Some Possible Adustments to our Simple Plan
At some point, you may decide to move beyond our simple plan and take advantage of more advanced credit card strategies, such as collecting large numbers of signup bonuses, taking advantage of additional benefits, or optimizing the rewards you earn through bonus categories.
If you know that you are likely to move beyond our simple plan, there are a few small adjustments that will help you lay a better foundation for the future.
If you plan on collecting signup bonuses
The easiest way to get lots of free airplane tickets and hotel nights is to collect credit card signup bonuses. We strongly recommend looking into this strategy if you are looking to move beyond the basics. Credit Card Signup Bonuses: The Easiest Path to Free Airplane Tickets and Hotel Nights.
If you know you are going to follow this strategy, you should start out with the Sapphire Preferred card, instead of the Sapphire Reserve.
It has a larger signup bonus (60,000 vs 50,000 points), a smaller annual fee, and still allows you to transfer your Ultimate Rewards points for Hyatt hotel nights and frequent flyer tickets. You'll be focusing most of your credit card spending on meeting the initial spending requirements of your new cards and will likely have airport lounge access as a temporary side benefit of other cards you get.
When you start slowing down, you can convert the Sapphire Preferred to the Sapphire Reserve to get higher reward rates on your purchases, its enhanced travel benefits, and the ability to cash-out your Ultimate Rewards points at 1.5 cents each (if necessary).
If you aren't going to focus on collecting signup bonuses, it is simpler to just start directly with the Sapphire Reserve.
Get the credit card's small business version (if you can)
If you have any kind of small business, you are eligible to get small business cards. Your business doesn't need to be incorporated. Even a side business—like selling stuff online, doing odd jobs, or working on a book or website—is enough. In most cases, you don't even need to have made any money yet. You just need to apply with your social security number and specify your business income. Unlock Extra Reward Points with Business Credit Cards.
Technically, you are only supposed to use your small business card for business-related spending. But that is not a legal requirement, and in practice, the banks don't seem to care.
If you are willing and able to get small business credit cards, you should get the small business version of any card you want (if one is available), rather than the personal version.
There are several reasons:
- Getting the Business version helps avoid the Chase 5/24 limit. If you've received 5 new credit cards over the last 24 months, Chase won't approve you for any of their travel-related credit cards. They count the cards you received from any bank, not just Chase. But they don't count most small business cards, even those from Chase. Depending on how many cards you've already gotten, you may not be able to get the cards you want. The Sapphire Reserve and Freedom Unlimited card count as two cards. If you are aiming for the Southwest Companion Pass, the United Airlines checked bag benefit, or the benefits from the Hyatt card, you'll want to get even more Chase cards. Dealing with the Chase 5/24 Rule.
- You can earn additional signup points by getting the Ink Unlimited instead of the Freedom Unlimited card. Both cards earn 1.5x Ultimate Rewards on every purchase, and have no annual fee, but the Ink Unlimited card has a 50,000 Ultimate Rewards point signup bonus ($4,000 initial spend), instead of the Freedom Unlimited's 15,000 point bonus ($500 initial spend). If you can spend enough to qualify, we value the extra 35,000 points at $$600.
- Getting business cards can help you avoid being rejected for other cards you want. Since business credit cards aren't usually listed on your personal credit report, other banks will think you have fewer credit cards than you do, and will be more likely to approve you for the card you want. However, when you apply for a small business credit card, the bank will check your personal credit report, this "credit inquiry" (or "hard pull") will be visible to other banks, and often plays an important role in deciding whether they will give you another card. So, small business cards aren't a completely free lunch.
- Getting one or more small business versions of the Southwest Airlines card makes it simple to qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass. As discussed in the our guide, by the time you are done qualifying for the signup bonuses for just the Performance Business card, you'll have earned a big chunk of the points you need. If you combine it with the other business card, or one of the personal cards, you'll have more points than you need.
- Most airline cards are available in a small business version. So, if you want to get a card for its free checked bag benefit, you can usually choose the small business version. For example, you can a get a business version of the United, Delta, American, or Alaska card. Similarly, you can get the business version of the Hilton card or the Amex Platinum card to qualify for the Hilton breakfast benefit.
If you get the small business versions of these cards (when available), they won't count against the limit, and you'll have more room to get any remaining cards. Just make sure you get the Chase small business cards before you hit the limit, because even though they aren't counted as part of the 5 cards, they are still blocked once you've hit the limit.
As you acquire the small set of credit cards you need to enhance your travels, there is a good chance that you'll wind up getting enough cards to trigger the Chase 5/24 limit (5 new credit cards in the last 24 months). Once you do, you won't be able to get most of Chase's credit cards, including their business cards. If you decide to take the next step and start collecting credit card signup bonuses, it may be a long time until you are back under the limit again.
Your opportunity to get any of Chase's travel related cards is likely to be curtailed, and many people wind up wishing they had gotten a few of these cards while they still could.
