“I used to think frequent flyer miles were a scam, but they’re not!”

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Welcome to the next interview in our interview series where renowned mile and point gurus share their insights on having Big Travel with Small Money!

Miles & Points Interview:  How to Fly for Free 

Scott is a travel writer who blogs on Huffington Post Travel and wrote an e-book called How To Fly For Free: Practical Tips The Airlines Don’t Want You To Know so I was looking forward to our chat on Friday!

How to Fly for Free – Interview with Scott

Enjoying a Beer at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

For the longest time, I thought frequent flyer miles were a scam designed to get people to pay more than the cheapest fare possible in order to fly a preferred airline.  Luckily for my future self, I just so happened to be signed into my American Airlines account when I would buy tickets to fly back and forth to California for school, so by the time I started realizing the benefits that miles had to offer, I already had around 50,000 American Airlines miles in the bank.

I’ve always loved to travel, but when I finished grad school and got my first job in early 2010, I developed an acute case of wanderlust.  I work at a nonprofit and don’t make much money, so I could never afford to travel the world using my meager bank account.  The answer, I soon realized, was using frequent flyer miles to my benefit. I’ve amassed over 1.4 million miles since then and spend too much of my waking day imagining where they’ll take me!

Why did you start your blog?  What’s special about it?

I wrote How To Fly For Free: Practical Tips The Airlines Don’t Want You To Know because I typically take 2-3 international vacations a year, and every time I returned friends would pepper me with the same two questions: “how can you possibly afford to travel so much?” and “how do I take cool, free trips too?” I would try to explain that I wouldn’t be able to afford to see the world if I had to pay for my flights.  “I used to think frequent flyer miles were a scam, but they’re not!”

I would implore, to little avail.  Their doubt would soon turn into apathy, and before you know it they’re back to paying out-of-pocket for expensive flights (or complaining that they never go anywhere).

I realized quickly that most people don’t want to take the time and effort to become an expert.  They just want to take an awesome vacation for free!

Plenty of frequent flyer books promise to teach you how to get the cheapest airfare possible.  But tips like “get an airlines credit card” or “try to fly the same carrier each time” aren’t terribly useful.  These broad overviews are about as helpful as teaching someone to play soccer by instructing them to “kick the ball towards the goal.”

That’s why I ended up writing How To Fly For Free: to give people who aren’t wealthy hyper-practical tips for traveling the world.

What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?

Clearly, credit card bonus offers are the best way to quickly amass miles.  But at the risk of rehashing what most readers here already know, I’d like to offer a tip that is perhaps less well-known.

If you’re like me and don’t travel for a living, the perks of elite status, including bonus miles every time you fly, might seem unattainable.  However, if you’ve got almost any international flight coming up, you can actually use it to become an elite flyer.  Here’s how.

American Airlines and US Airways allow a secret shortcut called a “status challenge” where, instead of flying the necessary 25,000 miles in a year to become an elite flyer, you just have to fly a shorter amount in three months.  For American, it’s 5,000 points in three months and for US Airways it’s 7,500 miles (or 10 segments) in three months.

So if you’ve got an upcoming flight from, say, New York to Rome (a distance of 8,500 miles), you can register for a status challenge beforehand and become an elite flyer the moment you set foot back in the states.

Unfortunately, it costs $140 to register for American and $200 for US Airways, but for many people this is a small price to pay to get the countless perks of elite status for the next 14+ months, including free checked bags, priority check-in at security, early boarding, seat upgrades, 25 percent bonus miles, and standby fees waived.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

How to Fly for Free – Interview with Scott

Scott at the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands, hands-down.  I had a friend living on the islands and I had some unused vacation days set to expire, so the timing was perfect.  The only thing standing in the way of snorkeling with sea lions was a $1600 plane ticket. I can’t afford that!

Instead, I called up American Airlines to book an award flight.  The agent I spoke with didn’t even think it was possible to get there on miles, because American only flies to mainland airports in Ecuador like Guayaquil.  However, I remembered that LAN was in the same airline alliance (Oneworld) as American, so I should be able to book a ticket to the Galapagos just using my American miles.

Sure enough, after I mentioned this to the telephone agent and suggested a few suitable flights, she apologized for the oversight and booked a roundtrip flight from Washington DC to the Galapagos (via Guayaquil) for just 35,000 miles.

The trip itself was incredible.  Iguanas and blue-footed boobies roam everywhere on the islands and the food is as cheap as it is fresh.  You haven’t lived until you’ve prepared ceviche with some freshly-caught wahoo that cost a dollar, and washed it down with fresh-squeezed passionfruit juice.

