Hi $wanigans! Welcome back to The Green Swan. Thanks for visiting this fine day! I continue to be amazed by the benefits of travel hacking. We are not experts by any means…we aren’t maximizing the value of each and every point, but we are still accruing massive value from our daily expenses! We look to continue keeping the gravy train rolling, but we’ve encountered a few snags.
Travel Hacking Eligible Expenses
Before we jump into the nitty gritty here, let me give you a quick overview of our “hackable” expenses. As you can see from my six month 2018 expense overview, we have a decent amount of expenses that can be put on credit cards every year. Roughly $35K of expenses or so which includes nearly $20K in daycare for our two kiddos. Thankfully they take plastic as I’ve heard from other folks that not all daycares do that!
Having $35K of credit card eligible expenses means that we can churn through 10 to 12 cards each year (at least for now…). With a 50K+ bonus reward per card, that is 500K-600K+ of rewards with a conservative estimated value of $6K (1 cent per point)! And we travel enough to use it all (flying back home to see family plus vacations such as our Greece getaway).
So now let’s talk about some of the snags…
The Universe is Closing In
Lucy and I do not want to have credit card rewards spread all over the place. Ideally, we’d like to have this somewhat limited universe of rewards stockpiled and ready to use rather then spread out. For example, I’m ok with getting cards that offer American Airline miles (since they have a hub in Charlotte) and maybe another such as Delta, but not much beyond that (sorry Southwest, United, etc.).
Same goes for hotels, but thankfully Marriott and Starwood are combining their rewards platforms (two years after Marriott acquired Starwood…) so that is one less, but I’ve also accrued some Hilton points from work travel and would like to limit my hotel accounts to two (sorry IHG, etc).
What about all the other platforms such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou and Capital One Miles?! Well of course I’d prefer to use them right away if I can, but if not I don’t want to lose them. It is certainly good to have a strategy on that front. For me, it has been transferring unused Ultimate Rewards to another Chase credit card account that doesn’t have an annual fee and for Amex I transferred those points 1 for 1 to Delta (can’t transfer Amex rewards to another member’s account to pool rewards).
I haven’t hacked the Citi ThankYou cards yet, but I’ve read how they aren’t quite as flexible as Chase in allowing point transfers. While it is better than Amex who completely restricts it, transferred ThankYou points are only valid for 90 days after transfer. Eventually Lucy and I will each hack this card, but we’ll need to then combine the points and use them right away. We can’t pool them, and we don’t want to keep the card open more than a year and get hit with the annual fee. Although we could also transfer remaining points to a travel partner, Hilton is no longer on the transfer list as of late 2017 and the transfer partners are mostly overseas airlines which aren’t good options…
Part of the trick is finding enough cards to hack while also keeping the universe some what closed in to a few reward programs!
Limitations of “Re-Hacking” Cards
The other snag we are starting to hit is cycling back through cards to hack them again. We started to run into this issue late in 2017, but what we did to get around it was begin to hack business cards. You may think this would be closed off to you as an individual, but even a small side hustle would likely qualify for establishing a business account. We found some more runway with the business cards, but hacking 10 to 12 a year can burn through them in a hurry.
Now we are back looking around at the universe of travel credit cards and thinking about “re-hacking” prior cards. But this isn’t so straight forward. I found this handy post which outlines the eligibility requirements across some of the major platforms. For example, Amex restricts reward eligibility to once per card per lifetime! Wow, didn’t expect that…
On the other end of the spectrum is Capital One which limits the rewards to one personal and one business per six months, but if your credit card application is accepted then you’re basically eligible for the reward again.
More difficult is Citi which limits eligibility to 24 months after the account was open or closed. Unfortunately we got caught in this a bit as we left our Citi AAdvantage personal card open for almost the whole year even though we accrued the bonus and received those points in our American Airline account. We could have closed it right away, but kept it open to enjoy the other ancillary benefits like free checked baggage, etc. Lesson learned to close those right away so that we can become eligible again sooner!
And Chase has the infamous 5/24 rule which limits getting approved for most all Chase cards if you’ve opened any 5 credit cards in the prior 24 months. There are various exclusions and some business cards don’t count, but this is a hurdle we’ll have trouble getting under. Also, fresh off the press is Chase’s new 48 month waiting period on the Sapphire branded cards instead of 24 months. We were just coming around to the 24 month period and ready to hack those again but doesn’t sound like that’ll be an option anymore…
These are just to keep in mind. I didn’t realize these various limitations right away as I thought basically all cards followed the guideline of being eligible once every 24 months. Definitely not the case!
Have you hit these snags when travel hacking and racking up reward accounts? Any other tricks that have helped you aggregate rewards in a finite universe? Let me know in the comments below!
Thanks for taking a look!
The Green Swan