Travel Hacking

How I Earned Points and Miles in 2018

I haven’t kept tedious notes, but last year I earned over 600,000 miles and points. Because I work a 9-5 job now, I had to cut way back on my manufactured spending. And since The Plastic Merchant bit the dust, I pretty much stopped churning merchant gift cards altogether. Not that it was ever a huge part of my routine. I didn’t take detailed notes, but I’ve managed to put together a summary of roughly how many points and miles I earned last year.


I put over $35,000 into Kickfurther co-ops last year. The average profit was around 9% and a few companies paid back early. Once my final payout comes through in May, I’ll do a more detailed post about how much I invested, total profits, and which rewards currencies I earned. Kickfurther has been good so far, though I did lose about $360 on a Nephews co-op two years ago. So far I’m coming out ahead (knock on wood), so stay tuned for that detailed post. 


I wouldn’t use Kiva for regular manufactured spending, but I did use the lending service to meet part of the $25,000 spending requirement on the Amex Platinum Card. I made about $2,000 worth of loans, most of which have been repaid. That being said, I’ve decided not to continue using Kiva anymore. While I think microlending is a great way to help people help themselves, I found out that some of Kiva’s partners charge upwards of 35% interest on these loans. That is insane by any standard, but especially when you consider these loans are made to poor people in developing countries whose livelihood depends on a $200 loan. 

Work expenses

Occasionally I get to put work expenses on my credit card and get reimbursed. These are relatively small charges (i.e. team lunches, hotel charges, etc.). Most of the time filling out an expense report isn’t worth the hassle, which is why I haven’t bothered putting monthly hosting and other expenses in the 100’s range on my card.

But this past summer my boss approved for me to pay our mobile app vendor through Plastiq. It was a $14,000+ charge that I really needed in order to lock down that Amex Platinum sign-up bonus. Amex is notorious for their claw-backs and there’s no definitive proof that meeting spending requirements via manufactured spending will cause this to happen. However, I still wanted to play it safe. So I used the Platinum card to pay the vendor and was able to offset a lot of the fees thanks to referral credits.

Mastercard Gift Card Churning

Churning MasterCard gift cards and off-setting the fees via cash back portals remains my primary method of earning points and miles. It’s fairly easy and I have a WM store that plays ball, so I’m going to keep this going. I probably earned around 180,000 miles this way. Even with Walmart’s new money order policy, which makes buying money orders a huge hassle. 

I primarily used Yazing and TopCashBack to offset manufactured spending fees. However, with the new 10% fee on Yazing cashback payouts, I’m probably going to use another portal. Unelss Yazing works out cheaper. Recently, I finally succeeded in getting several GiftCardMall orders approved. So I’m probably going to shift my gift card purchases over there and use Ebates for 1% cash back.

Visa gift card churning

Thanks to the 5x bonus from the Chase Ink Plus card, I managed to earn about 120,000 miles buying and liquidating Visa gift cards at Staples. The 5x bonus applies to the first $50,000 spent and as you can tell, I fell way below that. The clock resets in October, so I’ve got plenty of time to make sure I max out the full $50,000 this year.

In addition, I spent about $85,000 on Simon Mall Visa gift cards. This isn’t my preferred way to generate spend unless Simon Mall is discounting purchase fees. Every $9500 purchase sets me back ~$70 in fees, which is not ideal. I like to keep my spending as low as possible. The only times I’ve gone to Simon Mall were when I needed a large chunk of gift cards quickly or during their $1 off promos.

Credit Card Sign-up Bonuses

I’m not a big credit card churner and ended up canceling a few credit cards last year. But I also added a few to my wallet, which helped me earn over 225,000 miles and points. This consisted of a 100,000 point Amex Business Platinum sign-up bonus, two 60,000 – 65,000 point Citi AAdvantage card bonuses.

Amex Offers

I can’t be mad at American Express for long. Sure, they keep hiking up their annual fees in return for benefits we don’t want, but they also get a few things right. One of them is Amex Offers. Over the years, I’ve saved hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars and earned thousands of miles thanks to deals through this program. This year’s Amex Offers are off to a slow start, but last year things didn’t pick up until May. Hopefully, we’ll see a similar pattern this year.


It’s hard to believe, but I do pay for some travel. Sometimes redeeming miles doesn’t make sense, in which case I usually charge things to my Discover It Miles Card and use points to cover the charges. Or I dip into my Fidelity brokerage account, which contains rewards I earned through my 2% cash back card. I can use those funds to pay off whatever credit card gives me the most points for my travel purchase. That, of course, depends on whether I’m booking directly with an airline/hotel vendor or using a third party booking service.

Goals for 2019

This year, I’m focusing mainly on earning cash back. I do want to top off all of my airline and bank rewards accounts so they contain at least 100,000 miles each. I’ve used up all my vacation days and likely can’t go anywhere until December anyway. Topping off all of those accounts will give me flexibility in case I or my family need to make last minute travel plans.

Earning cash back is a good way to keep my hand in the game without aimlessly earning too many points that may devalue. I’m probably going to pick up another 2% cash back card, including the Citi Double Cash Card. It’s a nice side hustle that will help me contribute further to my rainy day fund.

How did you earn your points and miles last year? What’s your strategy for 2019?

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  1. What card did you use to gain points when were Visa card churning?

    • I used a lot of different cards – bank rewards, cash back, airline, hotel cards. This year (at least for the next few months) I’m focusing on cash back. I’ve been maxing out my Fidelity card and will probably get a Citi Double Cash card for extra spending power.

  2. why is mastercard preferred over visa?

    • The cash back payout on MasterCard gc’s was higher than Visa. At least at I’m finally able to order through GiftCardMall again, so I’m going to channel my spending over there.

  3. do you liquidate all Visa and MC gift cards via WM money orders?

  4. BeachMiles

    How are you buying your Cards at Staples? Online or in store. Are any portals paying on Staples, to offset fees?

    • 90% of the time I bought them from Staples online in $300 increments. But sometimes Office Depot/Max has a promotion that eliminates the fees and earns you a small profit. I just need to remember to regularly call my local store and check on those promos. I never get an email unfortunately.

      • Ariana, you can sign up for their emails, OD & Staples will email you their ad for upcoming week on the weekend.

  5. I didn’t know Ink Preferred was earning 3X points @ Simon & GC. It ended on 2/26 – found out too late ;(((
    Any other options? Thank you!!

  6. curious why you choose to pay money order fees instead of loading to an account like GoBank? should i switch to MOs instead?

    • I haven’t used my GoBank card in years, mainly because of the load limits. I also got so comfortable with buying $10k worth of mo’s and doing $10k in bill pay for a while (don’t do that btw – I got my Barclay account shut down over that). Now that the MO limit has dropped to $8k per day, I might need to work in the GoBank card.

  7. i load more than the limit but i don’t over do it. max $9k per month per account (i have 2). would love to scale up though. ive been using GCM to order $6k at a time.

  8. what got you banned? want to make sure I avoid that if i do scale up

    • I have no idea. The last time I bought gift cards from them was around 2012 I think. They were offering like 4% cash back and all these people were placing orders all of a sudden. I think mine was for $10k. After that, any time I tried to place an order the transactions were canceled. But it seems to be ok now.

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