If You’re Rich, Then the Points Game is For You!

Wait, you're telling me you DON'T have stacks of Benjamin's laying around?

Wait, you’re telling me you DON’T have stacks of Benjamin’s laying around?

Do you have access to lots of cash? Do you have lots of time on your hands? Do you enjoy travel?

If you answered “yes” to these three questions, then the points game is for you!

Although I haven’t been part of the points community for a very long time compared to many others, I’ve been around long enough to make an interesting observation: if you have cash, you can seriously turbocharge your points/miles-earning strategy. I find this to be interesting not just for that fact itself, but because most of the travel-blogging websites (including Travel Summary) make a point of explaining how you can travel cheaper and better than you thought possible, all through the use of points and your credit. It’s true, but it’s only part of the story.

Allow me to explain. If you’re a casual traveler, which most of you are, then yes, all you really need are credit card sign-ups. If you sign up for 3+ new cards every 3-4 months, you should have more than enough loyalty points saved up to take at least one and probably two amazing vacations per year with minimal cash spent. This is perfect for most people. Vacation days are hard to come by if you have a real job, so one or two big vacations a year is a very realistic goal that people have.

But people are also greedy by nature. Once you fly Business or First Class, you probably won’t want to go back to the back of the plane. Once you’ve stayed in the heart of Paris or in an over-water room in the Maldives, a regular hotel probably won’t hold the same appeal. You want more. And if you enjoy travel, you want it more often too. That takes a lot more points.

That’s where the “advanced” points-earning schemes come in. I call them advanced because it’s not simply about getting 5x everywhere or just signing up for cards anymore. The game transforms from maximizing points from spending into simply generating points for as little money as possible. These are very different things, and having more money can really allow you to maximize your return.

It sounds obvious, right? We’ve all heard people say that those with lots of money can make more money than people that have less. It’s definitely true in the points world.

For example, I mentioned in my recent Tips & Tricks post that you can earn 50K United, American, or Delta points just by depositing money into a Fidelity account. How much does it take? A cool $100K. You can cycle the same money in and out several times (I did that myself), but if you’re trying with anything less than $15K then I’m sure even you’ll feel a little uneasy about making 6-7 deposits and withdrawals. It’s simply easier and faster if you have more cash.

Lets look at another example. Last year, The Frequent Miler earned a Southwest Companion Pass by buying several tablet computers and then selling them via Amazon. His total cost came to about $400, but he first had to pay off his $3.4K purchase because of the time it takes to sell products. Essentially, you would have to have been able to “float,” or live without, $3.4K for several weeks before you received it back if your replicated that deal.

One more example, this time with Amex Prepaid cards. You can load an Amex prepaid card with $2.5K per month, and withdrawing those funds costs money. You’d be crazy to simply pull all $2.5K out via ATM over just a few days, so once again you’ll likely need to “float” that money (keep it in the account) for several weeks until you can pull that money out without it looking too suspicious.

The point is that the ability to “float” money can potentially earn you a ton more points than someone without a large cash savings normally could. The best example of this is the NetSpend prepaid card. You can earn 15K points by simply loading the maximum amount of $15K over two days, but there’s a 99.99% chance that your account will get shut down for doing so (see the 250+ comments on The Frequent Miler’s post here). That money is rightfully yours so it will be returned to you after a couple of months of arguing with them. So, if you want 15K points and can part with $15K for a few months, it’s easy points.

Similarly, I’m sure you know how hard it is to find Vanilla Reloads sometimes. If you’re like me, you’ve gotten to the point of “Okay, if I find them I’ll buy them, even though I’ve already hit all my limits for the month.” Bluebird’s $5K limit is annoying, and by the 5th of the month I’m already impatiently waiting for the 1st of the next month. But since Vanilla Reloads have been known to be scarce, I still go and buy some. Who knows if they’ll be there next time? You remember what happened with Office Depot, right? They literally disappeared from the stores over night. My mind keeps telling me to stock up now while I still can at CVS.

I know I’m not alone with that feeling. I regularly read tweets about people stocking up in anticipation of the next month’s load. People have literally saved $15K+ worth, just waiting to load them to their Bluebird, their spouse’s Bluebird, and all six of the Amex prepaids (three each). Others have generous family members that allow them to use their Bluebird accounts, so they have tons of avenues for free points.

You know why February is my favorite month? Because I only have to wait 28 days before I can load my Bluebird again!

Trivia time! Why is February the favorite month of points-crazy people? Because they only have to wait 28 days before they can load their Bluebird(s) again in March!

Oh, and don’t forget to factor in the time as well. First you have to find all those Vanilla Reloads. Since there’s a $1K transaction limit you’ll have to go back a dozen times or go to a dozen different stores. Then you have to make trips to the ATM for the Amex prepaids, and then to your actual bank to deposit your cash. Then you can finally pay off your cards.

Yes, the rich get richer. That’s just how it is, unless you can find a way to cash out quickly and cheaply in order to pay your credit card bill before it’s due. For the record, while I do agree that “people with money can make a lot of money,” I also believe that “if you can’t make money without money, then you probably can’t make money with money either.”

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Comments

  1. A great point you make, I have thought about this, too. It is a bit like Costco. A Costco parking lot is always filled with nice cars, the people who most need to save do no necessarily have access to a car and the ability to pay for large quantities up front.

