In the previous Travel Hacking article, we discussed the basics of how to fly for free. We learned one of the building blocks of this strategy is signing up for credit cards with high mileage bonuses. Now, let’s talk more about how to use these cards to accrue miles without flying anywhere.
Before you keep reading, make sure you have a frequent flyer account with your preferred airlines or just sign up for as many as you can just to be on the safe side. Once you have done this, put all your mileage accounts on a website called Award Wallet. It will aggregate all your programs and credit cards and show you balances on each and update them regularly if you use miles or transfer anything.
How to Meet The Minimum Spends
Mileage credit cards are the best tool in your box for free travel but only if you can hit the minimum spends. I normally do not spend more than $1,000 on a credit card in a month and since I got 2 cards at roughly the same time, I needed to figure out how to spend $2,000+ a month. It means getting creative in your spend and faking some of that spend in order to hit your target. Here are some of the things I did or considered doing that would have brought me to my spending limit:
- Put 100% of purchases on my cards. Sounds like a no-brainer but I made sure I set up a credit fund so I would not have a remaining balance at the end of every month.
- Converted any monthly subscriptions I was paying into annual ones. Nice plus was annual payment discount I saw by prepaying for 12 months.
- Paid for a full year of auto insurance
- Paid for Duke Energy utility bill through their payment portal. This accrues a slight fee but it wasn’t enough of deterrent.
- Paid my Federal taxes online through PayUSAtax.com
- Bought giftcards to places like CVS, Chipotle, Old Navy through airline shopping portals (more on that below)
- Bought & sold Bitcoin* (click here to read more)
- Considered paying my mortgage through a site called ChargeSmart**
- Paying everything, daily, mortgage, utilities through Target Red card, also called Red Bird card.***
*Bitcoin is an untapped way to manufacture spend to meet credit card limits. If you are not familiar with Bitcoin, I would not recommend this method. If you understand Bitcoin, it’s a great way to rack up points and it can get you almost $2,000 in spend a month.
**Considered being the optimal word. ChargeSmart and other companies like it levy a hefty fee for using credit cards, my payment would have incurred close to $30 in fees. I would only use this option if I was desperate to hit the spending limits but it is good to know it is out there.
***The Target Red Bird card is a reloadable American Express card, very similar to Bluebird and Serve. It is for the unbanked but can also be used to manufacture spend for your miles card. I have not done this as there are no Target’s that sell this card in my area, but there are many posts on those who have done it successfully using their credit cards to buy gift cards that load their Red accounts and thus pay their bills. Worth some investigation.
Using Shopping Portals
Shopping portals are a mileage collector’s friend. They are wonderful resources to juice your spend for credit cards while also double dipping for miles. Here is how they work. Each credit card usually has a shopping portal tied to them, American has AAdvantage eShopping Mall, United has MyPoints & Delta has Skymiles Shopping. The more often you use them to shop, the more miles you accrue. Pretty easy so far? Now, each of these portals runs mileage specials. I sign up for the emails and have them sent to special mileage folder within my inbox because you will get a lot of emails but if one of them can earn you 2 or 3k miles, I think it is worth it.
Specials range from earning 1,000 miles for shopping at American Eagle or buying women’s shoes through Amazon (5 points x $1). The great thing is the specials are constant and depending on the credit card you have at the moment, you are double dipping on your miles, once at the portal and once on your card.
For example, I signed up for MyPoints through United where I started earning miles for buying things I would normally need anyways. The site often had double or triple miles incentives for gift cards and other online retailers. I bought $50 CVS gift cards worth 750 points with my mileage credit card and earned 800 points/miles for a single purchase. Plus, I installed a My Points extension in Chrome and it now it shows me my miles earning opportunity within every retail site it has a partnership.
Shopping portals vary by airline but they all have them. MyPoints had more gift card options which I like but there are many of them out there.
Now, let’s take this to the next level and shop around for the best mileage portal BEFORE we spend money at the mileage portal. Before I buy anything I go to Cash Back Monitor. This site is pretty brilliant, it compares all the shopping portals out there and tells me which one would offer the most miles for my purchase. It can also tell you the portal with the best cash back or credit card points.
For example, if I need something from Lowe’s, CBM tells me the American AAdvantage portal is the best with 3 miles per dollar spent but if I want cash back, UPromise is the best portal. Pretty awesome huh?
Hope you enjoyed this, I will be writing another article on all the affiliated websites, hotels & dining programs that are out there to really catapult your mileage earning and spending.