How I Earned Miles In 2014

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Probably the question I’m asked more than any other is “how do you afford to travel so much?” That’s a reasonable question, and I tend to think I’m fairly transparent as to how I pay for each individual trip.

Anyway, early last year I wrote a post entitled “How Many Miles Did I Earn In 2013?” and by popular demand I figured I’d write a similar post for 2014, hopefully to give you guys some insight into what my earn/burn rates look like.

Background info and disclosures

First some basics, since the below seems to cause quite a bit of confusion for some…

My travel is self-funded

On the very rare occasion that I am on a press trip or other type of “comped” event it’s fully disclosed.

Beyond that, I disclose how my trips were paid for even when they’re self funded. In the introduction post to each trip report I provide an exact breakdown of how many miles each award ticket costs.

I spend a high percentage of my income on travel

And I always have. I love airports, flying, new cities, etc., and travel-related costs have always eaten up much of my disposable income.

Beyond that, in 2014 I traded the sixteen or so weeks a year that I was actually in my apartment for living in hotels full-time. Previously I wasn’t splitting costs with a roommate or anything, so by giving up paying rent, utilities, my car payment, insurance, etc., I’m conservatively saving $20k per year, which gives me much more leeway than I’m used to having.

Park-Hyatt-Dubai-61
Not to mention having access to much better gyms

I also think I’m pretty transparent about not having real expenses outside of travel. If you’ve met me in person more than once I was likely wearing the same outfit both times — I live out of a carry-on and just don’t spend much on non-travel items nowadays.

I don’t earn and burn at the same rate

I certainly try to, and one of the ways I hedge against devaluations is by trying to never have more miles in a single account than I could reasonably redeem with six months notice.

But I only have so much time, and I’m not going to redeem miles if purchasing a flight would make more sense. I also have a stockpile of miles from previous years when I wasn’t in a position to travel as much as I do now.

I have a lot of reimbursable expenses

This isn’t uncommon, but seems downright magical to some. I generally charge between $100k-$150k of airfare for other people each year. That typically translates to around 400,000 additional points split between Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards.

I know many other small business owners that charge much more than that each year between inventory and vendor expenses, but understand not everyone is in the position of having reimbursable expenses. But it’s a good thing I do, given my only “fixed” expenses nowadays are health insurance and my season pass to Real Housewives.

I’m “traveling” not “vacationing”

I’m incredibly fortunate to have the flexibility to not be limited in the amount of time I can spend traveling, so my hope is that by sampling as many different products as possible, I can help those of you with limited vacation time make the most of your trips.

I’m also not suggesting anyone travel at the pace I do. It’s not sustainable, even for me. I’ve flown an average of 1,500 miles a day for the past eight weeks, and can’t tell you how excited I am to go to be at my mom’s house this week and sleep.

But blogging about airlines/hotels is also my absolute favorite thing I’ve ever done. The most relaxing part of my day is when I put my phone on silent and close all my internet browsers except the WordPress one, and just start writing. I pinch myself every day for the fact that the “core” of my job is also the highlight of my day and what I enjoy doing most.

Writing this blog is one of the ways in which I make a living

The two things I do for a living are blogging and travel consulting. My goal is to review as many products as possible so that I can dish out the most useful/educated advice.

I’m not creative enough to write about destinations I’ve never been to or flights I have no intention of taking. So in order to generate content for this blog, I travel. I fly amazing products (and products that are a different kind of amazing). I stay in great hotels, and in some not-so-great ones. And sharing my thoughts on those experiences is what drives traffic to this site, which is what pays for more travel.

As an example, when I posted the first pictures of Etihad’s inaugural A380 flight, that blog post received ten times more traffic than any other post I’ve written in the past seven years. I spent actual money to get on that flight, and it was absolutely worth it.

Travel isn’t free. Period.

Unlike others I’m not making a claim that travel is “free” or costs “just pennies,” though I certainly respect that approach.

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.

Rather, my hope is that every trip I take is attainable to anyone willing to put in the effort to earn the miles and spend a bit on taxes, cash co-pays, etc.

