Reviewing our miles and points collection strategy

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Drew and I met up with a miles and points collecting friend (quite a pro) and our conversation made me realize how diverse this hobby can be in terms of strategy.  We’re all collecting miles and points but it seems everyone’s got something different they really hone in on to earn, and I think that’s quite appropriate.  Do what suits your lifestyle.

For instance, if I think about the ways we’ve been earning as we travel, it’s quite different from what we might be doing if we were stationary.

This gave me the idea to review our last few months and investigate exactly which earning strategies we use the most, as compared to strategies we’ve used before or the other strategies out there.

Miles

Generic first class cabin

Ways we earn now

  • Credit card bonuses.
    To be specific, recently I applied for the Amex SPG card which can give us a total of 30,000 SPG points- points we’ll likely transfer into American Airlines miles.  After all, the transfer is a 1:1 ratio plus a bonus 5,000 miles for every 20,000 point transfer.To be honest, we may never use those SPG points for actual stays with SPG.  The transfer to AA is just too appealing.
  • “Assistance” with meeting spends.
    While we don’t do a whole lot with manufactured spends, we do use the Bluebird card and My Vanilla Reload cards to help us meet our spend requirements, a process you can read more about on my post on the topic.    Sometimes when we’re traveling abroad and can’t get ahold of any My Vanilla Reload cards, we use Amazon Payments to reach our spend requirements instead.  This is simple- much like PayPal without a charge for using a credit-card.  When using this to send payments however, avoid doing straight back and forth payments. This could get your account flagged.  There is also a restriction in that you can only send out $1,000 a month.  Slow goings, but it’s all internet based, which we like as we travel.
  • Promotions
    Right now I’m hanging out in South Africa for a few days because we found a cheapish flight that would help us complete an Executive Platinum fast-track challenge American Airlines offered for a day.  Not traditional miles-running because we’re flying for the promotion more so than for the miles we’ll earn from the flight.  Once we gain status by completing this promotion we’ll earn twice as many miles with our paid flights.To find out about promotions like this one, sign up for Drew’s newsletter or keep tabs on Travel is Free, though I’ll try to post what I can too.

Other ways to earn

  • Using the manufactured spend strategies with a high-earning card.
    A lot of people use Bluebird/MyVanilla reload spends not only to meet the spend requirement to get credit card bonuses, but also to keep earning points.  For instance the Ink Bold card earns 5 points per dollar for the first 50,000 spent at office supply stores.  When Office Depot used to allow My Vanilla Reloads purchases with credit cards, people were earning loads of points this way.  Nowadays folks still find shopping portals or other stores that provide higher earnings and find ways to purchase gift cards and such.  Again, using a slew of methods to turn that purchase back into usable cash.  (Amazon payments, traveler’s checks or money orders, etc.)  Or, they just use the gift cards to buy groceries or what have you.
    I have not mastered this science in part because I’m always abroad.  Thus it belongs in the “other ways to earn” category.
  • Miles-running
    Drew and I have only just begun to dabble in this and even as I say this, I must admit we’re not truly miles-running, as mentioned above.  This is basically when you find a fare that’s ridiculously low for the distance flown, increasing your miles earned per dollar spent. This is really why people get so excited about mistake-fares (when an airline accidentally prices something wrong- leaving a zero off the end or sticking the decimal in a more preferable spot).  Mistake fares are awesome ways to get somewhere cheaply but all the better if you can do this while simultaneously earning miles in a program you value.I can’t offer too much advice for finding mistake fares other than to say that you can take a look at this FlyerTalk thread, or follow Drew on twitter (@Travelisfree).  Also Drew talks about this topic in more detail on his Mileage-running 101 post.

Hotel Points

conrad New York Bedroom

In our opinion, hotel points are secondary to miles.  A.) because hotels are cheaper than flights so a free flight is worth more to us broke folks than a free hotel and B.) because there are lots of ways to get free stays without points such as Best Rate Guarantees.

