How I earned over 1 million points and miles in 6 months

In the past 6 months, I’ve earned over 1 million points and miles.  No, I haven’t signed up for dozens of credit cards.  Here is how I earned the points and miles:

  • Credit card sign-up bonuses (only 2!)
  • Credit card spend
  • Shopping portal points
  • Mega promotions
  • Discounted points
  • Staying and flying

The numbers below are rounded to the nearest thousand points.

Credit Card Signup Bonuses: 160K

While I’m about to sign up for a few more cards, so far this year I’ve signed up for only two cards:

First, I received a 100K targeted offer for the American Express Business Platinum card.  This card does come with a hefty $450 annual fee, but the card’s perks make up for that.  In addition to airline lounge access, free Global Entry, and other perks, this card gives $200 per calendar year towards airline fees (for a single selected airline).  Since I got this card in March, I can get back $200 this year and $200 next year before canceling the card in March 2013.

Second, a 60K Chase Ink Bold signup offer appeared briefly in April.  I jumped on that offer and got my application in before it was shut down.  My application was actually denied at first since I had applied for the old version of the Ink Bold less than 6 months prior, but a second call to the reconsideration line was a success.

Credit Card Spend: 135K

In the post “Mileage running, from home” I described my goal to put $110,000 of spend on my two Delta cards in order to maintain high level elite status.  So far, I’ve spent $56K and I’ve qualified for the first high spend bonus (15K) on my Delta Reserve card.  I’m close, but haven’t yet qualified for the first spend bonus on the Delta Platinum card.  Altogether, with base spend, some 2X spend on Delta flights, and the Reserve’s high spend bonus, I’ve earned approximately 73K Delta miles.

Another major source of points is spend I’ve put on my Ink Bold card.  The Ink Bold gives 5 points per dollar for phone, cable, and office supplies.  I pay all such bills with the Ink Bold, and I regularly buy gift cards and Vanilla Reload cards at office supply stores so as to indirectly earn 5X for all purchases made with those products.  For details, see “One card to rule them all.”  I’ve held the Ink bold card for almost 3 months now and I’ve earned approximately 50K Ultimate Rewards points through spend.

In order to qualify for the Amex Platinum 100K sign-up offer, I had to spend $10K on that card, so I also earned 10K Membership Rewards points.

I’ve earned little bits of points from other cards that I’ve used off and on.  The biggest of these is the Sapphire Preferred in which I’ve earned 2K Ultimate Rewards points.

Shopping portal points: 274K

So far this year, I’ve taken advantage of two shopping portal mega-offers: Nordstrom 36X through the British Airways shopping portal, and Sears 15X through the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Shopping portal.  See “Weekend Update” and “Sears 15X: Frequent Miler’s almost final results for details.  Only half of my Southwest points have moved from pending to available so far, but I’ll assume that the rest will post soon.  In total, these two shopping sprees led to a combined 269K points. Additionally, I’ve earned 5K points through the Ultimate Rewards Mall

Mega promos: 150K

Every now and then a hotel or airline offers a huge promotion that is too good to pass up.  The biggest so far this year has been the Club Carlson variations on the “buy one, get one” promotions.  Basically, these promotions were setup to give 44,000 or 50,000 bonus points (depending on the hotel brand) to people who first registered for the promotion and then stayed a night in a corresponding hotel.  This is so lucrative that I’ve gone out of my way to qualify for these bonuses.  While my family as a whole has earned much more than this, I personally have earned approximately 150K Club Carlson points from these promotions this year (see “When 138000 points is not enough”).  Now I’m trying to figure out how to qualify for the new, but more elusive, Park Plaza promotion.

Discounted points: 341K

In April and May, there were a series of “Daily Getaway” promotions.  Many of these promotions made it possible to buy points and miles at a steep discount.  Generally, these discounts are hard to get because there are very few available compared to the huge number of people who try to get them.  With a great deal of persistence, though, I was able to score several good deals and earn 5X Ultimate Rewards points in the process!  See “Daily Getaways 5X” and “Maximize your Daily Getaways” for details.  Here is what I bought:

  • Wyndham Rewards points: 76K
  • Hilton HHonors points: 250K
  • Hertz points: 15K

 

Staying and flying

Hotel and airline loyalty programs are designed to encourage people to come back often – to pay for stays and flights with them instead of with competitors.  Ironically, I’ve earned so few points from regular hotel stays and flights this year that it’s hardly worth counting.  I guess I’m a disloyal opportunist.  C’est la vie.

Add it up

While I have earned points and miles here and there in other ways, the above categories are where I raked in the most.  Here are the totals:

  • Credit card sign-up bonuses: 160K
  • Credit card spend: 135K
  • Shopping portal points: 274K
  • Mega promotions: 150K
  • Discounted points: 341K

Total: 1,060,000 points and miles

At what cost?