I (sorta) have a life outside of this blog

I realize I’ve set myself up for criticism here by being relatively transparent about my life and travel (and by openly sharing my love of Hello Kitty). It seems some people think that I write about every minute of my day — which is sometimes true.

But when I travel, particularly when traveling solo, I spend every spare minute I have outside exploring. For me, that’s my free time, the time where I can relax.

I do work a lot, because I love what I do, and my passion for this hobby impacts much of my routine. So unlike every other aspect of my trips, when I’m outside wandering a city I’m not taking notes, I’m (mostly) not taking pictures, and I don’t have an agenda. What’s relaxing to me is how mentally freeing it is, that I’m not having to document and review every moment.

Bali-Beach
Sunset from a beach in Bali

So I’m never going to write a ton of destination-focused posts. And if I have a really meaningful local experience I might not write about that either, as having to “review” the moment might take some of the magic away for me.

And unless something absolutely nuts happens en route, I’m not going to write about economy flights on an MD-80 between Dallas and Chicago. I suspect most of us know what that’s like, and it’s just not something I find interesting to write (or read) about.

Really though, I actually appreciate that people seem to be so concerned about how I fund my travel or what I do while I’m there. You don’t see comments like that on bigger “corporate” blogs, and I’m grateful that people care enough to call me out. I wish some people would read a post or two prior to doing so, but you can’t have everything. 😉

With all that out of the way:

Where the heck do my miles come from?

The answer is pretty much the same as last year (and every year); a combination of credit card churning, flying, strategically purchasing miles, and taking advantage of every promotion out there.

I’m going to give round numbers in the interest of keeping things more simple, and because I know the peanut gallery will have a field day if I try to be specific and make an arithmetic error regardless.

In round numbers, I accrued just shy of three million miles last year.

earn-miles

600,000+ from credit card sign-up bonuses

I applied, was approved, and earned the sign-up bonus on the following cards last year:

Beyond that, I earned another ~100,000 miles from anniversary and threshold bonuses on cards I kept from the previous year. This includes 40,000 anniversary points from my Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card, a 10,000 point rebate on my Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard, etc.

That’s not even counting the value of the free hotel nights from my Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card, Hyatt Credit Card, or IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card.

650,000+ from purchases, promos, and portals

Some will probably laugh at how low this number is, but the reality is I don’t have time to travel and triple-dip on every purchase. I do try though.

As I mentioned above I have about $150k in reimbursable expenses each year, which combined with my own spending shakes out to about 650k points, once category and threshold bonuses are factored in. The bulk of that spending is split between my Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, which gets 3x points on airfare, and my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which earns 2x points on travel with no foreign transaction fees.

So nearly half of my miles come either directly from credit card bonuses or by leveraging my spending on said cards.

550,000+ from actually flying

People seem to think all my flights are paid for with miles, or that American comps me Executive Platinum status.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and I credited enough flights to American last year to earn over 450,000 AAdvantage miles, factoring in the various promotions and elite bonuses.

I earned another ~100,000 from the flights I credited to Alaska, and then had a handful of flights credited to other programs as well.

500,000+ from hotel stays

This has truly been the greatest perk of living in hotels, in that the points are adding up very quickly on the hotel front.

What many people don’t realize is that many of the major loyalty programs offer elite benefits on award nights, and in some cases elite members can select additional points as a type of “welcome amenity.” This means that even on award nights I’m earning at least a few points.

Hilton is a great example of this, as I haven’t had a single paid stay with them all year. I have Hilton HHonors Diamond status through spend on the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card, and stupidly transferred a ton of points to Hilton just before their big devaluation a few years ago.

So almost all of my Hilton stays have either been free weekend nights from the credit card, or Points & Money stays — I’ve spent maybe $750 at Hilton properties this year. However, I’ve earned over 25,000 Hilton HHonors points through elite bonuses, which is more than decent for my backup backup hotel chain.

flying-hotels

Living in hotels I’ve also paid for numerous hotel stays, of course, so have earned plenty of points here.

650,000+ in purchased points

In many cases it also makes sense to strategically purchase miles. I’ve done more of that this year in order to finance my premium cabin travel, and this is a tactic that is especially useful for those who can’t take advantage of credit card offers in the US.

