My First Year (14 1/2 months) in the Points Game

If you want to see a before and after, I wrote this in January about how to get started

When I started this site, I wanted to focus on quantity over quantity for people new to the game. There are literally HUNDREDS of sites that cover every angle of the points hustle, so go there if you want information from a (useful) stranger every single day. I intended to write this article at nine months, then 12 months, but fatherhood and summertime excitement took over.

I started getting serious about points when I grabbed my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card last year. Annual fees seem to be the scariest thing to get over for folks- you’re ‘paying’ someone the right to potentially charge you interest. Since we’re ONLY doing this if we pay our balance in full every month (because paying interest kills any bonus), you’re just letting them get a little slice while you take the rest of the pie. Right? Right.

If nothing else, the perfect new card will pay for itself for anywhere from three to seven years on the welcome bonus alone. The 50,000 points from my CSP welcome bonus paid for two tickets to Jamaica, though we still paid a couple hundred each in the airline taxes and fees. Still, for $95 in year two (year one is waived), it was a slam dunk, and what it has done for us since then has me kicking myself for not starting down this road 15 years ago.

Here’s a breakdown of my current lineup, with the pertinent details if you scroll right:

Card Welcome 90-day Minimum Spend Uses Annual Fee?
Chase Sapphire Preferred (Reserve now) 50,000+5,000 with an Authorized User $5,000.00 2X on CSP (3X on CSR) Ultimate Rewards points for Restaurants/Travel Waived First Year/$95
Chase Freedom 15,000 $500.00 5X Ultimate Rewards points- Rotating Quarters (Gas, Groceries, Lyft, Apple Pay this year) No Annual Fee Ever
Chase Freedom Unlimited 15,000 $500.00 1.5X Ultimate Rewards points on EVERYTHING No Annual Fee Ever
Chase Marriott 100,000 $5,000.00 1X on Everything $95
Amex EveryDay 10,000 $2,000.00 2X Groceries/Amex Offers No Annual Fee Ever
SPG Business AMEX 35,000 $7,000.00 2X SPG points on EVERYTHING/Amex Offers $95
Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard 60,000 $3,000.00 2X Restaurants/Travel, 10% back on point redemptions, 25% back on in-flight purchases Waived First Year/$95
Barclays Red AAdvantage Aviator 60,000 $0 (only Annual Fee) None? Only got it for the bonus $95
Chase United 40,000+5,000 with an Authorized User $4,000.00 2X Restaurants and United Purchases, Pre-Check Credit, Lounge passes $95

Clear as mud? If you cringed when looking at those annual fees, here’s the return for each:

Card Flights (all Round Trip from Chicago) Non-Flight Purchase ‘Free’ Stuff Typical Monthly Return Other
Chase Sapphire Preferred (Reserve now)
Jamaica (2), Montana (2), Los Angeles (2)
$500 in Iceland Tours, $60 Jamaica Bus, $400 of unused funds currently
2,500 points ($25 if cash back, but don’t do that) After a year I upgraded to the Reserve, so I get 1.5X on bookings though Chase’s portal. There’s a $450 AF, but it is offset by a $300 travel credit and other bonuses. My favorite card.
Chase Freedom 2,500 points ($25 if cash back, but don’t do that) Points transferred to CSP/CSR for 1.5X redemption rate
Chase Freedom Unlimited 2,000 points ($20 if cash back, but don’t do that) Points transferred to CSP/CSR for 1.5X redemption rate
Chase Marriott N/A Will get an annual free night certificate worth at least twice the annual fee. Not a viable ‘everyday spend’ option

Newest card, no redemptions yet. Similar to SPG Amex below, Marriott points are 3:1 with SPG before merger
Amex EveryDay N/A 1,000 points. Saved $200 on Amazon Prime Day with a special Amex promo. Amex offers are sneaky useful- currently 3X at Amazon, 2X at Lowe’s, Staples, and Best Buy activated for me, about 50 options in all
SPG Business AMEX Have about 55k SPG points- enough for a 5-night stay in some luxury hotels (Westin Grand Cayman, for example). Will get an annual free night certificate worth at least twice the annual fee. Not a viable ‘everyday spend’ option Current activated Amex offers for this card- 10% back at Mobil and Staples, $60 back on $300 at SPG, $15 off $75 at eBags. Many others to choose from.
Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
Puerto Rico (2), Columbus (3), Detroit (2), Lexington (2). Have close to 40k points remaining, which could be two more Carribbean tickets and a quick round trip somewhere in the midwest
Free checked bags, priority boarding, 10% points back on redemptions, 25% off in-flight purchases Not a viable ‘everyday spend’ option AA points are awesome with their reduced mileage awards. Will keep for free bags, priority boarding, and point redemption bonus.
Barclays Red AAdvantage Aviator Free checked bags Not a viable ‘everyday spend’ option I’ll be downgrading this to a ‘free’ version at the end of my first year with it.
Chase United Have 80,000 points (60k is a Round Trip, with a free stop, to Europe) Free Checked Bag, priority boarding, two lounge passes annually and a credit for TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry every four years. Not a viable ‘everyday spend’ option Will keep the card for the checked bag and the lounge passes, but the Chase Sapphire points transfer to United, so there’s no value in earning points with this card.

I know it isn’t easy to understand just how beneficial these points can be. I didn’t have many special purchases this year- I made the down payment for my car on the Citi AAdvantage and immediately paid it off when I got home- and once you get in the habit its a pretty mindless activity for something you’re already doing.

Opening a lot of cards in a short time will drop your credit score a little- but you’re also adding to your available credit so it is nowhere NEAR as drastic as they say. Everyone is different, of course, so you shouldn’t go gangbusters if you have a short credit history. Honestly, shopping around for a car and getting multiple interest rate quotes over a few days dipped my score much more than adding the accounts above. I did have the Chase Freedom as well as a Chase Slate that I converted to a Freedom Unlimited when I started this, but they were just cards in the back of my wallet before then.

Just look at the benefits, stop leaving free money on the table!

Where are you going with your next signup bonus?

Note: I’ve linked to my referrals where availableYou can see what I would be getting on the respective sites but that’s not what this is about- I want my family and friends to take advantage of these amazing programs before these companies stop being so generous. Feel free to reach out with questions, I’d love to help you join the club!

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