My Permanent Bluebird Card Is Active… and the Points Are Flying!

by on November 5, 2012 · 104 comments

in Amazing Deal Alerts, Amex Bluebird, Chase

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Update: You can no longer purchase Vanilla Reload cards using a credit card and Vanilla Reloads are no longer available in Office Depot.

As I mentioned in my original post about the huge potential of the American Express Bluebird card, you need to wait until you get a permanent card in the mail before you can start loading it with Vanilla reload cards. So, I was very excited to see a nice thick envelope from Amex when I got home this week from an unexpected week-long trip. I immediately activated the card within minutes online and from that point on I was ready to get it loaded with Vanilla reloads.

My workhorse cards – never thought something like this would be a major part of my points strategy!

There’s a $1,000 per day load limit, so I immediately scratched off the PINs of two $500 Vanilla reload cards that I had purchased a week prior at the Office Depot in Doral, Florida (near MIA for anyone who has time to kill on a layover!).

Once I loaded the $500 from each card (which cost me $3.95 in fees) the funds were instantly in my Bluebird account.

Bluebird Home Screen

To test out the “powers” of Bluebird, I decided to pay back TPG Managing Editor Eric for $10 he lent me when I was in Los Angeles last week (I hate using cash, but needed valet tip money – they should really start carrying Square so I can tip with credit card!). I used the Send Money function and it asked me for an email and amount and once I entered my PIN the funds were sent. Eric instantly received the following email, stating that he’d need to create a free Bluebird account to accept the funds.

“Brian Kelly has sent you the following funds:

Amount:    $5.00
Transaction:    XXXXXXXX
Please click here to sign up for a free Bluebird Account. You will then be able to select the Updates link from the My Accounts tab. Locate the Send Money Notification awaiting action and click on the See Details link. Then choose one of the following options:

Accept this amount;
Suggest a new amount; or
Cancel this transaction
If you do not open a Bluebird Account and accept this payment within 7 days of this email, this transaction will be voided and you will not be able to accept this payment thereafter.

If you already have a Bluebird Account and this email address is not associated with it, please log in to your account and go to Account Settings to add this email address so that you can accept these funds into your existing account.

If you want to send money to someone who doesn’t have Bluebird, all you need to do is click “Pay Bills” and then add whoever you’d like as a payee. You’ll need their address and name – but no social security number or EIN – very simple.

If you want to withdraw your Bluebird account at ATMs, you can witdhraw a maximum of $500 a day (3 transactions) and $2,000 per calendar month. The bill-pay/vendor setup is potentially a cheaper/quicker way to take out large amounts since there are no fees. You can use Walmart ATMs for free, but there’s a $2 Amex fee, unless you link a direct deposit to your Bluebird account (no government payroll/payments can be setup as qualifying direct deposits).

So to say that I’m impressed with Bluebird would be the understatement of the century. The real kicker is that I can now pay things like my mortgage company, car payment and condo association with no fee- all bills I used to pay directly from my checking account or by check. The only fee I pay is $3.95 per $500 Vanilla card.

My Sunday run to Office Depot- $3,000 in Vanilla cards (15,000 Chase points) for $23.70 in fees.

Too Good To Be True?
Now, it’s not as easy as paying $158 for 100,000 points as there are limits. Chase maxes out the office supply (any Office Depot purchase) at $50,000 per calendar year. However, I have both the Ink Plus and Ink Bold (snagging 50,000-point sign-up bonuses for each), so my real maximum is $100,000 in spend, or 500,000 Ultimate Rewards points a year. I can only load $1,000 per day onto my Bluebird, but if I wanted to get access to more daily spending, I could also purchase Amex Prepaid cards (and use them for everyday spend) and they only cost $4.95 per $500 card.

Some people have reported Office Depot’s getting rid of Vanilla cards or being questioned by managers, but I’ve never had an issue at Miami area Office Depots and there have been plenty of Vanilla cards for sale. In fact, just yesterday (November 4), I bought $3,000 in Vanilla Reloads at my Office Depot and no one batted an eyelash.

Will this all come to an end? Probably at some point, so you should get in while the getting is good! Here are the useful links you’ll need:

Ink Plus 50,000-point sign-up after $5,000 spent within 3 months, $95 annual fee waived the first year

Ink Bold 50,000-point sign-up after $5,000 spent within 3 months, $95 annual fee waived the first year


Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Mileage Update

    The only problem is the $5k monthly cap. That is what is limiting the potential. 60k a yr in spend is sadly not very much these days.

