Recommendations for entry-level rewards card

Jay A

New Member
#1
Hey all, I've been a reader of yours for some time while building my credit and am preparing to jump into your world. I've reached the point where I'm ready to try for my first rewards card (hopefully) but doubt I have the credit worthiness to wrangle a CSR right out of the gate. What I'm looking for is recommendations on a good card to cut my teeth with. I little info about me below:

- Credit history is limited to a secured card that was recently graduated to a WF Platinum card after a year (tiny $300 limit), and a secured load opened using DoC's Secured Loan trick to diversify my # of accounts (recently opened, no hard pull).
- I started monitoring my credit through Credit Karma a little over a year ago when I opened the secured card. Scores were <500 and now in the low 700's. I am aware that this is my VantageScore 3.0 and not my FICO score, which I expect is likely a little lower than 700.
- I intend to use rewards almost exclusively for travel.
- My organic spend is less than $2,000 per month but salary is almost three times that so plenty to float and fairly interested in a little MS.

Any advice is appreciated. Thanks!
 

heavenlyjane

Level 2 Member
#2
You didn't mention what your travel goals might be. For me that is the initial question.
  1. RECURRING ANNUAL WEEKEND GETAWAY? If so, you and your partner should each get an IHG CC and hold onto it forever for it's ability to give one each a one-night certificate for any IHG in the world. Or else the Hyatt CC, which gives you 2 nights anywhere the first year and 1 free night as a decent but lower tier of hotels.
  2. TRIP OF A LIFETIME? If so, plan for it to be in about 18 months. Then choose a CC that will get you flights on airlines that serve your airport.
Also identify those CCs that waive the annual fee and have low spending challenges. BoA's Alaska Airline Visa jumps out as a desirable first card. After the first year, you can cancel and then reapply a few months later, each time getting a nice bump in airline points.

When we started, we focused on creating a portfolio of point buckets so that we could have the different kinds of travel currency.
 

Jay A

New Member
#3
Oh, good point. I think we'd be looking more in the direction of trips at random with lodging flexibility, as we tend to prefer random hostels, so probably would benefit more from rewards that can be redeemed for flights as opposed to hotels. We travel more than once a year as well. I'll look into the Alaska card though, I've heard that thrown around a few times in forums. Thanks!
 

knick1959

Level 2 Member
#6
and I want to add that Chase cards are harder to get after you already applied for other cards, so I would consider Chase first.
Specifically, Chase UR point cards. As @heavenlyjane said, the IHG card is a natural. But I would pick out the key cards you might want from Chase NOW and get those first.

At one time I really wanted the CSR. That's when it is offering the 100k UR points. It doesn't any more, and unless you have an angle on the travel credits and Precheck/Global Entry rebates ... well, it isn't a slam dunk to me. The CSP (and/or Ink biz variant) and a Freedom card make a good base. Once you are over 5/24, they won't be an option until you are again under. I'm told the IHG card is not restricted to the 5/24 rule and can be churned. I'm tempted to close mine and try for another.

If you are sticking to domestic travel and have a travel partner (I see a "we" in there somewhere), you might research the Chase Southwest card and the potential for a companion pass if you can score 2 of these. This might be beyond the scope of a "beginner", but again, the key Chase cards become more elusive IF you get into "our world" :) to any depth.
 

heavenlyjane

Level 2 Member
#7
@knick1959 is correct. Because Chase has this 5/24 rule, you should chose from the Chase portfolio first. I still think that IHG and Hyatt are great long-term cards and both of those are Chase products.

The Chase Arrival Plus CC was one of the first we acquired because it allowed us to apply points to our Airbnb charges. We use Airbnb at least 50% of the time. You can google to see which flex point cards recognize hostel stays as a travel expense.

It's important to customize your strategy to the way you travel. When we started we made the rookie mistake for applying for a gazillion cards, even though we had no plans for the points we earned. For example, we've been sitting on 50,000 Hawaiian Airlines points for 6 years, with no definite plans to use it because we live on the East Coast and Europe /Caribbean calls us more frequently. It wasn't very strategic of us to collect those points. They have an 18-month expiration date and I am always aware that we could lose them if we don't occasional use their shopping portal.