If you ever get a chance to go, I highly recommend going snorkeling in “los tuneles”, underwater tunnels formed by a volcano eruption.  As soon as you get in the water, sea lions come up and start playing, swimming circles around you and making you chase after them.  Ridiculously fun!

What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?

Early on few believed that I could actually pull off my goal of never paying for international flights again for the rest of my life (unless there’s an absolute steal of a deal).  Now, with free trips to the Galapagos Islands, Belgium, Dominican Republic, and elsewhere in the books, that disbelief has morphed into jealousy among most my friends.  After all, who doesn’t want to travel the world for free? Among family and close friends, many went from thinking it’s a silly hobby to immense gratitude after I was able to bring them along on free trips using miles, bumped vouchers, or Southwest’s companion pass.

Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?

Most of the cheap flights I’ve found, I owe to a single Twitter feed: @airfarewatchdog.  Airfarewatchdog does an incredible job of tweeting out links to cheap fares and showing flights to/from different cities when intermittent sales pop up. Monitoring it obsessively is key, because when you see a truly great deal, you have to act fast.

The best airfare deals last a few hours at most because they tend to either be a mistake fare (someone at the airline pricing desk screwed up) or a short-term sale with an extremely limited number of seats available.  Strike while the iron’s hot because it won’t last long.  Sales like $250 roundtrip to Europe come along maybe twice a year, so jump on it if you can.

What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?

Letting airlines know about minor imperfections on their airplanes can net you thousands and thousands of miles.  For instance, I recently flew American Airlines from the Dominican Republic to Miami and the picture on the closest TV kept flashing in and out.  I emailed American Airlines after the flight to let them know that I didn’t care because I was just reading my book, but I figure they’d want to know about the problem so they can fix it for future passengers who might want to watch.

A couple days later, a profuse apology showed up in my inbox along with 2,500 miles deposited in my account as a gesture of goodwill!  Kudos, American Airlines.

What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?

Strategizing about which credit cards to get when I began seriously accumulating miles.  My very first card was an American Airlines Citi Card that had a measly 30,000-point sign-up bonus.  Silly me just went on Citi’s website and saw what cards they publicly offered instead of consulting blogs like Million Mile Secrets to figure out which card offered the most points.

This naïve move cost me my shot at his infamous two-browser trick and tens of thousands of potential miles.  From that moment forward, I vowed not to let my lack of awareness cost me huge miles and have worked diligently to stay abreast of the best current offers.

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

I’ve amassed 1.4 million miles in the past two years, but I’ve only ever paid for two credit cards.  We all have arbitrary lines we draw for ourselves, and paying for credit cards is mine.  For whatever reason, I don’t want to cross that line where I start applying for credit cards that don’t waive their annual fee in the first year.  (I made an exception for two Southwest credit cards in order to get the Companion Pass, but as the unquestioned most valuable travel hack, especially for traveling couples, it was well worth it.)

I’ve only actually flown a few hundred thousand miles in my life; nearly all the rest of my miles have come from credit cards with waived annual fees.

Any parting words?

How to Fly for Free – Interview with Scott

La Playita beach on the Samana Peninsula

Never pay credit card annual fees!  There are far too many good cards out there to make it worth it to pay $100+ just to keep open one particular card.  You’ve already received your sign-up bonus, and the points-per-dollar-spent is rarely a good deal.  Just open a different card with a new sign-up bonus!

Here’s what I recommend.  A few weeks before the anniversary of when you signed up, look on the back of your credit card and call the phone number listed there.  Point to your impeccable record of on-time payments and tell them you’d like to have the annual fee waived for the next year.  Every time but one I’ve done this, the agent has agreed to waive the annual fee.

If the agent won’t get rid of the fee, ask her if she can downgrade you to a card that doesn’t have an annual fee.  American Express, for instance, lets you downgrade your Starwood card to a no-fee Blue Sky card.  Closing a credit card dings your credit score a couple points, so you should only take this option if you can’t get the annual fee waived and can’t get your card downgraded.

Scott– Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!

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34 responses to ““I used to think frequent flyer miles were a scam, but they’re not!”

  1. Fun to read. I’ve been thinking about writing an e book and doing a fun little video like you have on my site. Seems like you beat me to it 😉 Looks great! Thanks for the easy read!

  2. So this week’s “blogger” has written three Huffington post articles, sells an e-book for $4.99, and does not blog. Why did you bother interviewing him again?

  3. When is the best time to visit Galapagos Island? December or July to see the animals

  4. ” Closing a credit card dings your credit score a couple points, so you should only take this option if you can’t get the annual fee waived and can’t get your card downgraded.”

    that’s an untrue statement.

    The closure of a credit card has no impact on your credit score.

