AAdvantage Aviator Card Promo – Will I Make It?

In late November, I received an email from Barclaycard to register for a promotion offering 30,000 miles for spending $2,500 each month on my AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard.  The promo runs from December 2015 until May 2016.  So essentially I would earn 45,000 miles after adding the 2,500 a month for 6 months.

promo

$2,500 is a lot to spend each month without doing any Manufactured Spending.  At least, for me, it is a lot to spend each month!

I got through December pretty easily thanks to a couple VISA GC purchases at Walmart.

And then this happened.

BB

Ahhhh that dreaded e-mail that we all knew was coming.  Don’t say you didn’t know.  This could not go on forever.  Eventually AMEX would wise up and realize they were losing money.

I got that e-mail on January 8 and I’m totally kicking myself for not buying a gift card the first week of January.  But I have always been very conservative in this hobby.  I don’t buy $40K worth of gift cards every month!  So my plan was to wait until the end of each month and see how short I was.  If I was within $1,000 of the $2,500 (likely) I would buy a couple gift cards to make up the difference.  That’s pretty much what I have always done.  I usually bought $1,000-$1,500 a month and paid my mortgage with it.  I rarely used Bluebird to pay off the credit card I used to buy the gift cards.  I think I did that once.  And I didn’t pay the whole balance.  I would usually pay $378.55 or some other odd amount.

So again. I am really surprised that I was shut down by Bluebird.  I have heard that some people are still going at it.  I’m not sure how they managed to stay under the radar, but at this point, I hope they ride it hard.  I know I would.

Yesterday I got this e-mail from Barclaycard.

aacard

That’s very nice.  I was wondering how (if) they were going to keep track of the monthly spending for this promo.  I WISH they had some kind of calculator on their web page so you could track your monthly purchases.  You can look up your month to date purchases, but you have to whip out the calculator to get the total.

According to my calculations, I am at $1829.26 for the month of January.  And that is with a large $1,000 purchase that I would not normally make.  So in reality I have only spent $800 so far this month.  That is probably about average for us, unless it’s Christmas time, someone’s birthday or we are on a trip.   So at $1829 for this month, I am $670 short.  I don’t see myself spending that much in the next week.  Maybe another $100-200.

Unless I buy a gift card.

I’ve been thinking about this.  People are still buying the Visa GC and then buying money orders.  I have only done that once, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience.  But I might give it another try.  Worst case, I am stuck with a $500 gift card that I will have to liquidate by regular spend.  And at that point it won’t matter because I will not be able to complete this promotion.

Do you still do any manufactured spending?  Do you think the end is nigh?

Chasing A Dream

Ouch!

Fake Dictionary, Dictionary definition of the word hubris.

 

For the first time In My Life, I was denied personal credit.  And it hurt.  Even though it’s partly my own fault; I did not heed the warnings of those who had gone before me. I just went in, balls to the wall, full of arrogance and my 808 credit score and was promptly shot down.

Let back up a bit, for some context.

Back in June, many bloggers (like MMS, and Mommy Points) and Flyer Talk reported that Chase was cracking down on approving applications for people who they felt had opened too many new accounts in the past 24 months.  And this is from ANY bank! Not just Chase.

At that time it seemed to mostly affect Ultimate Rewards earning cards such as Chase Freedom and Chase Sapphire Preferred.  The airline and hotel cards (United, Marriott, Holiday Inn etc) issued by Chase seemed to be ok for a while.

I had a busy summer.  I spent it with my family and we went on a few great trips.  I did not spend as much time as I maybe should have reading blogs and Flyer Talk (or updating my own blog).  So I knew Chase had tightened up, but I really didn’t think about it possibly getting worse.

I booked Australia!

(yay! I’ll tell you about it later!) Yes I did manage to get that done over the summer.  In fact, I booked my flight to Australia using the Delta Mobile app on my phone while we were driving down to Mammoth Cave.  If you know me at all, you know I am not comfortable doing things like that anywhere but my ginormous desktop computer.  Mobile sites just make me uneasy for some reason.  ANYWAY I am going to need some United miles and British Airways Avios for traveling within Australia and to get from Australia to Thailand.  (yes, I’ve added a whole ‘nother trip to Australia)  So I thought this would be a good time to apply for the British Airways card for myself and the United Card for Matthew.  Both had 50,000 mile sign up bonuses which would more than cover what I needed.

