Now that you’ve gotten an overview of all of your options, how do you decide where to start?
As I wrote in the beginning I think it’s best to focus on a specific trip and earn the points for that. You can build up to more complicated application strategies from there, but at least get a trip under your belt. Remember that your best bet may be to start with an Ultimate Rewards-earning card, because those points can be transferred to United.
But let me share some basic strategies:
- Include at least 1 personal and 1 business card in each churn.
- Apply in groups, and don’t apply more often than every 3 months.
- Keep a spreadsheet so you know what you’ve done — I promise, you’ll forget.
- Always get the US Airways card once a year, since there’s no annual fee and no minimum spend to get those points.
- Include a Chase card in each churn, but only apply for 1 personal and 1 business at a time. There are lots of Chase cards – you have to manage the applications to get them all in.
- Remember – although Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards points disappear when you end those cards, once points are in a hotel or airline program they’re yours, even if you drop the credit card.
- Always keep cards open for 11 months.
- Figure out how much you want to bother with having specific cards for specific purposes. I like the Amex Blue Preferred card because it offers 6% cash back at supermarkets (with a $79 fee, effectively making it a just-under-5% cash back card if you hit the $6,000 annual spend limit). I keep that card open every year. I also keep the Sapphire Preferred for restaurants and travel. Only you can determine how many cards you want to juggle. I have friends who only keep 1 card open at a time. You do what’s best for you.
- You need a day-to-day card for when you’re not trying to hit minimum spend. If you don’t travel much, you should have the Fidelity Amex card — it offers 2% cash back on everything, and that’s the best deal out there for many people. Remember – if you spend $25,000 in a year, that would be $500 cash back. If you put it on an airline card, you’d have enough for one domestic roundtrip ticket — that’s worth less than $500 in many cases.
- People generally choose between the Starwood Amex and the Chase Sapphire Preferred for their day-to-day cards if they aren’t doing cash back. Either of those is fine. I do the United Club card, which gives me 1.5 points per dollar and lounge access. But if I didn’t want the lounge access I’d get that Fidelity card. Don’t let other people pooh-pooh cash back cards. You can spend cash however you want.
- Remember: this is fun. You’re getting to take trips you probably otherwise would not have taken. That’s amazing. Keep it simple: focus on a trip, earn the points, and go. Rinse. Repeat.