Curious how Card Curator got its start? Card Curator team member, Caroline, interviewed the founder, John Garner, to find out how an elaborate trip to Korea planned with points planted the seeds for the app.
Caroline: So, you’ve mentioned that you started Card Curator after taking what sounds like a genuine “trip of a lifetime.” Could you tell us a little more about that?
John: Sure—so back in late October 2017 me, and 3 buddies of mine went on a 16 day long trip to Korea and Japan. The trip was absolutely amazing, we saw historical shrines and fortresses, went to an incredible spa in Korea, ate at Michelin starred restaurants. While in Japan we also got to test out some fantastic bars as well.
What made this trip really different was that we funded almost everything using just credit card points and miles. All the hotels except for the Aloft in Seoul and all of our flights were paid for with free night vouchers and points that we had saved up.
C: That’s pretty incredible, I’m guessing that experience led to Card Curator?
J: We didn’t go into that trip with a business idea in mind. However, after seeing how much incredible value we got out of that trip—in total the trip cost about $25,000 per person so $100k in total—I wondered if there was a way to make this free money more accessible to other people. Credit card points are definitely my “thing” and I know a lot about them, but during this trip I really saw how anyone could really benefit from them.
C: Okay, could you tell us how and when you started planning for this?
J: Although the trip happened over October and November of 2017, we started planning basically January 1st of that same year. Quite a bit of research. I had to start so early because I needed to map out the exact credit cards each person needed, as well as which ones everyone would open. The goal was to maximize our luxury while minimizing our out-of-pocket dollar cost.
Overall each of us four had to open around 4 or 5 new credit cards and had to spend approximately $20,000 in minimum spend (which was our normal spend over the following 6 months anyways) to achieve all the card signup bonuses. We successfully obtained the bonuses around June.
The bonuses—which included free nights and flights—were the main way we funded the trip.
Taylor and his friend at Korea’s Seoraksan mountains
C: What difficulties did you face when planning?
J: Well the biggest challenge was timing: 4 people doing roughly the same thing, spending the same amount, all at the same time was not easy. We had to come up with a rough estimate for how much people had to spend to activate sign up bonuses, but luckily we all had roughly the same lifestyles. We gave ourselves a buffer regarding the budget and ultimately cut it close.
Since I’ve spent so much time thinking about credit cards, I also helped my friends with the logistical details—which can get pretty confusing. For example, they would ask how you could check how much of their minimum spend they’ve done so far, whether the credit card annual fee counts for minimum spend (answer: no), and when the spending deadline for the sign up bonus starts (answer: deadline begins from when you apply for the card, not when you actually receive the physical card).
It also just took time to plan and research the timeline for opening the cards and achieving the sign up bonus.
C: You mentioned opening quite a few credit cards, what about the negative impact of those hard inquiries on your credit score?
J: Well first it’s important to take into account our general credit histories. All 4 of us had credit cards since we were in college and had our credit cards for 5-6 years already. We had credit histories, scores, and income, so approval for new cards wasn’t an issue.
As for the hard inquiries each one took 5 points off of our credit score. We got bumped down from high 700s to mid 700s, which all in all doesn’t have much of an impact since generally above 720 is good.
Afterwards, it took about 3 months for our score to recover to the original score, after 6 months our score began to increase (gradually), and after 24 months the hard pulls were gone entirely from our credit report. Our overall score at that point was up roughly 5 points.
C: That makes sense. Out of those new cards you opened, which stood out to you as being especially beneficial?
J: The most important card was the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Back then Chase had just rolled it out and it had a 100k sign up bonus. We got the cards in January and it basically paid for the roundtrip tickets. We also realized that it took only 20k more points to fly business and 40k for first class, so the 3 flights we each took during the trip were pretty comfortable. We actually got those cards before even planning for the trip, just because of how amazing the bonus was.
We also used Chase Hyatt credit cards, since back then there were 2 free nights at any hyatt hotel. We used it on the Park Hyatt in Tokyo, and saved $2,800 (roughly $300/night for four of us). Interestingly that’s also where the movie Lost in Translation was filmed—a pretty stellar hotel.
Slightly less important but obviously still helpful were the Hilton credit cards. They used to be under Citi and are now under Amex, and we used those for the Conrad hotel in Tokyo and Osaka.
C: Wow, that really sounds unforgettable, was Card Curator an immediate idea afterwards?
J: After the trip honestly the four of us were blown away that we had done this. The general idea for Card Curator was definitely a gradual process. I would say it came when my dad mentioned that it would be nice if something could calculate the costs for you (the planning and researching clearly took strategizing).
So a lot of the functions of CC—like setting specific goals like hotel stays and flight types, or keeping track of sign-up bonuses and progress on achieving them—were really based off of the main challenges we encountered. People forget all the time about sign-up bonuses and making sure to consistently use a card to achieve the spend minimum—me included.
But yeah considering the experience itself and what it led to, I definitely won’t be forgetting this trip!