Move over Bitcoin, MLMs, and online surveys you can take from home. I have found a way easier way to pocket some extra cash every year that takes up far less time, is way less risky and doesn’t require you to get your friends to sign up under you…So what is it?
Credit Card Hacking
In 2018 we dove head first into using credit cards to earn points that could be used to cover travel expenses or just put some extra cash in our hands (and we needed it 🙂 ). Before 2018 we were content with 1 or 2 cards and had stuck with our first major credit card for many, many years. It worked, but we left a ton of money on the table by not switching it up occasionally.
Credit card hacking is the EASIEST money I have ever made
All in I spent no more than 5 hours researching and applying for cards in 2018 and netted over $2,800 in value. All by using credit cards responsibly and finding bonuses that worked for us. The good news is I can probably save you some upfront research.
It might actually be easier money to have you use my referral links to sign up for some of the below cards, but I haven’t included them. This is no BS information only.
Since I can’t personally guarantee the cards below are right for you I don’t want to include links. Chances are these cards will work, I just don’t want to link myself to a bonus that might have changed after I hit publish. There are some tools at the bottom that stay on top of the current offers, I would rather send you to them than get it wrong.
Cards I Used and Points Earned
Below is a list of all the cards we opened or used in 2018 (5 new cards opened, 1 carryover from 2017)
Full transparency, we use credit cards for every purchase we can (unless there is a significant fee). We also had some big expenses that allowed us to hit the minimum spend fairly easy on a few cards (like the hospital bill from the delivery of our child). We could have hit the spend for all the cards without those major purchases, but it would have been more spread out instead of a clustered into a few months.
I broke our credit card hacking out into two categories: Travel Rewards and Cash Back Cards.
In total, we accrued 265,208 points worth over $2,800 in cash or travel value throughout 2018*
*There is not a 1:1 correlation between points and value because two cards below offer a higher redemption when used for travel.
Travel Reward Cards
We haven’t paid for a flight out of pocket in a few years, and won’t be for all of 2019 (have 2 trips planned already). Our trip to Vegas in March is 100% covered by travel hacking using reward cards (flight and hotel). All 3 of these cards have a yearly fee that is waived the first year (more on this later).
Capital One Venture
Total points gained on this card in 2018: 65,289
50,000 Bonus Points when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. The cool thing about this card is can be used to erase any purchases coded as travel (flight, hotel, rental car, etc).
Citi – ThankYou Premiere
Total points gained on this card in 2018: 59,481
50,000 Bonus Points when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months (Worth $625 when used for travel)
Chase Saphire Preferred
Total points gained on this card in 2018: 18,113
I opened this card in 2017, got a 50,000 point bonus worth $625 when used for travel. This was the first card I got after learning about travel/credit card hacking. Great card, and is highly recommended by everyone in this space.
Cash Back Cards
After racking up a decent stack of travel points, and realizing with our second kid arriving that we wouldn’t be doing a whole lot of traveling over the next 12-24 months I decided to switch over to cash back bonus cards. Gotta pay for that daycare! None of the below cards have a yearly fee.
Wells Fargo Propel
Total points gained on this card in 2018: 39,502
$300 Cash Back when you spend 3,000 in 3 months.
Amazon Card (Through Chase)
Total points gained on this card in 2018: 19,076
$70 instant cash back and 5% cash back on all Amazon purchases when you use the card.
This one didn’t have a big upfront bonus, but we are heavy Amazon users and an extra 5% is hard to pass up. We order diapers, wipes, dog food, furnace filters and about 100 other things per year on Amazon so it made sense.
Chase Ink (Business)
Total points gained on this card in 2018: 63,747
$500 cash back when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months.
If you are thinking about starting, or have something that could turn into a side hustle/business then you can sign up for business cards. I was a little nervous going down this route, but it was straight forward and running this site counts.
