2016 Travel Hacking Wrap Up
It’s the end of 2016 which means it’s time to look back and see how my travel hacking journey has gone this year. 2016 was the beginning of my journey and I think it has gone pretty well overall. I got approved for 4 cards and only got declined for one. My credit score has gone up almost 20 points to 762 and I’m well on my to learning how to use all these points I’ve gathered.
My credit history has dipped below 5 years which has had a negative effect. I overcame this with my better credit utilization, improved account mix and higher credit limit. Keep in mind that this score is from Credit Sesame which is an estimate. The overall trend though is useful and the factors used are relevant.
I started off very conservative. First I signed up for services such as Credit Karma and Credit Sesame to get an understanding of where my credit score was. I needed to get an idea of what I would be able to apply for. My score was around 745 or at least that was the estimate.
My score was higher than expected and I suspect it was largely due to not missing any payments on my student loans; an old best buy card (accidentally let this close :/); and two credit cards that I had applied for in 2014. A Chase Amazon card and a credit card tied to my bank account.
My next step was to do a lot of research on the available cards and bonuses. There was a lot of information to try to understand in the beginning so I would have to lean on the recommendations I could find for the best cards. I knew that I was only going to apply for one card to start off with and wanted something I could bring to Brazil.
I would need a card with no foreign transaction fees if I was going to bring it to Brazil. The card would also need a high bonus with a flexible spend. This led me to the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. At the time it was actually between this and the Barclay Card Arrival+ card but Chase won out. If you’re interested here is a video that actually chose the Barclaycard over Chase.
There were a lot of reasons I wanted to go with the Chase Sapphire preferred. Chase’s 5/24 rule was a major factor. Chase seemed to have the best cards and since I didn’t want to get locked out of them I would have to go for those first.
Also, as I mentioned above, I wanted a card with no foreign transaction fees.The Sapphire preferred does not have foreign transaction fees. It also has flexible point spending in their portal and a great lineup of transfer partners. The card is also really cool (it’s metal).
I applied for the card in early March and was approved. I quickly hit the minimum spend with planned purchases of plane tickets to Ireland and Brazil as well as my program fees for IVHQ.
My total balance by the end of April was over 60k Ultimate rewards points. Included in that is the points from spending and the 5k bonus for an authorized user.
I had finally did it. I got a massive bonus that had a value of at least $750 and would soon be on my way to traveling the world for free. 😀
Unfortunately, I had run into a period where there were no attractive bonuses to sign-up for, summer. Everything seemed to be on the low end and I still wanted to focus on Chase cards. For the sake of progress though I broke down and decided to go for the American Airlines AAdvantage card. It had a sub-par bonus of 30k miles but it only required $1k in spending. I would be able to hammer through this with Inventory purchases for my Amazon FBA business.
And I did. I applied and got approved and burned through the minimum spend. As an added bonus I would be able to get a free checked bag and enjoy group 1 boarding. It’s too bad I didn’t use either on my flight to Brazil as I only had a carry-on and boarded last (I wasn’t paying attention :p). In the future though I will get a 10% discount on award flight bookings.
Round two had another low point. I decided to give applying for a business card a try and got denied. I had applied for the Chase Ink Plus because of it’s bonus and that I could transfer the points to my chase account. Unfortunately, I did not get approved.
On the bright side Chase does not report business denials as a hard pull on personal credit reports.
After I got back from Brazil the landscape was starting to see some big changes. Marriott and SPG were merging which made those cards look attractive. But more importantly, Chase released the Sapphire Reserve. The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with a 100k point bonus on a $4k spend, a $300 travel credit, $100 credit toward global entry/TSA precheck, and a free Priority Pass Select membership. All of this comes with a whopping Annual fee of $450, not waived the first year.
It took me an additional month of thinking before signing up to this card. The determining factor? The travel credit. The travel credit is based on a calendar year meaning if I use it before my December statement then I get another $300 credit in January. As long as it is planned spending then I make out with $600 in travel credits for $450. And that’s ignoring all the other bonuses to the card.
By late November I had decided to apply and got approved. It was an exciting day 🙂
I had planned on meeting the minimum spend by purchasing inventory but my warehouse stopped taking shipments until the New Year so I still have to meet the spend. In order to make sure I would have enough time I called Chase and they told me I had until my February statement. Plenty of time. I’m looking forward to my 100k points.
It’s not over till it’s Over
About a week after I got the Sapphire Reserve Chase released the Ink Preferred. Their new business card, it came with a glorious 80k points on $5k spend and earned 3 points per dollar on advertising. It was time to try again.
I applied for the card…and got a message saying I would get a response in 10 days. This was similar to the last time and a walk around the forums would tell me that 10 days meant I was getting denied.
Sure enough, I got a letter saying I was denied.
But it’s not over til it’s over. I had 30 days to call for reconsideration. There’s not a lot out there to help with calling recon but I found what I could. I read everything and then sat on it for a bit. Calling a real person is scary, especially if their going to grill me about my business.
But what did I have to lose? So I called and spoke to a really nice lady. We had a long discussion about my business. I got asked a lot of questions and eventually she said it just had to get a second look and I would receive an answer in 7 days.
Seven days later I got a letter in the mail. I had been approved!
I haven’t actually used the card yet as it’s solely a business card and I haven’t bought any inventory yet. I’m hoping I can use it mostly with the new private label product I’m developing but I don’t think I’ll have enough time.
Let’s wrap things up with a quick summary of where things are at and my plans for early 2017.
I currently have about 80k Chase points and 40k AA miles. I’m also working on another 180k chase points. I got big plans this year so this is really going to come in handy and I can’t wait to learn all the ways to spend these miles. So far I’ve paid $450 in annual fees but that’s going to be totally offset by the travel credits.
I’m also sitting on an invitation to the AMEX Business Platinum card with a 100k bonus after $5k spend. I’m not sure yet if I will be able to meet that spend yet (or want to pay the fee) so I haven’t applied. We’ll see how things go with the two Chase cards first. I also want to take a good look at the SPG and Marriott cards. I got my eyes set on the JW Marriott in Rio and a Southwest Companion pass. Edit: Southwest has since shut down this option 🙁
January will also give me the opportunity to make my first decision on how to deal with my first Annual fee. The Chase Sapphire Preferred fee is in February and I don’t want to pay. The reserve is so much better. Hopefully, I can downgrade it to a Chase Freedom and get the 5X rotating categories with no annual fee. This would let me keep my credit history with the card.
As we begin 2017 I am also able to look back and reflect on my 5/24 status as that will greatly affect my decisions going forward. As of this month, only 3 cards should count towards 5/24. All of the ones I applied for this year. The rest were 2014 or before. I’ll make sure to double check with Chase’s new Credit Journey website before making any applications though.
I’ll also be looking to prioritize Cards revolving around OneWorld Alliance members. All the points I have allow me to work well within Oneworld. The AAdvantage card gave me plenty of points to use on American and my Chase points can be transferred to British Airways as Avios points. From there I’m pretty sure I can book on anyone in the alliance by transferring points within them.
That’s it for now. Travel hacking has turned out great so far. If you have any suggestions or corrections leave a comment below. Until then I will leave you with this..