Year-end mileage running, from home

With only two months and a week left in the calendar year, many of us are examining our progress towards airline elite status.  Are we going to make the level of elite status that we’re seeking?

Some will seek out “real” mileage running opportunities.  This is where you fly just to earn elite qualifying miles.  The goal is to find the cheapest possible fares that earn the most possible elite qualifying miles.  If you’re interested in this, I’d recommend turning to sites like The Flight Deal, or visit the mileage run forums on FlyerTalk and Milepoint.  

Personally, I look at ways to increase credit card spend.  I’ve written before about how I achieve high level elite status on Delta through high spend on my Delta Amex cards [see “Mileage running, from home” and “Mileage Running from Home II (now with an exciting 2 player option!)“].  Now, as we enter the home stretch of the year, I’ve taken a look at my Amex account online and I’ve calculated how much spend I need to meet my goals.  I see that I’m way behind and need to increase my spend considerably.

Why I fell behind

The biggest reason I fell behind was that I recently bought a new house.  In the months leading up to closing, I slowed the spend on my personal cards down to a trickle.  I wanted to ensure that my credit card utilization didn’t hurt my credit score.  I also needed all possible cash available for the down payment.

Another reason I fell behind was that better opportunities beckoned.  I still have a Citi ThankYou card that offers 5X at drugstores, gas stations, and grocery stores through the end of February 2014 (this offer is no longer available to new applicants).  And, I have the Cash+ card that offers 5% cash back for charities.  Even though they’ve capped the 5% benefit to $2000 spend per quarter, I’ve been grandfathered in to an unlimited spend benefit for an unknown amount of time.  And, of course, when great deals show up at Staples, I tend to use my Chase Ink cards in order to get 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar.

My catch up strategy

Amex gift cards are once again available through cash back sites such as BigCrumbs and TopCashBack.  As I write this, both services are currently offering 2% cash back, but it looks like BigCrumbs will drop the payout to 1.75% sometime soon.

I signed up for the free three month trial of Amex’s unlimited free shipping plan.  Now, I can buy Amex gift cards with no shipping cost and with no fee via use of the codes BDAY100 or GIFT100.

By earning 2% cash back, I can afford to be lazy about how I cash out these cards.  I recently wrote “Top 8 ways to spend down Amex gift cards.”  The easiest of these options, for me, is to simply pay the 2.9% Google Wallet fee.  After cash back, this would amount to a .9% loss, but I’ll be earning at least 1.4 Delta miles and .4 elite qualifying miles per dollar.  To me, the cost is well worth the benefits and the ease of this approach.

To avoid going over my credit limit, I’ll pay off my credit balance multiple times per month.  There is a chance that all of this will lead to an Amex financial review.  If that happens, I’ll send in whatever paperwork they require and hopefully get through it unscathed.  For details about American Express financial reviews, please see View from the Wing’s terrific post on the subject: “Preparing for the Dreaded American Express Financial Review.”

My family strategy

In the post “Mileage Running from Home II (now with an exciting 2 player option!)” I explained how it was possible to maximize the value of Delta credit card spend by collaborating with a second person and alternating each year who gets the MQMs (Medallion Qualifying Miles, AKA elite qualifying miles).  I’ve decided that, this year, I’ll gift my earned and gift-able MQMs to my wife so that she’ll earn Platinum status.  I’ll simply earn Silver status and roll over as many miles as possible into next year.  My current Platinum status will last until the end of February 2014.  In the meantime, I’ll do what I can to earn my Platinum status next year as quickly as possible.  I doubt I’ll achieve it by the end of February, but that will be OK.  The main benefit of Platinum status that I enjoy is the ability to make free award changes.  So, until I re-qualify for Platinum status next year, I’ll book awards from my wife’s account.

Your strategy?

I’m interested in hearing from you about your plans for elite status.  Have you abandoned the idea altogether?  For most, that’s probably the most rational approach.  I doubt that the time, effort, and expense of securing high level elite status really pays off for most people.  But, I do it anyway.  Not everything I do is purely rational.  How about you?  Do you mileage run?  Do you run up spend?  Please comment below.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. Citi TYPs are paying for my mileage runs as well as some fun travel this fall. Partly why I like some of those “fixed” value cards is can get EQMs out of it, and when you get 33% more on the 5xs card, you can rack up quite a bit of travel. Really going to miss that promo when it runs out LOL

  2. I am with @trajan81. I basically take two trips to Instanbul a year, and use my reserve to get the rest of my MQM for Plat. Of course, I cancel my Reserve and get the other one I don’t have (personal/business) and comply with Amex rules. Then I get 10k more MQM yearly…..he, he.

    sooooo glad Delta left the 25k loophole…..

  3. 1- Try to buy VRCs if you get a nice cashier.
    2- Load to Amex Target then buy VRCs.
    3- Why not use Square at 2.75%?