    If it represented a large percentage of your available credit. the associated decrease in available credit could drop your credit score.
    But if it’s a 3-5k limit, and you have 100k+ credit available to you. closing the card MIGHT drop your score 1 point.
    Might go up too.

    the better advice would be to try to allocate the credit line to a different card, then close it.

    Don’t worry about the noise associated with closing a credit card. that’s silly.

  5. Ditto what Steve said, which is thorough and accurate. Unfortunately Scott is offering incorrect and potentially damaging advice as it relates to account closures.

  6. You haven’t lived until you’ve prepared ceviche with some freshly-caught wahoo that cost a dollar, and washed it down with fresh-squeezed passionfruit juice.

    No, I’m pretty sure I’ve lived, and I haven’t done that.

    But good on you for monetizing information that other people produced, and that can be found many places for free.

  7. OMG ! Such total ignorance about cc fees vs benefits. Paying $95 for a British Airways card, with a sign up bonus of 50K Avios giving you a round trip Business class award on Air Lingus from the East Coast to Ireland, is surely worth it. Not to mention that previously you could have gotten 100K for the same fee.

    Another obvious one is the $79 fee for a Hawaiian Airlines card with 35K sign up bonus miles, which turn into 70K Hilton points, giving you two free nights in category 5 properties. I have a room reserved in Munich next year at the Park Hilton during the opening weekend of Octoberfest. 2 nights worth $960 at the “special event” rate, for 70K points, which cost me $79 in a cc fee. With free breakfast and internet from being Gold with Hilton, I call that a tremendous bargain.

    And the Southwest card only of value for the companion pass? $835 of free flights for a sign up fee of $69 is surely an incredible deal, pass or no pass ! I’m also paying $49 to renew my Priority card, which is good for a free night at any IHG hotel worldwide for a year. Last year that meant a $500 a night suite at the Crowne Plaza in Bruges, Belgium. On an award stay ! I got that upgrade to a suite by being Platinum with Priority simply from having the card. A “free” night with a suite upgrade is totally worth $49 to me…..

    Sorry to be so harsh, but this is probably the most ignorant and damaging piece of mis-information I have seen published on any travel blog. Anyone who follows this nonsense is costing themselves hundreds of thousands of points and miles, and ignoring many MMS links which benefit Daraius and Emily. For damage control, the next MMS post should be a discrete “Why paying fees for CCs is a smart thing to do”….

    On a more postive note, Scott has at least finally figured out that “frequent flyer points and miles are not a scam”. Good to know… 😀

  8. Getting kind of harsh, no? I don’t agree about not paying an annual fee that is not waived the first year. There are many offers where it’s definitely worth it as noted. I do agree that it is only in certain situations that I’d want to pay an annual fee on renewal. To each his own.

    I think it does depend on what stage you’ve reached in the hobby. Early on, it makes sense to go for the waived fee cards, fly economy, etc. Starting out you can only clear so much spend and you only have so many miles you can get and use, so do it as cheaply as possible. At some point, probably reached by Scott by now, you start to build up larger balances; learn more techniques for getting and using miles; and the opportunities that open up with fee cards, premium travel and the like become more enticing.

  9. Thanks for the feedback, y’all!

    I think folks can have a genuine disagreement about whether annual credit card fees are worth it. It mostly depends on what baseline alternative you’re comparing it to. If you would stay an IHG property anyway, then obviously it’s better value to pay the $49 credit card fee and get the free night rather than the $500 nightly fee. However, if your goal is to minimize your overall costs, then you can find plenty of unbranded hotels/lodging situations that would cost you less than whatever a card’s annual fee is.

    Many folks on MMS and elsewhere value staying in world-class properties and living the high-life. That’s great! My speed (and I think it’s the same for some others) is more to travel on the cheap than travel in luxury. I suspect there are plenty others (particularly among young folks) looking for that as well.

  10. Robert, I don’t think it’s total ignorance about not paying annual fee for a sign up bonus. NO DOUBT, Scott is aware that paying $95 is well worth 50,000 Avios points. I believe what he’s saying is that there are so many c.c. deals out there with no annual fee (or annual fee waived the first year), why bother paying $95 for another 50,000 points being the fact that he has over 1.4 million points and doesn’t really “need” so many more at this time to justify the out of pocket expense. He can do fine getting slightly less signups without any out of pocket expense and has an abundance of miles/points with this strategy. He’s really trying to do it completely FREE. I am in 100% the same boat as Robert, I have not applied for a single card that has an annual fee, and i’m sitting on over 2.5 million points (my wife and mine combined) even after taking about 5 or 6 trips this past year and have not paid a penny on an annual fee. I DID consider the $95 for Avios, but I have close to 400,000 already, it’ll take a long time to use those for flying 25000 round trip points hawaii and 9000 point round trip ski trips to Utah and 15000 round trip ski trip to Whistler. So at this time, I’m not in dire need of another 50000 Avios and spending $95.

