Getting Started in the Travel Rewards Game? Make a List!

Make a List -- It will help you keep calm.
Make a List — It will help you keep calm.

If you intend to get into the travel rewards game, it’s important to get off on the right foot by making a list (or lists). This hobby takes some organizational skills. You will have to keep track of certain information to be successful. In this post, I’ll share how I do that. You will need to decide what works best for you.

I used to routinely tell people that they needed to use a spreadsheet to keep track of their points and credit card information. However, I quickly found out that approximately 94.6%* of the population’s eyes glaze over when you say the word “spreadsheet.”

*Note that approximately 86.2% of all statistics are made up. Or something like that.

So, even though I use a spreadsheet, you don’t have to. You can just type out the stuff in a word processing program. Or use a database if you have one you like. But, you don’t even need to use a computer. Old fashioned pencil and paper work fine, if that’s what you like. Separate Index cards are also workable. The important thing is to organize all the important information.

What information to track?

Here is the list of information that I put on my list, with a brief explanation of why it’s important.

Credit Card Name
The FULL name. Not just something like AA Visa, or Delta Amex. You should write down the full official name of the card. Important because you need to keep track of which cards you already have (or have had), so you know what you can apply for in the future. Each bank has rules about whether you can get a signup bonus for a card more than once, and if so, how often. If you have a card that you can only get a bonus for once in your life (virtually all Amex personal cards), you want to keep track, so that you don’t apply for it again. And some banks issue completely new cards with slightly different sounding names. If its a new product, you can often apply for it and get the bonus, even if you had something that sounded similar in the past.

Issuing Bank
Amex? Chase? Barclay? Citi? USBank? Bank of America? Keep track, because each bank has rules about how often you can apply, and how many total cards you can have with them. If you already have 4 personal Amex cards, you are probably not going to get approved for a 5th. So its best to keep track.

Date of Application —
Sometimes you can get a card – and the bonus — more than once.  In those situations, there is usually a time frame when the new applications can be submitted and still be eligible for the bonus.   This might be pegged to the date that you applied for the previous card.

Date Approved —
Approval date is important because that’s the date that starts your time period for meeting the spending requirement.   Almost all cards require you to spend a certain amount of money on the card within a certain time period.  Typically, you need to charge $2000-3000 on the card within 90 days to get the bonus.  That 90 day clock starts ticking on the date you are approved — not the date that you get the card.

Annual Fee —
Write it down now, while you remember it.  You will save time later when you are deciding whether to keep the card.

Bonus Information 
I recommend writing down 1) the amount of the bonus; 2) the spend requirement to get the bonus (or other requirements for getting the bonus); and 3) the time limit of meeting the spend requirement.  Again, this is a case of writing it down while its fresh in your memory, so you will save time later.   Believe me, once you get 5 or more cards, you will have difficulty remembering the details about each product. Spend or other requirements

Date the Bonus was Awarded —
In some cases, you will be eligible for a bonus again by applying for a new card after a certain amount of time has passed since the last time you were awarded a bonus.   So, best to write the date down.

Decision Date for Renewal or Close

After a year, you will want to review the pros and cons of each credit card to decide whether its worth paying an annual fee to keep it.   Some cards offer benefits that outweigh the cost of the annual fee, and you may want to keep those.  Others are best closed before the fee is due.   You should write down the date that you need to make a decision on whether to keep the card, and then calendar that item.

Optional Information to Include

You can also include your credit card number, the expiration date, and the security code in your list.  But think about that carefully before writing it down.  The advantage is that all the information is readily available in one place.  The problem is that creates a security concern.  Anybody with access to this information, can use your credit line very easily, especially for online purchases.    This information needs to be kept securely, just like you secure your credit cards themselves.

Write It Down Now to Save Time Later

If you are working to get travel rewards via credit cards, what other information do you like to record?   It may take a little time up front to write all of this down in an organized list/spreadsheet… but it’s time well invested.