There are numerous ways to accrue travel rewards fast, and many people will fall into more than one of these categories.
- Daddy Warbucks Type A: You buy expensive flights and book expensive hotel rooms which earn exponentially more travel rewards than booking cheap flights and accommodation.
- Daddy Warbucks Type B: You spend tons on credit cards organically, whether that be personal use, through your business, or both.
- Manufactured Spender: You figure out ways to increase your spending for a fee that doesn’t outweigh the value of the rewards you’re earning.
- Road Warrior: You travel for business, get to charge paid travel to your own credit cards that your boss reimburses you for and therefore keep the rewards earned .
- Credit Card Churner: You open lots of credit cards to maximize the return on your spending. Everyday spending on a credit card may earn 1 airline mile for one dollar spent. But when opening a new travel credit card, most come with a sign-up bonus offer that changes that return to something like 16 miles earned per dollar spent (that’s assuming a stock example of 50,000 bonus miles for a $3,000 minimum spending requirement as 50,000 / 3,000 = 16.666).
I categorize myself as a Credit Card Churner, and dabble in the manufactured spending category but to a very minor extent as I live in Argentina 8 months of the year. My version of “manufactured spending” means sometimes friends without credit cards–more common down here than you might think–want to purchase something large online with the luxury of having a month to pay it off, so I purchase it for them and they repay me. I also pay taxes through Plastiq, an online credit card processor who will send checks for you.
I moved to Argentina in 2012 when I was 23. I began to open a credit card here and there, as Buenos Aires is at the bottom of the world and I wanted the ability to visit home more than once in a blue moon and to actually travel internationally. But not every flight I took was covered by rewards as I had just begun to dip my toe in the pool.
Then I flew my first long-haul premium cabin flight, in Cathay Pacific Business Class from New York to Bangkok via Hong Kong. I redeemed 110k American Airlines miles total for the roundtrip award back in October of 2015, which was before the big DevAAluation in March of 2016. I earned the miles via bonuses from a combo of the old US Airways and Citi / AAdvantage Cards thanks to some advice from Scott Grimmer (founder and prior owner of MileValue), a fellow expat who lived around the corner from me in Buenos Aires. I was 26 and flying in a flat bed across the world with champagne. From that point on I was a goner… totally hooked.
Since then I’ve never paid for an international flight, only the occasional domestic one or a short hop in Europe when miles aren’t worth redeeming. I’ve made it to so many more bachelorette parties, weddings, and have showed up on my parents doorstep to surprise them for birthdays. I’ve been able to maintain my relationships in the northern hemisphere while having a home in the southern hemisphere, and still travel outside both Argentina and the United States. I’ve been able to help my parents follow me around the globe in Business Class, too. They’ve visited me twice in Argentina and we’ve traveled to Brazil and Italy together in the last few years. They’re coming down again in May for my 30th birthday, most likely flying United Business using Singapore miles thanks to bonuses from the The Platinum Card from American Express and the Chase Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card.
Miles and points have saved me and my loved ones tens of thousands of dollars and helped us live a life otherwise financially unattainable.
Needless to say after that first Cathay Pacific Business Class trip to Thailand I went on a tear applying for new cards, ready to rebuild balances for future trips. Beginning work with Scott at the end of 2015 was a huge driver behind signing up for new cards as well. I was inhaling miles blogs and studying award charts, armed with the knowledge to get ALL the miles and points and spend them too.
ALL the Cards, Except Chase
Before I had a chance to apply for any Chase cards, the 5/24 guillotine dropped and I was cut off from the majority of Chase’s most lucrative travel rewards cards. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about: In the beginning of 2016, the travel rewards community put 2 and 2 together after shared data points on blogs like this one, reddit, flyertalk, etc. lead to the conclusion that Chase was denying applicants who had opened more than five credit cards in the prior 24 months. At first it only applied to some cards, and over time that rule has been extended to pretty much all Chase cards. Another caveat hammered out over time is the exception of business cards counting in your 5/24 total: We now know that only consumer cards count in that 5 card limit.
Myself and many other card churners did not deem waiting for our totals to drop under 5/24 worthy of the endeavor, so on I went with a myriad of applications and bonuses from other banks. And then one day I took a breath and realized I had plenty of rewards to cover all planned upcoming trips (and then some), so I slowed down applications. One day I logged into my Credit Karma account to count my 5/24 total, and found out that waiting about 9 months would drop my count below 5/24.
