4 Things You Must Know Before Getting 20 Credit Cards


Indeed the biggest way travel-hackers earn their frequent flyer miles is by signing up for lots and lots of credit-cards just for the bonuses they provide.  But 20 credit cards sounds like a lot, and it really makes people (understandably) nervous.

Which brings up a few things you MUST know before getting your 20 credit cards.


1.) What’s the BEST CARD?

Upon getting the concept of acquiring credit cards just for the bonuses, people always ask, “Ok what’s the best credit card for me to sign up for?”  This answer changes all the time because the bonuses change all the time. So don’t jump all over an article from 2011 saying the British Airways card is offering a 100,000 point bonus.  Yes, it does occasionally have a 100,000 point bonus, but not right now.  Now its bonus is half that.  Still good, but not the best it’s had.

We like to recommend the Chase Ink Bold card which currently has a 50,000 point offer and because having this card allows you to transfer your points to a bunch of different mileage programs.  But that’s what happens to be the lucrative card right now.  If the Chase Sapphire Preferred card increases its bonus (now only at 40,000 points), maybe I’d recommend that one instead.  Or of course if the British Airways card came back with its 100,000 point bonus… you get the idea.

2.) You may not get approved

This may sound obvious, but not everyone who signs up for these great cards is going to get approved for them.  For instance, if you’ve never had a credit card before in your life, it may be some time before you can get into the hobby full-force.  Because getting approved means having a good credit-score, and first you need to have credit-history before you can have a credit-score.

If you’ve never had a credit card before, the high earning cards with annual fees are not the cards you’ll want to go for.  Go for something you know you can keep forever, like the Chase Freedom card which has no annual fee and still will earn points on various categories that change each quarter.

Keep in mind, the points earned from this card can’t be transferred to a mileage program until you also get a card that offers transfers as a perk (like the Chase Ink Bold or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.) But once you’ve had the no annual fee card for a year or more and have shown your trust-worthiness, you’ll be ready to apply for one of the aforementioned cards.  With a bit of credit history built up, you will be more likely to be approved.

3.)  Is travel-hacking bad for your credit score?

Speaking of credit-score gets people nervous and they fear that travel-hacking is going to ruin their score.  This is false.  If you use credit cards poorly, yes your credit score will suffer, but if you follow this hobby the way you’re supposed to, it can even help your credit score.  This is of course assuming you are not going to max out every credit card you get.  In fact, it’s assuming that having the credit card will not make you any more of an actual spender than you were before.

Let me explain.  Travel-hacking really mostly affects two factors that contribute to your score: length of history and lines of credit open.

> Length of history

You’re more likely to lend money to a friend you’ve known for a long time.  Credit bureau’s are similar.  They want to see that your trustworthiness can be tracked as far back as possible.

The concept of travel-hacking involves canceling a card before the annual fee kicks in.  (After all, many of the cards we get are just for the bonuses). This means you’ll start adding up 1 year credit-line lengths that bring down your average length of history.

In order to counteract this, there are some strategic things you can do.

     1.) For instance, you can make sure you have one or two no annual fee cards you intend on keeping, (like the Chase Freedom card mentioned above.)

     2.) Also, you can sign up for some points-earning cards that can be downgraded at the end of the year (after you’ve received the bonus you were after) into a no annual fee card, and thus remain on your record as an open line of credit.

> Lines of credit open

This is where travel-hacking can really help your credit score.  Believe it or not, the credit bureaus want to see lots of lines of credit in your history.  They don’t want to see that you were trustworthy with that one card you got in college and forgot about.  They want to see that you’ve had cards or even many cards, a loan, and a retail card and that you’ve been trustworthy with them all.  Think about it, which sounds better: “She paid me back that one time…so I guess it’s ok to lend her money.”  Or, “She pays me back every single time…so I know it’s ok to lend her money.”

The biggest thing to remember here though is that this only works to your advantage if you are not falling into the spending trap with all of these cards.  The credit bureaus want to see lots of good history.  This means on-time payments and a use of 0-10% of the credit limit offered to you.

4.)  Aren’t miles really hard to use?