I applied online using a friend’s link for the British Airways card and got the dreaded screen telling me to call in to further process my application.  I didn’t think much of it. Most of my applications have been automatically approved, but I have had to call in a couple of times to verify information.

After verifying my address, SSN and phone number, the Chase agent started getting serious.  She asked about the income I stated on the application and where it comes from.  I told her most of it was from my husband, but a small percentage of it was mine from self-employment.  She asked what my “self- employment” was.  I told her I was a part time tour guide.  (this is true)  Then she put me on hold for what felt like forever while she “reviewed my credit history”.  This is when I started to sweat.  She told me I had applied for 9 cards in the past 12 months.  This is not true.  And I am almost positive she said 12 months and not 24 months.  She then asked “Why did you apply for so many cards? Why do you need so much open credit?”  I told her I don’t need that much open credit and I would be happy to shift some around to open this card.  She was having none of it and said I would not be approved.  I asked if I could close the Southwest card to get this one open.  She said “No.  You have more than enough credit for your needs”

Wow.  She was tough.  And she was not backing down.  I asked if being an Authorized User on my husband’s cards was counting in this denial and she said “No.”  Good thing, because that would have probably put me over 20!

I have always said I am a CONSERVATIVE credit card churner and “Manufactured Spender”.  And I still believe that to be true.

In the interest of full disclosure, let’s look at how many cards I have actually applied (and been approved!) for since August 2013.

August 2013 – SPG Amex

Sept 2013 – Citi AA Visa (closed), Barclays Frontier MC (closed)

March 2014 – Citi AA Executive (closed), Chase Sapphire Preferred, US Bank Club Carlson Visa

June 2014 – Wells Fargo Amex (closed)

August 2014 – Skymiles Business Gold Amex (Business card should not be counted), Chase Marriott (closed)

December 2014 – Chase Southwest Personal

January 2015 – Chase Southwest Business (again, Business card)

June 2015 – Citi AA Mastercard, BoA Alaska Airlines Visa, Barclays Frontier MC

Ok.  That’s 14 cards in the past 24 months.  But 2 business cards should not count.  So that’s 12.  She said 9.  I’m thinking maybe she did not count or see the ones from August and Sept 2013.  That would make the count accurate.

What now?

I’m a little torn over what to do now.  Should I just lay low and not apply for any cards until maybe mid-2016?  That way many of my apps will drop off.  Or should I apply for cards from other banks before the whole thing explodes?  I am leaning toward the last option.

 

Bursting-Bubble

 

I don’t want to be an alarmist, but I really think this game is dying.  I know when something dies, something new always comes along.  Every once in a while someone will say, “Do you remember a few years ago when everybody was buying coins from the US Mint?” Well, I think a few years from now people will say, “Do you remember when everybody was getting hundreds of thousands of miles from credit card sign up bonuses? Ah..those were the days”

I mean, look at what has happened recently.  American Express limits sign up bonuses to once per card per lifetime.  Citibank will not give a bonus if you have opened or closed the same card in the past 18 months.  And now Chase is not approving applications if you have opened more than 5 cards in the past 24 months.  What’s next?  Will they all eventually go the same way as American Express? Once per lifetime?

So I think this might be the time to just go for it.  Grab what you can and be happy with what you get before the bottom falls out.  And it will.  If this hobby had remained a secret society, things might still be easy.  But you’ve got too many big name bloggers spewing all the down and dirty details.  Mommy Points was on Nightline for crying out loud!  And even with all the approval crackdowns, they are still pimping their Chase Credit Card affiliate links.  At least the newbies can get some miles.

sunshine

 

Sorry.  I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom.  I think the Chase denial just got to me.  Just last month I went through all the trouble of opening a new checking account with Chase and giving up a 20 year relationship with my credit union!  Chase offered me $300 to do this, but that’s beside the point.  I also haven’t completely cut the cord with my credit union and after this mess, I probably won’t.

