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


  • 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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  1. Neal says:

    You mentioned you will cancel both of your Barclay Aviator Red cards. Are either of them the old US Airways card that gives you 10,000 miles each year upon renewal? I find my bonus posts every year like clockwork and then when the annual fee hits (usually in the next month) they waive the fee (it has now been either three or four straight years of fee waivers). I always mention I also have the Citi AA card (which was true at one point) but in any case I’ve found them very easy. Also they usually throw in “spend $1,000 get 5000 points” fillip. Needless to say this card is staying open for me until something changes.


    1. Windbag Miles says:

      No, I never had the US Airways cards – I got in last year when Barclay had a publicly available bonus of 40k. I should have waited, but I was under the impression that Barclay could only sell cards in-flight and at the airport, so I didn’t expect it to be publicly available for long. Oops.


    2. Biggie F says:

      I have an Aviator Red and so does my wife. Hers is the one that has the 10,000 legacy annual miles. But, on both, we never have any trouble getting them to waive the AF. Just some rigamarole like Neal suggests. We usually go with “… because of all the changes at American …”


      1. Biggie F says:

        So after I posted this, my wife — who normally is great at getting these things waived — struck out two times in a row, both before the AF posted.

        That was making me feel small, given the authoritative bravura with which I had posted this.

        Seeking to deflect shame, I headed down the path of “take our toys and go home,” which is to say I convinced myself it was not worth holding onto the card if we (she) had to pay the AF. Two weeks after the AF posted, she called again, saying simply that she wanted to cancel because she did not want to pay the AF. This led to escalation to someone who waived the AF (credited it back to us next day) and gave her the spend-$1,000-in-90-days, earn 5,000 points offer as well.

        Thus I hold with my original remarks.


  2. Adam says:

    Two suggestions:

    Instead of cancelling the Citi Platinum AAdvantage card, consider a product change (or “conversion” in Citi-speak) to the Citi AT&T Access More card. It has a $95 annual fee, but most notably it earns 3x TYP on Online purchases and 10,000 TYP when you spend $10K in a cardmember year. I just completed that conversion and I’m very pleased with the earning potential, plus price protection and extended warranty benefits for online purchases. Additionally, opening/closing doesn’t affect earning a bonus on the Citi Premier/Prestige cards in the future.

    My second suggestion is also something I’m considering (and have recommended to Lucky from OMAAT). Instead of a cancel/apply cycle for the AMEX Blue for Business just request a product change to the Blue Business Plus. You’re not missing out on a sign up bonus and you’d avoid another hard pull on your credit. Seems like a no brainer to PC instead of cancel/apply. I’m planning on doing the same here pretty soon.


    1. Windbag Miles says:

      Completely agree with the Amex suggestion… unfortunately, they won’t let me convert the BFB to any other card. I was pretty surprised, since it seems like an intuitive conversion from a card that doesn’t exist anymore to the one that replaced it.


    2. Biggie F says:

      I’m a little confused on this second suggestion.

      First, just five weeks ago I applied for the Blue Business Plus and got 20,000 MR points after $5,000 spend. (Moved up charitable deductions into 2017 due to so-called Tax Reform, but I digress…) Anyhow, argues against product change, as does:

      Second, I thought I had been reading that Amex doesn’t do hard pulls for existing customers.

      Anyhow, I plan to cancel my older Blue for Business in February, after the 30% bonus posts. By the way, that card parlayed with Amex Business Plat is how I found this blog. The Blue for Business was a great recommendation — thanks.


  3. Biggie F says:

    I realize that I am more of a Hyatt person than you are, but, wow, they are going to have to pry my Chase Hyatt Visa from my sweaty, newspaper print-stained hands when they come to Uber us to the camps…. Across a whole year, it’s hard not to find a one-night at a Category 4 where you (I) wouldn’t gladly pay $75ai for a room. Doctor of Credit just had a good post on this, and I think this includes the Grand Hyatt in Seattle, for example. Also some Vegas hotels, which I had not realized. Last two years, I have also gotten $25-35 in points or cash on retention. Then — who knows why? maybe the loss of stay/room credits toward Hyatt status? — this year they have had a couple of lucrative offers. One was $50 off a $300 Hyatt Place stay, which I fell into “naturally,” but could have been pocketed by stopping by an HP and buying gift certificates. The other was $30 or thereabouts for something else that was pretty easy.

    Also — and here I am acknowledging that (a) I like Hyatt points a lot and (b) I am not really one of the cool kids — the 2 (Hyatt) points for restaurant spend is very useful if one is not totally in the UR Chase Reserve/Preferred game.


  4. DW says:

    Nice post and perspective on retaining cards. Disappointing on the AMEX BFB card as my 12 months is up in a few weeks. I’d really like the newer card for 2X but not sure about a credit pull for no bonus. I’ll have to marinate on that one. I have a US Air turned Aviator that I keep telling myself I want to ditch. I don’t get the 10K annual miles others got. I’m trying to do a product change for age of credit purposes. So far two Barclay reps think PC means new apps and a credit pull. I’ll give it one more chance before I just cancel it. My goal is to try and churn another Aviator app. New cards for me this year, maybe AMEX BRG, BOA premium, and we shall see what else pops up.


  5. Leo says:

    Why cancel the CSR? you missed the 1.5X portal benefit that is amazing for just another $55 yearly no?


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