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Earning Miles in a Post-Bluebird World

Jan. 09, 2016
6 min read
Earning Miles in a Post-Bluebird World
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Yesterday the hearts of many miles and points junkies likely dropped to their stomachs, or perhaps even lower, when an email went out effectively announcing the end of "manufactured spending" as we know it via closed Amex Serve and Bluebird accounts. I had many Mommy Points readers reach out to me to make sure I knew (thanks!) and to get feedback on what to do next to earn enough points to keep traveling the world for much less.

Well, believe it or not, I did not get the email shown below (bolding mine) for my Bluebird or Serve account, because I don't use it to load gift cards at Walmart and then liquidate them as many others did. I'm no angel or anything, it just isn't my cup of tea and I didn't have the time or energy to mess with that these days. You know, two kids, a job, a husband, and all...

We are writing to let you know that we have observed unusual usage patterns on your American Express Serve Account. Because of this, effective immediately, you will no longer be able to add money to your Account.1 We have made this change in accordance with Section 15.d of our Consumer User Agreement, which you can view here.
Please be aware that you continue to have full access to the funds on your Account and can withdraw them at any time. Any applicable monthly fees continue to apply.
Once your balance reaches $0, please close your Account online via your Profile page accessible here. Scroll down to the Close Account section and click "Close Account."
If you have any questions or would like to inquire further about this issue, you may write to us at the following address:
American Express
C/O Customer Relations 02-04-40
4315 S 2700 W
Salt Lake City, UT 84184-0440

I am here to tell you (from experience) that while I know there are still some remaining (but dwindling) methods to earn miles and points in a manufactured type manner, you don't have to do that in order to still afford to travel primarily using miles and points for much less. You can get back to earning and redeeming basics and still accomplish many travel goals, albeit perhaps in slightly different ways than you might have been with Serve or Bluebird.

Use Gift Cards Differently

For starters, when I read Frequent Miler's post on how to liquidate some Visa or MasterCard gift cards you may have been stuck with when your Bluebird died, I couldn't help but think that many of those tips aren't just helpful for liquidating remaining gift cards, but you could still do many of those things going forward if buying gift cards is still your thing. I still jump on Visa or MasterCard gift card opportunities from time to time to earn some extra points, but I only buy what I can use for daily purchases, to pay bills, or similar.

Make Full Use of Category Bonuses

While I only dabble in gift cards, I go full force on category bonuses. I make sure to maximize almost every dollar we spend via having and utilizing cards that that provide category bonuses in categories we regularly use, the Chase Freedom for its 5x rotating bonus categories, the Citi Premier for 3x on travel, and much more. When there is no way to earn a category bonus or use a gift card I bought while earning a bonus, to pay for the purchase, I use a credit card that awards the most valuable points for our travel goals - often the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card.

Sign-Up Bonuses

Credit card sign-up bonuses are still very useful to getting quick injections of miles and points to your accounts. Many cards now only award a sign-up bonus once a lifetime or once every 24 months, but a few well timed sign-up bonuses each year for you and your partner (if you have one), can still be super helpful in getting your family the miles you need to go where you want.

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Pay attention to when sign-up bonuses increase, check the CardMatch Tool to see if any increased offers are available to you there, or just be strategic with aligning the cards you get with the trips you want to take.

Switch to Cash Back or Fixed Value Points

Depending on your travel goals, with low airfares available, I really think many of us will currently do better with the fixed value cards (or even a 2% cash back card) and fixed value reward programs rather than the traditional airline mileage charts for some trips. Take for example being able to fly round trip to Cancun for less than 10,000 points as I shared here, or one-way flights for less than 1,900 points here, etc.

This method works best if you are okay flying economy and primarily take domestic or relatively close-in trips. If you are only in the miles and points world for international premium cabin trips then ignore this tip as it often won't help you out, though every now and then discounted premium cabin trips do pop up.

Use Shopping Portals, Take Advantages of Bonuses, Etc.

Finally, don't skip the "little" stuff that actually isn't really little. If there is a bonus you can register for and earn additional points - do it. If you need to buy something, go through an airline or cash back shopping portal, etc. I earned thousands of airline miles during the holiday shopping season this year just by making my purchases online via the United or American Airlines shopping portals. Multiply that out over a year and that's a pretty significant number of additional miles.

Learn How to Maximize Redemptions

This one doesn't help on the earning side, but you don't have to earn as many miles if you are smarter about how you spend them. For example, if you want to fly United BusinessFirst round trip to Europe it will cost you 115,000 United miles (or Chase Ultimate Rewards transferred to United). However, you can book the same flight via ANA for just 88,000 miles transferred 1:1 from the Amex Membership Reward program. In other words, don't work harder, work smarter.

I also recommend getting away from taking multiple shorter trips and instead take fewer longer trips if you want to stretch your miles. For example, you will spend half the number of miles if you do one longer trip to Europe each year rather than go for two long weekends. I know that is a "duh" tip, but it is one that has helped our family as we move into the next phase of family travel.

How will yesterday's Serve and Bluebird announcements impact your miles and points earnings going forward?