Never would I have imagined that we would be where we are today. With the number of coronavirus cases skyrocketing in the United States, the sobering situation in Italy is on the forefront of my mind. We’re in for a rough month here in America. It doesn’t help that each day in the news feels like an entire month.
We’ve done our part to hunker down. As is the case with most (all?) schools across the nation, our kids have been sent home. We got the memo late last Sunday that classes would be suspended for the time being. Our 5-year-old’s class said for specifically two weeks, but I’m 99% sure that this is going to get extended. Besides grocery shopping and necessary errands, we’re doing very little. I am going into the office, as all my coworkers are working from home and, hey, trying to work in a tiny house with three kids around is less than ideal. It’d be a rough time if not for my wife who can be home with them.
With no end in sight to the social distancing, all up coming travel plans have fallen off the schedule. I expect us to be in this situation for at least two months, maybe longer.
But I’ve been thinking about how to approach the rest of the year. There is so much more to be concerned about right now than award travel. At the same time, however, planning and positioning ourselves for the time we can travel again is an excellent diversion. Here are a few ideas I intend to pursue.
Credit Card Consolidation
With no foreseeable travel on the immediate horizon, I’m a bit frustrated sitting on a couple premium credit cards. I no longer have a Chase Sapphire Reserve and have never had a personal Platinum Card from American Express, but I’d likely be dumping or downgrading them to save a bit of money in the near term. Benefits such as Priority Pass lounge access and hotel elite status are currently completely useless.
The two premium cards I do have are the Delta Reserve for Business and the Hilton Aspire, both issued by American Express. Given the current situation, I’m more likely to cancel the latter, as the annual fee comes due next month. I’d already moved in this direction as I can no longer buy Delta gift cards with the airline credit, my main way of getting full value from it. Now things would need to change drastically in the near term for me to even consider keeping it. I’ll almost certainly downgrade it to the Surpass and plan to meet the spend for a free night. This is a cash savings of $355. More likely, I’ll hang onto it until my annual free night posts from the Aspire, and then request a pro-rated downgrade.
I can’t downgrade the Delta Reserve for Business yet. I’ve not had the card for a full year and will need to hang onto it. I’m sure by November when the fee comes due, things will either be back to normal or have moved significantly in that direction.
Besides these cards, I’m likely to ditch every other airline card we have, including my wife’s Delta Gold Amex, my Aviator Red Mastercard, and our one remaining Alaska Airlines Visa. The Delta Gold Amex is useless and was already on the chopping block. But I was intending to potentially keep the other two. I have some AA gift cards and no AA credits, so just a couple flights with a checked bag would make the fee worth it.
But if we aren’t going to be potentially traveling for at least a few months and fees are coming due, it doesn’t make sense to keep them. Cash in the pocket today is the priority over value down the road. I’d already considered doing some credit card “spring cleaning”. The coronavirus situation has just cemented this as the definite plan.
Being Bullish on New Card Applications
On the flip side, being stuck with no travel means I’m looking at ways to boost points and miles balances. Having no outlet to either plan or go on trips makes me a bit stir crazy. All I’m thinking about now is how to stockpile points for when we can travel.
I’d held off (mostly) on new card applications for quite a while. Last year I did 100% business card applications, with the goal of dropping under the dreaded Chase 5/24 line for the first time in literally years. Well, it is paying off. I have picked up two Chase business cards in the past couple months (although one was incredibly painful). With the coronavirus writing on the wall in terms of travel plans, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to apply for a couple more.
The two applications I sent off last week both took a few days in review, but ultimately I was approved. I’m looking at 70,000 Hawaiian Airlines miles from the business card and 140,000 IHG points from the IHG Premier card. There were potentially better offers out there, but I’ve really wanted the new IHG card for a while. Along with the 10% back I’ll retain for having the old IHG card, 4-night award stays will not cost just 67.5% of the going rate in points. IHG may keep devaluing, but this is a silver lining. Plus, once the bonus posts, I’ll have nearly 370,000 IHG points to push around.
If this stay on travel doesn’t end in the next couple months, I’ll likely apply for at least two more cards. I’m not sure I can risk another Chase card application so soon after picking up three cards in the last four months and having 9 cards total, so it’ll likely be business credit cards from other issuers.
Now we get into the piece that isn’t a good idea in the moment. I’ve just recently started picking up manufactured spending at a volume I’d never been able to previously achieve. It’s been awesome to earn tens of thousands of points cheaply and in a short time frame.
But manufactured spending does mean interacting with people. My method of cashing out the Visa gift cards I buy requires me to go to a register in person, which means I must interact with someone. It’s a minimum of one other person, but it also isn’t necessary (like grocery shopping). I am sitting on a bunch of cards I need to cash out, so I will be making a minimum of one trip in the next week. The place I cash out is adjacent to the grocery store, and it’ll be a 5-10 minute effort.
The problem lies in what to do beyond this. California is under a “shelter in place” policy. I do say policy, as it is not law, and I’ve had a few discussions about this with people. If this becomes truly enforceable by the police (i.e. someone is stopped simply for being out with other people), then we have a first amendment case that hopefully heads to the Supreme Court. This is not to say I disagree with the policy. But I urge you to give this a read.
I could keep up the volume I’m doing, but this means multiple runs per week to the store not for the purposes of buying essentials. I can’t justify it, not until we know more about the extent of the spread of virus. I wish I could keep up the MS during this time, but it’s not currently something I’ll be pursuing. But I can’t help but be bummed about it, as it represents a significant balance of points and miles I could accrue in a matter of weeks.
This is an unprecedented time we’re in, at least in my lifetime. The only time that felt as ominous was when the Twin Towers were destroyed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I was all of 12 years old at the time, and while I knew what I was watching was horrific, I can’t help but think the true gravity didn’t hit me.
Making it through the next few months and helping in what ways we can is most important. Travel is a passion of mine, but it can wait. My job is currently stable, and our family able to adjust to limiting our contact with others. I’ll spend the time planning and dreaming about when we can travel again. The world will need it, as the industry will be in shambles.
How do you plan to pass through this time of limited-to-no travel? Will you be planning and stockpiling miles and points like we are?