Looking for tips to pile up points and miles in 2017? I’m sharing my strategy for the remainder of the year here, in hopes it helps some others!
The Secret to Happiness is Freedom
That’s a quote from Thucydides. It seems he was a real trailblazer in the points and miles game, recognizing the value of the Chase Freedom millenia before it arrived.
In all seriousness, one of the main elements of my 2017 points and miles earning strategy is to maximize the bonus categories with my Chase Freedom (link to secure application). With bonus categories earning 5X, there is nary a better way to rack up points and miles, short of signup bonuses.
For the second quarter, which we’re in at writing, the bonus category comprises grocery stores and drug stores. You can earn the 5X back on up to $1,500 of purchases in the bonus category per quarter. Some people don’t realize the value in this as they think they’ll never spend $1,500 at the grocery store in a quarter. However, there’s a simple trick to maximize the value of this sort of category: Buy gift cards at the grocery store. Those can be gift cards to that same grocery store or to other stores completely. Most grocery stores sell gift cards to Home Depot, Amazon, restaurants and more. With this trick you can effectively turn the grocery store bonus category into a category of your choosing.
Keep in mind that if you have an Ultimate Rewards card like the Sapphire Reserve or Preferred or the Ink Plus or Preferred (link to secure application), you can transfer points earned with the Freedom to any of those accounts. That effectively turns a 5X return into a net return of a whopping 10.5%, given that Ultimate Rewards are worth about 2.1 cents each in my estimation.
If I max out the Freedom bonus categories the rest of the year, I’ll pile up 22,500 points from here on out. I can then transfer those points into my Sapphire Reserve Ultimate Rewards account. Total value of this haul will be about $473!
The Chase Freedom currently comes with a $150 signup bonus and it doesn’t carry an annual fee (link to secure application). With these bonus categories and the lack of an annual fee it’s one of the best cards around and a perfect card for those new to the points and miles game.
I’m Using My Ink Card for Major Payback at Amazon & on Cell-Phone, Internet
I’ve been in the points and miles game for a while so I have some cards that are no longer offered. One is the Chase Ink Plus card. It gets me 5X Ultimate Rewards on up to $50,000 of purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year.
So our cell phone and internet bills are set up for autopay using my Ink Plus card. We “cut the cord” so no cable TV bill for us!
As I wrote in the preceding section, a bonus category at a store can often be effectively converted into 5X on other stores via gift card purchases. Since Patty and I do a ton of shopping at Amazon, I grab some Amazon gift cards at the nearby Office Depot, pay for them using my Ink Plus card and essentially get a net 10.5% discount on Amazon purchases.
Though I could earn 5X back on up to $50,000 of purchases I won’t be spending that much. I’ll probably buy about $1,500 of Amazon gift cards, netting me another 7,500 points. Total value for the Ultimate Rewards points haul will be about $158.
Now let me share some good news and bad news. The bad news is that the Ink Plus card is no longer available. The good news is that it’s been replaced with another card that is similar in some ways, not quite as good in some ways and better in other ways.
That new card is the Chase Ink Business Preferred (link to secure application). It’s being offered, as of writing, with an incredible 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points signup bonus. Though it doesn’t get you 5X at office supply stores, it does get you 3X back in a broader swath of categories: Travel, including airfare, hotels, rental cars, train tickets, and taxis, shipping purchases, Internet, cable and phone services, advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines. That signup bonus, worth about $1,680 in my estimation, nicely offsets the reduced bonus category payoff.
We’ll Be Reaping Huge Returns With American Express Offers
More specific, but perhaps even more valuable, American Express offers are important to my strategy. Both Patty and I have received ultra-valuable offers on multiple cards.
- $25 back on a $65 purchase at Boxed.com
- $20 back on a $100 purchase at Staples (I’ll probably use this to buy an Amazon gift card at a 20% discount)
- $15 back on $50 purchase at Blue Apron
I received those offers on either my Starwood Preferred Guest Business Card from American Express (link to secure application) or my Hilton HHonors American Express card (link to secure application with 80,000 point signup bonus). I check the offers on those cards about once a month, and add the valuable ones to my accounts. Patty does the same with her Starwood Preferred Guest Personal Card from American Express (link to secure application).
These American Express offers aren’t advertised ahead of time so it’s impossible to know for sure how much value you can pull from them in the future. Based on what I’ve seen in the past though I can comfortably estimate a value of $200 for the rest of the year from these offers!
We’ll Get a Couple New Cards for the Signup Bonuses
In addition to maximizing the value of our existing cards, Patty and I will likely pick up a new card or two this year. There remains no better way to quickly acquire points or miles than through signup bonuses. The only holdup is that we’re both relatively close to dropping below the 5/24 threshold that Chase uses. If we wait until that time, we get access to quite a few more cards. Alternatively, one or both of us may go for another Barclaycard Arrival Plus (link to secure application), given its temporarily elevated signup bonus of 50,000 points.
Being ready to jump on a limited-time offer can pay off big. I’ve taken advantage of some really short-lived offers in the past and then seen other people lamenting that they paused for a day or two and missed it.
If I go conservative on my estimate here and forecast that Patty will grab another Barclaycard Arrival Plus and I’ll grab an Ink Business Preferred (link to secure application), we’ll pull in another $2,180 in value combined!
I’ll Be “Discovering” Other Bonus Categories
The Chase Freedom 5X offers can’t be beat in my mind because not only are you getting that 5X multiplier, the points are worth about 2.1 cents each in my estimation. That said (written), I plan to take advantage of the 5% cash back offers from my Discover It card (link to secure application with $50 cash back signup bonus) this year also.
Oftentimes the bonus categories for the Discover It are different than those of the Chase Freedom. I do like the simplicity of the card and the cash back redemption. There’s no endless ruminating on whether to redeem for cash back or save for potentially more valuable travel redemption. The latter isn’t an option, so I simply redeem for statement credit and move on with life. So this one is a bit of an outlier in my strategy as I’m not earning travel points or miles but if I can get 5% cash back on a purchase for which I can only get 1X or 2X of travel points, I’ll take the straight cash.
When all is said and done this year, I’ll probably spend about $1,000 in bonus categories on my Discover It card. This will yield me another $50 in cash.
I’m going to rack up miles, points and even some old-fashioned cash, the rest of the year, mainly via my Chase Freedom, my Chase Ink Plus, my American Express Hilton and SPG cards, my Discover It and a new card or two. I’ll use my Freedom and Discover It cards for bonus category spending, buying gift cards if necessary to maximize the opportunities. I’ll use my AMEX cards specifically for the AMEX Offers. And I’m taking it a bit easy this year on new apps – I’ll probably only get a couple new cards in 2017 (with Patty doing the same). All told, I expect to accrue about $3,160 worth of free points, miles and cash this year!
Does this give you any ideas for yourself? What’s your strategy for racking up points and miles in 2017? Share it in the comments below!
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