    As Dave said, it probably matters at what stage in the hobby you’re at. If a person is just starting and doesn’t have a ton of miles yet, then for sure $95 for 50000 Avios is totally worth it for short-haul trips. So i disagree that it’s the most ignorant and damaging info posted. It’s different for everyone depending on their individual situations.

  11. Geesh. The intolerant Miles and Points Info. Police are out in force around here. Always makes me wonder why these people spend time reading blogs that they believe give out so much misinformation instead of just moving on. Maybe even start writing their own blog of pure and perfect miles information. I guess armchair critiquing is more fun for them. Takes a lot less work, that’s for sure.
    Oh, and I just have to mention to Harvson up there that when someone says “you haven’t lived until…” they are usually not meaning it literally. But congrats on achieving the pinnacle of dumb critique.
    Thanks Scott for the time you took to answer these questions. You’ve put the Galapagos Islands on my map of potential destinations.

  12. Guiness Brewery in the photo? Actually it’s the Guiness Storehouse-the onetime brewery- and the bar where you partake of the glass of Guiness included in the price of the tour.

  13. Correction in my post above, I meant to say, “I am in 100% the same boat as Scott…” not Robert.

  14. @Chris I read this blog for the excellent content from Daraius and Emily. But I do take offense when some so-called expert gives bad advice, such as not ever canceling your credit cards out of a mistaken fear it will hurt your credit rating. Eventually, if you don’t cancel some credit, you will reach a point where no one will give you any new cards.

    @ Peter I’m afraid I just don’t believe Scott’s boast of getting 1.4 Million miles in two years while paying for only the two Southwest cards. Which, of course, don’t even give you miles, they give you Southwest POINTS. He got the Citi AA 30K card, so no double browser 100K x2 cards for him. Going over the MMS Airlines and Business ccs pages, assuming he got all 8 of the Chase cards, which one could possibly do in two years, I come up with around 400K miles total for no-fee first year cards. But only if he got every possible card….

    Now if we assume that Scott is really sloppy about his language, and really meant airline miles and hotel points combined, not just miles, adding up all of the first year free points cards I come up with another 200K hotel points and 100K Southwest points. Which comes out to 800K miles and points. So, just over one third of the miles he claims. Or just over half of the miles and points together, if that’s what he meant. I really don’t think he did all of this: 4 Chase business cards without a real business, 100k paid miles on mistake fare mattress runs, etc.

    Even assuming he did somehow do most of this, the most he could have gotten is 1/3 of the miles he claims, or 1/2 of the miles and points combined. But since he admits he started out so ignorant of the travel hacking game that he that he only got 30K with Citi AA cards, when my wife and I have gotten 300K AA miles each from Citi AA cards in the same time frame, I sincerely doubt he got anywhere near this theoretical maximum miles and points claim.

    Once again, assuming he did somehow manage all of this starting out knowing so little, it begs the deeper question. Is this the best strategy for readers of this blog, or even Huffpost? Perhaps if one is single, and has friends in the Galapagos to stay with for free, is willing to stay in hostels, and fly transatlantic in coach, this makes sense. Most of us have significant others and do not want to spend our vacations in hostels or sleeping on friends couches. We don’t really want to be crammed into the middle seat in coach for an 8 hour + flight. We relish a nice hotel room. If we are going to take the time off work to travel to Belgium, we would be more than willing to pay $49 for a night in a Crowne Plaza suite.

    It’s just absurd to be telling readers of this blog to forgo all of the hundreds of thousands of miles and points, much of which can be churned over and over, just because there is a fairly minimal annual fee. And to suggest that we downgrade our SPG cards, which Gary and Lucky continually call one of the best cards in existence to put regular spend on, to a Blue card which one can use to cash in 7,500 points for a $100 gift card, but will never get enough points for an International coach ticket… Again, some of the worst advice I’ve ever read on a travel blog.

    I haven’t even mentioned that my total of all possible miles acquired without any fees means that one’s miles are spread out over a number of programs, making it difficult to use them for coach International, much less Premium International travel. 30K in AA, 30K with Delta, and 35 with Frontier will not get one R/T to Europe or Asia. Orlando, yes, but not T/A. Only the United cards, personal and business, combined get you enough miles R/T to Europe. But Scott said 3 International trips a year. From my calculations, one can only get enough miles and points to do 3 Int. trips a year for the first year. Only one of which is T/A, the rest have to be Central America. Then you are out of miles, and the cards you could otherwise churn over and over all have a fee, so you can’t get them.

