Frequent Miler’s 5 Year Retrospective

It’s hard for me to believe, but this blog is now officially 5 years old.  My first Frequent Miler post, on September 2nd 2011, was a simple one-paragraph introduction.  I followed up on September 4th with two posts: triple-dip shopping at Sears, and saving money with one-way flights.  The former is funny because 4 out of the 5 comments I now easily recognize as spam.  At the time I believed that aspiring bloggers really did love my site and really did want to know which blog platform I used.  In reality spammers simply posted comments in order to include links back to their own sites.  If the same comments were posted today they would most likely either get caught immediately by our spam filters or manually marked as spam after the fact.

Year 1: Double-Dips, Chase Ink, Staples, and Vanilla Reloads

September 2011 to August 2012

As mentioned above, one of my first ever posts was about portal double-dips.  The idea is to click through a portal to a merchant to buy a merchant gift card, then click through a portal again in order to use the gift card.  We call this a double dip because you can sometimes earn portal rewards both when buying and when using gift cards.  When portals have especially high rates, double dips can be amazingly lucrative.  In fact, one of my top 10 posts of the year was when I showed how to earn a Southwest Companion Pass by double-dipping when Sears offered 15 points per dollar through the Southwest Rapid Rewards shopping portal.

Of course, not all merchants allow you to earn points both when buying and using gift cards through portals, so I published the Frequent Miler Laboratory. This page is designed for people to suggest experiments, report experiment results, and find out what works and what doesn’t.

Early in my first 12 months of blogging, Chase overhauled their Ink business card line.  Previously they offered bonus points for high spend.  Now, all new versions of Ink cards offered 5X rewards for office supplies, phone, and internet.  While all 5X bonuses are a big deal, the 5X office supply category was huge.  Suddenly valuable triple-dip opportunities were readily available: Click through a portal to an office supply store that sells 3rd party gift cards or Visa gift cards (at Staples.com, for example), pay with Chase Ink, and then go through a portal again to use the gift card.  Years later Staples stopped offering portal rewards when buying most gift cards online, but it was a great deal while it lasted.  Even better, Staples used to regularly offer easy rebates on hundreds of dollars worth of downloadable software.  We would double dip by clicking through a portal to Staples and paying for software with our Ink cards.  We would then get all of our money back through the instant rebate.  More often than not, we wouldn’t bother downloading the software at all.  The point was to earn free points!Vanilla Reload Cards

Then, one day I wandered into an Office Depot store and found something called a Vanilla Reload card.  I wasn’t sure what it was exactly, but it sounded intriguing.  I was able to load $500 onto a card for $503.95, and I earned 5X points by paying with my Chase Ink card.  I then learned that I could transfer the card’s $500 value to a reloadable Amex prepaid card.  This meant that it was suddenly possible to earn 5X points pretty much anywhere.  This was a seriously big deal, and it led to my most popular post (by far) in my first 12 months of blogging: One Card to Rule them All.

Year 1 viewership: 948,506 page views

Year 2: Bluebird, Million Mile Madness, and Quick Deals

September 2012 to August 2013

Early in my second 12 months of blogging, American Express introduced a revolutionary new prepaid card: Bluebird.  Bluebird was similar in some ways to the reloadable prepaid cards that they offered before, but it was a billion times better (give or take).  The new card offered fee free bill payments, free withdrawals to your bank account, higher limits, and more.  My post “Bluebird takes flight and changes the game” was one of my most popular posts in my second 12 months of blogging.  With Bluebird, it was now incredibly easy to meet credit card minimum spend requirements (for big signup bonuses) or to simply generate points through “manufactured spend”.Bluebird is still alive

Shortly after Bluebird’s launch, Office Depot stopped selling Vanilla Reload cards (Vanilla Reload cards eventually returned, but were then cash-only).  Then, the race was on to find other stores that sold Vanilla Reload cards and allowed them to be purchased by credit card.  A popular three letter drugstore became the mainstay for many points & miles enthusiasts to the point where we knew most of our local cashiers by name.  We also found other types of reload cards that were almost as tasty as Vanilla.  In the long run most reload opportunities dried up, but in my second year of blogging many of us ran full steam ahead earning points, miles, and cash back for very little cost.

