Do you feel like you always find out about great opportunities just moments too late to take advantage? Yeah, well that’s the story of my life. My most recent brush with greatness happened this week, and it all came crashing down this morning.
For those who don’t know, I am a bit of a reward program enthusiast. I took my first solo flight in college to visit a friend at Xavier in Louisiana. From that trip on, I have dutifully kept up with every frequent flier mile and point. I sign up for rewards programs across the board, from grocery stores to credit cards and beyond. Over the past 15 years or so, I’ve accumulated (and spent) more than 500,000 AAdvantage miles (American Airlines), as well as hotel points and rewards in various other rewards programs.
But my earnings in these programs were small potatoes compared to what’s possible. I earned most of those miles not through flights, but by churning credit cards. It was easy and basically risk free since I pay off my credit cards each month, but I never opened more than two or three in a year because I didn’t have enough chargeable expenses to meet multiple sign-up spending requirements (typically about $3,000 in three months), which were necessary to earn the mileage bonuses. And while I definitely enjoyed getting free flights in exchange for those miles, I didn’t capitalize on redemptions—typically redeeming for a 1 cent/mile value when many experienced travelers get 2 cents/mile or more in value.
Just last week, I stumbled across The Manufactured Spending Tournament and learned of a way to meet really high spending requirements with very little effort. So I purchased my first Vanilla Reload card using a rewards credit card and signed up for an American Express Serve account. The basic idea is that you load your Serve account with the Vanilla cards and pay expenses that don’t earn rewards because they typically cannot be paid via credit card (e.g., mortgages, utilities and person-to-person payments). It takes seven to 10 business days after sign up to receive your permanent Serve account.
As I waited for the card, I dreamt of ways to spend all the miles I was going to earn for paying my mortgage and for child care. I finally received the card last night and activated it this morning only to learn that…dun, dun, dun…CVS is no longer allowing Vanilla Reload purchases using a credit card. While there are other ways to create manufactured spending, this was, by far, the easiest I saw. And I just missed out.
Award Travel on American
The manufactured spending frenzy wasn’t the only opportunity I missed this week. Yesterday, I found out about an awesome way to maximize the value of your American Advantage miles. Unfortunately, I spent about 140,000 of my total 150,000 AAdvantage miles on two plane tickets to Aruba for my best friend’s bachelorette trip just two weeks ago. With plane tickets going for more than $1,000 each, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to use those miles. I was wrong.
It turns out that American Airlines allows a stopover on award travel itineraries in the city from which you enter or leave North America for up to a year. So instead of spending 35,000 miles to travel roundtrip between Chicago and Aruba, you can purchase a one-way ticket to Aruba for 17,500 miles and spend 20,000 miles to travel from Aruba to Chicago in May and then Chicago to Paris in August—a total of 37,500 miles. Yes, I would have needed to purchase an additional one-way ticket from Paris to Chicago, but it would have been like getting a one-way ticket to Paris for almost free!
If you have the miles, you can keep the circle of travel going forever. For the return flight, I could have purchased a ticket from Paris to Aruba (or another Caribbean island) stopping in Chicago for up to a year, and so on and so forth.
Maximizing award mileage redemptions requires some forethought and planning, however, and my friends generally fly by the seat of their pants. For example, if we’d purchased our plane tickets to Aruba a few months earlier, they would have cost only 35,000 miles roundtrip. But the bride couldn’t commit to a destination, so they cost 70,000 each instead. Now that I spent my stash on this one trip and the manufactured spending loophole has closed, I don’t have the miles to schedule roundtrips between the Caribbean and Paris (or Tokyo, Argentina, etc.).
But a girl can dream, can’t she?
Want more details on using free stopovers on American? Read this tutorial from fellow blogger The Miles Professor.
In keeping with the theme of this blog, it seems I was also “Behind the Eight Ball” on the American Airlines free stopovers. Today, American dropped free stopovers with no notice to their passengers. So if you booked a ticket using the benefit yesterday, good job. Today? Too bad!
Looks like it’s time to change my airline alliances. Apparently United still has a similar benefit available, but you must book a round-trip ticket to take advantage.
I, for one, will definitely start spending more dollars (and collecting more miles) with Southwest. More information on why that should be your airline of choice to come Wednesday.