What’s The Most Amount Of Travel Miles And Credit Card Rewards Points You’ve Accumulated A Year?

Beautiful Santorini, Greece

When I was a young buck, I used to travel like a maniac for work. I racked up travel miles fast because I was earning them non stop. I was based in Manhattan and had to cover clients in Florida, Bahamas, Iowa, Texas, Colorado, and California.

Then, there were the necessary quarterly or semi-annual pilgrimages to Hong Kong to kiss the ring. When you've got a corporate card with unlimited credit, you feel a little better about taking red-eyes to your 8am meetings.

But after a while, the novelty wears off and all you want to do is take the Chairman's Flight (fly in the middle of the work day). Eventually, I got burned out and decided to retire early and grow my own business, this site.

Accumulating Travel Miles

Travel miles and credit card rewards points were my combination of choice because not only would I gain more points flying more miles, I would then gain rewards points for every dollar I spent on the ticket, hotels, food, and entertainment.

For example, I'd earn 16,100 points for flying to Hong Kong from New York City roundtrip + 5,000 points for the cost of the business class ticket + 2,500 points for seven nights in a hotel + 1,000 points for food + 500 points for entertainment. The total rewards points accumulated would therefore equal ~25,000 for a one week business trip to Asia.

Related: How To Book A Flight For Someone Else Using Your Miles Or Points

From Three To Two Travel Miles Credit Cards

I used to have a Delta Skymiles credit card, an American Airlines credit card, and an AMEX corporate card as part of my arsenal of spending tools. After racking up 130,000 travel miles one year and accumulating roughly 180,000 credit card rewards points, I realized that having three travel credit cards was inefficient so I consolidated to just two.

See: What Is The Ideal Number Of Credit Cards One Should Have?

I was so proud of my 130,000 travel miles that I actually included that stat in a line item on my resume in my 20s. I know, a rookie move. In retrospect, I don't know how impressive the stat was since I've heard of people travel 300,000 – 500,000 miles a year. I find that absolutely amazing.

But those folks were either executives who constantly flew first or business class internationally, or worked in the airlines industry.

Didn't Break 100,000 Travel Miles Again

After 1999, I never breached 100,000 travel miles in one year again. Even though I've been averaging seven weeks of travel for the past four years, my total travel miles comes out to no more than 30,000 miles a year now.

One of the biggest downsides of no longer working for a large corporation is a lack of all these free side benefits. Despite the corporation owning my AMEX, I got all the points.

I save credit card rewards points like I save money: aggressively. In fact, every year my goal is to earn 50,000 rewards points (~$400-$500 value, Determining The Value Of Your Credit Card Rewards Points) so I can go on a round trip flight to Honolulu and back. I figure that since Hawaii is my favorite place on Earth, what a treat to always experience paradise for free.

Why pay for plane tickets when you can fly for free using rewards?

Even my big trip from San Francisco to London for Wimbledon this summer will only garner me 10,700 miles on my travel belt.

After about four years of charging and saving, I just realized I finally breached 100,000 credit card rewards points on my main personal credit card that I use for all things excluding travel. Now the question is: what should I buy? I think I'll just keep saving.

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53 thoughts on “What’s The Most Amount Of Travel Miles And Credit Card Rewards Points You’ve Accumulated A Year?”

  1. steve@ChattingFinance

    Haven’t been keeping track, but I would say close to 200K/year. I got addicted to credit card rewards after reading blogs like Million Mile Secrets and Boarding Area blogs.

    I was able to purchase 2 round trip tickets (Detroit to Honolulu) and 4 nights at the Waikiki Prince Hotel all with points accumulated in 2013.

    -Chase Ink Bold = 50K point signup (can be used on United Airlines)
    -Chase United Explorer = 50K point signup
    -Total of 100K United Miles.

    I booked 2 round trip tickets for 80K miles, so I had 20K to spare. You can’t get this deal anymore because United increased their award chart :-(

    The Capital One Venture had a 50,000 mile signup bonus as well and I used this card to pay for my hotel.

    So basically 3 credit cards got me a vacation for my wife and I in 2014.