Unfortunately, I haven’t done a great job of keeping track of the costs associated with earning all of these points.  If I was concerned only with saving money, I would have kept better track of things to see if it’s all really worth it.  Will I do better financially using purchased hotel points, for example, instead of using Priceline?  Maybe, maybe not.  For me, though, the benefit of all of these points and miles are two-fold: First, travel booked with points and miles are usually fully (or mostly) refundable.  This gives me freedom to book travel speculatively and not have to worry about what happens if plans change.  To me, this freedom and stress-reduction is worth a lot.  Secondly, I can (and do) book much more luxurious travel than I would have otherwise.  I enjoy flying business and first class instead of coach!  I enjoy staying in luxury hotels instead of Holiday Inns!  So, is it worth it?  To me, yes, without a doubt.

And you?

This post isn’t intended to be advice about what you should or should not do to earn points and miles.  Everyone has there own tolerance for cost and risk associated with getting points.  Many will look at what I did and shake their head at how crazy it is, while a smaller group will laugh at how few points I earned compared to the haul they have raked in.  Some will question why I haven’t done more with credit card signups this year since that is such an easy path to free points.  The answer to that is simply that I wanted to focus primarily on creative point earning strategies that could help readers.  Credit card signups are great (and I will be doing more very soon), but there’s not much I can add to that story over what has been well covered elsewhere.

How are you doing with your point and mile accumulation this year?  Did you beat my total?  Comment below.

Frequent Miler is on vacation

Posts have been scheduled in advance. See you in September!

Comments

    • Ken: It probably would have been more accurate to say that I was too lazy to find all of my receipts and add everything up. For each individual deal, I do keep track of my costs. In almost all cases I paid much less than a penny per mile for airline miles and less than 1/2 penny per point for hotel points.

  1. Some easy credit cards to get with lucrative bonuses include the gold delta business card (30k skymiles) and the SPG business card (25-30k SPG points). No annual fee for the first year and anyone with a “business” can be accepted.

  2. FM: all that spending you did, is that regular spending you would have done anyway, or are you spending just to get miles? Not many people can spend $100k+ on credit cards without having some kind of business.

  3. Were you able to combine Club Carlson points in the same account from the different promotions for those in the same family?

    • mrredskin: Unfortunately, I don’t think it would help anyone for me to tally up my costs. I’ve been very lucky. On many deals I made money while earning points, and in the Nordstrom 36X deal I made a huge amount of money through a fluke (see “How Amazon paid me to collect miles“). I’m pretty sure that if I add up everything I would have a net cost around zero or less. That’s totally unreproducible though. I think the key is to look at the individual deals and figure out whether they are likely to pay off. For example, with the Sears 15X deal, I calculated that I could take a big loss in reselling tablets and still buy miles for less than a penny each. It turned out that I did much better than that, but I would have been OK if it had turned out to cost more.

  4. Grant: yep those are good options. Lots of additional credit card signup bonuses are listed on my Best credit card offers page.

    Rick: it is mostly “made up” spend in which I get most or all of my money back: kiva loans, amazon payments, gift card churning, etc

    Ethan: I haven’t combined accounts yet, but you can do so for free by calling club Carlson

  5. Can I email you and hear more about what you did to spend such a large amount of money on your CC on? Anything that is on the down-low?

  6. I thank you for detailing your thoughts and strategies to the readers.

    Hat tip to you for not constantly
    “putting-links” in your posts.

    • JoC: Thanks! My policy is to never put credit card links directly in daily posts unless the post is intended to become a permanent page (found in the menu bar at the top). The exception is that I do put referral links for small stuff directly in posts (stuff like the TopCashBack $10 referral, NetSpend referral, etc.). My thinking is that credit cards are such an important part of earning points and miles that I don’t want to be tempted to recommend anything that I don’t truly believe is a great deal for readers (I don’t believe that I would anyway, but this helps ensure it). With the small stuff, though, the payouts are really too small to influence me and there is no cost to the reader (e.g. no hard credit pull).

  7. I am surprised not anyone in comments shared their totals. I will start with mine. I should start by saying that I have greatly benefited from your posts. Some of the things like Staples FAR or Southwest shopping or Nordstrom, I would not have done if I had not read here.

    Here are my numbers.
    Credit card sign-up bonuses: 135K 55UA+55UA+25AXPlat
    Credit card spend:196K
    Shopping portal points: 262K
    Mega promotions: 0
    Discounted points: 418K

    Total comes to around 1011K.

    • monkey99: Nice job — you got over a million too! Did you really get two UA cards or are you counting one for a spouse?

      Mike: That’s a great point. You’re absolutely right that many of the techniques I’ve used can only be done if you have a nice chunk of cash sitting otherwise idly in the bank. Sorry if that wasn’t clear from my post. I hope to do more in the future about ways to get lots of points and miles without big cash reserves.