Another huge development during this time was the introduction of PINs to Visa and MasterCard gift cards.  PINs made it possible to use gift cards almost anywhere that debit cards were accepted.  The impact of this change took time to develop partially due to the fact that reload cards were still an easy option at the time.

With reload cards readily available, and products like Bluebird helping us turn their value back into cash, earning points & miles during this time was ridiculously easy.  It was so easy, in fact, that I got a little bored and proposed a challenge.  Could I earn a million points and miles in one month?  I called the challenge “Million Mile Madness” and after lengthy preparations, I kicked off the challenge on March 1, 2013.  It turned out that reload cards barely played any part in this quest.  The big points and miles opportunities were with credit card signup bonuses and portal double-dips.  The challenge turned out to be much harder than I expected, but in the end I was successful.  You can read a summary here: Million Mile Madness: How it was done.  Also see: Million Mile Madness: Final Tally.

As if all of the above wasn’t enough, I also introduced a new part of the blog: Frequent Miler’s Quick Deals.  The idea at the time was to have a simple blog on the side where I’d report deals with little or no analysis.  This way I was able to keep my main blog uncluttered, but still had a way to report deals that some readers may be interested in.  Quick Deals proved to be a very popular addition.

Year 2 viewership: 2,690,268 page views

Year 3: Portal Triple Dip, Vanilla dies, Debit gift cards rise

September 2013 to August 2014

VanillaVisa.jpgEarly in my third year of blogging, Sears surprised us all by briefly offering United cardholders 16 miles per dollar through the United MileagePlus Shopping portal.  Lab experiments showed that Sears’ double dips were still possible (and remain so today, by the way).  And, both Chase Freedom and Discover cards happened to be offering 5X at Sears at the time.  In total, it was possible to triple dip our way to 37 miles per dollar!  From this one promotion I earned enough miles to pay for a large portion of a first class family trip to Paris.

The reload game changed drastically when CVS stopped allowing the purchase of Vanilla Reload cards with credit cards.  The new challenge was to find the best ways to buy Visa and Mastercard gift cards and earn miles while doing so.  Thanks to now having PINs, Visa and MasterCard gift cards could be used in-store to reload prepaid cards like Bluebird and Serve (a product very similar to Bluebird), or even to pay bills that can’t usually be paid by credit card.

Year 3 viewership: 2,727,140 page views

Year 4: REDbird, and Quest for Necker Island

September 2014 to August 2015

My fourth year of blogging was dominated by REDbird: The Target Prepaid REDcard.  This was yet another prepaid reloadable card from American Express.  Unlike Bluebird and Serve, though, Target initially allowed REDbird to be loaded at the register, with a credit card, for free!  It was literally possible to load REDbird at Target with a credit card and then go online to use REDbird to pay the credit card bill.  The point, of course, was to easily manufacture spend with rewards-earning credit cards.REDbird grounded

The ability to load REDbird with a credit card lasted for 7 months.  Afterwards, Target continued to accept debit cards, including debit gift cards.  So, the REDbird game continued until Target stopped accepting debit card loads altogether, 12 months after they initially released the card.

While REDbird was still going strong, I added a key member to the Frequent Miler team: Shawn Coomer.  Shawn stepped in faster than planned when the flu temporarily sidelined me.  Since then he has been writing Quick Deal posts, updating credit card best offers, and maintaining our online tutorial.  See: Blog changes, an introduction, and the flu.

Another big event in my 4th blogging year was my decision to earn the 1.2 Million Virgin Atlantic miles needed to go to Richard Branson’s private island: Necker Island.  I introduced the idea in the post “Considering the 1.2 million mile Necker Island challenge… Who’s with me?”  Over the next 7 months I wrote up key milestones, and eventually booked my trip.  My wife and I will experience our all expense paid vacation in mid October 2016.  See: Necker Island, here we come! and 1,200,000 miles for Necker Island: Not easy. Not free.

