How We Earned 1 Million Miles and Points This Year
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Hilary Stockton
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How We Earned 1 Million Miles and Points This Year

 

"How do you earn your frequent flyer miles and points?" is a question I get on a regular basis from TravelSort Clients and readers, who also want to know how we manage to fly all of us in international first class and business class, such as Singapore Suites, Cathay First Class, Etihad First Class and others. While our earned miles and points change year to year based on promotions and the credit cards my husband and I apply for, I'll use this past year of 2014 as an example. 

Unlike many miles and points bloggers, we have *no* frequent flyer elite status with any airline and book very few paid flights, so almost none of our miles come from flying. We don't mind, since we almost exclusively fly international first class and business class on award tickets, so we still have access to airline lounges, priority boarding, etc.

Our lack of flown miles means we earn a lot fewer miles than those with elite status, so if you're able to leverage paid work travel as well as credit cards signup bonuses, category bonuses and other spend, you should be able to earn a lot more miles and points than we do. But if you're similar to us, don't worry if you don't have many paid flights. You *can* earn quite a few miles without them.

First, a rough breakdown of our family's (that is, my and my husband's) miles and points earning for 2014:

  • 75%: Credit Card Signup Bonuses
  • 10%: Spend and Category Bonuses
  • 10%: Purchased/Shared Miles
  • 5%: Other Bonuses/Referral Bonus
And here's a rough breakdown of the miles and points we earned:
  • 40%: American AAdvantage Miles
  • 40%: Chase Ultimate Rewards Points
  • 10%: Alaska Mileage Plan Miles
  • 8%: US Airways Dividend Miles
  • 2%: KrisFlyer / Other 
Credit Card Signup Bonuses
 
This year we and many clients and readers benefited from the 100K Citi Executive AAdvantage card, which comprised over 50% of our credit card signup bonuses; apart from those, we were pretty modest with our signups. Here's what we earned:
  • 100K Citi Executive AAdvantage Card: 400,000 AAdvantage miles total via 2 cards for each of us
  • 70K Ink Plus Small Business Card: 140,000 Ultimate Rewards points via 1 card for each of us
  • 50K Ink Bold Small Business Visa: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points via 1 card (prior version was a MasterCard)
  • 50K Alaska Airlines Visa: 50,000 Mileage Plan miles via 1 card
  • 40K Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa: 45,000 Ultimate Rewards points, including 5000 points from adding an authorized user (prior version was a MasterCard)
  • 40K US Airways MasterCard: 80,000 US Airways Dividend Miles via 1 card for each of us
Total: 765,000 miles and points
 
 
Spend and Category Bonuses
 
As with many families, we have some major spend categories that aren't payable with credit card: our mortgage and our son's school expenses. As part of negotiating a lower mortgage rate, we agreed to direct deposit to our lender. And while our son's school, as with many schools, does permit credit card payment, the 3% charge isn't worth it to us--there are cheaper ways to earn miles.
 
For our remaining spend, we first prioritize meeting any minimum spend requirements with new credit cards, but otherwise do take advantage of category spend bonuses, especially the Ink Plus and Ink Bold 5X that enable us to earn 5X on all Amazon spend and 5X on all Whole Foods spend. Similarly, we love when the Chase Freedom has restaurants as a category, as that allows us to buy gift cards to our favorite restaurants to get 5X on much of our dining out spend.
 
Here are estimates of the miles we earned this year from spending, including category bonuses:
  • 80,000 from all Ink spend, much of it at 5X 
  • 30,000 from Chase Freedom, all of it at 5X
  • 20,000 from other spend, including some shopping portal bonuses
 
Purchased / Shared Miles 

While not a huge part of our miles and points earning strategy, we do sometimes use the share miles or buy miles bonuses to top up accounts for award redemptions. Our main ones this year were:
  • 50,000 US Air Dividend Miles, via the Share Miles bonus
  • 56,000 purchased Alaska Mileage Plan Miles
 
Other Bonuses / Referrals
 
Last but not least, I have readers to thank for referral bonuses from my Ink Plus card. Chase allows you to earn up to 50,000 miles via its Chase Refer a Friend program.
 
I also earned a bit over 17,000 KrisFlyer miles via the KrisFlyer shopping portal bonus for Lifelock.
 
 
Bottom Line
 
In total, we earned over 1 million miles and points between the two of us, none of it from flying, and I've probably missed some miles and points in this calculation, for example the 10% AAdvantage miles (up to 10,000 per calendar year) we earned back from redeeming AAdvantage awards, etc. 
 
And while it's true that the 100K Citi Executive AAdvantage bonus is likely a one-off, there's often some kind of one-time bonus (or several) that can boost your miles and points earning in a given year. What so far remains true is that for U.S. residents with a strong credit score, credit card signup bonuses and category spend are key ways to boost miles and points earnings--especially if, as with us, you're earning little or nothing from paid airline tickets.
 
How does your family earn frequent flyer miles and points?
 
