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4 easy strategies I use to earn over 500,000 points and miles a year

July 07, 2020
10 min read
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One of the biggest things stopping people from splurging on luxury travel experiences is the worry that they're going to run out of points. I can't begin to count how many times I've heard someone say "I'd rather take five trips in economy than one in first class," but, what if you didn't have to choose? If you had a bottomless pit full of points and miles, there wouldn't be anything to stop you from flying at the front of the plane and staying in fancy hotel suites every time you travel.

The question, obviously, is how do you accumulate all those points and miles? I'm lucky to travel a lot for work and that certainly helps, but I find that the bulk of the points I earn come from diligently applying strategies that anyone can replicate. This extended travel hiatus is frustrating, of course, but now is also the perfect time to start planning so that when travel resumes, you have enough points to go wherever you'd like. Today I'm going to share four strategies I use to easily earn over 500,000 points a year, every single year.

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Credit card retention offers: 60,000 points per year

I'm a big fan of "pajama points," a term that broadly applies to any type of bonus you can earn from the comfort of your couch. I scored a pretty big win in this department last week, netting enough points for a one-way flight to Europe out of a five-minute phone call with American Express.

Let's back up a bit though. I've had the American Express® Gold Card for a number of years now, and its food-focused bonus categories (4x points on dining at restaurants and 4x points at U.S. supermarkets, up to $25,000 a year; then 1x) are coming in quite handy during the extended lockdown. The card comes with a $250 annual fee (see rates and fees), and mine posted a few days ago. I was pretty sure I was going to keep the card open, but with all the economic uncertainty swirling around I was a bit hesitant about spending that money. So I called Amex to ask if there were any retention offers on the account, and lo and behold, they were able to give me 30,000 Membership Rewards points with no strings attached, just to keep my card open. TPG values Membership Rewards points at two cents each, so they basically handed me $600 worth of points to pay a $250 annual fee that I was likely to pay already.

Related: Your ultimate guide to credit card retention offers

Retention offers vary by issuer and by card and can come in many forms. You may be offered a full (or partial) annual fee waiver, a bonus spending challenge (more on that later), or simply bonus points if you agree to pay the annual fee and keep your card open. I find Amex to be the most generous issuer in this department, especially for customers who put a large amount of spending on their Amex cards each year. I don't think it's unreasonable to say that most people should be able to get two to three retention offers a year, though due to the potential variation in the size of the offer I'll peg this at a conservative 60,000 points a year.

Credit card welcome bonuses: 300,000 points per year

Earning new welcome bonuses is the foundation of credit card rewards as we know it. Just because this is a common strategy doesn't mean you can afford to let up the gas or go easy, assuming of course that you're managing your credit score responsibly.

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While I absolutely advocate for starting slowly to avoid making serious mistakes (like missing a payment); once you get a feel for how things work you should make it a point to apply for at least one new credit card every three to four months. That timing works out perfectly, as it means you'll only ever be working on one minimum spending requirement at a time and your applications will be spaced out sufficiently to protect your credit score from taking a dip from all the new inquiries.

(Photo by karen roach/Shutterstock.)

If you take this reasonably paced approach and open up four new credit cards a year, that will net you about 300,000 points (of course this number could vary depending on what cards you apply for, as we've seen a number of great 100,000-point bonuses over the last year). You shouldn't apply willy-nilly for every deal you see, but rather you should build a strategy (starting with Chase's 5/24 rule before moving on to other issuers) to methodically work your way through all of the best travel rewards cards on the market.

Related: How to recession-proof your credit score

Targeted spending bonus offers: 40,000 points per year

This is the rarest and least predictable category on the list as many of these offers are targeted, but now is a prime example of how you can shift your spending patterns around to capitalize on limited-time bonuses. As consumer spending patterns shift in response to the coronavirus pandemic, dozens of credit cards are offering limited-time bonus points on purchases made at grocery stores, restaurants or food delivery services. Personally, I was most interested in the 5x points per dollar the Chase Sapphire Reserve was offering on the first $1,500 spent at grocery stores during May and June, as well as the 6x points some of my Marriott Bonvoy cards are offering.

In order to maximize these various bonuses, I've been buying gift cards at grocery stores to lock in the bonus points now. I'm earning massive bonus multipliers on anything from restaurants to Amazon gift cards, getting more bang for my buck by front-loading the spending now.

Even once the pandemic subsides and things return to normal, there will be plenty of ways to earn bonus points through limited-time offers. One of my favorites is the Chase Freedom card (No longer open to new applicants), which offers 5% cashback (or 5x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar) on your first $1,500 spent in rotating quarterly bonus categories each quarter you activate. Some categories are useless to me, but if you can max out even two of them a year, that's 15,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards points. The best part is when Chase offers a unique bonus category that isn't offered by other cards, meaning you go from earning 1 or 2 points per dollar to earning 5x.

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

One more popular recurring deal to keep an eye out for is bonuses for spending on authorized user cards. Amex generally runs this promotion on different cards a few times each year, and each time you can earn a few thousand points by adding a new authorized user and spending a certain amount.

Related: Guide to maximizing rewards on grocery spending

Day-to-day credit card spending: 100,000 points per year

Again, this isn't a super-secret trick but a foundational piece of any points-and-miles strategy that can work hard for you, if you let it. With so much focus on welcome bonuses, it can be easy to forget about the points you earn on mundane day-to-day purchases like gas or insurance. There are two important things you need to do here: make sure you have credit cards that offer bonus points in the categories you spend the most, and make sure you have a rewarding card for everyday spending to mop up all the purchases that don't fit nicely into a bonus category.

The options for everyday spending have gotten much better in recent years, thanks to cards like The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express and the Citi® Double Cash Card, both of which earn 2%/2x points per dollar (on the first $50,000 in purchases each calendar year; then 1x on the Blue Business Plus and 1% cash back when you buy, plus 1% cash back as you pay on the Citi Double Cash card). These don't charge an annual fee (see rates and fees for Blue Business Plus). If you don't have one (or both) of these cards already I'd strongly encourage you to apply for one, as this is an amazing floor. If you never earn less than 2x points per dollar when you swipe your credit card, you'll find the points racking up faster than you can spend them.

Related: The best travel credit cards for each bonus category

Once you're covered on the low end, you can focus on selectively increasing your earnings in popular bonus categories like travel, dining, groceries and more. TPG has dedicated guides listing the cards with the highest bonus multipliers for each of those categories, generally ranging from 3 to 5x points per dollar spent.

So now it's time to make some assumptions: If you spend ~$3,000 a month on your credit cards, and between your everyday spending card of choice and the money you spend in bonus categories, you're able to earn an average of 3 points per dollar, that adds up to a bit over 100,000 points a year. It can be tough to stay focused here because you don't get a huge rush of points all at once as you do with a new welcome bonus, but if you're disciplined this can be one of the most rewarding strategies.

Bottom line

No matter what your travel goals are, the more points you have at your disposal the more efficiently you'll be able to redeem them, and the less you'll have to worry about running out. If you have more points than you know what to do with, you can start to upgrade your travels and enjoy a bit more comfort and luxury.

By following these four simple strategies, most people should be able to rack up half a million points a year, a cool sum that opens the doors to plenty of fancy adventures.

For rates and fees of the Amex Gold card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Business Plus card, click here.

Featured image by Getty Images
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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