A Case Study On How To Manage Multiple Credit Cards for Travel Hacking
Welcome back to “A Case Study on Travel Hacking!” Last week, in Part I, I brought along Mr. Economical Excursionist, who lured me into the Travel Hacking game five years ago. As I mentioned previously, Andy is seriously THE expert in all things travel hacking and has been the motivation, brains and organization behind all of the travel hacking that we have done.
In Part I, we talked about the steps Andy and I took to getting started in travel hacking. We mentioned how we decided on which cards to start with, our thought process on how to choose cards throughout your travel hacking career and we revealed that we have opened over 60 (yes, a six with a zero after it) travel hacking credit cards between the two of us. (Read Part I: How One Couple Went from Beginner Travel Hackers to Experts)
So, naturally people always ask us how the heck do we possibly manage all those cards!? Well, here are all the answers!
In the previous case study, you said you opened two cards at the same time? Is this typical?
Actually, we opened up four cards at the time. Two in my name and two in LeAnna’s. We knew that the sign up bonus offer of 75k was rare and that we had to jump on it while we could.
In the first few years when we were building up our accounts, we would typically apply for at least 1-2 cards (total) every three months, give or take. As a couple, I would often apply for the best cards available then in three months, LeAnna would get the same cards, for organizational and minimum spending purposes. This way, we were only individually applying for credit cards (and getting hard inquiries) on average every 6 months per person.
Now that we have gotten most of the main cards, we might only apply for one card at a time every 3-6 months.
I would say that this is typical for people who can manage their spending and are wanting to become expert travel hackers who travel frequently. However, not everyone has those same travel goals, so others might only open one or two cards total, earn enough points for a trip or two and be done. Most of those people then just keep that card open and use it for daily spending and can slowly work on building up points the “typical” frequent flyer mile program way.
Ok, so you said that you’ve been travel hacking since 2011. How many cards have you and LeAnna gotten over the last 5 years?
Since starting, we have opened 65 cards in total!
Surely, that has TANKED your credit scores!?
Nope, just the opposite. Here is a screen shot of each of our current estimated scores via Credit Karma. Not too shabby if I say so myself! You can read more about the myths and misconceptions on credit cards and travel hacking here and here as well
Do you ever cancel any of the cards? Do you actively use all 65 cards?
Canceling cards, without good reason, is not good practice for many reasons. However, with that being said, we have canceled about half of all of the cards we have opened. If the annual fee is way too high to justify the benefits that the cards provide, then we typically will cancel once it is time to pay the annual fee.
Do you actively use all 65 cards?
We only use a few cards at a time. We use the card(s) that we are currently meeting minimum spend on. If in the rare case we aren’t meeting a minimum spend, then we only use the card with the best benefits (high daily spending points, no foreign transaction fees, etc). The cards that we aren’t using we simply put in a safe and just let them build our credit scores while collecting dust.
Ok, 65 credit cards is a ton. How do you manage all of them!?
There are really two main resources that I use to manage all my cards and spending
This is the best way for me to quickly review all my charges to ensure that everything looks kosher. It also helps to see how much I’ve spent to know if I am close to meeting my minimum spend. It also has the due dates for bills. So, if you only have one or two cards, this may actually be the best (and possibly only) tool you really need to stay organized.
With so many cards over time, I also implement GoogleSheets and GoogleCalendar. The spreadsheet’s main purpose is to know what travel hacking credit cards I have applied for over time so that I don’t waste time on duplicates. I also use this to see what cards have annual fees. If a card has an annual fee and I know I want to close it before I have to pay, I put in an email reminder in my GoogleCalendar to inform me when I need to call to cancel the card.
65 Cards seems excessive and scary. Do all travel hackers have to do this?
Absolutely not! The beauty of travel hacking is you can do as much or as little as you want. If you only want one trip, maybe you only open one card and that is the end of the story. You can still use the same strategies to know what card to apply for and implement the same tools to track and manage your spending and card. Others who are willing to be extra organized and careful with their money may choose to go to the extreme, like us.
So what’s next? Can you just keep travel hacking and applying for credit cards endlessly?
Sadly, we are starting to run out of the big sign up bonus credit card offers, since the sign up bonuses are the goal. So now, we can start looking into manufactured spending, which is much harder to do, but arguably necessary if we want to continue to wrack up massive amounts of points in short periods of time.
We are not in this situation, but those who can charge business travel have it made as well. This is more of your stereotypical “Frequent Flyer Mile” type of loyalty program because you are earning points on paid travel. But hey, if you can personally charge a flight, hotel or other travel expenses and have your job or business reimburse you, that’s the way to go! After all, travel hacking is simply just a way to (yes, legally), work the system to your benefit!
Still not sure you will be able to handle and manage all your travel hacking credit cards? Then you need to check out our Top 5 Must Have (FREE!) Organization Tools for Travel Hackers
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