    Now for what Scott didn’t tell us, but did reveal on his Huffpost blog:

    “He personally travels around 100,000 miles per year”. Oh, and from the sample chapter of his book “I have a full-time job that requires some travel”. No wonder he was willing to pay to challenge AA for Gold status. Being Gold means that 100K miles travel a year gives him 125K award miles. In two years of travel for his job, he would have earned 250K award miles. And we know he doesn’t do that 100K with award travel, since r/t Chicago to Paris is around 8,500 miles. That nearly 12 roundtrips, and he says he only takes 3 International trips a year. This really, really does not add up. Either he is greatly exaggerating how many miles he flys a year, or how many award miles he has gotten in the last 2 years. Or probably both…

    I could be wrong, but I strongly suspect that Scott saw this from About Daraius:

    “I have earned and redeemed millions of airline miles and hotel points to travel the world for free. Now I’m blogging to help more people do the same!”

    And Scott assumed this claim was required to have any credibility as a travel blogger. So he made it up. His lousy advice about not getting cards with any fee, downgrading SPG to Blue, etc. certainly doesn’t lead me to think he knows anywhere near enough about the travel game to be called a “renowned mile and point guru”.

  15. @Chris Of course Harvson3 understands the meaning of “you haven’t lived until”… He just doesn’t find that particular thing something to rhapsodise over. To each his own, you know?

    Ever heard of Charles Darwin? If you are just now finding out about the Galapagos Islands as an adventure travel destination, you are exactly the type of reader Scott is perfect for….

  16. @chris – Oh, and I just have to mention to Harvson up there that when someone says “you haven’t lived until…” they are usually not meaning it literally.
    Thank you for clarifying that for me. I went and looked up “rhetorical devices” in the OED, and it appears that you are correct.

  17. @Peter I mean this sincerely, really I do. If what you posted is accurate: “I have not applied for a single card that has an annual fee, and i’m sitting on over 2.5 million points (my wife and mine combined) even after taking about 5 or 6 trips this past year and have not paid a penny on an annual fee” then I hope Daraius will interview you next. And not ask the stock question “What got you started”, but how did you get so many points and miles with not a single annual fee card?

    That would put you way above even the miles and points earning skill of Daraius and Gary, who rely on fee cards for most of their earnings. As I said above, I tried to add it up, and I can’t find how to do it. Even with fabulous credit, and a mastery of travel hacking, I just don’t see how to manage even getting that many miles and points. Much less having that many left after 5 or 6 free trips.

    If you want to post how to do that I am ready to read all about it ! Unless your answer is to have kept 5 million dollars on deposit in BankDirect for the past 10 years; in which case congratulations on your financial success, but never mind posting about it. But I’m hoping it’s something else, and I will be checking back here to see if you are willing to share how you did it.

  18. @harvson3-glad I could be of help. Appeared you needed it. lol
    @RobertH. – Wow. Scott’s personal advice seems to have really touched a nerve with your all-knowing authority on the subject of credit and miles. But it is sort of interesting how your “each to his own” advice is selectively applied. I’m not an actual doctor but considering your lengthy posts I’m pretty sure a chill pill might help you out here. lol

  19. It’s really amazing how something as simple and innocent as interviewing a guy about how he travels for free really brings out the trolls. It makes me sad for those trolls…and for the internet as a whole. I found it to be an interesting interview as the Friday interviews usually are. Everyone has their own way of doing things, and that’s okay!

  20. Still waiting for Peter and Scott to explain how they got literally Millions of miles without any ccs with fees. Scott’s answer is apparently “buy my book”, and I guess Peter can’t be bothered to back up his claims.

    To each his own only applies to whether or not you like ceviche, not to giving out damaging advice and clearly wrong information while proclaiming yourself an expert.

  21. @Robert Hanson, great points. Trolling and searching for veracity among possibly mendacious claims are 2 different things.

    1.4mm is so many. Over 3 years and getting every single card, mAybe. For instance, a 4 card churn at 50k miles is 200k miles plus maybe 20k in spending. 4x a year that’s 800k miles. Multiplied twice, that’s 1.6mm. However, he freely admitted he screwed around and didn’t maximize all his card applications. So I’m lost as well

  22. downgrading Starwood to blue is a bad idea, the low $65 annual fee on the card is ridiculously low to begin with. Also with Amex Sync it’s VERY easy to recoup your annual fee with everyday spending. Every Amex with a separate number (all acm/au accounts) for directly issued from Amex gets a separate account number, which all qualifies. From my BCP Amex I got $125 back from small business Saturday alone. 5 accounts under my 1 card for my family for groceries. Not to mention other deals that each card can qualify for with promotions with Sync. I also got $100 gift certificate for $75 at Costco and much much more!

