Monthly Archives: December 2015

  • 1

Beginner’s Guide Part 1: Getting Started and Choosing the Right Credit Card

Category : Uncategorized

I got involved in collecting credit card miles/points when a family member introduced it to me. I was skeptical and nervous. Learning the ropes, like anything in life, takes time. For some, this is a second, full-time job. For most, it’s about finding the best possible deal and saving the most money to take trips one otherwise wouldn’t take.

Beginner’s Guide Part 1: Getting Started and Choosing the Right Credit Card

Three Types of Credit Card Miles & Points

There are three major miles and points currencies:

  1. Transferable – This includes Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest points, and Citi ThankYou Points. All of these points can be transferred to a variety of airline or hotel partners. These types of points give you the greatest flexibility when redeeming miles with partners.
AMEX Mebership Rewards Transfer Partners

AMEX Mebership Rewards Transfer Partners

  1. Airline/Hotel- This includes all the airline and hotel currencies that can redeemed for award flights or hotel nights. Airline points allow you to redeem that airlines currency for their own flights or partner award flights.
Delta miles that can be redeemed on Delta flights and Sky Team partners.

Delta miles that can be redeemed on Delta flights and Sky Team partners.

  1. Fixed-value – This includes Barclay’s Arrival+, Citi ThankYou Points, US Bank FlexPerks and more. These currencies are fixed in the sense that you can redeem them towards travel at a fixed rate. Fixed-value points can be very useful for times when no flight or hotel awards are available.

*You’ll notice that Citi ThankYou points are listed under transferable and fixed-value. Citi ThankYou points transfer to various airlines, but you can also redeem them for travel through the ThankYou Portal. Your best redemptions through that portal will be on American Airlines.

Getting Started

If you’ve never had a credit card and need to build credit, try going with a no-fee credit card. Two  of the best no fee cards are:

  • Chase Freedom – This card has rotating quarters (see quarterly calendar here) for a variety of purchases that earn x5 per dollar. These points can be redeemed for cash back, but if you are looking to travel, hold onto those points for when you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred. The points earned on your Freedom can transfer to your Sapphire Preferred which can then be redeemed for travel.
  • American Express Everyday – This card is great for everyday spending, offering you a 20% bonus on purchases (up to $6,000 per year) if you make more than 20 purchases a month. It also offers x2 points on groceries (up to $6,000 per year). Don’t be scared by the fact that this is American Express. Sure they still have the Platinum and Gold cards, but the Everyday card is their entry, no fee card.

If you have established credit (even just one card, a mortgage or an auto loan), and want to jump in, go for a transferable points card:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred – Currently with an increased offer of 50,000 points, the Sapphire earns x2 points on dining and transportation (this includes subways, Uber/Lyft, gas and tolls).  This card will you allow you to transfer your hard earned points to airlines like United, British and Southwest and hotels like Hyatt. This card and it’s partners will offer you tremendous flexibility.
  • Citi ThankYou Premier – This card is Citi’s response to the Sapphire Preferred, offering users 3x points on travel, including gas, 2x on dining out and entertainment, as well as the ability to transfer to some useful airlines like Singapore and Air France.
  • American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card – Rounding out the big banks, this is AMEX’s equivalent card which earns 3x on flights, 2x on supermarkets, gas and restaurants, and the ability to transfer points to many airlines including Delta, Singapore, El-al and Air France.

With all these cards, some transfers are better than others and will depend on where you want to go. Subsequent Beginner’s Guides will detail some of the best uses of different currencies depending on where you want to travel to.

Once you’ve picked up one of these cards, you can get into specific airline and/or hotel currencies

Sign-Up Bonuses

amex 100k

The coveted 100,000 AMEX Platinum Offer

A sign-up bonus is the promotional offer the bank is using to encourage you to apply for their product. More often than not, the earning of a sign-up bonus is dependent on spending a certain amount of money within 3 months from approval date of the card (sometimes it can be 4 or 5 months). The spending requirement, or spend hurdle, can range anywhere from $750 – $20,000, with most falling on the lower end of that range.

