Earning Credit Card Miles

For the last 10 years or so I’ve been earning airline miles and cash with credit card offers. The whole family usually flies on miles alone. I get about $2,000 in value per year out of it. Here’s how:

In brief:

Every three months or so, sign up for a new credit card that offers miles or cash back. Spend the required amount, set the card in a drawer for a few months then cancel the card. Keep a log of all the cards you’ve used and your accumulated miles. Use the miles and cash-back whenever!

All of it:

  • When signing up, pretty much the only important benefit is the signing bonus. Look for credit cards that offer things like “25,000 miles if you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months”. Offers for 30k or 50k miles are even better. Don’t bother with any reward smaller than 25,000 miles.
  • Only be working on one credit card at a time. But having 2 cards in your wallet is a good idea just in case.
  • Keep track of your cards by physically putting notes on them. I print out a document in 6 point font and tape it to the card. Notes usually read something like “spend $2k by [date] for 25k miles. 2pts/$ on restaurants. Cancel by [date] or $95 fee”.
  • Always pay off your credit card in full every month. Always. If you are tempted not to, stop reading right now.
  • Cancel the card before they charge you a yearly fee. Most cards say something like “$95 per year, waived for the first year”. It is rarely worth paying the yearly fee for the next year’s bonus like a free companion airline ticket or points-back. I sometimes give my reason for cancelling as that I don’t want the temptation of overspending.
  • It mostly doesn’t matter what airline or offer you sign up for, you’ll find a way to use the miles eventually. The offers keep changing and the airline codeshares keep changing. So just earn miles on whatever airline and it’ll probably work out. Lately I’ve been earning and spending on American and Alaska (they codeshare), previously it was United. I stay away from hotel miles because I rarely stay in them and hotel miles aren’t worth as much. “80,000 hotel miles” sounds like a lot but it isn’t, but 25,000 airline miles is usually a round trip ticket! Most miles expire after 1-2 years; if you are getting close to expiration, you may be able to convert the miles into Amazon gift cards; the exchange rate is sometimes not great but a little free money is better than no free money.
  • To start with, just get one new card every six months. Once you start getting the hang of it, you can get a card every two to three months. Juggling too many cards for your comfort zone is no fun and companies may worry something funny is going on and you might get denied.
  • Keep track of when you sign up and receive rewards. Many cards stipulate something like “Signup reward is not available to those who received a new Cardmember bonus within the last 24 months.” In 1-4 years you’ll probably be coming back to this card.
  • Keep track of your earned miles from all your airlines and such in a document. When you have enough miles for a flight, use them!
  • If you have a business, you can open cards under the business’ name and use more cards.
  • Always consider the “exchange rate” of points to dollars when you are considering a card. Earning a penny per dollar is the “norm”, like on a “1% cash back” card. But when you pay attention to signing bonuses, you are earning more like 10 cents on the dollar. It’s like getting 10% off EVERYTHING!
  • Where to find the best offers keeps changing. Google “credit card offers” and you’ll find lots of them. Here are some of my go-to spots: http://milecards.com/, http://www.flyertalk.com/, http://milevalue.com/, http://boardingarea.com/viewfromthewing/, http://www.hustlermoneyblog.com/,
  • Keep track of all your cards and all your accumulated miles in a document.
  • Here are the credit card perks I pay attention to. All the other perks are usually not worth my time:
    • Signing bonus
    • Free first checked bag on an airline. Otherwise, checked luggage can cost $35/bag
    • Can I trade the miles into dollars at a reasonable rate?
  • Keep your oldest credit card, even if you don’t use it. That will help boost your FICO score.
  • If you are worried about your credit score, I’ve been doing this for more than eight years and my FICO score was above 780 last time I checked.

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