  23. @Joe Well, yes, but that “4 card churn at 50k miles…. 4x a year” just doesn’t exist in fee free cards. Sure the SPG card is free the first year, but try to get multiple SPG cards each 3 month churn. Not going to happen. Even applying for one of each type of AMEX fee free cards per churn, meaning 8 to 12 AMEX cards a year, is going to trigger a financial review. I doubt someone with a self described low income job at a non-profit is going to pass that for multiple AMEX cards of the same type.

    BofA Hawaiian and Alaska cards are churnable, but 32 of them in two years? No way…. My calculation is that by very agressive churning, one could get around half of the number of award miles that Scott is claiming, but 300K of those miles would be from the Citi AA cards thru the double browser trick, and Scott admits he only got 30K from a single Citi AA card.

    Scott is claiming to have gotten as many or more award miles than Daraius, but without getting any miles cards with fees, and without getting the 2 100K Citi AA cards even once. All within a mere 2 years, during which time he admits he was just beginning to learn how to travel hack.

    I frankly think this is a bogus claim, made up to help sell his book. I encourage Scott to come back here and list the fee free cards he got over that 2 year period that resulted in 1.4 mm. If he does, I will certainly apologize for the comments I’ve made about him. But I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for him to do that !

  24. @DAE Exactly, since the SPG card is an AMEX, you can get $25 back thru Small Business Saturday, and another $25 on the Costco gift card, dropping your actual cost to $15. When you consider that 20K Starwood points convert to 25K miles with most airlines, it’s just crazy to get rid of that card to simply save $15.

  25. Robert,
    I don’t think me or Scott or anyone “owes” you a detailed explanation of the points they’ve acquired as your skeptical & arrogant posts imply. Even others are telling you to take a chill pill. I don’t see what benefit it is of anyone here to be posting things that are not true. I don’t normally post things, but could relate to Scott quite well as he and I appear have the same strategies or ‘goals’ of not applying for cards with an annual fee and I decided to post something to confirm what he is doing as I am doing the same thing since it seemed some (such as yourself) had some doubt.

    I don’t profess to be an expert by any means, and nothing near Gary, Darius, etc. Most of the bloggers acquire millions of points and often write about traveling in business or first class and acquiring all the different elite statuses. For flights, I probably will never use my points on business or first class because that’s not where I find value, I am perfectly content with a free economy ticket and the ability to use less points and travel more places as my personal goal is to have little to no out of pocket expense whatsoever. I will not do a mileage run as I do not want to pay for a ticket, even on a mistake fare, nor is it worth my time. For others, they have different goals, so it may well be worth it to them. Everyone has different degrees of utility and opportunity cost (go look up those economic terms if you don’t know what I’m talking about), so what might be worth it and make sense for one person, might not be worth it or make sense for another depending on their own individual situations, goals, and utility.

    I don’t know when you got into collecting miles, but in 2010 and 2011 there were MUCH higher bonuses than there are now and several promotions that you may never see again, which I and may others took full advantage of. I am not going to list out everything, because I don’t want to waste the time to try and figure out where all my miles/points came from. All I know is I haven’t paid a single annual fee and I keep track and make sure I get every promotion that I applied for.

    Citibank (Visa 75k, Amex 75k, Business 75k) *2 for wife = 450,000 right there on 6 cards
    Capital One (100k, 70k) – when they matched up to 100k in any of your mileage accounts
    Chase Sapphire Preferred (50k *2) +7% dividend at year end
    Ink Bold (50k*2)
    Amex PRG (75K *2) + (40k *2 for Columbia university promotion error) + (50K*2 for 10k points per authorized user up to 5 users on each account) + (10k *2 for extended payment enrolment), + (10k * 2 for Amex tool bar)
    Amex Business Gold (100k *2)
    Marriott (70k * 2)
    Barclays (40K * 2) + (10k *2 Grand slam game) + (10k * 2 anniversary bonus)
    Citi Thank you (50K *2)
    Priority Club 80k
    SPG 35k
    United (50K * 2)
    Delta Personal (40K + 35K)
    Delta Business 35K
    and a bunch more, these are the ones off the top of my head.