This year I purchased the following:

I generally wouldn’t make speculative purchases unless it’s just a phenomenal deal, but it’s a good option to have under the right circumstances.

I used some of those Club Carlson points in Iceland, for example, and got the second night free by nature of having the Club Carlson credit card. I paid about 0.35 cents each for those points, so spent roughly $77 a night when revenue rates would have otherwise been over $325 a night.

This year so far

The first two weeks of January are actually a great example of how my travel has been lately, and I don’t mind sharing the details.

I’ve flown just over 30,000 miles since the first of the year, with the bulk of that being paid travel from my first mileage run of the year. I also paid for my ticket on the Qatar Airways A350 inaugural, and had a few awards mixed in as well:

January-2015-travel
Paid travel in red, award travel in blue

I’ve also earned over 50,000 miles from my CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard approval, which combined my other travel, elite bonuses and transatlantic promos means I’ll be earning well over 200,000 AAdvantage miles this month.

I redeemed 40,000 miles for my flights between London and Cairo, and then another 50,000 for my flights from Frankfurt to Tampa, which will still be a net gain for January.

Bottom line

It probably doesn’t matter how many times I say it, but there’s no real secret to how I travel. I certainly don’t expect anyone to want to fly as much as I do, but there is a certain momentum to earning points. Once you get the ball rolling, they accrue much faster than you might expect.

I’ll be sharing more details and my overall plan for 2015 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!

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Comments

  1. You are leaving
    Out the biggest piece of information- how much $$$$$$ you spent on travel. I highly doubt you will share this because based on your reviews of staying in $200-$300 hotels each night the total is much higher than 99% of us could spend.

  2. Thanks for sharing once again. Quite fascinating how lucrative credit card promotion is in the States compared to Australia, with the majority of bonuses are for Qantas and Virgin Australia.

    Having said that, been a follower of this blog for more than a year now (the first site I check every morning) and proud to say that I’ve picked up quite a bit from you in terms of maximising what’s out there!

    Thanks and you truly made me a happy reader!!!

  3. While I appreciate this post I’m still confused about how you generate these miles. Specifically, how you charge 150k+ in reimbursable expenses. I assume you are considered “self-employed”, so who reimburses you? And if you’re paying for other people’s travels, why do they allow you to do that? If they read your blog/boarding area at all they would know that they are missing out on collecting the points/miles for the travel. I realize these are your finances we’re discussing so you don’t really need to answer me, but it’s confusing to me how a blog writer/travel consultant racks up 150k in reimbursable expenses.

  4. @Tyler – I easily spent $50K last year on travel for work and all of that on my personal, point-earning cards. Add in another $10-15K for personal travel and it adds up quickly. My number is actually low because I book some of the lowest rates hotels offer and for the sake of my company will choose a significantly lower rate over convenience much of the time (I don’t mind 10 minutes extra commute time in a different city, etc.). Between hotel stays where I earned points, airline flights where I earned miles, and promos, rental cars, etc., I earned several hundred thousand miles and hotel points (each). Not as much as OP, but I don’t travel as much, either.

  5. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you have family members sign up for credit cards and use those points as well? Or, was that just in 2013?

  6. Great post, Ben! How did you accrue points via the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard? Didn’t you already have that card from last year? If not, what two AA card did you have last year?

  7. Epic post. Shuts up all the miles-jealous people out there. It’s really not hard to accumulate millions of miles and points if flying full time and having lots of reimbursable expenses. Heck it’s not even that hard if you have none of the above.

  8. Ben, when you signed up for Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa Card, did they create a new Club Carlson number for you? i’ve had the card for about 4 months and not a single point has posted to my Club Carlson account… never had the same problem with the Club Carlson Personal Rewards Visa Card.
    thanks.

  9. @mike-

    Yep when I used to travel a ton for work my yearly expenses easily got in the 50-75k a year range. I’m guessing lucky is in the 100K+ range.