After you satisfy the sign-up bonus requirements by spending the designated amount of money, you’ll have a nice, fat pile of fresh points or miles. Sign-up bonuses typically range from 25,000 – 50,000, but can go as low as 10,000 or as high as 140,000 points.

Sign-up bonuses are always important as they can be a great way to boost or start off your miles and points balance.

Which card is right for me?

2200500024_33038620af_o

The credit card travel rewards market is a crowded space. Luckily for you, the savvy consumer can take advantage of the best offers. The banks are working hard to make sure that their card is the first one you go for everytime you make a purchase.

Everyone has their own travel goals and different cards will suit users differently. When you reach for a card in your wallet, try to use the one that will earn the greatest return. (NOTE: This does not include business cards.)

Here’s a matrix by spending category and/or type of card.

Category
Card Groceries Gas Transportation Air Travel Hotel Dining Entertainment
Chase Sapphire Preferred 2x 2x 2x 2x
Chase Freedom Quarter 2: 5x Quarter 1: 5x Quarter 1: 5X Quarter 3: 5x
Citi Prestige 3x 3x 3x 3x 2x 2x
Citi Premier 3x 3x 3x 3x 2x 2x
AMEX Everyday Preferred 3x 2x
AMEX Premier Rewards Gold 2x 3x 2x

If you have a rough estimate where you do most of your weekly spending, the above matrix can help you decide which card to use to maximize your rewards.

What about the hotel and airline cards?

Hotel and airline cards are a staple for anyone getting involved in the earning of miles in points. However, for your everyday spending, they tend not to offer more than 1x per dollar spent. The above cards will generally earn you more than that on your typical, everyday spending.

The one exception to this is that if you’ve signed up for a hotel or airline card and need to reach a spending requirement for the sign-up bonus, you should probably be using that card.

What’s Coming Next:

Here’s a brief summary of what other guides you can expect to read in the coming weeks:

  • Beginner’s Guide Part 2: Airline and Hotel Cards
  • Beginner’s Guide Part 3: Business Credit Cards
  • Beginner’s Guide Part 4: Crash Course in Award Flight Redemptions – Alliances, Cheapest Redemptions and Best Uses
  • Beginner’s Guide Part 5: Redeeming Your Points for Hotel Nights
  • Beginner’s Guide Part 6: Odds & Ends

Wishing you all a wonderful and happy New Year!

-The Miner


  • 4

Let’s Talk About Credit

Category : Uncategorized

DISCLAIMER: I am not a credit analyst. The information below is based on my experience and the experience of others who earn miles and points.

Yesterday you read about the opening of 20 credit cards in one calendar year. One of the first questions that springs to some minds is: “20 credit cards? Won’t that decimate your credit score?” Let me explain.

FICO Credit Score

Your credit score is made up of 5 influencing factors, which impact and make up your credit score, known as FICO. These factors will contribute to your creditworthiness. The more creditworthy you are, the more likely you are to approved for a credit card or various types of loans. 

  1. Payment History – 30% 
  2. Credit Utilized – 35%
  3. Length of Credit History—15%
  4. New Credit—10%
  5. Types of Credit—10%
Post 3.1 - credit pie

FICO Credit Pie

Credit Related Myths

Let’s get some myths out of the way:

Myth 1: Paying the minimum balance is okay.

FALSE

Paying a minimum balance means that you are: paying late fees, therefore taking away from the positive gain of the points you’ve earned; seriously hurting your payment history (30% of the pie!), and appearing to be borrowing more money than you have.

Myth 2: Won’t applying for a new credit card seriously damage my credit?

FALSE

Every time you apply for a credit card–or any type of credit–your score is dinged a few points. This falls under the “New Credit” category. The nice thing is that your score recovers pretty quickly (think 3-4 weeks) from those applications. You can minimize the impact of credit pulls by applying for multiple cards from the same bank on the same day.

