Disclaimer: The information provided on FreePassengers.com is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered legal or financial advice. You should consult with a financial advisor or other professional to determine what may be best for your individual needs.
This mini-guide is part of our Beginner's Guide Series, see the full Beginner's Guide guide here.
Now that you’ve learned the basics of credit card rewards, it’s time to apply for your first card! Start with these steps below and you’ll soon be piling up the points to book your trip:
1) Sign Up For Travel Rewards Programs
Step one is to make sure you earn points on all the travel programs that interest you, and that begins with signing up for those programs.
There’s dozens of programs and signing up for all of them is not realistic, nor is it necessary. However, you should sign up for all the programs that you expect to use. For example, if you typically fly on United Airlines and stay at Hyatt properties, then you should sign up for both MileagePlus and Hyatt Gold Passport (their respective loyalty programs).
JOINING UNITED AIRLINE'S MILEAGEPLUS PROGRAM WILL TAKE YOU JUST A COUPLE MINUTES.
And if you ever plan to book a flight or stay at a hotel with a program you don’t have an account with, make sure you sign up for their loyalty program first to ensure you get the points. Even if it’s a program you don’t expect to frequently use, points can add up and the few minutes it takes to sign up could come in handy later on.
2) Get Organized
It may be daunting to think of having to juggle various cards, track how many points you have with every program, and make sure you don’t forget about any expiration dates. Fortunately, point managers are here to make it very easy for you. Being organized is key to success when optimizing your travel rewards, and this is a good way to start.
There are many great point managers out there, such as AwardWallet, Points.com, and TripIt. The earlier you start plugging in all your info, the easier it will be to keep your data updated—so create an account before you apply for your first card.
SIGN UP FREE AT POINTS.COM
3) Plan Your Strategy & Pick The Right Cards
Where and when do you want to go? And what are the best hotel and flight options to make the trip possible?
Answering these two questions will require a little research, but it will help you identify which cards to apply for, and how much time you’ll need to accrue the necessary points. For example, let’s say you and your significant other want to travel to Hawaii from New York next winter. You might find that United Airlines has the best award rates and Hyatt offers the best hotel options. So, if you both got the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (currently offering a 50,000 point sign-up bonus, transferrable to United Airlines at a 1:1 ratio) and the Hyatt Visa Card (40,000 point sign-up bonus), you would be able to fly to Maui round-trip and stay four nights at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa for a grand total of $172.40 in fees. That same trip would cost you $3,975+ in cash!
The research will really pay off. You can read more on figuring out your strategy with our strategy guide.
4) Know The Details
Every card issuer has different eligibility rules for its cards—both for being approved and then for redeeming sign-up bonuses. It’s essential that you know about these rules before applying to ensure you don’t get rejected or miss out on the bonus. Some of the more noteworthy rules include:
Credit Score: The best rewards cards (airline, hotel, and point cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred) usually require that applicants have excellent credit. You’ll be able to find good cash-back cards with looser credit requirements, but the most lucrative travel offers will tend to be more selective.
Business Credit Cards: As the name dictates, these cards are for business-owners. You don’t need to own a huge business, or necessarily make any money at all (if it’s early in your business’s life), but you do need to have a for-profit business to be considered and may have to provide proof to back it up.
American Express Lifetime Rule: To curb card churning, American Express will only let a user get one sign-up bonus per credit card per lifetime on each of their personal credit cards. Make sure that if you apply for an AMEX card, it comes with a high sign-up bonus—you won’t be able to receive the bonus for the same card ever again.
2 Year Rule: Most other issuers are less strict, but normally still only let you get the sign-up bonus once every two years. So if you sign up and get a bonus today, you’ll have to wait two years from the date you received the bonus to be eligible again for that same card’s sign-up offer.
Chase 5/24 Rule: In 2016, Chase implemented a 5/24 rule. This rule essentially states that users who have opened 5 or more credit card accounts in the last 24 months (from any issuer) won’t be approved for any Chase credit card applications. Chase offers a lot of great products beyond it’s own branded cards (such as the United Airlines, Hyatt Hotels, and Southwest Airlines cards) that all fall under this rule, so keeping track of account opening dates, and timing applications properly, will ensure you don’t miss out on a great offer. Credit card pre-approvals, which you can inquire about at any Chase branch, have been a successful workaround to this rule.
Applying is easy. You can apply online in just a few minutes and often get a response just as quickly. Cards usually arrive in the mail within 1-2 weeks.
Although immediate approvals are common, sometimes the issuer will need additional information to consider your application. For this reason, it’s recommended to apply during business hours so that you can immediately call the issuer—while the best staff is working—and address any of their questions.
At FreePassengers, we always appreciate if you apply through our referral links—that’s how we pay the bills to keep the site running :)
6) Sign Up For Dining Programs
Dining programs are a very easy way to earn extra points for dining out. Once you sign up for a program—let’s say MileagePlus Dining, United Airlines’ program—all you have to do is add the credit card(s) of your choice to your account and use it at an eligible restaurant. You’ll receive extra United Airlines miles for every dollar spent. Easy as that!
Most airlines and hotels offer dining programs, so if you’re planning a trip and already know which airline or hotel you’ll be redeeming at, sign up for its dining program to help reach your goal faster.
DON'T MISS OUT ON THE SIGN-UP BONUS AT UNITED MILEAGEPLUS DINING
7) Take Advantage Of All Spend Opportunities
Every single point you earn can get you a bit closer to your goal, so it’s in your best interest to embrace every opportunity to accumulate them. Use your credit card for all expenses possible (avoid using cash unless necessary!) and keep an eye out for additional point-earning opportunities, like special deals and point giveaways.
By keeping travel rewards top of mind, you’ll see your points add up fast and soon be on your way. Happy travels!