66 Credit Card Approvals in 3 Years: A Synopsis

Photo includes authorized user and upgrade/downgrade accounts.

[Update 2017.4] – See Signup Bonus Math: The Best Return on Credit Card Spend for details regarding my return-on-spend.

Introduction

In June 2014, I came across the term “travel hacking” while reading a personal finance blog. It sounded interesting, so I learned about the basics of credit card points. At that time I had only one credit card, a Capital One Venture, which I used for all purchases. After learning more about the benefits of transferable points currencies, I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP), transferred the Ultimate Reward (UR) points earned from the signup bonus to United, and booked two roundtrip tickets from the west coast to my sister’s wedding in Pittsburgh, PA.

To say it invigorated me to save on a trip I was already going to take just by signing up for a credit card is an understatement. Between domestic travel and one big international trip per year, travel-related expenses were one of the biggest line items on our annual budget. Not any more.

It has been exactly three years from the date I signed up for that first CSP. Since then, I have been approved for 66 new accounts and earned over 2.5 million points and miles from signup bonuses alone. These points helped offset over $62,000 in retail travel costs over that period, including over 100 hotel nights and 42 flights across Asia, Europe, and North America while allowing us to travel in relative comfort.

Disclaimer

This post is not a guide, but rather my story based on my comfort level. I have never carried a balance or paid interest. This hobby takes an incredible amount of organization and financial cognizance, otherwise the results could be devastating. I am not suggesting or advocating for anyone to follow my lead; rather, I am simply showing what has worked for me. There are risks involved with this hobby, including bank shutdowns. Understand the risks, act within your comfort zone and NEVER because a blog told you to do something, and proceed however you see fit.

The Strategy

Reimbursable work expenses are what started me down this road. Every time I knew a work trip was coming up, I’d sign up for a new card or cards whenever a historically high signup offer would come along. There were also practical things to take into account, like whether airline miles could be used from our home in Seattle or whether we wanted to stay in an Air BNB or hotel on an upcoming vacation.

Over the past 3 years, a lot has changed in this game. Chase now implements the 5/24 rule, Amex signup bonuses are once-per-lifetime, and Citi limits you to one signup bonus per points “type” within 24 months of either opening OR closing an account of that “type.” These changes started rolling in within 6 months to a year after I started chasing signup bonuses.

With a few exceptions, I signed up for all-time high bonus offers for new accounts. This is important given the restrictions implemented by each bank, as you don’t want to leave points on the table. Once I gained an understanding of each issuer, I started formulating a game plan for new applications around these restrictions. Along the way, I also came across some very easy, local manufactured spend pathways that helped with the minimum spends (and to earn a lot of additional points).

Approved Applications

The table below lists all of my APPROVED accounts in chronological order. Note that the table has multiple pages, which you can scroll through using tabs at the bottom of the table.