  10. Thanks for this post even though I don’t think you needed to write it. Regardless, one thing readers don’t necessarily realize is how much work you do during a First Class flight. From taking photos to asking questions to flight crew to checking out every nook and cranny on the seat & IFE, you’re one busy guy! At times I question whether you take the time to simply enjoy the experience. 😉 I was fortunate enough to be in the same cabin as you on one of your first class flights in 2014 and I can attest you definitely work hard. Hands down. Kudos & thank you for all that you do and I hope 2015 will be an even bigger year for you.
    As for wearing the same clothes every day, I think that’s ok. You remind me of the GLEE characters (i.e. Finn, Santana, Blaine, etc.) who always wore the same clothing/uniform!

  11. @CLP

    You do notice he is spending over $5,000+ in just purchasing miles right? He could have used a cashback card to purchase all those flights, so that is money lost right there as well. Going on mileage runs and purchasing mistake fares also costs $$$. Then you have to take into account living full time in a hotel. So a large chunk of this comes out of having a certain lifestyle that does not come with being a travel blogger. Even Ben points out that this sort of lifestyle is not sustainable with the methods he has used over the past few years.

  12. Great Post Ben! I really wish we had so many good credit card bonuses in Canada.

    I know that you are not that familiar with the Canadian credit card market, but have you (or anyone else reading this comment) heard what range of miles/points that one can accumulate in Canada in a year?

  13. Thanks for sharing. I am curious how much of your travel expenses and mile purchases could be listed as business-related deductible items on your tax return form, given the fact that writing trip reviews is critical to generation of revenue for your business?

  14. “I generally charge between $100k-$150k of airfare for other people each year. That typically translates to around 400,000 additional points split between Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards.”

    I can’t quite understand this. Do you mean that you book airfare for other people (be it relatives, friends or clients) through credit cards that give miles and you use the miles?

  15. @Ben (2:31 pm comment):

    He says the reimbursable spending comes from:

    “I generally charge between $100k-$150k of airfare for other people each year. That typically translates to around 400,000 additional points split between Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards.”

    So his business of finding and booking mileage redemptions for other people (pointpros.com) likely involves doing the actual bookings using his credit card, and then having the client reimburse him, probably via Paypal or check.

    Personally I’ve learned a lot from this (free) blog and don’t need to pay for the service. But there are probably a lot of people who don’t want to spend the time and energy to learn the ins and outs of the mileage game. Like others posters said, it’s not unusual to have a lot of reimbursable work expenses to run through your credit card, especially if you run your own business. But, of course, for the average office worker that won’t be the case.

  16. Ben,

    After I started reading your blog I realized (traveling on USAir every week) what a fool I was to not have the USAir MasterCard. Anyway, I made a special effort to click your link as I assumed you’d get a referral bonus. Is that in cash rather than points?

    I always assumed that majority of your points came from the referral bonuses.

  17. Say again… you went to Copenhagen at some point?
    Did I miss the post where you reviewed the LEGO store or the Bulow liquorice at the airport?
    Unfortunately, the SAS lounge and their current long haul cabin are not worth blogging about (we so much look forward to the cabin revamp).

  18. not to speak for ben but i have used points pros on a couple of occasions and was asked for my credit card info from the get go and any fees/taxes were charged to my cc account. i think when ben says he has $150k of spend for others it’s his employees, of which he has several.

  19. Referral bonuses are usually paid in cash. No big secrets around it. How blogs make money is pretty well documented if you search for it and if I am Ben I would also not publicize my income here either.
    Reading his blog you know credit card sign up bonuses are part of his income and his travel consulting service (which I did use already and liked) also generates income.

    He works hard and makes no secret out of it. I would also not put my income online on a public forum either.

    If you are a bit interested in the credit card referrals read an (older) blog post from Mr. Money Mustache:

    http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/06/21/i-just-gave-up-4000-per-month-to-keep-my-freedom-of-speech/

    And for the ones thinking this is easy money you need to be quite big to even get this going anymore but if it works it can generate good income.

  20. @Henrik
    Lucky was in CPH over New Years, posted a few pictures on twitter of among other thing Kronborg. As he way behind on his reviews don’t expect anything for a few months.

