Million Mile Madness: Strategy

Early this month, I introduced the idea of challenging myself (and anyone foolish enough to join me) to earn a million points in one month (see “A crazy million mile idea. Should I do it?” and “Million Mile Madness, it’s on“).  So, starting March 1, I’ll do everything I can to earn as many points as I can while keeping within my ethical boundaries.  As a reminder, I don’t expect that a million points will have been credited to my account by March 31st: points often take quite a while to get credited.  Instead, I’ll track all of the points that I expect, and I’ll declare victory if the expected total is over a million.  Oh, and to keep things challenging, I will try to keep my net costs below $1,000.

Big Scores

In order to get to a million points in one month, I need to look for the big scores.  Little deals for getting 100 points here or there won’t cut it.  Here are the three types of big scores I have in mind:

Credit Card Sign Up Bonuses
The best credit card sign-up bonuses range from 50,000 to 100,000 points.  I’ll sign up for as many as I can reasonably get approved for.  Each credit card issuer has different rules about how many cards you can apply for, whether you can get a sign-up bonus for a card you’ve had before, and so on.  Also, the best offers come and go all the time, so I won’t know for sure until March 1 which cards I will try for.  That said, based on the current set of best offers, I believe that I can easily earn over half a million points with sign-up bonuses alone.

I’ll follow up soon with more details about my plans for sign up bonuses.

Double Dip, Buy & Sell
Some of my biggest scores in the past have been through shopping portal promotions.  For example, last May, when Sears offered 15 points per dollar through the Southwest Airlines RapidRewards Shopping portal, I earned over 110,000 points by combining a “double dip” with strategic buying and selling.  That is, I went through the portal to Sears to buy almost $4000 worth of gift cards.  Then, I went through the portal again to use those gift cards to buy electronics.  Finally, I shipped those electronics to Amazon so that they could sell them on my behalf through their “Fulfillment by Amazon” service.  In the end, I lost a few hundred dollars due to selling costs, but I gained over 110,000 points and a Southwest Companion Pass good for almost two years!

I won’t know for sure until March which shopping portal offers will be available, but I feel confident that there will be enough good ones to earn lots of points.  My goal will be to diversify across merchants as much as possible to avoid putting too many eggs in one basket.

I’ll follow up soon with details about experiments I intend to run in February so as to be prepared for the March challenge.

Mega Promotions
The third type of big score happens when an incredibly lucrative promotion appears.  A great example happened last summer when Club Carlson offered 44,000 to 50,000 points for one stay at each of their brands.  In that case, it was possible to rack up hundreds of thousands of points by finding cheap Club Carlson properties and checking in for one night each.  Promotions as big as this are extremely rare, so I doubt I’ll be lucky enough to see something like this in March, but I’ll definitely be on the lookout!

Combining Tactics

One of the challenges of signing up for lots of credit cards is that most come with hefty spend requirements.  For example, the current Chase Ink Plus offer requires $5K spend in 3 months.  In my case, to meet the rules of the challenge, I will need to spend $5K in one month, and that’s for just one credit card!

Similarly, in order to earn lots of points through the buy & sell approach, it is necessary to spend lots of money at first, even though most of the money will come back once the items are sold.

My approach will be to use my new credit cards to pay for “buy” side of the buy and sell approach.  This way, I’ll kill two birds with one stone.  Here’s an example of how it could work, using the Ink Plus as an example.  Imagine that fictional merchant MerchantX allows double dipping and is offering 7X points through the Ultimate Rewards Mall in March:

  • Sign up for the Ink Plus and ask for rush delivery of the card
  • Use Ink Plus to buy Visa or Amex gift cards at an office supply store in order to earn 5X (Chase Ink cards earn 5 points per dollar at Office Supply stores)
  • Go through the Ultimate Rewards Mall to buy MerchantX gift cards in order to earn 7X.  Pay with the Visa or Amex gift cards (note: some online merchants won’t accept cards unless your full billing address is registered with the card, and some Visa gift cards don’t allow that). 
  • Go through the Ultimate Rewards Mall again to buy merchandise from MerchantX in order to earn another 7X. Pay with MerchantX gift cards.
  • Sell all merchandise for the best price I can get.