BankProductDate ApprovedBonusBonus Spend Requirement
ChaseSapphire Preferred6/20/201445,000$3,000
ChaseIHG11/1/201480,000$1,000
ChaseFreedom12/1/201420,000$500
BarclaycardUSAirways12/1/201450,000First purchase
ChaseUnited Explorer12/26/201450,000$1,000
AMEXDelta Gold1/11/201550,000$1,000
BarclaycardChoice Privleges1/20/201532,0001 Choice Hotels stay
CitiAAdvantage Platinum2/18/201550,000$3,000
AmexEveryday Preferred3/25/201530,000$2,000
Bank of AmericaAlaska Airlines3/25/201530,000none
Bank of AmericaAlaska Airlines3/25/201525,000 + $100first purchase for miles, $1,000 for $100
CitiPrestige4/20/201550,000$3,000
CitiHilton HHonors6/21/201550,000$1,000
DiscoverIt6/21/2015$100first purchase
AmexSPG Business6/21/201525,000$3,000
Amex(New) Old Blue Cash7/26/2015nonenone
Capital OneSpark Business7/27/2015$500.00$4,500
Capital OneVenture7/27/201540,000$3,000
AmexPlatinum8/26/2015100,000$3,000
ChaseUnited Explorer Business8/26/201550,000$2,000
Bank of AmericaAlaska Airlines Business8/26/201525,000first purchase
CitiThank You Premier8/26/201560,000$3,500
Bank of AmericaAlaska Airlines8/27/201525,000 + $100first purchase for miles, $1,000 for $100
CitiAAdvantage Platinum11/26/201550,000$3,000
AmexSPG Personal11/26/201525,000$3,000
Bank of AmericaAlaska Airlines11/26/201525,000 + $100first purchase for miles, $1,000 for $100
CitiPreferred12/25/201520,000$1,500
ChaseInk Plus Business12/28/201560,000$5,000
CitiAAdvantage Platinum2/1/201650,000$3,000
ChaseHyatt3/7/20162 free nights$1,000
CitiAT&T Access & More3/7/2016$650 towards phone$2,000
Bank of AmericaAlaska Airlines3/7/201625,000 + $100first purchase for miles, $1,000 for $100
Bank of AmericaAlaska Air Business3/7/201625,000first purchase
BarclaycardArrival+3/7/201640,000$3,000
AmexHHonors3/25/201675,000$1,000
AmexMercedes Benz Platinum5/2/201675,000$3,000
AmexGreen Card5/8/201625,000$1,000
AmexPremier Rewards Gold5/9/201650,000$2,000
CitiAA Gold6/8/201625,000$750
AmexEveryday6/26/201625,000$2,000
AmexGold7/12/201625,000$1,000
AmexBlue Cash Preferred7/19/2016$250.00$1,000
ChaseFreedom Unlimited7/15/201615,000$500
AmexBusiness Gold Rewards8/9/201675,000$10,000
ChaseMarriott Business9/25/201670,000$3,000
ChaseSapphire Reserve10/7/2016100,000$4,000
Bank of AmericaMerrill+11/14/201650,000$3,000
AmexBlue Cash Everyday11/23/2016$250.00$1,000
CitiHHonors11/22/201675,000$2,000
Capital OneSpark Miles Business12/10/201650,000$4,500
BarclaycardArrival+1/6/201750,000$3,000
AmexPlatinum Business1/16/2017100,000$15,000
AmexBlue for Business1/16/201710,000first purchase
AmexPlatinum - Charles Schwab2/15/201740,000$3,000
CitiHHonors2/17/201740,000$1,000
Bank of AmericaMerrill+2/17/201750,000$3,000
DiscoverIt3/2/2017$100.00first purchase
CitiHHonors3/20/201740,000$1,000
AmexHilton Surpass3/24/2017100,000$3,000
AmexEveryday4/3/2017N/A (previously held)N/A
CitiHHonors4/22/201740,000$1,000
ChaseInk Preferred Business4/26/2017100,000$5,000
ChaseSapphire Preferred4/26/201750,000$4,500
Bank of AmericaMerrill +5/19/201750,000$3,000
AmexBusiness Gold Rewards6/2/2017N/A (previously held)N/A
AmexAmeriprise Gold6/2/201725,000$1,000

Declined Applications

Apply for enough new accounts and eventually the “declines” will start rolling in. Unfortunately, “too many new accounts” is a common theme for these declines, and this reason is very hard to have reversed through calling the bank for reconsideration. The table below lists all of my DECLINED applications.

BankProduct NameDate AppliedDenial Reason
ChaseInk Plus Business2/3/2015Too many new accounts (shouldn't have called recon)
BarclaycardUSAirway3/29/2015Already have product
BarclaycardArrival +4/19/2015Sufficient number of accounts with bank
AmexSimply Cash Business8/3/2015Applied for > 2 CC in 90 days
BarclaycardUPromise8/27/2015Sufficient number of accounts with bank
Bank of AmericaFidelity Amex11/14/2015Too many new accounts
Bank of AmericaAlaska Airlines2/1/2016Approved as Platinum - closed
ChaseHyatt2/5/2016Too many new accounts (shouldn't have called recon)
CitiAA Business3/23/2016Didn't follow 8/65
Bank of AmericaAlaska Airlines6/12/2016Approved as Platinum - closed
Capital OneVenture8/3/2016Too many new accounts
Bank of AmericaAlaska Airlines3/22/2017Too many new accounts
Bank of AmericaAlaska Airlines Business3/22/2017Sufficient number of accounts with bank
Wells FargoWorld Propel Amex4/24/2017Too many new accounts

Impact to Credit Score

A common misconception is that applying for lots of credit cards will irreparably impact your credit score. While your FICO credit score will take an immediate hit of 3 to 5 points with each credit inquiry (application), your score will actually increase in the long run because each new account means more available credit. More available credit, assuming you aren’t carrying a balance and are fiscally responsible, means your credit utilization will be lower. I put together the chart below to illustrate the components of a FICO score. Having a low utilization and good payment history positively impact a credit score more than new inquiries (“New Credit”) hurt it.