Expert Tip! Applying for a Chase, American Express or Bank of America Card? Apply for two within the same calendar day and your credit pulls will merge from 2 (or 3) to 1 on the report.

Myth #3: Using my entire credit line is fine, as long as I pay it back on time.

FALSE

The biggest percentage of the pie is ‘credit utilized’. My recommendation would be to have no more than 10% of your total credit (amongst all your cards) post at any given time. This doesn’t mean if you have a $10,000 credit line you can’t use $8,000; rather, this means if you’re using $8,000 of that total line, be sure to pay off $7,000 or preferably more, (so your balance is $1,000 →  <10% of your total credit used).

Myth #4: Denials hurt my credit score.

FALSE

The only part about a denial that hurts your score is the credit pull, or “inquiry”. If you’re not approved, you’re not adding new credit or lowering the average age of accounts.

Credit Inquires and New Accounts

Let’s take a moment to talk about credit inquires. Every time you apply for credit, the bank will pull your credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus. Credit inquires (only 10% of the pie) slightly effect your overall score. Don’t worry–even with a denial (Myth #4), your score will bounce back.

Opening up new accounts is not completely risk-free.

New accounts on the other hand, do affect your score. They also fall under the “new credit” slice, but more importantly, they affect the average age of accounts–15% of the pie. Every time you successfully open up a new credit account, it will lower your average age. Tools like Credit Sesame/Karma show you your average age.

The two most important factors affecting your credit score and health will always be your amount of credit used and history of on-time payments. Keep those in check and you’ll be on your way to a health credit lifestyle.

Tools I Use

There are three major credit bureaus: Experian (EX), Transunion (TU), and Equifax (EQ).

Monitoring if your real credit score and report costs a fee, but now several banks and credit card issuers provider their customers with free scores updated every few weeks:

  • AMEX: Provides access to Experian credit score
  • Chase: Provides access to Experian credit score only for Slate cardholders
  • Citi: Provides access to Equifax score with many of their products
  • Discover: Provides access to Transunion score with many of their products
  • Barclays: Provides access to Transunion score with many of their products
fico tu barc

My Transunion score, provided free by Barclays

Chances are you have a card from one of the above banks. Don’t be super concerned by your score–checking it everyday will only drive you crazy, but it’s a good tool for monitoring nonetheless.

Free websites like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame do not provide you your real FICO Score, but they are great places for monitoring your EQ and TU credit reports–they’ll show any delinquencies, late payments, new accounts, percentage of credit utilized and recent inquiries on EQ and TU. Signing up is free and it’s a good way to keep eyes on your report.

Here is a great resource that shows you user data on what score people have had when applying for certain cards. You search based on bureau, state and/or name of card. I typically search by state (New York) and the card I’m looking to apply for:

Credit Pulls Database

Here are the results:

Credit Pulls Database results

Everything listed here is an approval. It goes without saying that not everyone who’s ever applied for this card has gotten approved, but it’s a good place to start if you’re on the fence about applying for a specific card. The comments also give further information. Can be pretty useful.

Creditworthiness & Consumer Responsibility

The above information can help you repair your creditworthiness if it’s been damaged, but also help to allay your fears about applying for credit cards or anything else related to your credit health.

The most important aspect to maintaining a solid credit score, best rates and highest chances for approval is to be responsible with the credit allocated to you as the consumer. The more responsible you are with the credit, the less likely the banks will view you as a risk. Less risk means more approvals for you, and ultimately more rewards.

There’s a lot of information (854 words!), but one last piece of information: if you’re going to be applying for a large loan (refinance, home equity, mortgage, etc.) you may want to think about the volume of credit card applications you are, or will be pushing.

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments!

-The Miner

Up next on Mining for Miles: “Beginner’s Guide Part 1: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started”.


