Collecting Half a Million Points to Travel to Europe Details

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Collecting half a million points to travel to Europe isn’t easy.  One of my readers mentioned that my post on planning a $40K trip for $1K is “disingenuous at best” and asks “what did it cost to get the points?”.  I think this is a legitimate question and I appreciate the interest.  It’s hard to believe that collecting half a million points “didn’t cost anything” other than time.  I’ll have to admit that it definitely isn’t a cake walk, but it is completely doable if you meet these simple qualifications:

  • Decent Credit Score.  I would say if you have a credit score in the 700s that you are capable of signing up for credit cards to earn thousands of points and miles. 
  • Fiancially Organized.  If you have a tendency to forget payments or aren’t very organized with your bills and expenses, credit card churning is not for you. 
  • Income.  Contrary to some people’s belief, some sort of income helps a lot in accumulating your points by charging all your bills and expenses on credit cards.  It’s possible to have little or no income and collect points solely on credit card sign ups, but I don’t recommend doing so because it’s not the most financially wise decision in my opinion. 
  • Not applying for a big loan.  I would advise to not apply for more than 1 credit card 1 year before your big loan.  I think one or two credit cards is fine because applying for a credit card is a normal thing, but applying for 5 or 6 credit cards might have an outside person question your credibility.  I was able to get a mortgage loan at a decent rate even with credit card churning (lucky!), however I wouldn’t advise it because it might affect it. 

As mentioned before here are the 465,000 points I spent on my trip:

Description Retail Value Cash Points Notes
Los Angeles to London British Air First Class  $24,000  $ 658   125,000 2 Award Tickets, $329 in taxes per person
4 Nights at Hillton Trafalgar                             2,000      145,000 Hilton AXON Award – no longer available
London Gatwick to Munich                                 113                113               –   2 EasyJet Tickets 
3 Nights at Residence Inn Munich City East                                600        40,000 20,000 per night (now 25k), used free night from Megabonus
2 Nights at Hotel Bavaria Berchtesgaden                                300        29,800 Barclaycard Points from Barclaycard Arrival
Sheraton Salzburg                                400                         14,800 Cash and Points before devaluation, and Barclay points.
Sheraton Frankfurt Airport                                300                         10,500 Cash and Points before devaluation, and Barclay points.
Salzburg to Frankfurt to Los Angeles Lufthansa Business Class                          13,000                250    100,000 2 Award Tickets, $125 in taxes per person
Total  $40,713  $1,021 465,100  

Collecting half a million points to travel to Europe took some time and patience.  It was definitely not an overnight thing.  Here are the credit card sign ups and methods I used, I added the sign-up bonuses at the time I signed up.  Note that the sign-up bonuses may differ now (no affiliate links):

Points/Miles Credit Cards Annual Fee
125K AA Miles American Airline Business Credit Card – 50K miles, Bankdirect checking account over 1.5 years, SPG AMEX 30K Bonus Waived 1st year
145,000 Hilton Hhonors 2X 50K Citi Hilton Cards two-browser trick (now dead) and 60K AMEX Hilton no-fee version $0
40,000 Marriott Points 70K Chase Marriott Credit Card Waived 1st year
46,300 Barclaycard Points 40K Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard Waived 1st year
9,800 SPG Points SPG AMEX 30K Bonus Waived 1st year
100,000 United Miles Chase Ink Bold 50K, Chase United 55K Waived 1st year

Notes:

  • I ended up converting the cash portion of the “cash and points” redemption to Barclaycard Arrival points. 
  • I applied for two no-fee Citi Hilton cards using the two-browser trick, but it doesn’t work anymore.
  • Some of these credit cards have lower sign up bonuses now like the AA Business Card and Chase United card.
  • I paid $0 annual fees.
  • I applied for 8 credit cards over about a 9 month spand to collect half a million credit card points.  The minimum spend requirements were met mostly by Amazon Payments, gift card churning, Vanilla Reloads, and everyday spending.

I’ll have to admit that it is hard to answer the reader’s question of the “cost of obtaining the points”.  As shown above, I applied for 8 credit cards and that isn’t something everyone wants to do.  It does take time and organization.  I mostly used no-fee ways to meet minimum spend as I mentioned in this post. However, I did mix some Vanilla Reload cards to meet minimum spend.  I would say that the fees are immaterial and would be too complicated to calculate.  To give a better picture, I applied for 2 or 3 credit cards every 3 months.  Each time, I would need to meet about $5K to $6K in minimum spend in 3 months.  Using Amazon Payments, I would knock out half of that spend, and the remaining would be everyday spend and Vanilla Reloads here and there. 

