The mid-year progress report I’ve been putting off writing for two months because I’m so lazy.

This has been a good year for my actual traveling — including a hike in the Faroe Islands that may be one of my top two or three travel experiences ever — but on the credit card side of things, it has kind of sucked. I’ve written about this a little bit already, and the stats speak for themselves: in 2015-2017, we applied for 39 cards (between Justine, me, and my business) and were denied twice, whereas in 2018, we’ve applied for eight cards and been denied thrice. Churning is catching up with us, and this is the biggest thing that concerns me moving forward. It’s getting to the point where instant approvals are cause for surprise and celebration, rather than a matter of course. Most worrisome is that two of the denials (Capital One Venture and Citi Premier) have stated “no accounts with revolving balances” as a reason for rejection. I realize that banks need consumers to carry balances in order to make money, but getting rejected for being too responsible with credit just goes to show how worthless FICO scores are in the age of churning. It also speaks to how expensive rewards programs are for these banks, since they’d rather risk a wave of defaults by giving credit to less responsible borrowers than give people points for paying off their balances every month.

Of course, “too many recent inquiries” has become a problem as well, and as much as everyone hates Chase’s 5/24 rule, at least it’s spelled out clearly. Bank of America said this was the main reason I couldn’t get an Alaska Airlines card, although they wouldn’t give me any more information about what “too many” is and how far back “recent” goes. I suppose I could just try again every few months, since I don’t need to worry about the effects of all those inquiries on my credit score anymore…

That’s my little state-of-the-hobby preamble. Here are some random bullet points relating to my credit card decisions throughout the year:

  • The first card I picked up this year was the Hilton Aspire card, and I’m lukewarm on it so far. I don’t know how much incremental value I’ve gotten from Diamond status versus Gold, although I find the fee fairly easy to justify. $250 in American Airlines gift cards plus a free weekend night (assuming I can actually use it) is probably worth $450 to me, since I routinely spend that much with American Airlines and Hilton every year anyway.

  • Speaking of Amex’s Hilton cards, I took an upgrade offer to the Hilton Ascend for 75,000 points. I know I should have canceled my basic Hilton card and applied for the Ascend separately to get 25,000 more points, but Amex is starting to penalize people for canceling too many cards, and I really want to stay on their good side. 25,000 Hilton points isn’t that much in the scheme of things, so it seemed easier to play it safe rather than tempting fate. Especially given how difficult things with Chase, BofA, and Citi have become.

  • Speaking of Citi… I completely fucked myself with them in what’s probably my biggest bonehead mistake since I started churning. My plan from last year had been to cancel my Prestige card, wait 24 months, and reapply for either a Prestige or Premier card to start earning Citi points again. Well, I was about 15 months into that plan when a Citi Preferred card I had left inactive for too long was canceled automatically, resetting my 24-month clock. I called Citi to try to straighten it out, but they said I’d have to reapply to get the card back. Oops. I’m realizing that I should probably stop bothering to convert cards to no-fee versions and just cancel them instead. I know keeping the no-fee version helps my average age of accounts and utilization percentage, but see above RE: not caring about my credit score.

  • Speaking of converting cards to no-fee versions, I decided to keep my Korean Air card open for another year rather than canceling it or converting it to the no-fee version. I wanted to keep something open with USBank in case I ended up applying for the Altitude card (which is only available to current USBank customers), and they offered me a modest 5000-mile retention bonus, so I gave in. (Combined with the 2000-mile anniversary bonus, I basically paid $80 for 7000 Skypass miles, which is pretty decent).

  • Speaking of the USBank Altitude, I went ahead and applied for it when my application for the Capital One Venture card got rejected. Why did I change my mind? Well for one, I have an iPhone with Apple Pay now, so I can actually take advantage of the main benefit. Plus, I could definitely use the extra flexibility when booking positioning flights, and since it doesn’t sound like USBank is introducing transfer partners any time soon, that would be a perfectly good use of those points. Long-term, I don’t know whether this card is a keeper or not. It doesn’t have much in the way of benefits, so whether I pay $75 (effective) next year will depend on how the rest of my churning strategy looks and if I’m doing a good job of earning 3x on mobile wallet transactions.

