My Current Strategy to Earn Miles and Travel Often

In early 2012, I started to really understand how to seriously accrue a ton of airline miles, and I began to travel on a regular basis using many of the things I learned.  That year, I flew over 96,000 miles on a variety of trips.  This year, I’ve already eclipsed 2012, by traveling over 100,000 miles before the beginning of July.

How do I travel so often?

1.      Actually Flying — and doing so with a form of “Miles Arbitrage”
2.      Earning miles from Credit Card sign-up bonuses and spend

“Miles Arbitrage”

As detailed in an earlier post, I actively hunt cheap airfares.  Many times, my goal is not to go to a certain place – it’s to go wherever, whenever — as long as it’s a relatively long distance, and it is cheap.

Why would I engage in this madness?

Simple:  I get to travel some in order to earn miles and travel even more!

Hunting for ridiculously cheap airfares allows me to take quick, weekend trips to a lot of really cool places where I otherwise would probably never really bother to go.  Additionally, these trips earn valuable Premier Qualification Miles and Redeemable Miles for at a very cheap rate.

  • Premier Qualification Miles (PQMs) are the miles that determine one’s status in an airline’s frequent flyer program.  In my case, I primarily fly United and its Star Alliance partners.
    • The more PQMs one flies during a calendar year, the more perks one gets – perks such as:
      • Complimentary upgrades to first class on domestic flights
      • Upgrade certificates for international travel
      • Priority boarding
      • Free checked baggage
      • Reduced change fees
      • A miles multiplier to which you can earn redeemable frequent flyer miles.
        • For example, a Premier 1K member with United earns 2 miles for every 1 mile flown.
    • Generally speaking, the only way to accrue status on an airline is good, old-fashioned flying – you must hit the status threshold for segments or miles flown within a calendar year.
    • In the future, the quest for airline status will get much more complicated, as Delta and United have recently introduced an additional criterion for Premier qualification– minimum dollar spend.  This will likely kill my current strategy.
  • Redeemable miles (RDMs) are traditionally what people think of when one mentions “airline miles.”  These miles are ultimately redeemed for future travel.

By collecting miles cheaply on flights across the country and internationally, I accrue a hefty balance of miles.  I prefer this method to straight up buying the miles, since these provide me a pretty fun weekend getaway while earning them.  These miles, in turn, enable me to take major, long vacations to even more exotic locations in international business or first class – tickets that I never would have otherwise purchased.

Miles got me this -- First Class on a Lufthansa A330 from Munich to Washington

Miles got me this — First Class on a Lufthansa A330-300 from Munich to Washington-Dulles

Essentially, it’s miles arbitrage – I’m earning miles for a low price, and redeeming them at much, much higher values.  I am generally earning miles at a rate of $.02 – $.035 per mile, and redeeming them on tickets that cost in excess of $.12 per mile.  That’s a pretty decent return on investment right there!

Credit Card Sign ups and Spending

Last year, I was heavy in the credit card sign-up game.  Co-branded travel and bank credit cards are some of the easiest ways to get a bunch of miles quickly.  Through a few credit card sign ups, I was able to quickly accrue over 400,000 miles over the course of the year.  Before employing this strategy, you should see if this tactic is right for you.  Applying for new credit cards does take a temporary, small hit on your credit, but the long-term effects of building a good credit history of paying your bills on time, and in full will do nothing but help you credit going forward.  The important thing to remember is to make sure you pay off your balance in full every month to avoid any interest fees, as interest on owed amount negates the value of the miles.  In future posts, I plan to get into a little more detail on credit card sign-up bonuses, but since this is not currently part of my strategy, I will save it for later.

This year, I have stayed away from credit cards and focused my effort on earning miles organically – by flying.  With that said, the majority of all my spend is on one of two or three points-earning credit cards.  This ensures that every dollar I spend is earning valuable miles that I will later use for travel.   I will go into greater detail on credit cards in future posts.

Though the quickest way to compile a serious bank of frequent flyer miles is through credit card sign ups, I enjoy taking quick trips on the cheap to earn my miles the natural way — by actually getting on a plane and flying somewhere!