Which credit cards should I apply for first?

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If you’re just starting out in this lucrative travel rewards hobby, you may be asking yourself what’s the best rewards credit card to start off with? And as is probably true in any nerdy hobby, (sorry – calling it what it is), the answer can be very nuanced and dependent on your own situation and travel goals. Which is to say, you may get that frustrating but accurate “it all depends” answer.

Luckily, there are some tips and considerations that can help guide which credit cards to apply for first, which we’ll talk about in the video below, (and this post as well.)

Because of a restriction called “5/24”, Chase cards can be a good place to start, before you have a lot of credit card applications in your history.

Chase has a “rule” where they restrict you from getting a new card with them if you’ve opened 5 or more new cards (of any brand – not just their own cards) in the last 24 months. There are some exceptions and inconsistencies to this when it comes to real life, but for personal cards it’s a restriction which should be considered.

Because of this restriction, beginners are at a sort of advantage since they typically don’t have a lot of credit card application history yet. That makes Chase cards a great idea to start with, simply because it’s easier to get these lucrative cards when you’ve got a clean and clear application history than it will be once you’ve opened lots of other cards down the road.

As for which Chase cards to apply for, you should know that not all Chase cards offer the benefit of transferring points to partners like hotels and airlines. But as long as you have one card with this benefit, any of the Chase Ultimate Rewards you earn on your other Chase cards can be transferred to partners like United, SouthWest, Hyatt and many more, (via the card with the transfer benefit). The cards with this partner transfer benefit are the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, and the Ink Business Preferred Card, so you may consider getting at least one of these cards to start.

This is a good example of the fact that some cards are especially useful when paired with other cards. To use chase as an example, the Chase Freedom Unlimited card could be a good option for earning Chase Ultimate Rewards on a card with no annual fee while the Chase Sapphire Reserve would give the option of transferring those points to partners.

Here are some additional Chase-related resources you might want to check out to dig deeper:

Which cards you apply for first may also depend on which cards are offering high sign up bonuses, and how much you naturally spend (and on what).

Since credit card sign up bonuses are a huge part of the travel rewards strategy, you may want to familiarize yourself with the best bonuses at the time. For instance, sometimes cards will temporarily boost up the sign up bonus.

But it’s not necessarily a no-brainer to simply sign up for whichever card has the highest bonus at the time.

For instance…

  • If a card doesn’t earn a mileage currency that helps you reach your particular goals. For instance if your primary goal is to get to Europe, the SouthWest card won’t be useful for this (as it’s a mostly domestic airline).
  • If the spend requirement for achieving the bonus is beyond your reach. There are tricks to reaching spend requirements without simply increasing your personal expenses (for instance using the card to buy gift cards which can be used for expenses down the road, or in some cases, used to somehow pay off the original credit card expense.) But there’s a learning curve to that process, and it’s not always simple, so plenty of folks prefer credit cards that have spend requirements within their natural spending reach.
  • If the annual fee is higher than you want to pay. Many of the premium credit cards with high annual fees offer coupons and perks to try and make those annual fees more worth while, (everything from travel expense reimbursement credits to food delivery credits for example) but it can take some diligence to make sure you’re putting them to use – otherwise you’ll want to make sure the bonus you’re receiving is worth the fee you’ll be paying.

Here are some additional bonus-related resources you might want to check out to dig deeper:

If you’re someone who’s just getting started in this rewards travel hobby, comment below with any questions you have related to this topic, or topics you’d like us to cover in other posts.

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