Earn 1 Million Miles and Points in a Year Without Flying
Hilary Stockton

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Earn 1 Million Miles and Points in a Year Without Flying


Some friends and relatives keep asking me about how all three of us flew first class and business class on Cathay to Hong Kong and Bali, when we scarcely fly at all domestically, apart from the occasional trip to Hawaii. Many other families are in a similar boat, if their families live close by or if they typically drive or take the train to visit them. Mileage running is not only not appealing to me, it's really not an option with a young child at home. What is appealing? Flying international first class for business and family vacations, without any mileage running or lackluster domestic flights.

Most readers are very familiar with the cards and strategies in this post, but I thought it would be helpful to lay it out, along with the sequence in which I'd apply for these cards, for the sake of friends and family that are new to miles and points and trying to figure out how to accrue enough for international business and first class travel. So here we go!

Step 1: Make Sure You Have a High Credit Score and Won't Need a Mortgage, Refinancing or Major Loan in the Next Year

You'll want to have a credit score in the mid-high 700s, no credit card debt, and pay all of your credit cards off in full each month. If you anticipate taking out a mortgage or doing a refinancing or taking out another major loan within the next year, it's best to refrain from credit card applications until you complete the process, to ensure you're getting the absolute best rate with your lender.


Step 2: BankDirect: Up to 240,000 AA Miles Per Year

Update: There has been a BankDirect Devaluation, so I no longer recommend keeping more than $50,000 in an account, for 60,000 AA miles per year

I realize not everyone can put $200,000 to work with BankDirect, but if you can, you'll earn a total of 240,000 AA miles in a year from that $200,000. True, there's a $12 per month charge, but even taking into account that fee and the (very low) interest you'd earn if you deployed those funds elsewhere, you're getting AA miles for half a cent each. That's less than a third what most people would value them at. Keep in mind that you can fly first class to Hong Kong (or Bali, if you don't stop for more than 24 hours in Hong Kong) on Cathay Pacific using 135,000 AA miles for the first class roundtrip. So if you have the funds to deploy in BankDirect, you'll have nearly enough for 2 first class flights on Cathay, all for just $144 in account fees and the taxes/fees on the tickets. And for the remaining 30,000 AA miles, just apply for a Citi AAdvantage credit card which comes with 50,000 AA miles.

If you don't yet have a BankDirect account I'd be happy to refer you. You can email concierge [at] travelsort.com with your email and I'll send the referral to you. The main caveat, and the reason I put this as one of the first things to do, is that it can take awhile to set up your account. For us, it took about 1 month. But it's worth it to see that steady stream of AA miles!


Step 3: 1st Set of Credit Card Applications

1. United MileagePlus Visa: 65,000 United miles (Targeted)

I put this first, because I don't know how much longer the targeted 65,000 offer will be available. Carol commented just yesterday that it worked for her husband but not for her, so so far it still seems to be available if you're targeted for it. If you can't get this offer, I would substitute the Sapphire Preferred, although it gives 40,000 points, not 65,000 points. In my table below, I count the United MileagePlus Explorer as a 55,000 offer, since most folks won't find it worth it to spend $25,000 on the card for the additional 10,000 points.


2. Ink Bold or Ink Plus: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points

Update: There are now updated offers for both the Ink Bold and Ink Plus with a lower spending requirement of $5000 to receive the 50,000 bonus points, instead of the previous $10,000 spend requirement. If you've been eyeing either of these cards, now is a good time to get them.


3. Citi AAdvantage Visa and AMEX: 80,000 AA miles total (40,000 for each)

There are 3 Citi AAdvantage cards, and they used to each offer a 50,000 AA miles bonus, although currently I can only find working links for 40,000 AA mile offers for the Citi AAdvantage Visa and AMEX, and only the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Visa offers 50,000 bonus points. You can only get approved for two Citi AAdvantae cards at at time, so I'd suggest getting the personal cards first for 80,000 AA miles total so that you can start the clock running for churning them (currently, the ~20 month mark works for many people). Apply for them using the two-browser trick (clearing all cookies and having two browsers open at the same time, where you fill in the two applications and hit submit as close in time to the other as possible). It usually works fine if you apply in quick succession as well in a single browser. See Best Travel Credit Cards for the application links and details.

Total miles and points: 185,000

Step 4: Start Getting 5X for Much of Your Spend

Check to see if Office Depots near you carry Vanilla reload cards. Many Office Depots either no longer carry Vanilla reload cards or won't allow you to purchase them with a credit card. But if Office Depots in your local area (or in places you regularly travel to) do carry Vanilla reload cards and allow you to use your Ink Bold or Ink Plus to purchase them, you can order an AMEX Bluebird and start getting 5X on all spend, including rent, employees or others you normally pay with check or cash, etc.

Even if you can't get Vanilla reloads, it still can make sense to purchase gift cards at your local Office Depot, such as $500 Visa gift cards, Amazon gift cards, etc. as a way to get 5X. And don't forget that the Chase Freedom card has no annual fee and gives 5X on rotating categories, up to $1500 per quarter. Maxing out these 5X categories would give you 30,000 points in a year, and if your spouse or partner has the card, that's 60,000 points in a year.

