Update: Hilton has revamped their co-branded credit card products, and the cards mentioned in this post are no longer available. You can find information on the new Hilton credit cards here.
Reader David asked the following on the “Ask Lucky” page of the blog, and I thought I’d answer it here as I think there are some larger questions at play:
I need help! Though I’ve used various travel rewards for years, I’ve never played multiple card and sign-up bonus games. But now I have an interesting confluence of circumstances:
1. I have $130,000 of spend (student loan that allows credit card payment for a 0.65% fee) and the cash to pay it immediately. In addition, I have $3000-$5000 of monthly spend.
2. I currently have about 201,000 USAA rewards points, 35,000 US Airways Dividend Miles, and 151,000 British Air Avios (A 100,000 mile British Air bonus was my first foray into point maximization. Unfortunately, I did not read the fine print carefully, and I split my $30K spend for the companion pass over two years, thus not qualifying.)
3. I’m getting married! And I’d like to pull off a ridiculous honeymoon. Would not be opposed to a round-the-world trip lasting up to one month.
What do you recommend? For airline rewards? For hotel? Thanks for your help.
Overall, this is a great setup, and even without putting his loan payments on credit cards David has $50,000-$60,000 a year he can charge on various cards. That means he should easily be able to meet minimum spends on several cards per year. The only thing that pains me a bit about his setup is that he spent enough on a USAA affiliated credit card to earn 200,000+ points with them. 😉
The key here is going to be to maximize the miles accrued, while also maximizing the potential value of those miles. Chasing large bonuses is great, and David can easily accrue a million points in a year, but if those are spread across 15 programs they may not be as useful. Too many people tend to over-diversify their mileage portfolios, which makes trip planning difficult.
So ideally I would try to stick to just a few points currencies, ideally ones that are flexible, so that they can easily be combined.
Ideally, David would be able to rack up enough miles for two first class tickets to just about anywhere in the world. Without knowing when exactly the honeymoon is planned for (or whether or not David’s fiance can apply for credit cards as well, which would really accelerate earnings), I might recommend the following cards over the next several months, given that David is interested in earning both airline miles and hotel points:
This card currently offers an amazing 100,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $10,000 within three months, plus $200 statement credit. The $450 annual fee isn’t waived for the first year, but that statement credit helps.
The 110,000 miles earned from signing up for this card and meeting the minimum spend would be enough for two one-way business class tickets to Southeast Asia. First class would be 67,500 per person, and David should be able to spend the additional ~$25,000 to top off that account once he’s met minimum spend on other cards.
These cards currently offer 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 within three months, and the $95 annual fee is waived the first year. This is a limited time increased sign-up bonus on the card, which is 20% higher than the normal bonus.
The Ink cards have generous category bonuses which help sole proprietorships and small businesses maximize points on everyday credit card spend, including 5x points at office supply stores, and on cell phones, internet, and cable TV, and double points on gas and hotels.
David also mentioned that he is associated with 30 LLCs. Assuming he is in a position within those LLCs where he can apply for credit cards, in my experience Chase will often issue the same person multiple business cards for different businesses. There will be some restriction as to how many you can apply for in the short term, though you should be able to pick up a card a month, if your credit score and business situation qualifies you.
I’m a bit shocked that David doesn’t already have this card, which offers 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $3,000 within three months, plus an additional 5,000 Ultimate Rewards points when you add an authorized user to the card that makes a purchase within three months. The annual fee is $95, waived the first year.
Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to Korean Air, United, Hyatt, and many other programs. The card is also great for everyday spend given that it offers double points on dining and travel. This is probably the most-used card in my wallet, and ideally David would be able to leverage this card for some of the wedding dining expenses as well.
Both the Ink and Sapphire Preferred cards accrue Ultimate Rewards points, which I find incredibly valuable due to their extensive transfer partners. David could easily earn 105,000 Ultimate Rewards points by signing up for one of the Ink cards in conjunction with the Sapphire Preferred (and even more if he maximizes the bonus categories). And based on David’s current business situation, it seems like he could get a lot more Ink cards than that, potentially.
He could likely pick up additional Ultimate Rewards earning cards later in the year, and by utilizing shopping portals and leveraging bonus categories it should be relatively easy to accrue Ultimate Rewards.
These could be added to his British Airways Avios, redeemed for first class on Singapore Airlines, or if he ends up with enough miles for the roundtrip tickets through other methods, could transfer points to Hyatt, so it really makes sense to earn as many Ultimate Rewards points as possible here.
Room with a view at the Grand Hyatt Cannes Hotel Martinez
This card offers 40,000 miles after spending $3,000 within 90 days, and the annual fee is $89, waived the first year.
Each point can be redeemed for one cent towards the cost of travel, and you get a 10% refund of redeemed miles, making each point worth 1.1 cents. On the redemption side, there is a bonus when you redeem for travel, so you can earn a pretty great 2.2% cash back towards travel for every dollar spent on the card.
This is also a great card to use in conjunction with award tickets on airlines that levy fuel surcharges, so can be a huge cost-saver, particularly with the large British Airways Avios balance David already has.
This card offers 50,000 points after the first purchase, and an additional 35,000 points after spending $2,500 on the card within 90 days, with a $75 annual fee.
As I’ve written about previously, the Club Carlson card has a ton of value, including 85,000 points after completing the minimum spend, a 40,000 point anniversary bonus, Gold status for as long as you have the card, and most importantly, the second night of award redemptions are free, potentially doubling the value of your points.
You earn 5x points per dollar spent on the card, so once you’ve spent $3,000 on the card you’ll have 100,000 points. Many of Club Carlson’s best hotels cost just 50,000 points per night, so that’s enough points for two sets of two nights at some of Club Carlson’s top properties. You can also redeem points for premium rooms and suites, which really increases the value of these points, so this would be a great option if David plans on visiting multiple destinations on his honeymoon.
Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card
Ultimately, I love this card for the two free weekend nights at most Hilton family properties after spending $2,500 within four months of account opening. The annual fee is $95, and these free night certificates are redeemable all the way up to Category 10 properties, potentially making this sign-up bonus worth the equivalent of 190,000 HHonors points.
So in terms of buying power, the value of these certificates has hugely increased compared to the buying power of HHonors points. Furthermore you get HHonors Gold status for as long as you have the card, which gets you free breakfast and internet. Depending on where they ultimately decide to travel, this could mean a huge cost savings on David’s honeymoon.
Sunset view from villa at Conrad Koh Samui
Having the resources to easily meet minimum spend on multiple cards in a year is awesome, and makes racking up miles much easier. That being said, it’s important to keep redemption rates in mind when deciding which cards to apply for, and how to allocate that spending.
But I would suggest he start applying for some of the cards with the bigger bonuses, and use the money he can spend on credit cards in order to meet the minimum spend on those cards in order to activate the bonuses. And in general if he can focus on Chase Ultimate Rewards points I’d say that would give him the most flexibility.
But he shouldn’t leave huge bonuses on the table, like the one offered by the Citi Executive AAdvantage Card, or skip hotel cards, since those would be valuable for his honeymoon as well.
What do you think? What cards or strategy would you recommend?