  • Johnny

    Is Bluebird worth it even if I don’t have an Ink card and the 5x bonus? What’s the best way to maximize points with the regular Chase Sapphire?

  • Wesley Choate

    Agreed it is not a home run, but it is at least a double. It is better than nothing if you would know you will use the points. I just cannot get Chase cards as my credit is doing much better but they still will not approve me. I am trying to decide if my AmEx Platinum is worth it though at 1 point per dollar. Not sure yet.

  • Johnny

    Yeah it limits the potential but you’re looking at using it for expenses that you would have never gotten points for in the first place

  • ZO

    unfortunately there is no way of getting the reload cards here in NYC

  • Rmarkoff

    The biggest obstacle in San Diego is the unavailability of Vanilla Reload Cards. The manager of my local Office Depot says they are restocked by a third party vendor and even he has no control of when they will be replenished. But he did say that he is unaware of any policy to discontinue them or to require cash only.

    The Vanilla site seems to have disabled the reload locations tab.

    Until the reload cards are available on a regular basis, this scheme is unattainable for many, especially in San Diego.

  • Jake_PB

    I’ve found the same thing here in SD – Office Depots out of stock, with no idea of when they’ll be restocked.

  • Markdfink

    But 300K points does seem like a lot, at least to me. :o)

  • Angel

    If you can get 60K in Vanilla Cards every year bought at OD with, at least, 2 Chase Ink (remember the 50k limit per card per calendar year), then you’d get 300k MR point. Not bad…

  • Jeffrey Chien

    Why not use Swipe Reload. You can add $1k for only $3.74 at Walmart

  • thepointsguy

    You don’t get 5x chase points for those purchases, but still an option. You sure Walmart will let you use credit card for those?

  • Jeffrey Chien

    According to the Swipe Reload site it looks like it does. I as thinking lower fee’s and you can do $1k at a time instead fo $500 at a time. But of course this does not include the ink cards

  • Guest

    Is there anything similar to this in Canada?

  • DP99

    Brian, why did you give Eric $5 when he loaned you $10? Just asking…

  • Hannah

    I need to meet a minimum spend on a credit card and would like to be able to use an ATM for cash withdrawal. Forget the points! what is the simplest way for a dummy to do this?

  • Rich Bakken

    Seems as though this is still more geared toward Ink Plus or Ink Bold cardholders…not having a business, doesn’t seem to make sense to do. Or am I missing something?

  • Jose Augustin

    TPG: Does your home association accept debit cards for mortgage/HOA fees? I pay mine using e-checks but I am not able to think how I can move that to BlueBird? Can I setup an e-check with bluebird just like any regular bank?

  • Angel

    lol…I noticed the same thing this morning when I read the article…

  • Angel

    Bluebird can send a regular check to your HOA. Just make sure you send it with enough time to get there (I would say about 1 week).

  • thepointsguy

    Cuz I’m cheap! Hah actually I sent him 5 via electronic payment and 5 as a check to test out both options and how they work (he didn’t have a say in the matter ;-)

  • Myexercisecoach

    Thank you.

  • thepointsguy

    What angel said. They do take debit for small fee but my association manager prefers checks which are free w bluebird

  • thepointsguy

    It’s a ultra ultra amazing deal for ink bold cardholders. It’s just an amazing deal for use with other cards/meeting minimum spend

  • thepointsguy

    Buy a ton of vanilla cards to meet minimum spend then use bluebird for daily expenses/ATM/checks

  • francisco C

    Do you feel comfortable loading 3K monthly from OD? What is your opinion regarding when Chase may get upset regarding this OD/vanilla usage? Thanks


    I think it’s irresponsible to suggest people use exclusively (or even primarily) their Ink cards for this. Once Chase realizes how much money they’re losing on Bluebird, they’re going to shut this down in a big way.

    Folks should exercise common sense and NOT use the “get in while the gettin is good” mentality and maybe this deal will actually last. I’m all for gaming the system, but anyone who is trying to make another US Mint out of this program, and funnel themselves tens of thousands per month, is going to ruin it for the rest of us.

  • thepointsguy

    Totally agree- that’s why I have numerous chase cards/car loans/checking/saving and put more than just Office Depot on my ink bolds. However I highly doubt this will be around for a long term so if you want to take advantage, you shouldn’t wait. All good/amazing deals come to an end

  • Hannah

    vanilla card or reload vanilla card? Are they the same card or different ones?