    Think he was flying BA, not SK this time. Lucky has said he wants to try the new Biz cabin when it comes into service and also have posted about award availability in the Private air operated 737 Stavanger Houston flight.

  21. I think people are skeptical or nosy about some of the details Ben chooses not to share (such as how much money he spent on airfares/hotels) because even with this level of detail, so much of it seems fantastical.

    The fantasy the points and miles bloggers are selling is that this lifestyle is attainable to the average person if they just put in the effort. But it takes a lot of free time, which Ben clearly has, given that he is unattached in every sense of the word and it is his full time job.

    The other piece of achieving the fantasy is using the miles, and at least when it comes to air travel, I’ve found the burn much more challenging than the earn, if you accept the premise that you never burn at anything other than the low level. I think there is a general wonderment, given how hard it is to find first/biz space on premium carriers, that Ben seems to be “winning” while the rest of us are typically losing. Thus the curiosity about what percentage of his trips are really the result of finding that needle in the haystack space and what percentage are paid for or obtained at higher than low level rates.

    I think for the average person, with a full time job that does not involve constant travel, plus the demands of a spouse, kids, and a relatively inflexible schedule, this hobby is actually very hard to engage in at a high level. That’s where the fantasy falls apart.

  22. Thanks Ben for your openness and frankness. Really appreciate it!
    My questions is on the hotel living. You talked about living in hotels full time helped you save a lot of money. But surely hotels’ night rate is much higher than apartment rental?!

  23. People often ask me as passing by my cubicle, “what is that shrine and who is that picture on the wall ?” — “Oh, that is my shining star in the heavily sky.” I answer – “.. his is Almighty Ben Schlappig…and if you patient on a warm summer night, — and you look up into the starry sky, you may get Lucky, and see him flying by”

  24. @Pavel

    Thanks for the clarifications re: booking service and how it pays for cash costs. I have never used it so I made an incorrect assumption.

    Personally I loved this post, spelled everything out pretty clearly. Don’t know why people get so worked up about the income from the blog. It’s pretty obvious where it comes from. If you want to do something similar, do the work that Lucky has, come up with something new and interesting that will gain an audience.

  25. Won’t speak for Ben on the rest, but to answer the PointsPros-related questions:

    @DCJoe and @pavel are both correct — While our preference is for clients to use their own credit cards for airline fees (as it makes everything easier in the long run), a large portion of our clientele doesn’t want to give out their credit card, and REALLY likes to write checks or reimburse us later. So we let them. But it’s not something we proactively offer.

    @ Adam P — We’ve helped people redeem nearly a billion miles thus far. I can only think of a handful of trips booked at anything other than the lowest level, and almost all of those were to South Africa over school breaks.

  26. @Adam P

    “I think for the average person, with a full time job that does not involve constant travel, plus the demands of a spouse, kids, and a relatively inflexible schedule, this hobby is actually very hard to engage in at a high level. That’s where the fantasy falls apart.”

    Exactly, you described me pretty accurately there, and I don’t have that fantasy, I did have a fantasy of a single international first class redemption for an important trip with my wife, and was able to make that happen by careful planning and learning a lot at this blog and places like flyertalk, Gary Leff, etc. But I didn’t have the fantasy that I could travel like this on some sort of consistent basis. For me it’s mostly accumulating miles through bonuses to cover family travel, so a trip with the kids is 100,000 miles instead of $2,500. That’s what works for me, and Lucky has been pretty good about being up front that people should do what works for them. And in my case I used this weekends US Airways availability to save $430 per ticket in BA surcharges. Wouldn’t have known about that if it wasn’t for this blog.

  27. Ben, What percent of your travel expenses are deductible from U.S. income tax as business expenses, resulting in such travel being subsidized by the U.S. government?

  28. Great post Lucky. Good for you that you have been able to make this into a job/lifestyle that works for you!

    Although it is none of my business, my only hope is that through all of this, that you’re still saving a chunk of your money for the long term, whether that’s through a 401(k), Roth IRA (if you don’t exceed the income limit), or some other savings vehicle.

