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How To Apply For Your First Travel Rewards Credit Card


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Updated, January 28, 2020

How to apply for your first credit card

Which credit cards to open first
What to do when you get your first card

In the last lesson, we discussed the top rewards cards and now it’s time to actually apply for them. It’s taken us six lessons to get to this point–applying for your first card as part of a travel rewards strategy.

Chances are, you’ve applied for credit cards before, but up until now, you’ve probably never really paid attention to the process. This time, it’s different. This time, we care, because we have places to go!

So, here’s a step-by-step guide to walk you through the process.

Completing The Application

As you complete your application, bear in mind that you always need to be 100% honest and truthful.

Remember the guidelines that each card issuer has:

  • Chase: 5/24 (no more than five new personal cards in 24 months) and 2/30 (no more than two personal or one business card) in 30 days. Also, space out the applications with Chase by three to four months each.
  • Amex: You usually only get one welcome bonus on each Amex card, so wait until for promotional offers with increased welcome bonuses. However, there are occasional exceptions. To be sure, start the application process, and Amex will let you know if you are eligible for another bonus.
  • Citibank: No more than one application every nine days, and no bonus earned for a Citi brand of cards 24 months after either the account is opened or closed.
  • Capital One: Only two personal cards total at a time and no more than one application every six months.

Do not add an authorized user at this time for personal cards, as that would add to that person’s 5/24 number.

This may create issues if you are going to be approaching this game in two-player mode. It may be possible to get an exception by speaking with an agent at the reconsideration line (see below), but you never want to count on that!

If you want to avoid making those calls in the first place, tread carefully with getting authorized users.

After filling out the applications you will probably get instant approval on some cards, and “pending” messages on the remaining ones. Don’t despair, these pending messages are perfectly normal.

Calling Reconsideration Lines

Sometimes, you may not get approved right away. Instead, you get some version of “sorry, not right now.” If you get that, call the reconsideration department for that issuer.

Here’s a handy post that describes in detail what to do if your card is declined.

Some Reconsideration Phone Numbers

Chase Credit Card Reconsideration

  • 888-270-2127 (personal)
  • 800-453-9719 (business)

American Express Credit Card Reconsideration

  • 877-399-3083

Citibank Credit Card Reconsideration

  • 800-695-5171


Bank of America Credit Card Reconsideration

  • 866-458-8805 (personal)
  • 800-481-8277 (business)

Barclays Credit Card Reconsideration

  • 866-408-4064 (credit analyst)

Capital One Reconsideration

  • 800-625-7866

Ok, assuming everything has gone your way and you’re approved, you can expect to receive your new card in the mail in the next 5-10 business days.

What To Do When You Receive The Card

You’re going to have a few things you need to do when you receive your card:

  • Activate: You’ll need to activate the card, either online or by calling an automated number.
  • Register: Create an online account with that card issuer if you haven’t already done so. If you already have an online account, make sure the new card has been added to that account.
  • Link: Connect your credit card to the checking account you’ll be using to pay off the statements.
  • Automate: Set up autopay so you never miss a payment–but make sure you have the funds in the checking account to draw from.
  • Choose: Select benefits if any, such as with some premium cards like the American Express® Gold Card (American Express is a CardRatings advertiser) and The Platinum Card® from American Express (This card is not currently available on CardRatings).
  • Download: Download the mobile app of your card issuer.

Staying Organized (A Little Goes A Long Way)

The key to winning at travel rewards is being organized.

There are few things more tragic than jumping through all the hoops to get approved for a card, then not getting the signup bonus because you either confused the amount of the minimum spend or, messed up on the deadline.

Or, forgetting to pay off your statement in full, and getting hit with either a late fee, or significant interest expense, or both.

The ounce of prevention here is the ability to get a little organized.

You'll Want To Know The Following Pieces Of Information About Each Card:

  1. Name of the card.
  2. Date the card was approved–this is when the countdown starts for the minimum spend to be met.
  3. How much time you have to meet the spend. Most issuers give you three months from the approval date, but some banks may only have a two-month window. An easy way to know for sure is to send a “secure message” through your online login to get the exact date you need to hit the spending requirement.
  4. The amount of the minimum spend.
  5. The amount of the bonus.
  6. How much the annual fee is, if any.
  7. If the card has an annual fee, note the date you should be considering calling in for a retention offer.

While we recommend using a Google Sheet or Microsoft Excel for keeping track of this info, if you use a pen-and-paper approach, that’s cool too. Just make sure you have all that information stored in a place you can locate easily.

As discussed previously, make sure you set up all your cards for auto-pay with a bank account that always has enough money to cover your spend.

Make a note in your calendar to check all your credit card accounts once every 2-4 weeks. You can use Todoist, or Google calendar or Microsoft Outlook, among others. You want to verify that your card is paid off, and that your cumulative spending is on track.


You’re going to want to avoid having the same password for all your credit card accounts.

In fact, when you set up your travel rewards accounts with the airlines and hotels, you should have different passwords as well.

If you are unable to keep track of all these passwords, you can:

  1. Let your browser (like Chrome) suggest strong passwords, then have it save the log in details. Make sure your personal computer is protected by a log in password, though.
  2. Better yet: Sign up for a service like LastPass

Final Thoughts

There you have it, that’s the whole application and activation process. It takes a little time and organization, but it’ll be well worth it when you’re traveling for almost free with your family.

Just because you’ve applied for your first card, doesn’t mean you’re done. We’ve still got quite a bit to cover. The next lesson will be all about business credit cards–which are a vital piece to the travel rewards world.

If you found this course on travel rewards helpful, you may also enjoy this free illustrated guide, packed with many other ways to get more for your buck and win back your financial independence.

Course content originally produced by ChooseFI was edited/updated by CardRatings for this lesson.