Year 4 viewership: 6,586,177 page views

Year 5: The banks strike back

September 2015 to August 2016

My 5th blogging year was a tough one for credit card signup bonuses and manufactured spend.  Not long after the effective death of REDbird, Amex began freezing all Bluebird and Serve accounts in which the cards were used to manufacture spend.  Many less well known options for manufacturing spend died as well.  In the post “Credit Card Spend in 2016 and Beyond,” I argued that the only options for manufacturing spend that will last long term are those that incur risk or incur enough fees to cover credit card processing costs.  And that’s why I began writing more about techniques that involve risk (such as KickFurther) and fees (such as Plastiq).

Cheat Discover Apple PayAnd, for those who repeatedly sign up for credit cards in order to earn big bonuses, Chase quietly introduced their dreaded 5/24 Rule (where they’ll deny you if you’ve opened 5 new cards in the past 24 months), Amex expanded their “once per lifetime rule” to business cards, and Citi drastically expanded their 24 month rule to include all cards within the same brand.

Even Discover made waves.  They introduced an amazing promotion: 10% back on all Apple Pay purchases for up to $10K in in-store purchases.  This stacked with Discover’s ongoing Double Cash Back your first year offer and with their rotating 5% categories.  Overall it was possible to turn this promotion into 30% cash back at a wide variety of stores by stacking these promotions.  At minimum, this deal meant 22% to 23% cash back anywhere Discover and Apple Pay was accepted for those with a first year Discover It or Discover It Miles card.  And for those who manufacture spend, it was an easy way to earn over $2,000.  Or, so it seemed.  Discover quickly amended the deals terms to explicitly state that gift card purchases were excluded.  Worse, they actually did their best to enforce those terms.  Don’t get me wrong, it was still an amazing promotion, but it turned out to be much harder and riskier to maximize than expected.

On the plus side, we’ve seen signup bonuses rise to new heights.  Amex briefly offered 35,000 points for their Starwood Preferred Guest personal and business cards; 75,000 and 100,000 point offers for their Hilton cards; 50K and 60K offers for their Delta cards;

Chase increased the standard offer for their personal Marriott card to 87,500 points after adding an authorized user; briefly offered 100,000 points for the Marriott Business card; targeted many people for 70,000 points with the United Mileage Plus card; updated their Ritz card with new features and 3 free nights; and rocked our world with a fantastic new card and offer: 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points for the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Year 5 viewership: 7,817,534 page views

What’s Next?

NeckerIsland4.pngI believe that easy and cheap manufactured spend opportunities are a thing of the past.  Yes, a few options still exist and new options are likely to be found, but I doubt that any will last long.  I’m still hoping that Starbucks will come through with something interesting (see: “Starbird? Will the Starbucks prepaid card be the next big thing?“), but I wouldn’t put money on it.  In the meantime, I’ll continue to look for and report on sustainable ways to earn points & miles without traveling.

Additionally, my 1.2 million mile Necker Island trip is coming up soon.  Expect a week or more of non-stop Necker Island coverage.  If you’re interested, it should be great.  If not, just ignore my posts for a while until I return to my usual post style.

As to the rest of the year, who knows?  The miles & points hobby has been ever changing in both good and bad ways.  The good stuff tends to lead to analyses for how best to take advantage, and the bad stuff leads to suggestions for how to work around new barriers.  I enjoy writing about both!

Thank you!

I’m incredibly fortunate to be a full time blogger.  When I started this blog, it was just a fun hobby: I had no idea that it was possible to make a living doing this.  But, thanks to readers who read the blog regularly and suggest it to friends, it really is possible for this to be my career.  In fact, I’ve been doing this full time for the past 4 and half years!

So, thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  In case you missed it, to celebrate the blog’s 5 year anniversary, I’m giving away lots of good stuff through Wednesday evening, September 7th:  Frequent Miler’s 5 Year Blogiversary Giveaway! Free nights! Free gifts! Free upgrades!