So let’s see what happens next.  I’m still $10 ahead from my last MS adventure with ordering American Express gift cards.  (Oh yeah…you know the portals stopped paying out cash back, right?) So I think I will buy a couple Visa Gift Cards with my Chase Sapphire and load them to RedBird.  That will give me 1,000 Ultimate Rewards points.  I need all I can get to transfer to United!  After that…who knows.  If I decide to apply for some different cards in the next couple weeks, I will let you know.

 

My Recent MS Adventures

MS Adventures? Or Misadventures?

By now, I’m sure you have seen everybody’s e-mail from Target that explains what you can and cannot feed your RedBird with.  I will throw mine in here, just in case it looks different from every other blogger’s e-mail.

targetemail

This isn’t really new.  I’m sure since they stopped allowing credit card loads on May 6, that many people have had success loading the “old fashioned” way with gift cards purchased from other sources.

Here is what I have done over the past two months.  Hold onto your hats! You know I’m a big spender! <sarcasm>

On April 8 and April 13 I purchased two $2,000 American Express gift cards and loaded them directly to my RedBird account.  I paid $12.90 for fees and shipping  for each card, but I earned $60 cash back.  (which should pay out at the end of this month) So I was ahead with $34.20 in my pocket.  And $4,000 in my RedBird.

Between mid-April and May 6, I loaded $7,300 via direct credit card loads onto my account and Matthew’s.  That sure was fun while it lasted.

After May 6, I did not do any MS.  I didn’t like the hassle of going to Wal-Mart and if I was going to go to Walmart, I would rather just load up there with Kate.  But I can no longer use Kate since I canceled my Bluebird and Serve accounts.

Then, I got bored.

I really did not like just sitting here and not doing anything to actively earn miles and points.  So on May 27, I decided to jump back in.  I tested the waters at Walmart.

walmart
It had been awhile since I had purchased a gift card at Walmart.  I was nervous that things had changed.  I have had Walmart cashiers bark at me “cash or debit only” when I start to swipe my credit card.  I just always smile and say, “It’s ok” and then it goes through.

 

The gift card rack looked different now.  There were many more options of card designs to choose from.  But having been burned in the past, I stuck with the “Happy Birthday” card that has always worked for me.

gc

I really liked the stork one, but I was afraid to try it.

I have learned a few things over the years about buying gift cards at Walmart.  Never go to the cigarette lane.  That is usually where the Customer Service Managers hang out, en masse, to go over whatever it is Walmart CSMs have to discuss.  Also avoid older ladies and the 10 item or less express lane.  My plan is to always look for a young person and preferably a guy.  They tend to care the least.  I found just who I was looking for in Jacob in lane 7.  I don’t think he said a word to me other than “how much” when I handed him the gift card.  He was too busy trying to sneak glances at his phone and flirt with the girl in lane 10.  I was in and out in about 5 minutes.  No muss, no fuss.

success

I hope Jacob works at Walmart for a long time. I wish I knew his schedule.

That gift card has a fee of $4.94 so now I am only ahead by $29.26

I then drove directly to Target to load the gift card to my RedBird.  Again, I was nervous because I wasn’t sure if this would work.  But it worked like a charm.  In and out.

target

Well, that’s blurry

The next day, Matthew and I drove to Indianapolis to see the Weird Al concert.  Best Concert Ever, by the way.  So good in fact, we are going to see him again next week in Dayton.  And taking Parker!

I have always heard that the MS opportunities in Indiana are abundant.  They have Simon Malls, which have lower fees on their gift cards than Walmart.  I have also heard it is still possible to buy Vanilla Reloads with credit cards!  How sweet!

On our way to the concert we stopped at the very nice Circle Centre mall in downtown Indy.  We ate dinner and then went to the customer service kiosk to buy a Simon Mall gift card.  The old lady working there was nice enough (at first), but very slow and somewhat suspicious of why we were buying such a large denomination gift card with a credit card.  We bought one $500 gift card charged to Matthew’s US Airways card.  There was a $3.95 fee so now I am only ahead by $25.31.

We walked around for about 30 minutes and as we were about to pass the kiosk again on our way out, I decided to buy another gift card using my Citi AA Mastercard.