    I also get 1500 Thank you points on each of my wife’s and my Citigold accounts just for having the accounts. I took advantage of the Amex British Airways 50% transfer bonus last year and transferred a boat load of points there and got over 100k bonus points and transferred about 40000 more poonts with the current 30% bonus which is why i have close to 400k in Avios. I also did a 50% Delta transfer bonus from AMEX and they had a 66.7% bonus one time too in the form a voucher or something they gave 8 weeks later. I’m sure if you add all the above up, it’s well over 2m points and I didn’t even list them all.

    To add icing to the cake, from several of those cards I got statement credits (same as cold hard cash) ($150 on each of 4 of the Citibank Cards, $75 on each of the Marriott, $400 from a Barclays NFL and $70 from one of the Citibank business cards. So not only have I not paid an annual fee, i’ve pocketed about $1150 in cash. Well maybe $1135 as I had to make an AA purchase in order to get the $150 credit so bought some $5 snacks on a flight.

    Also, when I say i haven’t paid an annual fee, it doesn’t mean i haven’t applied for a card that carries an annual fee, but the ones I’ve applied for are all WAIVED the first year. I’ve never applied for one where i’ve actually had to pay the first year fee.

    Anyway, I’m sure many would appreciate if you lighten up your attitude. Rather than be skeptical and implying people are not telling the truth, you should appreciate the bloggers that take the time to daily update their blogs with lots of beneficial information that help so many of us acquire more points than we would if their blogs weren’t around.

  26. @Peter: Thanks for responding.

    “you should appreciate the bloggers that take the time to daily update their blogs” Well, I do appreciate them. But Scott has only 3 Huff posts, hardly constituting “daily updates”, and of course a book for sale. Criticizing Scott’s lousy advice hardly means I don’t appreciate the work that Daraius, Gary, MP and Lucky do that benefits us all.

    “Even others are telling you to take a chill pill”. Yes, a couple did, but others have agreed with me, and I don’t think taking a vote on the popularity of my comments has anything to do with their validity. Along with that I only use one name for my comments, so if you know you don’t like my take on things, you can of course skip over my comments. Nobody makes you read them.

    “All I know is I haven’t paid a single annual fee” And yet you list a Barclays 10K anniversary bonus. I’m assuming you mean for your US Air card, which would be a $89 fee for both you and your wife. So unless I misunderstood you, you just admitted your “not a single fee” statement is false. Or did you somehow get the very cranky Barclays to waive both of your renewal fees and still give both of you the renewal bonus? I suppose that’s possible, but it seems very doubtful to me.

    My main criticism of Scott’s interview was that he claimed to have gotten 1.44 Million MILES, not points, but MILES, without paying cc fees. On his own, not including miles from his wife or significant other. In just the last 2 years. While learning how this whole game works as he went along. As opposed to say Gary, who has been writing about this for over 10 years. Gary probably did get that many miles, but he uses fee based cards, books travel for others that gets him miles, and has business spend that gets him even more miles.

    In this regard, Marriott, Priority, and Hilton points are irrelevant. Valuable for sure, but they are not miles, they are points.

    Secondly, as you mention, there have been super deals in the past that we will never see again, from endless monthly churning of Citi AA cards, to coins from the mint, to 100K Citi AA cards. Scott’s advice is to avoid any ccs with fees NOW. So what used to be available but will never be again hardly counts in the discussion. His advice is about what to do now.

    Adding in what your wife got really confuses the issue. We are talking about what an individual can do. Sure, if you have 4 adult children and two grandparents living at home, you can all get British cards, pool those BA Avios in a family account and get a much higher mileage balance. But then you have to divide up the awards between all of you, so how is that relevant? Same thing with statement credits. I too got Amex statement credits from Small Business Saturday, $125 in fact this year, but that has nothing to do with how many MILES I’ve acquired.

    I added up what you listed, and you’ve done very well.

    “I’m sure if you add all the above up, it’s well over 2m points and I didn’t even list them all”. NO, in terms of miles, I come up with around 1mm, even including some things I just don’t understand. Such as a 40K “Columbia university promotion error”. And 3 Delta cards, which must no longer exist, since I can only find 1 free Delta card, the 2 others have sizable fees. Perhaps they used to be fee waived first year, and no longer are, I don’t know.

    I don’t know what to make of the 100K Amex Business Gold, since it currently doesn’t have any bonus points at all. Nor of 75K for the Amex PRG, which currently gives out only 40K, and even that requires $30,000 of spend to get it. But since I can’t be sure these Amex and Delta no fee cards weren’t available within the last two years, I’m counting them.

    All of this is in relation to my questioning of Scott’s claim of 1.44mm. He admitted he only got 30K from Citi AA cards. But those cards account for nearly 25% of your mileage total. I too have gotten 250K miles from Citi AA cards, but Scott didn’t. Deducting the Citi miles Scott didn’t get, your total would come in about 750K, which is about the amount I originally said a very aggressive travel hacker could get without paying any fees, and without the huge Citi AA bonus.