  2. I probably earned 300,000 – 400,000 miles/points last year with sign up bonuses and manufactured spend.

  3. Financiable

    I have been a Hilton Honors member since I started my career in 2003. My best year was in 2012 when I earned in excess of 600,000 honors points through stays and use of the Amex preferred car. A large catalyst was living out of a hilton for the remaining two months of a 2 year contract working abroad. Upon giving notice, I was able to essentially give back my apartment to the company and collect my housing allowance in cash for the duration of my notice period. I worked out a half board deal with Hilton below my allowance that allowed me to bank a massive amount of points and save cash.

      1. Financiable

        Yes, this one is definitely in the win column. It took some careful planning along with a bit of luck. Notwithstanding, I am fairly certain some of my friends in consulting blow me out of the water and are the highest point earners on the planet. To make this a double win we are using the points for Conrad Maldives Spring 2015 – points are nothing without monetization!

  4. Hey,
    I have right now 345000 points on my citi thank you card.. I use anywhere from 8k to 15k a month on the card… personal.Probably $1500 on food, entertainment this month about 7k on furniture this past month, but that one time only..
    So , I use around 150 k per year.
    The best merchandise that you can get with my card is $1 for every 100 points. .. all the rest like watches, electronics, home items etc you get $4 to $6 for every $1000 spend. So just get best buy gift cards or $50 gift cards that you can use anywhere.

  5. Hey Sam,

    Question on Personal Capital. I’m looking at my efficient frontier, and I think I’m above it. Isn’t that supposed to be impossible?

    Target Allocation: 8.9% hist. return / 13.6% hist. risk
    Current Allocation: 8.7% hist. return / 12.0% hist. risk

    Any thoughts on why this is?

  6. Between point devaluations and reduced bonus offers, it’s pretty tough these days to build a huge pool of points. I’ve got like five figures leftover, but it’s honestly hard to use them, as the points are barely worth anything anymore. Thankfully, the Barclaycard is a terrific option. Points are really worth a penny.

  7. Unfortunately I think my rewards points are pretty average. I focus more on other rewards points than just travel ones, because I’d rather have “free money” or “free things”. Maybe I’ve been jaded by too many horror stories of people trying to redeem travel rewards points only to still have to pay a few hundred dollars out of pocket to cover fees, taxes, etc.? Maybe if I travelled more it would be the better option for me, but for now I’ll keep saving my points up for something exciting.

    1. I agree with you and in the same boat as you. My spending is not enough yearly to rack up enough miles. I do a decent amount of flying, but it still takes time to really rack up enough to make it worth while. By that time arrives my points have been devalued or something because they change the policies on you every few years. Making my points worth less and less, that is why I now stick to either cash back type cards, or CitiThankyou point were I can redeem points for things and gift certificates for things that I would otherwise buy any way. And if there’s a good sign up bonus going on for a card, I may jump on it and redeem the points soon once they are available for something.

  8. I don’t travel for work anymore these days (haven’t in a long time). And with young children, I don’t travel much at all. So I use a cash back card from USAA (1% cash back, sometimes doubled and sometimes 5% at certain places). They way I figure it I could get 25,000 miles or $250. I just prefer the cash at this point. It is certain, it can be used immediately, and I don’t have any restrictions.

    I also have an airlines card that I use to purchase tickets (for the few times I do travel) to get double miles, but also so I can check my bags for free. The card is paid for with one trip.

  9. Charles@gettingarichlife.com

    This year I’m traveling around 100k. Miles a year. Now that I’m beginning to pay mortgages on my credit card and combined with sign up bonuses between my wife and I were looking at 400000 points. Next year I want to average around 300000 points a year.

    1. Wait, your bank allows you to pay your mortgage with a credit card? Please share more details!

      Id love to so the same think. Perhaps use my Citicard to pay my CitiMortgage. I’ll check again.

      1. Charles@gettingarichlife.com

        My mortgage company doesn’t allow it to be paid by credit card. Using gift cards and the bluebird card allows me to pay all my mortgages using credit card. That’s 10k a month for just that.

          1. I saw some other blog post about it. Basically you buy these ‘giftcard’ type cards with your credit card (therefore getting points/rewards), then you transfer the money from said ‘giftcard’ into a checking account (it’s a specific checking account with a specific bank – can’t remember which one).
            When mortgage bill comes around you just pay from your checking as you normally would.

            But last I saw the ‘giftcard’ company was no longer allowing you to buy them using credit cards.