@Jay A, if you're a California resident, definitely jump on the Southwest Airline offer for fast-track companion pass.
 

Jay A

New Member
#11
Specifically, Chase UR point cards. As @heavenlyjane said, the IHG card is a natural. But I would pick out the key cards you might want from Chase NOW and get those first.

At one time I really wanted the CSR. That's when it is offering the 100k UR points. It doesn't any more, and unless you have an angle on the travel credits and Precheck/Global Entry rebates ... well, it isn't a slam dunk to me. The CSP (and/or Ink biz variant) and a Freedom card make a good base. Once you are over 5/24, they won't be an option until you are again under. I'm told the IHG card is not restricted to the 5/24 rule and can be churned. I'm tempted to close mine and try for another.

If you are sticking to domestic travel and have a travel partner (I see a "we" in there somewhere), you might research the Chase Southwest card and the potential for a companion pass if you can score 2 of these. This might be beyond the scope of a "beginner", but again, the key Chase cards become more elusive IF you get into "our world" :) to any depth.
Yep, there is a "we," and I will likely be dragging her in with me, at least to some extent. ;) I appreciate the 5/24 reminder, that's definitely something I'm trying to stay under until I can grab a CSR. As I said, I'm 1/24 now but the challenge is that I don't have ANYTHING on my credit report other than the 1 year-old WF card, so most of the pre-approval sites are showing me ineligible for all of the "coveted" rewards cards (thanks for that pointer @Kris). Like I said, an installment loan will be thickening my credit portfolio soon enough but my hope is to further thicken it by going to 2/24 with an entry level rewards card until my credit reaches the point I can grab the better cards - hence this post! :)
 

Jay A

New Member
#12
@knick1959 is correct. Because Chase has this 5/24 rule, you should chose from the Chase portfolio first. I still think that IHG and Hyatt are great long-term cards and both of those are Chase products.

The Chase Arrival Plus CC was one of the first we acquired because it allowed us to apply points to our Airbnb charges. We use Airbnb at least 50% of the time. You can google to see which flex point cards recognize hostel stays as a travel expense.

It's important to customize your strategy to the way you travel. When we started we made the rookie mistake for applying for a gazillion cards, even though we had no plans for the points we earned. For example, we've been sitting on 50,000 Hawaiian Airlines points for 6 years, with no definite plans to use it because we live on the East Coast and Europe /Caribbean calls us more frequently. It wasn't very strategic of us to collect those points. They have an 18-month expiration date and I am always aware that we could lose them if we don't occasional use their shopping portal.

@Jay A, if you're a California resident, definitely jump on the Southwest Airline offer for fast-track companion pass.
Oh, and I am a Portland, OR resident. So close!
 

knick1959

Level 2 Member
#13
Yep, there is a "we," and I will likely be dragging her in with me, at least to some extent. ;) I appreciate the 5/24 reminder, that's definitely something I'm trying to stay under until I can grab a CSR.
A couple of random comments. If you are accumulating miles/points to travel as a couple, do get your other into this, too. You double your opportunities and don't have to allocate points for 2 tickets from one source/person.

Can I ask what attracts you specifically to the CSR? Is it the prestige? Or which specific perks?

Do you have any close friends or relatives with long credit histories and impeccable scores? If so, ask them to add you as an authorized user on 1 or 2 of their credit cards. Tell them you don't ever want to see the card or use it, but it will boost your credit score just to be an authorized user (AU) on their card. I've raised the scores of both my sons by doing this. I wouldn't dare let them actually have possession of these cards, but it did wonders for their problematic scores. One son made good and is off to a good start on his own, the other re-trashed his score. But that did nothing to mine. It can be a big ask of somebody, but this can help raise a score significantly and very quickly.
 
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Jay A

New Member
#14
A couple of random comments. If you are accumulating miles/points to travel as a couple, do get your other into this, too. You double your opportunities and don't have to allocate points for 2 tickets from one source/person.

Can I ask what attracts you specifically to the CSR? Is it the prestige? Or which specific perks?