Ways we earn now
You can find specific information about which hotel programs we favor here.  Earning points is pretty similar to earning miles to be honest, though our strategy is more stay based than credit card based, but we do use credit card bonuses too.

  • Credit card bonuses.
    Again to offer a specific example, I just signed up for the IHG Rewards card which gave me 80,000 points after spending 1,000 in three months.  This is a particularly easy spend-requirement to meet and thanks to PointBreaks, the points go a long way. 5,000 points per night means an 80,000 point bonus could stretch out to 16 free nights.
  • Mattress running combined with promotions
    I guess you could call this mattress-running, if you stay at a hotel solely for the points you’ll earn, but as full-time travelers, we almost never have to make an unnecessary stay.  Hotels are our home.  Our favorite paid stays are cheap IHG stays at Holiday Inns for instance.  We sign up for as many promotions as possible so that our earnings are crazy-high for each paid stay.  Drew has a good post on how to earn IHG points at a crazy high rate.  He also talks about the current promotion we’re making our “mattress-runs” for.  No longer open for registering in this promotion, but it will be a good one and may be worth learning about in case they ever do it again.  Read about the Big Win here.

Other ways to earn

  • Credit card spends
    Of course just as you can earn miles by being intentional about which cards you put your spending on, (and using My Vanilla Reload and Bluebird to increase your spending,) you can do the same with your hotel rewards cards.  We don’t really do any of this because we’d rather earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points (so that we can transfer to United).

There are plenty of strategies and you can focus on as many of them as you feel you have the attention and organization for.

The biggest thing is to do what you can manage and don’t get caught in a spending trap.  Don’t think you’re outwitting the system because you went on a shopping spree with your rewards card.  That’s stupid.  That’s a good way to get into debt you can’t get out of.  Thus, do what you can manage and figure out which strategies accommodate the spending/lifestyle you naturally have.  Manufactured spending just doesn’t fit into our constant international travel, but it might be perfect for someone else.  Similarly mattress-running may be inconvenient for someone with a stationary life, but it makes great sense for those already needing lots of hotel stays.

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Do what naturally fits into your already existing spending habits unless you can find ways to spend that can be turned back into usable funds.  For instance back when you could buy dollar coins from the mint with a credit-card and with free shipping, we were all over that.  It’s not like we were already buying coins, but it was an extra spend that only held up our money for awhile and was eventually able to be turned back into usable funds by simply taking them to the bank.

Do what you can with your existing lifestyle.  Advice of the day I guess.

4 Comments on “Reviewing our miles and points collection strategy

  1. “Right now I’m hanging out in South Africa for a few days “… LOL! That has to be the most revealing comment I have ever read since I started collecting miles. Way to go!
    I have only been on to this venture for going on 3 months. In that short time I have found it so easy to manufacture spending, and almost always at a positive net return. I haven’t even taken advantage of all the opportunities that I learn about. I’ve only chosen the ones that are most convenient in terms of time, distance, and potential reward. Case in point: my local grocery store is currently offering 4x gas points of gift card purchases. I’ll end up buying 5 at $500 each, cash out next door at Walmart (bluebird), and the money I’ll save on gas over 6 weeks will cover buying VRs for 2 bluebird accounts. Simple… Profitable.
    I find something worthwhile to do every week, now that I am aware of the possibilities.

    • That’s great! Yes it seems the possibilities with manufactured spends are endless and it’s definitely something I need to brush up on. It’s great how this hobby can kind of overlap into savings in our non-travel lives too, not just miles-earning or travel savings. (Though I guess saving on gas could translate to travel as well!)
      Thanks for sharing!
      Leavin Africa tomorrow…for Mexico 😉

  2. Carrie, I discovered your and Drew’s blogs and I have to say this is the best thing I ever read about miles, and you actually have advice that non-US residents can follow… great job guys, just wanted to let you know how awesome I think you are 🙂
    j.

    • Aw thanks so much for reaching out! Glad to hear that it’s useful for non-US residents. Every now and then I get the reverse comment of someone saying that these tricks don’t often apply for non US folks so it’s good to hear the flip side!

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