  29. @Endre Wow that was hilarious. I laughed out loud at work. So great, I need to set up a shrine of my own.

  30. resulting in such travel being subsidized by the U.S. government?

    Huh? They are legitimate business expenses. He’s no more being subsidized by deducting trips than Ford is being subsidized by deducting steel.

  31. Lantean – yes, when you sign up for both personal and business Club Carlson Visa cards, they issue you two different Club Carlson account numbers. If the business number is not already on your card, call Club Carlson Customer Service to get it. (Recommend using two different EMAIL addresses to sign in to the two accounts.)

  32. Awesome post Ben. I was one of the ones humbly asking for my info – yes I had read the 2013 post but the format used for this post was more insightful. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

  33. Ben, how/why are you buying 100k-150k in airfare for other people each year? I’d LOVE to be able to do that.

  34. I was starting to think I was the only female who reads this then I saw Tiffany commented…… This doesn’t seem like a pleasant way to live to me, but this blog can teach others how to do more. I specifically agree that it isn’t “free.” Thanks for the info.

  35. @Stuart Falk let me fix that for you – “Ben, What percent of your travel expenses are deductible from U.S. income tax as business expenses, resulting in you keeping more of your hard-earned money as opposed to it subsidizing the bloated U.S. government?

  36. @ Stuart — Not sure I follow how it would be subsidized by the US government, given that I generate revenue off the reviews of my trips?

  37. @ Jake — Yes, living in hotels for 30 days per month is more expensive than living in an apartment for 30 days per month. But living in hotels for 30 days per month is cheaper than spending 20 nights per month in hotels and the balance of nights at home, as I was doing previously.

  38. @ John — Thanks for the support! A vast majority of my affiliate links pay cash and not miles/points.

  39. @ Marc — It all depends how much effort you put in, but ultimately you can buy miles/points in Canada, and in theory can earn lots of miles from flying and credit card spend as well. The major difference is that credit card sign-up bonuses are smaller.

  40. @ Brent — My parents do indeed sign up for cards, though I didn’t include those miles in the totals. And I still end up spending some of my miles for them.

  41. Ben,

    Thanks for the post. In regards to “free” travel, I did redeem UA miles from DPS-BKK-HKT that cost me literally $0. I was floored!

    WRT your larger point, an old coworker of mine asked me if miles saves me money. I told him no, they just let my vacation stretch further. I told him that for most people, $3k is a week at a beach house that you drove to. For me, $3k is a month overseas flying J or F. Yes, I have a full time job.

    I also have more miles than I know what to do with, and since I’m stalked up well into the next devaluation, I’m thinking of taking somewhat more frequent but shorter trips. After a few month-long trips abroad, I can tell you that on the fourth week, I’m tired and want to go home.

    So by taking shorter vacations and using flex time at work, I think I can squeeze in a three-week vacation every nine months or so.

    Thanks for the advice on routing from DC to SGN. I’m gonna keep the LAX routing I asked you about, skipping the JFK winter weather and enjoying the QF F lounge at LAX.

    One favor: Can you review a few more J products? I have no interest in Y, but J is so good these days that with restricted F availability, I’m certainly content with it. In fact, returning from HKG, I may very well fly J on CX. F is looking iffy, and if I have anything earlier than a late afternoon departure straight from HKG, I’m lucky to spend an hour in the lounge.

  42. This is only good if your are based in US and am able to apply for those credit cards. If you were living in a small tiny island like New Zealand, it is not as easy to obtain and travel for very little $$. I envy you 🙂

  43. If you are using your own Credit Card for other peoples award taxes or fees, do you ever have a problem with the airline audit or fraud team, as some airlines are very strict about the account holder or passenger using their own Credit Card.

  44. How many flights (one way) did you take last year and how many days were you on the road? Also, were most of the 450K miles on AA on international or domestic flights?

  45. @ Lucky — While I’m always happy to read some notes from you on a destination, I’m very happy you find time to disconnect from your job and enjoy yourself 😀

  46. Thanks Ben, I really enjoyed reading that as you are the TRAVEL MASTER.

    I’ve finally gotten used to the new blog design. I’m currently accruing miles for a trip next year.

