Good morning, peeps. We’re enjoying our time in Jamaica. Please enjoy this guest post from Elroy McGregor who blogs at Moi and Money.
First and foremost, let me say that no one saves money by pursuing credit card rewards. You can save a lot more money by skipping the travel altogether and staying at home.
The personal finance world is quickly picking up on the travel hacking game. I personally believe many go about it in the wrong way, but that is just me. I don’t want to save a couple hundred bucks or even a couple thousand, I want to save tens of thousands. Ok, so I cheat a bit as I usually book airline tickets that would cost $10k+ if you paid for them, which I would not normally do if I was paying cash. And I don’t want to apply for a card which just pays a one time bonus, I want a credit card which will allow me to continually earn points.
Regardless of how weird you want to get (you can read how our weirdness got us a 3 week trip to SE Asia for $2500 all-in), there are plenty of ways to boost the number of points you bring in each month. Some them are easier than others. Some of them cost a little bit of money. Some people have ethical lines, and some of what is suggested below may cross your line. Please move on with your life instead of making a huge fuss.
Below are three basic ways to boost the number of points and miles you bring in:
If you hop on Flyertalk you often see “The Jungle” referenced in many of its forum posts. This is Flyertalkers’ covert way of talking about the best deal out there right now to ‘manufacture’ spend. By ‘manufacture’ I mean spending money on a credit card and getting all of or most of your money back in cash. The best manufacturing of spend (which is now dead) was the Mint.
The Jungle is a popular online retailer, named after a South American Jungle, which has a program to send and receive money. You, your spouse and family you trust sign up and you are all set to go. You can each send and receive up to $1000 each month without any fees. So, I send $1000 to my father using a credit card, who then does an ACH transaction to his bank account. He then sends my wife $1000 on his credit card, and we send the money to our bank account. My father really isn’t into it and just let’s me go into his bank account and move money around. So, I have $4000/month I move and I get every penny back. My sister and brother-in-law just move $2000/month between the two of them.
If you’re shopping online and not using a mileage mall – shame on you. All you do is hop over to a site like EV Reward (my personal favorite), type in where you are shopping, pick your program and then click. Make your order like normal and you earn extra points on top of what you earn on your credit card. You can usually mix and match here as well – so you can earn American Airline miles using a Southwest credit card.
My favorite is to use my Chase Sapphire Preferred to buy my airline tickets through Travelocity. I earn 4.28 pts/$ just buying airline tickets. Since I mainly fly United, compare that to using the United Mileage Plus Explorer card. I would earn 2 miles/$. Since Chase Sapphire Preferred earns Ultimate Reward points (which can be transferred instantaneously to United 1:1), I get 4.28 pts/$ opposed to just 2.
Back when Lowe’s had a 20 minute guarantee, I would order online through a mileage mall gathering extra points/miles, and then show up at Lowe’s 25 minutes later. Half the time they had my order, the other half they didn’t. And when they didn’t, I got a $20-$25 gift card
Having a card that earns a bonus when spent at certain retailers can be very beneficial. Two of my favorites are the Amex Business Gold, which earns 2 pts/$ at Grocery Stores, and the Ink Bold, which earns 5 pts/$ at office supply stores. Both grocery stores and office supply stores sell gift cards. If we’re going to eat at Applebee’s, one of us jumps out of the car and runs into the store to buy a gift card. We are always conservative, so we make sure we stay under what we are confident our bill will be. This ensures we don’t have to manage a bunch of gift cards and lose money. If we’re going out, we buy a $20 gift card. We almost always spend more than $20. Say we spend $30 [….] we would earn 30 pts if we just put it on a credit card. If we buy a $20 gift card at 5 pts/$ [….] we get 110 pts. Doing this really starts to add up.
Where you start spending some money is when you get into the pre-paid AMEX or Visa gift cards. These have a fee, usually $5.95. But, if you get 5pts/$, it may be worth it. So, you buy a $200 gift card for $205.95. You get 1,030 pts and spend $5.95 [….] you can run your gift card through the Jungle or you can use it for every day spend [….] that’s 173 pts/$ spent. Now compare that Southwest’s fixed point value of 70 pts/$. You always come out ahead that way. Sometimes you may have been better off using the points elsewhere and paying cash. You just need to do the math. Every once in a while, they’ll discount the cards so you are actually making money.
One final point is purchasing gift cards at the grocery store when they run deals for fuel points. Often the grocery store will give you 5 fuel pts/$ spent on gift cards. That’s when we shift our focus over to using our Amex Business Gold (2 pts/$ spent at grocery stores) and stock up on fuel points. It certainly is a nice double dip.
20,000+ pts/miles per month?
In a normal month, I buy $4000 of prepaid Visa or AMEX gift cards at an office supply store. That’s over 20,000 pts right there. Sure, I pay some money, but I get great value out of it. I also spend about $1,000 each month on airline tickets for work (which are reimbursed). That’s another 4,000 pts. at least. Combine that with every day spend and grabbing gift cards when we can, and we easily earn about 1,000 pts/day in any given month!
How do you maximize your points/miles earned per dollar? Any other tips for rewards beginners?