  • Kristin

    How would one pay their rent/mortgage with this Bluebird card if their bank/landlord only accepts checks or money orders?

  • Karl Mitchell

    Does anyone know if there is a minimum direct deposit amount necessary in order to get the free ATM withdrawals? My work offers split direct deposits, so I could theoretically put a tiny amount in.

  • Ajt228

    Sounds awesome! Thanks for sharing. Waiting for my bluebird kit to arrive. Im still learning all the tips and tricks to the points game. Could you explain what this vanilla reload card is and how exactly do I go from purchasing one for $500 to using that money to write a check from a bluebird account? Thanks so much!

  • thepointsguy

    Per the post you can add anyone / any business as a vendor and send them a check for free

  • thepointsguy

    No minimum that I’m aware of, so a tiny amount should work

  • guest

    There is no Vanilla reload card in two Home Depot I tried here in MD. They only carry Vanilla Visa cards.

  • RP

    Vanilla Prepaid Reload is what you want. They’re different.

  • dee seiffer

    What is the Vanilla card? Is Office Depot the only place to buy it? I don’t have the Chase Ink or Bold cards, but I’d be thrilled to get any points for paying my mortgage and utilities.

    Not sure Chase will give me another new card since I just got the Hyatt card, and I already have the Marriott and British Airways. (As soon as I can get my Avios into my Iberia Plus account, I’ll ditch the Chase BA card.)

  • JohnT.

    Walgreens will not accept credit cards for the Vanilla reload cards. Office Depot is now taking all the remaining stock off the shelves. I thought this ride would last just a little bit longer. Even 711 refused to sell me one with a credit card. I’m in Chicagoland for a reference point…

  • JohnT.

    None in Chicagoland either. Manager stated this was now becoming a company wide thing – not just a local issue. Same with Walgreens. It was kinda embarrassing actually – at Walgreens the card FEE will accept your credit card payment, but it leaves a $500 balance which must be paid via cash. Had to page a manager over to void the transaction.

  • JohnT.

    Not Home Depot – Office Depot. Clarification.

  • Sam

    But this would be good for meeting the minimum spend on say a Citi AA card, right?

  • Jim Williams

    I finally got mine in the mail, BUT…my account is locked up because their activation email won’t go through. I talked to tech support, and can get every email from them except the activation one. I have my own email server as well. Can’t figure it out. Their customer service is strange….Anyway, I was traveling the weekend and will try to activate it tomorrow. I told them to just delete everything, not worth my trouble, and they want to try a few more tricks. Unfortunately, they are an “online” only sort of company, so it’s difficult to fix the problems.

    Also, I bought a temp/preloaded card at WalMart to see if that would help, and I had to use debit for the card.

    Since I don’t have ink bold, just Ultimate Rewards (cash back) Mileage Plus, and AMEX Platinum, I’m just looking at 1 point per dollar. HOWEVER, the ability to pay my mortgage and other transactions via Bluebird will pay for another flight for vacation. When you are getting 6 tickets at a time, you gotta get every point!!! LOL.

  • thepointsguy

    Don’t give up! I actually had the same issue and I have my own server and it was caught in a spam folder that I didn’t even know existed.

  • wdn

    I’m not due for an app-o-rama until Jan. and don’t have the Chase Ink Plus/Bold cards. What would be the most effective way to get in on this deal now? I have Chase Freedom & Sapphire Preferred, Barclays US Airways, and United Explorer…

  • El Turk

    Which Chicago store?

  • JohnT.

    All south suburban stores and Northwest Indiana locations… For both OD and W. I tried several stores before meeting a friendly manager at a Walgreens who stated all stores are going to be following this policy soon if they are not already.

  • Bob

    Spent the day traveling around North and South Carolina and visited 8 Office Depots and called 4 more. No Vanilla reloads and ,per the managers, none coming. Visited several Walgreens, plenty of Vanilla reloads but will not accept credit cards. Anyone else in the Carolinas with this experience? I have an empty Bluebird!

  • El Turk

    Ya, I came back from a trip and Hyde Park OD no longer had beans. I thought they ran out and would be restocking. Are we sure that it’s not a third party restock as mentioned above?

  • JohnT.

    At the Calumet City OD location the employee told me they were not stocking Vanilla products anymore because of abuse. If he knew what he was talking about – not really sure. It just stinks because I just opened this BB account in order to take advantage points for paying bills and now I can’t load the account with a CC. I’m going to try CVS tomorrow otherwise F-this.