It is important to note that the bonus, terms, and rules change frequently. Check the offers before you apply to make sure you are eligible and the current bonus is worth it.
My friend Physician on Fire has links to all the cards listed above AND he donates half of the profits to charity.
Mental Barrier to Credit Card Hacking
I put off credit card hacking for multiple years after first hearing about it. I can’t nail down the exact feeling, but it was a mix of these two things:
It feels complicated – Navigating all the rules and regulations didn’t seem worth. It felt like there was a significant up-front learning curve before unlocking value.
What’s the catch? – There is always a catch, right? I don’t want to get burned like I did taking those online surveys everyone raves about on Pinterest.
Skepticism is healthy, especially around your time and money.
The good news, you can get value without learning how to optimize every single mile and if you pay attention to a few basic rules there isn’t a catch.
In other words, if you want to score a few free airline tickets each year or pocket some extra cash for spending money you normally would, you can. This is the path I have taken so far.
I find good cards, sign up, hit the minimum spend and collect the rewards.
Could I get an extra boost by transferring points between airline and hotel programs? Probably, and I might start doing that this year. BUT we scored $2,800 in 2018 without doing it. You can do this without learning all the ins and outs if you don’t have or want to dedicate the time.
Risks of credit card hacking
The biggest risk is increased spending. Which brings us to the golden rule of credit card hacking:
Don’t spend extra to hit bonuses or accrue more points. Getting 1-5% back on a purchase you normally wouldn’t make is not worth it.
- Added complexity
- Short term credit score impact (More on this later)
- Yearly Fees (Can be managed – but need to be addressed)
If you want more background on the risks or cons of credit card hacking, read this post: What are the cons of travel hacking
What I look for in a card
Here are the things I look at (in order) when evaluating credit card offeres.
Highest Bonus for Category
I go for the biggest bonus available in the category (cash vs travel rewards) unless there is a very specific perk I am looking for (which has not happened for me yet). An example would be wanting to use a specific airline or hotel and narrowing your search by that.
No Fee or Fee Waived the First Year
All of the cards I listed above either don’t have a yearly fee (cash cards typically don’t) or waive the fee the first year (travel rewards cards). I like going after cards that don’t have fees the first year because I can snag the bonus without paying anything up front and have 12 months to decide if the other card perks are worth it or not.
Low Minimum Spend to Get Bonus
$3,000 in the first 3 months is pretty typical, anything beyond that I make sure we have a purchase coming up that will help us hit the minimum spend. The last thing you want to do is open a card, not hit the spend and miss out on a bonus.
A lot of cards offer perks on top of the bonus or points accrual – some examples below:
- Free checked bag or reimbursement for a checked bag
- Cell Phone Insurance (Wells Fargo Propel Card perk if you own your phone and pay your bill with the card)
- Rental Car Insurance
- Travel Insurance
- TSA PreCheck
I don’t rule cards out for perks beyond the bonus though, if you have enough cards you are likely to cover everything above.
Credit Card Hacking: Credit Score
“What will this do to my credit score?” is a consistent question that comes up when I talk to people about credit card hacking. As I previously mentioned, I opened a total of 5 cards in 2018. I have a few screenshots below from CreditKarma.com that show my score throughout the year (wish I had the full year – the first screenshot if from another post I did earlier in the year)
- Jan 773 – Normal credit score – in the 760-800 range, fluctuates with our utilization rate.
- May 726 – Dropped significantly after opening 3 cards in a few months
- June 748 – Slowly improving…
- July 754 – Slowly improving…
Opened 2 more cards in August/September that dropped my score again. You can see the recovery back up close to my normal range by December.
The lesson: If you are going to be taking out significant debt in the next few months (auto loan or mortgage) don’t mess with credit card hacking until you are approved.
We do not have any missed payments on our credit reports. Your credit impact could (and probably will) differ from this example. I am only providing real-world context of my experience.
If you have any other questions leave a comment or feel free to reach out through my contact page!