$2400 in Bonuses Since January and Counting

Note: Before applying for multiple cards please read Maximize Credit Cards for Travel which discusses the various considerations including how your credit score may be affected.

Last night I got the call from BMO regarding my credit card approval and amongst their questions was if I had any other credit cards. Hmmm … where to start.

I came into the game with a Visa, US$ Visa and Mastercard. The game started at the end of December. It started with my other half getting the Amex AeroplanPlus Gold card. This card is not the best card for daily use nor for its benefits but it does have a great sign up bonus and is free for the first year. Normally the bonus is 20K Aeroplan points but if you are referred by someone with the card you will get an extra 10K (30K in total – Distinction eligible for until April 1 2014), worth about $450 if you value points at 1.5c/point (a good starting point … you can get higher than this). You need to spend $500 in the first 3 months from the application date in order to get any points. I used the referral of someone who helped me learn about the some of the better ways to use Aeroplan points as the person referring also gets 10K Aeroplan points. If you need a referral you can use mine, or that of a friend, or that of anyone else who has helped you out. This card can be cancelled after 6-14 months if you don’t want to pay the annual fee (I have been told that Amex will refund annual fees in the first two months from the point the fee is charged).

Next up I applied for the Chase Marriott Visa card, also with the first year free, at the start of January as they had a 50K signup bonus, after your first purchase, plus a free night in a category 1-4 hotel (no purchase necessary) worth about $100-$150 if used correctly. The Residence Inn in Westmont, Montreal is 15K points per night and is a category 3 hotel that lists for $200 (although you can probably get something similar on Hotwire for $100-$150) so your 50K Marriott points are worth about $500 in that situation. TownPlace Suites in Richmond VA is 6K points or $89US per night so 50K Marriott points are worth $800 Canadian there. That’s just a quick search – you may be able to find a better deal for your points. I got the coupon for the free hotel night with the credit card but the 50K points only posted with the first statement. Let’s be conservative and say that the signup bonus is worth $600, but it could be close to $1000 depending on your need. I plan to keep this card as I’ll get a free category 1-5 hotel every year which covers the $120 annual fee, Silver Eltite status with Marriott, and it’s one of just two credit cards in Canada that I know of (the other being Chase Amazon Visa) that doesn’t hit you for 2.5% for every foreign transaction. I will only use the card for foreign transactions and at Marriott Hotels. After getting this card my Equifax score dropped 6 points for the hard pull.

The following card was an Amex Gold Rewards card for myself, also free the first year. The signup bonus was 25K, after $500 is purchased in the first 3 months, which can be converted 1:1 to Aeroplan or Avios or could be used directly at 1c/point for travel booked through Amex – I peg the value at $375. Unlike the AeroplanPlus Gold, there is no bonus for getting referred but you can still make someone’s day by using their referral. This card is much better than the Amex AeroplanPlus Gold card as you get double points on groceries, gas and pharmacy purchases (and that includes gift cards for other types of stores that you purchase in those types of stores). Alas, Costco and Walmart do not count as grocery stores for double points.

After that was the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite card – 15K Aeroplan points for just a single purchase with points worth $225. With my other half getting one as well we were up to $1875 in sign up bonuses. TD doesn’t tell you that the first year is free but currently it is. Just phone them up (or ask at the bank – if they don’t know have them call Visa). If you sign up before May 9th 2014 you also get a free companion flight on a short-haul rewards flight – but it has to be on Air Canada metal and you need to pay fees and taxes which may make the flight more expensive than paying cash with an alternative airline. If you plan to fly to Nunavut from Ontario then that companion flight is worth a good $1500 though as would the 15K Aeroplan points which is enough to fly Ontario-Nunavut. There are other perks too but I’m only counting the value of points so far.

My fourth card, signed up for at the beginning of February, was the CIBC AeroGold Visa Infinite. Like the TD card, it has a 15K Aeroplan bonus for making one purchase and it has an advertized first year free if you sign up in time. It also provides you with an additional 5K Aeroplan points if you spend $500 in three months on the card. Total value of $300.

The latest card I was accepted for was the BMO World Elite Card. Another first year free card and a $300 sign up bonus that must be used for travel booked through BMO. It also has a bonus of a Priority Pass membership and 4 free passes to their airport lounges per year, but I’m not counting that value. This is a card that may be worth keeping if you spend enough.

So here we are, in less than 2 months with more than $2400 in rewards and still only a 6 point credit hit (you may see a much greater hit depending on your credit history – monitor your credit with Equifax – they have a free trial that will get you your score and you can phone them up before the month is up to upgrade to a free month of the premium monitoring). This week I plan to get the Amex AeroplanPlus Gold myself and for the better half to get the Business version of the Amex Gold Rewards (they don’t check if you have a business but we do have one – you need to spend $3000 in 3 months but you can always get Costco or Esso gift certificates is needed to complete the spending). Including the points for referring each other we will have another 75K Aeroplan points worth $1125. I’m hoping to add a CIBC and BMO cards for my spouse as well. That would take our Aeroplan total to: 30Kx2+25Kx2+15Kx2+20Kx2+10Kx2=200K Aeroplan points. The value of all our sign ups at the end of the week should be $4125.

