Time to make a plan
I will be the first to admit that my spending, both regular and manufactured, has always been rather erratic. I have written a lot about my “mad organizational skillz” and ability to keep track of multiple accounts, but when it came to setting a goal and then spending to meet that goal, I wasn’t doing it. So I decided to write this post, not only to help my readers better understand the POINT of doing all this, but also to help myself to better organize my spending.
First I want to list the active, open credit cards in my binder for both myself and my hubby.
- American Express Delta SkyMiles Platinum (me)
- Chase Marriott VISA (me and hubby)
- American Express Starwood Preferred (me and hubby)
- Barclay’s US Airways Premier World Mastercard (me and hubby)
- Chase IHG Holiday Inn (me and hubby)
- Citibank American Airlines Visa (me)
- Barclay’s Frontier Mastercard (me)
- Bank of American Alaska Airlines Visa (hubby)
- US Bank Club Carlson Visa (me and hubby)
- Citibank American Airlines Executive Mastercard (me and hubby)
- Chase Sapphire Preferred (me)
That’s 17 active credit cards. See why organization is so important?
I am about to cancel three cards:
- My Barclay’s Frontier card. Frontier awards proved very hard to redeem.
- Hubby’s American Express Starwood Preferred. He has used all the points in the account and there is no benefit to renewing this card.
- Hubby’s Chase Marriott Card. He has earned Gold status on his own this year and next year he will apply for the Marriott Premier Rewards card which offers better benefits than the basic card he has now.
That will leave me with 14 cards to spread out my spending.
My (Immediate) Plans
And by “immediate” I mean within the next 2 years.
Summer of 2015 I want to take a trip to Europe. I’m thinking most likely Croatia and either Italy or Greece. I want to fly (business class) to Australia in 2016. Those are my 2 big ones. There will be some domestic trips thrown in that I will most likely just pay the airfare for (I save my miles for expensive international travel), and possibly a Caribbean or Hawaii trip on miles. It is going to be harder to travel now with my son entering 1st grade later this year. We will be relegated to summer travel with the masses and maybe a Christmas ski trip. I am not opposed to pulling him out of school to travel, but I will try to keep that to a minimum. However I do plan on taking a January or February ski trip to Whistler in the next couple of years and I will pull him out for that.
So, having said that, I need to take a look at my inventory of miles. Between the two of us we have:
- 384,000 American and US Air miles (that will become “one” with in the next year)
- 51,000 Alaska Airlines Miles (these can be used on American Airlines and Delta)
- 308,000 Delta SkyMiles
To fly Business class to Australia using American Airlines Miles, we will need 375,000 miles. As you can see, we have more than enough to do that after the merge. But AA miles are probably the most valuable miles out there right now, so I want to concentrate on building as many of them as I can. Especially since we have so many American Airlines and US Airways cards.
I will use my American Airlines miles to fly my family to Australia in business class!
My trip to Europe next year will be on Delta and most likely in coach (ugh, I know), which will require 180,000 miles for 3 tickets. Again, I have more than enough.
I want to build more Alaska miles to supplement my American and Delta totals. I can’t combine them, but I can get one ticket from the Alaska account and the other two from the American or Delta account. To that end, I will probably apply for an Alaska card for myself during my next round of apps this fall.
Organized Manufactured Spending
The real goldmine in Manufactured Spending (MS) is using a Chase Ink or Bold card at office supply stores and earning a 5x point bonus. If you bought $2,000 worth of Visa gift cards per month, you would be earning 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points. Do that for a year and you have 120,000 points. That right there is the bread and butter of most miles and points junkies. And some (most) do way more than $2,000 a month.
Those 120,000 (or more) Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to United, Southwest, British Airways, Korean Air, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, Ritz-Carlton and even Amtrak.
There are some of us, however, who cannot get the Chase Ink or Bold or other business cards because we do not own our own business and do not feel comfortable lying to get one. I have a part-time job that would probably qualify me for a Business card, but I applied for a Chase Ink last summer and was denied. That really spooked me, especially with Chase. So I am going to lay low with Chase for awhile – at least until next year, and then I might try again.
So where does that leave me and others like me without business cards? It leaves us to only earn 1 mile/point per dollar on most cards. That can still be worthwhile though, and is better than earning Nothing. So basically $2,000 a month in gift cards for one year will earn you 24,000 miles/points. That’s a lot less than 120,000! But again, still better than Nothing. You also have to factor in the cost of doing this, which is approximately $240 on $2,000 worth of gift cards.
By the way, I am using $2,000 because that’s what *I* do, on average. That is just enough to pay my mortgage and utility bills. Every once in a while I will do amazon payments or money orders with gift cards, but I try not to game the system too much and risk getting myself shut down or contributing to shutting down the entire system.
So here is my plan
For the months of June through December 2014, I have made a rotation of 4 cards per month, buying one $500 gift card on each card. The cards I will rotate are both Citibank American Airlines Executive Cards, my Citibank American Visa, Hubby’s Alaska Airlines card, my Delta SkyMiles American Express and both of our Barclay’s US Bank Mastercards. By doing 4 different cards per month, I can spread out the spend between 4 different banks. And notice I am avoiding Chase on all MS activities. Flyertalk threads like this one and this one really make me stop and think. And if I want to eventually get that Chase Ink or Bold card, I think it is in my best interest to avoid them for now.
So by the end of the year I will earn just under 10,000 American/US Air miles, 2,000 Alaska miles and 2,000 SkyMiles. Many people will say that is not worth it. It’s not worth the $140 I will spend on fees or the trips to Walmart. You would have to make your own decisions on whether or not it’s worth it to you. I do not go out of my way to go to Walmart to do this. But chances are that at least 4-5 times a month I am going to be near a Walmart and it takes me about 10 minutes to run inside and do the deed. I don’t see that as a big inconvenience. When you could still buy Vanilla Reloads at CVS, the Miles and Points junkies were running around to every CVS within a 50 mile radius of their home, only earning 1 mile/point per dollar spent on them. The difference was that they didn’t have to go to Walmart to load them. So really, that is the only thing that has changed.
The bulk of my “everyday” spending will probably go on my Chase Sapphire Rewards card. Except for gas and groceries which will go on the Chase IHG cards (2x points in those categories) But of course I will throw a few charges here and there on the cards I am using for MS, just for good measure.
Before I go, I want to point out that I have several recurring charges each month that are automatically billed to different credit cards. Our Chase IHG cards are charged for our Netflix account and our cat’s Wellness Plan at the vet. The Chase Sapphire Preferred gets Direct TV and our cell phones (for now). And the US Bank Club Carlson card gets my son’s karate class.
I also have certain credit cards assigned to different accounts such as Groupon, iTunes, and Paypal.
The good thing about setting up these recurring payments is that I can change it any time I want to. Usually when I get a new card and have to meet minimum spending, I will change the Direct TV and cell phone payments (since those are the highest) to go to the new card until I meet the spending requirement.
So that’s it. That’s my Master Plan. Do you have a Manufactured Spending or Travel Planning strategy? If so, please share it in the comments. I, for one, am very interested in learning more about how other people reach their goals! I know many people are loath to talk too much about MS in public forums. But I think the cat is long out of the bag by now and there is not much classified information left.
One last personal note…because he’s just too darn cute not to share. We got a new dog last week! He is a 2 year old Goldendoodle that we named Bodhi. I occasionally foster dogs through the Stray Animal Adoption Program and this boy came up needing a foster home. We love Doodles so I grabbed him up and we decided within about an hour that we wanted to keep him forever! Welcome to the family Bodhi!