So the fasting began.
9 Months Later
Time passed and my credit score soared. It was always pretty solid, but with no new card apps and timely bill payments, by the time I was free to apply for Chase cards my score was over 800.
So which card did I choose to apply for first?
For a while I thought the obvious answer was the Chase Sapphire Reserve–the mac daddy–the premium travel card that trumped all those before it, which I had experienced endless green envy over when it first debuted. I was the only 20something I knew that traveled as much as I did without it. But my opinion changed the more I read and thought about i; not necessarily my end goal, but how I would go about getting there.
The Sapphire Reserve was becoming anecdotally harder to get approved for. Even though my credit score had climbed during the fast, I knew that wouldn’t be the only thing Chase looked at. They could still see my history of app-o-ramas, applying for lots of cards at once, and I figured that wouldn’t be looked upon positively. But most important, I didn’t plan on applying for just ONE Chase card. My plan was and still is to nail as many of their valuable cards as I can before moving on again. If the first thing to happen in my carefully crafted plan was a denial, that could make the whole journey a lot more complicated. Simply put, I wanted a smooth entry. I didn’t want to wait 9 months just to blow it.
I decided to apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
People were (and still are) getting approved for the Sapphire Preferred with lower scores than what’s needed for approval on a Sapphire Reserve. For example, creditcards.com shows the lower end of the scale of those approved for the Preferred at 670 and the lower end of the scale for the Reserve at 740.
I applied for the Sapphire Preferred in October of 2018, and was not immediately approved with little surprise. An immediate approval would have been shocking considering how at how many points over the past few years I’ve been at LOL/24… (in miles and points speak, that means the number of the cards I’d opened in the prior 24 months was laughable).
I already had the Chase reconsideration line number handy: 888-270-2127. I asked if there was any further information I could provide to expedite a decision over my app, and it turned out they only needed to verify my identity. A few minutes later I was the proud new mama of a Sapphire Preferred, dancing in my chair like the true miles nerd that I am.
In November of 2020, when my Sapphire Preferred is 13 months old and I have the ability to, I’ll upgrade it to a Sapphire Reserve. I have no doubt whatsoever the higher annual fee is worth the increased returned on spending, lounge access, Global Entry, and travel credits, and I should have no problem getting upgraded as it’s much easier than getting approved outright).
Two Cards in, How Many More To Go?
Lots, I hope. After the 9 month fast I was down to 4/24, with the Sapphire Preferred bringing that up to 5/24. After a few more months, I was back down to 4/24. Now it’s all about the business cards, which do not count in your 5/24 total. To be clear for anyone confused: While business cards are not counted in your 5/24 total, to be eligible for Chase business cards (or any Chase card), you must be below 5/24.
I wrote a series for beginners and people like me at this stage who find themselves under 5/24 one way or the other, called The Five Chase Cards You Should Apply For. The series breaks down four different five-card combos to fit four types of consumers/travelers. Right now I’m in the midst of following my own advice (practice what you preach, after all) outlined in the five-card combo for Points Omnivores, someone who collects any mile or point they can to get more travel. I was just approved for a Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card. Next in my line of sight is either the Chase Ink Business Cash Card or the United Explorer Business Card as the bonus just jumped to a whopping 75,000 United miles for spending $5,000 within three months.
Do I worship Chase cards so much that I think they’re worth staying under 5/24 constantly? No, absolutely not.
But at some point in the midst of sprinting down a path of card applications, I slowed down and noticed that I had what I needed for the near future. Airline miles, and therefore credit card points–if you plan on transferring them to airline miles–devalue over time thanks to award prices increasing, award space drying up, and various other factors. If you work for your travel rewards like I do, by either credit card churning, manufacturing spend, or some combo of those things, then don’t collect that much more than you need. You’ll get burned by devaluations.
Taking those things into account… that I had what rewards I needed plus a little extra, that hoarding miles is unwise considering their inevitable devaluation over time, and finally realizing that waiting just 9 months would put me back in the eligibility zone to rake in thousands of dollars in bonuses from Chase, the decision was easy. I fasted.
But the fast has broken!