2012 Frequent Flyer Challenge: A Follow-Up


Last week I posted the Return of the Frequent Flyer Challenge—my latest plan to restock the miles I use to go all over the world for nearly-free.

A few people said that 250,000 miles was not enough of a challenge… so I’ve increased the goal. The new plan is to earn at least 400,000 miles or points in the next two weeks, and I’m now halfway there.

What Happened: Initial Applications

Here are the results thus far, along with a few tips and answers to questions that people had about their own travel hacking.

Citi Hilton Card. I was accepted immediately for the Citi Hilton, gaining two free nights and Gold status for as long as I keep the card. I already have Diamond status with Hilton and will likely requalify for next year, but the interesting thing with Hilton is that Gold status is really all you need. Gold includes free breakfast wherever you go, free internet, and room upgrades subject to availability.

Interesting: I’ve heard that other people are able to get two of these cards by simultaneously applying from two different browsers, thus doubling their free nights to a total of four. Nice work!

More on the Citi Hilton

Citi AA Platinum Card. I was approved yet again, earning an expected bonus of 30,000 American AAdvantage miles. This is at least the 15th AA Citi card I’ve had over the past three years, and the journey to repeated, carefully-spaced applications appears to be endless! Thanks, Citi.

Note: the 30,000 offer is now closed … but there is now an improved offer for 40,000 miles after a $3,000 minimum spend. Check out the new offer over here!

Virgin Atlantic AmEx. I applied for this card (not in my original list), and a strange thing happened—after submitting the application, the browser simply closed. I thought I had mistakenly shut it down and would need to apply again later, which was annoying since I prefer to do as many applications as possible on a single day to minimize credit reporting inquiries.

To my surprise, however, a brand-new Virgin Atlantic AmEx showed up in the mail a week later. Success! This card provides 20,000 points upon first use and an additional 25,000 points after completing a $2,500 minimum spend.

More on the Virgin Atlantic AmEx

Chase Ink Plus. This is one of the cards I was most excited about. I have the Chase Sapphire and the Chase Ink Bold already. The Ink Plus is another opportunity to earn an additional 25,000 points with initial signup, and another 25,000 points after completing a minimum spend. Unfortunately, I was initially declined for the card, on the basis of having too many accounts (“no kidding” was my response).

Fortunately, I was able to get the card manually approved by calling Chase (more on this process later). Therefore, I’m good to go with the initial 25,000 points, and I’ll now be working on the second 25,000.

More on the Chase Ink Plus

Chase Hyatt. Like Hilton, I have Diamond status with Hyatt, and I especially appreciate their Andaz and Park Hyatt brands. This card provides two free nights at any Hyatt property in the world. I’ve used points to stay at the Park Hyatts in Sydney and Tokyo, which usually cost at least $500 a night. When redeeming a free night certificate, you want to get a good value from it, so I’ll aim to use the free night certificates somewhere comparable.

I was initially declined for this card the same time I applied for the other Chase card. As with the Ink Plus, however, when I called the reconsideration line, I was approved within five minutes for the card. Success!

More on the Chase Hyatt


Your Results

I’ve heard from about 200 people so far who have been completing various applications for their own Frequent Flyer Challenge.

I’ve also heard a few questions, and I understand that a lot of people are new to card applications. Here are a few tips to manage this process.

1. A decline is not necessarily a decline.

As happened to me, sometimes you get turned down for a card through an automated process. At least half of the time, you can get approved manually by phoning the “reconsideration line” to speak with a real person. You should receive a phone number in the letter informing you of the decision—that’s how you reach the people with the ability to reverse the decision.

If you’ve been declined, they’ve already checked your credit, so it’s in your best interest to push for the successful completion of the app. If you have multiple cards, the decline may be due to having too much credit with one bank. In that case, they can simply shift credit around between various cards to create a successful approval.

2. To manage minimum spending, there are a few things you can do.

A few people asked about managing minimum spending. If you receive a card that requires a certain amount of minimum spend before receiving the bonus, do everything you can to ensure that most (if not all) of your expenses are going on cards.

If you have reimbursable business expenses you can charge, put them on the cards. Prepay any expenses if possible, and if you make charitable donations every year, put them on the cards.

For more creative efforts, Gary Leff has a post on how to get Wells Fargo gift cards with no cash advance fee, and Brian Kelly has a post on charging “office expenses” in the form of gift cards at Staples or Office Max. Both of these strategies require a bit of effort, but they’ll definitely help you meet the minimum spend.

Lastly, as long as you don’t go overboard, you can transfer up to $1,000 per month with Amazon payments for free.

3. Once you get miles, be sure to use them well!

With some diligence, you can regularly earn miles for many flights a year through repeated applications. As mentioned in the original post, make sure to maintain good credit and pay your balance in full every month.

Next, you’ll want to make sure you put your miles to good use. The best redemptions are aspirational awards—trips you wouldn’t otherwise be able to take.

I spend most of my travel time getting to places such as Yemen and Congo, but I’ve also taken a free First Class side-trip to Thailand. Many of my transpacific trips are with Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines, two great carriers that often have high fares but good award availability.


Recap of the Best Cards

Here are the links for the cards I recommend.

Chase Sapphire
Starwood Preferred Guest (Consumer)
Starwood Preferred Guest (Business)
Citi Hilton
Citi AA
AmEx Platinum
Gold Delta SkyMiles AmEx
Chase Ink Bold
Chase Ink Plus
Chase Hyatt
Bank of America Hawaiian Visa
Bank of America Virgin AmEx

Disclosure: If applying for multiple cards, it’s best to do so on a single day, every 3-6 months. This will ensure that all credit inquiries are posted at roughly the same time. In the long-term your credit score will increase (not decline) through the careful use of new cards, but you may see a slight drop when applying for a new group of cards.

Lastly, if you sign up for some of these cards through one of these links, I’ll receive a referral bonus. Though I appreciate you doing so, you certainly don’t have to. Generic links can be found on the card issuers pages (Citibank, Chase, AmEx, etc.).


I’m glad to restock my own mileage balances through the challenge, and I hope this has been helpful for you too.

Anything else I can help with, you can post a comment in the original thread.

(We keep comments open for a few days; if it’s closed by the time you’re reading this, send me an email.)


Image: PM

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