Our Sunday Night Mini App-O-Rama – 175,000 Points for $95 in Annual Fees

For whatever reason, some of my most popular posts (and maybe other bloggers can weigh in if this is true for them as well) are posts about the credit cards we chose to apply for. I wonder if its a phenomena of “well that blogger applied for it, so it must be a good deal and we must follow!” Or maybe just curiosity to see what the “experts” are doing? I always find it interesting as what I chose to apply for will most likely not be the right solution for you. We are all at different stages in the points/miles game with different needs for points/miles based on our current balances and future trip goals. I’m happy to share what I’ve done but please remember I am an experienced travel hacker with years of knowledge and I understand the risks involved. Do not apply for credit cards just because I did!

As some of you might recall, my wife’s latest round of credit card applications was back in early July and she just about hit the minimum spend on all of them. While I like to stick to a 91+ day application cycle (others will say this is not necessary and they are correct to an extent but this is what I like to do), we will be away for the next two weeks starting Thursday (2nd anniversary trip woohoo!) so I wanted to complete a small round of applications for my wife. Here is what she applied for:

Card 1: Chase British Airways Visa Signature – 100,000 Avios – $95 Annual Fee

100kBAOffer

I posted about this offer when it came out last week and let me stress, this card is NOT for everyone (see that post for why). It works for us because we live in an AA hub and we love using AA miles to fly to the Caribbean for cheap. We’ve been to Antigua and Puerto Rico in the last year using Avios for 20,000 Avios roundtrip instead of using 35,000 American AAdvantage miles. The other big reason to get this card for us is the upcoming devaluation of Amex Membership Rewards transfers to British Airways. While we could still transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to BA, I like using my Chase UR points for United & Hyatt so picking up a 120,000 Avios (including the spending requirement) will not force us to rely on flexible rewards from either Amex or Chase.

Card Details:

  • 50,000 Avios for spending $2,000 in 3 months
  • 25,000 additional Avios for spending $10,000 total in the first year
  • 25,000 more Avios for spending $20,000 total in the first year (so 100,000 total Avios if you spend $20k or more in a year)
  • 3x Avios earned on British Airways Purchases
  • 1x Avios earned on All Other Purchases
  • $95 Annual Fee (not waived)
  • Travel Together Ticket after $30,000 in spending in a calendar year 

Neither of us have had a British Airways credit card before so I didn’t have to worry about the 24 month rule nor does Chase’s 5 recent inquiries rule apply on non Ultimate Rewards cards (the rule does apply to the Chase Slate however) as my wife would have failed this requirement. She applied online and got a message asking to call Chase right away to verify some information. She called and after moving some credit lines around from other Chase cards, she was approved.

Card 2: Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature – 75,000 Hilton HHonors Points – $0 Annual Fee

CitiHilton75kOffer

This offer (which expires today by the way) is the highest ever on this card that I am aware of. I actually got this card for myself last year when it was 60,000 points but this offer is obviously better. My wife has just shy of 100k Hilton HHonors points now so this will be a nice little infusion that will cover a few nights at mid tier Hilton hotels.

Card Details:

  • 75,000 Hilton HHonors Points for Spending $2,000 in 3 months
  • No Annual Fee
  • 6x Points earned at Hilton Family Properties
  • 3x Points earned at Supermarkets, Gas Stations & Drug Stores
  • 2x Points earned on All Other Purchases
  • Complimentary Hilton Silver Status (basically you get 15% bonus points that’s about it)

It’s a shame Hilton devalued their program a few years ago but the program isn’t totally dead for our travel needs. I like that this is a no annual fee card that my wife can keep and it ensures will she will always have some status with Hilton, even if it is only marginally worth something. She applied online and was approved instantly.

Summary:

This was a quick and painless round of applications that netted us another 175,000 points for $95 out of pocket. I’ve been waiting to apply for the British Airways card until a 100k offer returned and while it is a bit more spending than I’d like, I have no doubts I’ll accomplish it within a year especially with  some new reselling venues I’ve started to get into (post coming once the items sell and I can calculate my profit).

The Citi Hilton makes sense (especially with the bonus at its highest point ever) for us since we tend to stay in Hiltons that average 40,000 to 50,000 points a night so we will hopefully get 2 nights out of this signup bonus. At the worst, we get one night and some leftover points but my wife will now finally have a no annual fee card from Citibank that she can keep forever. This will help her establish a better relationship with Citi as she has been cancelling many of their cards before the first year is up.

*As always, this post contains does NOT contain any affiliate links*
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My Experience Canceling Various Credit Cards & All The Retention Offers

One of the most important attributes to being a successful travel hacker is organization. I think it is one of the most under-discussed and overlooked skill needed to master this hobby of ours. Every month, I set aside several hours to do my “homework” and go through all my credit card accounts to ensure I haven’t been hit with fraudulent charges, missed any payments or have any annual fees currently due. I’ve been especially focusing on cards with annual fees as many cards are worth it in year one (especially since many annual fees are waived for year one) but not so much afterwards.

My goal this time around was to reduce the annual fees I am paying and going through my monthly homework, I identified 6 cards that could meet the chopping block. I thought it would be an interesting and informative post on how I came to the decision on each card and what (if any) retention offers were made. I think the offer made on my wife’s Ritz Carlton card was the most interesting but I’ll let my readers decide that.

RIP

RIP

Card 1: Citibank American Airlines Platinum Select – $95 annual fee

I opened this card two years ago to earn 50,000 miles + earn 10% back on AA award redemptions. The annual fee was waived for the first year and last year I accepted a retention offer for a $95 statement credit if I charged $95 to the card within 3 months of the annual fee. Now the annual fee was due yet again and I called to see what retention offers were available. I got the same offer as last year but I declined it this year – why? Well, within the past year my former Barclays US Airways MasterCard was converted to a Red AA Aviator card that offers the same main benefit of 10% back on AA award redemptions (along with other perks such as free checked bags, priority boarding etc). I didn’t need two cards with the same benefits so I chose to axe the Citibank version of the card to restart the 18 month clock to get the card again.

