My February App-O-Rama: Meet the Candidates!
Confused about app-o-ramas? Read my What the Deuce is an App-O-Rama? post.
Earlier this week I recapped my incredible year in 2011, which saw me go from having no idea about frequent flying in March to earning 535,000 miles and points, acquiring an amazing wealth of knowledge about the whole business, and beginning an awesome new hobby! And now, with that in the rearview, I’m already beginning to look ahead and get excited about the amazing opportunities that 2012 will hold.
In this post, I’ll be taking a look at what my plans are for my first app-o-rama of 2012 and be sharing the reasons why I decided to include or not include certain cards. I’ve always enjoyed making lists and weighing pros and cons, so for me, comparing cards and attempting to decide between one or the other is one of the best parts of the whole hobby (almost as fun as the traveling itself). Therefore, the list of cards I consider is extensive, but I hope that the information can help you prepare your own plan. I’d love to hear your opinions or app-o-rama plans, so please feel free to share in the comments below.
A few general notes on my situation:
- My last AOR was on November 8th. It is good practice to wait 90+ so the earliest I can pull the trigger is February 7th. Right now, I’m pretending that I can hold out a few extra days to be safe, but its doubtful I’ll be able to contain my excitement once the 7th hits.
- I tend to prefer airlines miles over hotel points at this point for a few reasons:
- I enjoy finding and staying at small boutique hotels and hostels for the social aspect. I also have couchsurfed before, so for me accomodations aren’t as important.
- Since I’m only a year in to this game, my account balances aren’t as high as others who have been at it a long time. I prefer to build my airline balances and have that in reserve for a trip than have a reserve of hotel points.
- To me, getting a free flight seems like a bigger deal than a free hotel for a few nights. All of this can probably be attributed to the fact that I don’t mind smaller hotels and hostels.
- I’m currently living in Japan, so international flights are the most important to me at this point. However, it looks exceedingly likely that I’ll be back in the States come July, so I can’t write domestic travel off completely.
- For my area, Chase pulls Experian and TransUnion, Citi pulls Experian, AmEx pulls Experian, Bank of American pulls Experian and Barclays pulls TransUnion.
- I tend to favor a somewhat conservative approach to AORs and will most likely only be applying for one personal card from each lender with a business card thrown in here or there.
And here is a list of cards that I’m considering for this App-O-Rama, sorted by lender.
To start it off, let’s break the candidates down in to “pretenders” (cards that will most likely not make the AOR unless there is a drastic change of heart), “contenders” (cards that I’m seriously considering) and and the “duh, obvies!”
Citi Thank You Preferred:
Pros: The 50k Citi points converts to $650 when you use it through to book travel through the Citi Rewards Travel Center. I could couple this with the 50k I got from the Citi Thank You Premier in November and have $1300 towards travel. It is also the only Citi card that is appealing to me at this time, so I could easily just add it on to the AOR.
Cons: $10,000 minimum spend is BRUTAL! I’d struggle to make that minimum spend if I was also working on other cards.
Overall: The $650 isn’t worth the huge minimum spend requirement at this point. The only reason I was considering it was because it was a Citi card and there is nothing else really out there for Citi at the moment, but I’d rather wait and see what else comes along instead of wasting a Citi inquiry.
Bank of America and Bank of Hawaii Hawaiian Airlines Visa:
Pros: The minimum spend is easily attainable and converting to Hilton points gives pretty good value at 70k Hilton points a card. Since it is Bank of America and Bank of Hawaii, I wouldn’t be wasting a spot with one of the bigger lenders (Chase, AmEx).
Cons: While I’m not sure about B of H, B of A pulls Experian in my area and so getting these cards would cost me an inquiry (and maybe two) with the credit bureau that I can least afford inquiries with. 70k Hilton points isn’t bad but they definitely give the least bang for your buck, so 70k isn’t exactly as great as it sounds. Also, they don’t waive the annual fee the first year, so I’d be stuck paying $160 for both cards right out of the gate.
Overall: Not bad if you are looking to throw another lender in, but right now, I’m not sure I want to take the hit on my Experian report. Hilton points just don’t do it for me at the moment.
B of A Virgin Atlantic:
Pros: Even though I value airline miles more than hotel points, Virgin charges huge fuel surcharges on their flights and so the best value might be converting to Hilton points. 100k points is a fairly decent sign up bonus for only one card (and therefore one inquiry) and is larger than the sign up for the actual Hilton card (60k) or the two cards mentioned above (70k each). Like the above two, it wouldn’t be with a major lender like Chase or Amex, so I’m in the clear there.
