Let’s chat about bonus miles today with an eye toward gaming the airline mileage programs:

1. Public links are floating around for no lifetime language (NLL), high offer American Express Delta credit cards. You can probably get one to appear yourself by logging into your SkyMiles account and going through the process of booking a paid ticket; you’ll see on offer the last page before paying. In case that’s a lot of work for you, a public landing page has surfaced to check eligibility and skip the dummy booking: Click here and enter your SkyMiles number and last name to check for your account(s). These offers include a statement credit for spending on Delta too. (Thanks to DoC for the link)

Don’t forget that American Express currently has a five credit card limit (not to be confused with the ten charge card limit for cards like the Green, Gold, Platinum, or Centurion cards, they don’t count for this). People have played games to get around the credit card limit in the past, but I’m not one of them.

2. Another round of shopping portal bonuses has surfaced, and Alaska, United, and Southwest are all playing. In case you want to the play the game and win, Visa or Mastercards from Giftcards.com are usually the easiest way to knock these out without really buying stuff; of course the virtual variants work too but come with slightly higher fees.

To save you time, I’ve calculated how much it’ll cost in card fees and shipping to get each shopping portal bonus so you can decide if it’s worth it to you.

UPDATE: Miles (awesome name, right?) pointed out that these fees were calculated for physical gift cards, not virtual gift cards. So, shipping needs to be factored in, also some of math on physical gift cards requires taking a penny off in order to hit the lower fee amount, despite the posted schedule; but that doesn’t affect portal thresholds since the fee is included in the portal payout. Shipping fees are $1.99 per card, so updating is easy enough, the tables are now correct, and the article has been corrected. 🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️

United

Bonus ThresholdGift Cards PurchasedFeesMilesCost Per Mile
$1001 x $100$5.94100 + 5000.990 cents per mile
$3501 x $100 + 1 x $250$12.88350 + 1,5000.696 cents per mile
$6001 x $100 + 2 x $250$19.82600 + 2,5000.639 cents per mile
corrected

Southwest

Bonus ThresholdGift Cards PurchasedFeesMilesCost Per Mile
$1251 x $125$5.94125 + 2501.584 cents per mile
$3001 x $50 + 1 x $250$12.88300 + 9001.073 cents per mile
$5501 x $50 + 2 x $250$19.82550 + 2,0000.777 cents per mile
corrected

Alaska

Bonus ThresholdGift Cards PurchasedFeesMilesCost Per Mile
$1501 x $150$5.94150 + 3001.237 cents per mile
$3001 x $50 + 1 x $250$10.88300 + 6001.208 cents per mile
$5002 x $250$13.88500 + 1,2000.816 cents per mile
corrected

There are two big caveats to remember: 1) I didn’t include any miles or cash back you’ll get from your credit card spend, and 2) I didn’t include potential liquidation fees that you may pay; hopefully that one is zero but YMMV.

At the highest threshold of each of those portal bonuses I’m a mileage buyer, even for United. But honestly, just barely for United.

Not the type of airline games I meant, but sure, why not?

I’m on vacation and have been since Friday afternoon, and I’m punch drunk on California beach vibes so I went experimental today. Without further ado, here’s my review of the new American Express Platinum card changes, in haiku form.

Huge annual fee
is unjustifiable
find another card

Clear reimbursement
could save 55 minutes per year
if you are lucky

Equinox credit
useful in almost no cities
use YouTube instead

One lifetime bonus?
terms and conditions are lies
bonus will come

New York Times is saved
by entertainment credit
otherwise no-one pays

Fine Hotels and Resorts
credit does not earn you status
better than nothing

Air incidentals
credit was hard to abuse
but was worth real cash

Lounge access is great
until you realize that
many cards grant it

Will not renew
personal cards will be golds
business cards will cease

Vacation vibe vibes.

1. Office Depot OfficeMax is offering 25% back in rewards on Happy Gift Cards, limit $25 back per account. In case you’re a Happy GC newb like I used to be, these cards are basically Visa debit cards that work only at certain stores, and there are multiple varieties that work at a different set of places. An example: Buy a $100 “Happy Treats” gift card which can be at GameStop and at a few other places, then go to GameStop and buy two $50 Steam cards with the Happy card. The Steam cards resell at 90-93%, so you can really come out ahead if you can make good use of OD/OM rewards and have more than one account. Often you can liquidate the Happy cards online too, no need to make an in-person trip in many cases.

If you don’t yet have a liquidation channel for manufactured spend gift cards, several good options include SCO GC and TheCardBay. Shane at SCO GC announced this weekend that they’re onboarding more gift card resellers focused on MS, so email him at [email protected] with the subject “JOIN” to sign up if you need another outlet.

2. Danny points out that there’s a really, really great $1,500 sign-up bonus for the no-annual fee “AmaZing Business” Visa Card, provided you live in Colorado or in California. Too bad the scope is so limited on this one. Side note: what name is worse than Office Depot OfficeMax? The answer is clearly AmaZing Business. Why the capital Z in the middle friends? WHY?

3. I had a request from reader Jeff for email subscriptions to daily blog posts, because for some reason it seems that a few of you think it’s a good idea to give me a direct line into your inbox. In case that description resembles you, you can sign up on the Email Subscriptions page.

