How Many Miles Did I Earn In 2013?

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Last week I wrote a post reflecting on my 2013 travels, and specifically the 400,000+ “butt-in-seat” miles I flew. I followed that up with a recap of my credit card strategy for 2013, which led to a lot of questions.

Many people asked for more details on how many miles I earned/burned, so I figured I’d provide a breakdown of that here. Let me start by saying that I’ll share general numbers, since I’m in Prague at the moment with a fairly slow internet connection, so for the sake of going out and seeing things I won’t break it down mile by mile, but hopefully you guys get the general idea.

I figured I’d clear up a few things first, since there seem to be quite a few misconceptions in the comments section.

First of all, airlines don’t give me miles so I can review their products, and I don’t get paid in miles for credit card referrals. At the same time, admittedly I do spend a higher percentage of my income on travel than the average person probably would, because, well, I’m ridiculously fortunate that this is actually my job. This blog is one of the ways I make a living, and something tells me it would be significantly less interesting if I didn’t travel at all.

Along the same lines, I’m not, and have never been, one of the people touting “everyone can travel the world for free,” because as much as we’d like to think that’s the case, the reality is that travel costs money.

At the absolute minimum you’re paying airline taxes, and in reality you’re probably sometimes paying annual fees on credit cards, airline fuel surcharges on award tickets, and airline ticketing fees. Beyond that, it’s often not practical to cover all aspects of a trip on miles, because it’s simply not an efficient redemption. So I’m not trying to lead people to believe they can consistently travel the world for free; it’s not something I believe to be the case, and I hope it’s not an impression people get.

I certainly do believe you can travel the world at a great discount compared to what other people pay, or my preferred method is paying less for a first class and five star vacation than most people pay for a “budget” trip. That’s what I’ve been helping myself and my family to do for nearly ten years now, and I truly believe it’s possible for everyone to experience luxury travel with a bit of commitment and creativity.

With that out of the way, I thought I’d give some further insight into my own mileage accrual. In my reflection of my 2013 travels I shared the major mileage trips I took, for which I redeemed a total of roughly 1.5 million miles.

That includes some really expensive awards, like flying Air France A380 first class, which can only be done at the “flex” award level, and taking trips with my parents. For the most part when I’m traveling with friends they’re using their own miles (I’d be a terrible friend if I wasn’t encouraging them to take advantage of the same promotions I do, after all), but I did supplement a few trips for others this year as well.

So how many miles did I accrue last year? In rough numbers, it looks something like this:

Miles Earned 2013

~400,000 American AAdvantage miles through flying/promotions

Between revenue flying on American (since I’m an Executive Platinum member I get a 100% mileage bonus), promotions they were running including the 2013 Elite Rewards, I racked up roughly 400,000 American AAdvantage miles.

~250,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles through flying/promotions

As an MVP Gold 75K I receive a 100% mileage bonus on all my flying, and just for qualifying for MVP Gold 75K I get 50,000 additional bonus miles, so I racked up roughly 250,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles through those means alone.

~400,000 US Airways Dividend Miles through “Share Miles” promotions

US Airways ran two “share miles” promotions in 2013 (in both October and December), which is the most lucrative opportunity they consistently offer to accrue miles. Through that promotion it’s basically possible to rack up US Airways miles for ~1.1 cents each, so at that rate I had no problem shelling out cash for miles given how many amazing trips I’ve taken thanks to US Airways miles, including in January, July, and October.

~250,000 American Express Membership Rewards points through spend and sign-up bonuses

I have quite a few reimbursable airfare expenses I put on my American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card, which accrues triple points on airfare, and when you spend $30,000 on the card in a calendar year you earn 15,000 bonus Membership Rewards points. Beyond that, while perhaps not “my” points per se, I did sign-up several family members for the  The Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN back when it was offering a 75,000 Membership Rewards point sign-up bonus for just one day. They racked up an additional 250,000+ Membership Rewards points through that.

~200,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards point through spend and sign-up bonuses

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is my primary card for everyday spend, since it offers double points on dining and travel, which is where much of my spend goes. Beyond that, I picked up the Ink Plus® Business Credit Card and Chase Freedom® Card cards in 2013, which complemented the Ink Bold® Business Charge Card I already had.

Between spend and sign-up bonuses I racked up roughly 200,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points in 2013.

~85,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles through credit card sign-up bonuses

In 2013 I picked up two Alaska Airlines Signature Visa Cards and one Alaska Airlines Business Visa Card. I love these cards not only for the sign-up bonuses, but also because they offer annual companion certificates, which I find extremely useful.

