decided to apply for five cards:

1.  Frontier Airlines World MasterCard

  • 25,000 bonus miles after first purchase
  • 10,000 bonus miles after spending $750 in the first 90 days for a total of 35,000 bonus miles
  • 10,000 mile one way awards within the USA
  • 15,000 mile one way awards to Mexico, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica
  • 5,000 mile discount on companion award tickets
  • 2x miles on Frontier purchases
  • $59 annual fee

This card was a no-brainer for me: miles after the first purchase, very low minimum spend to unlock the rest of the miles, and I’ve had really good experiences flying Frontier to and from Denver in college.

2.  Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Visa

  • 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
  • One free checked bag
  • Two United Club Passes
  • no annual fee the first year, then $95 thereafter

I wanted to earn some United miles because I know how valuable they can be, especially to Europe.

I know the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a superior bonus of 40,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $3,000 in three months, but I wanted to keep my minimum spend low.

3.  Discover it™

  • 5% cash back on the first $1,500 spent on categories that rotate each quarter
  • Opportunity to use the Discover online portal for 5-20% cash back at many retailers
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • no annual fee

This might seem like a weird card to get because it has no sign up bonus. I got it because the card was an opportunity for me to earn a lot of cash back. I love the rotating 5% cash back categories.

The other big thing is this card will allow me to access the ShopDiscover portal, which is one of the best portals out there. The portal offers 5-20% cash back at a lot of places I shop and routinely offers better deals than miles-earning portals. For instance, no one comes close to offering 5% cash back at Apple.


4.  Mercedes-Benz American Express Platinum

  • 50,000 Membership Rewards after spending $1,000 in three months
  • $100 credit for Global Entry signup
  • $200 calendar-year airline-fee credit
  • Free airport lounge access (American, US Airways, Delta, Priority Pass)
  • $475 annual fee, not waived in the first year

This was the only card I was hesitant to apply for. When I first saw that $475 annual fee (!) I immediately disregarded it as an option to include in my applications. I thought no perks could justify that fee, especially since the fee would appear on my first statement–before I could enjoy anything I was paying for.

However, when I thought a little deeper about it, I realized that this card actually offers a lot of good bonuses. Bill covered how those airline-fee credits can be used to buy gift cards which can then be used to purchase flights, the Global Entry voucher will save me hours of waiting-in-customs time this year (my sanity must be worth $475, right?), and I know I can easily find a use for 50,000 Membership Awards.

Since the airline-fee credits are a calendar year bonus, I can get 2 x $200 gift cards plus $100 for Global Entry, meaning $500 in statement credits.

I guess I can give it a year-long trial run. I’ll get $400 worth of flights, $100 worth of Global Entry, free lounge access, and nearly a $1,000 worth of points for my $475 fee.

5. Citi® Hilton HHonors™  Reserve Card

• Earn 2 weekend night certificates good at select hotels and resorts within the Hilton HHonors portfolio after $2,500 in eligible purchases within 4 months of account opening*
• Earn 10 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on hotel stays within the Hilton HHonors portfolio*
• Earn 5 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on airline and car rental purchases*
• Earn 3 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases*
• Enjoy the benefits of HHonors Gold status as long as you are a cardmember*
• No foreign transaction fees on purchases*
• Travel with ease and enjoy global acceptance with your Citi chip credit card
• Earn an anniversary bonus of 1 weekend night certificate at select hotels and resorts within the Hilton HHonors portfolio each cardmembership year with qualifying purchases*

This one was tough because it had a large minimum spend and an annual fee. I went with it, though because I want two free nights at a super fancy hotel that I could otherwise never afford.

I’m channeling my inner Hepburn by picturing myself drinking champagne and eating macaroons in Paris


I chose five cards to apply for:

  • Frontier Airlines World MasterCard for access to its incredible award chart
  • Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Visa for United miles with a low minimum spend
  • Discover it™ for access to its 5% cash back rotating categories and amazing cash back mall
  • Mercedes-Benz American Express Platinum for the points, lounge access, airline gift cards, and Global Entry despite the huge $475 annual fee
  • Citi® Hilton HHonors™  Reserve Card for two free nights at a Hilton I could normally only dream of

Concluded in Rookie Alli’s First Cards: Execution


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  1. Discover is great if you’re doing any traveling within China. They’re partners with China’s UnionPay network and so are accepted anywhere that accepts credit cards in China (although I haven’t been able to get the card to work online on Chinese sites). This is great if you’re doing any traveling outside of the major cities, as that’s when you’re most likely to run into problems using a foreign card. The cashback categories also apply outside of the US.

  2. I am interested to hear your experience getting matched to the Chase United Explorer 50k offer. In general, I believe the semi-targeted offer for 50k comes up when there is recent activity in the account. I think it is meant to reward loyal members who already use their accounts and is triggered by recent activity. If I can’t get the offer to come up, I transfer in 500-1000 miles to the account, which triggers the offer. I have had 6 friends and family members apply for this card in the past few months and worked every time!

