At FTU Seattle a few months ago, I gave a presentation about how I once churned $323,000 worth of gift cards in a month. I shared that up until recently, I was regularly churning at least $50,000 worth of gift cards every month. Afterwards, I got a lot of questions about what I do with so many miles.
Did I have a redemption in mind? Why keep earning them if I’m not burning them right away? I want to preface this by clarifying that I don’t regularly generate 300,000+ miles in a single month – nowadays, it’s more like 40,000 – 60,000 (depending on the weather and what’s on TV). I do travel and book trips for my immediate family, but I also generate quite a bit of cash back via manufactured spending.
That being said, I’m not even really doing this for the miles and where they can get me. I’m doing it for the rush.
Confused? Let me explain. Miles and points are great – you can have amazing travel experiences at a fraction of what most people people. You can fly in incredible premium cabins and stay at the best hotels. That stuff is obviously a lot of fun, but earning all of those miles and points does take time and effort. Not a huge amount for me, since my WM is pretty MS-friendly, but as a reader once put it, I could be doing more valuable things with my time. So why do I keep doing this, if not for the miles or travel experiences? Weirdly, it’s the high of seeing my milage balance increase.
Back when I still had an Arrival Plus Card, that was my favorite part – spending $9,500 on gift cards in one visit to my local mall and then seeing 19,000 Arrival Miles post to my account the next day. I didn’t even have a use in mind – I just liked earning them. The same goes for pretty much any other currency (assuming the bank issuing the credit card is MS-friendly). The best part of churning hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gift cards in a month was the rush from earning all those miles. That’s not the company-approved line for travel hacking bloggers, but it’s how I feel.
Did I enjoy all those trips I took on miles? All the memories I made with my family? The Mother’s Day I spent with my mom in Cancun? The wonderful spiritual experience of Umrah? Of course I did, but those are the long-term benefits. Short term, if it wasn’t for that endorphin hit of seeing my mileage balance increase substantially every few weeks, I may not have been so persistent. I would have stopped looking for MS-friendly Walmarts and probably given up in the early Vanilla Reload days. Moreover, I would not have kept earning miles without a set goal in mind. To quote Ryan Bingham, “The miles are the goal.” [SPOILER ALERT] I know he ends up sad and alone at the end of that movie, but I’d like to think once he saw all those Hilton Honors points posting to his account, he was happy again.
Anyway, maybe it’s weird but that short-term endorphin hit is what I miss most about earning hundreds of thousands of miles every month. It’s why I spent Saturday mornings standing in line at Walmart, followed by 15 minutes of completing surveys for my favorite cashiers.
Seeing my airline mile balance grow by thousands of miles every month provides that boost to get me going. Why did I stop? A combination of lacking time and the poor weather. Seriously, who wants to drive in the rain anywhere, let alone to liquidate gift cards? Now that the weather is nicer and my schedule has died down in time for those 100 degree days, I look forward to once again spending Saturday mornings in line at an (air conditioned) Walmart store to buy money orders.
I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me, but what is it about this hobby that keeps you motivated in the long and short term?