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I never kept track of my earnings in previous years. But this month, out of curiosity I decided to put a spreadsheet together. Much to my surprise, I earned over 1.6 million points in 2016!

(SEE ALSO: I got a million points, and you can too!)

Over 1.6 million points earned in 2016

Points earned from sign-up bonus and credit card charges contributed to three-quarter of the total points i earned in 2016. I don’t do manufacturing spending nor do I do reselling. I simply don’t have the time for it, and they are a bit too complicated for me.

I also purchased about 244,000 points last year and they were not included in the 1.6 million points I earned.image

887K points from credit card sign-up bonus

I started collecting points and miles seriously at the beginning of 2012. By 2016, I had gone through many of the cards out there. I became more selective about new cards. I don’t take Amtrak nor do I fly Southwest or JetBlue, so their cards do not interest me much (even though that might change in the future). I focused on cards either with big sign-up bonus or cards that would help me with upcoming trips.

[List of best travel credit cards]

  • 75,000 Amex Mercedes-Benz Platinum (the highest offer ever at the time)
  • 75,000 Amex Business Gold (my 2nd time, as the offer didn’t contain the “once-in-a-lifetime” language)
  • 35,000 Amex SPG Business (temporarily increased sign-up bonus)
  • 50,000 Amex Hilton (unfortunately I missed the increased offer)
  • 70,000 Amex Delta Platinum Business (temporarily increased sign-up bonus)
  • 50,000 Barclay Hawaiian Airlines (for my Hawaii trip next year, special link used)
  • 34,800 US Bank Flexperks Visa (Olympic promotion)
  • 50,000 Citi ThankYou Premier
  • 160,000 Citi Hilton Reserve (equivalent value for two free nights)
  • 87,500 Chase Marriott (I had this card 24 months prior)
  • 100,000 Chase Sapphire Reserve from my husband
  • 100,000 Amex Business Platinum from my husband

When the Chase Sapphire Reserve card was introduced, I was kind of bummed because I know I would not get approved due to the 5/24 rule. Luckily it wasn’t too hard to convince my husband to apply. He also agreed to get the Amex Business Platinum card. Having a partner in the game would really help, but in my case, it was most likely an one-time deal.

[I’m way over 5/24… I applied for a new Chase Ink card anyways]

80K points from credit card anniversary and threshold bonus

These points came from cards I kept from prior year. Some have anniversary bonus while others have spending bonus by reaching a spending threshold. I plan to continue to hold these cards as they are easy points to earn.

image-1200K points from various promotions

These points came from transfer bonus, credit card referral, retention offers, promotions such as IHG Priceless Surprise, Hyatt “Stay More Play More”, and various Virgin Elevate promotions. I paid close attention to all the promotions available and try to maximize if I can.

45K points from online purchases

One advantage of having three girls is that we do shop a lot! I did most of my shopping online by going through various airline or cash back shopping portals. I usually started at Cash Back Monitor to find the portal with the highest earn rate. I also took advantage of the various portal offers like the one just ended. As an example, we need lotions and makeup, and the prices are usually the same at Sephora or Sakes or Nordstrom and Macy’s. But each store pays out differently when you shop through a portal. I buy when Sephora is paying 12x or when Saks is paying 15x, and skip the 3x at Macy’s or 1x at Nordstrom! I buy girls’ backpacks or our luggage from eBags which often pays 12x or 15x, and I stack it with Amex Offer to save even more.

63K points from flights and hotel stays

Naturally I didn’t earn much i this category because most of our flights were either booked using miles or flexible points that earned us miles. We stayed mostly at Hyatt hotels in 2016 to take advantage of my Hyatt diamond status. Most stays were booked using points and cash, though sometimes I paid cash if it represented better value than using points.  [SEE ALSO: How I Saved 50% at Hyatt All-Inclusive Resorts.]

350K points from credit card charges including bonus

No I did not charge $350,000 on my credit cards! But we do have lots of expenses every year (since we live in Silicon Valley). I also tried my best to maximize all the bonus points I could earn.

  • Make at least 30 transactions every month on Amex Everyday Preferred card to trigger 50% bonus on all purchases. (It is easier than you think!)
  • Max out on Chase Freedom quarterly category bonus, but first quarter is usually difficult for me.
  • 50% bonus on charges over $5,000 on Amex Business Platinum.
  • Amex 2x Small Business Promotion. It is super sweet when combining this promotion with the 50% bonus on the Business Platinum card.
  • 4.5x on grocery purchases (5x during Q2) including gift cards
  • 3x travel and dining
  • 3x on gas (5x during Q1)
  • 2x on entertainment
  • 1.5x on everything else

 1.3 million points redeemed

I know “earn ’em burn ’em” is really the name of the game. But with limited vacation days and 3 kids to raise, I just couldn’t earn and burn at the same rate. However, I did redeem 1.3 million points during 2016. Most redemptions were for 2017 trips, but some went to helping friends and family. image-2When I redeem my points, I paid close attention to which program would give me the most value. For example, instead of using all points for a Hyatt stay, I would combine points and cash, or something I would pay cash and keep the points. Or when booking a Delta flight, I might book it through Amex Travel and paid with membership rewards points, instead of booking directly with Delta using miles. [SEE ALSO:  Why I am loving the new 50% point rebate benefit from the Amex Business Platinum Card ]

The points aren’t completely free

Yes there were cost involved in earning those 1.6 million points. Obviously I paid a good amount of credit card fees each year. My rule has always been: 1) only pay annual fee on a credit card if I can get more value out of it; 2) only pay a fee to charge a purchase if points earned can be redeemed for a value higher than cost. I never carry credit card balances and always pay off each statement balance every month.

Free travel has never been my goal of collecting points and miles. Instead, they helped me to lower the cost of my family’s travel. By redeeming points, I was able to save on flights and hotels, therefore able to spend more on activities and food, or to take a few more trips.

Strategy for 2017

I have reached a good combination of cards that I am planning to keep going forward. This year I doubt I will be able to top the sign-up bonus I earned in 2016, Nonetheless, I will continue to look for cards with big bonus and offers targeted to me personally.

The rest won’t change, it has become a habit of mine that is impossible to break – paying attention to promotions and category bonus, shopping through online portals, keeping track of threshold spending.

Thanks to miles and points, my family were able to take some incredible trips in the past and made unforgettable memories. I am sure there will be more in the future, as I have a healthy amount of points and miles remaining at the end of 2016.

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