    Assuming you didn’t pay Barclays a renewal fee, which if you did drops it another 40K. Of course, if we were to limit this discussion to what is available today, we would have to also deduct 150K of Amex, and 75K Amex transfer bonus, along with 75K Delta miles that are not currently offered without a fee. Which would give you a total of somewhere around 400K miles if you started today. While Scott didn’t actually say you could amass 1.44mm in a 2 year period starting today, he certainly didn’t put in any YMMV disclaimer.

    As much as I appreciate your response, I don’t see anything in it that could possibly add to the likelihood that Scott, while just learning this game and without the incredibile Citi AA bonuses, was able to earn twice the miles you did. Based on your history with miles and points, I’d be far more likely to buy your book than Scott’s. 😀

  27. Can you elaborate on elite status challenges? I’ve found: http://thepointsguy.com/2012/07/us-airline-status-match-and-challenge-information/

    In October, parents booked international trip that will be 8,000 miles each way on AA. They’ve completed first part. Returning in January. Would they be able to do the challenge for gold status?

    If I want to get elite status, what’s best/cheapest way to get one on one alliance and have another alliance match? Would getting elite for January 2013 last intil Jan 2014?

  28. Robert,
    When I say I haven’t paid an annual fee, I mean exactly that. I gather you are not aware that when a card you have applied for that has an annual fee waived the first year, charges you in the 2nd year, you have normally 60 days to cancel to get a full refund of that fee. Subsequent to that, if you cancel, they will prorate your refund of the annual fee. So for the USAirways, it seems they gave my wife and I the anniversary bonus even before the annual fee was charged. After it was charged, I still waited almost 2 months before cancelling the card and getting a refund, so as to reduce the likelihood of them clawing back the miles.

    Not sure about others, but when I talk about miles & points, I just consider them synonymnous so I use them interchangeably.

    To me, the statement credits sure ARE relevant. They were part of the credit card SIGN UP bonus. Spend x number of dollars in 3 or 4 months and get “y” number of points AND “z” statement credit. Your Amex small business from small business Saturday was not part of a credit card sign up bonus. The main point of the discussion here is the significant amount of points/miles you can acquire from cc signup bonuses, so I threw in that in addition to the many points/miles I got from signups, I also got some cash/statement credits as part of the signup.

    Also, it doesn’t matter what you make of it regarding the 100k Amex Business Gold and the 75k Personal Gold card, just because the current offers are NO WHERE close to those, doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. Like I said, no reason for me to put something i never got or never existed. Many people got those, too bad you didn’t because during that short period of time, they had some pretty lucrative offers. Awesome thing about it was it only had a $2k spend requirement. Like i said, i also got 100k points for adding 5 authorized users to each of our PRG accounts – a lot of people didn’t get that, but I talked to some supervisors and eventually they gave it to me after some persistence. You don’t know about the Columbia 40k Amex error, because you don’t know about the 75k PRG from 2010 and your which is when you would have had to get the card.. Not everyone got that, only certain ones that applied at a certain time.

    Also, i never said these Amex and Delta cards were NO FEE cards, I said they were cards that have / had the annual fee waived the first year. The delta I just got a few months ago as a matter of fact. I got Delta personal (35k) and business (35k) for myself, and Delta personal (40k (targeted offer in the mail)+ 5k referral) for my wife.

    I don’t have a book…

  29. Scott,

    Great post. I also have a family, and I look to travel on the cheap, which is different from the luxury travel that most blog about. I also look to avoid paying a fee for credit cards when possible.

    You have inspired me to travel to the Galapagos with my family. Thanks!


  30. @ Peter Too bad you don’t have a book, or even better a blog, since it seems I could learn a great deal from it. Merry Christmas….

  31. Robert,
    I don’t know nearly as much as these bloggers and much of the info I get is from these blog sites. Everyone has different goals and what makes them happy and where they find value in using their points/miles. Gotta be creative sometimes I guess. For me, it’s how much airfare/hotel/car rental i can get without any out of pocket expense. For someone else, it’s using points for business/first class and elite status etc and they’re willing to put a little out of pocket expense to attain that (mind you, the out of pocket expense is a fraction of what it would normally cost). So it really is to each their own. Well, good luck, happy holidays…

  32. Hey there. Great piece, and I’d love any help if you’re interested. I started this non profit after losing my dad to pancreatic cancer. I collect air miles and give them to people who cannot afford to visit loved ones dying of cancer. Any size donation would be great, and if you’d share my mission I’d be honored. Thanks, Matt.

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