When I approached the kiosk and told the lady I wanted to buy another gift card, she gave me a very accusatory look and asked, “Why?”  Yikes.  Because I am a consumer and it is my right to purchase whatever I want.  I had to stand firm.  I am not doing anything wrong.  I was holding my credit card in my hand.  She took it from me and started digging through her receipts to find Matthew’s receipt.  I asked what she was doing.  She said she was looking to see if it was the same card.  What? I told her it was not, and even if it was, why does that matter?

Let’s write the rest of this out like a one act play, shall we?

Lady: “How much do you want to buy?”

Me: “$500”

Lady: “No.  I’m not selling you one for $500.”

Me: “What are you talking about? I want to buy a $500 gift card. If my credit card is declined, you can refuse the sale, but you can’t refuse to sell me something that I am capable of paying for.”

Lady: “Yes I can.  I’m not selling you one for the same amount that he bought.  I can’t do it.”

This is getting scary now.  I was waiting for her to push the secret security button.

Me: “Of course you can. You just won’t”

Lady: “That’s right. I won’t.”

Wow.  Matthew is getting jittery now.

Matthew: “What about $499”

Lady: “No.  I won’t do that either. It’s not allowed.”

Me: “This is crazy.  You are just making stuff up.”

Matthew kicks my foot and gives me a look like “you better watch it”

Since when do you have to haggle to buy a gift card? This is insane!

Me: “Why are you doing this?”

Lady: “Because he just bought one”

Me: “So.  If we had walked up here and pretended like we weren’t together, you would have never known.”

Matthew: “OK  what about $495”

Lady: “No. I would feel more comfortable doing $450.”

Me: “Comfortable? This makes no sense whatsoever.”

Lady: “I’m not selling another one to you for $500”

Me: “Why?”

Lady: “Because I can’t”

Matthew: “$495”

This went back and forth for a while longer, but you don’t need to read all the “yes/no” stuff.

Finally I just said, “Just do $450 and let’s get this over with.”

simon

I had to turn around and snap a picture of the kiosk from hell.

This was the worst gift card buying experience of my life.  Talk about feeling like a criminal.

But I did get my $450 gift card with a $3.95 fee so I am now ahead by $21.36.  I loaded both Simon Mall gift cards to my RedBird with no problem.

A Simon Mall In Another Universe

Matthew was in Oklahoma City on a business trip this week.  There is a Simon Mall there where he has purchased gift cards in the past.  Yesterday he bought two $500 gift cards in the same transaction, with no issues.  $7.90 in fees for both cards so my bottom line is $13.46 in my pocket after all my gift card purchases.

Today, I took those two gift cards to Target to load to my RedBird.  I did the first $500 load with no questions asked.  I told her I wanted to do another one and she started the transaction and she said “Oh I forgot to look at the card you used” I said “Oh for the last four digits?” (which is what they used to do for credit card loads) and she said, “No, to make sure the names matched.” I was not prepared for this and should have had my credit union debit card on standby for such an issue.  But the gift card was still right there in my hand so I just showed it to her.  That transaction had already cleared so there was nothing she could do, but she could have denied the 2nd one if she felt something was wrong.  Although, really…why should they care?  She looked at it and said “Oh it’s a gift card. Ok” and continued to ring the 2nd transaction.

You can order personalized Simon Mall Visa Gift Cards via giftcardmall.com, but you have to pay a shipping fee which brings your total in fees to $7.94.

Taking Time Off

So now I have enough in my RedBird to pay my July mortgage and a couple bills so I am going to take a short break from MS.  Maybe the next time Top Cash Back offers over 2% on American Express Gift Cards I will buy a couple and start again.  Earning the cash back to cover the VISA fees is the only way this MS hobby makes sense now.

I have a $3,000 spending requirement on the new Citi AA card I just got.  But I don’t usually have a problem spending $3,000 in 3 months without MS.

Have you had any MS Adventures lately?

 

If They Blog About It, It Will Die

How many times has this been true?

I seriously miss the days when travel hacking, credit card churning, manufactured spending was all underground.  There were a few message board sites where people would talk about it using aliases and lots of code words.  Not anymore! Now we scream it from the rooftops in Big Guy Blogs and Frequent Traveler University gatherings.  We tell you how to game the system and rake in millions of miles by doing things the banks probably don’t like.

