November 1, 2012

U.S. Frequent Flyers: New Opportunity to Earn Mega-Miles

Last Tuesday night, I returned home from Australia, via Hong Kong and San Francisco. I was as jet lagged as ever, but I had an important travel hacking task to complete: the next day, I paid a trip to my local Office Depot, where I purchased $2,000 worth of gift cards that would eventually be deposited in a bank account.

This purchase was an experiment. If all goes well, I’ll be carefully making a number of additional purchases over the next few months, and perhaps even longer.

Why purchase gift cards I didn’t need? Regular readers won’t be surprised: it was all about the miles.

In previous travel hacking adventures, I’ve spent $8,000 on stickers (which converted to nearly one million Frequent Flyer miles), applied for a dozen credit cards at once (which accrued 300,000 miles, with no long-term adverse effect on my credit score), and borrowed a homeless man’s shopping cart to return thousands of dollars in dollar coins to the bank (net gain: 30,000 miles and a sore back).

Over the past few months, many people in our community have been participating in the 2012 Frequent Flyer Challenge—a strategic way to earn lots of miles all at once, primarily through credit card bonuses.

I’ve been hearing good reports from those who have earned upwards of 200,000 miles each so far, as well as a few people who have gone all-out for mega-bonuses of 300,000+.

If you’ve missed it, here’s the recap:

Original Post
Update #1: Q&A
Update #2: Travel Hacking without Credit Cards

There’s still been a big challenge for some people, though—how to meet the minimum spend that several cards require prior to paying out the bonus, especially the strong (usually 40,000 or more) bonuses provided by Chase.

Good news: Here is a brand-new opportunity that can help many of you meet the minimum spend and earn a lot of miles.

Summary: Get Cards, Buy Gift Cards, Deposit, Repeat

The Chase Ink and Chase Bold cards provide 5x points on office-supply store spending (for every dollar spent, you’ll earn 5 points). An all-new prepaid card from American Express can be used to meet minimum spends (on any card) AND earn the 5x bonus on the Chase cards.

The funds can then be deployed to pay any bill, including your rent, mortgage, or taxes, or you can simply withdraw the funds to a bank account and pay off the original charges.

The six-step plan works like this:

1. Get the cards (preferably from CardsforTravel, our partner site, but you can also use generic links)

2. Apply for a free Bluebird Card from AmEx (no fees and no credit check)

3. Go to Office Depot and purchase the prepaid Vanilla Reload cards, using your new Chase Ink or Chase Bold cards. Each Vanilla Reload card costs $3.95 and can be loaded with up to $500. For my initial purchase, I bought four cards at $500 each, for a net cost of $15.80.

4. Go online to load the Vanilla Reload balance onto the Bluebird Card after it arrives in the mail

5. Pay any bills—including your rent, mortgage, or even re-depositing to a bank account—using the Bluebird Card. There are no fees, and you can also use the card at any ATM to simply withdraw the balance if you prefer.

6. Pay off the balance of the Chase cards when the bill becomes due

What You’ll Receive

For every $2,000 purchase on the Chase cards, you’ll earn 10,000 points—a quintuple bonus, if my limited math skills hold up correctly.

This can be repeated up to $50,000 in spend per year, per card—so if you have more than one Chase Ink card (I have both) or if you have a willing spouse or partner who can also get cards in their name, you can earn even more.

If all goes well, each card can earn a maximum of 250,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per year. This is huge! Chase points can be transferred directly to United, Hyatt, and many other partners for immediate use.

If you mostly book Economy tickets within North America or Europe, 250,000 points will get you ten free tickets through this deal. When you transfer miles to your preferred airline account, you can book the tickets in any name—they don’t all have to be for you.

Many of us prefer to use more miles for international travel in First or Business Class, a goal that normally costs $5,000 or more per ticket but is almost free through miles. 250,000 points is more than enough for two premium tickets anywhere in the world, and you’ll likely have enough points left over for numerous free hotel stays too.

In addition to the points themselves, the deal will go a long way to helping people meet minimum spending requirements on any card, not just Chase. Since you can pay off a balance directly from Bluebird, you essentially have a new way to top off any account that needs more spending to reach the bonus threshold.