Do you have any close friends or relatives with long credit histories and impeccable scores? If so, as them to add you as an authorized user on 1 or 2 of their credit cards. Tell them you don't ever want to see the card or use it, but it will boost your credit score just to be an authorized user (AU) on their card. I've raised the scores of both my sons by doing this. I wouldn't dare let them actually have possession of these cards, but it did wonders for their problematic scores. One son made good and is off to a good start on his own, the other re-trashed his score. But that did nothing to mine. It can be a big ask of somebody, but this can help raise a score significantly and very quickly.
@knick1959, that is a fantastic idea! I don't know how I didn't think of that. My significant other's credit score is gleaming, as is my dad's - and my credit with each of them is plenty good enough to ask for something like that.

As for the CSR, I'm drawn to the international travel perks and flexibility for use of points, but also in terms of how best to play this game, I see the window for even considering it closes pretty quickly.
 

knick1959

Level 2 Member
#15
Guys. I just suggested that @Jay A get added as an AU to cards owned by folks with established credit. Before he gets too into this, how does this affect his 5/24? I know Chase was counting AU account but could be talked into un-counting them? Is this still an issue, and how hard of an argument with Chase is this?
 
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#16
I would say there are 2 distinctly different strategies in play. Many people churn signup bonuses, and only swim in those waters. Some of those people manufacture spend as well, but that is a whole different body of water. Some people just manufacture spend on the cards they have, especially if they are going for a home loan soon.

One more thing: Chase is not the end-all-and-be-all of credit card issuers. Beginners like Chase because they are easy to get a few signup bonuses with and you have some decent flexibility there (and the bloggers pimp Chase cards the most). I would argue that the total MR points available through signup bonuses is 3X larger than the total UR points available through signups; once you have some decent skills at getting redemptions, their airline transfer partners are more lucrative than the Chase transfer partners. And SPG is not a program to be neglected either.

One more thing. When I talk to a newbie about CC rewards, I always include the following caveat:

If compound interest is your enemy, it is the worst enemy you will ever have. If compound interest is your friend, it is the best friend you will ever have. So don't spend on a CC without at least 2 different plans to pay it back: if you carry a balance, your CC rewards will not come close to making up the difference.
 

Jay A

New Member
#17
Guys. I just suggested that @Jay A get added as an AU to cards own by folks with established credit. Before he gets too into this, how does this affect his 5/24. I know Chase was counting AU account but could be talked into un-counting them? Is this till an issue, and how hard of an argument with Chase is this?
Good call, I'll look into that too. Based on @El Ingeniero's comment and yours I'm wondering now if it may be worth it to trade <5/24 status for juicing my credit enough to see other solid cards like SPG become available to me sooner.
 

Jay A

New Member
#18
I would say there are 2 distinctly different strategies in play. Many people churn signup bonuses, and only swim in those waters. Some of those people manufacture spend as well, but that is a whole different body of water. Some people just manufacture spend on the cards they have, especially if they are going for a home loan soon.

One more thing: Chase is not the end-all-and-be-all of credit card issuers. Beginners like Chase because they are easy to get a few signup bonuses with and you have some decent flexibility there (and the bloggers pimp Chase cards the most). I would argue that the total MR points available through signup bonuses is 3X larger than the total UR points available through signups; once you have some decent skills at getting redemptions, their airline transfer partners are more lucrative than the Chase transfer partners. And SPG is not a program to be neglected either.

One more thing. When I talk to a newbie about CC rewards, I always include the following caveat:

If compound interest is your enemy, it is the worst enemy you will ever have. If compound interest is your friend, it is the best friend you will ever have. So don't spend on a CC without at least 2 different plans to pay it back: if you carry a balance, your CC rewards will not come close to making up the difference.
@El Ingeniero it sounds like you're suggesting that in practice the 5/24 cards are more hype than most bloggers let on? If so that would be great news for me as I have been sweating that threshold lol. For some more insight into my plans I'll say I do intend to do some casual churning, but not any faster than my organic spend allows. I may get into MS some day but don't want to bite off more than I can chew.

Couldn't agree with you more that no matter how "safely" you approach this hobby, you're playing with fire. Rest assured I'm extremely well practiced with my budget and have worked a zero tolerance anti-floating policy into it. ;)
 

knick1959

Level 2 Member
#19
I believe part of the safe answer is to ask to be added to existing card accounts that were open > 2 years ago. In fact, you want to be added to the oldest accounts with the highest credit lines to get the most for-free lift.