For years I never talked about it.  I didn’t even tell my family and friends what I was doing.  (mainly because I didn’t want to get lectured about ruining my credit score.  Yeah whatever, Mom) I just always said “I never pay for travel”, with a smile.  I still say that.

Well…I don’t do that.  I won’t.  Which is part of the reason I do not regularly write in this blog.  I will still post about my trips (promise) and give you some tips on travel but I’m not going to be one of those blogs who posts about every Chase sign-up bonus and every airline mileage program devaluation.  (though I reserve the right to complain about such devaluations)

So here is a little known money saving/mileage earning deal going on this month.  Thornton’s gas stations (located only in the midwest with a few scattered in FL)  are offering 20% off third party gift cards to places like amazon.com, iTunes, restaurants, stores etc.  It is not well advertised, but I found out about it through a Big Guy Blog.  I wasn’t even going to blog about it because I wanted to keep it a SECRET! Especially in my area – more for me!

Thornton-20-Gift-CardsIf you have a credit card that earns a category bonus for gas station purchases, you are not only saving money, but earning bonus points.

There are 3 Thornton’s in my general area.  The first one I went to was just about completely wiped out of gift cards and the guy behind the counter told me that he did have amazon gift cards, but someone bought 20 of them the day before and now they are gone.  I bought one $25 Buffalo Wild Wings gift card for $20 and paid with a credit card.

I went to the 2nd Thornton’s and all they had was Bass Pro Shops and iTunes. I’m kicking myself now for not buying the iTunes.

I did not make it to the 3rd Thornton’s until yesterday.  Still no amazon or store cards, but I did select a Darden restaurant card and an iTunes card.  When I got to the register the girl said “I don’t think you can pay for those with a credit card”. I told her I bought some at the Erlanger location with a credit card just a couple days ago.  She tried and the payment was not accepted.  I gave her my bank debit card, but that did not work either.  Another girl came up and said they had “problems” with accepting credit cards for gift card purchases and so it is now their policy not to.

Of course I never have cash, so I had to return the gift cards, put my tail between my legs and leave.  Brought back memories of trying to buy Vanilla Reloads with a credit card at CVS.  Thornton’s did have a big selection of Vanilla Reloads, by the way.  They sat there – taunting me.

So.  The Big Guys post about Thornton’s gift card discount.  People run out in droves to buy them all up.  There are none left and Thornton’s wised up to the credit card game.  (or somebody was buying massive amounts of them with a stolen CC)

If you are interested in saving money, this could still be a good deal for you using cash.  In fact, it IS a good deal for you.  You are still saving $5. I would not go out of my way to do this, but if you have a Thornton’s in your area and they actually have some gift cards left – go for it!

It is still possible, in a roundabout way to pay for them with a credit card.  You load your Bluebird or Serve with a credit card (or gift cards purchased with credit cards) and you can withdraw $100 cash from a Money Pass ATM with no fee and then buy $100 worth of gift cards for $80.  Is it worth your time to run around all those places doing that? I doubt it, but if it’s convenient for you, it’s a good deal.

Bottom line, it’s still a money saver if you pay cash.  Christmas is coming, ya know.

I have slowed down considerably on my Manufactured Spending.  Right now I am only doing enough loads on Serve to cover my mortgage payment each month.  I can load Serve with my credit card from the comfort and warmth of my office chair (shhhhh! don’t tell anybody!). I don’t mind that at all.  It’s free and I don’t have to run to Walmart all the time.

In 2014 I spent $149.49 on gift card fees.  I got into the cash back on American Express gift cards late, so I only earned back $90.50.  That means I spent $58.99 to Manufacture enough Spend to get 795,000 miles and points in 2014.  Was it worth it?  Was it worth it  to spend $59 to get 795,000 miles and points?? Yeah…I think so.  Well…to be fair I should probably account for annual fees I had to pay that were not waived for the first year.  And it gets a little ugly there.  (damn you 3 Citi Executive cards! ) $975.  But still.  Just over $1,000 for 795,000 miles and points?  Sure.  But I am done for a while. I have decided it is just not worth the hassle.