You can read more about the Chase cards and find our application links over here:

Chase Ink Bold

Chase Ink Plus

Note: we earn a referral bonus when signing up through the links on our partner site. You don’t need to use our links to sign up, so if you’d prefer not to, just visit the Chase.com site directly and look for them.

***

For personal cards, you can also get the Chase Sapphire, Starwood Preferred Guest AmEx, or any other number of cards, although these don’t accrue the 5x bonus for spending on office supplies.

For more info, you can also read Gary Leff’s post on this new offer. Gary is more detailed than me and also more focused on the world of travel—I am often busy touring, writing books, and working on other projects.

Disclaimer (actually read this!)

I have a good, long-term relationship with Chase and AmEx. I’ve used their products for years, I do my business banking with them, and none of these deals are about taking advantage of them. If you manage it well, you can indeed earn 250,000 miles or more through this promo—but don’t go crazy with it by attempting to charge the full $50,000/year all at once, or the terms and conditions will be changed for everyone.

Lastly, whenever I post news like this I always hear from people who don’t believe it’s possible. If you’re skeptical, then don’t do it! I’ll earn the miles myself and so will many other people in our group. We’ve served more than 10,000 members in the Travel Hacking Cartel, there is now a whole industry of blogs that write about these topics every day, and we know these things work.

At the end of the day, though, if you don’t believe it’s possible, don’t worry about it.

***

We’ll have one final update on the 2012 Frequent Flyer Challenge before the end of the year, and we’re also in the midst of wrapping up a big update to the original Frequent Flyer Master guide.

This guide has helped thousands of people get started on the road to earning free travel, and an all-new version (coming soon) will be free to everyone who owns the existing version.

I’m now working on my four remaining countries for the entire world. Frequent Flyer Miles are a big part of what has made the entire project possible, so I’m happy to share whatever I’ve learned after ten years of travel.

If you have any questions, post them in the comments and I’ll look at them as soon as possible.

Happy travel hacking, everyone…

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*Our thoughts and best wishes are with everyone affected by Hurricane Sandy. Hang in there!

Image: Derek

Comment on this article

47 Responses to “U.S. Frequent Flyers: New Opportunity to Earn Mega-Miles”

  1. Rather than using the Bluebird cards to pay off your bills, couldn’t you just use them to pay off the balance on your credit card (the one used to purchase the Bluebird cards in the first place)?

  2. Indeed you can – either solution works. For years, many people have been looking for a way to pay their rent/mortgage/other bills with a mileage-earning card, and this is effectively a way to do so. But as mentioned, you can also simply pay back the balance on the original Chase cards.

  3. What about purchasing a pre-paid Visa card from Office Depot and then using the pre-paid card to pay off your credit card balance? Basically it would net 5x the points for zero overhead.

  4. No, that wouldn’t work as well. Pre-paid cards are often treated as cash advances upon initial purchase, and then you can’t use easily them to pay any bill. That’s why the new system is such a game-changer, at least potentially.

  5. I’ll need to read this again but appears to be a clever hack. I’ve traveled 700k+ miles in the last 4 years and came across your site earlier this year. I have >760 credit score and was hesitant to do any of these credit card mile hacks until this year. I’m glad I did because it DOES NOT impact your credit score. What matters is that you NEVER cancel your oldest card! I did the dual browser trick and also did the BA Chase card for 100k miles+ companion ticket. All prepared for a two week holiday with the family all with miles. Thanks!

  6. The Chase Ink Bold link isn’t working for me, it says the offer’s expired. Same with Leff’s link.
    Chase Ink Plus is working for now.

    Thanks for this, this was my push to actually try this whole travel hacking thing out. On top of that, I think Bluebird might be very useful. My credit union charges me for writing checks.

  7. @Tim,

    You’re right, all of a sudden they are reporting a glitch on that link–hopefully temporary. In the meantime it looks like the other one (Ink Plus) is still available.

  8. As a complete ignorant on credit cards and frequent miles, what do u do with the gift cards u bought?

  9. @Adel,

    See steps #4 and #5 of the action plan. You use the gift cards to pay any bills, or simply redeposit to a bank account where you pay off the original charge.