Our advice is to at least sign up for the Ink Preferred card before you hit the 5 card limit. It has an 80,000 Ultimate Rewards point signup bonus that we value at $$1360. Then at the end of the first year, you can convert it to an Ink Cash Card, which has no annual fee, and earns 5x Ultimate Rewards points on a variety of purchases.
If you think you are likely to decide to start collecting signup bonuses, you should try to apply for several additional Chase's business cards, and not just the Ink Preferred. They won't get in the way of using any available Chase 5/24 slots on personal cards, they all have attractive signup bonuses, and some of them have useful benefits.
If you travel a lot for work
Most of us don't have the opportunity to qualify for elite status or earn tons of points through actual travelling. But, if you frequently travel for work, you do.
- Choose to earn points with the airline that you frequently fly. If you have a chance of earning elite status, particularly higher-level status, you want to do it with the airline that you fly most often. While you are entitled to some elite benefits if you achieve status with another airline in the same alliance, only elite status in the airline's own frequent flyer program gives you the chance of free seat upgrades.
- You may not need the airline's credit card. If you have status, you'll already have free bag privileges, and there is less reason to get the airline's card. However, if the card provides some other valuable benefits, such as the United Airlines cards's extra award access, or the Alaska Airlines card's companion certificate, it can still be worthwhile.
- If you frequently stay within the same hotel program, you probably want to get their credit card. They can often help you achieve the next level of status, and they sometimes have some extra useful benefits. As with airline cards, you are usually better off using your Sapphire Reserve, rather than the hotel program's own card, to pay for your hotel reservations.
- The Hyatt and IHG cards are affected by the Chase 5/24 rule. If you need to prioritize these cards, you need to get them before you hit the 5/24 limit. This tends to be particularly important to anyone who is shooting for the high-level Hyatt status, as the card provides 5 extra credits each year, and can earn 2 more with every $5,000 in credit card spending. Even if you don't need the help this year, if you think you might need the help in one of the next few years, you probably want to get the card now, while you still can.
In most cases, you'll earn more valuable points, and receive better travel insurance benefits, by using your Sapphire Reserve card to buy tickets, rather than the airline's own credit card. The JetBlue Plus Credit Card is a clear exception. The Alaska Airlines Credit Card and Aviator Silver Card earn 3x points on Alaska flights and American Airline flights, respectively. While 3x Ultimate Rewards points are more flexible, if you are a big fan of either of these programs, you may prefer 3x miles instead.
The Marriott card is also affected by Chase 5/24, but you can get similar benefits from the SPG cards issued by Amex.
If you are planning to juggle cards to optimize your rewards
Different credit cards provide bonus rewards on different categories of spending. For example, one card might provide bonus rewards on gas and groceries, while another card provides bonus rewards on travel, entertainment, and dining. If you want to truly optimize the points you earn, you will want to get a small set of cards, and use the best one for each purchase.
Many people aren't interested in following this strategy. Collecting signup bonuses (and potentially using manufactured Spending techniques) generates much larger quantities of reward points, and optimizing your spending is a bit of a hassle. But other people would never dream of missing an opportunity to extra points on their spending. Optimize Rewards by Using Different Cards for Different Purchases.
If you think you may want to eventually follow this strategy:
- Get the Altitude Reserve card now. It earns 4.5% back on any purchase you make with a mobile wallet, such as Apple Pay. That bumps up your reward rate at many brick-and-mortar stores and some websites. It is even better with Samsung Pay, as you can use many recent model Samsung phones (and watches) to pay at any credit card swipe machine, and not just those set up with mobile wallet support.
- Consider getting the Chase Freedom card. This is a different card than the Freedom Unlimited. It earns 5x Ultimate Rewards points on a set of categories which change every three months. However, you'll only earn bonus rewards on the first $1,500 in spending each quarter. If you are able to hit the maximum each quarter, you'll earn an extra 21,000 Ultimate Rewards points each year (30,000 points minus the 9,000 points you'd normally earn on $6,000 of spending). In the long run, this can be better than using any remaining Chase slots on other lower-priority Chase cards, just to get a better signup bonus. Earn 5-10% in Rewards with Rotating Category Cards.
This U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve is useful to almost anyone who is trying to optimize their rewards, but it can be hard to get. You need an account (preferably a bank account) with U.S. Bank that has been open for at least 30 days, and you can't get approved if you have applied for too many recent credit cards. If you want the Altitude Reserve, you'll want to get it quickly, before you start signing up for too many other cards. If you have the space, you want to get it even before you start getting the Chase cards you need.
The Altitude Reserve has a $400 annual fee, but comes with an automatic $325 travel credit, that knocks the effective annual fee down to $75, and it also comes with 12 GoGo inflight wireless passes each year, and a few extra lounge visits (that can come in handy if you occasionally hit the Sapphire Reserve guest maximum).
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