Through the above fictional example, I would earn 5X when buying the Visa/Amex gift cards, 7X when buying merchant gift cards, and 7X when buying merchandise for a total of 19X.  If I spend all $5K of the Ink Plus’ required spend in this way, I would earn $5K X 19 points per dollar = 95,000 points.  Plus, I would have fulfilled the spend requirements for the 50,000 point signup bonus.  So, in total, by combining techniques here, I would earn 145,000 points from one credit card!  Of course, not all opportunities will be that lucrative.  Some will be better, some worse.

I will have to be smart about which items I buy and sell.  The goal, of course, will be to buy low and sell high, wherever possible.  In order to keep my overall budget to less than $1000, I’ll have to minimize losses on these deals.  I’ll keep costs down by maximizing use of coupons, discounted gift cards, sales, and price matches.  To ensure successful re-sales, I’ll look for items that are on Amazon best seller lists, and also research eBay completed listings to get an idea of what the items sell for.

Miscellaneous Stuff

While I expect that the bulk of my point earnings will come from the above tactics, I’ll keep my eyes open for other opportunities as well such as dining programs, social media bonuses, etc.  A great resource for finding these opportunities is the site “Free Frequent Flyer Miles.”

What? No reload cards?

Frequent readers may be surprised that there was no mention above of Vanilla Reload cards, MyVanilla debit cards, Bluebird cards, etc.  Theoretically, one could get a million points by using a Hilton Amex to buy reload cards at drug stores in order to get 6 points per dollar before converting the reload cards back into cash.  That would require over $160,000 in initial spend.  That’s not going to happen.  Even if I had the cash and the credit limits to afford it, and even if I could find 320 reload cards for this purpose, I wouldn’t want to attract the instant attention of my credit card company’s fraud department, as would certainly occur.

I may buy reload cards in moderation as part of this challenge, but that will be just to fill in the gaps here and there rather than a central part of my strategy.

Charity Donation

Because of the somewhat selfish nature of this challenge, I’ve pledged to donate at least $1000 to charity when I’m done.  I’ll put in $1000 automatically and if my net costs for this challenge come to less than $1000, I’ll donate the difference as well.  For example, if my net costs come to $850, I’ll donate $1150 to a good cause. 


There are several things I need to do to prepare for this challenge.  I need to setup a spreadsheet to use for tracking points and expenses.  I need to review my current credit cards to see if I should cancel any before March.  I need to avoid anything that would hurt my credit score between now and March 1.  I need to test double dip scenarios so that I’ll be ready in March with knowledge about what will work and what won’t.  And, I need to save up some extra cash.  The buy/sell approach I discussed above may require floating a lot of money past the due date of my credit card statements.  In that case, I intend to have enough money on hand to pay the balances in full (as I always do) regardless of whether all of my items have yet sold.


So, above is my general strategy for attacking the challenge.  What do you think?  Will it work?  What should I do differently?  If you’re planning to join in the challenge, what will you do differently?

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  1. Kinda small, but: any plans to pre-pay your phone, utilities, and insurance with a card that earns 5% in those categories? That would help meet minimum spend as well as get you maybe 10-15K.

    And how about brokerage bonus for AA miles or Starwood points?

  2. What MerchantX gift cards can you buy thru Ultimate rewards Mall that allows you to gain points? I found most of the department stores said “not eligible for gift cards”

    All the best to your goal!

    • Jesson and Gardy: Some merchants that say “not eligible for gift cards” give points for gift cards anyway. Go to the Frequent Miler Laboratory and, in the search box, type “BuyGC” to find examples of my own and other readers reported successes and failures. Keep in mind, though, that there is no guarantee of success even if it worked for someone else.

  3. Also, BankDirect offers 10,000 AA miles for a payroll direct deposit into their mileage checking account.

    That reminds me: since savings account bonuses are taxable (as opposed to credit card bonuses), do taxes count in your $1,000 total budget?

    • MileageUpdate: VR is a fantastic tool, in general. I need to keep my expenses way down, though, to average out at $1K total spend. I need to average 1/10 of a cent per point. So, the extra .8% cost of VR can hurt, except when I earn a point multiple on those purchases.

