Do you have access to lots of cash? Do you have lots of time on your hands? Do you enjoy travel?
If you answered “yes” to these three questions, then the points game is for you!
Although I haven’t been part of the points community for a very long time compared to many others, I’ve been around long enough to make an interesting observation: if you have cash, you can seriously turbocharge your points/miles-earning strategy. I find this to be interesting not just for that fact itself, but because most of the travel-blogging websites (including Travel Summary) make a point of explaining how you can travel cheaper and better than you thought possible, all through the use of points and your credit. It’s true, but it’s only part of the story.
Allow me to explain. If you’re a casual traveler, which most of you are, then yes, all you really need are credit card sign-ups. If you sign up for 3+ new cards every 3-4 months, you should have more than enough loyalty points saved up to take at least one and probably two amazing vacations per year with minimal cash spent. This is perfect for most people. Vacation days are hard to come by if you have a real job, so one or two big vacations a year is a very realistic goal that people have.
But people are also greedy by nature. Once you fly Business or First Class, you probably won’t want to go back to the back of the plane. Once you’ve stayed in the heart of Paris or in an over-water room in the Maldives, a regular hotel probably won’t hold the same appeal. You want more. And if you enjoy travel, you want it more often too. That takes a lot more points.
That’s where the “advanced” points-earning schemes come in. I call them advanced because it’s not simply about getting 5x everywhere or just signing up for cards anymore. The game transforms from maximizing points from spending into simply generating points for as little money as possible. These are very different things, and having more money can really allow you to maximize your return.
It sounds obvious, right? We’ve all heard people say that those with lots of money can make more money than people that have less. It’s definitely true in the points world.
For example, I mentioned in my recent Tips & Tricks post that you can earn 50K United, American, or Delta points just by depositing money into a Fidelity account. How much does it take? A cool $100K. You can cycle the same money in and out several times (I did that myself), but if you’re trying with anything less than $15K then I’m sure even you’ll feel a little uneasy about making 6-7 deposits and withdrawals. It’s simply easier and faster if you have more cash.
Lets look at another example. Last year, The Frequent Miler earned a Southwest Companion Pass by buying several tablet computers and then selling them via Amazon. His total cost came to about $400, but he first had to pay off his $3.4K purchase because of the time it takes to sell products. Essentially, you would have to have been able to “float,” or live without, $3.4K for several weeks before you received it back if your replicated that deal.
One more example, this time with Amex Prepaid cards. You can load an Amex prepaid card with $2.5K per month, and withdrawing those funds costs money. You’d be crazy to simply pull all $2.5K out via ATM over just a few days, so once again you’ll likely need to “float” that money (keep it in the account) for several weeks until you can pull that money out without it looking too suspicious.
The point is that the ability to “float” money can potentially earn you a ton more points than someone without a large cash savings normally could. The best example of this is the NetSpend prepaid card. You can earn 15K points by simply loading the maximum amount of $15K over two days, but there’s a 99.99% chance that your account will get shut down for doing so (see the 250+ comments on The Frequent Miler’s post here). That money is rightfully yours so it will be returned to you after a couple of months of arguing with them. So, if you want 15K points and can part with $15K for a few months, it’s easy points.
Similarly, I’m sure you know how hard it is to find Vanilla Reloads sometimes. If you’re like me, you’ve gotten to the point of “Okay, if I find them I’ll buy them, even though I’ve already hit all my limits for the month.” Bluebird’s $5K limit is annoying, and by the 5th of the month I’m already impatiently waiting for the 1st of the next month. But since Vanilla Reloads have been known to be scarce, I still go and buy some. Who knows if they’ll be there next time? You remember what happened with Office Depot, right? They literally disappeared from the stores over night. My mind keeps telling me to stock up now while I still can at CVS.
I know I’m not alone with that feeling. I regularly read tweets about people stocking up in anticipation of the next month’s load. People have literally saved $15K+ worth, just waiting to load them to their Bluebird, their spouse’s Bluebird, and all six of the Amex prepaids (three each). Others have generous family members that allow them to use their Bluebird accounts, so they have tons of avenues for free points.
Oh, and don’t forget to factor in the time as well. First you have to find all those Vanilla Reloads. Since there’s a $1K transaction limit you’ll have to go back a dozen times or go to a dozen different stores. Then you have to make trips to the ATM for the Amex prepaids, and then to your actual bank to deposit your cash. Then you can finally pay off your cards.
Yes, the rich get richer. That’s just how it is, unless you can find a way to cash out quickly and cheaply in order to pay your credit card bill before it’s due. For the record, while I do agree that “people with money can make a lot of money,” I also believe that “if you can’t make money without money, then you probably can’t make money with money either.”