Advanced Airline Miles Collection Tricks for High Flyers
On one of my first award flights in international business class, I was settling into my lie flat seat for the 13-hour flight, just as economy class passengers were boarding. One of them gasped at my accommodations and asked, "How did you get that seat?" The only response I could offer was "Collect frequent flier miles." I doubt she was satisfied by that answer, but if you are serious about earning the most points and miles, I'll share some of my more advanced techniques. (See also: Become a Frequent Flyer Master and Earn a Free Flight Every Year)
1. Focus on Sign Up Bonuses
I earn hundreds of thousands of points a year, but I don't buy airline tickets with dollars and I certainly don’t spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on my credit cards. Thankfully, we are fortunate to live in a time when banks are willing to offer hundreds, or even thousands of dollars worth of rewards, just to give new customers a chance to earn their business. Currently, there are some fantastic sign-up bonuses available that are worth 50,000 points or miles, or two free nights in the most luxurious hotels. Each of those can be worth about two thousand dollars to those who use their points and miles wisely.
Nevertheless, cardholders need to be careful. Only sign up for new credit cards if doing so will not be an incentive for you to spend more than necessary. And if you have credit card debt, focus on paying it off, not earning rewards.
2. Watch for Bonus Spending Categories
You can earn tens of thousands of points or miles without spending tens of thousands of dollars. The trick is to use credit cards that offer double, triple, or even more rewards on certain categories of spending.
For example, the Chase Freedom, Discover It, and Citi Dividend Platinum Select each offer 5x rewards for spending on categories that change each quarter. I get 5x points for charging office supplies, telephone, and Internet service to my Chase Ink Bold card, and I earn double points for dining and travel charges on my Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Find the cards that will give you the biggest bonuses for the purchases you make the most, and use them strategically.
3. Spend Shifting
What if your card is offering 5x miles at grocery stores, but you need to make a major purchase from a hardware store? Simply go to your grocery store and buy a gift card for the hardware store. In many cases, you can even buy generic Visa, MasterCard, or American Express gift cards at grocery, drug, and office supply stores. These cards can be used anywhere within their respective payment networks, but just make sure that the miles you receive are worth any extra fees you must pay.
4. Manufactured Spending
The holy grail of advance mileage earning is to buy something with a mileage earning credit card, and somehow use that purchase to pay off the card. This was once just the territory of extreme mileage hackers, but it is now being used by hobbyists to varying degrees.
Banks are now racing to offer pre-paid debit cards to the "underbanked" population, and it is sometimes possible to use a credit card to purchase reloads for these cards. The money can then be withdrawn from an ATM or even used to pay off the credit card bill electronically. Other times, people purchase gift cards, and use those cards to purchase money orders that are then deposited in their bank accounts just like checks. In addition, people use electronic payment services such as Amazon.com to pay each other via their credit card.
So how do you get started? First, do lots of research. New opportunities constantly arise and loopholes constantly close as this hobby has become a cat and mouse game between reward travel enthusiasts and financial service providers. Be aware that people are happy to disclose their failures online, but less enthusiastic share their success and risk having a loophole become popularized. Be sure to focus on credit cards with spending bonuses, as these products will be more likely to offer rewards in excess of any fees you are charged.
Next, just dip your toe in. Make a small purchase of a reload pack or a gift card, and try to cash it out. You will want to test any technique before scaling it up, as there are lots of ways this can go wrong. In fact, some transactions can be approved or denied depending on the region you live in, the store you visit, or even the cashier on duty that day. Finally, don’t bother with this unless you have your finances in order and are good at keeping things organized.
Earning a few thousand points for a reward trip to Disney World is easy enough, but the real challenge is earning hundreds of thousands of miles for a premium class international trip. By learning about advanced mileage earning techniques, you too can eventually invite jealous stares from your business class seat.
Have you tried any of these — or other — airline point gathering techniques? Share your experience in comments!