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How I earned 491,257 points (mostly) in quarantine

Dec. 25, 2020
8 min read
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In a typical year, I would easily earn over a million miles and points and have an absolute ball redeeming them. That hasn’t been possible this year. The pandemic slowed down travel significantly.

So while I haven’t earned many miles from flying or staying at hotels, I’ve still managed to earn over 490,000 miles from credit card sign-up bonuses, strategic spending and shopping portal bonuses. For the most part, I maximized my own spending as well as my family’s. My parents had a big renovation project that I got to put on my credit cards and I made mortgage payments with a credit card on their behalf. All of this generated enough points for a nice post-pandemic vacation when it’s safe to do so.

Here’s a round-up of how I earned 491,257 points and miles this year, largely in quarantine.

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16,903 AAdvantage miles

This year, I earned 16,903 AAdvantage miles without stepping on a plane – thanks to my Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®. Normally, that number would be too low to justify paying the card’s $99 annual fee (waived for the first year). However, I do have a chance to earn the $125 AA flight discount, which would offset the annual fee entirely. To earn this discount, cardholders have to spend $20,000 every cardmember year and renew the card.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

In my case, I have until July to spend another $3,097 and earn this discount. So chances are, I’ll be renewing the card as usual and getting a nice discount on my next American Airlines flight – which hopefully will not be such a far-fetched concept, with the COVID vaccine becoming more widely available next year.

890 Alaska miles

This year, I earned 890 Alaska miles through shopping portals. This was an easy two-step process that I do every time I shop online. In this case, Alaska offered the highest bonus possible, so I chose their portal for my purchases. I recently got an Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card, though I have not met the $2,000 spending requirement yet. So, for now, I’m leaving it off my points tally for the year.

114,150 Citi ThankYou points

I’m a huge Citi ThankYou points fan and managed to earn over 114,150 points this year. I applied for the Citi Premier® Card, which offered 80,000 points after $4,000 spent on purchases within the first three months of account opening. In addition to the sign-up bonus, I earned 4,532 points from regular spending and 4,540 points from the grocery bonus.

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I did almost as well with my Citi Prestige® Card, which I’ve had for about two years. I earned a total of 45,078 points, largely from category bonuses. I’ve been using this card to make mortgage payments via Plastiq over the last year, so that’s where the majority of the points came from. Thanks to referral bonuses, I didn't have to pay any fees on these transactions.

  • 26,736 points from regular spending
  • 3,342 at restaurants
  • 15,000 bonus points (from the temporary grocery bonus offered by the card)

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select card, Citi Prestige Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

99,819 Chase Ultimate Rewards

I used my Chase Ultimate Rewards primary to top off my Hyatt and Flying Blue accounts this year. Thanks to category bonuses from the Chase Freedom Unlimited and Chase Ink Plus (no longer available), they were fairly easy to earn. Here’s a breakdown of how I earned these points:

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

  • 34,650 points from regular spending
  • 493 points from dining and travel
  • 6,063 “other” bonus (most likely the temporary grocery bonus offered)

Chase Freedom Unlimited

  • 29,215 points earned at 1.5 miles per $1 spent

Chase Ink Plus

  • 26,915 points from office supply stores, cable, internet and phone spending
  • 2,483 points from regular spending

41,931 Amex Membership Rewards

Over the last year, I’ve earned 41,931 through my Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express and The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express. That’s pretty good, considering neither card has an annual fee (Blue Business Plus - see rates and fees) and most of these points were earned from category bonuses.

The Blue Business Plus earns 2x Membership Rewards points on all spending, making it easy to maximize everyday purchases (on the first $50,000 spend on purchases each calendar year; then 1x). I earned 20,444 points from this card, along with 6,487 points from the Everyday card and 15,000 in referral bonuses.

Amex Membership Rewards are incredibly valuable and I’ll be focusing on earning more of them next year. I plan on redeeming them for a round-trip business class ticket to Europe, which costs just 88,000 ANA miles.

The information for the Amex EveryDay card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

147,667 Capital One Venture Miles

I applied for a Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card in October and managed to complete the spending requirement to earn the 100,000-mile bonus*. I continued to put spending on the card, earning a total of 147,667 miles. I redeemed pretty much all of the miles during my trip to Turkey in October.

Going forward, I plan on using them for airline transfers. At 2 miles per $1 spent, replenishing my Capital One balance won't be too challenging.

*Earn 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

Related: How to transfer Capital One miles to airline partners

8,966 Hyatt points

I earned just 8,966 Hyatt points this year, mostly from a stay at the Park Hyatt Istanbul. I paid for most of the nights using points, but the cash portion did earn me a nice sum thanks to a lucrative bonus point promotion. I also got a large chunk of my redeemed points back, but that doesn’t count as “earnings” as far as I’m concerned.

(Image courtesy of the Park Hyatt Istanbul)

I also recently applied for a World of Hyatt Credit Card, though I have not completed the combined spending requirement yet. Once I do, I’ll earn a decent amount of bonus points for my troubles.

60,931 Hilton Honors points

Remember in “Up in the Air” when George Clooney cuts to the front of the line at a Hilton hotel, the woman ahead gets mad and he tells her, “You should look into it [joining the Honors program] – the promotions are great”? Well, he wasn’t lying. Thanks to category bonuses and ongoing Hilton promotions, I earned 26,000 more points than I normally would have this year.

  • 34,823 points from eligible spending
  • 12,298 points from Hilton spending
  • 8,559 points from grocery spending
  • 5,086 points from restaurant spending
  • 165 points from Lyft spending

You might be wondering if it's time to cut my Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card loose. After all, the card carries a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees) and these points are only valued at around $460. A Hilton card with a lower annual fee might offer more value. However, keep in mind that the card also got me an unrestricted free night, top-tier Diamond status and a slew of other benefits totaling over $1,300 in value this year. So it's definitely a keeper.

The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: 12 points and miles tasks to complete by the end of the year

Bottom line

You might notice some big names missing from the line-up: Delta, Marriott, United, IHG Rewards. That’s mostly because I haven’t paid for travel with any of them this year and I don’t carry their co-branded cards. For the most part, I'm relying on transferrable currencies to top off my airline and hotel accounts when I need them. Focusing on transferrable currencies is a crucial way to avoid possible devaluations in 2021. With hotels and airlines struggling financially and selling off miles at a discount, it's only a matter of time before that will happen.

For rates and fees of the Blue Business Plus card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, click here.

Featured image by (Image via Shutterstock)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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