  8. This post is the clear proof that “it takes money to make money (points).” All of the big players in this game have liquid cash (and a lot of it) that they can play around with knowing that the cash will eventually come back to them along with a ton of points and miles, but that fact is downplayed when written about because it is less exciting to explain to readers that you tied up $10,000 in order to get the big payoff (or less profitable once most readers realize they can’t do it too). You explain here that you’ve spent 56k this year towards 110k for Delta. While there is some understanding that some of that is money you have spent, gotten back, and spent again, it is not entirely clear that you’ve taken a large chunk of money and tied it up in Kiva loans to make this spending happen (yes, you’ve mentioned Kiva, but it’s not clear how much you’ve put into Kiva). The problem being that this post makes it seem like “with a litte hard work, you too can do this” but that is disingenuous because without the available cash, it’s never going to happen. That is why you get readers asking “how did you spend that much…”

  9. 1 for spouse. I was able to reach 25K spend on each card to get 10K bonus too. In fact on my UA card I was refunded $50 3 times as statement credit, a mistake on chase’s part.

  10. I’ve not kept amazing records, but so far YTD, I’ve probably earned around 600k miles/points. I’d say about 200k of that is from work travel (especially hotel promos like 2x or 3x points at various chains on top of using my hotel branded credit card).
    Around 200k is from credit card signup bonuses (after next month, I’ll have another 400k or so from CC signup bonuses).
    The other 100k is from Club Carlson.
    The last 100k is from credit card spending through portals and every day spending.

    I’ve also accumulated another $500 or so using cashback credit cards.

    • Steve (regarding credit card surcharges): Yikes, I hope that doesn’t happen! I think big box stores will have a hard time imposing fees on their customers but I can imagine it becoming common with small merchants.

      Ollie: I’m glad the newsletter tips work for you! FYI (for others), I have a weekly e-newsletter that is targeted for beginners rather than experts. Here is the signup form.

      Steve (regarding ~600K this year): Way to go!

  11. I have been using the tips that come in the FM newsletter for the best CC sign ups for the least amount of spend and taking advantage of hotel status. I also have gotten only modest amounts of points but it works for my travel needs and I do better than most of my friends. So, these tips work for me too-even with modest means.

  12. Thanks for the interesting post. Your schemes are what inspired me to ‘make up’ more spending to generate miles. I didn’t follow along on the ‘deals’ you jumped on. Most were too risky for my taste, so I started a side business that generates spend and no net loss/slight profit. Checking my AwardWallet.. and yes. I have generated over 1 Mil pts this year. I wish there was a way around the Amex Prepaid monthly limits though. I now have 3 cards and spend those very quickly on my side business. Suggestions?

  13. 50,000 ink bold points indicate you’ve bought 10k reload pak in 3 months? Wow, I was thinking whether it is safe to do 2k a month. Maybe safer to mix in other expenses also?

  14. All of these miles and points were accumulated in 100 days:

    United mileage plus: credit card bonuses, spend, purchased tickets : 205,816
    United Ultimate Rewards
    Ink bold : 60k bonus, 35k spend x 5 for 175k, misc spending. 5k. 240,000
    Chase Saphire : 50k bonus , 17k in spend. 67,000
    American aadvantage : 100k bonus, 6.5k spend 106,500
    SPG. 25k sign up bonus, 15k spend. 40,000

    100 day total is 659,316. I will have to total up the wife’s but probably around 400k

    I don’t think I could have done without AP, Netspend, Amex prepay and that glorious 5x on IB

  15. I have come in pretty big too. I started the year off with around 17,000 points and no knowledge of miles and points. After ready FT and about 8 different blogs(yours is the best) I have come in at 1,104,985 points and miles. I did it mainly with CC bonuses. We started with about 6 cards at the beginning of the year and now have 27. Would not have done it without Club Carlson though. We have over 300,000 CC points. Plus I did just get an Ink Bold so I am loading and unloading the AMEX debt card thanks to you!

  16. Wow, I just counted the points up for this year, and I am almost at 2 million. Huge note though, half of the 2 million is due to business spend, so not everyone can achieve that. Out of pocket about $240 (CC annual fees) so far. I am not as big a risk taker as FM with the “one day bonanzas” since I don’t like to risk spending any money for miles and points. Kudos to you FM for taking those risks :)

  17. That’s quite impressive. I like reading your creative ways to get points and miles. I just started “churning” this year and have gotten 150K points and miles from credit card sign up bonuses and maybe another 10K from general spending and signing up for free miles offers.

  18. Wow! I’m a newbie. Just started in July. So far I’ve gotten 265K in sign up bonuses, another 12K in CC spend, 5K in misc promotions, and $400 in statement credits. I’m excited! I want to earn over 1 million points in my first 6 months! I’m currently learning about the ways to earn through shopping portals and discounted points. Those appear to be very lucrative approaches. I appreciate your knowledge and willingness to share information with newbies like me! Thank you Frequent Miler! :)

  19. @Mike
    One of the methods individual’s can use to leverage themselves if they do not have piles of cash sitting around is to utilize a 0% balance transfer offer, which can be creatively turned into cash. You’ll want to set aside 50% of the BT amount to make the monthly payments for 12 months (to keep from having cash flow/liquidity problems), but the remainder can be used to float the expenses while attempting to cash out.

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