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An Introduction to Earning Miles (Even Without Flying), Part 2: The Credit Cards

(View Part 1)

Welcome back to part 2 of the OTR introduction to earning miles without flying.

Today we’re looking at what credit cards would make the most sense for someone new to the credit card churn game.

As with so many choices around frequent flyer programs, I would normally say that what cards are best for you will depend on a number of factors. Except that if you have no airline-related credit cards, you should run out right now and apply for 2 Citibank American Airlines AAdvantage cards. I’ve written about the details here, but in short you can get 2 Citi cards (one Visa and one Amex) that earn 75,000 miles each after spending $1,500 on the Visa and $4,000 on the Amex within 6 months. First year fee is waived on both. And remember, your spouse can apply for each of those cards as well, which would give you 300,000 AA miles after $11,000 in spend. Read the post I linked to for details on how to apply.

I know that for some people $11k in 6 months is a lot of money. If that’s the case, start with the Visa. Spend $1,500 on it (and your spouse should spend $1,500 on it as well) and you’ve got 150,000 miles. That’s 6 domestic coach tickets. Don’t be disappointed about missing the other miles – you can easily drive yourself crazy worrying about the miles that got away. That’s an important part of this – you are going to miss some points earning opportunities. Don’t let it drive you nuts. Let it go and enjoy the 150,000 miles.

You can re-apply for the same Citi cards and earn another bonus 18 months after your last application.

If you’re a Continental/United flyer you have a bit of a decision to make about your next card. Chase is offering a 40,000 point bonus with their Sapphire Preferred card when you spend $3,000 in 3 months (apply here). Chase touts the ability to use those 40,000 points to get $500 in credit toward any type of travel. That’s fine, but the real benefit is in the ability to transfer those 50,000 points into your Continental OnePass account (you can transfer to Marriott and Priority Club as well, but the Continental miles are more valuable in my opinion). First year fee is waived. Also, if you travel overseas quite a bit, they waive foreign transaction fees, which can be 3% or so (I believe only the British Airways Visa card offers the same benefit).

If you can manage to spend $3k in addition to the spend you’re trying to generate for the American Airlines cards, go for the Sapphire Preferred card next. Also, that 50k point bonus is a limited offer, and I don’t yet know when it will be withdrawn. If you can swing it, I’d go for that (in fact, I have gone for that).

If, however, it’ll be difficult for you to pull off the $3k in addition to the other spend, Continental and United are both offering the same 40,000 mile bonus on their credit cards. Well, they say 40,000 miles but for our needs, you’ll likely only earn 25,000 miles. They’ll give you 25k miles for first purchase, then 5,000 for adding an additional cardmember (which you won’t do since you and your spouse should get their own cards and own bonuses), then 10,000 miles for spending $25k in one year (which I don’t recommend doing because I’m going to recommend a different day-to-day card.) They’ll also waive the fee in the first year and give you 2 airport club passes. (Apply for Continental OnePass Plus here, and apply for United Mileage Plus Explorer here.)

Chase is offering Continental and United elite members 60,000 mile bonuses, so it’s worth logging into your accounts on the airlines’ websites to see if you’ve received that offer. Both airlines have offered larger bonuses in the past so I’m not jumping on these. Plus, I’ve had Continental cards and United cards in the past, and it appears that makes me ineligible for the bonus anyway.

One thing to remember: you can only apply for one Chase card every 30 days, so you can’t get the Sapphire Preferred card, Continental card and United card all at the same time – you’ll have to space it out.

Delta, US Airways and Alaska aren’t currently offering anything beyond their regular signup bonuses (Delta is 20,000 miles – apply here; US Airways is up to 40,000 miles here; and Alaska is 40,000 miles (apply here). Some folks like the Alaska card because it comes with a certificate for a $99 companion ticket which, unlike many such certificates, is actually good on any flight, including first class flights. I’d wait for better bonuses on Delta and US Airways unless you need the points now.

Regardless of what cards you get, you need – NEED – to create a spreadsheet to keep track of what cards you’ve had, what you’ve spent, and when you need to cancel them. I set up calendar items in Outlook to ping me when I have to cancel. Citicards can be canceled through your online account by sending a secure message. They’ll cancel it for you that way. With Chase cards you’ll need to call them. Sometimes you’ll be offered a retention bonus, though this is often in exchange for paying the annual fee. You’ll be able to determine whether that’s worth it for you. I’ve never been given a retention offer, which for some reason offends me in the same what that George Costanza was offended when the carpet cleaners/cult did not try to recruit him.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about my favorite day-to-day card and American Express Membership Rewards.