  4. This really sounds like a lot of fun. Obviously, this is still a hobby/game for me as I have a REAL job as well. That said, once you decide the format to post your spreadsheet on line, I, and others I’m sure, will add pages or tabs with ideas and methods that you may not have considered. I totally agree; the VR, BB, WF, Serve routes are way to much work for far too little gain. I am curious though; what CC did you find with a 100k active signup bonus?

    • Mark: 100K was just an example of a top-end signup bonus. I don’t know of one that will be available in March, but I can hope! Maybe Capital One will come back with their 100K offer again….

  5. I love the idea. But I disagree with the implicit quasi-guilt you have regarding the “selfish nature” of the scheme and the attempt to assuage it with a charitable donation.

    Yes, it is selfish. But no more so than when you (or I) hang out w family, go for a walk w friends, or choose credit card A over B at a vendor because it provides a higher points yield. These are all selfish in that we are trying to get the most out of life.

    There’s no reason to feel bad about this, or to somehow make it right by donating funds to get the sully soot of your self.

    I am a big believer in supporting certain nonprofits, but disagree w the idea of why you are supporting them in this instance.

    • DrewBird: I understand. I don’t feel bad about what I’m doing, but I’m aware that I’m collecting a mountain of riches while many others suffer. So, I feel like this is the least I should do.

  6. I have the same question as Jesson – which merchants allow the purchase of gift cards to count as qualified spend in order to earn UR points? I bought a bunch of gift cards (Sears, Sephora) over the holidays when the bonuses were big, but never got points credited for those purchases (and didn’t expect to, since the T&C say gift cards don’t qualify)

  7. 1) you should be able to get 500k points from CC signup bonuses. I don’t know what cards you DO have, but here’s what I would do, all within the rules of AORs.

    USBank Club Carlson (85k, 97.5k after spend), Chase Ink Plus (50k, min 55k after spend), Chase SW (50k, 52k after spend), 2x Citi AAdvantage (100k, 105k after spend), BOH Hawaiian airlines (35k, 36k after spend), BOA Hawaiian airlines (35k, 36k after spend), Barclays US Airways (40k), AMEX Surpass (50k, 52,250 after spend). that’s 473,750 points after spend. Throw in an AMEX Biz card that’s 25k+ points and you’re at 478,750+ points, maybe there will be an AMEX Gold Biz promo in March.

    2) what did you decide you were going to do with cashback used from cashback portals?
    3) do credit card annual fees (the non-waived ones) count against the $1,000?

    • Steve: Thanks. 1) That’s very similar to a rough plan I have. I’ll publish my plan, probably next week. 2) Cash back from cashback portals will count towards my total expenses. So if I spend $1200, but get $201 back from cash back sources, then I will have still achieved the goal of less than $1000 net costs. 3) Yes, first year credit card annual fees will count against the $1000. Similarly expected statement credits (like those from the Amex Platinum card) will contribute positively towards the $1000.

  8. Be careful with purchasing Visa gift cards at Office Depot – I bought a $500 one and they did not fund it – Office Depot says its Visa gift card’s problem, and Visa Gift Card says it’s Office Depot’s problem – after several weeks, the problem is still not resolved.

  9. Great idea, sounds like a lot of fun, will be interesting to see how it goes. One question though, what about the post you wrote that you were swearing off credit cards a while back?lol

    • Joe: You caught me. Yes, I need to churn credit cards to complete this challenge despite my plans to lay off credit card churning for a while :)

      Grant: Cash back still has its place here: it can be used to offset costs towards the $1000 budget or it can be used to purchase miles cheaply if such an opportunity appears in March

  10. Since you mention points, I’m guessing you are foregoing cash back cards in March. I surely hope that Staples has some generous FAR deals. Papa needs 10 new licenses of Anti virus software. I like the idea of prepaying for utility bills etc for a few months.

  11. Apparently it’s not enough for the upper strata of American society to reap all the passive rewards attendant to their position, they have to actively destroy all savings opportunities by abusing them for short-term gains. A few thousand people get a million miles or churn a few grand and tens or hundreds of millions lose out on savings opportunities for perpetuity.

