What would you do with one million frequent flyer miles?
Would you take your whole family on a tropical vacation? Fly around the world? Enjoy a romantic European wine tour? With a million miles, the possibilities are endless.
But how on earth do you rack up so many miles? And for free? You don’t travel that much, and you don’t have time to take endless point-earning surveys.
Two words: credit cards.
As long as you have good credit and are responsible with your finances, you can apply for cards and receive huge sign-up bonuses — without ruining your credit score.
Getting one million miles frequent flyer miles for free may be a challenge, but it’s possible with the cards we’ve found. (Though we wouldn’t necessarily recommend it unless you know what you’ll be using the points for. Better to spread your applications — and your vacations — out over a few years.)
To help you get started on your path to being a mile millionaire, we’ve compiled a list of the best credit card bonuses out there. These cards offer you lots of miles for simply spending money like you would anyways.
And don’t worry about high fees: most of their annual fees are waived for the first year (and even if you applied for every single card on the list, the fees would add up to less than $350).
The best part? If you received all of these cards and completed the required minimum spends, you’d be sitting pretty on more than one million points and miles that could be cashed in for free flights or hotel stays.
But first, let’s talk basics. (If you’re already familiar with credit card churns, click here to go straight to the list of cards.)
When experienced miles and points junkies apply for several credit cards at once, they call it a “churn.” After their applications are approved, they spend the requisite amounts on the cards, receive their sign-up bonuses, and cash them in for free travel.
Sounds cool, right? Here’s a detailed explanation of how you can complete your own churn:
How to Complete Your First Credit Card Churn
1. Check your credit
Before you even consider doing a churn, you’ll need to check your credit score. If it’s not very good or excellent, then this isn’t for you. And if you’re planning on applying for a major loan in the next year or two, you should also avoid churning — since you want to ensure you’ll get the best rate possible from your lender.
For alternatives, here are some ideas on earning miles without credit cards.
2. Figure out how you want to use your miles and points
If your credit’s golden, it’s time to move on to the next step. Think about where and how you want to use your miles. Do you want to buy two first-class flights to Australia? Or do you want to buy a bunch of economy domestic tickets to visit friends and family?
How you plan on using your points will affect which cards you apply for. Once you know, you can do some online research to find the best frequent flyer programs that fit your needs — and the cards associated with them.
You’ll note that several cards offer personal and business options. You can usually apply for both successfully. Even if the only business you’ve ever done is sold something on eBay, you may still qualify.
3. Apply for your cards on the same day
Once you know which cards you want, it’s time to apply. Sign-up bonuses come and go, so you don’t want a good deal to pass you by. (To stay in the loop, make sure you’re signed up for The Credit Card Fly email newsletter.)
It’s best to apply for all the cards in one day. This way, the credit card companies won’t be able to see all your other pending applications, which will increase your likelihood of being approved. It will also reduce the impact on your credit score, since all the inquiries will post on the same day.
4. Start paying for everything with credit cards
The majority of cards will require you to spend a certain amount of money on their card to receive your bonus. This is called the “minimum spend,” and it varies widely depending on the card.
Be sure to only apply for cards for which you can meet the minimum spend, as there’s no point in applying for a card if you won’t get the bonus. If you want to apply for more cards than you can meet the minimum spend for, save some for later. In a few months, once you’ve met the minimum spends on your first round of cards, you can complete another churn.
Now, the key is: don’t go spending a bunch of extra money just to meet the minimum spend on your cards. That won’t be beneficial. Just put all of your regular expenses onto credit cards. Your groceries, bills, and restaurant tabs. Depending on your lifestyle, that should allow you to meet the minimum spend for one or more cards.
5. Get creative to meet your minimum spends
But we’re talking serious travel hacking here. If you want to reach bigger spends and attain mega-bonuses, you’re going to have to think outside the box. Luckily, there are many frequent flyer nuts who’ve already come up with ideas to help you out.
Here are a few of our favorites:
This is probably the easiest way to reach minimum spends. And it comes at absolutely no cost to you. With Amazon payments, you can use your credit card to send up to $1,000 per month to another person — with no fees. This will help you knock off $3,000 in three months, which is more than the minimum spend for many credit cards.