Assumed miles and points: $3000 spend per month at 5X, total of 180,000 for the year


Step 5: 2nd Set of Credit Card Applications (3-4 months after Step 3)

1. Sapphire Preferred: 40,000 points

Note that if you already applied for the Sapphire Preferred in your 1st set of applications, because you weren't targeted for the United MileagePlus 65,000 offer, then I'd substitute either of these cards:

  • The British Airways Visa if British Airways is again offering it with a signup bonus of 100,000 Avios
  • The Hyatt Visa if you will have a use in the next year for 2 free nights at any Hyatt, including Park Hyatts.

2. CitiBusiness AAdvantage Visa: 50,000 AA miles

3. AMEX Business Gold Rewards Card IF you can get it at with a signup bonus of 75,000 points

There were AMEX Business Gold Rewards 75,000 offers on October 24, September 12, and August 8-9 earlier this year, so at some point there's likely to be another offer. Note that you are NOT eligible if you've had an AMEX green, gold, or platinum card within the past 12 months, which is why I'd wait for this offer before applying for an AMEX Platinum card UNLESS you are fortunate enough to be targeted for a 100,000 bonus points AMEX Platinum offer. In that case, I'd forego the 75,000 AMEX Business Gold Rewards card and just take the current 50,000 points offer.


4. Mercedes-Benz Platinum AMEX or Platinum AMEX: 50,000 Membership Rewards points

I don't yet have either of these cards, nor do I get any referral credit for them. But while I value AMEX Membership Rewards points below Chase Ultimate Rewards points, they're still handy in conjunction with the periodic transfer bonus to British Airways, and to transfer to Singapore KrisFlyer so that you can redeem for Singapore First Class. Do note that both cards carry steep annual fees ($475 for the Mercedes Benz Platinum AMEX, $450 for the regular Platinum AMEX) so you'll want to make sure you can fully leverage the $200 reimburseable airline fees per calendar year so that you can get $400 back. Global Entry reimbursement is another good perk to take advantage of.

Total miles and points: 215,000 miles and points


Step 6: 3rd Set of Credit Card Applications (3-4 months after Step 5)

1. Ink Bold (or Ink Plus, if you previously applied for the Ink Bold)

2. British Airways Visa if it's during the 100,000 bonus offer, and you haven't yet applied for it

3. (Optional) Mercedes-Benz Platinum AMEX or Platinum AMEX: 50,000 Membership Rewards points

You can in fact get both the regular Platinum AMEX for 50,000 Membership Rewards points and the Mercedes-Benz Platinum AMEX for another 50,000 points, since they are considered different products. That said, given the high annual fee, I'd only suggest doing this if you're sure you can max out the $200 reimburseable airline spend per calendar year for both of them, for a total of $400 total reimburseable airline spend one year, and another $400 total reimburseable airline spend the next year. If you can, then you could apply for the card you don't already have, assuming there's still a 50,000 bonus offer available. 

Total miles and points: 150,000-200,000 miles and points

1 Million Miles and Points 

Credit Card, Account or Spend

Miles or Points


Cost / Minimum Spend

BankDirect, $200K Deposit


AA miles

$144 account fees, opportunity cost of interest (low)

United MileagePlus Explorer


United miles

$1000 spend in 3 months, annual fee waived 1st year

Citi AAdvantage Visa


AA miles

$1000 spend in 4 months, annual fee waived 1st year

Citi AAdvantage AMEX


AA miles

$1000 spend in 4 months, annual fee waived 1st year

CitiBusiness AAdvantage


AA miles

$3000 spend in 4 months, annual fee waived 1st year

Ink Plus


UR points

$10,000 spend in 3 months, annual fee waived 1st year

Ink Bold


UR points

$10,000 spend in 3 months, annual fee waived 1st year

Sapphire Preferred


UR points

$3000 spend in 3 months, annual fee waived 1st year

AMEX Platinum


MR points

$450 annual fee is NOT waived

Mercedes-Benz Platinum


MR points

$475 annual fee is NOT waived

AMEX Business Gold Rewards Card


MR points

Watch for the next 75,000 bonus offer.  Or, see if you’re targeted for the 75K Premier Rewards Gold Card

British Airways Visa


BA Avios

Watch for possible 100,000 offer terms in Spring 2013

Spend $2000 per month at 5X


UR points

Leverage AMEX Bluebird refilled with Vanilla reloads purchased at OD with Ink Bold or Ink Plus to earn 5X everywhere, including rent and items paid by check. You can also earn 5X buying Amazon and other gift cards, and using the Chase Freedom

Other spend or bonuses



This category is for other spend and credit card bonuses for cards not mentioned above






While it's of course possible to earn many more than 1 million miles and points per year, the above is very easy for a couple or family to do, if they don't want to apply for too many cards between the two of them. Of course, if you have a partner that's willing to apply for all of these cards as well and have high spend (or lots of time to deal with gift cards, etc.) you could double this to earn 2 million or more miles per year. Or, you could decide that 500,000 miles and points in a year was plenty and just do that. It's all up to you.


