16 Things to Know About Getting Approved for Rewards Credit Cards

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I’m incredibly fortunate to have earned millions of miles with credit cards. The products and bank issuer policies — and best strategies — are constantly changing.

If you want to approach your credit card applications strategically — not just get the best cards, but in the right order, here are my suggestions.

  1. Get the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card when you’re just getting started in the hobby. It has a great signup bonus (60,000 points after $4000 spend within 3 months). It earns points quickly with double points on travel and dining. And they’re valuable points that transfer to a variety of different airline and hotel programs which gives you real flexibility to redeem for the award you want from the program that has availability once you’re ready to do so.

    You get this card, demonstrate to yourself how well you do earning transferrable points, and then later on you can choose to get a more expensive card. In fact, with as tough as the Sapphire Reserve has been on approvals, a great strategy if you want Sapphire Reserve is to get the Preferred Card, wait a year, and then ask if you can product change.

  2. If you’re under “5/24” start with Chase cards. In order to root out customers who just want to sign up for credit cards, pocket the bonus and move on, many people who have opened 5 or more new accounts within the previous 24 months don’t get approved for new Chase accounts.

    That means you want to get Chase cards first while you’re under the limit. I would start with the Chase Sapphire Preferred and with the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card which has the best signup bonus — 80,000 point signup bonus after $5000 spend within 3 months. That can even be enough for a roundtrip business class award ticket between the US and Europe.

  3. If you’re trying to get or stay under 5/24 you can still apply for cards. Small business credit cards from several issuers [e.g. Chase, American Express, Citibank] in my experience don’t show up on your credit report, meaning that applying for those cards won’t count towards ‘5/24’. You want to stay away from Capital One small business cards if this is an issue.

  4. There’s no hard limit to the number of Chase cards you can have or at least no known limit, limits are placed on approvals and total credit offered not on number of open accounts.

  5. There’s no hard limit on frequency you can apply for Chase cards different people experience different things in terms of timing of getting more cards (eg no more than two cards in a 30 day period for some people, no more than one personal and one business card in 90 days). However the more cards you apply for quickly the greater scrutiny your accounts may get even after you’re approved. I tend to think waiting more than 31 days is a good idea though.

  6. Lower-tier cards are easier to get approved for than higher tier cards. So Chase Sapphire Preferred – a Visa Signature – is generally easier to get approved for than Reserve, a Visa Infinite. They’ll also approve lower limits for Visa Signatures than for Visa Infinites.

  7. American Express allows only one signup bonus per lifetime per product. So for big bonus cards you want to look for the best offer. Bear in mind that with American Express lifetime may not mean what you think it does, it means as long as American Express remembers you’ve had a card, ask them what cards you’ve had to determine whether you’re eligible for a bonus. Many report cards they had 7+ years in the past aren’t on that list.

  8. Typically you’re limited to 4 charge cards and 4 credit cards from American Express, although some people have reported getting more. That’s not a huge limitation for most people, I don’t find I want more than that at any given time.

  9. There’s no limit to the number of American Express cards you can be approved for in a day in my understanding though I wouldn’t apply for more than 2 (and the second one is likely not to be approved immediately).

  10. Don’t close an American Express card within the first 12 months there have been stories of accounts having rewards clawed back. Only get cards you want to keep, but if you do decide not to keep an Amex card then wait until it’s been open a year, you can still avoid that second year fee.

  11. Charge cards are easier to be approved for — and approved for higher limits — than credit cards. American Express offers both charge cards you have to pay off your balance at the end of the month, credit cards you should pay off the balance but are permitted to revolve credit, pay interest. A bank has a harder time estimating not just your current circumstance but your likelihood of being able to pay off money in the future that it loans you now, so credit cards can be harder to get. At the same time I’ve heard great approval stories on the Amex co-brand credit cards recently so go figure.

  12. Citibank doesn’t have a hard limit on the number of their cards you can have though of course how much credit they’ll make available for each person will vary. After you apply for one card they’ll consider another application from you 8 days later, but you can’t apply for more than 2 cards in 65 days.

  13. Bank of American has gotten tougher They have several rules, it seems:

    • The ‘2/3/4 rule’: they’ll give you at most 2 cards every 2 months, 3 every 12 months, and 4 every 24 months. This isn’t about how many new cards you signed up for total across all issuers, this is about how many Bank of America cards you could get.
    • 24 month rule where they won’t approve you for a card if you have had the same card open within 24 months.
    • The 3/12 rule where they’ll only approve you if you’ve had fewer than 3 new cards in total opened in the last 12 months (or fewer than 7 cards if you have a bank account with Bank of America)

  14. Credit scores improve with more unused credit so opening up new cards, getting more credit, that you aren’t using can make your score go up — although most people don’t need to obsess over their credit score or pulls of their credit report. The most important thing for a good credit score is paying your bills on time. You care most about your credit score when seeking significant credit for things like a residential mortgage.

  15. Try to retain credit even if you cancel a card. Chase frequently lets you move your available credit from one card (the one you’re going to get rid of before a fee hits) onto another card (that you’re keeping). American Express has offered the ability to move around your credit between cards as well.

  16. It doesn’t take as high a credit score to get approved as you think

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.

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