Assorted other miles through credit card sign-up bonuses

In addition to the above I picked up the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®, Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard®, US Airways Barclays Mastercard, and more in 2013, which earned me even more miles.

And this doesn’t even cover hotel points, as I racked up a good number of Hilton HHonors, Hyatt Gold Passport, Starwood Preferred Guest, and Club Carlson points in 2013 as well.

In general, I earned more miles by flying this year than over the past few years, which given that I got in to this hobby because I enjoy flying has made for a fun year, though I don’t expect that to necessarily be the case this year. I’ve also purchased more miles than I would have been able to when I was in college, and am really looking forward to reviewing some new products with those points in 2014, so I think those were a reasonable purchase as well.

I’ll be sharing more details and my overall plan for 2014 a bit later on, but I do try to be as transparent as possible, so I hope this helps clear up any misconceptions, and maybe inspires some of you to accrue miles in different ways!

(In the interest of full disclosure, I earn a referral bonus for anyone approved through some of the above links. All are for the best available offers. Thanks for your support!)

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Comments

  1. I’ve never doubted your methods, and this was an incredibly interesting and helpful post for all of us. Shows your true genius!

  2. Very very impressive! Please continue to do what you do, I as a reader certainly gain a lot (both enjoyment and knowledge) through your hard work. Thanks for everything and keep up the great work!

  3. As one of the critics of your previous post, I find this one to be very fair and open. Thanks for writing.

  4. I love this quote: “paying less for a first class and five star vacation than most people pay for a “budget” trip.”

    This has been my philosophy as well ever since I got sick and tired of staying in hostels and flying crummy airlines.

  5. Very clear and helpful.

    I’m off now to reconcile myself to spending the rest of my life vacationing in the Poconos.

  6. Congratulations of your achievements in 2013! However, the question is ‘what’s next?’. Is there still anything else left for you in the ‘world of plastic’ 🙂

  7. Wow! Congrats!!! I like how you diversified your earn mostly through credit card signup bonuses and flying — with purchasing miles making up a good chunk!

  8. Great post Ben! I love how you lay it all out for everyone to see. I do find it interesting how you accumulated nearly 400k in AA miles, yet there was very little mention of AA flying on your blog over the past year. Are you quietly doing a lot of domestic mileage runs between the big international trips?

    And how do you keep track of your credit card “collection” and the benefits that come with them? I’ve only got 5 cards at the moment but I’m already losing track of what benefits came with what. Do you list everything in a spreadsheet or do you use some sort of management software?

  9. How come that mommy whatever blogger says one and one’s family can travel for free? I was foolish enough to believe it, too.

  10. Ditto to what SANspotter said:
    In a follow up post, or in a comment here, can you elaborate on how you manage or keep track of all of the benefits from each airline, hotel, and credit card programs you participate in/have?

  11. @ Robert — I’ve been doing this for eight years and I’m at least as passionate about the hobby as I was the day I started. No interest in moving on, there are still plenty of places to see and airlines to review. 🙂

  12. @ SANspotter — Yep, a vast majority of my domestic flying is just “run of the mill” travel that isn’t really worth writing about. Then I book some international trips on American and use systemwide upgrades to get into business class, which I usually do write about.

    As far as how I keep tracks of my card goes, I do have a spreadsheet with all of the renewal dates on cards, though in terms of the actual benefits I know them off the top of my head. I guess that’s one benefit of doing this full time. 🙂

  13. Lucky
    All I can say is thank you. Your post on how to book one way awards with American for Qatar and Etihad literally saved me 10,000 dollars last month. I owe you a beer.

  14. Very interesting. The reason I’m a loyal reader of your blog rather than any other miles & points blogger is that you don’t tout the “fly first class for free” nonsense. Thanks to you I’ve learned how to buy points and use them for maximum value. Hard to argue with getting Emirates first class on the A380 for ~$100/hr. That’s the same as LAX-SFO in coach! Thanks, and keep up the great work.