      2. For those curious about paying the mortgage, basically you use a CC to purchase a gift card (Make sure it’s a debit card with Pin) or reloadable debit card with pin and then you can do one of the following:

        1. Load it to a bluebird account ($5,000 max per month) and pay your mortgage thru a direct ACH.
        2. Use Walmart’s Billpay service ($1 fee)
        3. Issue a money order to yourself and then deposit it at your banking institution ($0.70 fee, $1,000 max, maximum 4 swipes from debit cards w/ pin), Pay your mortgage from there

        Alternatively, you could green dot MoneyPak with CC (there’s some social engineering you have to do to get this done) load to a Green Dot Prepaid Debit card and repeat process above, or load to paypal and withdraw to your primary bank.

        Hope that helps.

  10. With credit card signups and regular spending my wife and I have racked up over 2.5 million points and miles over the past 3 years. No business travel either. And we just redeemed 240k miles for flights and another 200k+ points for hotels for a 26 day, 9 country, 13 city round-the-world trip this summer in business class. We currently have just over 2mil points/miles left.

  11. I routinely get about 90,000 points in the aeroplan program. It could be more but as a family we often find better priced and timed vacation flights with other carriers than Air Canada. A big portion of the points comes from spending – both personal and business on same card. Estimated I flew 28 segments and 54,000 miles last year. And I was quite tired of planes! Can’t imagine the warriors who do >100k/yr.

  12. I had one burst of frequent flyer points when I had to work for a client based in Switzerland – 3 return trips from Australia to Switzerland, business class, sky rocketed me from practically zero point, to about 250,000 (and to a ‘Platinum’ member!). They just happened to be having a ‘double points’ offering at the time I was flying also!

    But that was a bit of a ‘one off’ opportunity. Now my wife is having a great time figuring out the most effective way to use all those points! (Most likely for some family holidays!)

    1. Jason,

      Those points are NOT like a fine wine – that is, they do NOT get better with age.

      I’m thinking they may be United/Star Alliance points – United had a very good search engine – she/you should check and book something soon before they points decrease in value AGAIN (that is a few months ago there was a pretty big devalutation of United points and other alliances as well.).

      1. Thanks David – very good point. They are Qantas frequent flyer points (Australian airline). We did originally think we should ‘save’ them for a big family holiday in a couple of years, but did have similar concerns about the points becoming completely worthless if the airline goes under! I hadn’t experienced a ‘devaluation’ before, but now that you’ve highlighted that we might use them with a little more urgency!

        We do actually have a holiday booked to Hawaii with some of these points for October, but were considering cancelling for various reasons (it only costs a fraction of the points to cancel). Perhaps now we’ll keep this booking and just make the most of the points while we have them!

  13. While you can no longer do it as the Feds got smart – several years ago you could buy bonds on treasurydirect.gov with a credit card and there was no limit. I racked up a few hundred thousand reward points buying govt bonds! Oh for the good old days :).

    1. Dave,

      Not sure if yours were treasury bonds but I did this with I Savings Bonds back in the early 2000. I bought over $100,000 worth of I Bonds and many of those were on. Chase United card that was awarding doubles points. We used these points to fly First Class to Japan.

  14. I only fly between 40 and 45k a year. I am ok with having a couple of cards with modest annual fees since I know I will make it back ten fold. I get a little uncomfortable with the notion of paying a annual fee that is in the triple digits though.

    1. I recommend getting those cards and at the end of the year cancel and you will not have to pay the annual fee.

      Then you can get a similar card immediately or wait a few months and get the sign up bonus again.

      The only annual fee I have ever paid is the Barclay US Airways card which charges $89 but gives 40,000 points with no required spend.

  15. As of today, I have 160,000 spg points, 104,000 miles on US Airways, 171000 Hilton hhonors points and 57000 “miles” on Barclays Arrival MasterCard which is a new one for me.

    I have unreal benefits from owning the spg Amex card. Flights, too many free hotel stays to count and even a couple of pricey amazon gift certs. I was platinum with spg for 5 years straight but a change I territory ended that. Still, I am lifetime gold and stay enough to make keeping the card worthwhile.

    Having the Hilton card was probably not the smartest move since I rarely stay at their properties. We did all of our personal charging on that card. Now we are basiically putting everything on the Barclays card to earn travel credits. I mean everything g we can find. There is simply no benefit to using a debit card.