  • El Turk

    I hear you. You can always use a points earning debit card at Walmart.

  • Hannah

    Can I purchase this card online at Office Depot or do you know another online site where I can purchase? thanks

  • Jubin25

    I have chase Ink but there are no Vanilla Reload cards available where I live ( Philadelphia , PA ) . Is there any other way to load bluebird (without the vanilla reload option ) using my existing credit card ? If not, then I dont see a point of getting Bluebird if i dont earn any points. Just to be sure, you dont get points for using Bluebird, do you?

  • JohnT

    Nope. Sounds like the gig is pretty much up unless you have a rewards debit card to refill at Walmart.

  • SusanF

    I signed up for the American Express Business Card to earn 75,000 miles with $10,000 spend in 4 months. But with so many businesses not accepting Amex (I had hoped to pay my rent, but they only accept Visa/MC), it looks like I won’t make it.
    So, my question is: If I used the Amex card to purchase the Vanilla reload cards at Office Depot, will that get me Amex points?

  • Informer

    If you can manage to purchase Vanilla reload cards – with a credit card – at your local Office Depot you can certainly pay your rent with your BlueBird Account which acts like a checking account. The charge at the OD for the reloads will earn you points on your AMEX. The reload card has a $3.95 charge for a maximum $500 load per card.

  • jls1234

    I would like to know this exact same thing!

  • SusanF

    Thanks for your quick response. I’ve applied for my card, now have to hunt down Vanilla reload cards!

  • Jim Williams

    THANKS!! I called again today since I had to do some work (while on hold). She sent an email to my gmail junk catch all instead of my own mail. Bingo, it’s all set up and ready to go. I’m going to try the Vanilla reload, since I can buy them at Dollar General. Yes, we’re rural!!

    Hopefully they will let me purchase with my Freedom card! We’ll see!

  • Jim Williams

    Bought a Vanilla Reload card at Walgreens today with a Chase Ultimate Reward card. Unfortunately, I don’t have an ink yet, so I only got 1 point.

    The good thing is that I was able to buy it with whatever credit card I wanted. Which is what makes this a good deal.

    Now to see if I can load it onto the Bluebird!

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  • Jschaff1954

    This is great but I cant find these Vanilla reloads anywhere. Walgreens wont let you use a credit card to load. Only cash or debit. And i cant even find another retailer that sells Vanilla reloads. How can I use max spending on my credit card to then load a Bluebird to pay bills like my mortgage?

  • Miles

    Is that the latest TopCashBack deal?? :)

  • Valkata87

    CAn i purchase a home with Bluebird???

  • Mmckiggan

    Just left an Office Depot in Frisco Tx. The manager said they received a memo today to remove any remaining vanilla reload able cards from stock. He said they were already sd out so it didn’t effect them. Anyone else having trouble finding these cards?

  • Point guru

    I can confirm that Office Depot has pulled all Vanilla Reload cards off the shelf nationwide.

  • CommonSense

    Did you read any of the posts?

  • Richie Rich

    I was successful at 1 CVS today and bought 2 $500 cards no questions asked. I went to the other CVS and tried purchasing 3 and the cashier asked if i was laundering money and I showed the bluebird card and explained I was using the vanilla to load onto the bluebird. He said i could only load with cash. Doesn’t CVS get amount loaded on the card paid to them from AMEX? Where is the risk at? I paying on my credit card and am on the hook for the amount I’m charging. What type of comeback could I have said/or paperwork to prove its legit?

  • Guest

    I have bluebird setup and am just waiting for my Ink Plus to arrive. I was looking at how to add funds to bluebird and it says there is a 2$ fee for depositing money from a debit card, which I’m assuming is how you use these vanilla reload cards. Is it 2$ per card, bringing the total cost to load each vanilla card to 5.95 or am I missing some other way to load the vanilla funds onto bluebird?

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  • Jmc2022

    OD shut it down, party is over cheapies.

  • diamondelite

    looks like the party is over Office Deport from all information received
    apparently they are not reordering the cards and restocking nationwide
    Ill assume the over exposure in social media,bloggers and I’ll perhaps in the end
    Chase who may have worked with retailer to stop the buying frenzy on their ink cards
    Oh well next big thing ?