Over the course of the past three years, my FICO credit score has fluctuated within the range provided for each of the three main credit bureaus shown below:

  • Transunion – 758 to 802
  • Equifax – 755 to 803
  • Experian – 723 to 753

Below is a summary of my credit profile from Credit Karma. I highly recommend signing up for a service like this to keep an eye on your credit portfolio, monitor for fraud, and understand the metrics that contribute to your FICO score.

Since 2014, I purchased a new vehicle and qualified for financing at 2.1% on a 36-month loan. Additionally, I submitted a mortgage application last week and was able to lock in a rate of 4.125% for a 30-year mortgage. In the case of the mortgage, the lender did not care in the least about the number of new applications or inquiries on my credit report. Rather, he focused on my credit score and payment history. Each lender may be different – again, I am simply reporting my experience.

Organization

I keep extremely detailed notes of all applications and correspondences in a spreadsheet (and I highly suggest you do the same!). I uploaded a formatted version of my spreadsheet here, which you can download and adapt to your own needs. Additionally, I keep a 3-ring binder and store all my cards in baseball trading-card sleeves to keep my cards organized.

What I’ve Learned (About Each Issuer)

Additionally, I have learned that each bank has its own personality. Below I list my take-homes from interacting with each bank

  • Chase: getting to know a personal banker and having a relationship outside of credit accounts may help with qualifying for pre-approvals. I have been extremely fortunate to be pre-approved for the Sapphire Reserve, Sapphire Preferred, Freedom Unlimited, and Ink Preferred within the past year. I know my local banker very well, and always take the time to exchange pleasantries and ask about his life before getting into the WHAT NEW SIGNUP BONUSES DO YOU HAVE FOR ME? spiel. Maybe I’ve just been lucky as well…
  • Amex: probably the easiest issuer to get approved for again and again, both personal and business accounts. I have been through two financial reviews (one focused on personal accounts, one seemingly more focused on business accounts), which while annoying were nothing more than a temporary inconvenience. In addition, Amex has great upgrade/downgrade potential with some of their products so you can earn bonuses without a new account or hard credit pull.
  • Bank of America: seems to have altered their approval process over the past year. People (including me) used to be able to get multiples of the same card on the same day, but those days are gone. I’m interested to see if they implement a hard-fast rule like Amex, Chase, and Citi regarding signups, but no information regarding this change has been made public (yet).
  • Citi: the most beneficial thing about Citi used to be their generous retention offers, which were available like clockwork every 6 months. They seem to have become more stingy or the offers a bit less fruitful, and on a recent call to fish for a retention offer the CSR actually mentioned the number of retention offers I’ve received in the past two years. I’ve started closing or product changing my Citi Thank You Point earning cards to (primarily to the Citi Dividend) to reset the 24-month clock. For years, I did get IMMENSE value out of Thank You Points. The Hilton merry-go-round has been fun over the past year, but that has now come to an end as well.
  • Capital One: an overlooked issuer in this hobby. They do pull all three credit bureaus when you apply for a new account, but I fail to see why this matters. Number of inquiries has never been cited as a reason for denial of credit in my experience, and they have some awesome signup bonuses on the Venture and Spark product lines.
  • Barclaycard: limit your Barclaycard applications to every 6 months and it seems you’ll increase your likelihood of approval. That said, some people still have trouble getting issued cards from them. YMMV.

What I’ve Learned (Personally)

Staying focused on your end-goal is extremely important in all aspects of life. Figuring out how to get what you want and how to talk to people without condescension, entitlement, or deceit will make anyone better. That has been the most rewarding (non-travel or money) aspect of this hobby to me. I have gained an immeasurable amount of confidence and composure when dealing with stressful interpersonal situations, for example not knowing how a credit analyst is going to respond when I need to call reconsideration and they see dozens of new accounts on my credit report.

Summary

I’ve had a pretty good run in this hobby over the past few years. A recent life change and relocation has me stepping back from new applications for a little bit, so I thought this would be a good time to summarize and reflect. Remember, there are lots of strategies and opinions in this game. What works for me may not work for you and vice-versa. There are lots of people/bloggers/companies that will try to sell you on what “travel” is. To some people it’s first-class flights and over-water bungalows in the Maldives. To others it’s economy flights and staying in locally-owned boutique hotels. Despite what you may read, there is absolutely no wrong answer. Identify your goals, stay financially responsible, and this hobby can accelerate your savings rate without sacrificing experience.

Questions? Comments? Let me know below!


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