And, if you’re wondering how a person can earn a living writing a blog, please read this post: My job? I blog. Here’s the answer to your next question…

Last updated on September 19th, 2016

Regarding comments: Comments posted at the bottom of Frequent Miler pages and posts are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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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Marie
Guest
Marie

Gary:

I’ve been reading your blog since the beginning and have really enjoyed your analytical approach.

I had no idea it’s been 5 years. Thanks for all you do and Congratulations.

Devils Advocate
Member
Devils Advocate

I agree! Congratulations, Gary! 😉

Steve
Guest
Steve

Couldn’t have gotten where we are without you, Gary…! Some even might call you a thought leader in travel. Not me. But some.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Guys his name is Greg 🙂

Charlie
Guest

Congrats, Greg! Always love seeing your stuff and the work you put into it. Really hope for an even better next 5 years for your blog – and for the credit card rewards we love! 🙂

Jana
Guest
Jana

Greg,

Wow, has it been that long! Having met you several times and reading your blog for years, I believe you are one of the nicest, most sincere people. Plus you have integrity that many other bloggers lack. I have benefited greatly from your advice. Thanks for sharing.

Amit Shah
Guest
Amit Shah

Congrats Greg! I can’t believe it’s been 5 years… I guess time flies between visits to office depot, cvs, target, etc. and tflying around the world. Looking forward to another 5!

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

Congratulations Sir! You were one of the first bloggers I followed when I first learned (and learned from) about travel hacking 4 years ago, and one of the few (2) I still follow today due to interesting original content, and no shilling. Thanks to you I learned not only about lucrative credit cards, but also about MS’ing. It was a thrilling time when I learned to walk out of CVS with 5K worth of GCs (reloads), that I purchased with a 5% CB card, only to turn around and pay off that CC with those GC’s. I told my wife on a regular basis that I felt like I was robbing the place legally! 🙂 In those days I spent more on GC and reloads then I made via gross income. Oh man, what a thrill that was!

Those days are gone now (I no longer MS) but thanks for teaching me the ropes. I hope to meet you someday, but until then, keep pumping out the interesting content. Looking forward to your necker island reports.

Gratefully,

Jonathan

Nick @ Personal Finance Digest
Guest

Hello blogger! What platform are you using? I am very much enjoying your blog and wish to be starting a blog of my own.

(Also: congrats on 5!)

NoonRadar
Guest

Congrats Greg!

Do you miss any aspects of having a ‘regular’ (non-blogging) job?

JL100
Guest
JL100

Congrats, I really love the passion you bring to the game. I also started the hobby in 2011 with the Amex Platinum to get lounge access. Which is funny, because now I don’t even care about lounge access, but the 75k points I got I transferred to Delta for over 100k points and then that turned into Elite status because I took 1 international flight the next year! I recently went to London with my my wife primarily on points, and I can fly anywhere on points any time now after using the techniques we all know. Anyway, thanks again for all the tips, I had to laugh when my Dad said he wasn’t sure he could spend $4k for the Chase Reserve card. I told him I can take care of that for him (and the $450 if I need to!)

Glenn (The Military Frequent Flyer)
Guest
Glenn (The Military Frequent Flyer)

What a trip down memory lane on your recanting the last five years. You’ve been incredibly successful with your blog and hope it keeps growing!

THEsocalledfan
Guest
THEsocalledfan

Greg,

As I’ve always said, there are travel hacking blogs, then there is the Frequent Miler…… There is not comparison!

BTW, I may have missed it, but I, along with many other got the 100K from Amex clawed back on the last platinum deal; I could be mad, but would do the same thing if the banks.

glen
Guest
glen

Thanks for all the great info! I always check here first for the nitty gritty!

Jedi
Guest
Jedi

Congrats! We will miss you at the Chicago seminars – happy Necker Islanding!

Amy
Guest
Amy

Greg…I have followed you all along your journey. I remember being scared for you when you quit your job to blog full-time. None of the blogs are as informative as they used to be, and I know you get tired of the negativity from those “kll the deal naysayers” but from a mother of 2 and public school teacher who has little time to dig out the deals….THANK YOU!!! You have made trips possible for my very moderately income family. We appreciate the education you have given us so we could earn points and miles and experience trips and adventures that would have never been possible.

