There’s Always a Silver Lining: How I Earned Nearly 170,000 Points With AMEX Credit Cards After Nasty Unplanned Expenses Hit

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You know the saying:  When it rains, it pours.  I’m not gonna lie – the week leading up to Christmas was a deluge of unplanned, expensive “delights” that had me eager to get it done and over with.

First, my trusty, rusty, well-loved 15-year-old minivan decided to call it quits – an engine overheating, sputtering kind of death that would cost far more to repair than I was willing to spend on a vehicle of that age.  I knew it would come eventually, but hoped to squeeze the poor thing through until spring.  Instead I found myself with little time to find a reliable replacement for my family, and ended up making a hasty car purchase within a couple of days.

I got a decent deal, was able to put some of the down payment on an AMEX credit card (The Blue Business®️ Plus Credit Card from American Express), and put a 4,000-point dent in what I need for a future trip.  Meanwhile, the universe sensed I was feeling smug about that, because it decided it’d be fun to throw other pricey repairs into the mix.  You know, like a brand new furnace.  🤮

But I was able to open a new hotel credit card and knock out the minimum spending in one shot from the furnace purchase.  And earned another 162,000+ points plus a weekend night reward (worth potentially $1,000s in travel) in the meantime.

Buying a Minivan the Week Before Christmas Wasn’t Part of the Plan.  Neither Was a New Furnace Just Days Later

All of this tempted me to crawl under the covers and not emerge until after New Year.  But there’s solace in knowing I’ve earned a ton of points in the process of shelling out all this money.  That’s a benefit of credit card rewards I hadn’t thought of before.

When Life Hits You With Crummy Expenses, Credit Card Rewards Can Take Out the Sting

The end of the year is pricey for most of us given the holidays and all the expenses that come with it.  Even with careful planning, there’s no escaping the fact that December is hard on the pocketbook.  As life goes, this past December hit much harder than most.

I Earned 4,000 AMEX Membership Rewards Points Buying a Vehicle

My old minivan (a 2004 Kia Sedona) has served me well.  I picked it up used shortly after the birth of my middle child (she’s nearly 12), and it brought my youngest home from the hospital when he was born.  It’s carried us through tons of adventures and memories tooling around the US and Canada, and with just shy of 250,000 miles clocked, I can’t complain a bit.

I’m the frugal type who will drive a car into the ground if it costs less to repair it than buy a new one – I could give a hoot about bells and whistles or how a vehicle looks so long as it gets me from point A to B reliably with my kids.  Also, I’ll never buy a brand new car (made that mistake in the past, never again!).  Apart from routine maintenance and the usual wear-and-tear repairs (brakes, tires, and such) this vehicle has been outstanding for my family.  It’s been looking pretty worn for the past couple of years (hello, rust and wear from winters and salt in Upstate New York) but it’s kept on going nicely… until recently.

So Long, Farewell – We Shed a Few Tears Saying Goodbye to the Old Van

Now, I should have planned ahead for this, but I didn’t.  So when the van crapped out, my hand was forced and I didn’t have much time to shop around or look farther afield.  My colleague Jason wrote a great post about buying a car with a credit card, and I’d had visions of picking up a card to meet minimum spending with on my next car purchase… but that doesn’t pan out when you have a day or 2 to pull the trigger on a new vehicle, especially when you plan out card applications and timing carefully.

I decided on a used 2015 Sedona from a local dealership – the price was right and they were able to get me back on the road quickly.  And they said they’d accept up to $2,000 of the down payment on a credit card, so I busted out The Blue Business®️ Plus Credit Card from American Express, which earns 2X AMEX Membership Rewards points per $1 on all purchases (up to $50,000 per year, then 1X).  I’ll also be using the van for work travel and my reselling side gig, so this card made sense to earn the most points.

Total earned:  4,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points

I’ll add these points to my AMEX stash and use them when I book a trip to Hawaii with the kids later this year by transferring them to Singapore Airlines to book United Airlines flights more cheaply.

And Then, My Furnace Died (That’s Where a New Credit Card Came In)

Only 3 days after buying the van, I heard alarming banging noises coming from the basement.  The furnace was not happy (and it gave me a damn good scare) – after turning it off immediately I called the repair company I’ve used in the past, and they were able to squeeze in an appointment the next day.  Thankfully that week was unseasonably mild so going without heat for a couple of days wasn’t too awful.

I expected I’d get hit with a repair bill in the hundreds of dollars range.  What I didn’t anticipate was the news from the repair guy when he scoped out the problem:

This furnace is 20 years old, and the company that made it doesn’t exist anymore.  You need several new parts, and they’re not even available.  You have no choice but to put in a new furnace.

