Some links to products and travel providers on this website will earn Traveling For Miles a commission that helps contribute to the running of the site – I’m very grateful to anyone who uses these links but their use is entirely optional. The compensation does not impact how and where products appear on this site and does not impact reviews that are published. For more details please see the advertising disclosure found at the bottom of every page.
At the time of writing, Traveling For Miles does not have a financial relationship with any credit card issuers so there are no affiliate links in the post below.
I’m not a credit card churner and I’m not someone who will hammer a great deal until it’s dead or until I’ve been excluded from further participation (that’s probably why I still have two functioning Bluebird cards that I control) but, just like most people reading this post, I still love to earn stacks of points.
With credit card issuers like Amex gradually making it harder to earn sign-up bonuses quickly and on the cheap (e.g. by purchasing gift cards), it has become increasingly important for mainstream miles and points fans to put a little more thought into when they apply for credit cards.
Note: If you’re a credit card churner this post isn’t aimed at you.
With rules like Chase’s 5/24 and Amex’s “one sign-up bonus per card per lifetime” it has been important to plan which cards to apply for (and when) for a few years, but it’s also now becoming equally important to put a little more thought into how a sign-up bonus target is to be reached.
I don’t apply for enough credit cards to have to worry about Chase’s 5/24 rule, and I get targeted by Amex for cards where a bonus can be earned more than once/lifetime often enough that I don’t need to worry about its sign-up exceptions either….but I do have to consider where the spending to hit the sign-up bonus targets will come from.
If you happen to have a business with significant expenditure, spending $5,000 in 3 months to earn an 80,000 points sign-up bonus probably wouldn’t be particularly taxing…but that’s not the position most mainstream miles & points collectors find themselves in.
It can be difficult to hit a $5,000 milestone (for example) with everyday spending alone, and that’s why I try to time my credit card applications to coincide with periods when I know my spending levels will be elevated.
In practice, what this means is that I tend to apply for credit cards in November and December when a combination of Thanksgiving, the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales, Christmas and New Year all significantly increase my outgoings and make it easier for me to hit the various sign-up bonus targets without too much difficulty…especially when I enlist Joanna’s help!
While November & December are my peak months for credit card applications, I make the most of good sign-up bonuses at other times of the year too…but I first make sure I’ve got a solid idea of how I’m going to hit the sign-up bonus spending target.
I’m always keeping my eye out for good credit card deals, but I’ll always hold off applying for a card until I have a big-ticket item that I need to pay for.
These big-ticket items usually take the form of an international premium cabin airfare or a miles/points sale that happens to be offering a great deal (often Alaska Airlines), but they can be anything as long as they can be paid for using the credit card I’d like to get.
Sometimes this can work in reverse.
Even if I haven’t been considering applying for a new credit card, I’ll start to give it some thought when I realize that I have one or more big purchases/expenses looming on the horizon.
For example, if I know that I’m going to need to buy a new laptop, I’ll start to research the credit cards available to me at the same time as I start working out which laptop to buy.
I work on the premise that if life is going to throw a big expense in my path I’m going to make sure that I get the most out of whatever I have to spend.
It’s important to note that the big-ticket items don’t have to be so large that they get me the sign-up bonus(es) on their own – they just have to be big enough to give me a solid boost towards whatever my targets are. My regular everyday spending should take care of the rest.
Nothing that I’ve written here should be taken as a rule that people should be applying to their own circumstances as what works best for one person (me) won’t necessarily work well for someone else…but hopefully, some of it may give a few people some ideas.
Great credit card sign-up bonuses aren’t going away so nobody should be rushing out and spending money that they may not otherwise be spending just to hit a sign-up bonus target.
By giving the timing of your credit card applications a bit more thought and by dovetailing applications with times when life throws a few large expenses your way, you can take a lot of stress and worry out of meeting a sign-up bonus target.
As importantly, you can also avoid having to indulge in any practices that a credit card issuer may frown upon and, with banks getting ever more interested in how we meet their spending targets, that’s never been more important than now.