Wrong.  Sometimes they can even get you a better ticket than cash would.  For instance, United has awesome rules for its roundtrip award tickets, allowing one stop over, and two open-jaws per round-trip award ticket.  On a cash ticket, this would change your price but for a rewards ticket, it doesn’t have to.

Let’s use the Chase Ink Bold bonus to show a real example of a ticket you could book with those miles.  50K Ultimate Reward Points could be transferred into 50K United miles.  With that, you could go from the U.S. to Cancun where you can stay as long as you want, then on to Lima, Peru for as long as you want, then back to the U.S.  And that’s not even as complex as it gets, because in that example we’ve only used our allowed stopover and haven’t even gotten into “open-jaws”.

That’s a free ticket that includes the Caribbean and South America for free just because you signed up for a credit card that will probably end up improving your credit score.

Whew!  That’s just the beginning.  Remember, this is how my husband and I go everywhere.

16 Comments on “4 Things You Must Know Before Getting 20 Credit Cards

    • Note that my list of cards is not necessarily reflective of what someone should go out and apply for because there are some better cards I’ve already had too recently to get again just yet. And it can be a “different strokes for different folks” kind of thing. But here goes…

      A list of all MY cards (not Drew’s)

      1.) Amex Business Gold
      2.) Hyatt Visa Signature
      3.) SPG Amex
      4.) IHG Visa
      5.) Chase Ink Bold
      6.) Chase Freedom
      7.) AAdvantage Citi Amex
      8.) AAdvantage Citi MasterCard
      9.) Miles & More MasterCard
      10.) Hilton HHonors Visa
      11.) Hilton HHonors Amex
      12.) Club Carlson Visa

  1. Just to clarify, you can typically use up to 30% of individual CL w/o hit to score. You want to stay under 10% of your total combined credit limits across all cards.

    I know you likely get bigger affiliate income from Ink cards, but PRG is probably a better card for the Average Joe as it gets 2x gas/grocery and 3x airfare at lower cpp than Inks do at 5x. And if you take advantage of Amex transfer bonuses (up to 35% to BA this year), cpp drops even further. When you put $30K on the card, get an additional 15k MRs that effectively offsets the AF. Of course, if you don’t take advantage of MS, the Inks typically have bigger signup bonuses (although my SO did get a 75K bonus on her PRG this year). That said, why would anyone just sign up for bonuses and fail to do MS if they can? You two are in different situation as always out of country, yet the Average Joe is home 90% of the time and MS is easy to incorporate into one’s routine.

    I like PRG as Amex has far fewer fraud alerts, there is no yearly cap (so can earn far more MRs at lower cpp). I put $30K a month at grocery and SO puts $7K reimbursable airfare and thus 80+K MRs a month is pretty common. Utilize transfer bonuses at strategic times and can effectively generate 100+K MR/mo. Plus grocery is far more available than office supply (and much more reliable – never once failed to find large supply of gcs at Safeway, but regularly have difficulty at office supply)

    • Lots of good information here, as always Paul. Thanks for your input.

      I should say that the examples I used in this post were meant to illustrate points rather than suggest a specific direction. Since I am much more familiar with Chase Ultimate Rewards, my examples will tend to draw from Chase cards. But, as you suggest, there are other card that will serve other lifestyles better.

      Also I want to clarify that I make $0 affiliate income from any card. I don’t have affiliate links at all.

      I’m flattered that my blog would pass as one that would be approved for links however! 🙂

    • Say Paul, next time you reply here, how ’bout defining your abbreviations, at least first time you use them? Who are you trying to impress and/or browbeat? You knowingly reference the “average Joe” out there, but then write as if you’re blowing “us” off — that you’re part of that “FT” crowd that really doesn’t want to let commoners in on their elitist status, code list, and secret/mistake this and that.
      Yet as I was too curious about what you had to say, I did figure out what CL, cpp, AF, 2x, 3x were, but what’s “PRG, MS, MR’s, BA, gcs, and Amex transfer bonus”? And what links get 5x? Sheeesh.
      Oh, but wait, I put my cynical hat on, then think to google several of your terms together and le voila (that’s “there it is”), I see you’re touting the Amex “Preferred Rewards Card.” (and now I get your nasty insinuation that Carrie’s list didn’t include your fav. card because she wouldn’t get affiliate income)
      And since I am, one “average joe,” why should I be impressed by getting mere 2% on groceries/gas when I can get 5% elsewhere?
      Only reply if you can do so in plain english.