  47. Oh and Ben, after three years in the game, I finally received a 50k targeted offer. 🙂
    I applied and was immediately approved for AMEX Gold/ 50k after 1k spend in 3 months. LOL

    It’s been like a week and I’m still talking about it.

  48. Thanks for taking the time to share, Ben. Haters gonna hate, regardless. Slightly off-topic, but wanted to say that I enjoy these “personal” style posts (e.g. this one, your updates on living in hotels, info about your personal life, etc) more than the normal travel stuff. No, I’m not a creeper (haha), but for those of us who have been reading this blog pretty much since you began, I enjoy getting to see more of the personal side. I feel that we go way back!! 🙂

    Anyways, keep on keeping on, and hope that you have a great new year!

  49. @ jediwho — Still calculating how many flights I’ve taken, though I flew over 400,000 miles. I was on the road every day, since I started living in hotels. With American, it was about a 50/50 split between domestic and international flying.

  50. Awesome post Ben!

    I have been reading your blog for a while now and I am just starting with my own blog down in Brazil.

    I agree with @Discopapa that altough the travel related posts are great, the ones like this showing the ins and outs of the lifestyle are even greater.

    For the ones thinking that traveling in F/J is all glamour, doing this at the pace Ben does is extremely hard on the body and takes its toll. Along with the reimbursements, maybe you can get ask for insalubrity as well! LOL

    Thanks for sharing and keep up the good/hard work.

    Safe travels!

  51. I appreciate all the detail in your posts; I know you work very hard (as an added bonus, I love the way you treat your parents). In my opinion, you are living the dream. Some people want million dollar houses, BMWs….I’d like travel just like you for one year.

  52. I really appreciate the transparency in this post. While regular readers know you don’t take very many comped trips, it still helps to see where everything comes from. I didn’t realize quite how many miles you outright buy, for example.

    As with other readers below, one item I’m confused about is the $150K in reimbursable expenses. From Tiffany’s comment, it sounds like you would actually prefer not to have these but that customers often don’t want to give you their credit card number. This seems really weird, as from what another commenter said, you’d think anyone reading a blog like this would basically prefer to be stabbed than to give up the thousands of miles that come with booking a trip big enough to require an award booking service.

    So, my question then is: do you truly prefer NOT to have reimbursable expenses along these lines because of customer ease, or is this something that just works out for you that they feel this way and you happen to benefit from it by getting the associated credit card points?

    I find this interesting, because I wouldn’t blame you if you made it a requirement as part of your award booking service that you get to book it, as I’d think that would be a pretty fair way to gain some compensation from the customer beyond what you’d be willing to charge in cash (e.g., I’d be more willing to pay $200 and let you book my award on your CC than I would be to pay $250 in cash), especially since the miles on the margin are probably more valuable to you than the customer, since you are much more highly likely to earn-and-burn and you also know better how to use them than the customer would.

  53. “I’m not creative enough to write about destinations I’ve never been to or flights I have no intention of taking. So in order to generate content for this blog, I travel. ”

    SHAAAAAADDDEEEEE…. lol.

  54. your reimbursable expenses, how does that come about if your ‘job’ is blogging? and travel consulting? also what does your role in travel consulting consist of? and how did you get into it? people just ask you to do something?

  55. I’m curious as to the impact of the $150k in reimbursements. While I love that this blog is hard evidence that you can effectively travel the world luxuriously for pretty cheap, it seems that a chunk of what enables you to do that practically every day is that you can generate half a million points from spend that a lot of people don’t normally have access to. Not complaining, since I’m a big fan, and I’m certainly not trying to imply that you’re by any means entitled or getting an unfair advantage. I’m mostly just curious as to what change about your lifestyle if you were closer to the average American who might be able to max out at $20k – $50k in spend on credit cards per year. I’m sure before your booking business took off (no pun intended?) you were probably operating much differently.

  56. I’ve been reading the blog for several months now, super interesting, thanks – keep up the great content.

    My biggest question is on your FICO score – the credit card sign-up bonuses are impressive stacked, but unless FICO is a huge lie, even in high income brackets having more than 10 open credit lines and 5 in the last few years can really damage the score.