If you want specific Chase cards, you want to do those early and selectively. The points are valuable and the cards are "worth it", depending on your plans. That said, for those of us that are over 5/24 and probably will stay there, we're staying there simply because there is plenty we CAN do ignoring Chase cards. But I have most of what I would want already from Chase ... would like one more small adjustment, but that isn't to be.

You can get a couple of Chase UR/SW cards, then get an IHG, Alaska, AMEX, Barclays, whatever. But if you get too many from the latter set first, your chances of getting things from the first set diminish.

So, while I agree with @El Ingeniero that there are so many worthy options other than Chase, the fact remains that you can't easily go back (to below 5/24). And it's because of all those other wonderful options that shouldn't be ignored IMO.
 
#20
If you want specific Chase cards, you want to do those early and selectively. The points are valuable and the cards are "worth it", depending on your plans. That said, for those of us that are over 5/24 and probably will stay there, we're staying there simply because there is plenty we CAN do ignoring Chase cards. But I have most of what I would want already from Chase ... would like one more small adjustment, but that isn't to be.
A big part of why I am presently under 5/24 is because I've done nothing but business cards in the last year. The other part is that I am MSing at my top capacity ($8K/week or so) on cards I already have.

The only Chase cards I am really interested in another Freedom and a CSP (that I will product change into a Freedom later).

I've been meaning to develop an MR game, and maybe a Citi TYP game for a year and a half. But I may need a new mortgage soon.
 
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#21
@El Ingeniero it sounds like you're suggesting that in practice the 5/24 cards are more hype than most bloggers let on?
If you are into domestic travel and SW flies out of your home airport, Chase SW cards are highly desirable. You need 120K SW miles (but UR transfers don't count), and that would be best done with 2 60K signup bonuses.

Transferring UR to airline partners for flights has a number of highly specific sweet spots. If I were starting out in the present environment, I'd get the Ink Preferred, the Ink Cash, the CSP and the Freedom, and product change the CSP to a Freedom after a year. IMO you can't have too many Freedom cards.

IMO, the Hyatt and IHG cards are very much worth getting, after you've passed the 5/24 milestone.
 

mec

Silver Member
#22
If you have a year's revolving history through your secured card, I think you have a good shot at one of the Chase Freedom cards. Try to check on the Chase prequalified page and see if they offer you one. By itself either Freedom card is not a travel rewards card, but you could begin to develop a relationship with Chase through it and begin to accumulate URs for when you do get their other products. Which one is a bit of a personal choice. The Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5 URs per dollar uncategorized. and the Freedom earns 5 URs per dollar in restrictive categories up to a cap ($1,500 per quarter). Each has a sign up bonus of 15k URs. You have to do the math on your own planned spending to really know which is better for you.

I agree that Chase gets more award travel worship than they are truly worthy of. When you consider the whole range of other award cards on the market that you have to largely forego in order to be Chase eligible Chase is < all of the other opportunities out there. But when you are Chase eligible it certainly makes sense to make the most of it.

You may find after a year that what you thought you were looking for from award travel has changed so the more flexibility you leave yourself while you are learning about it the better off you will be. You should read as much as you can about the different award programs and the card products in blogs and on forums and at the issuer's site and in their terms and conditions. What makes the most sense when you are starting out is to churn as many compatible cards as you can. but you should start very slowly and leave room for a second and third Chase card after the first year (from now) mark before you start racking up accounts. That means that you should probably only get 1 or 2 other accounts over the next year and that you should chose them carefully.

You will want to factor whether you want to keep a card long term or just earn the SUB and cancel in 12 months into your decision making process, which cards give you the best return on your organic spending, What cards can you or do you want to manufacture spending on in your area, and will the card you are applying for prevent you from getting another card that is actually higher on your priority list. So there is a lot of math involved. Some of it is theoretical and some more concrete.