Likely by the end of the year I will apply for a couple cards if they offer good “end of the year” sign up bonuses.  Chase Southwest is a big contender.  They are currently offering 50,000 points per card and they have 4.  Even though I am a bit gun-shy with Business cards, I might give it a go.  I’m also hoping British Airways offers a 100,000 mile sign up bonus at the end of the year as they have done for the past couple years.  I am keen to use Avios for a trip to Ireland.

So that’s all for now.

 

 

Feeling Funky

I think I’m in a Miles and Points funk.  I need to apply for a Marriott Rewards Premier VISA card for my husband before his offer expires on Monday.  I was going to do that today, along with one or two other cards.  But I just don’t feel like it. 

I think part of this is caused by the fact that I have not booked our summer 2015 trip.  I still don’t have enough Delta SkyPesos for 3 business tickets.  Although I checked availability yesterday for some random dates next summer and actually found 3 business seats on Alitalia to Athens.  (which is our #1 choice) But when I was checking out the hotel options on some of the islands, I was disappointed to see that there were very few options for reward stays.  Except places like the SPG Mystique that wants 60,000 points for 1 night.  It’s beautiful but….no thanks.

mystique

SPG Mystique Santorini

So that leaves me looking for “budget” accommodations on Santorini.  With a caldera view, if you please.  Yeah, right.  Although I did find a rather nice one for about $130 per night in mid-July which is not bad at all.

As much as I despise cruises, I actually started looking at Greek Island cruises. I thought that would be a good way to see the islands without paying the crazy hotel prices on the fancy ones.  I only looked at a couple cruise lines yesterday but one of the itineraries said it arrived in Santorini (Or Mykonos…can’t remember now but it was one of the two) at 6pm and left at 11pm.  What’s up with that?  Maybe it’s a party island and people go mainly for the nightlife.  That’s not a great plan for a family.  Actually even without Parker I probably wouldn’t like that.

So I think I am at a point where I feel rather saturated with miles and points (a quick look at Award Wallet tells me we have about 1.5 million of them) and no ability to use them.  I feel saturated, but yet when I think of burning 375,000 Delta SkyPesos on 3 tickets I go into hoarding mode. I don’t want to let them go.

This is terrible.  I must snap out of this.  I think I will go ahead and apply for his Marriott card and perhaps a Frontier card as well.  I wasn’t going to mess with Frontier anymore but they have started offering some new routes out of CVG so it might be nice to have a small stash of them on hand.  Though I have a slight fear of a denial from Barclay’s because he has not used his US Airways card very much.   But I didn’t use mine much either and I was approved for the Frontier card.  And he has only applied for 2 other cards in 2014, so he doesn’t have many pulls.

If anybody reading this has been to Greece, please share some ideas with me! And keep in mind we will be traveling with a 6 year old so we need family friendly places and activities.

Making and Meeting Spending Goals

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:

  1. My Barclay’s Frontier card.  Frontier awards proved very hard to redeem.
  2. Hubby’s American Express Starwood Preferred.  He has used all the points in the account and there is no benefit to renewing this card.
  3. 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.

Credit-Cards

 

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.

information_australia

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.

Recurring Charges

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.

Happy Travels!

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!

bodhi1

Bodhi

 

My First Money Order!

I have said it many times, “I am a reluctant participant in the Manufactured Spending game”.  I am.  It’s true.  Something about it feels…dirty.  Unethical maybe? I do it, but I don’t feel comfortable doing large amounts of it.

And sometimes I feel sorry for the poor airlines who are giving away all these miles and free travel to people who have never paid them a dime for an actual flight.   The poor airlines who are nickel-and-diming us To Death with fees for checked baggage, hand baggage, flight changes, drinks and meals.

And I feel sorry for the poor banks who are giving all those miles and points away to people using their cards to just circle money around a loop. The poor banks who are making millions off of people carrying balances on cards at 19% interest and fees paid by merchants to accept their cards. Continue reading

How I spent $20,000 in 3 months…Without Going Broke!

I did it all for 200,000 American Airlines Miles!

