Our story does not include a spiraling cycle of debt, followed by a slow solid recovery to become debt free. I’ve heard plenty of those stories. Our story starts out pretty boring, the middle is also pretty boring, and then gets more exciting and lucrative recently. We barely used credit cards for 5 years, then I naively believed I was using a single airline card effectively for the next 15 years. Almost 4 years ago at age 39, we entered the current phase of using and abusing tons of credit cards.
The early days of our credit card story.
I got a Discover Card in college at age 19 and used it at gas stations, because it was easier than going inside the store every time. I have no idea why I chose Discover. There was no signup bonus, but at least there was no annual fee. Sometimes stores did not take discover, and so I opened a USAA Visa card at age 20. I don’t think this card had any perks, but at least there is no annual fee. Several years later, at about age 25, based on a teacher friend’s advice, I got the US Airways Card.
I transitioned from using cash, began charging everything I could, and then paying the balance each month. The average charges were a little over 1000$ per month, which earned about 15k USAir miles per year. 30k miles was enough for a round trip ticket to Mexico. We’ve been 3 times and miles bought several of the tickets. I was a loyal customer for the next 15 years, paid the annual fee a lot of times, and continued to charge everything through that card. I cannot remember if I even initially got a signup bonus on that card. In retrospect I was the perfect customer, for the credit card company. Actually I wasn’t quite perfect, because the perfect customer runs a balance and pays them interest.
Time to use my strong credit.
I was 39 when I first began thinking about buying a cheap condo at Myrtle Beach. Mrs. JumpStart and I had 800+ credit scores and Mrs. JumpStart and I had about 20k$ saved for a down payment. We found a place, put a contract on it, and applied for a loan with Wells Fargo. We were confident the loan would be approved, and when it wasn’t I was outraged. What good was working to earn a high credit score if I couldn’t get a loan for a measly 40k$? Between the credit limits on our 3 cards, I could have bought the condo with my stupid credit cards. I could have used those rip-off cash advance checks they mail me every week. Luckily, I knew in my heart that those checks are evil, and I accepted that I was not getting a condo.
My mind had become set on a great long summer at the beach, and I started scanning the internet for month long rentals, as well as for cheap hotels. I don’t remember which travel hacking blogger caught my eye first. It was probably Frugal Travel Guy or maybe The Points Guy. I was a little skeptical, but my strong credit score had been useless, and that angered me. There were no plans to apply for another mortgage any time soon. Even if my credit score fell, what could it hurt? I didn’t really care.
The consensus of all the travel credit card bloggers was:
- Apply for a bunch of cards with bonuses, all in one day.
- Fulfill the terms and earn the bonuses.
- Wait 91 days and apply for another set of cards.
- Get all the bonuses.
- Repeat 91 days later.
- Repeat again, forever.
The credit card companies pay attention to new accounts, and supposedly did not see applications from the current day. 91 days old was kind of old, and 182 days was very old. The mass applications on the same day were referred to as app-o-ramas. I discussed the idea with a few friends, and they thought I was crazy. They had also thought the beach house idea was crazy though.
6 card apps in one day.
I decided to pull an app-o-rama and applied for 3 cards as well as another 3 cards for Mrs. Jumpstart, all on the same day. We had 6 instant acceptances from 4 different banks within an hour. There were 2 no annual fee Citi Hiltons and 2 no annual fee Amex Hiltons. I got the Bank of Hawaii HA card. Our USAir card had been in my name only, so Mrs. JumpStart got her own. All the cards that did have annual fees were waived the first year.
Flash forward a couple of months and we had earned the 6 bonuses. We earned 240,000 Hilton points, 30,000 HA miles, and Mrs. JumpStart earned 35,000 USAir miles. My current 40,000 USAir miles had taken 3 years of spending 40,000 dollars through the card to earn. Now Mrs. JumpStart has almost as many miles, and the bank was sending her targeted spend offers. I was frustrating that I had gone so long in the dark, and I was now officially addicted to credit card bonuses.
Turns out we did need our high credit score.
A few months later, our realtor convinced us to take another shot. We found a townhouse in Myrtle, got a different mortgage broker, and applied for a larger loan than the first one. The credit cards applications did cause some hassle in the application process. Our credit scores were lower, but still solid and not the issue. The issue was the bankers wanted to match each credit pull with each account, and wanted explanations for adding all that new credit. Eventually a letter containing the truth about opening accounts to earn bonuses satisfied them, and I included a list of credit pulls with new accounts. (Apparently on the credit report numbers were changed to protect identity?) We were approved, and closed within 45 days of the loan application.
That summer was destined for some real spending due to the new townhouse. I had done some more research and learned about shopping portals, and triple dipping, from Frequent Miler. I abused used gift cards, Sears online, and Lowe’s online a lot that summer to buy mattresses, televisions, X-boxes, and furniture. At the end of the summer, I signed up for a couple of now deceased bluebird cards. I only had to do a little manufactured spend to finish off that round of bonuses.
Our credit card story today.
It has been almost 4 years since that day of 6 instant acceptances, and we have gone through a lot of cards. I will never cancel the freedom cards, discover cards, nor Bank of America Better Balance Rewards cards. They have great benefits with no annual fee. The Chase Ink, Chase IHG, Chase Hyatt, Amex everyday, and AMEX Starwood have benefits that make paying the annual fee justified. I have opened and closed cards for Marriott, Hilton, AA USAir American, Arrival, Club Carlton, and many more.
Between Alaskan, British, American, Hawaiian, Delta, United, and Southwest Airlines, we currently have 800,000 airline miles. We’ve got over 100,000 Chase ultimate rewards points and over 150,000 Amex membership rewards points. If we transfer all the Marriott and Starwood points to one Marriott account, it would total over 400,000 Marriott points, and credit cards have earned me platinum membership with Marriott, Starwood, Hyatt, and IHG. There is a scattering of leftover points in other programs.
The picture above is the black leather binder where I keep my cards. It took me a while to lay the 46 cards out with all the info covered. All of those cards are associated with open accounts. Some of the accounts have multiple cards due to authorized users. I didn’t even bother getting Mrs Jumpart and Jumpstart Jr.’s cards, from their wallets.
We have closed and discarded more cards than that binder holds. At annual fee time, I call and ask to have the fee waived. Sometimes they won’t, and they close the account. Often times they waive the fee, and the account stays open. Sometimes they give me some other bribe offer to consider in exchange for keeping the account open. The bribes offers are successful about half the time. I haven’t used most of the cards from the binder in many months, and balances are paid in full every month. My credit score has bounced around between 770 and 840 the entire time. My scores for the last year according to Discover are pictured below. Mrs. JumpStart has had similar scores and even reported a perfect 850 a couple of months ago.
I wish I had learned these strategies earlier and I missed a lot of deals including the double browser trick, pudding points, and the mint. A lot of deals have died on my watch including bluebirds, redbirds, and small business Saturday. There have been too many nasty devaluations to list. The banks have enacted new policies like Amex’s one bonus per lifetime rule and Chase’s 5 cards in 24 months limit, and I am getting to a point where I have exhausted many of my options.
Fortunately, JumpStart Jr. is a different credit card story. The bad thing is that JumpStart Jr. does not have a credit score, but the good news is that in a few months, he will turn 18, and he is starting from scratch. All of the Amex bonus are new, and available to him. He has not exceeded Chase’s 5 card limit, and Jumpstart Jr has never had a bluebird die. Citi, Discover, Barclay’s and Bank of America are waiting to sell him stuff, and with my help, he will be ready to filter through all their offers, and build his credit along with his stash of miles, points, status, and cash.