    I’d be interested to hear if you feel there’s been credit score impact, if you’d feel confident finding a jumbo mortgage, etc.

    I feel like I’ve been mislead on trying to maintain 2-3 credit cards (typically Chase Sapphire / Delta Amex / Amex Plat) with zero debt but decent available and used credit from time-to-time!!

  57. Thanks Ben. One of your best posts. Before reading the details, I had correctly guessed all but one of your major points sources, missing the ‘reimbursable expenses’ by a mile. I hope that one does not eventually bite back. -CG

  58. As a guy tied to work and school schedules, my issue tends to be on the burn rather than the earn side.

    You advert to it but briefly, but an interesting point here is that some of us should value non-mile currencies (i.e., currencies with no capacity controls) higher than perhaps we do. Free nights & free tickets, in short. For example, the Citi Prestige Card lets you use points at 1.6 cents to buy AA tickets; a couple of cards (Barclays US; SWA) have “companion pass” features; and several hotel cards have “free night” benefits. And then there’s always cash back; several cards pay 5% back in some categories (the Prestige effectively does for airfare).

  59. Lucky,

    I couldn’t resist reading this post but, why do you feel the need to share any of this with us? This is your business and it’s really nobody’s business how you do it, and how much you make or spend, and how you accumulate your points. While I understand people are nosy and posts like this one are indeed interesting and create traffic for your blog, you need to get over trying to please lame people by writing about this stuff.

    You have a great site and I hope you are bringing in the $$$ big time and/or having the time of your life. Keep earning millions of points and showing us your insight and tricks, but please stop with this type of posts.

    Keep up the good work.

  60. As far as I am concerned, you are under no obligation to be transparent about how you can afford to pay for your extensive globetrotting. However, if you are going to volunteer the info, then do so in a way that is truly transparent or informative! As presented, the whole thing is like fantasy, if not altogether misleading because it gives the impression that not much HARD CASH was spent to earn all those points. We see loads and loads of points being earned left and right, which are presumably how you afford your travels, but we have no idea how much hard cash was spent to earn the points, which are not free! For instance, it is fine to sign up for new credit cards to earn sign-up bonus points but we are told nothing about the minimum spend that is always required.

    500,000 points were earned from atual hotel stays but we have no idea how much hard cash you had spent to earn those points (the bonus points earned on award stays or as “welcome amenities” are a drop of water in the bucket!)

    550,000 points are earned from actual flying but we have no idea how much the tickets had cost in hard cash. Points cannot be earned on award tickets even with 100% elite bonuses because 100% of zero is zero!

    Furthermore, those points appear to be in addition to points that are earned from miscellaneous spend across multiple credit cards (e.g., at least $40K on the Citi Reserve HHonors visa, enough to secure a HHonors Diamond status).

    Lastly, it seems that some CC sign-up bonus points earned in 2014 are the same as those from 2013:

    2013
    Ink Plus® Business Credit Card
    Ink Bold® Business Charge Card (already had).
    two Alaska Airlines Signature Visa Cards and Alaska Airlines Business Visa Card.

    2014
    Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card (three personal, one business)
    Ink Plus® Business Credit Card
    Ink Bold® Business Charge Card

    Don’t all the banks now restrict or reject reapplication for cards that one already has?

    Like I said, you have no obligation to disclose how you fund your travels because it is no one’s business even if they wonder. But if you volunteer do disclose for the sake of “transparency”, then please be transparent! For me this would mean to say something like “I earned 3.0M points in 2014, which cost me roughly $234,567 USD or 7.8 cents/points. Without an idea of the HARD COLD CASH that you spent to earns all those points, transparency is simply claimed but not delivered… and for some of us who know that bonus points do cost real money, the whole disclosure thing is fantastical or make believe without a price tag for all those points… 😉

  61. DCS, as an amateur I could do annually 10 one ways in Luha F at United costs at zero cost plus have a positive net cash flow of at leasts 12K to pay for the restaurants. Top hotels are free most of the time, too :))))

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