Sunday, April 17, 2016

How do we earn so many miles and points?

I regularly write about how we successfully redeem our credit card miles and points towards free flights, hotel stays, and even a free cruise.  Miles and points have given us the opportunity to travel the world for next to nothing - over and over again.  We’ve even had the pleasure of experiencing a free first class flight that retailed for $26,728!  
The two of us fit into a single Cathay Pacific first class seat!
Here’s how we earn so many miles and points.

Sign up bonuses
The easiest way to earn the most amount of points quickly is to sign up for a credit card with a large sign up bonus.  There have been some incredibly large sign up bonuses in the past, and there are still many active sign up bonuses regularly offered.

We each earned 100,000 American Airlines miles from the old 2 browser trick for applying for two American Airlines credit cards at the same time.  Later on, I applied for the Citibank AAdvantage Executive credit card to earn 100,000 American Airlines miles and a $200 statement credit, without paying for the $450 annual fee.  I wrote about that experience here.  This was probably the best credit card promotion I ever signed up for.  In retrospect, we probably could have signed up for more of these cards.  There were reports of users signing up for 4 or more of the same card!

We’ve earned plenty of Chase Ultimate Rewards points over the last few years.  I’ve been approved for a Chase Sapphire Card with 50,000 bonus points.  My wife has signed up for her own Chase Sapphire Card with 50,000 point bonus two times.  It’s probably the best rewards card to sign up for first.  When the Chase Freedom card had a 30,000 point bonus offer, me and my wife both signed up and were approved for the cards.  The best part about Chase Ultimate Rewards is that you can easily share points with your spouse for free.  I’ve been approved for the Chase Ink Bold for 50,000 bonus points, the Chase Ink Plus for 70,000 bonus points, and even the Chase Ink Cash for 25,000 bonus points.

I’ve also written before about all the points we earned through big credit card sign ups from the Starwood Preferred Guest credit cards (Personal and Business), Citibank ThankYou credit cards, Barclaycard Arrival Points, and AMEX Membership Rewards earning cards.  There are many, many credit card promotions out there.

Earning points with normal spending
We earn plenty of points with normal spending, and we try to use a credit card to make purchases whenever possible.  This helps us collect points very quickly.  Different credit cards have different point earning structures, and it’s best to figure out which type of card to use for which type of purchase. 

When we are dining out at a restaurant, we will make the purchase with our Citibank Forward card, which earns 5x points at restaurants (sorry this card is no longer available).  The Chase Ink Cash card, Chase Sapphire Preferred card, AMEX Premier Rewards Gold and Citibank ThankYou Premier cards all earn 2x points at restaurants.  Combine restaurant purchases with a dining program such as MileagePlus Dining or Rapid Rewards Dining to earn extra points.

I pay our cable and cell phone bills with my Chase Ink Plus card, since it earns 5x points on those purchases.  When getting fuel at the gas stations, we use our Citibank ThankYou Premier card to earn 3x points.  Whenever we are at an office supply store (such as Staples or Office Depot), we stock up on Shell gas gift cards, which earn 5x points with our Chase Ink cards.  We also purchase various gift cards at Staples to use for normal transactions such as Netflix gift cards, Amazon gift cards, Visa gift cards, Nordstrom gift cards and more– which all earn 5x points. 

When shopping at, we use my Citibank Forward card, which earns 5x on all purchases at Amazon (again, this card not available to the public anymore).  The other option for making purchases at Amazon is to buy Amazon gift cards at Staples for 5x points.  Our Chase Freedom credit card has rotating categories that allow us to earn 5x points in various categories such as grocery stores, Amazon, gas stations, restaurants, and more.  When shopping at grocery stores, we use our AMEX Premier Rewards gold which earns 2x on purchases.  For the next 3 months, we earn 5x points at grocery stores with our Chase Freedom credit card.  For regularly purchases that don’t meet any spending category, we have been using my Chase Freedom Unlimited credit card, which earns 1.5x points on all purchases.  Or we will use the Citibank Double Cash card, which earns 2% cash back on all purchases. 

When purchasing anything online, we also like to use shopping portals to double dip points.  I often shop through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal to earn additional Ultimate Rewards points on all qualifying purchases.  I will also use Mr. Rebates often to get some cash back from the site on top of the points my credit card purchase would earn.  I use to find out which shopping portal will earn the most bonus points.  

As you can see, I can go on and on about earning extra points with just normal spending.  Whenever making a purchase, we try to consider which card will earn the most points for that purchase.  For example, if your family cell phone bill is $100 a month, you will spend $1,200 a year.  If you use a normal credit card earning 1 point per dollar spent, you would only earn 1,200 points.  If you use a Chase Ink card, you will earn 5x points, or 6,000 points on your cell phone bill for the year.  Now try to optimize all your credit card purchases and you can see how the points really add up very quickly.

Combining points between me and my wife
Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be instantly shared between spouses and significant others.  Citibank ThankYou points can be shared between any two people, however shared points expire after 90 days.  Starwood Preferred Guest points can also be shared between your spouse if you live at the same address.  Unfortunately, American Express Membership Rewards points cannot be shared.  Combine great sign up bonuses and points earned with normal spending with your spouse and you can rack up your total points in double the time. 

Traveling during off peak season

While redeeming points, we try to aim for travel in off peak seasons, since the cost of mileage redemption may be 50% less during these times.  It’s also more fun traveling when it’s less crowded.  While the weather may not be ideal, we prefer cooler weather anyways.  Saving points on our trip allows us to use them for our next trip.

Manufactured Spending
Several years ago, it was extremely easy to manufacture spending for very little cost.  Manufactured spending is a process where turn credit card spending into cash.  It mostly involves buying pre-paid gift cards or cash equivalents and then using the money to turn around and pay off the credit card.   Manufactured spending can help you reach your minimum spending requirements to earn a credit card sign up bonus, and it can also help you earn tons of miles and points without spending a lot of money.  
In the good old days of manufactured spending, there were many easy methods to earn points.  At one time, you could buy dollar coins at the US Mint and then deposit those coins straight into your bank account.  Amazon Payments would let you pay someone up to $1,000 a month with a credit card without any fees.  We had several Amazon Payments accounts between family and friends.  Vanilla Reload cards allowed you to buy a $500 card at CVS for a $3.95 fee, earning 504 points, or more if your credit card offered more points at drugstores.  The money could be loaded into your Bluebird account and then used to pay off your credit card bill.  For a while, we were purchasing $500 PayPal reload cards for $3.95 fee at Rite Aid stores, and earning tons of points as we used our PayPal balance to pay off our credit card bill.  All of the previous methods for manufactured spending have been shut down.

We have dabbled in other forms of manufactured spending, but since having a baby, it’s been more difficult to find the time to earn points this way.  Manufactured spending is still alive and well; you can read more about it on Flyertalk or reddit. 

Saving money and investing is an important part of our journey towards financial freedom.  Getting rewarded with miles and points from our credit card purchases makes the journey more fun and exciting.  

Before applying for any credit cards, my first recommendation is to always make sure you have a good credit score.  My favorite sites to check my credit score for free are: Credit Karma and Credit Sesame.

My favorite resources for up to date news on credit card points are: Flyertalk, Doctor of Credit, and the Frequent Miler.  Time to go earn some more points!   

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