What We Spent All That Money on to Get the Miles

Current miles: 295,000

Goal miles: 375,000

In my last post, I told you that we planned to spend $10,000 in less than two months in order to get about $10,000 worth of free airline tickets. Actually, the whole effort was more like spending $16,000 in under four months, because at the time I wrote that, we had already spent $6,000 to earn the sign-up bonuses on two other cards. All this spending earned us a total of about 265,000 miles in bonuses. That might sound crazy. After all, if we have that kind of money on hand, why not just buy the airplane tickets outright?

The reason it’s not crazy is that we spent the money on stuff we were going to pay for anyway. This is a really central tenet of the whole credit card miles thing. You can’t be going out and spending on stuff you wouldn’t have otherwise bought, just to earn the miles. You especially can’t put purchases on these cards that you can’t pay for as soon as the bill comes in, because the moment you pay an interest charge, you’re behind. This game is only worth it if you pay no late fees or interest charges. Seriously!

This post is a little awkward to write, because I get that not everyone can just decide to put thousands of dollars on credit cards over the course of a few months. We are a bigger family in a high-cost area, and although these high costs mean we are far from rich, our monthly income is above the national average. We had some cash reserves on hand, and we had a number of deferred expenditures that had built up because I’m cheap and tend to put off spending money. Not only that, but spring happens to be a time of year when we have to prepay for a bunch of summer programs for the kids so that I can continue working during their summer break. Not everyone will find themselves with as much inflow and outflow as our current situation calls for.

On the other hand, most people reading this might only be trying to get two or three free airline tickets, and might have longer than a month to get all the spending done. The bonus offers I applied for all allowed three months for making the minimum spend. So even if it doesn’t work for you just as it worked for us, it may work for you in your own way.

So what did we spend all that money on in such a short time? Basically, we spent $3,500 on kids’ camps and classes, $2,000 on charity, $2,000 on skiing (some reimbursed), $1,400 at restaurants (a lot of that reimbursed by fellow diners), $1,000 on business expenses, $1,000 on gifts, $850 on groceries, $750 on airfare for family events, $300 on one of our kids’ birthdays, $750 on gift cards for future groceries and the rest on miscellaneous one-time splurges, purchases and bills.

In other words, this stuff: 

$3,000 Spend No. 1 for 50,000 bonus AAdvantage miles:

$2,000 in charitable contributions (I meant to do this in December like we usually do, but fortunately for this project, I got too busy and forgot. And if you’re curious, I chose the Malala Fund, Doctors Without Borders, and the Polaris Project.)

$350 for dinner with friends who reimbursed us with cash for their meals

$200 for ski lift tickets (ouch)

$150 taking my kid and friends to a painted pottery place on her birthday

$120 on my daughter’s birthday party (favors, food, supplies)

$180 on miscellaneous expenses (breakfast out, public transit, ice cream, etc.)

$3,000 Spend No. 2 for 50,000 bonus AAdvantage miles

$800 laptop for work

$250 rental car for ski trip

$450 groceries

$80 newspaper subscription

$525 one week worth of summer programs for kids 2 and 3

$90 housecleaning through Handy.com

$100 trash bill

$550 new robot vacuum! (one of those things I’d been wanting to buy but put off)

$200 meals out and takeout

$3,000 Spend No. 3 for 30,000 AAdvantage miles via Starwood points

$1,400 4 weeks of summer program for kid 1

$570 sleepaway camp for kid 2

$360 sleepaway camp for kid 1

$60 work clothes for new job

$185 groceries

$160 random stuff on Amazon (who knows?)

$100 lunch, movie, drinks out

the rest: misc

$3,000 Spend No. 4 for 30,000 AAdvantage miles via Starwood points

$200 Erik shoes (don’t ask)

$200 tickets to Macbeth!

$780 ski weekend rental (partially reimbursed by others)

$800 lift tickets and ski rental (partially reimbursed by others)

$450 airfare for a family birthday

$200 groceries

$200 restaurants

the rest: misc

$3,000 Spend No. 5 for 60,000 AAdvantage miles* 

$800 Christmas presents

$700 Raiders tickets (Erik was reimbursed for one of them)

$315 after-school class for kid 3

$550 restaurant lunch, mostly reimbursed by other diners

$200 Girl Scout troop event (reimbursed)

$300 airfare for a wedding

$200 ice skating class for kid 1

750 Spend for 25,000 AAdvantage miles

Gift cards for Safeway, Trader Joe’s and Starbucks, to spend later

* We were promised 50,000 and don’t know why they gave us 60,000.