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.
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.
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?