Cons: The $2,500 in 3 months minimum spend is starting to get a little high when throwing it in with other cards during an AOR. The annual fee is high at $99.
Overall: I’d most likely add this over the two Hawaiian Airlines cards if I was going to pad my Hilton account because it would only cost me 1 inquiry but I’m not quite sure that it is worth it at this point. The minimum spend doesn’t completely knock it out of contention, but it is high enough to make me wary if I was going to add the other cards with high minimum spends, like the SPG Amex Personal and Business.
Chase Hyatt Gold Passport
Pros: Two nights stay at any Hyatt is nothing to sneeze at, since they have some amazing properties and I’ve been wanting to add Hyatt points and stays to my meager stable of hotel points.
Cons: The biggest con is that this is a Chase card, meaning I’d have to choose it over the other Chase offerings. If this was another lender’s card, I’d pick it in a heartbeat. The minimum spend is not that high ($1000) nor is the annual fee ($79) but is more than the 0 and 0 of other Chase cards.
Overall: I want this card but can’t seem to justify the hotel points, even if it is Hyatt, over picking up some extra airline miles from Chase. Right now, I’m leaning away from this card towards one with airline miles but hoping I can pick this up in a later churn.
Chase Priority Club
Pros: 80k Priority Club points is a decent haul considering that Intercontinental Hotels, the premier hotels of Priority Club, range from 30-50k, with most being 40k. This means you’re getting at least 2 nights at a top-notch property. Also, Priority Club has “Point Break” properties each quarter, which are a measly 5k a night, leading to some fantastic value for 80k points. The no annual fee and no annual minimum spend is also a huge bonus.
Cons: Just like the Chase Hyatt, I’d need to get this card in lieu of another Chase card.
Overall: I’d favor this card eversoslightly over the Chase Hyatt card because of the value of the “Point Break” properties, the lack of an annual fee, and the no minimum spend. However, I have the same reservations about this card that I do about the Chase Hyatt; that is that there are so many Chase cards to pick from and I don’t value the hotel points as high as the airline miles.
Pros: The Freedom is currently running a small increase in their normal offer (30k vs 25k points) and it also offers 5x points/$1 spent each quarter for different categories. Most importantly, there is never an annual fee with this card, meaning I can hold on to it forever and build my credit history length without ever having to consider cancelling it.
Cons: The 5x category bonuses are nice (Q1 is Amazon.com and gas, Q2 is groceries and movie theaters) but since I’ll be living abroad until at least July, the foreign transaction fee of 3% basically negates the category bonuses.
Overall: I certainly plan on getting this card at some point, I’m just unsure if now is the right time. On one hand, the category bonuses won’t help me, so it makes sense to wait. On the other hand, Chase has had so many amazing deals in the past year that there doesn’t seem like there will be a lull anytime soon, meaning that I may have to try to do two personal Chase cards in one AOR at some point. Why not do it now and start building my credit length with this card that I can keep forever?
Chase Southwest Personal Card
Pros: 50k Southwest points (which converts to $833 of Southwest fares) is a good sign up bonus in its own right but what really makes me want to jump on this card sooner rather than later is that those 50k points are counting towards the 110k needed to get a Companion Pass. With a Southwest Companion Pass, each time you fly Southwest a companion (see how they did that?) can fly along with you FOR FREE. And unlike most other companion passes, it doesn’t matter if you paid for the ticket or used points; a companion can come along on ANY flight. Also, the Companion Pass is good for the year in which you earn the 110k points and the following year. If I was able to hit 110k Southwest points by March, I’d have the Companion Pass for almost two whole years! The card also has no minimum spend, making it perfect to top off an AOR.
Cons: Because I’m living abroad at the moment, I won’t be flying domestically in the States until at least August of this year, which makes the Southwest points meaningless until then. It also does not have the $69 annual fee waived.
Overall: The reason I’m highly considering jumping on this card in February as opposed to later in the year, when I’ll be back in the States and be able to make use of the points, is that there is no guarantee that the 50k sign up bonus points will continue to count towards the 110k needed for the Companion Pass. It was originally stated that these points WOULD NOT count towards the Companion Pass but many, many people have reported that as of late January, they are. If the decision was simply between the 50k Southwest points (exclusive of the Companion Pass) and 50k points on a carrier that flew international (like the Chase United Explorer card), I’d definitely rank the international carrier much higher, seeing as I’ll have more use for those points. However, I’d hate to wait and get burned by Southwest pulling the plug on points counting towards the Companion Pass, which is making it look ever more likely that I’ll go with this card.
