Windbag Miles is a blog about points, miles, credit cards, travel, and general windbaggery.

My year in bonuses and my (tentative) card strategy for 2018

Now that 2018 has arrived, it's time to look back at how I did with sign-up bonuses last year. As policies become more restrictive, mining new bonuses is getting trickier, which is why I have started off this year paying a little more attention than I used to about improving my return on normal spending. Nothing crazy, just things like using Gyft to buy Target gift cards using my Chase Ink while I'm waiting in line a Target (rather than just paying with the Blue for Business), or never refusing an opportunity to use Apple Pay with my Freedom card. I still managed to do pretty well last year, though. This list comprises both Justine and I, since our finances are completely merged, and I have included any bonus that was 5000 points or above.

Membership Rewards:

  • 5000 - Everyday referral bonus
  • 50,000 - Premier Rewards Gold sign-up bonus
  • 5000 - Premier Rewards Gold authorized user bonus
  • 60,000 - Platinum sign-up bonus
  • 5000 - Verizon Amex offer
  • 10,000 - Pay over time enrollment bonus
  • 15,000 - FXIP enrollment bonus
  • 15,000 - FXIP bonus for 5 wire transfers
  • 15,000 - Platinum referral bonus
  • 25,000 - Green sign-up bonus
  • 5000 - Platinum authorized user bonus
  • 60,000 - Schwab Platinum sign-up bonus

As you can see, Amex continued to be really lucrative for me this year, even though I did end up burning all of those points and then some by the end of the year. I love how many ways there are to earn Amex points, even though I'm starting to run out of sign-up bonuses at this point.

Ultimate Rewards:

  • Nada. Zip. Zilch. See why I like Amex so much?

ThankYou Points:

  • Nope. Canceled a Prestige card halfway through the year, so I'm cooked until 2019.

Airline Programs:

  • 45,000 Korean Air Skypass miles - Skypass Visa sign-up bonus
  • 50,000 AAdvantage miles - AAdvantage Platinum sign-up bonus, later matched to 60,000 after a couple phone calls.
  • 50,000 Sky Miles - Delta Gold sign-up bonus (even though I've had the card before!)
  • 30,000 Mileage Plan miles - Alaska Visa sign-up bonus

Hotel Programs:

  • 160,000 Hilton points - 2x Amex Hilton sign-up bonuses
  • 40,000 Hilton points - 2x Amex Hilton referral bonuses
  • Two weekend nights - Citi Hilton Reserve sign-up bonus

Other:

  • 50,000 Arrival miles - Barclaycard Arrival+ sign-up bonus

So what's my tentative strategy for 2018? Well, I'm currently on hold, since I have a few spending targets I'm working on right now. On my current cards, I have around $400 left to get the second part of my Delta Gold sign-up bonus, and I need to spend $1000 on my Aviator Red card in order to get the 5000-mile retention bonus I signed up for. Plus, next week will see the launch of the Hilton Aspire card from Amex, and I plan to apply immediately, so that will eat up $3000-$5000 in spending over the next few months.

After that, if the SPG Amex is still available, I'll sign Justine up for one. I'd like to get myself the business version as well, but I will have to reshuffle my Amex cards to make room at that point. (While Amex's limit is now claimed to be five credit cards, they're unfortunately still capping me at four.) The USBank Altitude could be interesting if I'm in the mood for a cash-back travel rewards card, and I'm also interested in the JetBlue card from Barclay, as long as they offer the 60k bonus again. (I kind of regret not signing up for this when it was publicly available.) Finally, I plan to pick up one or two more Alaska cards, and Justine will probably get the Hilton Ascend at some point. This is only a rough outline, though, since things always come up that throw my plan off - it could be a surprise bonus on a card I wasn't thinking about, or maybe a program devaluation that alters a certain card's value proposition.