My advice would be to apply for one of the Freedom cards (whichever makes the most sense to you) and then start working on a list of Cards that seem appealing that you curate as a guide for your application decisions. Reverse engineering from a few destinations through various rewards programs is a good way to get a sense of how some of them differ. Just remember that flexibility is probably the best goal. Cash is the easiest to redeem, followed by buy your own travel credits points or 'miles', followed by transferable points, and finally by fixed program miles or points. And ask lots of questions as you go. people will be glad to point out errors and your options.
 

mec

Silver Member
#23
You should also get your FICO scores so you know what they are for a baseline. Credit Check Total has a $1 trial membership that gives you all three scores. Experian is updated daily and Transunion and Equifax are updated monthly. You can cancel within the trial period or call and ask for a discount if you want to continue the service. They will do half price for $14.97 per month.
 
#24
You should also get your FICO scores so you know what they are for a baseline. Credit Check Total has a $1 trial membership that gives you all three scores. Experian is updated daily and Transunion and Equifax are updated monthly. You can cancel within the trial period or call and ask for a discount if you want to continue the service. They will do half price for $14.97 per month.
Compare that to the FICO off CreditKarma.com, and you will know how your real score goes up and down.
 

Jay A

New Member
#25
Hey all, I thought I'd throw an update in here and say thanks for all the help! I ended up signing up for 2 crappy rewards cards to further establish my credit (Total Rewards Visa and Sportsmans Guide Visa) because they were guaranteed approval and I had a trip coming up that I could use the Total Rewards points on after transferring to Wyndham.

I've mostly used the Total Rewards Visa (for Wyndham transfer) since my initial post here, which was a little over 6 months ago. Last week I applied for the Chase Sapphire Preferred as well as the Ink Cash and was approved for both!

I went with the Preferred over the Reserve because the Preferred bonus was at an all time high and the Reserve was where it always is. My plan is to product change to the Reserve after 1 year and if a huge Reserve bonus shows up I will product change again to Freedom and nab the Reserve bonus.

I went with the Ink Cash for similar reasons - Ink Cash bonus was at a high and the Ink Preferred 100,000 pt bonus had JUST ended. I'll continue to hunt the Ink Preferred while I'm under 5/24.

Not the hunt begins for business cards I can get approved for and make sense so I stay under 5/24 until my Chase deck is complete.

Thanks again for all your help, it was very kind!

- Jay
 
#26
I'd start by looking over your travel plans, and seeing what miles and points make sense. Or if cash back makes more sense for you.

SPG will die in a few months, but you could go with MR points as a second bank currency. Can try Amex Blue Business Plus to dip your toes in that pond. Amex biz plat has a 100K public offer out there, but the $450 AF is not waived for the first year.

If AA miles are attractive, you can try for a Citi Biz AA Plat; there may be a 75K offer out there.

I was actually 3/24 with Chase, and decided not to get 2 more Chase cards, as I have 6 Chase cards presently, and new credit applications with Chase seem to be a trigger for account reviews and shutdowns (for more seasoned churners than you). I got 2 cash back cards from credit unions (PenFed, NFCU) and got credit limit increases on 2 other cashback cards instead.
 
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Jay A

New Member
#27
I'd start by looking over your travel plans, and seeing what miles and points make sense. Or if cash back makes more sense for you.

SPG will die in a few months, but you could go with MR points as a second bank currency. Can try Amex Blue Business Plus to dip your toes in that pond. Amex biz plat has a 100K public offer out there, but the $450 AF is not waived for the first year.

If AA miles are attractive, you can try for a Citi Biz AA Plat; there may be a 75K offer out there.

I was actually 3/24 with Chase, and decided not to get 2 more Chase cards, as I have 6 Chase cards presently, and new credit applications with Chase seem to be a trigger for account reviews and shutdowns (for more seasoned churners than you). I got 2 cash back cards from credit unions (PenFed, NFCU) and got credit limit increases on 2 other cashback cards instead.
Good info, thanks. I'm going to do some more reading on the Amex biz cards. I think you're right about that being probably the best second currency for me. I'm thinking if I start my Amex deck with business cards I'll have a nice bank going for when that day comes that I'm >5/24 and can dip into the personal Amex cards.

I'm bummed and a little worried that the SPG merger will cause me to miss out on the Chase Ritz-Carlton card (provided it gets replaced too). I'd go for it now but I'm 4/24 counting the CSP and in October I'll be 3/24, so since the Ritz card isn't 5/24 sensitive it isn't on my road map until mid next year at the soonest.
 
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