My thoughts on points, miles and reward travel

Credit card reward bonuses can take you to amazing destinations!

Credit card reward bonuses can take you to amazing destinations!

Sorry for the delay since my last post. I have been feverishly planning my summer vacation. I am a former engineer and currently work in analytics so it is very easy for me to slip into...overanalysis mode! But more on that later. Before diving into my summer adventure and the planning process, I think I need to set the stage and provide some background that will be important in framing those efforts.

Since I started this blog, I have been meaning to post my thoughts on the active pursuit of points, miles and reward travel. The existence of these was not unknown to me before this blog - I have earned numerous free and discounted flights and hotel stays over the years. While I was aware that some people actively seek to maximize their points and miles, what I did not appreciate is how this pursuit can rise to the level of a "hobby" for some. I am not sure that term fits me, as I view reward travel as a means-to-an-end - traveling to international destinations I could not otherwise afford or enjoying travel products and experiences that exceed my budget - rather than the end itself. 

My history with reward travel

I have had a rewards credit card for almost 20 years. A few years out of college I signed up for a basic Delta SkyMiles American Express card. This was in the days before huge signup bonuses; I don't even remember if I got any bonus when I first got the card! I wanted the card mainly so I could earn SkyMiles (being from Atlanta, Delta has always been my main airline) from day-to-day spending. Fast forward to earlier this year and my approach to reward travel had changed little: get ongoing rewards from credit card spend and accumulate hotel points and status only from stays. That's when I stumbled onto a YouTube video reviewing business class on a Singapore Airlines A380. That lead to another video and another and before long I began looking into how to gain as many rewards points as possible!

The world of points and miles

I came across several really good blogs that gave me insight into how to actively pursue points and miles. Million Mile Secrets is laser-focused on how best to accrue travel rewards including the latest credit card offers, promotions from airlines and hotels, and how-to guides for obtaining and using points as well as the occasional general travel tips. One Mile at A Time has a similar focus but also offers great reviews of aspirational travel products like first class airline cabins and lounges and luxury hotel properties. The trip reports are excellent and help with ideas about how you might use all those points you can earn! Of the two, Million Mile Secrets speaks more to my view of travel as a means-to-an-end. However, because I am such a commercial aviation fan, the passion for aspirational travel shown on One Mile at a Time keeps that blog at the top of my reading list.

One thing that I learned from the blogs was how easy it is to attain travel points, primarily through credit card bonuses. Yes, you can certainly accrue points from additional spend beyond that required to earn the bonus, but those upfront chunks of miles is how you really build up your balances. Of course, to get those you have to sign up for numerous credit cards. I know what you may be thinking - "I am not going to mess up my credit in order to get airline miles!" Believe me, I said the same thing. My credit is pristine. I have never missed a payment. In nearly 25 years of having a credit card, only one payment was late and that by a day because I was mixed up on the due date. But numerous articles logically laid out the case for responsibly using credit cards to earn very large signup bonuses and build reward balances. So I decided to jump in!

My first batch of reward cards

The first three cards I signed up for gave me some quick points hits with no significant burden since they all fit within my normal spending patterns:

  • Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard - With $3,000 of spend in the first three months of card membership, you get 50,000 American AAdvantage miles. This offer is still available.
  • US Airways Premier World MasterCard - This card offered an easy 50,000 US Airways Dividend Miles by simply making one purchase and paying the $89 annual fee. This card has since been converted to an AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard, a card for which Barclaycard can't accept new applications per their agreement with American Airlines.
  • IHG Rewards Club Select MasterCard - The standard offer on this card is 70,000 points for $1000 of spend in the first three months of membership, though I received a fairly common 80,000 point targeted offer. This offer is still available.

My reasoning on choosing these cards was very straightforward. The US Airways card had a bonus that was absurdly easy to obtain. You were effectively paying $89 for a block of Dividend Miles, an absolute bargain. What made this bonus attractive to me was the knowledge that the merging of the US Airways and American Airlines frequent flyer programs - since completed - would result in these miles becoming American AAdvantage miles. Combining these converted miles with 50,000 from the Citibank card, that would be 100,000 miles for spending $3,000, an $89 annual fee and one additional purchase in a three months period. Since the spend requirement on the Citibank card was well within my normal spending habits, these two were a no-brainer. 

As I have written previously, IHG became my primary hotel choice within the last year. This made the IHG card a very attractive offer. The benefits included with this card beyond the bonus points - Platinum membership, an annual award certificate, bonus points, etc. - sold me. The spend requirement was low and I knew I would be spending much of that on a hotel room - at an IHG property and splitting the bill with a friend to boot! - on my recent trip to New Orleans, so I knew I could easily satisfy the bonus requirements. 

I have since met all these requirements - without any atypical actions - and now I have 80,000 extra IHG Reward points (not to mention bonus points from using the card in New Orleans) and 100,000 American AAdvantage miles. I have not used any of these yet...but that is about to change! I have since added a new card, the Citi Prestige Card. And my credit score still looks good!

In part two of this post, I will offer some tips if you are going to start chasing points and miles.