    • Travel Summary says:

      Thanks! I completely agree. One thing I’ve learned is that people that have money earned it by being smart with their money, not just in business but in their personal lives. They definitely don’t like having to spend lots of money!

  2. MilesMaven says:

    Great post! Though sitting on 20k+ of VRs for days while waiting for the first of the month to arrive is not for the faint of heart – rich or poor!

    • Travel Summary says:

      Thanks! Totally agree…if you’re saving ANY amount of VRs, you’d better pray that they don’t get misplaced/stolen or worse, that the company doesn’t file for bankruptcy!

  3. I too was thinking along these lines. Another great post.

    A few notes on the Fidelity deal…

    1) In addition to eliminating the double-dip opportunity they re-defined how they calculate transfers in/out to eliminate the opportunity of churning the same $15k (for example) through the system:

    “Net new assets are defined as an individual’s external new money in minus money out, including distributions and transfers”

    2) Nonetheless I went forward with the offer and transferred funds “in kind” from another brokerage. I thought these might not qualify and/or I’d have to liquidate and repurchase. Not the case. Transfers of existing securities should work.

    3) The Fidelity agent I got on the phone when calling for clarification on this was *fantastic*. He helped me through the process of creating an account and requesting the transfer online. Took about 15 minutes. I really like their site too. It was easy to check the status of the transfer and it went through in just a few days, faster than expected.

    So thanks for the heads up on that one in addition to your prior great help on the AmEx 100k/50k offer!

    • Travel Summary says:

      Thanks for the data points. This essentially confirms that the rich, people with $100K laying around, are at an advantage in this game!

      • That Fidelity churning trick is dead. It’s been dead since March 2012. You can’t churn anymore but you can sign up for the offer once a year.

        I’m not sure parking $100k in a Fidelity account for 9 months in exchange for 50k miles is a great deal. There’s an opportunity cost because you can invest that money or even just collect interest on it.

        • Well, it is a brokerage account so the idea is to invest it. That’s what I liked about the in-kind transfer. Not viable if you don’t have enough securities to qualify for the bonuses but if the money is already tied up in stocks or mutual funds it really doesn’t matter which brokerage looks over it.

      • I took advantage of the Fidelity offer and deposited $200K. 100K UA was a decent bonus for dumping money in an account I’ll empty soon.

        FWIW, Ameritrade gives $1K for every $250K if you find the right links (most links only point to $500 credit). They now allow 2 bonuses per person, so you can transfer over $500K and get bonus x 2 – I was planning to move cash back to Ameritrade anyway so this was effectively a $2K gift. They also give 300 free trades (I don’t trade often, so of little use to me, but for some, that can be worth another few thousand dollars in saved commissions).

        Nice thing about the Ameritrade bonus is you can deposit IRA money, whereas Fidelity is non IRA.

        And yes, does help to be able to carry the float – but it also involves lost opportunity costs.

        As for loading up and w/d via ATM for Amex Prepaid, that’s what I do. But to keep fees low, only load up $500 and use free ATM. 6 cards for spouse and I = $3K low cost spend. If load the other $2K, load/unload fees start pushing 1% and unless you are getting 5x, not worth it. I use BB for my 5x, so important to keep fees low on other spend.

        Kiva is another place where you need to be able to carry float. Works very well with Amex products as some Amex cards give 3x MR on Kiva.

        As for buying $15K VR’s, that’s foolish goldrush mentality that gets deals killed. But dopes never learn…

  4. Does cycling still work with Fidelity? I thought they put a stop to that last year.

    • Travel Summary says:

      According to Robert above, it seems like they did put a stop to this. I tried it myself in early 2012 and it worked just fine at that point.

  5. Hey, pretty good. Very true…you know, it helps you have money to make money! For the record, back in the middle of the last decade these brokerage account bonuses were pretty wild, including E*Trade. I had a large pile of cash sitting around and cycled it quite a lot. I called it my “whore” account. It was such a whore that all these companies would NOT give me any more miles anymore…and I tried! So I park all my personal accounts at TD Ameritrade and have withdrawn from this aspect of earning miles/points.
    I miss E*Trade:-)

  6. Really? You dont think people with large stacks of cash value their time more than us peons?

  7. LOL, the Rich will tell you that 100K is not rich. They have a theory that 1M is not rich either, nowadays. Being rich and the ability to float $3-4 K or transfer 100-250K to a brokerage account are two completely different things. Hence, your article should begin “If you’re financially secure…” although I understand it wouldn’t have the same buzz to it:-) Great write up, though.

  8. Nice post. Takes money to make money – Which makes this a fun game- Sometimes it’s like gambling -Some play bigger hands than others.

  9. Yes but,
    there is an opportunity cost, eg if you invested in S&P 500 index fund, your average return has been about 8.28% over the last five years (period includes one the of worst downturns in the last 100 years) so using cash to get more miles must be compared with investing. The last 12 months, S&P 500 index fund returned 17%, so if you took money out for even 50K or 100K miles, you lost big time.

  10. Travel Summary says:

    But your money isn’t tied up. I was able to pull my money out within a couple of months without issue. That way you get the miles and still get to invest it for most of the time :)

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