Shawn Coomer - Senior Editor
Member
Shawn Coomer - Senior Editor

Congratulations on turning 5! You are an amazing person to work with and your dedication to the reader experience above all else is inspiring.

Andre
Guest
Andre

Congratulations! You and Shawn are the best! (+ The Doctor :))

Jerry
Guest

I`ve come to respect you as my top blogger, and I use your site as often as possible when applying for new cards, minimum pimping, maximum analysis and info is why I follow you. Best of luck in the future and yes the game has changed significantly in the past 5 years. Chase in particular , but AMEX and Citi also, have just about dropped off the radar for me. I plan to use up points earned over the next couple of years and then fade out slowly

Aaron Hurd
Guest

It’s been great to follow along since (almost) the beginning. Definitely miss the old easy ways to manufacture spending, but exercising the mindset that enables you to identify the arbitrage opportunities out there is the most valuable thing I’ve gotten from the blog.

Jamie
Guest
Jamie

Reading through your article, I am shocked to realize that I was in the hobby (and reading your blog) for most of it. I still feel like I’m new, because there’s always something to learn or figure out.
Congrats on the last five years!!
May there be many more years of travel hacking to come.

Yan
Guest
Yan

I saved and earned lots of money and miles by reading your daily blog.

Thanks a lot.

Jon
Guest
Jon

Thank you for great advice over the 3 years I have been in the hobby. Clear, concise and useful information that allowed me to take my wife back to Tanzania where she was born for the first time since 1968. Please keep up the great work!

Ricardo
Guest
Ricardo

Simply the best blog. From the beginning, you were innovative and original, without being pushy. Thanks to you (and old Rick, not the new version) I have been able to travel the world with family and friends. I made an habit of opening your page first in the morning to see whats new and I have done that for the last 5 years. I am glad also, that I have been able to thank you in person several times. Lets have lunch again one of these days.
Congrats also to Shawn Coomer who complements your blog with his own and also with his enthusiasm and being on top of everything almost instantly.
Go Blue.

Denise
Guest
Denise

Greg,

Congrats on 5 years and for all you do. I first met you in Chicago when you were brand new at this gig. My how time flies!

Skippy
Guest
Skippy

Congratulations!
I remember one of the first posts I read from you was when you went to NYC and tried to spend hardly anything… $20/day I think? I thought you were crazy. Now I know you’re crazy, but it’s a crazy I really like. I enjoy your blog and your sense of humor. 🙂

a$]-[u
Guest
a$]-[u

Congratulations Greg and all the team who contribute to this blog, we love you all. I have a small contribution as well – the name ‘App-no-rama’, long live this blog!

Dan
Guest
Dan

Congrats Greg, glad to see you going strong. Thanks for the City National Visa Infinite deal, the Wells Fargo Visa Signature deal both of which were big winners for our family and examples of the kind of away from the herd, original research that I’m glad to see many others also appreciate!

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[…] Frequent Miler is 5 years old. Wow, how time flies! Undoubtedly, the blog with the best affiliate link policy by far! At the same time, reading through the past five years only made me sad to see all these deals go poof… […]

Dee
Guest
Dee

Congratulations, Greg. I am a regular reader and appreciate your content over the years.

Jey
Guest
Jey

Congrats…one of the best blogs out there on this subject…always a treat to visit each day to find some new deal.

Susan
Guest
Susan

Congrats! I love your blog and first started reading years ago. Your great posts on how to utilize Bluebird while it was still available got me and my husband thousands of points that we otherwise wouldn’t have had. Keep up the great work!!

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[…] Frequent Miler looks back at his 5 years of blogging. […]

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[…] Frequent Miler’s 5 Year Retrospective – Frequent Miler is now 5 years old. Here is a look back at the blog’s history and the news that has dominated the last half decade. […]

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[…] rule changes, the manufactured spend world probably got hit with the most blows since 2013, as some of the most convenient options for meeting sign-up bonuses were largely eliminated. In addition to that, several award chart devaluations occurred but those are always a part of the […]