    I try not to let the miles or points balances get too high. The annual degradation of the programs represents a form of inflation to me. It is better to use the benefits sooner than later

    1. Sponge points is all I kept on thinking when you wrote “spg”! Now I understand it is Starwood Preferred Guest points.

      “I try not to let the miles or points balances get too high. The annual degradation of the programs represents a form of inflation to me. It is better to use the benefits sooner than later”

      You are exactly right. Best to use as soon as we hit our goal, for next year it will likely cost more points.

  16. I use the gold amex reward point card that gives me 3x points for every $ spent for travel (plus 2x for gas and groceries and 1 for everything ekse).
    I accumulate 100k point a year at least every year.
    I have frequent fliers cards too, 1 with almost 1 mil miles, another one 500k and some on others too.
    Yes, i fly a lot and i have been doing it for 20 years,
    Not tired yet!

    1. Tell me more about the Gold AMEX! The corporate card for most of us is just the green one, but with unlimited credit. How does one get the Gold AMEX? Is it a personal or business credit card?

      1. Sam, sorry for being late.
        The gold amex is personal, it is the reward points card (see their website).
        Its $195 per year but totally worth it if you can use this card for business travel too.
        I think amex is number 1 for service etc and unlike other cards such as master card they never block the card if you are in LA and few hours later in Texas using it…

  17. I think the one biggest area I’ve been able to accumulate points is through the Marriott rewards program. I’ve spent tons on my corporate card(s) as well, but I didn’t sign up for the rewards program, and now my current card doesn’t have rewards that employees get to keep.

    Regardless, I just cross 200 lifetime nights at Marriott and have spent those accumulated points several different times in the online store. I calculated the cash value for Marriott as such:

    $1 spending is 10 points (15 points for Platinum members, like me)
    I just cashed in 162,000 points for a watch that retails for $795.

    Retail value: 162,000 / $795 = ~204 points per USD (purchasing power)
    Marriott spending cost: 162,000 / 15 pts per USD = $10,800 spending at Marriott

    Net retail value vs $ spent = $795 cashed in / $10,800 spent at Marriott = 7.3% return on spending

    Not half bad! Then again, spending all that time on the road has been exhausting, plus it wasn’t $10,800 that I spent, so it’s technically a 100% return on dollars.

    I think since YTD, I’ve had total T&E of ~$20k. I only WISH I could use a personal card and get reimbursed by the company, but they get annoyed when we submit too many expenses from a personal card. :(

    1. 200 nights at a hotel is enormous! I think i used my miles once to stay at the Royal Hawaiian (pink hotel in Honolulu), and they gave us an inside parking lot view room! haha. Not very romantic. All I could afford was two nights.

  18. Although I have multiple credit cards, I try to use just one to maximize the frequent flier miles. I may use another for hotel points, but most if not all of my daily spending is on one card. The most I every had in one year was 46K from travel and about 35k additional through ordinary spending.

  19. In 2007 I did 7 trips to Japan/Hong Kong for about 30k miles each on Continental Business First. About 200k total for that year was my high. Don’t travel like that anymore but I still have 125k miles with United and 488k miles with American. The wife wants to take a trip…

  20. I get and cancel 10 or more cards a year.

    Got the Amex Delta and Amex Gold card for both my wife any myself year.

    Got the Chase Saphire and Chase United card for both of us.

    Got a Citi American and Barclays US airways card for both of us.

    Have cancelled most of them. Got the Chase Saphire again And Barclays US Airways again for myself this year. Also have gotten the Chase Ink card for my wife this year.

    Flew on Eva Air to Taiwan in Business class last year and will Fly Delta to India this year. Plan on using the combined AA/us air miles to go to Asia next year.

    Just take one big 5 to 6 week trip a year so I do not fly hardly any flights that I pay for in cash.

    Chase is great for starters as you can get a United, Saphire and Ink card and the sign up bonus miles 120,000 or more miles.

    1. Sounds like a lot of work! But if you are getting that many free flights a year, then it sounds worth it. Have you noticed any change on your credit score?

      I guess there are that many cards that one doesn’t really run out.

      1. Not that much work – 10 minutes or less to apply and cancel each card. I just send an email to cancel and they cancel the card and reverse the fee – no questions asked.

        The score goes down for a short time after applying but they come back over the next few months. On Credit Karma my score is 792.

        1. I’m interested in CC churning, you can open and close a card, then open the same card again in the same year to get the bonus points?