  • 7

2015: A Year In Review, Earning and Burning Over 1 Million Miles

Category : Uncategorized

It was a tremendous year for loyalty program and credit card enthusiasts. There were some ups, but many downs. Manufactured spending opportunities withered (goodbye, Redbird) while many others went underground to keep their tactics hidden. Delta continued to butcher its award chart and signaled the possibility that they would go revenue-based (like Southwest and JetBlue).

The last of the great airline mergers between the legacy airlines occurred and, to American and US Airways’ credit, it went off smoothly. We knew that it was only a matter of time before American would devalue their award chart—and they did, but it was not as severe as we thought it would be.

As major banks upped the competitiveness and wallet-worthiness of their cards (hello Citi Premier and Prestige and American Express Gold Card), other banks began to clamp down on churners—Bank of America and Chase. We saw an increase of really solid sign-ups including the semi-public 100,000 AMEX Platinum offers and 50,000 Citi ThankYou Points on both the Prestige and Premier cards.

I’ve been involved in this hobby since July 2013, after graduating college. The first credit card I opened was the Chase Slate—not a points-earning card, but a no-fee card I knew I can keep forever. Six months later I applied for the British Airways and Chase Freedom cards. Approved for both, I took another six months before I applied for my next cards. And then six months later, another few cards.

In 2014 I applied for, and was approved for 9 credit cards.

Fast forward to 2015: I more than doubled that with 22 applications and 20 approvals.  It also helps to have a significant other who can open up cards as well. She applied for, and was approved for 9 out of 10. In January I made a resolution to crank up the number of applications from 2014. There was some risk involved, a lot of creative thinking on how to reach the required spends, but in the end, the numbers say everything.

So without further ado…

A year in numbers:

Name Earned Redeemed Type Comments
Delta Skymiles 153,000 35,000 Airline
AAdvantage Miles 176,000 207,500 Airline Redemptions made in 2015 but earned 2014
Alaska MileagePlan 117,500 57,500 Airline
United Mileage Plus 115,000 30,000 Airline
Southwest RR 110,000 110,000 Airline Companion pass
British Airways 48,000 Airline Redemptions made in 2015 but earned 2014
Hawaiian 51,000 AIrline
AMEX MR 200,000 140,000 Transferable
Citi ThankYou Points 106,000 104,000 Transferable Redemptions made in 2015 but earned 2014
Chase Ultimate Rewards 60,000 Transferable To be redeemed
Hilton HHonors 49,000 Hotel To be redeemed
Marriot Rewards 166,000 Hotel To be earned
IHG Rewards 81,000 Hotel
Hyatt Gold Passport 12,000 Hotel
Starwood Preferred 4000 Hotel
Arrival+ 46,000 44,000 Cash back
Total 1,382,500 840,000
Number of flights 36
Distance flown 47,458

*Two Hyatt and two Hilton nights were also earned via credit card sign ups
So looking at the numbers, I still have a decent stash of points/miles—enough for any last minute trip to Chicago or wherever, that we would need to take. (Notice the lack of Ultimate Rewards earned this year—a post for another time.)

The most exciting thing for me to see that the approximate distance flown is enough to go around the world at least once!

GCMAP 2015

Looking Forward:

For 2016, I have our travels booked until September which clocks in at 35,000 miles.

With some well-timed applications and the proper card(s) for spending, you too can go to these places, and more. Future posts will include best uses of miles, how to earn and where to spend, trip reports and more.

Thanks for your support and I can’t wait to see what next year brings!

-The Miner

Tomorrow on Mining for Miles—“20 Cards?! But what about your credit score?!”


  • 2

Booking Last Minute Awards: How I Went to Paris With One Day’s Notice

Category : Fees

Paris was awesome. It’s a beautiful city and our first time to Europe. With a plethora of kosher options and world-famous museums, it’s a great way to be introduced to the Old World.