As for cards I'm going to cancel/keep, here's my plan:

  • Chase Freedom ($0) - Keep. Duh.
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited ($0) - Keep, although I may try to convert it to a second Freedom.
  • IHG ($49) - Keep. $49 for an unrestricted free room certificate is a no-brainer.
  • Citi ThankYou Preferred #1 ($0) - Keep, only because I don't want to reset my ThankYou points sign-up bonus clock.
  • Citi ThankYou Preferred #2 ($0)- Keep, see Citi Thank You Preferred #1.
  • Hyatt ($75) - hmmm... The category 1-4 certificate is decent, but it's not a slam dunk value for $75 given my travel habits. I'd churn it if I thought I had any chance of getting reapproved. I know it's not under 5/24, but the last time I applied for it, Chase raked me over the coals for having too many cards. Since I still bank with them, I should be careful. I have a while to decide, so I'm leaving this one as a maybe.
  • City National Signature ($0) - It's a no-fee card, and I may want to convert it back to a Crystal one day. Plus, since I don't care about my relationship with CNB, I can use this card for "medicine" without really worrying too much about my account getting shut down.
  • Barclay Aviator Red ($95) - Definitely cancel. I should have done this the first time around, but I wanted to see the FlightCents promo through to the end.
  • Citi AAdvantage Platinum ($95) - Not sure. I have to decide if it's worth $95 to avoid restarting the 24 month clock. If I keep it, I can apply for another one next year and get the bonus again. I'll probably try for a retention bonus and go from there.
  • Korean Air Skypass Visa ($80) - I need to do some research here. There's a meager automatic retention bonus of 2000 miles, so I'll definitely try for more. It also matters whether the USBank Altitude is still restricted to current USBank customers, since I do want to get that card at some point. Most likely I will cancel it, though.
  • Barclay Arrival+ ($95) - I don't get what's so great about this card. It's a 2% cash back card, but you can only use your cash back on travel purchases over $100 and only when you have at least $100 saved up. Who is funneling that much spend onto this card to make it worthwhile? I get so annoyed with articles that talk about $1000 train tickets and say, "This is a great use for all of your Arrival+ miles." Aside from the most proficient manufactured spenders, are there really people out there who spend $50,000 on this card so they can get $1000 toward travel? So yeah, I'll either cancel it or downgrade it so I can keep earning a few bucks here and there from the travel community.
  • Amex Hilton #1 ($0) - I'll keep it until I need to cancel it to make room for other Amex cards.
  • Amex Hilton #2 ($0) - Ditto.
  • Amex Green ($95) - Cancel. Double duh.
  • Alaska Visa Signature ($75) - Oh Alaska Visa. One of the last true churnable cards. One day you'll join all the rest of them, but until that day, I will never pay your annual fee.
  • Amex Platinum ($550) - Cancel, but not before I get a 15k bonus for referring myself (well, for Justine referring me).
  • Amex Schwab Platinum ($550) - Cancel and switch to a normal Platinum (the one that I just opened using Justine's referral link).
  • Delta Gold Amex ($95) - Can I cancel this one without running afoul of Amex's police squad? I think I'm gonna.
  • Amex Everyday ($0) - Keep, since this card always has the most Amex offers on it, for some reason.
  • Amex Everyday Preferred ($95) - Keep. The 4.5x on groceries category bonus is huge for me.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450) - Not sure. I got around 5000 points more on travel/dining spend than I would have with a Sapphire Preferred, so that more or less covers the $55 (net) difference in fee between the two. However, most of my restaurant spending for the first half of last year went on the Blue for Business, so I expect that will be higher this year. If it is, I'll keep it; otherwise I'll downgrade to a Sapphire Preferred.
  • Amex Premier Rewards Gold ($195) - Cancel.
  • Another Barclay Aviator Red ($95) - Haha, I forgot we even had this one until I looked at my spreadsheet. Cancel, obviously.
  • Chase Ink Cash ($0) - Keep. Mega duh.
  • Amex Blue for Business ($0) - Cancel and replace with the new Blue that earns 2x on everything.

Okay, that's it! Anyone have any burning disagreements with me about any of the above? I'm curious to hear your thoughts. I actually do listen to you guys, you know... The last time I wrote about my strategy, you successfully talked me out of my plan to switch more spending onto my Freedom Unlimited, and I'm happy you did. I cherish you!

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