  • MarkDFink

    Yup, just got off the phone with my local Office Depot, and they said as of Saturday, notice came down from Corporate that they were no longer stocking the Vanilla Reload. Still, you can get these from other sources and use them to pay your mortgage. You just won’t have the 5X premium. 1X on my mortgage is better than the ZERO-X I have been getting. :o)

  • D Wonder

    No points flying here.
    Office Depot bit the dust on Vanilla and Walgreens who has them demanded cash only :(

  • Val

    Do you have to wait for your personalized Reload card to come before loading the Bluebird? I’ve been unable to load the personalized Bluebird from the starter Vanilla kit from CVS. Thanks.

  • thepointsguy

    Yes. You can’t load until you are sent a permanent card with your name on it

  • faxedexcel

    How do you actually reload this account with Visa Vanilla Reload? I don’t see that option on the website.

  • thepointsguy

  • blank

    I got a new blue bird card and they ripped me off when i signed up for it so you all might want to watch out.A phone worker helped me set it up because i was having trouble w thieir websight and he put in my email wrong and now im stuck w the starter card and cant put no money on it.So what ever you all do get rid of the blue bird card or youll get screwed somehoe.

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  • Lancehill

    Will I get a penalty or fee asssessed for doing an ATM withdrawl from bluebird?

  • 25andtrying

    am I hearing you right that you purchase the VanillaReloads with one credit card (a Chase of some sort to gain points) and then load their value onto the Bluebird card with which you spend that $ (and get points again)?…. points accumulated when you PURCHASE the reloads and points accumulated when you SPEND the reload$ with the Bluebird account? :)

  • Loryn staten

    but how can people send you money on this card???

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  • Garth

    You really should update these posts, just wasted my time reading your article only to find office dept no longer Carries these cards. You can bet I will not use any if your affiliate links

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  • John Guide

    Have you heard recently that Bluebird will get FDIC coverage?!

  • Mike’s girl

    Hour N. of Atlanta. *Can* buy $200 Visa Prepaids at Office Depot (AND Office Max AND Staples) (on Ink Bold; along with various purchases); take them to CVS and buy Vanilla Reloads (and some sundries) with the VISA prepaids (the prepaids fill the reloads, the fee(s) and sundries I put on the Ink); go home to my computer and throw the $$ onto my Bluebird. Was too slow this month (I’m new at this stuff, so stepping VERY carefully!) to try a Bluebird-mailed check for my mortgage (hadn’t yet put enough $$ onto Bluebird). However, I’ve now ordered my Bluebird checks, I HAVE enough $$ on Bluebird for next month’s mortgage, and I’m thrilled and relieved that Bluebird is now FDIC.

    Since I’m mainly fulfilling my minimum spend on the new Ink Bold, I’m fine (so far) with fees to do this. Also, of course, spending on biz purchases — I held off on several big (e.g., $1,200 and $1,400) parts purchases till the Ink Bold came, then threw them all at the card at once. I’m now going to do a couple hundred $$ a week to refill the Bluebird to pay the mortgage the month after, secula seculorem. Thanks SO much for all-y’all’s help in this new world!

  • Eugene Casanovic

    am i the only 1 whos unable to transfer $ from vanilla to bluebird??? plz advise. thanks

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  • Jonathan Jones

    You cant get point from purchasing gift cards on many credit cards

  • jdl

    which office depot in New York city area offers vanilla reloads

  • elan

    how do you pay the balance of your credit card once you’ve purchased the vanilla reload and uploaded it to blue bird? i noticed there is a bill pay function, im weary to test the waters with this… last week i just wrote my self some checks and deposited them to my bank account – am i making this harder than i should be??

  • elan

    how do you pay the balance of your credit card once youve purchased the vanilla reload and uploaded it to blue bird? i noticed there is a bill pay function, im weary to test the waters with this… last week i just wrote my self some checks and deposited them to my bank account – am i making this harder than i should be??

  • Stevei

    Hell ya! Great article.

  • newcomer

    just got approved for blue bird card, They told me that a have a limit of $500 a day and$1000 a month – can someone advise why this happened?

  • Anon843r7934

    You can pay your mortgage with a BB card.

  • Heidi

    Are there any benefits to purchasing VR’s with a Chase Sapphire Preferred card? I already met my minimum spend in the 1st 3 months, so I’m wondering if there is a card that would let me accrue more points by buying the VR to transfer funds to my blue bird then make my mortgage payment from that.
    Or is the Sapphire one of the better cards for earning points this way?

  • dee seiffer

    HI, Heidi,
    I’m not TPG, but have been doing the VR/BB thing for quite a while now. The answer to your question depends on what your ultimate points goal is.

