“Little brother” – heh. The title paints him to sound like I’m talking about a 10 year old… but he’s 23 (almost), living on his own in Aiken, SC, and ready to dive full force into the points and miles world (finally!). Granted the fact that he has grown up in a points-and-miles-obsessed family, he still didn’t really “get it” (like some of these people)… or have as much as an interest at all… until something “extraordinary” happened last weekend.
Last weekend, at FTU DC I was surprised to find out that I had won United MileagePlus Premier Gold status during the raffle. Since I have already passed the gold mark this year on my way to my Premier 1K status goal, I decided to gift the status. At first, my initial thought was to gift the status to Dad, but then I had an even better idea – I thought to myself, “Hey… maybe if Anthony gets to experience a little bit of the perks of having status, it’ll feed his desire to appreciate points and miles and he’ll want to learn more”.
To frame the story, earlier in January, Anthony landed his dream job right after graduating college. Fortunately for him, he’s been traveling heavily for business on US Airways, crediting his miles to his United MileagePlus account. His new Gold status with United will allow him the perks of having domestic lounge access via a status match with Turkish Airlines, and when he flies on paid United tickets, he’ll even score a chance of a complimentary upgrade to first class, something he has yet to experience.
After his excitement level heightened when I told him he’d be getting the Premier Gold status, I received a message from him I’d never thought I’d see in a million years. It read something like this: “Ang, what’s your opinion on the Priority Club Visa? I want to start getting travel credit cards so that I can visit Bangkok and fly first class this year”.
Two things about his message made me proud: 1. He had a specific travel goal in mind, and 2. He reached out to big sister for advice before doing it on his own. Good job, Ant!
So, if you’re also new to the game, or perhaps watching from the sidelines and want help with your first churn, follow along and pay attention to the pointers at the end of this post. You can even send me an email and I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction based on your own travel goals.
The first thing I told him to do was to check his credit score for free using Credit Sesame and Credit Karma. Since he is 23, I feared that he might not have a solid credit history yet to start churning. But… Dad had added my brother and me as authorized users back in the day to help us build credit. His score was in the 770 range. That’s good news.
Next, I told him to scrap the idea of the Priority Club Visa and to instead focus on a card(s) that will net him some valuable airline miles instead (ahem, United miles). Since it is his first churn, I didn’t want to overwhelm him with ridiculous minimum spend requirements or too many cards. As a side note, he already has the Starwood American Express and the Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage Visa.
The first card I recommended was the United MileagePlus Visa since we’re a United family by default (EWR). I received a targeted offer in the mail for the MileagePlus Visa with a sign-up bonus of 50,000 UA miles that I passed along to him, which is higher than the current 30,000-mile public offer for the MileagePlus Visa. Some people (myself included) have had success in asking Chase to match them to the higher offer if one should become available within 90 days of applying. To learn more about that by my example, you may take a look at my recent post – Chase Matched me to the 30,000 Freedom. As always, YMMV.
My brother also did some “homework” on his own and was considering applying for my favorite Chase card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred. However, I told him to hold off on that for now and here’s why: the United MileagePlus Visa and the Chase Sapphire Preferred are both Chase personal cards, and I generally do not recommend applying for two of the same types of cards per issuer when it comes to maximizing your chances of approval.
Instead, I told him to go for the Chase Ink Plus, also an Ultimate Rewards card, that comes with a higher 50,000-point sign-up bonus. He said he was vaguely familiar with the Ink business cards, but didn’t exactly know the difference between the Ink Bold and Ink Plus cards. I can imagine that there are readers out there who are also wondering the difference as well, so I’ll save my explanation about the two cards for a future post this week.
I’m keeping his churn quite “mini” with only two cards because I want him to ease into this in a way that’s feasible for him. When he starts getting used to managing multiple cards, he might be inclined to add more cards to his wallet. Right now, I believe I’m at 14, personally.
In the meantime, here’s some advice that I passed along to Anthony, and I’ll pass it along to anyone who can use it as well:
First Time Churner Advice – Tips & Pointers:
- First things first – Know Your Credit Score: Before you get started applying for your new travel credit cards, be sure to know your credit score and monitor it monthly. Sure, there are many programs out there, but many of them come with hefty monthly fees after the free trial period is up. I choose to monitor my credit score for free using CreditSesame and CreditKarma. When I say they’re free, I mean they’re free; you don’t even need a credit card to secure your sign up.
- Have Specific Travel Goals in Mind: I always tell people that miles are useless unless you plan on using them. This one is easy, and chances are you already have a travel goal in mind since you’re considering churning for miles to begin with. Do you dream of flying first class to your beach-front oasis in Maui? Or are you yearning to have your entire extended family join you for a family reunion in Orlando? Perhaps you want to visit a celebrity hot-spot like The Maldives. Whatever your dream plans are, be sure to jot them down and create a game plan. Having a specific end-result will help you create a realistic plan that’s personalized for you and your family’s travel needs.
- Are You a Responsible Spender?: I can not stress this enough. Earning miles through credit cards is NOT for you if you can not pay your bills on time and in full each month. I’d never recommend travel credit cards to someone who feels they are not a responsible spender. Definitely track your spend and link all of your accounts to Mint.com to make your life easier if needed. Spend within your means, and you and your credit cards will have a long, fruitful, and mutually-satisfying relationship. I promise.
- Meet Minimum Spend: Most of the current sign-up bonuses out there are only available after some sort of minimum-spend threshold is met. It’s senseless to apply for a card and lose out on a lucrative sign-up bonus by failing to be aware of deadlines. Please be very aware of the spend requirement and deadline and see if it realistically makes sense for you. What I personally find that works is pre-paying health insurance expenses, auto insurance, etc on a new card to help me quickly meet the spend requirement needed.
- The Application Process: When applying for new cards, I usually apply for a 2-4 at a time from an array of issuers to lessen to “credit inquiry pull”. Multiple applications processed in the same day generally have a higher chance of approval because the 2-5 point hit per application does not usually show immediately, and card issuers can not usually tell that you’ve applied for different cards within that same time frame. Of course, a healthy credit score is the key ingredient to maximize your chance of approval for travel credit cards, but don’t be afraid to apply for multiple cards if your credit is good since credit inquiries have a minimal effect on healthy credit reports. In fact, maintaining a good relationship with credit cards can actually increase your score all together.