  12. FM, do you plan on applying for the various cards in March or in advance, like sometime in the middle of February since it usually takes a few days or a week for you to get the physical card in the mail and start spending?

  13. You seem to know which items to buy and sell well on ebay/amazon. You also are not afraid of letting the items sold at a small loss. I have NO doubt you will succeed in your goal.

    I’m just worried on how soon you will receive your card from the time you apply/approve even though you’ll be telling them to rush it.

    Looking forward to reading your posts.

  14. FM – it’s laughable all the absurdly basic comments you’ve rec’d about how to meet spend (ie, telecom with your Ink; and that churn gift cards suggestion from the blowviating twerp at romsdeals is ludicrous – you’ve forgotten more about gift cards than that twit will ever know).

    Don’t forget that Amex Blue card – 6% cb at grocery stores. And if you have Safeway/Vons, you get those gasoline credits – every $1K spend is worth $1.00 off a gallon (25 gallons max/fill up), so in addition to the $48 net cash back (after $6 load fees) from a couple of gc purchases, you also get up to another $25 in gasoline rewards (or up to $73 cb net per $1K, which is fantastic). I’m pretty sure you have the old version with no cap, but if you wanted to handicap yourself, you could limit to current yearly cap of $6K (and thus only 6 x $73 cb = $438). Of course, the gasoline discounts are only good for 1 month after you earn them, so would have to sell to friends/family to get max value unless you are burning up lots of gas going from OD to OD and CVS to CVS… $438 cb pays for a LOT of VR/prepaid fees.

    1MM is too easy a target since over half will come from cc bonuses. A few, well targeted double dips on tablets/electronics, plus VR/prepaids loads will make it all too easy (but still very hectic).

    Just say you get 2 Inks. You can probably put $15K (or more) on them each. At 5x, that’s 75K plus 50K bonus = 125K x 2 = 250K UR.

    Add in a BA @ 85K Avios (assuming it is still offered, but if not, surely some other high bonus card will be), HA x 2 x 36K x 2HH = 144K HH, 2 AA x 50 = 110K and you’re at ~590K already. Throw in a crappy 85K Carlson and you are at ~675K.

    1MM is a piece of cake – we both know it. Double March Madness (2MM) would be a true challenge worthy of the Master. Maybe next year?

    • jim006: Even though I know that stuff, it never hurts to be reminded (or for others to read about). I don’t have the Blue Cash Preferred card at all, so I probably won’t go the grocery store route. Hmm, sure, maybe 2MM next year :)

  15. For those reading this, when selling on ebay, beware, and I can not overemphasize this. I sold some gift cards on ebay in the past two months, and because I e-mailed codes on the same day, my customers were delighted and I got repeat buyers. However, one buyer had his payment approved by Paypal, I then sent him the codes, and several days later Paypal told me that the payment bounced and I would also be charged a $20 fee that Paypal was charged by that buyer’s credit card company!! Appeals led to nothing and I really hate Paypal. Luckily, this cheat did not use my gift cards for some reason, and I was able to use the codes myself (if you sell gift cards via e-mailing codes, keep the gift cards for a few weeks before trashing or shredding them)!

    This post is too long, but I had another issue this week with what looks to be a fake buyer overseas, and another from overseas who has English communication issues. I have to now find an option on ebay to disable overseas buyers to keep things simpler for me!

  16. @jim006
    I bought a gift card (I think it was realoadit card) from safeway, and I did not get gasoline points. I came back with impression that one gets gasoline points on only the grocery or similar purchases.
    Has your experience been different?

  17. @wishy
    To not allow international bidding, just look under the shipping section on the first page of the item setup and there is a pull down where you can select no international bidding.

  18. It takes a week or two usually to receive the cards. Why not giving the trial within 2 months, that’s still a super.
    Nothing wrong doing it, you’re not illegally stealing money or benefits from anyone.
    All the sign-on bonuses, etc. are all thru publicly available sources.

    Have fun, don’t get too stressed out. Thanx for sharing.

    “A joy that is shared is a joy made double.” – English Proverb


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