  3. Great post! Thank you for this. I’m forwarding it to friends who are hesitant to get in the game. The beginner’s perspective, and “permission” to get only the cards you’re comfortable with, are much appreciated.

    • A lot of us have more of a conservative personality than Scott or some of the other total maximizers. And there is still plenty of room for us to be comfortable and get tons of great travel.

  4. I would have gone with the Hyatt card instead of United Card. 2 free nights is way better than 30K united miles. The BA card is also one of the cards to get if you live near AA hubs.

  5. Great post! Will be following your endeavors. As a a fellow rookie, I wish both of us luck! So far, I haven’t done an AOR yet….will be doing one at the start of May. So far this year, I got the CitiAA Visa, the US Air Barclays MasterCard (50k AA + 35k US might turn to 85kAA later this year :)), and yesterday, I jumped at the 50k MR Premier Rewards Gold card from AmEx with $1000 to spend in 3 months …all in all a good year so far.

  6. Congrats on your first AOR! I’m a newbie myself was fortunate to snag that AMEX Plat 100k deal. Now where to go? Asia is looking awfully tempting.

  7. I am a newbie to AOR as well, have been reading about it for a month now, was not too sure if I should do it myself. But I do want to load up on Marriott and Hilton points for my three-week trip to China this coming Christmas. I even made a spreadsheet to plan out how to meet the minmum spending in 3-4 months. Well, I guess I had a little too much time over the long weekend, on Monday evening I decided to pull the trigger and applied 4 cards in this order: Chase Marriott Premier (Targeted order 70000 points), Amex Hilton Surpass Card (60,000 points and Gold status first year), Citi Hilton (40000 points), and BofA Hawaiian Airline (35000 miles), first three instant approved with very high limits that I don’t need nor want; BofA card I called the automatic line next morning and found out it was approved. I have a trip to Hawaii this June and already booked two nights at the Grand Wailea and I guess I will cancel that reservation and redo it; I have reservations at Marriott over spring break so that would help me meet the $1k spending requirement. I saw yesterday that the Marriott free night certificate got deposited into my account, and my Hilton status was upgraded to gold! I was really happy on Monday night with all the instant approval, only to wake up the next morning to find Hilton has devaluate its points to worthless! 🙁 I don’t know how fast bonus points would be deposited to Hilton account, and if I can beat the March 28 deadline to make a reservation? Chase kept sending me the 50K United offer (in fact a new mail arrived today with April 18 expiration date), I assume I shouldn’t be consider it because of the 91 day rule? I don’t know if I should push it, as I did just got the British Airway card in January, and now the Marriott card too.

    • I would hold off on the United card because of your recent cards. You might barely make the 3/28 deadline if you meet all your minimum spending requirements immediately. But it’s a longshot. Such a bummer. I think the Citi Hilton Reserve is a better card at the moment because of the two free nights. You can’t devalue a night easily.

      • Is it better to keep the Hawaiian miles or transfer the miles to Hilton given the devaluation? I tried to read about the Hawaiian miles program and the miles doesn’t seem that useful either, given that I live on the west coast I usually just pay for the fare to Hawaii. Also, should I consider getting the Citi Hilton Reserve card later in the year? I am just not sure if Citi would give it to me as I already have the regular card.
        By the way, I love reading your posts on award booking! Thanks for all the tricks. Wish I knew about the free one-way before I booked the SFO-HKG flight (for five of us!) and putting it on hold when the booking isn’t open when I book the return flight! At this point, changing my origination/destination will cost me $150 each ticket each way. Well, next time! 🙂

        • Next time!

          If you can book something by 3/28 with the Hilton points, you can transfer. Otherwise, hold the Hawaiian miles.

  8. […] Charlie contacted me wanting to share his experiences with his first app-o-rama, 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. […]

  9. […] Charlie contacted me wanting to share his experiences with applying for his first rewards cards, 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. […]

  10. […] 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. […]

  11. Alli, I am now where you were in early 2013 – I just applied for my first two credit cards, and I’m excited to get started and delve deeper into traveling with miles & points. A couple of questions – can you have too many credit cards? Also, don’t they see & question the constant stream of applications and closures (I know we don’t necessarily close all the cards)? I’m just wondering if a bank would really keep giving me a new card every year after they see that I use them and close them. And…(last one, for now), are any of these sign-up bonuses only to be used once per person’s “lifetime”? For example, I have the Southwest R.R. card with 50,000 miles now. If I decide to close it in a year, can I apply a few months later and get that bonus again? So many questions! I’ve tried to find most of my answers by just scouring the blog, but those are some I’ve had on my mind for which I can’t seem to find a definitive answer. Thanks!

    I’ve been looking

    • Whether you can get a sign up bonus over and over again varies by bank. With Chase (issuer of Southwest cards), you have to have an account closed for two years before getting the same bonus. That is the strictest rule.

      You’ll see for yourself over time what effect this has on your credit score and whether banks continue to give you credit. I’m over 30 cards in two years, and I still get the cards I want from one simple call to reconsideration. Check out Alli’s call to reconsideration –>


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