    Are you generating URs for a particular trip? If so, Sapphire is your best bet, because of all the Chase cards, you get 7% bonus pts once a year. None of them offer bonus pts at drugstores. If you can find a gas station to sell VRs with a CC, Chase Ink would get you double pts.

    Do you just want to generate points to have so when you want to travel you have them? Sapphire is a worthy card and 5,000 URs could certainly be worth the $40 VR fee depending on how you use them.

    My other strategy is to use the Capital One Venture card.(Barclay won’t give me an Arrival card because I play this game too hard and open too many new accounts. Arrival would be better to get the 10% points back) My math is $5000 = 10,000 pts = $100 – $40 fee = $60 in travel. I like to have a pool of Cap1 pts for things other than hotel & airfare…. fees, trains, cabs, tours, admission fees to historic sites, etc

    Just my $.02.

  • dee seiffer

    PS. If you are married, open an second BB account in your husband’s name and run a second set of VR cards through his acct.

    PPS. You can link your regular checking acct to your BB and transfer BB funds to your regular checking.

  • Heidi

    Thanks for the info! I guess I wasn’t clear in my explanation. I’ve never actually “played the game”. I’m trying to figure out how to start and I’m wondering if I should go ahead and use my Chase Sapphire card to purchase Vanilla downloads or if I should open another card (such as Barclay) for the initial points they award.

    I’m mainly interested in racking up points for vacation travel. Since I received the Chase Sapphire Preferred last month and have already met their introductory offer (spend $3000 in the first 3 months and receive 40,000 points) I’m wondering if it’d be beneficial to open another card with a big points reward offer.

    It’d be easiest to just use my Sapphire for daily expenses and mortgage since I already have it, but I have a feeling that’s not the way to get the most points.

  • dee seiffer

    Answer to your question:
    Absolutely the best bang for your VR buck is meeting minimum spending requirements for sign-up bonuses. $40 in fees for 50,000 miles is better than $40 for 5,000 any day.

    Unsolicited advice:
    Be careful. Sign up bonuses can be addictive. ;-)

    If you are new to the game, the Barclay Arrival card with its 40,000 sign-up bonus could be a great next card.

    Do you have a points strategy? Is there a specific trip you are working toward? Or just lots of points in buckets with multiple transfer partners so you can decide when you decide? Or “might as well get free travel from everyday spending, but I’m not going to go nuts with this.”?

    Answering those questions can help you decide which cards to get in what order.

    If I were you though, I would throw a Chase Freedom card into the mix. It has no annual fee and they give 5 URs for special spending categories each quarter, up to $1500. April – June is restaurants & Lowes. I just went to Lowes to scope out the gift cards. DSW & Zappos! Can you say 5 pts/$ on shoes, Baby!? ;-) No big sign-up bonus right now (so off topic from your question). You can transfer your Freedom URs into your Sapphire UR acct to transfer to travel partners.

  • Heidi

    RIght now I’m just racking up points to use on whatever I need in the future. I do want to plan a strategy to get my family of 4 to England next summer, though. My husband’s family is all in London and we need to travel back to see them. Any advice on getting to London, Heathrow or nearby?

  • dee seiffer

    Now would be the time to start on your strategy for a family of 4 to England for summer 2015. Airlines limit the number of seats on any plane they sell for miles and they can sell out months in advance. It can take a few months to generate enough miles.

    As you probably already know, the biggest obstacle to flying to London is the huge fees. You can’t avoid them if you fly directly to London from the US. You can avoid them if you fly somewhere else and take a cheap flight on RyanAir (e.g. Dublin). The fees to Dublin if you fly on miles + Ryan Air flight will probably be less than the fees on British Airways/American. You would have to decide if you want to spend more $ to go direct US to London or more time getting there indirectly.

    Search blogs like TPG for strategies. (e.g. You can book Air Lingus to Dublin with British Airways Avios, but have usually have to do it over the phone.) I would also look at the FlyerTalk threads for advice.

    I often start with to figure out which airlines fly the route I want. Then set up mileage accounts with those airlines (free to do) to find out how much in miles + fees it will cost me.

    I just looked at a few direct flights from New York to London in July 2014 for one person:

    American 60,000 miles + $705 fees

    Virgin Atlantic 35,000 miles + $465 fees

    United 95,000 miles + $207 fees

    You would obviously look for flights from your home airport.

    Once you decide which airline and route will suite you best, usually you get that airlines’ credit card + a card with a transfer partner, such as Starwood.

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