As noted in the Beginner’s Guide, certainly the low hanging fruit in the game of collecting points and miles is from credit card sign ups. However, those are neither infinitely available (which is why more than one person working helps) nor are they infinitely attainable (a bank is only willing to extend someone so many cards.) That leaves your normal spending, or manufactured spending, for grinding out the work of getting more points. Normal spending is from regular purchases, manufactured spending is spending for the sake of running money through. For example, if I sent money to my friend via paypal and he handed me the remaining cash.
One of, if not the, most lucrative ways to take advantage of currently available offers is by grinding out the process of purchasing $200 gift cards from office stores, with $6.95 activation fees, to then buy money orders for oneself at the cost of $0.70 apiece, at Walmart sourced with 4 cards (limit) and 70 cents cash. Why office stores? This is earning Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which offer 5x points at these stores on the Ink Bold Business Charge Card and Ink Plus Business Credit Card. Upon purchase of the gift cards a PIN will need to be set before use. This method seems to have mediocre popularity as 1. it’s a pain, 2. the gift cards are often not there (competing with other versions of me, I suppose), 3. some Walmarts do not want to source gift cards (although I’ve always been able to buy at least one money order), 4. the process at Walmart can be busy/a pain and 5. some people don’t live near too many office stores or Walmarts.
I live in the suburbs – so proximity to office stores or Walmarts aren’t much of a problem. I also travel for work occasionally and one of the cities I go to has a pretty good amount. I’ve actually made maps around home and this city and another to plot out paths to take; so when I arrive here at the airport I don’t go directly to my hotel, rather I perform my “southwest loop” and make my way to the hotel an hour later. I have two loops here and I’ll estimate each takes an hour.
So what’s the cost here?
- time (2 hours for case above)
- ((4 x ($200 + $6.95) + $0.70) – $800) / (4 x ($200 + $6.95) x 5) = 0.6886 cents per mile
I picked up 38 cards above, and still need to liquidate. A slower process but let’s pretend it takes 2 hours. Factor in fuel if desired, I’m not since it wasn’t that much and it was offset by my rental in this case. 38 cards * 5 points * ($200 + $6.95) = 39,321 Chase UR points. These convert to several airlines, including United. That is certainly enough for a round trip domestic flight. Going further and checking rates at the United Engine, Europe is currently 60k economy, or 115k for business class.
60k * 0.6886 cpm = around $450 for an Economy class ticket to Europe and ~6 hours worth of “work”
115k * 0.6886 cpm = around $800 for a Business class ticket to Europe and ~12 hours worth of “work”
Some caveats on the above of course; positive: refundable, negative: less desirable flights have greater saver award space. Big positive, at least until rules change: stopover and open jaw tricks leverageable on United. Is 12 hours of work, whether done as a new errand or out on an existing one, for an $800 business class flight worth it? I’d argue yes, particularly since I am being conservative with how efficiently I carry out that “work” task, which is far less than 12 hours for me. Of course this is not as good as new sign up awards – but it’s not bad either. Visa also has the SavingsEdge program, which my Chase Ink Plus is enrolled in. This results in 1% cash back statement credit on any purchase at Staples, bringing the cost down to 0.489 cents per mile for cards bought there.
Note other cards are available for other purchases, like Amazon, Chipotle, Starbucks, etc – rather than fill my Starbucks card at their store and getting 1 point per dollar, I do so via gift cards and get 5 points per dollar.