Vanilla Reloads are gift cards that you load money onto with your credit card. The great thing about these is the money doesn’t have to remain on the gift cards — using some elite travel hacking, you can convert them back into cash.
Here’s a step-by-step to using these to reach minimum spends:
- Apply for a free Bluebird card from American Express.
- With the credit card for which you’re trying to meet the minimum spend, purchase Vanilla Reload cards from your local CVS. For a $500 card (the highest denomination), you’ll pay a $3.95 fee.
- Go online and load your Vanilla Reload cards onto your Bluebird card.
- Use the Bluebird card to pay for any of your regular cash expenses. Pay your rent or mortgage, or simply withdraw money from the ATM.
- Rinse and repeat — up to the maximum of $5,000 per month. Just using this method, you could cover $60,000 of minimum spends in a year!
If the minimum spend deadline is closing in on you, you can always purchase gift cards to use later. Though you won’t get this money back (like with Vanilla Reloads), it’s a good way to extend your deadline. Both American Express and Visa offer gift cards that work like cash. If you purchase your AmEx gift cards through BigCrumbs, you’ll even earn 2% cash back.
Alternatively, you can purchase gift cards from stores you frequent: your grocery store, gas station, coffee shop, etc. Double-check their expiration policy before purchasing, and then sock them away until you’ve reached the minimum spend on all your cards.
6. Pay off the balances in full each month
This is THE most important rule in using credit cards to earn rewards. If you’re not planning on paying off your balance in full each and every month, then rewards credit cards are not for you. By leaving a balance on your card, any rewards you earn will be negated by sky-high interest rates.
7. Before the annual fee is due, call your credit card company
Most rewards credit cards waive their annual fee for the first year. Though some offer such good perks or bonuses that you’ll want to keep them for a second year, most do not.
Be aware that if your miles are linked directly to the credit card company (for example, Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou points), you’ll lose any bonuses by canceling the card. So be sure to use these miles before the annual fee is due, unless you plan on keeping the card. If your bonuses were earned with an airline or hotel chain, you’ll retain your rewards — but you’ll now have to be mindful of expiration dates.
Keep track of your cards in a spreadsheet and note when their annual fees will be due. A month prior, call your credit card company. You have three options:
- Cancel the card
- Ask for a “retention bonus” (a fee waiver or bonus miles)
- Downgrade to a fee-free card (but still maintain your line of credit)
There are pros and cons to all of the options, so do your research before calling the company — and if you don’t like the agent’s responses, hang up and call back.
That’s it! You officially know how to complete your first credit card churn. Now it’s time to decide which credit cards you should apply for.
The Credit Cards That Will Get You One Million Miles
We’ve scoured the internet and compiled a comprehensive list of the best cards out there. The following table is sortable by card name, issuer, annual fee, minimum spend, and sign-up bonus.
For the vast majority of the cards, the minimum spends must be completed within three months of opening the account. Please note that sign-up bonuses change all the time. If any of the links don’t work, it’s possible that the bonus has ended. To be sure, do a quick Google search or check with your favorite frequent flyer blogs.
There you have it. A list of cards that will get you one million frequent flyer miles.
These cards add up to grand total of 1,019,000 miles in sign-up bonuses, which doesn’t take into account the miles you’ll earn from completing the minimum spends. The annual fees add up to $334, and the required minimum spends to $62,530. Though that may sound like a lot, don’t forget that you can put almost all of your expenses on credit cards, as well as find creative ways to hack the system. (Click here to go back to the section about meeting minimum spends.)
Some last tips for travel rewards domination:
- Spread your applications out over issuers. (For example, don’t apply to only Chase cards.)
- Complete your applications in churns — maybe three times a year.
- If you’re denied for a card, call the issuer’s “reconsideration line.” Here’s a comprehensive list of phone numbers from Hack My Trip.
- Sign up for updates from The Credit Card Fly to stay on top of all the latest deals.
Lastly, be responsible with your finances and your credit. If you find yourself spending more money than you normally would just to get miles, it’s time to take a step back. As much fun as travel hacking is, it’s never worth going into debt or ruining your credit.
With the tips and cards listed in this post, you could soon have more than one million miles and points at your disposal.
The only hard part will be deciding where to go.