Chase United Explorer
Pros: Since I don’t currently have any United miles, it would be nice to start stockpiling some miles in a Star Alliance carrier other than USAir. The fact that there is no minimum spend and no annual fee is also very attractive, and 50k miles is nothing to sneeze at.
Cons: While it is advertised as a 60k promotion, there is no way that I will hit the $25,000 spend to get the last 10k so it is basically a 50k offer for me.
Overall: When looking at which Chase personal card to choose, it seemingly comes down to the Southwest personal card and this card. Because I value a Companion Pass so highly (I’m married and my wife will most likely be traveling with me most places) I am leaning towards the Southwest card. However, I could possibly be swayed, as 50k miles on United is pretty tempting.
AmEx Starwood Preferred Guest Personal and AmEx Starwood Preferred Guest Business
Pros: SPG points are by far the most valuable hotel points out there, so while the sign up bonuses appear paltry at first (only 25k, are you kidding me?) they are actually worth (sometimes alot) more than double that amount at other hotel chains. SPG points also transfer to a ton of partners, including many airlines, and do so at a 25% bonus rate, meaning 50k SPG points, which you would receive for getting both cards, really turns in to 60k AA, USAir, ANA, etc miles. This allows for awesome flexibility down the road. There are no other AmEx deals right now that are enticing to me, and therefore, these deals don’t take up an AmEx spot in this AOR that could be for something else.
Cons: The minimum spends are HUGE! Getting both these cards at the same time would mean spending 10k in 6 months, which is doable but hardly easy. Also, they have a 3% foreign transaction fee, so living abroad and having to spend $10,000 on them means I’d be paying $300 extra.
Overall: I know I want the SPG cards, so it is more a question of when. Because there are no other AmEx cards I like right now, I’m definitely tempted to throw them in this AOR, leaving an AmEx “spot” open next time for something else. Also, most of the other cards I’m considering have a low or no minimum spend, making it possible to meet the requirements on these cards. The only downside is that I’d have to be using them abroad, and therefore forking over $300 in foreign transaction fees, something I really don’t want to do. Also, it is pretty common for the SPG cards to come out with a 30k offer once or twice a year, so if I sat tight now, I could probably snag an extra 10k (5k x 2 cards) in an AOR later down the road. I’m split about 50/50 on whether to add them in or not.
Chase Southwest Business Card
Pros: Much like the Southwest Personal Card, the 50k points for the Business card are also currently counting for the Companion Pass. That means that if I sign up and get approved for both the personal and the business cards, I’ll only need 10k more points for the Companion Pass, which are easy (and cheap) to acquire. Also, this is a business card, which means it isn’t in direct competition with all the other Chase offers currently out there. I should be able to get this IN ADDITION to one Chase personal card.
Cons: None, really. It does have a $69 annual fee, but considering all that it comes with ($833 worth of Southwest fares, counting towards the Companion Pass) it is pretty negligible.
Overall: I will definitely be applying for this card. Since this is the only Chase business card I am considering, and because you can be fairly certain to get a business card in addition to a personal card from the same lender, it makes perfect sense to add it in to this AOR.
Barclays USAirways Mastercard
Pros: The fact that there is no minimum spend, no annual fee, and that Barclays pulls TransUnion for me makes this a complete freebie.
Cons: None, other than the fact that this would be my first time “churning” a card. Even though there is multiple reports of people being able to get this card again and again without even closing their existing one, it still seems too good to be true. Hopefully, I’m just being a naive newbie.
Overall: It makes no sense at all NOT to put this in the AOR. Worst case scenario is that I get turned down from getting this card because I just got it back in November, which only costs me one pull on my TransUnion account. Since no other lenders pull TransUnion, that doesn’t really matter at all. Best case scenario is that I do receive the 40k sign up bonus again, which would push me over 100k in USAirways miles, and then I repeat the process in another 3 months!
Right now, here is how my February AOR is shaping up:
I’ll definitely be applying for the Chase Southwest Business card and the Barclays USAirways Mastercard. I’m still deciding between the Chase Southwest Personal card and the Chase United Explorer, but leaning towards the Southwest card for the Companion Pass. Also, I’m on the fence about the AmEx SPG Personal and Business cards, and may ultimately decide to split it and do one this time and one next time. February 7th can’t come soon enough!
Which cards would you choose if you were me? What plans do you have for your next app-o-rama? Let me know below in the comments.