Pretty sure you might have heard some colorful language coming out of my mouth at that point.  And I may have cried out of frustration after the repair guy left.  New furnace price (installed) – $4,015 all-in.  NOT part of the plan.

I shopped around a bit and other companies came in around the same price.  Luckily, the repair company was able to install the new furnace the next day – and I talked them into letting me pay for it the following week so I could apply for a new card and use the purchase to meet the minimum spending requirements.

If I were new to miles and points, I most certainly would have applied for a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Citi Premier Card, both of which have minimum spending requirements that fit nicely with the purchase price.  But I’ve been in the hobby for a long time, and already have these cards.

Instead, I went with the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, which earns 150,000 Hilton points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.  Plus, you’ll earn a weekend night reward (valid at almost any Hilton hotel) within 8 to 14 weeks of account opening, and every year after your account anniversary.  That’s a pretty sweet haul from just one credit card. The information for the Hilton Aspire card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

I applied and was instantly approved.  And the card arrived in the mail right after Christmas, in time to pay the bill with little fuss.  The welcome bonus points posted quickly thereafter, and my elite status was upgraded to Diamond almost immediately as well.

It Only Took a Few Days for the 150,000 Hilton Point Welcome Bonus to Post to My Account. And With Diamond Elite Status, I’ll Get Suite Upgrades, Free Breakfast, and Executive Lounge Access When I Stay With Hilton

I’ll also earn 3X Hilton points for my $4,015 purchase (12,045 Hilton points total) for a grand total of 162,045 Hilton points.  That’s worth at least ~$800 in Hilton stays (Hilton points are worth, on average, 0.5 cents apiece) – and potentially more if I find an exceptional redemption.  Hawaii, here we come!

Total earned:  162,045 Hilton points (and a weekend night reward)

Yes, the AMEX Hilton Aspire comes with a hefty $450 annual fee (See Rates & Fees).  But the perks you get (Diamond elite status, weekend night award after each account anniversary, $250 annual airline incidental credit, $250 annual Hilton resort credit, Priority Pass Select lounge access, and more) can more than offset the annual fee.

In fact, in the first year, it’s possible to double-dip the airline incidental credit on your selected airline for a total of $500 in credits, because they reset every calendar year.  I quickly purchased $250 in American Airlines gift cards before the end of December (and the credits have posted already) and will do the same again now that it’s 2019.  So essentially I’ll have already made $50 in “profit” from the card ($500 in credits – $450 annual fee) not even considering the welcome bonus, weekend award night, and travel perks.

I Snuck Under the Wire With $250 in Airline Incidental Fee Reimbursements for 2018. And I’m About to Earn Another $250 Worth for 2019

If you want to earn more Hilton points, but don’t like the idea of a $450 annual fee (or can’t use the perks from the AMEX Hilton Aspire), there are other great offers for AMEX Hilton cards right now.  I’m not eligible because I have or have had all of these cards (and AMEX has a one bonus per card, per person, per lifetime rule):

  • Hilton Honors American Express Card 75,000 Hilton points after you spend $1,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card125,000 Hilton points after you spend $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • Hilton Honors American Express Business Card130,000 Hilton points after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.

If you’re ever in the same boat as I was, and need to knock out some minimum spending requirements with a big expense, check out our list of the best travel credit cards for 2019.

Bottom Line

It positively stinks when life goes sideways and hits you with unplanned big expenses.  Even if you’re stuck paying big bucks for purchases you didn’t anticipate, there’s a way to reduce the pain by applying for a new travel credit card and unlocking a hefty welcome bonus by using your expense to meet credit card minimum spending requirements.  Or even just earning miles and points from the purchase with an existing card.

I earned 4,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points by using Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express to pay for part of the down payment on a new vehicle when my old one died an untimely death.

And, when my furnace needed replacing just a few days later, I used the expense to completely knock out the minimum spending on the AMEX Hilton Aspire card.  That’ll get me over 160,000 Hilton points, a weekend night reward, $500 in airline incidental fee credits ($250 per calendar year), Diamond elite status, lounge access, and more.  I’ll likely use the points on a trip to Hawaii I’m planning with the kids later this year!

While I’m still reeling from a very pricey few weeks, there’s comfort in the fact that we’ll get free travel despite the grief and expense.

Have you ever been in a similar situation?  Which cards did you use – and how did you use the miles and points you earned?

For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Card, click here.

Jasmin Baron was an editor at Million Mile Secrets. She covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel. Her work has appeared in The Points Guy and Business Insider.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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