  • Speaking of cards I should probably cancel but may not, I’m actually considering keeping my Amex Green card for another year. The Amex Green may just be the worst rewards card in existence, seeing that it only earns one point per dollar and has a $95 fee. However, it seems like every good Amex offer I get is through this card. I’ve earned 15,000 points in bonuses this year from offers that were only available on this card. There’s also that whole “Amex getting mad at me for canceling too many cards” thing in the back of my mind, but this card is really bad. Is it worth $95 to gamble on some good Amex offers next year? I’m torn.

  • Finally, I should mention the Morgan Stanley Amex, but I’m going to write a separate post about that one. I have a few things to say about it.

So overall, here’s where I’m at: for myself, I’m going to keep chasing sign-up bonuses, even if it starts to seem like diminishing returns (40,000 Jet Blue miles here, some USBank Flex Perks points there, and so on). I’d love to apply for some of the new Chase cards (Iberia, new IHG with the 100,000-point bonus, new Hyatt, etc), but with the reports that Chase is shutting people down after approving them for new cards due to too many inquiries, it’s too scary for me. Rather than slowing down and then trying to sneak back into some new Chase cards, I’m gonna keep going down the road I’ve chosen. Maybe if I find out that Amex won’t give me sign-up bonuses anymore, I might just hang up my cleats for a while.

On the other hand, once Justine got rejected for the Citi Premier card, I realized it would be better to wait for her to get back under 5/24. Her credit report is a lot less busy than mine, so she’ll be under 5/24 in less than a year, at which point she’ll apply for the Sapphire Preferred and United Explorer cards (and hopefully Chase won’t reject her for not having any revolving balances). Once she’s back over 5/24, then we’ll probably look into some type of American or Alaska Airlines play, but that’s way too far in the future to consider.

I’m definitely pessimistic these days, but I still find myself with enough miles to fund my travel goals, so something is working. It’s tougher than ever, but I have to keep reminding myself that sign-up bonuses aren’t the only way to succeed in this game… turns out paying a little more attention to which cards I use when can pay some pretty big dividends too.

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  1. Brenton says:

    My pattern of applications the past few years is pretty similar to yours… My first denial last year, and then increasingly fewer cards that I’m eligible to receive bonuses on.
    On your Citi preferred, how long was it inactive? I downgraded to one with some sort of retention offer well over 2 years ago and haven’t used it since. I honestly don’t even know the login. If I didn’t get an upgrade mailer every month I wouldn’t even know I had the card…


    1. Windbag Miles says:

      Without going into my Citi account to check, it had to have been a couple years at least. Now the question is whether I try to spend on my other Preferred card, or if I just say fuck it to Citi, cancel everything, and sit out for two years.


  2. Shadrach says:

    For the revolving balances, I have always taken advantage of the 6 months or more offers cards put out there. Discover and Citi have been good for those over the years for me and this year on the Everyday I got in on the 15-month offer. It always brings my score down a little maybe 15 points but it is free money as long as you have the correct discipline. I did not realize it might be helping me with some banks.
    For the Amex offers, I do get a ton more offers on my MR earning cards than my Hilton cards. My gold card gets by far the most offers I have over 150 at the moment. but my everyday and blue business get a lot I think they are both in the 90’s.. I would say my Hilton cards get half the offers but they are always money. For the gold card, I easily get enough offers to justify the yearly even without the 100 dollar airline credit.
    With BOA I have been a customer for a long time and they still let me open stupid cards that I have no reason to be getting other than the bonus. I have opened 5 cards with them in the last 16 months. 2 Alaska personal, 2 Alaska Biz, and 1 Premium Rewards.


    1. Windbag Miles says:

      This is great info. It never occurred to me to take advantage of promotional APR offers in order to put some revolving balances on my credit report. Hard to say if it’s worth doing solely to game the application process, but I’m sure some folks out there will try.


  3. MARK says:

    You left out the property credit for the Aspire card so you are coming out ahead there. With Amex offers being limited to one per card now I wouldn’t hold onto the green card for them…I doubt you would get the value back out without being able to double dip some of the best offers.


    1. Windbag Miles says:

      Do you mean the $250 resort credit or the $100 on-property credit for Conrad and WA? I wrote a post back in January about how the $100 credit isn’t that great of a deal most of the time.
      As for the green card, I must admit that I never actually used the multi-tab trick. I find that a lot of great offers *only* show up on that card.


