The allure of credit card sign-up bonuses is hard to beat, but not everyone wants to play the sign-up bonus game for the long haul. If you’re burned out on sign-up bonuses, here’s how you can get the most out of the cards you already have.
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Earning free travel is a simple feat if you’re willing to sign up for a new travel credit card.
That’s because most travel and rewards credit cards offer a sign-up bonus you can earn if you meet a minimum spending requirement within a specified length of time – usually something like 50,000 points if you spend $3,000 within three months.
The allure of sign-up bonuses is hard to beat, partly because they are so lucrative but also because they’re so easy to pursue. And there’s such an abundance of rewards credit cards in the market that you can pursue bonuses for months – or even years – on end.
How to maximize the cards you already have
Sign-up bonus fatigue and limitations
But not everyone wants to play the sign-up bonus game for the long haul – and not everyone can. Some card issuers have issued limitations on who can earn their sign-up bonuses and how often, for starters.
“Once upon a time, a miles and points enthusiast could open a card, spend enough on the card to receive the lucrative sign-up bonus, then cancel the card before the next annual fee is charged,” said Jun Yun, the travel rewards expert behind Getting Away with Points. “The days of being able to apply and getting approved for multiple cards every few months are coming to an end.”
For example, American Express has a “once per lifetime” policy that limits consumers to one welcome bonus per each of their cards only once. Chase also rolled out a somewhat cryptic rule in 2016 that limits the number of new cards consumers can have to five within the last 24 months in order to qualify for their offers. Barclays and Citi have also instituted their own policies, tightening up requirements for consumers who sign up for too many cards at once.
And even if you’re able to earn an endless string of sign-up bonuses, not everyone else can or wants to. Jacob Wade, a nomadic father of three who is living with his family in an RV, says he is making do with the cards he has while taking time off to travel with his family.
“I don’t have a job, so I can’t qualify for new cards,” he said. Obviously, listing an income of $0 isn’t going to look good on a credit card application.
Fortunately, Wade had the foresight to plan a rewards strategy before he left his job.
“Just before we left on our one-year road trip, my wife and I applied for two Capital One Spark Cash for Business cards,” he said.
Each of them earned a $500 sign-up bonus after spending $4,500 on their cards within three months of account opening. They used their bonuses to pay for tickets to Disney World.
Since then, he said, they’ve been putting all their expenses on their cards to take advantage of the card’s 2% cash back on everything they buy.
“Since we’re traveling in an RV, our campground fees are all on the cards as well as all bills and food,” he said.
How to maximize the cards you already have
Whether you’re tired of dealing with minimum spending requirements, don’t have a job or worry about the implications of too many credit cards, there are plenty of ways to maximize your current roster of rewards credit cards. It all starts with being intentional with your spending, but you should also take heed of special promotions that can yield more points over time.
See related: 7 ways to attract targeted credit card offers
1. Use your card’s bonus categories and perks
Evan and Nikayla Sutherland of Pullman, Washington, have three cash-back credit cards with different earning structures. Their selection of cards was intentional, they say, since they wanted to earn more rewards in all their favorite spending categories.
For example, the couple uses their Citi Double Cash Card for all their regular purchases since it offers 2 percent back (1 percent when you spend and 1 percent when you pay) with no annual fee.
Since they’re big Amazon shoppers, they use an Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card for all their online shopping. This card yields 5 percent back on all Amazon.com and Whole Foods purchases, plus 2 percent back at gas stations, restaurants and drugstores (and 1 percent back on all other purchases). There’s no annual fee, but you have to be an Amazon Prime member to qualify.
Finally, the Sutherlands use a Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express for some purchases to rack up airline miles. The couple flies Delta Airlines often, so they benefit from the free checked bag they receive as a cardholder benefit.
Overall, the Sutherlands say they earn around $300 in cash back per year with their regular spending. They also benefit from the companion pass offered through their Platinum Delta SkyMiles credit card to the tune of around $700 in savings per year.
2. Take advantage of special ‘offers’ and deals
Yun says one of his favorite ways to rack up more points is taking advantage of deals portals some of the banks offer. While Chase rolled out a “Chase Offers” portal with special promotions and discounts in late 2018, American Express has one of the most popular deals portals in Amex Offers.
With Amex Offers, you can earn cash back or extra points for adding an offer to your card and making a specific purchase. While the deals change all the time, old Amex offers have included proposals such as “spend $300 at Kimpton Hotels and get $60 back” and “spend $500 with a specific airline and receive 2,000 Membership Rewards points.”
These offers can yield more rewards for purchases you plan to make anyway, but you do need to know about them and add them to your rewards credit card for them to apply.
See related: Marriott Bonvoy cards are offering 100,000-point bonuses; are they worth it?
3. Use complimentary cards within the same program
Another strategy involves picking up a combination of cards within the same program with the goal of maximizing each according to their strengths. Andrew Herrig of Dallas follows this strategy to a “T” with a combination of Chase Ultimate Rewards credit cards.
Currently, Herrig and his family lean on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Freedom Unlimited for their spending. Herrig says he uses the Chase Sapphire Preferred for travel and dining since you earn 2X points, then utilizes the Chase Freedom Unlimited with its flat 1.5% cash back (1.5 points per $1 spent) for all other purchases.
The father of two ultimately combines his points into his Chase Sapphire Preferred account in order to score optimum travel redemptions, such as getting 25 percent more value when booking travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
In total, Herrig says his family earns between 4,000 and 5,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per month – or up to 60,000 points per year.
4. Refer friends
Many travel credit cards let you refer friends and earn points in the process. This includes Chase, Discover and American Express credit cards specifically, but you may also be targeted to refer friends by Citi and other banks.
While these offers can vary and may change at the drop of a hat, they tend to be lucrative. You can frequently earn 10,000 Chase points (up to 50,000 points per year) by referring friends to the Chase Sapphire Preferred, for example.
5. Use shopping portals
Finally, don’t forget about shopping portals – particularly if you do a lot of your shopping online. Popular banks like Chase and Barclays offer portals that let you earn additional points for clicking through before you make a purchase with a participating online store. And remember, these are points you can earn on top of the points you earn with a travel credit card.
Shopping portals from the American AAdvantage program, Delta Airlines, Southwest Rapid Rewards and other airlines work similarly, doling out additional miles for everything you buy. Most people do at least some of their shopping online, so these options make it easy to earn more rewards over time.