Saturday, June 29, 2013

Love Affairs With Frequent Flyer Miles... More Ways For YOU To Find The Wetspot

Almost two years ago my friend David told me about a British Airways Visa card offering 50,000 reward miles (enough for a round trip flight to Europe on BA) if one were to charge $2500 in the first ninety days. David has some property in Ireland, and he actually jumped on this offer when it was offering 100,000 miles (two round trips). I was late in signing up, but, still, 50,000 reward miles is enough to get to Europe for free, and he and I discussed using fewer miles on a British Airways partner airline to go to South America.
            Charging $2500 on a credit card can be easy for some. Some folks like to pay bills and are very disciplined when it comes to saving all the money they make in the bank and then dumping it into credit card payments each month. But I’ve tried to whole “pay my bills with credit cards” to acquire miles, and all that ever ends up happening is my credit card debts increase, and I spend all the money sitting in the bank on other things. I think credit card companies know this. You know that miles will accrue on the credit card if you use it to pay bills; you start charging everything to the card, but then you don’t want to spend more than you make each month. So then you start using a debit card, and, before you know it, your checking account doesn’t have enough money to pay off all the bills you charged last month.
            So how do you rack up credit card miles? Well, you might start off trying to be disciplined and paying bills. Then you’ll get into credit debt, and you’ll pay it off over the course of a year or more. And then, I suggest you dedicate two monthly bills that have predictable amounts, like a car payment and the amount you spend on groceries each month. Imagine if you spent $400 on groceries each month and had a $250 car payment. Set that money aside in your checking account until the bill is due, and then you don’t run yourself into debt. (Why didn’t I think of that?)
           By doing so, you are earning at least 650 miles a month if not more, which is at least 9000 miles a year. And if you have a credit card like the Capital One Venture card, that amount doubles. You get 2 points for every dollar. So at the end of a year you have 18,000 miles that you can cash in for $180 dollars of travel. Their website lets you pay off travel charges with miles (called the Purchase Eraser) or use the miles like cash when booking travel through their awards page. Do I suggest this method as a sole way to acquire cheap travel? No, but if you get a credit card with such benefits, it’s nice to be accumulating miles over time and cashing them in when the time is right. For instance, since I’ve had my Capital One Venture card, I’ve traveled to South Korea, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Russia. I didn’t use any miles to pay for these excursions, but over two years I’ve acquired 33,000 miles.
            If you really want to acquire miles, then you might want to get creative. What did David and I do? Well, David bought this device called a Cube, which attaches to your iPhone and allows you to use your phone as a credit card machine. Lately, I’ve seen these being used at garage sales, bars and food trucks. Instead of a modem and cash register and credit card machine sitting on top of a counter, someone just hands you an iPhone to sign and even tip them. I needed to charge $2000 to earn my free flight on BA. I’d charged about $860 already over the course of two weeks after losing my debit card, and David, a friend that I TRUST and who also saved my life once in Africa, charged me the remaining amount of about $1640 on his Cube. Once that money was deposited into his account, the Visa service fees had been subtracted. So VISA got what they wanted, about $67 in fees. David wrote me a check for the remainder of the amount charged.
            Now I know what some are thinking… That’s got to be illegal. But how so? VISA made an agreement with British Airways. After this many dollars are spent on a card, you must honor an awards ticket for our customer, who then becomes your customer. There is an expectation that more money will be spent once the miles are redeemed. Lawyers write the contracts, and math nerds crack the numbers and calculate how many people like me will actually pull this off, after spending so much money and over how much time. David and I basically found an opportunity to give VISA their fee, without spending the whole $2500 on actual bills that we would have to pay back, and I had 50,000 miles. David owns his own business, so he easily earns miles just putting business expenses on his credit cards. Keep in mind also that frequent flier miles like AVIOS are bought and sold for about 6 cents on most airline sites. So there are ways to buy miles and then cash them in, pay the taxes and fees and eventually get a cheap ticket. I’d be surprised if the airlines or a credit card company told me that they’d prefer I spend this money up and down Main Street, USA. They don’t give a rat. But David and I found a way to get an even cheaper ticket by simply harnassing the advantage of new technology that didn’t exist when BA and VISA thought up their “introductory offer.” They aren’t losing sleep over it either.  
            So where is this all going? Well, after working all year and studying Russian, I decided I wanted to go somewhere and practice my Russian. I didn’t want to go back to Russia just a year after my first trip. I didn’t want to pay for the visa, and I’m not fluent enough to navigate such a place without more fluency in the language. Without fluency, you need a guide if you want to stray anywhere outside of Russia’s largest cities. So I picked the Baltic countries instead. Never been there. They speak their own languages, and many speak Russian and English(even Polish and German), thanks to capitalism and the European Union replacing the collapsed Soviet Union.

            How will I get there? I’ll get to that in a few days in my next post.