Update: Chase Sapphire Preferred bonus requires $4,000 in 3 months.
The hardest part of earning frequent flyer miles is getting started. One question I frequently get asked is how to really do it. Meaning you’ve read my getting started guide and understand how to get your first credit card that earns you 50,000 miles or so.
But where do you go from there? How can you piece together all the necessary card applications to earn some truly meaningful frequent flyer miles? That is what this article is for.
Below is my guideline to earn over 500,000 miles in the next 10 months – and what you can do once those miles are safely yours.
- Citibank AA Platinum – 53,000 American Airlines
- Chase Hyatt – 61,000 Hyatt Points*
- Barclays Arrival – 43,000 World Points
- Capital One Venture – 43,000 No Hassle Rewards
- Citibank Hilton Reserve – 190,000 Hilton HHonors**
- Chase Sapphire Preferred – 48,000 Ultimate Rewards
- Citibank AA Platinum Business – 53,000 American Airlines
- Chase Ink Plus – 55,000 Ultimate Rewards
*In the form of 2 free nights at 30,000-per-night value
**In the form of 2 free nights at 95,000-per-night value (note this card has a $95 annual fee that is not waived)
When to apply
While your applications will always depend on your individual situation – credit score, ability to hit the required spend to receive the bonus, etc. – the following is a rough guideline to follow.
First, remember to space out your applications at the same bank. There is a reason I outline this as one of the top 5 mistakes to avoid when applying for a new card. And while you typically can be approved for multiple applications at the same bank at the same time, it is a habit I recommend you avoid.
Another tip I’ll mention is downloading and using my free CardTracker excel sheet. This is an easy way to organize your applications and give you a good idea of when you can next apply for a given credit card without being declined or hurting your credit score.
Okay, so lets get started.
Looking at the list of cards above, applications #1-3 can be done all at once and, by design, include applications at three different banks. While it is signing up for considerable spend – a total of $7,000 in the next three months – the average of slightly over $2,300 a month is still manageable in some cases. This is something you will have to decide for yourself and, if that is too much, just add an additional month or two in between applications to space out the required spending.
Also, if you need ways to “manufacture” spending, the folks in the ever-popular FlyerTalk forum have a few ideas in mind.
Once you are able to complete the spending on cards #1-3, the next step will be applying for cards #4-6. This should be done as soon as you pay off the previous cards – whether you’re a high spender and it takes a month or it takes the full three months (or more). For our purposes, let’s assume the latter and you would be applying for two of the three cards in #4-6 at the beginning of month four.
Here, again, you have an option – apply for all three at once and you need to spend $8,000 in three months or slightly under $2,700 per month. If you wait a month between your applications though, you can stretch your $8,000 spend across four months for an average of $2,000 per month – a considerable difference for some. Again, this depends on your ability to spend and, more importantly, then pay off the balance.
The same rule applies for the last leg of applications, #8-9 – as soon as you’ve paid off the old cards, submit the applications. Let’s assume it takes the full four months for #4-7, which leaves us at the beginning of month eight. By applying for both cards immediately, you sign up for $6,000 spread out over three months, a $2,000 per month average that is in line with previous months.
These final applications are perhaps the most valuable though, netting over 100,000 airline miles (and then some) if you choose to transfer the Ultimate Rewards points from the Chase Ink card.
The final haul
What do these applications net you? Quite a final haul, as you will have earned a grand total of 546,000 miles over 10 months, with an average monthly spend of just $2,110 (factoring in the $95 in annual fees).
As you can imagine, if you are able to afford a larger spend per month you can easily increase the total amount of miles by doing the above in a condensed time frame or finding additional credit card deals. Or, if the average monthly spending is too high, you can spread out the applications over a larger time frame – whatever works for you.
By the time you have finished our list though, here is what you’ve earned:
- 190,000 Hilton HHonors points
- 106,000 American Airlines miles
- 103,000 Chase points (transferable)
- 86,000 points for any travel purchases (Barclays & Capital One)
- 61,000 Hyatt points
How to use your miles
I never intend to tell you what to do with your miles. But I also can’t ignore the facts – my Travel Tales continues to be one of the most trafficked pages on my website, so it seems that a little guidance goes a long way. So now, with over 500,000 freshly earned miles – unlocked through your regular spending – now sitting in your mileage accounts, what to do?
Trip 1: See the Great Wall of China & a dream weekend in Tokyo
That’s right; why not go on your dream trip to Asia? By transferring 70,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United from the above final haul, the below itinerary could be booked today – an itinerary that includes an $1,000+ airfare and two nights at the often $700+ per night Conrad Tokyo. Here’s the breakdown:
- 70,000 United Airlines miles for one round-trip economy ticket from New York to Beijing and Tokyo
- 7,000 Capital One points for the $70 United Airlines booking fee
- 190,000 Hilton HHonors points for two nights at the Conrad Tokyo
- 36,000 Capital One points for $360 worth of travel expenses (e.g. hotels nights in Beijing, taxis or trains, meals at the hotel, etc.)
Trip 2: Get lost in luxury on the streets of Paris
Let me be clear: you’re total miles will allow you to go on both of these trips, not just one. This time you get a fully flat bed – worth several thousand dollars – as well as three nights at the Park Hyatt Vendome, valued at over $700 a night as well. Here’s the breakdown:
- 100,000 American Airlines miles for one round-trip business class ticket, including a fully flat bed, from New York to Paris OR 80,000 American Airlines miles for two round-trip economy tickets
- 13,000 Barclay’s points for the $130 American Airlines booking fee
- 90,000 Hyatt points (60,000 in the form of two free night certificates, 30,000 transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards) for three nights at the Park Hyatt Vendome
- 30,000 Barclay’s points for $360 worth of travel expenses (e.g. additional hotel nights in Paris, taxis or trains, meals at the hotel, etc.)
So there you have it. Two dream destinations – with nearly $10,000 in retail value – at your fingertips, simply for spending as you normally would. All you have to do is start. And, before I leave you to build your own adventure, I leave you with two important considerations.
The first is that the above itineraries would work departing any city in the mainland U.S. This means that wherever you are, this dream - including the same mileage amounts, cost, etc. - is attainable. But, as always, if the above itinerary isn’t your cup of tea then just comment below and I’ll help you build your dream trip from scratch.
The second, final, point is related to the inevitable question you are having: "Mr. Free Miles, if I apply for eight credit cards in the next 10 months, won't my credit score fall into around the single digits?" As someone who has applied for well over 20 cards a year, my answer is a vehement "NO" - if you do it right. I recommend you read this post for more information.
For now, this is goodbye. As I always ask of my readers though, please ask if you have any questions at all. I take credit scores and traveling equally seriously and genuinely love helping others pursue faraway places. Any question you have is one I welcome.
So, until next time, good luck and safe travels.