Later in the year I will get the Amex Business Gold Rewards card and my other half the regular Gold Rewards card for 70K 35K more points worth $1050 $525. I also plan to get the Amex Platinum Card – a $700 fee but with $200 in travel credits each calendar year it means I’m only paying $300 for a 60K signup with referral and the 10K for the referral with is $1050 in value … net $750.

So the total by mid year should be 350K 3150K Aeroplan points (not counting spending), worth $5925 $5400 for long-haul economy travel on Star Alliance airlines (such as United and Swiss) without big fees and taxes, including other signup bonuses. If we cancel the Amex cards we got at the start of the year after we’ve had them for 6 months, and assuming the sign up bonuses are still there a year from now we should be able to get another 150K Aeroplan points taking us to 500K 465K total. With 600K you can get 4 business class tickets to Asia (with fees as low as $200 each) and do a mini round the world trip (mini RTW– see my database of actual miniRTW trips taken by FlyerTalk members) with a potential ticket value of $10 000 each. Worth the trouble? I would say so ….

UPDATE

Equifax is a bit slow with the point drops but they do drop. After 5 cards applied for & approved for myself, three hard pulls reporting (one card had no hard pull and one was pulled at Trans Union) and fourfive new credit accounts (one left) showing up in Equifax there has been almost an 8085 point drop. It is just starting to creep back up 2.5 months later In theory this should start to disappear in 3-6 months but there may be some outstanding points to come off still for the credit that hasn’t yet reported. If you don’t have long established credit this will take a lot longer to recover. The last card reporting dropped the score by 7 points after it had recovered a point. There are two cards still showing “not used or too early to report”. The scores should start to recover after they report in.

UPDATE March 2014:

Amex removed the first year free for the Business Gold Rewards card (not a big deal as they may bring it back) before I could apply and also increased the minimum spend from $3000 to $5000 (changes reflected in strikeouts above). This was done without warning. I will be applying for the Amex AeroplanPlus Gold using the referral before the month is over. Amex has a promotion for the bonus counting towards distinction that expires at the end of March. I am concerned about a rumour that the extra 10K you get from a referral may disappear as well at that time.

UPDATE April 2014:

Managed to get 6 points back out of 85 lost … slowly but surely.

Evaluating Travel Credit Cards

Note the bonuses mentioned here may be out of date but the analysis isn’t. You can look at the page Maximize Credit Card Points for Travel for in depth and up to date information on current offers.

There are a lot of different sites that compare credit cards but one thing I couldn’t find was some good advice on how to take advantage of signing up for cards just for their bonus points. Some sign-up bonuses require no minimum spend and so are “free points” assuming your credit score can absorb the hit (I’ll go on about that in another post later). Others require a minimum spend, and if you’re spending money on those, you aren’t earning points with your regular credit card which should be earning you at least 1.5c per $ (while the data here is focussed on Canadian credit cards the principles are the same elsewhere). Is it worth it to spend your money meeting a minimum spend on a card for the sign-up points? This is a sampling at a point in time but the principle can be applied with other cards.

This analysis assumes that one signs up for a card and only keeps it for one year to maximize the value of the sign-up bonus and any free for first year offer, and cancels the card before having to pay for a 2nd year. Some cards may be worth keeping but that’s being ignored for the purpose of this analysis. The only thing being looked at here is that one gets a card and makes the minimum spend (if any) required to get all the sign up points. One thing to take into consideration though is insurance when redeeming points. BMO World Elite is one of the few cards that provides rental car insurance and flight cancellation insurance if you pay only partially with your card or use points – most cards do not provide insurance if you use points. This is not a problem with cards where you book and pay, then claim back points later, but it can be when you need to book with points.

The table below has the following columns:

1) Card – the name of the card

2) The cost of the card for the first year. Some are $0 as at the time of writing they waived the first year fee.

3/4/5) The bonus for signing up. Some require a minimum spend ($500/$1000/$3000 in 3 months), others only one purchase, and the CIBC cards a bit of both. I am only counting points … if you want to factor in the value of airport lounge passes, trip insurance etc whose value will vary greatly by need then you can do the math and write your own blog add it in a comment! 😉 )

6) The total value of the bonus and the points from the minimum spend assuming you make the minimum spend. This assumes that Aeroplan, CIBC Aventura and RBC Avion points are worth about 1.5c per point. YMMV.

7) The “free value” column is the value of the sign-up bonus assuming you made 1 purchase but missed the minimum spend, minus the cost of the card.