  15. I find this to be a good way for people to get some insights on how you accumulate the miles. I do wonder how much actual money is spent (not easy to figure out bc of the lucrative spending categories). Even if you do sign-up for a couple of cc you still must be putting large amounts of spend on these cc. How much of this is manufactured VS. actual. Are all of the trips you take and write about considered business expenses and used for tax write offs? I don’t really expect you to answer this, as none of this is mine or anyone elses business, but it’s something I am always thinking about when i see so many bloggers Trip Reports. In any event thanks for your in-depth trip reports. I find them to be bible of reports, although I wouldn’t mind some more pics of people in them from time to time 🙂

  16. Ben,

    You are normally quite silent on the subject of Vanilla Reload cards. They represent a pretty good chunk of my annual haul. Granted they cost $3.95 per $500 (.79 cents per mile) as well as some legwork, but still a better deal than the 1.1 cpm USAir Share my Miles promotion…

  17. Lucky, hi from a bistro in Paris en route to coastal Kenya. Impressive earning for non referrals. I have a different approach to being paid to travel around the world, paid by others, that I’ll share one day if we ever cross somewhere. My miles are about 600k from travel, a few card sign ups plus spend. 4 nights in Park Hyatt Vandome was a bonus from sign up. For now, safe travels.

  18. Lucky, what exactly is your profession that you get to travel so much? Not only that, have so much extra time to “vacation” on top of your job?

  19. Insightful post! Thanks. Glad to hear you have no plans to stop what you’re doing.

    Be sure to enjoy the Charles Bridge and other cool sights of Prague! 😉

  20. @Connie – Is that a serious comment (I can’t tell)? While Travel is Free does travel for free, you have to have a lot of dedication. Truth be told, nothing in life is free (it will at least cost you time). In all of these blogs, “free” usually refers to “very low cost.”

    @Erik – Ben lives in Washington State where we don’t have CVS (nor do we have them in border states) so VR are almost impossible to find. I can only get them when I travel to other parts of the country.

  21. Kind of off topic, but I just discovered this site and I really like reading your full trip reports in chronological order. But it seems like there’s no easy way to find the beginning and then navigate through each post on the older ones. On the new ones I found posts like this that link to all the parts:

    http://onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2013/12/17/air-france-vs-british-airways-a380-introduction/

    Does something like that exist for the old ones? I went to the Trip Reports section but it’s just chronological by airline and then hotel, not grouped into full trips (and it doesn’t seem to have the intro posts).

  22. Thanks for your time and dedication. Your reviews are the best. Maybe you should write a book about your travels and experiences. I don’t believe anybody has ever done this.

    Just wish you would “test” J class more than F, once you try the korean a380 F.

  23. I’m happy I got the 50k amex prc offer lol! I missed out on the Alaska Air one, but hopefully something is out on the Horizon! Great job Ben! 🙂

  24. Since you are buying miles, the answer for you has to be that you have an absolute value for them, as you are choosing between miles and cash, not one type of miles vs. another.

    The real issue isn’t absolute vs. relative, but that the valuation is individually specific.

    For someone without many miles, and who likes premium cabin travel, the valuation is at one level. For someone with a ton of miles, it’s likely lower.

    For example, I earn as much as I can use through bonuses and BIS travel so I give very little value to purchasing miles beyond that. (I redeemed about 800k miles in 2013, and earned a similar amount).

    If someone doesn’t like premium travel, then the valuation on miles is low – as it competes with cash back options.

  25. Thanks for sharing Ben! While I’m not nearly as knowledgable as many others, I do know a bit. A lot of it learned from reading your blog. So thanks!

  26. 400k US miles through the two miles sharing promos they ran in 2013 would seem to suggest a decent number of separate accounts, since each account was limited to 50k of bonus miles each time they ran the promo.

  27. I am glad to see this post. Hopefully, it will quiet some of the critics 🙂

    Interesting to see so many purchased miles but totally understandable given USDM promos. Purchasing miles to supplement sign-up bonuses + regular spend can be a good idea but often is a rip-off and I really, really appreciate that you take time to evaluate and offer your take.

  28. You are pretty genius, but what I want to know is HOW YOU KEEP TRACK of all these credit cards and payment deadlines and Amazon payments and passwords! And just doing your taxes and figuring out all this stuff. To me, it sounds like a nightmare. Maybe I have the wrong attitude.

  29. I want to hear Levy’s story…… Why would one go from Paris to coastal Kenya?
    Hahaha I recently got into the show Monsters inside us or something like that…..going to Africa can be problematic. Haha
    I want to hear!

  30. Lucky – I know the answer is probably “no”. But is there anyway to get miles when flying on an award ticket? Do any promotions apply? Any loopholes? I’ve ranked up a bunch of miles this past year and I’m ready to BURN, it would be nice to earn some back.

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