Card 2: Barclay Arrival Plus – $89 annual fee

This was my favorite cash back card until the recent changes made (increasing the minimum award redemptions from $25 to $100, only getting 5% points back, no Trip It Pro, etc.) caused me to rethink why I needed this card. I liked using the rewards from this card to buy Uber credits in $25 chunks since you could earn the 2,500 points required by spending only $1,250 (which wasn’t hard if you MS’ed). However, now in order to break even on the card with the $89 annual fee, I would need to spend a ton on this card each year for it to be a better value than a no annual fee 2% cash back card like the Fidelity American Express or the Citi Double Cash which just wasn’t going to happen. My retention offer was to downgrade to no annual fee 1% cashback version of the Arrival card but why would I chose to put any spend on that card when I have better 2% cash back alternatives available? I quickly dismissed the offer by stating exactly that and my card was closed moments later.

Cards 3/4: Chase Ritz Carlton Visa x2 – $395 annual fee

My wife and I both signed up for the 140,000 point offer on this card last year which was possibly one of my favorite signup bonuses from last year. We timed these applications right and for paying the $395 annual fee, we each got 140,000 points, $600 in airline gift cards ($300 annual airline credit which we were able to use 2x since it is a calendar year based), Marriott Gold status and 3 Ritz Club level upgrades. We enjoyed the perks in year one but for year two, there is no compelling reason to keep the card unless you are a frequent Ritz customer (which we aren’t). It is a card you never want to put spend on and since we already used the $300 annual airline credit this year, I didn’t see a reason to keep the card.

The retention offer on this card was interesting though it was only offered it on my wife’s card and not mine. If she spent $5,000 in 3 months, she would earn 5,000 bonus points (yawn) AND a free night certificate for any 1-4 Ritz Carlton (say what?!?). I quickly debated the value of this and while I think this offer is definitely worthwhile for some, I passed. We’d still be paying $395 for this free night and there aren’t any Ritz Carlton stays planned for the next year so I was worried I wouldn’t be able to use the free night. I do recognize that if I had a use for the free night, I should have taken the offer as I could wait till January came around, used the annual $300 airline credit since it would be reset (though it has gotten a LOT harder to buy airline gift cards to use this credit) and then cancel the card in early 2016 to earn a pro rata annual fee rebate (if Chase does that, I’m not sure). This was the best retention I received on any card and one that should be seriously considered if you don’t have concerns over using the free night and/or using the $300 airline credit.

Cards 5/6: US Bank Club Carlson Visa x2 – $75 annual fee

I’ll make this one quick and easy. Basically, US Bank destroyed the value of these cards when they took away the last night free when using points. It really was an offer too good to be true – if done right, every 2nd night was free! Well, once the program was gutted a few months back, these cards were useless to me. My wife and I both cancelled them and cited the loss of the last night free on award stays as the reason. Neither of us got any retention offer, bonus points or offers for a free night like others I know were offered. Should I have HUCA’ed? You bet but if I’m being honest I want nothing to do with US Bank and/or Club Carlson so I was more than happy to cancel the cards without trying to get a retention offer. I don’t recommend doing this but in this case, I really just didn’t care.

Even after cancelling all these cards, my wife and I still have 36 different cards open between us. Over the next few months, I’m sure we will be cancelling more of them as I am really evaluating if a credit card’s annual fee makes it worth keeping. If this post turns out to be popular or readers request it, I’ll write a similar summary post when I do my next round of cancellations and retention offers.

Points & Miles 101: Getting Your Credit Score for FREE!

As I alluded to in my last post in Points & Miles 101, in addition to getting your free credit report, there are a few ways to get your credit score for free as well!

There are several companies out there they will provide you with an accurate representation of your credit score for free with the two most popular companies being Credit Karma and Credit Sesame. Now I want to be very upfront, the scores provided are not your FICO score but instead a CLOSE estimate to what your actual FICO score is. Now I’m sure their names sound ‘gimmicky’ to you but as a user of both services (in addition to thousands of other), I can personally vouch these companies are legitimate and 100% FREE.

Each company has developed algorithms that closely mimic the calculation FICO uses to determine your credit score. By inputting your social security number, you agree to give them access to your credit history which then allows them to run their algorithms to determine your credit score.

I’m sure I just set off a big red flag in your head since you have to provide your social security number to a company you’ll probably never heard of before this post. However, I’m here to assure you these sites are VERY secure with high level encryption software. If you think about it, if you’re comfortable giving your social security number while applying for a credit card on a bank’s website why would you not be comfortable doing this? You can read more about their security here.

Ralph's Credit Score

Ralph’s Credit Score

Additionally, because I know this question will come up, there is absolutely NO impact to your credit score for doing this. If you were to check your FICO score, there is a very small impact to your score because an inquiry was made on your account. However, since the score provided is not your FICO score, you don’t have to worry about this.

I think every person should review their credit reports and know their credit score – this is financially responsible behavior.  If your credit report is wrong, fix it. If your credit score is under 700, start taking steps to improve it. Even if you have no interest in doing these items related to points and miles, you should do it to remain financially healthy. Plain and simple, this is just good personal finance advice.

Signup Links

Credit Karma

Credit Sesame

*Please note if enough people signup for Credit Sesame via the link above, I will earn a small commission. As a user of this product, I would strongly recommend it whether I was paid a commission or not. I do not earn a commission on Credit Karma.