A weird ice cream sundae that looks like an animated character -- M&Ms for eyes and nose, licorice for a mouth, and bananas with raspberries for arms and an extra banana sprouting out of the top of its head.
This abomination is apparently the Sponge Bob embodiment of a triple. I can’t say I understand, but I can say definitively that it’s scary.

Valentine’s Day shopping portal bonuses have arrived just in time for, err, Valentine’s Day. The bonuses are actually at high multiples for this time of the year, but they’re also low total payout so overall bang for the buck doesn’t quite reach the “11” setting.

  • Southwest, 1,000 miles for spending $300, or 500 miles for spending $100
  • AA, 500 miles for spending $150
  • United, 500 miles for spending $150
  • Alaska, 500 miles for spending $150

I would definitely hit the Southwest version of this first, or if you’re only going to do one, make it that one — you can buy a single Visa or Mastercard gift card at Giftcards.com for $100 and get effectively 5.5x plus the credit card spend, and the virtual Mastercard variety works really well in lots of “from home” techniques.

A dial with the label "VOLUME I" and settings between 0 and 11. The dial is pointed at 11.
Pictured: Better deals than this one.

In another part of my online life that’s not travel hacking related, the community has a tradition of summarizing the year in GIFs. It’s glorious my friends, trust me. Here’s my attempt for the us. Maybe this will be a New Years Eve tradition? Without further ado, here is travel hacking in 2020 in GIF form:

AA Shuts Down Mailer Churners

The AA Playbook:

  1. Suspend your account, but don’t tell you (whack)
  2. Error when you try and book a ticket, with no reason given (whack)
  3. Corporate didn’t tell CS agents what’s up, so they couldn’t help you (whack)
  4. Finally, they kill your account right before you’re scheduled to fly (big whack)

PayPal Key

PPK runs as a debit card pretty much everywhere, works with AmEx backed card, and worked with Plastiq, Melio, and tax payments.


Rakuten Pays out 15x on GiftCards.com

The 15x deal that lasted for a few hours was clearly not intentional, but Rakuten paid at the end of Q1 2020.


Brian Kelly/TPG Expose in Business Insider

Cocaine, harassment, intrigue? No one, I mean, no one saw this coming.


Citi ThankYou Points can be Redeemed for Gift Cards

Get your $25 Walmart gift cards here I guess. But only if they’re in stock, and only if the system is working, and only if you have the right type of ThankYou Points.


FQF Launches a Podcast

Now when does the IndyFinance alter ego come out? That’s where the literal money is.


George Popadopoulis is Pardoned

Ok, so the TravelBloggerBuzz supreme overlord wasn’t that George, but still.


Vinh Sells a Garage Full of Kayaks

Literally a garage full. Vinh shows us that there’s always someone reaching further than you.


Being lol/24 when Chase Offers are at an All-Time High, Watching Newbies get the Bonuses

It sure looks warm inside the Chase house, with their Freedom Flexes, World of Hyatts, and Sapphire Reserves.


Amex Unicorn Platinum

  • 10x at Gas and Grocery
  • 100,000 point sign up bonus, even for people who already had the bonus in the past

I still can’t believe that deal.


Air Canada Refuses Refunds for Cancelled Flights

They even ignored the DOT for a moment.


US Mint WWII Gold Coins Resells for over $1,000 Profit

… and $1,000 is on the low end of the spectrum. The flip side of the coin (hah!) is you probably couldn’t buy them because their website was running on a Raspberry Pi 3 which was spec’d to handle approximately 12 requests per minute.


Saverocity Observation Deck Records its Last Episode

I was late to the game on this podcast for no good reason, but I’m still sad none-the-less. At least there are the archives.


BestBuy Gift Cards Reselling Magic, until Black Friday

You could sell BestBuy gift cards for most of the year at 98% or more of face value. That is, until the Black Friday hiccup smacked us in the face. The market was performing so perfectly until…

… at least now it’s going again, but we’ve all got a black eye and a bruised ego.


Cancelling a Dozen Trips due to COVID

Shoot ’em down, one right after the other.


Road Trips are the new Black

Corona meant more time on the road with the family, in makeshift RVs (or real RVs if you’re bougie).


I get my First PingBack to a Blog Post

Sorry, you’ll have to find it yourself. I guess if someone links to you on the internet it means you’ve arrived though, right?


Alaska Airlines Travel Bank to Miles

Alaska Airlines let you convert banked travel wallet funds to miles twice this year.


AmEx RAT Seeing Plastiq Payments with PPK/AmEx

Yo dawg, I heard you like AmEx, so I let you pay your AmEx with an Amex, so you could earn points while you get shutdown. Bad news though, the Rewards Abuse Team (RAT) didn’t like it.


I have to summarize 2020 travel hacking in about a dozen GIFs.

I didn’t plan on this until last minute, and I had no notes about what happened in 2020.


I’m sure I missed plenty of significant 2020 events, but hey, this was a last minute post that ended up taking a few hours to put together, so hard cheese if I missed your favorite. Next year I’ll take notes though.

I was sad when MileNerd.com effectively shut down around Christmas 2018, because we lost something precious in the frequent flyer community. His site had a simple message: “Just the most miles in the fewest words possible.” As far as I know, we as a community have nothing like that anymore … at least not until now.

My goal is to try and be a new iteration of MileNerd with lots of signal and little noise. I’m probably not as funny as he is, as shorted winded as he is, or as plugged in to the community as he is but — Ok, there is no but.

To a bright future!