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Disclosure: I have a BankDirect Mileage Checking Account, but I have no other connection to BankDirect and have not been compensated to write this post. 
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Avatar_60_matt Matt B. commented 05 Nov 2012
Wow. Thanks so much for putting all this information in one place. Time to fly!
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 05 Nov 2012
Matt, you're welcome, glad it's helpful!
Picture?type=large Ehtesham Q. commented 07 Nov 2012
Slightly off topic but have you written on how to maximize Hilton bonuses with credit cards(I don't remember seeing anywhere but I may be wrong) I would love to hear your perspective on what to apply for cards in which sequence.
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 07 Nov 2012
Ehtesham, thanks for the idea. I personally almost never stay in Hilton hotels, but there's a particular Hilton property I'm thinking of for a 2014 trip that means I may apply for some Hilton cards, so look for a post soon.
Avatar_60_img_0373 NATE S. commented 08 Nov 2012
Do the bank issue a tax form at the end of the year for the mileages that were paid out ? I read somewhere that some banks(ex. citi) issued tax forms after giving out airline mileage for enrolliing for credit cards. If I have to pay tax for getting miles(instead of interest) it wouldn't be such a good deal.
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 08 Nov 2012
Nate, Fortunately, to date, BankDirect has *not* issued a 1099 for the AA miles you earn on their accounts. As you point out, though, Citi does issue 1099 forms for both cash and mile bonuses from opening checking accounts (but not for credit cards). Chase also has been known to issue a 1099 for cash bonuses for opening a checking account, but again, not for credit card bonuses. I don't have any Citi checking accounts, and have never received a 1099 for any miles or points bonuses.
Avatar_60_img_0373 NATE S. commented 08 Nov 2012
Awesome! Could you send me a referral for BankDirect mileage checking so that you can get referral bonus?
Picture?type=large Mike E. commented 26 Jan 2013
Do you cancel these cards after you obtain the miles? How do you do it per year if you don't do that?
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 26 Jan 2013
Mike, it depends--see http://travelsort.com/blog/when-to-cancel-or-close-a-credit-card. Also see our post http://travelsort.com/blog/how-many-amex-cards-and-amex-bonuses-can-you-get for an example of getting two of the same kind of card and thus 2 bonuses for the same type of card. People do churn the Citi AAdvantage business card every few months or so, although usually need to wait 18-20 months to reapply for the Citi AAdvantage personal cards to get the bonus again. Also note that category bonuses, such as 5X for the Ink Bold, Ink Plus and Freedom, especially combined with bonus points from the Ultimate Rewards shopping mall, enable a lot of points to be earned from ongoing spend. And for those able to find Vanilla Reloads, AMEX Bluebird enables them to earn points from rent, mortgage payments, or pretty much any payment that used to be made by check: http://travelsort.com/blog/chase-ink-bold-5x-use-amex-bluebird-to-spend-50k-for-200000-points
Picture?type=large Mat M. commented 27 Jan 2013
There are many different point categories listed above(AA, UA, United, etc....). Are you able to stack these towards one ticket(say to Bali or elsewhere)? How much do they overlap? Or are they all mutually exclusive of each other??
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 27 Jan 2013
Mat, this would actually be a good topic for a future blog post, but I'll try to summarize quickly. Airline miles such as United can only be used for awards on that airline, so there's no combining, say, United and American miles towards one flight award. Transferable points such as AMEX Membership Rewards points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points and Starwood Preferred Guest points can be transferred out to different airline partners, although it's important to know which partners. Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to United 1:1, while AMEX Membership Rewards points can best be transferred to Singapore KrisFlyer, British Airways Avios (ideally wait for a transfer bonus) or Delta. SPG points can be transferred to airlines with a nice 25% bonus if you transfer in increments of 20K points = 25K miles. See http://travelsort.com/blog/starwood-preferred-guest-airline-transfer-partners-turn-spg-points-into-miles Hope this helps!
Picture?type=large Christa J. commented 27 Apr 2013
Thanks alot, Hilary! Great info! We are ex-pats in Europe and usually fly Alitalia. Do you know of any rewards points programs that work with that Airline?
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 27 Apr 2013
Christa, yes--both SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) points and AMEX Membership Rewards points transfer to Alitalia. If you transfer SPG points in increments of 20,000, you receive a 25% transfer bonus such that 20K SPG points = 25K Alitalia Millemiglia miles, etc.: http://travelsort.com/blog/starwood-preferred-guest-airline-transfer-partners-turn-spg-points-into-miles Hope this helps :)
Picture?type=large Christa J. commented 27 Apr 2013
User_avatar_default Fred S. commented 13 May 2013
We are going with Road Scholar to Moscow and St. Petersburg in September. We have about 250,000 United miles. If I go for a business class award to Frankfurt (for a short layover) now could I up my award to the 15 day first class should it become available? I'd really like to maximize our flights (of course!).
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 13 May 2013
Yes, you can, although technically you'll need to pay a fee if you're not a United top elite (GS, IK, Platinum) as it's within the 21 day window. That said, it's sometimes possible to avoid the fee if you're on the exact same flight and only changing class of service--YMMV (your mileage may vary)
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