8) The last column is the return on each $ spent. This is the value of the total points (minus card cost) if the minimum spend is met divided by the money spent to earn the points (not including card cost). This is a way of prioritizing spending … for instance the Amex Aero Gold card returns 91,5c in points for every $1 spent vs the business version that returns 14c in points for every $ spent (in fact all the cards except the TD Aero Infinite Privilege vastly outperform what you would pocket in points from your day to day card – that TD card would lose money, although it may have other benefits that are worthwhile) . The TD Aero Infinite returns $225 for every $1 spent assuming you just but $1 of stuff. This value needs to be seen in context as the CIBC cards would return the same value as the TD Aero Infinite if you don’t spend the $500.

Note … these tables assume that you get the referral bonuses which are available for some Amex cards (e.g. Amex Aero Gold is 20K bonus without referral and 30K with referral), otherwise the value may be less (you can consider this link for Amex Aeroplan cards or this link for Amex Gold/Platinum rewards cards to get the referrals, all of which I will get a bonus from – the links I provided for other cards I do not get any benefit from). Nor does this table assume any value you may get from making referrals with your Amex card (10K/15K) which can add to the value of those cards.

Aeroplan cards.

card offer deadline first year cost free bonus purchase bonus min spend total value free value return per $ spent
Amex GR unknown 0   25000 $500 $390 $0.00 0.78
Amex Plat unknown 299*(699)   60000 $1000 $619.75 -$299.00 0.6198
Amex Bus GR unknown 250   25000 $5000 $140 $0.00 0.028
Amex Aero Gold unknown (April 1 2014 for Distinction bonus) 0   30000 $500 $457.5 $0.00 0.915
Amex Aeroplan plus unknown (April 1 2014 for Distinction bonus)   5000   $1 $75.015 $75.00 75.015
Amex Aero Plat unknown (April 1 2014 for Distinction bonus) 499 25000 26000 1000 $266 -$124.00 0.266
TD Aero Inf Priv May 9 2014 399 25000   $1 -$24 -$24.00 -24
TD Aero Inf May 9 2014 0 15000   $1 $225 $225.00 225
TD Aero Plat May 9 2014 0 10000   $1 $150 $150.00 150
CIBC AeroGold Inf March 31 2014 0 15000 5000 $500 $311.25 $225.00 0.6225
CIBC AeroGold March 31 2014 0 15000 5000 $500 $311.25 $225.00 0.6225

* The fee for the Platinum card is $699 but each calendar year you get a $200 travel credit. If you get the card mid-year you can get two travel credits and cancel before the year is up … I used $299 as the fee. If you won’t use the credits the math works differently.

Note that the TD cards don’t advertize the first year free but if you call in or go to a bank you should get the card for free. I’ve had to get the people in the branch to phone Visa to verify that the first year is free. The May 9th deadline is for the bonus short-haul companion flight offer – the deadline for the 15K Aeroplan points and first year free is unknown.

Non Aeroplan Travel cards:

card offer deadline first year cost free bonus purchace bonus min spend total value free value return per $ spent
BMO World Elite June 1 2014 0  30000 + 4 lounge passes 0 $1 $300 $300 300.00
Capital One Aspire April 30 2014 $120 35000 + $75 0 $1 $305 $305 305.00
RBC Avion Infinite
unknown 0 15000** 0 $1 $225  $225 225.00
Scotiabank Gold Amex March 31 2014 0  15000 (+ $300***) 0 $1 $150 ($450) $150 ($450) 150.00 (450.00)
CIBC Aventura Inf March 31 2014 0 15000 5000 $500 $311.25 $225.00 0.6225
CIBC Aventura March 31 2014 0 15000 5000 $500 $311.25 $225.00 0.6225

**RBC Avion is free the first year if you have an Infinite card from another bank – there may be issues with customer service reps asking you to cancel your old card – hang up and try again. I’ve pegged the value of RBC points at 1.5c per point … like Aeroplan points there’s a huge variation in the value of those points. There’s a link above to a good summary article about this. You can convert to BA points, in the past with a 50% bonus from time to time. Fixed rate redemptions are 1c per point. Avion Air Travel Redemption Schedule can get you over 2c per point.

***Scotiabank is offering $300 on top of 15K to those with preapproval.

BMO points must be redeemed at a fixed rate when booking directly from BMO travel service.

Capital One Aspire World, Scotiabank and TD points can be redeemed after the fact on purchases from any travel provider via the card. Capital One has a tiered system that needs attention to maximize value, while Scotiabank and TD are at a fixed rate.

RBC points must be redeemed for RBC rewards with a variety of values or transferred to British Airways points.

CIBC Aventura points must be redeemed for flights from CIBC with a variety of values.

UPDATE: Added details about the TD first year free and deadline and on all card redemption options.

Just getting started

There won’t be much on the blog for now. My latest experiment is to take mini-RTW data from flyertalk and make it into something more browsable. Mini Round the World Trips are taken with Aeroplan miles where a reward allows you to cross the Pacific one way and the Atlantic the other. There are others who blog about these trips better than I … I’m just starting to realize the potential for getting points (and lots of points) for the trips and decided to help out how I know best … data analysis and databasing. Hope it’s of some use to someone!