  10. It looks to me that the Chase Ink and Chase Bold are only for business owners. Am I reading that right? Is there a way around that for us regular ol’ employees?

  11. The “business” cards from Chase (and indeed, from most issuers) can be held by anyone with good credit, not just business owners. Use your name as the company name and your Social Security Number in place of an EIN on the application.

    As mentioned in a previous update, if you’re initially declined, you can call the reconsideration line for a manual review. Most of the time, this works.

  12. Bonjour Chris! I’m in Paris with my boyfriend thanks to finding your article about the stickers! I’m so glad I trusted your story, and bought $1000 worth, along with a few other items to get 144,000 miles. Looking forward to the newest hack! Thanks again and congrats on your soon achievement of visiting every country in the world.

  13. Hey Chris!
    This post inspired me to look back over some of your other travel hack posts (I’ve yet to dive into the world of world travel, as I am a student).
    In theory, couldn’t the Vanilla Visa to Bluebird to bank account loop be used to satisfy the minimum spend of any credit card for only the $3.95 per card?
    There would be no 5x bonus, but for those of us who have low incomes/expenditures, it’s an attractive option.
    Thanks!

  14. @Cosmo,

    Yes, that’s correct – it can help to meet the minimum spend for any card.

  15. I’m curious. What is the intended use of these Vanilla Reload cards? In particular, what justifies the $3.95 expense for what appears to be just a run-of-the-mill gift card? It seems to be that you’re paying for the “privilege” of only being able to spend the money in a particular way.

  16. That’s exactly it. Since you can transfer them to bluebird, with which you can pay back the credit card, you get all these points which normally costs hundreds (still a steal) down to the cost of the cards.

  17. I live in Australia. Is there anyone out there who has figured out how to do this successfully in Aust? From the research I’ve done there doesn’t seem to be near as many card schemes nor the same ‘travel hacking’ opportunities available…..

  18. I’m new to all this, but wouldn’t this work at say Staples as well? or do they not offer the prepaid Amex cards?

  19. @Jay,

    Not sure. My understanding at the moment is that Office Depot is the only “office store” source, but I could be wrong or it could change.

  20. @cosmo:

    Yes, I understand CHRIS’S proposed use of the cards, but what is the original, creator-intended, non-travel-hacking use? Why would someone pay $3.95 for an opportunity to put money in this sort of restricted account?

  21. @Andy,

    People buy gift cards and prepaid cards for all kinds of reasons. I don’t use them often myself (for non travel hacking purposes), but my understanding of the Vanilla Reload card is that it can be applied to any other gift card. For some people this is a benefit, and $3.95 isn’t much to pay for it.

  22. @Andy In doing some research about the Vanilla reload card, the website states that you are to bring “cash” to load the vanilla card and then transfer the value to another pre-paid card like Mio or in this case Bluebird. Maybe this Vanilla card is a way to take part in the economy when you aren’t associated with a bank?

    Without having read Chris’s post I wouldn’t have thought to ask if the Vanilla Reload card could be funded with a Chase credit card. Since I am new to the world of travel hacking, I’ll give this system a try but with smaller sums to start with.

  23. Interesting use of reloadable pre-paid cards. I worked on developing one for the company I worked for a few years ago. JoAnne, that is exactly who they are for… the “unbanked”. Beware, some prepaid cards are loaded with fees (including things like checking your balance) and are criticized for taking advantage of the economically disadvataged. Surprising, that the sku shows up as a qualifying purchase… as mentioned they usually are treated more like a cash advance. Keep an eye out for the rules getting changed but as long as the rules allow it… great idea! Thanks for sharing.

  24. Thank you for your posts about earning lots of miles. I’m working on the challenge, having applied for and received 10-12 credit cards with bonuses. This method should help me meet some of the higher minimum spends for extra bonuses. Yay! I am wondering though about redemption for a family trip. I have family in Germany and am hoping to use miles for a more affordable trip to visit with our family of 5. Any tips on how to plan and redeem miles for a trip to Europe in a family group?

  25. I’ve used this EXACT strategy to grab over 110k Ultimate Rewards points through my Chase Ink Bold, so if there are any skeptics out there, here is one more testimonial for how well the system works and how get both the Ink Bold and the Sapphire cards are.