    2. Biggie F says:

      I think it’s the resort credit that makes this a keeper — the fact(s) that it comes straight off your bill (including the room itself), and that Hilton is so promiscuous when it comes to labeling something a resort. So the card becomes a commitment to one high-end weekend a year, one night from the free night, one night for $250 less than it would otherwise cost, with big breakfasts thanks to Diamond status.
      If you are not thinking this way, then you’re probably the type who didn’t take up golf when the Citi Prestige was in its full glory.


      1. Windbag Miles says:

        I didn’t take up golf, but that’s because I spent my eight summers as a caddy at a stuffy country club and wouldn’t voluntarily set foot on a golf course ever again to save my life. The reason I didn’t mention the resort credit is that I don’t know for sure every year that I will visit a hotel that counts as a resort. However, I do know that I’ll spend $250 on American Airlines and also stay at a Hilton over the weekend once a year for sure, so those are the main tentpoles I use to justify keeping the card. I agree the $250 is great, and the Diamond status is great too although probably not something I’d pay for on its own.


  4. […] The mid-year progress report I’ve been putting off writing for two months because I’m so lazy. – Windbag Miles […]


  5. Enjoying your posts. All have revolving balances who do not fully pay off statement balance as of bureau reporting date (usually statement close date). The x months interest free financing offers likely only provide meaningful impact to those who hit these (typically 1x earning) cards hard during the period without paying down the balance.


  6. J says:

    Fantastic writing and perspective (in general), Jordan.
    After my first time reading your wonderful blog for the past ~hour: I (openly) recommend the following: get some other checking accounts (I don’t think they are less crooked than others, yet I have been happy with them: Alliant esp savings, cc, auto loan at 2.5 fixed for 7 years; perhaps Fido on the same day as other appys b/c they pull hard for a checking account; perhaps a local CU), then get rid of your Chase checking [says this former 20 yr customer incl w/Wamu -RIP –Dimon’s a little Napolean fuck, 40 billion in annualized profit this year and HE/they are going out of their way (yet continue to go out of their ways in the last coupla years) to fuck their customers for a relatively few sheckels??-f ’em, and in their infinite wisdom (contrary to what I think your assumptions are) ], you are at MORE risk for having a checking account with regard to CC appys, not less. NO, do not wait to get under 5/24, not without doing simple calculations based on rationality, not fear. Make sure you include calculations for your next successful AK appy 3 months post your last denial, Citi appys which do not include ‘lifetime’ language, Brcly, Amex incl biz (no need to be afraid here after considering their ~5 CC limit) etc etc etc. Waives to $250 fnbo + global entry on a day that I was doing appys anyway….penfed 250…. alliant 250… SO many AK miles…HH/IHG/Hyatt/etc… After 8 years, and way LOL/24, things would have to get hundreds of percent worse than they are now than for me to slow down or consider something as (IR)rash as going below 5/24.
    BTW Dimon: yanno those hundreds of thousands of dollars I used to have under management at JPM and those hundreds of thousands of dollars I used to spend on your CCs to now have it be zero w/coupla grand in spend? To save a grand in bonuses not frequently? While making massive profits? Having citizens pay your share of taxes?? Dbag. Ignorance. Incompetence. Criminal negligence to shareholders etc.
    My last round of appys resulted in my second biggest reaping (after the 75k x2 citi AA same day, then…… lol…2011++ 😉 ) Now, THAT was fun. Realistically better than the mint for most mere mortals.
    All the best!
    Oh, and to others reading this, (incl from this financial expert who went through 2008 exceptionally well): it behooves you to have cards from multiple issuers with no annual fees, keep them forever, put spend on them q6mo (don’t let them be closed for inactivity); don’t carry balances with interest, spend less than you make, save/invest massive amounts of money in diversified stock index funds with very low fees (hi Vanguard), don’t sell when the markets have massive swoons…
    And oh #2: smell the roses (waives overlooking the beach on the southwest coast of Mexico con una cerveza, as safe and as beautiful as can be), love your loved ones… and call your momma and pappa–they miss you. ;))
    (Jordan –I’ve never written this much on a blog post; forgive me, it’ll be one time and, again, your perspective is extremely valuable) //not proof-read
    Aside: ‘revolving’ can simply let one of your cards (not amex ‘charge cards’) report on stmt date before appys, then pay off before due w/no incrued interest.
    Gotta go catch the sunset…


  7. J says:

    *citi: not ’24 mo’ language, amex not ‘lifetime’ language


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