    • given that I merely have “average Joe” wits about me, I’ve been trying to figure out what’s “average” about your post, even with the handicap of not being able to discern all your codes. (irritating on stilts) I’m guessing now by MS you meant “manufactured spend.” (eg, vanilla) So you would have your “average joe” spend $30,000.00 on his/her credit card, to get 15K in MR’s (? points ) to offset an AF (annual fee). Ah, but wait, there’s more, your “average joe” spend $30,000.00 PER MONTH at grocery and “SO” (whatever that is)….. to get 80+K MR’s … a “pretty common” occurrence you say.
      if you’re using a card apparently that doesn’t have tight fraud controls.
      No wonder you write in code.
      So do you provide bail bond service if any of your “average joes” follow your strategy and get caught?

  2. one thing nobody seems to talk about is canceling cards. It seems if one is going to “churn” cards, you hit a point where you have to start canceling them to avoid annual fees in their second year. Is there a negative to that? To me it seems it makes sense to hold on to cards with good return rates or no fee to keep a few cards with a longer history, but do you get to a point that you cancel about as many cards in a year as you apply for?

    • Very good question. The credit card companies don’t like posts about canceling or “churning” the cards so I think that’s why there seems to be very little said on the blogs about it.

      But you’re right, it is a good idea to keep as many of the cards as you feel are worth the annual fee. The IHG card for instance has an annual fee of $49, but also comes with an annual benefit of a free night. So is a night worth $49? Sure. I think so, so we keep it and help improve that average length.

      And FOR SURE keep the ones that have no annual fee. I was just telling my friend today that if she doesn’t want to be tempted to use her no annual fee card anymore, she can cut it in half or stick it in a cup of water in the freezer, but keep the account open so she can keep her average length of history higher.

      However, you’re right there are lots of cancellations to deal with. Whenever an annual fee is coming up, call the cancellation number and ask if there is a card you can downgrade to. Often you can downgrade an annual fee card to a version with no annual fee. Also ask if this will remain open as the same account.

      Still, there will be a few cancellations each year which will lower your average length of history, but honestly, with the help of downgrading cards, we haven’t found this to be a big deal really.

      • Thanks so much for filling this information gap. I really enjoy reading your blog! While plenty of blogs have useful information on this subject, few are so enjoyable to read.

  3. Hi Carrie! You and your husband have awesome blogs, and I’ve been learning a ton from your advice over just the past day or so! 🙂 I do have one question I hope you can help me out with: how far apart would you recommend applying for cards? My boyfriend and I are starting a long-term RTW trip this fall and would love to be able to offset the cost of the airfare with points, which means we need to get some more cards under our belts. How often do you think we should apply for cards to keep our scores from getting flagged for “desperation”?
    Thanks 😀

    • Thanks so much for your comment and I’m glad you feel you’re learning a lot!

      We try to space applications out every three months. Some do their applications more frequently. We don’t see the need to do it any more frequently because you can apply for one card per bank when you do your application rounds, as long as it’s on the same day. So on your “application day”, one with Chase, one with Citi, etc. So 3ish cards every 3 months is plenty. Nowadays we do it even less frequently because the cards don’t give out big bonuses as often.

      Anyway, all that to say…apply for multiple cards on the same day if the cards are all with different banks, but then otherwise wait three months.

      Hope you continue to enjoy the blogs!

  4. Hi there! I was just curious… to get the miles for the cards, you usually have to spend a certain amount within a certain time. Because your living costs are so low, how do you spend enough to get the miles?

    • Well, there are a few different tricks we’ve learned for making spends that can be somehow turned back into cash. Here’s a link to a post where I describe the most popular way of doing this (http://thetravelventure.com/reaching-credit-card-spend-requirements/), though there are a few other ideas that aren’t as publishable. If you want to hear more about that, feel free to email me at caroline (at) travel is free (dot) com

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