  21. We used AAdvantage card for personal and business which we spent around 40-45k/month, and around 100-150k travel miles for both of us on business trips a year.

    We thinking of switching to cash back instead, since AA has too many blackout dates on exchanging miles for the air tickets, or they can’t find the tickets for my whole family when we want to travel.

    1. I had the same card and dropped it. The blackout dates did become annoying. But hopefully with the amount of miles you fly a year, you’ve been upgraded to some elite status with some good benefits?

      Domestic travel is such a mediocre experience compared to travel everywhere else in the world.

  22. I don’t used ard for travel miles. I have capital one card that gives me double points on everything. It is scary but I have accumulated well over 200,000 points just off purchases with my credit card. I put all my business expenses and anything I can on the card. I have a real estate business and a lot of expenses.

  23. The CitiBank thankyou cards used to be my favorite for when I was Stateside more often. Still use it for online purchases, but not at all because that 3% foreign transaction fee stings too much to make it worth while overseas. Over the years I had racked up plenty of points because of the high bonuses which ranged from 200 to 300 dollars alone for just opening the account and spending X amount within a few months or so. I spent my points on things that I would otherwise buy any way. I bought a iPhone 3g, then a iPhone 4 a few years later, and last year a new iPad. I would use the points to redeem bestbuy gift certificates. This way I did not feel so bad getting these new electronics because I would of bought them regardless. So they kind of felt free to me because I never carry a balance after the statement due date.

    Right now I have been using the Capitol One quicksilver card, mainly because I benefit from the no Foreign transaction fees. Plus I get a flat 1.5% cash back on any purchase. Its a good card for some one who wants simplicity, you can basically cash it in for a credit statement whenever or they have a online store, where you can pick up gift certificates and other items.

    Travel wise I have not racked up all that many miles compared to others. Probably about 30k to 40k a year between Emirates and Delta airlines.

    1. That must have been a lot of points you racked up to be able to buy an iPhone at the time.

      15 years ago, there wasn’t this supermarket worth of goods one could buy, so I just stuck with travel miles.

      1. Sam, one thing I forgot to mention. If you go to the AT&T booth within a BestBuy, you can use BestBuy gift certificates for the purchase of a iPhone with a new plan or current plan of course. Usually every two years you are eligible for a upgrade, which comes to about 250 to 350 dollars for a iPhone depending if you get the 16gb, 32gb etc. Of course without the upgrade eligibility a new iPhone can run up to about 600 to 800 dollars new. Last time I cashed in my points with CitiThankYou, I remember it was about 30k points was about 300 dollars in BestBuy Certifcates. 20k to 30k is usually the amount they offer for opening a new account and spending X amount within a few months.

        My spending habits over the years are extremely low, so it would be hard for me to rack up points through purchases. Last year few years, I have generally opened a new credit card at least once a year if the bonus points are worth its while. Currently my credit score is a 797 from Experian. Opening new cards often can drop your score in the short term I have noticed. So its wise for most people to know their score especially if they are borderline a 740 or so incase they decide to open a mortgage any time soon.

        I enjoy getting the bonus points, but it does give me that feeling of free money to me. Especially if I am planning to drop a few hundred dollars worth of points on a item I want to buy.

        Things sure have changed, its amazing at all these options on how to spend your points are available. From gas cards, clothing stores, to hotel stays, to upgraded seats on a flight etc.

        Obviously the key is, its only free or worth while if one is not paying any interest on any balances. Even one months interest on a decent size balance will make the points you earned not worth it.

  24. I have about 200k Starwood points and 100k US Airways points from business travel when I was based in DC. Been using them up slowly since I haven’t been traveling as much.

    It’s fun to accrue points and status, but I honestly love being home more. When the flight attendant on the 6am DCA-BOS shuttle greets you by name and your most frequent hotel’s front desk staff sends you a Christmas card… it was a sign I wasn’t home enough.

      1. It was the most professional packed flight I’ve ever regularly flown on.

        Same guys (and they were almost all guys) wearing the same suits with the same blank looks on their faces. Happy to no longer be one of those blank faced be-suited dudes :-)

  25. I’m basically a minimalist these days (not really, but it sometimes feels like it as I struggle to pay off that house mortgage) so my points aren’t as high as yours, but I was still able to rack up about 40,000 points last year. This earned me $225 in Walmart gift cards and another $200 in gas cards, all while paying zero interest! :)

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