I can continue to wax poetic about the City of Love, but I’d rather tell you how I got there using miles and points and more importantly, avoiding “close-in” booking fees. “Close-in” fees are fees airlines charge when you book an award ticket within 21 days of departure. Not all airlines charge this ridiculous fee, however.

Here’s an example from United on January 11, 2016—15 days from now:

post 1.1

Notice a tax charge of $80.60.

If you clicked the details you’d see this:

post 1.2

Now notice what happens if I search for a flight 21+ days from today, say, January 27:

post 1.3

Beautiful! Standard $5.60 taxes on U.S. originating award tickets.

So how can you avoid the fees? Book with the following airlines to avoid paying a fee of $75:

  • Delta
  • JetBlue
  • Southwest
  • Alaska Airlines
  • British Airways

Avoid:

  • American Airlines
  • United Airlines

There are a lot of options to avoid the close-in booking fees. Unfortunately, United and American are pretty popular programs for redeeming miles.

We left New York on Thursday, December 10 and I booked our flights on Wednesday! I used my Alaska Airline miles. The associated fees came out to a total of $36.20 for two passengers. That’s about $113.80 saved on fees if I had booked my flight using American or United miles.

Flights:

Currently American Airlines has generous off-peak prices to Europe for 20,000 AAdvantage miles each way, per person. American has a close partnership with Alaska, and those off-peak prices carry over to booking American awards using Alaska miles.

Hands down, off-peak awards to Europe using either of those mileage currencies is the cheapest way to get to Europe. Act fast, though; with American Airline’s award chart change looming on March 22, 2016, the off-peak days from U.S.-Europe will shrink from 212 to 107 (the award is also increasing by a marginal 2,500 miles).

If you don’t mind flying in coach, it’s a short 7 hour flight from New York to Paris.

For the return, I transferred 90,000 Membership Rewards to Aeroplan, Air Canada’s loyalty program. At the time of booking they charged 45,000 per person, per direction for business class seats from Europe to the United States. Unfortunately, Aeroplan also went through a change in their award chart. The same award now costs a bit more at 55,000 per person, per direction. Still not horrible, but more expensive than I originally paid.

Aeroplan passes on fuel surcharges when leaving Europe (as do other programs), but I used my miles to fly on United, direct from Paris to Newark. There are still European departure taxes, but Aeroplan does not pass on fuel surcharges on United flights.

Hotels:

My favorite hotel credit card is the Hyatt card from Chase. They have an extremely generous sign-up bonus, only requiring $1,000 spent. The sign-up includes two free night certificate at any Hyatt worldwide. Yes, you read that correctly. As long as a point’s night is available at your hotel you can redeem the sign-up certificates. Hyatt sign-up nights are best used at their top-tier/high-end properties (most notably those in the Andaz or Park Hyatt family). I redeemed my certificates at the Park Hyatt Vendome, a category 7 hotel.

Paid nights typically run anywhere between $650-1000 USD or 30,000 points. At the time of our stay, rooms were going for €749, or ~$820, giving us tremendous value out of our Hyatt sign-up nights.

Our third night was at another Hyatt hotel, the Hotel du Louvre, where I redeemed 10,000 points and $112 in cash. I would have sprung for another night at the Park Hyatt, but most of our time in Paris was NOT in the hotel, so we just needed a comfortable and clean place to crash.

Doing the Math

Item Approximate Cash Price Points + taxes/cash
JFK-CDG, coach x2 $900 40,000 + $36.20
CDG-EWR, business x2 $3,700 90,000 + $120.40
Park Hyatt x2 $1,600 2 Sign-up Certificates
Hotel du Louvre $300 10,000 + $112
Total $6,500 140,000 Points + 2 sign-up nights + $268.60
 
Approximate total savings $6,231

Now that’s how you get it done!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more posts on how I earned the points via credit card sign ups, and how I determined which points would be best to use, over others, for this trip.

-M4M