Strategies: Three Years of Collecting Points and Miles

Today marks exactly the third year of our points and miles experiment. T and I applied for our first credit cards on 2/17/2014 and never looked back. This is a summary of what we’ve collected (all values approximated):

YEAR ONE

We started with 90,000 HawaiianMiles already banked.

Ryan got 8 new and cancelled 1 credit cards (and downgraded 1 credit card to avoid an annual fee); T got 6 new and cancelled 1 credit cards. Total spending was approx. $40,000 total.

We earned:

  • 100,000 HawaiianMiles (Hawaiian)
  • 130,000 Mileage Plus (United)
  • (New) 130,000 Dividend Miles (US Airways)
  • (New) 225,000 HHonors (Hilton)
  • (New) 60,000 Gold Passport (Hyatt) – (2 free night certs)
  • (New) 55,000 Arrival Plus (Barclay)
  • (New) 100,000 Ultimate Rewards (Chase)
  • (New) 100,000 Membership Rewards (Amex)

900,000 total points and miles

We spent:

  • 160,000 HawaiianMiles (Hawaiian), including 90,000 banked miles
  • 60,000 Gold Passport (Hyatt) – (2 free night certs)
  • 50,000 Arrival Plus Miles (Barclay)

270,000 total points and miles, for:

  • 2014 Japan Trip: 2 round trip coach tickets, HNL to NRT (via United), 2 nights at the five-star Tokyo Park Hyatt, and $500 in travel credits, including 3 nights at a Shinjuku business hotel. Retail Value: $3,500.

We also earned $389 in credits, reimbursements, and cash back, and spent $928 in annual fees.

Ryan and T at Kiyomizudera, Kyoto, Japan

YEAR TWO

Ryan got 3 new cards, cancelled 2 cards, downgraded 1 card to avoid an annual fee, and upgraded 1 card that resulted in a spending bonus; T got 3 new cards, cancelled 3 credit cards, and downgraded 1 credit card to avoid annual fees. Total spending was approx. $60,000 (including big ticket items like mortgage payments).

We earned:

  • 20,000 HawaiianMiles (Hawaiian)
  • 10,000 Mileage Plus (United)
  • 70,000 AAdvantage (American, transferred from U.S. Airways)
  • 25,000 HHonors (Hilton)
  • 2,500 Gold Passport (Hyatt)
  • 45,000 Arrival Plus (Barclay)
  • 35,000 Ultimate Rewards (Chase)
  • 75,000 Membership Rewards (Amex)
  • (New) 260,000 Gold (Club Carlson)
  • (New) 65,000 ThankYou (Citi)
  • (New) 110,000 Reward Club (IHG)

717,500 total points and miles

We spent:

  • 20,000 HawaiianMiles (Hawaiian)
  • 90,000 AAdvantage (American)
  • 58,000 Ultimate Rewards (Chase)
  • 16,500 Membership Rewards (Amex)
  • 200,000 HHonors (Hilton)
  • 2,000 Gold Passport (Hyatt)
  • 10,000 Arrival Plus (Barclay)

396,500 total points and miles, for:

  • 2015 Las Vegas Trip: 2 one way coach tickets, HNL to LAS (via Hawaiian). Retail Value: $600;
  • 2016 Japan Trip: 2 round trip coach tickets, HNL to HND (via Hawaiian), 5 nights at Osaka Hilton, 2 nights at Kyoto Hyatt, $100 travel credit. Retail Value: $4,500;
  • 2015 Miscellaneous: a McDonald’s meal; Retail Value: $5.69.

We also earned $2,400 in credits, reimbursements, and cash back, and spent $961 in annual fees.

Lost In Translation at the Tokyo Park Hyatt. Image Credit: Random Stranger.

YEAR THREE

Ryan got 5 new cards, cancelled 1 card, and upgraded 1 card (which resulted in a spending bonus); T got 4 new cards, and cancelled 1 card. Total spending was approx. $60,000 (including some big ticket items like mortgage payments).

We earned:

  • 15,000 HawaiianMiles (Hawaiian)
  • 9,000 Mileage Plus (United)
  • 11,000 AAdvantage (American)
  • 110,000 HHonors (Hilton)
  • 75,000 Gold Passport (Hyatt) – (2 free night certs + 15,000)
  • 52,500 Arrival Plus (Barclay)
  • 23,000 Ultimate Rewards (Chase)
  • 170,000 Membership Rewards (Amex)
  • 90,000 Gold (Club Carlson)
  • 15,000 ThankYou (Citi)
  • 170,000 Reward Club (IHG)
  • (New) 75,000 Alaska (Alaska)
  • (New) 4,000 Elevate (Virgin America)
  • (New) 4,500 SPG (Starwood)
  • (New) 2,000 Marriott Rewards (Marriott)

826,000 total points and miles earned (REVISED)

We spent:

  • 26,000 HawaiianMiles (Hawaiian)
  • 75,000 Ultimate Rewards (Chase)
  • 180,000 Membership Rewards (Amex)
  • 60,000 Gold Passport (Hyatt) – (2 free night certs)
  • 75,000 Arrival Plus (Barclay)
  • 80,000 ThankYou (Citi)

496,000 points and miles, for:

  • 2016 Japan Trip, cont’d: Extra Comfort upgrade for 2 round trip coach tickets, HNL to HND (via Hawaiian); 1 night Sheraton Hiroshima; $300 in Hyatt Check Certificates. Retail Value: $700;
  • 2017 Interisland Trip: 3 round trip coach tickets, HNL to ITO (via Hawaiian). Retail Value: $600;
  • 2017 Japan Trip: 2 Business Class round trip tickets, HNL to NRT (via ANA); 5 nights Tokyo Andaz Toranomon. Retail Value: $9,000;
  • 2016 Merchandise: $500 in Best Buy certificates for Microsoft Surface Pro 4; $240 in Plenti points transfer for 2 Apple Series 1 Sport Watches. Retail Value: $740;
  • 2016 Miscellaneous: $89 credit card annual fee; Retail Value: $89.

We also earned $1,631 in credits, reimbursements, and cash back, and spent $1,382 in annual fees.

CONCLUSION

T and I have concluded that free trips are better than trips you have to pay for. We’ve earned about 2.5 million points and miles over 3 years (REVISED), and after spending 1.2 million of them (for stuff valued at about $20,000), we still have the balance to go through, with a very rough estimated value at $15,000-25,000+ (if spent right).

Over 3 years, we’ve also earned an additional $4,420 in credits, reimbursements, and cash back (some of this only loosely connected to points and miles), and we spent an additional $3,271 in annual fees. Say, we broke even here.

About 1.5 million points were earned directly from initial spending bonuses and other spending challenges. The other 1.0 million (REVISED) was earned from monthly spending, bonus opportunities, and other means. The total spend of $160,000  over three years is hugely estimated, but if you assume that as your base number and multiply that spend by a 2% cash card, you’d come up with $3,200. By comparison, at an estimated $35,000-$45,000 value (but discounting annual fees) we may see returns somewhere between 21.8 and 28.1 percent.

And, as you can see, 3 years of applying for credit cards (and other financial transactions) did not substantially hurt either of our credit scores:

Not a bad result. Feel free to duplicate this experiment, but please do so with extreme caution. It cannot be stressed enough that we did not pay one cent in interest expenses or anything other than annual fees, and neither should you.

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Questions, Comments or Criticisms?