  26. Chris, very cool stuff. I’d been looking for a Bluebird-type solution for a while… was frustrating to not be able to earn points on mortgage payments. Thanks for sharing!

  27. Is it possible to purchase the Vanilla Reloads online with an Ink Bold? There are no Office Max locations nearby to me.

  28. Whoops! I meant there are no OFFICE DEPOT stores near me.

  29. I, also, do not have an Office Depot near me. In chatting with Office Depot online, they said they do not have the Vanilla Reload Cards in their online store.

  30. I wanted to pass along that if you already have a Chase Ink card you may want to call Chase and confirm whether your card is setup to receive the 5x points deal. They recently relaunched the card and if your account was setup prior to this you wont receive the 5x points. If you ask, they will “upgrade” your account to the new version of the card.

  31. Hi! And thanks for the heads up. But it looks like both cards are currently unavailable now. I went to the general Chase credit card page, and neither card is currently listed. Perhaps they’ve caught on? Bummer. I would assume the other cards out there dont have the same 5x bang, as these? Any other suggestions?! Love the site, and the hacks! Thank you Chris!

  32. @Vinny,

    Ink Plus is still available (refresh the app screen if it doesn’t appear at first). Ink Bold should be back today or tomorrow.

  33. So after the initial time you do this and buy/load the cards for the first time… Do you then go reload the same cards at an Office Store and it counts as a purchase there again? Or are you buying four more new cards at $4 each?

    We’re going to go do the initial load today. Have been having a really good experience with the Ultimate Rewards.

  34. @Autumn,

    You buy more cards. I don’t think they can be reloaded after the initial $500 value.

  35. HI, I applied at Chase but they turned me down, online. I tried Amex and for some reason, they kept alluding to my old BK chapter 13, about 15 years ago (I had an Amex card that was included in that BK) and turned me down, online. My current credit score is between 652-700 (I made some zero % balance transfers but never late in payments) with 12 “Hard” inquires, during the past two years. Any other cards that I can apply, considering my situation and be able to avail of this new system? Thanks.

  36. @Lee,

    Your best bet is to try calling the reconsideration line and asking for a manual approval. This works about half of the time. For Chase, the number is 1-888-245-0625.

  37. When I tried to apply to the Ink Bold, I get a message saying the offer is unavailable. I tried twice off of two different links, finally went straight to the Chase site. Are they trying to start to shut this down already?

  38. Chris – I am seeing that both the Ink Plus and Bold are unavailable. I can get through to the application and am shown a screen which says that the card is not available at this time. Would love to do this hack but am running out of ideas.

  39. @Andrew + @Matt,

    It’s another temporary glitch – those applications are experiencing a lot of traffic this week. Keep refreshing and they should be back soon.

  40. Can you just use Amex prepaid cards instead of the BlueBird or is BlueBird the best way to go?

  41. Bluebird is the way to go.

  42. This looks like a great hack. But I have a tactical question. How do you transfer the funds from the Reload Card to Bluebird? Is the reload card considered a debit? Bluebird charges $2.00 to load from debit and only allows $100 per day from what I can tell.

  43. Disregard. Found this on the Bluebird site.

    ——–
    “How do I deposit cash with a reload pack?

    Purchase a Vanilla Reload Pack with cash. A third party purchase fee – typically $3.95 – will be added to your total.
    Visit http://www.VanillaReload.com or call 1-877-429-8140 to transfer your money from the Vanilla Reload Pack to your Bluebird Account. You will need to have both your Bluebird Card number and the Vanilla Reload PIN from the Network Card handy.
    After the transfer, the money will be available immediately on your Card.

    Certain Fees and Limits apply to depositing cash to your Bluebird Account with a Vanilla Reload Pack.”

  44. Do you have any tips or suggestions for travel hacking resources aimed for your neighbours up North (Canada) ? Cards, such as Chase and Bluebird, are not available here.

  45. Do I have to take cash to the store to buy the Vanilla card? Or can I just swipe the credit card at the register?

  46. Great hack.

    Since early this year I’ve been successfully piling up the points using your tips.

    How you decide if and when to cancel a card?

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