One Year of Travel Hacking – Credit Card Rewards Points Update

Posted By Jeremy in Planning

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Last year we published an article about three credit cards we were looking at opening in order to start our massive mileage run.  While we will never be extreme hackers that open dozens of cards across different networks, we saw benefit in opening a select few to help fund out future travel plans without being tied down to many new cards we never plan to use. Our goal for the year and a half that followed was to use these cards as much as possible on our everyday expenses in order to amass over 300,000 airline miles and >$750 in free cash to travel on.  How are we doing with our goal? Well, as it stands right now we’re almost at our target and haven’t even finished opening half our accounts!  (Photo “Mock Credit Card” by highwing)

What Cards Do We Have?

The three credit cards we were each looking at opening at the beginning of this project included the United MileagePlus Explorer card, the Capital One Venture Rewards Card, and the Chase Sapphire Rewards Card.   As of this post, we currently have the following in our possession:

  • Two (2) United MileagePlus Explorer Cards
  • One (1) Chase Sapphire Rewards Card
  • Zero (0) Capital One Venture Rewards Cards

Our logic for these cards is simple.  The United and Chase Sapphire Cards allow 1:1 points transfer to airline miles on the United Airline Network.  By combining all of our points into one alliance we will have maximum savings for our future travel plans while opening a minimal number of cards.  Couple in sign-up bonuses of 40,000 to 50,000 points and you can earn serious miles pretty quickly!

We would have a fourth card as of publishing this post; however, we had a set back in that one of our applications for the Chase Sapphire card was denied due to “low income.” We will be asking to be reconsidered here in the next few weeks upon the basis of looking at our combined income, which often has positive results, and are hoping for the best.  We have not applied for the Capital One Venture Rewards Cards yet as we are hoping the “Double Miles Challenge” comes back this Spring as it has been available in recent years (and is the basis for us looking at the card which will be outlined below).

How Many Miles in One Year? 275,000

To accurately outline how many points we have in our collection, it is best to break this category up into three topics:  Points from Spending, Sign-Up Rewards Points, and Miles from Flying.  Only in separating the three will our current balance of 275,000 miles make sense.

  • Points from Spending: 60,000 miles

You may be wondering how someone spends 60,000 dollars in a year?  Well, in a word, we didn’t.  I was lucky enough to just break the $25,000 spending bonus on my credit card in 2012 and got an additional 10,000 miles as a reward.  The perk of paying your $1,100/month rent, entire wedding, and honeymoon on credit card is a whole lot of miles in the background for things you would have bought anyway.  But in an effort to point out the need for fiscal responsibility, I paid the balance off immediately and only did it for the miles. (If you cannot do this, then mileage runs are not for you).

  • Sign-Up Rewards Points: 140,000 miles from Three (3) Credit Cards

With the two United cards offering a rare promotion of 50,000 miles and the Chase Sapphire card offering a promotional rate of 40,000 points for sign-up, these were the easiest miles we earned.  The annual fee and nominal spending requirements to earn the points are a small price to pay.  As a trade off we now have cards that give us free checked bags with United, double points per dollar on airline bookings, airfare lounge passes each year, priority boarding, and no foreign transaction fees. Sweet!

  • Miles from Flying: 75,000 miles

We cannot say very much about our miles from flying as it is what it is.  From many trips in my day job to Canada to our honeymoon in Europe and our flights in early 2011 from Asia, we had a few large chunks holding over in our accounts.   The only perk noting in this segment was that I flew enough in 2012 to hold Silver status on United which gives frequent upgrades and mileage multipliers on your flights that helped push this points run very high, very fast.

  • Free Money to Travel: $0

Our free money to travel will be tied up to the Capital One Venture Rewards Card “Double Miles Challenge” program hopefully being offered later this spring as has been offered in years past.  The promotion offers a miles match from a card you earned in the previous year, doubled in a 2:1 pay out, and converted $1 for every 100 miles you have.  So if you earned 50,000 miles from spending like we did, they will double it to 100,000 miles and pay out $1,000 in cash after you meet the minimum spending requirement for the card.  Not a bad plan for the final topper to a mileage run that began at the start of 2012. While the 300,000 airline miles from the previous cards will be worth far more than $500 per card, the opportunity for quick cash is something we can’t pass if it comes up again this year.  After all, you would think we planned it this way.  (We did).

What are we going to do with all of the miles and travel money we collect with our rewards cards? Well, you’ll find out about that as the year progresses as we are hoping to leverage it to well over $30,000 in free travel!

Do you have a favorite travel credit card to run up miles with or have a success story like ours? Share it by commenting below!  We may be open to looking at more cards, so if you have one you really like we’d love to hear about it!

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  1. As a kiwi, I am so envious of all the travel hacking credit card rewards opportunities available to Americans! Well done for working the system and taking advantage of the opportunities. 🙂

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  2. Hey James, those do sound like good deals! I saw a few hotel cards today while researching that offer 2 nights at any hotel in their chain for having the card. I could think of a few places where that could be really abused with the right person (*ahem* us). I think Angie’s pending graduation will help them reconsider for sure 😉

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  3. At one point, the Citibank American Airlines card was really good. You could apply for one every 60 days with annual fee waived the first year. I ended up doing two trips to Africa and an around-the-world based on that. Now I have the Chase Marriott card. It’s USD 65 a year, but comes with one free night and no foreign transaction fees which is great when abroad. All this despite “low income”! LOL.

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