    I bought a $2,000 Amex GC this morning. How do you enroll in the free shipping program?

    I wouldn’t worry about a FR, if they haven’t got you yet, you are probably safe.

  4. Can you still get BC’s 2% if you use those free shipping codes you’ve mentioned (GIFT100)? Does anyone have real life success?

    On their site they said “Cash back is not offered on fee-free promotional codes or codes found on other websites.”

  5. Second Grant’s comment. Why not Square’s 2.75%? I usually use them as much as I can then if I either need the money or it gets to the point that I can’t mind much use to for them I swipe the rest off with Square.

  6. Did you hold off on cc apps in the time leading up to your mortgage application? If so, for how long? If not, what if any impact do you think the inquiries had?

    • Scott: Citi and now Chase seem to report these as cash advances. Amex seems safe. Not sure about the others (Barclays, US Bank, etc.)
      .
      Kevin: I last applied for credit cards in March and then was approved for my mortgage in August. Yes, I got the best interest rate. Make sure to keep your credit utilization ratio very low on your personal cards.
      .
      ethulin: I don’t know. Those codes worked for me. Maybe Amex read my post? 🙁

  7. FM: I’m about to buy a house. Can I ask how much time passed from a hard inquiry until your loan went through? Did you get the best interest rate possible even though you had a bunch of inquiries in the past year? I’m just curious because I am buying a house in the next six months and play the same games you do. Any help would be much appreciated.

  8. I tried to use BDAY100 and GIFT100. For both of them I got “We’re sorry, but the Promotion code you entered is not valid or has expired. Please check to make sure that you entered the correct Code.”

    I have the premium shipping trial selected.

    Any ideas what is going on?

  9. FrequentMiler: Oddly, if I advance without putting in the code, then go back and put in the code, it accepts it without the error but then still tacks on the $23.70 purchase charges.

  10. Another variation on mileage run from home: If u are lucky enough to have 4 Amex Delta Reserve cards (pers/bus + self/spouse), u can spend $120k that returns 285k skymiles (120k spend + 120K Bonus + 20k platinum choice +25k diamond choice). Best of all, you can make your spouse a Gold with your other Dia Choice reward.

  11. My cousin was FR last year and after he sent all his paperwork, they took like a week. My cousin thought that he was all clear, I mean he makes a very very good salary with a well known company. But no deal, he was shutdown and all Amex accounts closed. I think that the Starwood card was the one to blame. ( He is the one that got me into this habit called MS 🙂 )

  12. I gave up MR and elite status a year ago, not worth the effort to me, I’d rather earn miles and fly Bus/First then I don’t need status.I was considering getting and earning Delta Status with the Amex Reserve, but with the new spend minimums for 2014 it would only be good for a year, So I assume the value in that goes way down. Whats the best way boost Amex MR points, buying Amex Gift cards and the best offload option if I want to do $5-10k a month? or will this definitely generate a FR? I was thinking of Google Wallet, buying VR with Gift Cards (anyone in LA know where they take gift cards for VR’s?)I was shutdown at a Rite Aid for buying Visa Gift Cards with a CC, they say only cash or debit. So need to get a miles earning debit card, was considering Alaska with all their partner options.
    Thanks

    • Chris: There aren’t too many ways to boost MR points except through straight up manufactured spend. The Premier Rewards Gold card is probably the best place to start. It offers 2X and 3X categories and also offers 15K bonus points with $30K spend. Other best option is to signup for lots of cards that offer MR points 🙂
      .
      Bubba: I received a letter recently from US Bank saying that they made a mistake in the earlier letter about the Cash+ card. They said that my account is not capped at $2K spend yet but would be at some time in the future. They also gave me $10 in rewards for their mistake. If you didn’t get the letter, you could call and ask about it.

  13. FrequentMiler: In your post, you say “I have the Cash+ card that offers 5% cash back for charities. Even though they’ve capped the 5% benefit to $2000 spend per quarter, I’ve been grandfathered in to an unlimited spend benefit for an unknown amount of time.” How have you confirmed this? I thought the $2k cap that went into effect in July was for all Cash+ cardholders, both new and existing? I opened mine in Dec. 2012 and would like to know if the cap applies to me or not, I just assumed it did…

  14. FM: Thanks for the response, did you exceed the $2k cap during a previous quarter, hence why the letter from US Bank was generated? I’m already close to (what I think is) my $2k limit for this quarter and have some more hotel stays coming up (one of my 5% categories) so need to know if I should exceed the $2k or not. Wondering if I should call/secure message them about it beforehand, or just go over and then see if the full 5% posts to my account. If I’m grandfathered in with no limit, then I don’t want it pulled on me if I ask for verification. As has been said: Sometimes ’tis better to ask for forgiveness than to seek permission…

  15. I bought one of the $3000 Amex gift cards with a Chase SW Visa card. Now when I check my account it shows the transaction as a cash advance and a fee of $90 has been added.

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