The true cost of collecting half a million points to travel to Europe was time.  I’m not sure if the reader was talking about opportunity costs or not.  I could have spent everything on a 2% cash back credit card and that would be the opportunity cost.  It was not costly to obtain these points, but it was definitely time consuming  However, it was well worth it!  Do you think I should consider opportunity costs in the “cost of obtaining points”?  Is this reader’s question legitimate or is he just being a troll?

14 comments for “Collecting Half a Million Points to Travel to Europe Details

  1. SJCRussell
    July 15, 2013 at 10:20 am

    I track the cost of this hobby using Mint. I change the purchase category (of say 2xVR from CVS) to ‘transfer between accounts’ so that it doesn’t show as spend as this cash will just be cycled. I then split the transaction so that $7.90 goes towards a category called ‘frequent flyer’. I do this for all manufactured spending and cashing out (ATM fees etc.) and this allows me to see my monthly spend on this hobby. It can be eye opening as to how much all those small fees can add up. It also can be used for things that reduce the cost such as TCB payouts.
    Hope this is helpful.

    • July 15, 2013 at 10:26 am

      Awesome! Yes, Vanilla Reload fees and other GC fees can add up. I suppose I could track them like you do as well. For my post, I was saying it is hard to segregate points from sign up bonuses vs. points from manufacturing spend. I’m just showing that you can do a trip like mine with little to no manufacturing spend, if you are somewhat new to credit cards. There comes a point where you’ve gotten almost every good rewards credit card and need to have high disposable income or manufacture spend at a small cost.

  2. Jay
    July 15, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Nice post, did you travel alone on this trip or with someone?

    Given that nearly all of your points essentially came from sign up bonuses, if you plan to replicate another 500k point trip, how will do it?

    • July 15, 2013 at 1:12 pm

      I traveled with my wife. I started getting my wife to sign up for credit cards, so it helps out now. I’ve planned a trip like this last year, so this is my 2nd big points and miles trip. My first trip to Europe was for my honeymoon. I’ll have to admit that it is harder each time. I would do some manufacture spending, no-fee methods, everyday spending, a few more credit cards, and some other misc business expenses. Since I only plan about one big international trip a year, I save up points throughout the year.

      • Jay
        July 15, 2013 at 4:47 pm

        Appreciate your speedy messages!

  3. Reader
    July 15, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Do you think as time goes on you would consider flying coach to EU and saving miles for Business Class/First Class for even further destinations (Asia, Australia, New Zealand)? My wife and I are now going to EU for our second time (coach both times, off peak AA awards + 10% Citi AA discount on miles). It’s nice to have a ton of miles leftover to go travel often, since as said above once you wipe out a ton of signup bonuses, its tough to replicate.

    • July 15, 2013 at 2:58 pm

      I wouldn’t mind flying economy, but my partner does… :(. Anyways, I would definitely look for off-peak coach with AA miles, 40K roundtrip is hard to beat! However, miles have the possibility of devaluing, so I would go business/first class if I can! The last thing you want is them pulling business/first class availability to your favorite destination! For example, AA pulled all the LAX-LHR first class British Airways availability! If I would have waited, I would never have experienced it.

      • Reader2
        July 15, 2013 at 4:51 pm

        In your chart you mentioned that the credit cards’ annual fees are waived the first year. Is this the first year you’ve signed up for those credit cards? Do you plan to keep all of the cards, or some of the cards?

        • July 15, 2013 at 7:35 pm

          I’ve canceled the AA business card, which doesn’t hurt your credit score because business credit lines aren’t tied to your personal credit score. I’ve gotten a 5,000 retention bonus for Chase Ink Bold and kept the Chase Marriott because of the free category 5 certificate worth around $200 in my opinion. The remaining cards I’m still waiting to ask for a retention bonus or possibly cancel.

  4. Paul
    July 15, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    Well, this “troll” thinks anyone saying the cost of churn is “immaterial” is blowing smoke up someone’s backside.

    • July 15, 2013 at 7:38 pm

      In my example I showed you can earn the points through CC sign ups and meet minimum spend with Chase gift cards and Amazon Payments for no cost. However, out of the required minimum spend, I might have bought a Vanilla Reload here or there. I’m not saying you can plan every trip solely with credit card sign ups if you’ve been doing this for a while. However, for somebody new it is possible to travel 1 or 2 big trips with just credit card sign ups. Can you expand on the costs you are referring to? Are you referring to opportunity costs or the costs of manufacture spending? Thanks!

  5. havaiisteve
    November 9, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    COSRCO Gift Card. If you’re a member of COSTCO….and if you’re getting ready to buy a Smart TV and a tablet….you can buy Gift Cards at the COSTCO website with AMEX, Visa or MC cards and hit that minimum spend. Now all I need is my new AA Business card to arrive before Black Friday. No fees.

    Also, buy gift cards at a discount at guilt!

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