Related Posts
 
 
 

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Comments
Picture?type=large Peggy L. commented 30 Dec 2014
Hilary, thanks so much for sharing this - it's fantastic! It's amazing how you accomplished such a feat! Lucky your husband contributed; mine keeps his spending on one card, the Hilton Honors Visa, planning for our Seychelles stay next Fall. Airline travel this year has been all paid for, collecting miles for our RTW trip (Seychelles included), but it's unlikely I'll be able to get the second award ticket. Most miles and points have been earned through shopping portals, including the Chase UR Mall. It's been kind of a dull year for new credit cards: got the free BofA Travel Rewards card to keep the credit line after closing the Alaska Airlines card. But just this morning I cancelled my AX Platinum card and was offered the free Everyday Card, so I'm excited about that so I can still earn MR points. Also waiting to hear if I'm approved for the US Bank FlexPerks Visa. Meeting the spend requirements for those two cards, though, will really set me back in accumulating UA miles for our RTW trip, since almost all flights will be on UA partners.
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 30 Dec 2014
Peggy, glad this post on how we earn our miles was helpful, and exciting that you'll be visiting the Seychelles next year! That's definitely on our bucket list. Where else will you be going on your round the world trip?
Picture?type=large Kristi S. commented 30 Dec 2014
Hilary.... Your website ROCKS! I've learned so much ! Can you tell me how you earn 5X on Amazon and Whole Foods? Which card do you use? Thanks... Kristi
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 30 Dec 2014
Kristi, thanks so much, glad it's helpful! I've added links to my older posts on 5X on Amazon spend and 5X on Whole Foods spend, but the short answer is that it's indirect: you use an Ink Plus small business card to buy Amazon, Whole Foods, and other gift cards at an office supply store (I get mine at my local Staples) which earns you 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent. Then you can use those cards at Amazon and Whole Foods. Amazon in particular is very easy, since you can load up a bunch of $100 gift cards, and your purchases (even Subscribe & Save) will automatically come from your gift card balance. Hope this helps.
Picture?type=large Mark G. commented 30 Dec 2014
Hillary- Great stuff! Wish more travel experts did a yearly recap like this! Question for you...Maybe even an idea for a follow up article... What's your initial plan for 2015? Do you plan and expect to close cards and/or transfer credit lines to new cards as you open them? Will this mostly be based on new 2015 signup bonuses? Happy New Year! Mark
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 01 Jan 2015
Thanks Mark, glad it was helpful! Will definitely take your suggestion (and other readers' similar emailed requests) and do a post soon on the cards we plan to keep, close and apply for in 2015. Happy New Year!
Picture?type=large Peggy L. commented 30 Dec 2014
We're taking a month to visit NY (to see a show),Greece (Corfu and Kefalonia), an open jaw to Capetown and Seychelles before Delhi (for Taj Mahal), Ho Chi Min City, and a short stay in Guam and Hawaii before coming home. Hope you're able to see the method to my madness in planning the circle route!
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 01 Jan 2015
Sounds like a fantastic trip! Lots to look forward to in 2015 :)
User_avatar_default Pan L. commented 01 Jan 2015
Is the one million miles you earned this year enough to cover the awards tickets for your trips? I remember you had multiple international first class redemptions with your family this year.
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 01 Jan 2015
We've already booked most of our award flights for this year using miles previously earned, but we'll definitely be using a good chunk of the AA miles we earned for some additional awards, since I anticipate a devaluation at some point late this year, after the programs have combined.
Picture?type=large Kenny H. commented 10 Jan 2015
Hi Hillary - Thanks for this post! Now that we have purchased our condo, I plan to concentrate on new card sign-ups and bonuses. Regarding the 100K Citi Executive AAdvantage Card - how do you go about getting 2 cards each? Personal and business?
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 10 Jan 2015
Congrats Kenny on closing your new home! The 100K Citi Executive AAdvantage card is no longer available, best current offer is 50K. So I would recommend first getting the 50K US Air card, as that will be going away when Dividend Miles merges with AAdvantage sometime in Q2 2015. Also consider getting a 50K CitiBusiness AAdvantage card and a 50K Citi Platinum Select if you don't have one or haven't applied for any Citi AAdvantage personal cards for the past ~18 months or so. Only then would I then turn to the 50K Citi Executive AAdvantage due to its high $450 annual fee, not waived.
Picture?type=large Howard W. commented 31 Aug 2015
Hello Hillary. Aren't those 100K Citi Executive cards costing you $1800/year (4 x $450)in annual fees?
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 31 Aug 2015
At the time we applied, the offer included a $200 statement credit, so we effectively paid $250 per 100,000 AAdvantage miles, or a quarter of a cent per AA mile. It was an incredible deal for us, since we redeem for Etihad First class, Qantas First Class etc. at nominal redemption rates of over 11 cents per mile.
Picture?type=large Lei Q. commented 18 Sep 2015
Hi Hilary, Thanks very much for running this website and I have found articles and reviews pretty invaluable. You mentioned anticipated "AA" miles devaluation, do you have estimate or related articles on how soon and how bad it will be? I have been accumulating CX's asiamiles and wonder if I should start earning AAdvantage as well, for the purpose of redeeming CX awards. Thanks!
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 22 Sep 2015
Lei, glad you're enjoying the site! I discussed your question on AAdvantage vs. Asia Miles for Cathay Pacific awards today in this post: http://travelsort.com/blog/cathay-pacific-first-class-awards-earn-asia-miles-or-aadvantage-miles
Picture?type=large Haylie J. commented 26 Sep 2015
How long do you have to keep your card active? When could I close one after opening it. We have great credit score and we've just recently traveled for free to Florida. It was amazing and I'd love to start making this a tradition. Also do I have to use the points up before I cancel my card?
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