"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.
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?