*Update: Looking for more recent travel hacking posts? They’re over here.
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:
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:
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 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…