The confusing rules when applying for reward credit cards

I’m almost finished with meeting the spending requirement for the last credit card we were approved for, so that means it’s time to find and apply for a new card. As always, you should not be bothering with this if you have credit card debt. If that’s the case, your main goal should be to pay off the debt and increase your credit score, and THEN you can start applying for credit cards.

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When applying for credit cards, it’s important to know the rules that you’ll need to follow for each bank when applying for a credit card, because they’re all different. Knowing these rules will allow you to continue to get approved for cards and collect the bonuses that will add to your balances. That will, in turn, will allow you to meet your travel goals.

I’m going to stick to the three “major” banks that issue reward cards (American Express, Citibank and Chase) because they are the ones you will be dealing with most of the time.

*Cards in this article may give us a referral bonus if you sign up with the provided links. We do not recommend or endorse any particular bank or card and no bank has influenced this article in any way.

American Express

American Express, or AMEX for short, has one of the easiest rules to understand when it comes to applying for their credit cards. If you currently have or have EVER had that particular card before, then you are most likely NOT eligible for a sign up bonus again. There are some rare exceptions to this rule but assume that if you have ever possessed a particular card before, you will not ever get a bonus for that type of card again. There is NO TIME LIMIT on this rule.

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OK, so how about some good news. You are able to get a bonus for each specific card. So you can get the bonus for both the Premier Rewards Gold and the Platinum Card.  If you are able to sign up for a business card (and if you have any side business, you just might be), you are also able to get a sign up bonus on both the Business Gold Rewards Card and the Business Platinum Card.  That’s not to forget the bonuses available when you sign up for the AMEX Everyday cards and the AMEX Blue cards.

The same rules go for the AMEX co-branded cards (Delta, Starwood and Hilton). You can only get one sign up bonus per card, but each different card is eligible.

So while AMEX does limit you to one bonus per card, they do have a large number of cards to choose from. If you are new to this, it will take you quite a while to work through all of the cards. I’m still not even close to being complete and I’ve been doing this for YEARS.

Citibank

Citibank (or Citi for short) offers both its own cards that earn ThankYou Points and issues co-brand cards for American Airlines and Hilton.

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Citibank has also placed some rules into effect about earning bonuses for their credit cards. While they’re more lenient than AMEX’s rule, they are also far more confusing.

When signing up for a card that earns ThankYou points (like the Premier or the Prestige), here is the disclaimer:

“Bonus ThankYou points are not available if you have had a ThankYou Preferred, ThankYou Premier or Citi Prestige card opened or closed in the past 24 months.”

To clarify, Citi will only allow you to get a bonus if you have not opened OR CLOSED any card in the same product family for at least 24 months. In practice, this means that once you have a Citi card and have kept it for 2 years, you can apply for another one in the same line (Premier, Prestige). However if you were to cancel that card, the clock would reset for another 2 years. So if you have a Citi card, it would make sense to hold onto it for the 2 years, apply for another card that earns the same points and then, if you want, you can cancel the original one. Seems silly but it does keep people from signing up for the bonus and then canceling after the first year.

The same goes for Citi cards that earn American Airlines miles or Hilton points. Like AMEX, the business versions of the cards do not count towards the limits so you can get a  business and personal card and get the sign up bonus on both.

Chase

I saved the best for last. Chase was once the darling of the rewards credit card universe. No only did they have several cards like the Sapphire Reserve and Preferred personal cards and the Ink Preferred business card that earned valuable Ultimate Rewards points but they also had co-brand cards with varied partners like Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, United, Southwest, British Airways, Disney and Amazon.com.

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In the end of 2016, Chase dropped a bombshell on the points world when they instituted what has become known as the “5/24 rule“.  There have been numerous posts listing how the rule works (and how to beat them), and you can Google those if you’d like. Essentially, this rule says you will not be approved for a Chase card if you have opened five or more bank cards in the last 24 months. This rule, which is being followed very stringently, put many desirable Chase cards out of reach for many people, including myself.

There is still debate about which cards Chase will count towards your five card limit (Do business cards count? What about if you are only an authorized used on someone else card?) There are conflicting data points on each of these so it does pay to be prudent with which cards you apply for before going out and chasing every bonus announced.

Chase has also made it more difficult because not all of their cards fall under this restriction (However, it is most certain that all of their cards that earn Ultimate Rewards are).  I’m going to use a reliable source, the website Doctor of Credit, to say that the following cards do not fall under the 5/24 rule:

  • Chase IHG
  • Chase Hyatt
  • Chase British Airways
  • Chase Disney
  • Chase Fairmont
  • Chase Marriott Premier business card
  • Chase Ritz-Carlton
  • Chase Amazon
  • Chase AARP

While you can still get several Chase cards if you are over the 5/24 rule, the most desirable ones are out of reach. Personally, I held off on applying for cards for a while so I could get back under the limit, so I’m now looking forward to picking up some of the cards that were unavailable to me before because of the 5/24 rule.

So that’s just the main banks. The other issuers, like Bank of America, Barclays and US Bank each have their own rules as well but if you can remember the Big Three, you’re well on your way to getting to your travel goals.

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