(Read Part 3)

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14 Comments.

  1. Jared, the Chase Priority Club Select Visa also waives foreign transaction fees.

  2. I did the 2 AA card trick. However, they called me when I had too much credit, even though I don’t carry a balance. At the time they called, they noticed 2 apps at once. I offered to shift my credit around to stay within their risk limit, since I had enough, but it didn’t make a difference. So be careful, make sure you lower your credit limits if you have a lot of credit outstanding before applying. Otherwise, you may get called and lose out on this promo. Kind of weird, but I tried talking with them 3 times. Each time, they stated the same thing about 1 app at a time. :cry:

  3. Well, they say 40,000 miles but for our needs, you’ll likely only earn 25,000 miles. They’ll give you 25k miles for first purchase, then 5,000 for adding an additional cardmember (which you won’t do since you and your spouse should get their own cards and own bonuses)

    Don’t say that! There’s no reason you can’t add your spouse as an additional cardmember even if they have their own card. But even if you don’t want to do that, you can add your dog or brother or sister or neighbor as an additional cardmember (you don’t ever even have to give them the card, unless your dog needs a new chew toy). Don’t leave an already-paid-for-with-hard-pull 5K/10K miles on the table!

  4. @Hans – Excellent point. I’m usually so busy getting my wife a card that I forget about adding her (or my fish) as an add’l cardholder for those bonus miles. Thanks for the idea.

  5. @Cheaplee – Yes, there’s a lot of YMMV (your mileage may vary) when it comes to cards. Always worth calling back and speaking to a different agent (aka, agent roulette). People have had lots of success when they just try talking to someone else.

  6. Thanks Jared… I just got the Chase Sapphire today. You said 50000 Continental points are worth more than Chase’s 62500 points that you could buy a Continental flight with. Is that because of Star Alliance or what?

  7. @Cheaplee sorry – I apologize if I wasn’t clear. The 62500 Chase points will allow you to buy $625 worth of travel. In reality, after you spend $3k you’d have 53,000 points which you can transfer to Continental. 55k points will get you a free trip to Europe (yes, in coach), which I’d value at more than $625 most of the year. Even if you used them for 2 domestic coach tix, it’s still likely worth more than $625.

    That all said, I should always be clear: I don’t want to spend your money. If you’d prefer to get reimbursed $625 for your travel spend, that’s fantastic — $625 back in your pocket.

  8. So as long as the cost per mile is cheaper (after fees and taxes), take it. I (wrongly) assumed on booking any Continental flight 1 point = 1 dollar. I guess that is not correct. I suppose I need to do my calculations first. I wonder why that is. Thanks…

  9. Well, there are two ways to use the points:

    You can buy travel anywhere thru Chase and then apply the points (at 100 points per dollar) to pay for it.

    Or you can transfer the points at 1:1 to a handful of travel partners, including Continental. You can then use those points for tickets (25k gets you a roundtrip domestic ticket; 35k gets you a free ticket to the Caribbean; 55k to Europe) on Continental or other Star Alliance airlines.

  10. I’ve had the American Airlines card through Citibank for years (note: applying, closing, reapplying later, etc). Always earn a bonus.

    Now, it’s my desire to retain the card (got the last one on the 75k mile offer). I’ve not paid an annual fee for two years running now. I call, and indicate that I wish to keep the card, and ask them to waive the fee. For the last two years, they simply ask that I agree to make 5 charges (note – can be for a pack of gum – a charge is a charge). Fee hits card, then Citibank refunds. Last two times, my credit of $85 actually hit before the formal annual fee was charged. Net zero difference, I keep card for another 12 months. I have excellent credit, and play these games all the time. However, occasionally, I hang onto a card, as I am doing here. Now that hubby travels LOTS on American, he’s going to earn elite status… likely to have much of our travel via American….

  11. Can you email me or post a copy of a blank excel file that you use to keep track of your cards/points/promos/credit agency/cancelation date/ etc. Everyone on these forums talks about them and I am surprised that no one has sat down and developed a comprehensive spreadsheet for people to use. If you or anyone else out there can develop one I am sure it would be greatly appreciated by all.

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