The question that I hear the most in life is “Why didn’t you shave?” But when I’m not speaking with my wife, the question I hear the SECOND most is “What credit card should I get?” It’s a pretty complicated question that leads to a whole other set of questions – today I’m going to talk about the things you should be asking yourself when you’re trying to choose a credit card to apply for. As always, don’t bother applying for a credit card in an effort to reap rewards if you can’t pay your bill off in full monthly. You’ll just lose yourself money in the long run because interest charges won’t be worth any rewards you own. Anyway, on to the post.
I think about three things when advising people what cards they should consider applying for. I’ll present the questions and then discuss how you would change your strategy for what to apply for depending on the answers.
Question 1: What are your travel goals?
To me, this is the most important question you can ask yourself. Why exactly are you interested in getting credit cards in the miles and points game? Do you travel a lot and want to make those experiences more comfortable? Is your goal just to visit your family more often? Do you want to see the world – and if so, do you want to see it in economy or at a higher level? Your answers to these questions will have a major effect on what cards you decide to sign up for.
If you’re interested in premium international travel, you want to get credit cards that help you invest in programs with region-based awards like AAdvantage or United. If you want to visit your family often but don’t mind economy, a distance based awards program like British Airways Avios’ might serve you best. If you are just looking to reduce the cost of travel, you might want a fixed value points card like the Barclays Arrival Card. Think about your goals before you apply – make sure your credit card bonuses will move you closer to those goals.
Question 2 – What are your spending habits?
The second question you need to ask yourself is what are your spending habits. As a reminder, we are assuming you will pay your bill off in full every month (because that is what you need to do to make this a net win for yourself!) With that in mind – are you a big spender or a small spender? This will not only affect how many cards you sign up for at a given time, but also which cards to sign up for.
There are cards that give good bonuses for high levels of spending. You get 10,000 EQMs for spending at least $40,000 a year on the Citi AAdvantage Executive card. The co-branded Delta AMEX cards have similar bonuses. So if you are a big spender, you might consider one of those cards. Big spenders should also be putting a lot of money on transferable points cards – so they earn points that will give them greater flexibility.
Small spenders need to be more surgically precise with their credit card spending – if you’re not going to spend a lot of money you need to be extra sure your credit card sign ups are in tune with your travel goals. Still, transferable points cards are good for small spenders because flexibility is king in this game.
Question 3 – What are your flying habits?
If you fly a lot, then you need to start factoring in whether you want to earn elite status into the mix. If so, cards that offer you bonus qualifying miles should really factor into your thinking. Also, if you fly a lot, you might want airline specific cards to make travel easier – free checked bags, priority boarding, that kind of stuff.
If you don’t fly a lot, then you are more able to cherry pick the best offers. Not being loyal to one main airline again gives you flexibility which can help you meet your travel goals faster. Once again, transferable points cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card are great if you’re not locked down to one airline because you can transfer them to multiple programs when it’s time to redeem for travel.
A Case Study: Me!
So, let’s take a look at my answers to these questions personally and the cards that I choose to “invest” in.
What are your travel goals?
My goal for our family is to take one or two big international trips in premium cabins per year and a few domestic trips in coach (mostly to visit friends and family)
What are your spending habits?
I’d say we are medium spenders, we generally spend around $1000 on our credit cards per month.
What are your flying habits?
When purchasing tickets, we’ll buy whatever is cheapest.
So, given my habits, what cards have I been getting? Well, I just got the aforementioned Citi AAdvantage Executive card – it’s current 100,000 mile bonus will put us a long way towards an international trip in a premium cabin next year. Before that offer had come out Jess signed up for a CitiBusiness AA card which is worth another 50,000. A few months ago I got the Barclays Arrival (my link) and Citi Thank You Premier cards, both are fixed value points cards so I can use their bonuses for about $600 worth of travel – that should take care of one and a half domestic trips in coach to visit family. Anyway, we had to juggle the spending requirements a bit, though I’ve covered how to do that elsewhere.
Deciding what credit cards to apply for isn’t simple and the best offers are changing all the time. I’ll try to highlight good offers on the blog when I see them. But if you ever have questions, feel free to leave a question in the comments or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m happy to give advice and to help – but ask yourself these three questions first, the answers will go a long way to determining what cards to get.