You can work for the bank, or you can make the bank work for you. After spending a few years getting my personal finances in order, I was finally able to make the bank work for me by playing the sky miles game.
Since I pay my credit cards off in full each month, sky miles are essentially “free money” for me. In fact, not taking advantage of sky mills is leaving money on the table for no good reason.
I also don’t use any advanced tricks. My approach is simple: Get a credit card, meet the minimum spend, get a new credit card, repeat. Other people treat using miles like a serious hobby. Different strokes for different folks.
If you play the game right, you’ll fly for free. If you slip up, the math gets complicated. (You may still receive some free travel, but you won’t max out your winnings.)
Before playing the sky miles game, remember the First Rule of Sky Club: The bank wants you to screw up. Rule 2 of Sky Club: If you do not screw up, the bank will try screwing you up.
Flying for free is relaxing.
How the Sky Miles Game is Played.
To trick you into screwing up your personal finances, credit card companies offer you a lavish amount of free airline travel for signing up for a credit card and meeting their minimum spending requirements.
For example, Chase Bank will give you $800 in free travel if you sign up for a SouthWest Rapid Rewards credit card and spend $2,500 within the first three months of having the card.
You also receive sky miles for every dollar you put on your credit card. You may receive anywhere from 1 to 3 miles per dollar you spend, depending on how the bank offers the deal to you.
The banks are not your friends. The bank wants you to forget to make a payment. When you miss a payment, the bank will charge you interest and fees and also rise your annual percentage rate (APR) on the card. Always make you payments in full and on time.
Even if you don’t miss a payment, there may be a “glitch” from the bank causing you to miss a payment. Keep track of your personal finances to avoid being unjustly charged a late fee.
How I Avoid Paying Late Fees.
When I receive a new credit card in the mail, I immediately go online to set the card up for auto-payment. I pay the balance in full.
Mint.com flags any late fees that hit any of my accounts. (I’m a huge fan of Mint.com and credit it with turning my personal finances around.)
Occasionally (see Rule 2) the bank will claim you missed a payment. Mint.com will sent you an e-mail alert, you contact the bank, and they correct the mistake.
How I Earned my 2014 Sky Miles.
I played the game intelligently. I would take out one credit card at a time, meet the minimum spend requirement for that card, and then open a new credit card. I took out around 8 credit cards in 2014.
The credit card sign-up bonuses included Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, and British Airways.
I racked up 150,000 Southwest miles by obtaining two credit cards for myself and two for my business. At the time (rules may have changed), Southwest would give a companion pass to anyone who acquired 100,000 miles in a fiscal year.
A companion pass allowed me to take someone with me for free whenever I travelled.
I travelled a lot in 2014.
2014 Trips / Travel Using Sky Miles.
I fly with Shauna each time. Shauna flew for free on Southwest, as I earned enough sky miles to get the coveted companion pass.
- Los Angeles to Las Vegas (three times)
- Los Angles to Chicago
- Los Angeles to New York (one way)
- Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles (one way)
- Los Angeles to Denver (I paid for my ticket; Shauna flew for free)
Southwest mileage balance – 45,000 miles.
Chicago is my kind of town.
Vegas has great night life.
Vegas also has world-class dining.
- Los Angeles to New York (two first-class tickets; one way)
- Miami to Los Angeles (Michael only; one way)
Americans Airlines mileage balance – 90,000 miles.
You can split your trips up into legs to take advantage of sky miles.
We flew to New York on sky miles and paid for tickets from JFK/NYC to St. John, Virgin Islands.
- New York to London (paid for 1/2 of trip, or one full ticket, with BA Avios/sky miles)
From London we flew into Rome, Italy. As I noted, above, you can use sky miles for one leg of the trip while paying out of pocket for the next leg of your flight.
British Airways mileage balance – 45,000.
How Much Do Sky Miles Cost?
The sky miles cost as much as the mileage bonus and sky miles you earn from purchases are worth less the annual fees you paid. Although I haven’t done the math, in 2014 I received several thousands of dollars in “free” flights.
In addition, I have over 250,000 unused sky miles.
Annual fees paid in 2014 – $1,170.
How to Learn More About Sky Miles?
I’m not in the credit card business. In theory I could sign up for credit card affiliate offers. I’d tell you about the benefits of a credit card, you’d sign up using my affiliate link, and I’d profit.
Since I don’t have any affiliate agreement with anyone, I’ll direct you to the site where I learned the game. Check out Million Mile Secrets.
You can also check out MileValue for more advanced tips. I don’t go into the sky miles stuff hardcore. I simply get a credit card, meet the minimum spend, and then get another credit card.
There are a lot more advanced tricks you can use.
(I do not have any affiliate arrangement with any bank, Mint.com, or the Million Mile Secrets or MileValue guys. I’m just sharing my approach, which is pretty simple and doesn’t take a lot of time. If you like this post so much that you want to thank me, go buy my juicing ebooks.)
How to Improve Your Credit.
If you’re not able to put the banks to work for you, check out my article on personal finance.
I started off with bad credit, built my credit up, and now the bank is my sugar mommy.
As always, there’s a way to game the system. Finding out how to game the system is one of my hobbies.
Are you a Sky Miles Junkie?
If so, what are your best tricks and tips for using sky miles? Post a comment or question below!