Earlier this year, Citibank began offering their Citi Executive / AAdvantage World Elite Mastercard with a sign up bonus of 100,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles! That was too good to pass up.  There were a couple obstacles that made me pause though.  The spend requirement: $10,000 in 3 months.  And the annual fee: $450 not waived for the first year.  Although they do give you a $200 statement credit, so you can actually say the annual fee is only $250.  Still very high, but if you were to purchase miles from the American Airlines website, it would cost you $2,200 for 80,000 miles (the highest amount they sell) and $250 would only get you about 9,000 miles. Continue reading

Protect Yourself While You Travel

There are the obvious safety tips that everyone should be aware of when traveling to a foreign country.  Things like making photocopies of your passport and leaving one copy with someone at home, along with a copy of your itinerary.  I also take a picture of our passport ID page on my cell phone, so that it is always with me.  It’s also a good idea to write down the customer service phone number for each credit card you bring on the trip, in case your cards are lost or stolen.  Also other things like making sure you have any required vaccinations and making sure that your insurance will cover your costs if you have a medical emergency.

In this post, I want to talk about a couple safety precautions that you may not think of.

I try to pay for all my travel expenses with a credit card that does NOT charge a Foreign Transaction Fee.  (those run anywhere from 1%-3%)  But in some countries, credit cards are not as widely accepted and you need to have cash.  There are several options for getting cash, the best way (in my opinion) is with your ATM card.  I don’t like bringing loads of American cash with me and I don’t like to use Traveler’s Checks.

There is a practice called ATM “skimming”,  which is basically like identity theft for debit and ATM cards. Thieves use hidden devices on ATMs to steal the information stored on your ATM card, like your account number.  They will place a “skimming” card reader over the actual ATM card slot.  When you insert your card into the ATM you are actually sliding it through the skimming reader, which scans and stores all the information on the magnetic strip.  To get your PIN, the thieves will hide tiny cameras on or around the ATM with a clear view of the keypad.  They could place a fake plastic frame around the actual ATM frame, with a camera hidden inside.  They could also use a fake keypad that sits on top of the actual keypad and records your PIN when you type it in.

Skimming happens as often (maybe more often) in the US as it does abroad, but it’s not really an every day concern of mine because I never pay cash for things and very rarely use an ATM when I’m at home.

To protect our account, I opened a completely separate savings account at our credit union in Hubby’s name and got an ATM card for it.  It is in no way connected to our main account, but I can transfer money into it electronically.  That way, if we were to fall victim to “Skimmers” they would only have access to a couple hundred dollars at a time and not our every last dime.  Am I overly paranoid?  Maybe.  But I would rather be safe than sorry.

The other issue is transferring that money electronically.  When you are using public wifi or hotel wifi, how do you know your connection is secure?  You don’t.  There was a piece on the evening news during the Olympics in Sochi, Russia showing how easy it was for thieves to hack into people’s computers the minute they connect to public wifi.

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network.  It is a group of networks connected together over a public network (the Internet).  It secures your computer’s internet connection to guarantee that all of the data you are sending and receiving is encrypted.  Another (awesome) thing a VPN does is hide your IP address.  I’m not sure if you have ever tried this, but you cannot access your Hulu or Netflix account outside the US, or watch certain videos on youtube.  A VPN basically tricks your internet connection into thinking it is in the US.

There is a free service called Spotflux, that also has a mobile only plan for $5.99 a year and Premium plan for $29.99 per year.  Many people have had great success with the free version.

But I think I am going to use HideMyAss, and not just because I love the name! It gets great reviews in the Tech magazines and they have a monthly plan of $6.55 per month, and I only need this for one month.

We were in Rome about 12 years ago and a little boy tried to pickpocket me on a city bus.  I caught his hand trying to get into one of the 6 zippers on my purse (a very secure travel purse!).  I was trying to drag him on the bus with me, but he got out of my grip as the bus pulled away.  He just smiled at me and said, “Sorry.”  Pickpocketing is the one crime most people think of when traveling, and it still happens. (keep your money in your front pocket) But thieves are much more sophisticated these days, so we have to be just as sophisticated to protect ourselves!  That little boy in Rome is probably an expert Skimmer by now!

Thanks for reading my picture-less post and I hope you didn’t find it too boring.  Hopefully I taught you something!

Happy Travels!