Piddling on the Weekend in the World of Miles and Points

Being home on the weekend without fixed appointments and obligations can be one of the simple pleasures. There’s a feeling of getting caught up, of moving slowly but ticking things off of a list, feeling productive even if you’re only doing things that themselves will allow you to be productive like buying paper products and doing the laundry.

Several years ago I moved within walking distance of my office. I saved myself an hour and a half a day in commuting time. And it means that when I’m not flying, I’m always pretty close to home. I rarely drive. So my life exists around the world or within one mile radius of my front door (plus, occasionally, wherever DC’s metro will take me).

Yesterday was a great ‘catching up day’. I set off on my errands, and I realized that while many of them probably fit a typical pattern mine fit a typical pattern… for a miles and points obsessed frequent flyer.

Sure, the first stop was the dry cleaners to drop some things off. Got to have clean pressed suits! (Well, I do.) The cleaner’s is just around the corner, an doesn’t take American Express. It’s owned by a Korean family and they travel home and have visitors from abroad often, and we connect with discussions about travel to Asia.

On to the Suntrust bank, I had a check to deposit. My primary checking account has been with BankDirect for the past decade, and I’ve earned a ton of American Airlines miles as a result. I also have a Suntrust checking account because they offer a Delta mileage-earning debit card which offers one mile per dollar spent.

Now, it makes no sense to offer one mile per dollar on all spending, since that’s clearly being offered at a loss (interchange on debit cards no longer pays enough to cover the cost of the miles). And there are some rumors that Suntrust is looking at changing the terms and conditions of the card to limit the ability to earn miles for churning money orders and for tax payments since those are driving up the bank’s costs.

My own use for the card is tax payments — PayUSATax.com charges a flat $3.49 per tax payment, regardless of the amount. So I earn 1 Delta mile per dollar when paying my taxes at a very low cost. And since I have income in addition to my job (such as from my award booking practice) I have to make deposits quarterly.

I went inside the branch instead of depositing through the ATM. Right behind the tellers is a big banner advertising the Delta debit card, with a 10,000 mile first use bonus. Apparently through June 30th the offer is bumped up from the usual 5000 miles after first purchase to also include 5000 additional miles $1,000 in purchases within 90 days of account opening.

From the Suntrust it was over to the mall. Since a bunch of folks at Frequent Traveler University last weekend figured out what my “home” CVS was, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that they were pretty much cleaned out of Vanilla Reload cards. There weren’t even any hidden behind the XBoxLive cards. Fortunately I did find a couple.

It’s just a short walk from the CVS over to Staples. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve loved office supplies, and I still do. I used to love spending time in the campus bookstore. I’m very particular about my pens (and haven’t ever found any I prefer over Pilot’s Better Retractable Medium Point in both black and blue). Only now it’s even better. Office supply stores don’t just have pens, note pads, and paper clips. They have everything. Big electronics sections. Home appliances (for those of us, like me, who stock their offices like home to make those long days more comfortable). And big mileage earning, with credit cards that bonus office supply spend with quintuple points.

The office supply store near me ain’t pretty, but it is lucrative.

First stop is always the gift card section since I have to stock up on the cards that store and spend like cash, and are purchased at no fee. My favorites are Amazon, iTunes, and Starbucks.

But the rack also has Shell, Southwest Airlines, Hulu Plus, Google Play, and others.

The only problem is — and this is actually important and a lesson not to be underemphasized — earning miles and points for credit card spend is great but you have to take care not to spend more than you otherwise would in the process. It’s tempting to justify spend based on the miles, but then you’ll no longer be earning an outsized return through those miles. And a 5x, it can be pretty tempting. There are several things I kind of want, but managed to resist impulse buying.

(I love my coffee machine at home, don’t much like the coffee at work, and it’s so temping to buy an easy to use machine…)

There so much there.

I accomplished a bit, headed back home to put a load of wash into the dryer. I still have to go get my haircut, though…

What are your miles and points ‘errands’?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I agree. Other than visa/Amex gift cards, Amazon is my favorite card to purchase at office supply stores.

  2. I knew you lived in NoVA, but I’ve never imagined we were almost neighbours! That Staples gave it away. 🙂
    I need to buy some VRs this week, so I hope you didn’t clean all the racks!

  3. Both the office stores near me (SF Bay Area) had significantly reduced/almost no GCs when I went yesterday. It was a sad day 🙁

  4. No reload cards here in Hawaii, don’t go to the mainland often enough to make it worth my time scavenging for them while i am there.

    But my wife and I had a birthday dinner for a friend last night at Ruth’s Chris in Waikiki, so I put it on my Chase Freedom for 5X restaurant this quarter, plus 10% of the base plus 10 points for the purchase.

  5. Does anyone know if a Bluebird reload using the Suntrust debit card will earn Dela miles?

  6. Why do you choose to purchase Starbucks gift cards through office supply stores versus an online discounter where you’d get >10% off?

  7. The sodastream is actually a great bargain. Bought one a year and a half ago and haven’t bought a bottle since. Over time, it definitely pays off.

  8. If you love pens, you should get them in Asia (especially TYO and HKG)! They are SOOOO much better than “western” edition pens (my biased opinion).

  9. Speaking of pens, i guess due to habit I am partial to the Skillcraft ballpoints made for the U.S. Government by Lighthouse for the Blind. I get them for work from the GSA, but they are also available on Amazon.com . Helps a very worthy cause as well.

    With regards to coffee makers, once you have a Keurig, you will never go back to anything else. I get my Paul Newman K-Cups in bulk at Amazon, of course via Amazon gift cards purchased at Office Max

  10. I don’t do the VR thing but I saw quite a few cards available at the Lee-Harrison CVS early last week. Gary and others from the area will know where that is.

  11. I updated my spreadsheet from my latest churn:
    Citi Business AA VISA –50,000mi/$2500 spend
    Citi Personal AA Amex– 45,000mi/$5,000 spend
    Chase United Personal VISA– 50,000mi/$1000 spend; 10,000 bonus for $25,000spend/yr
    Chase Ink Bold Mastercard–50,000mi/$5000 spend
    Barclay’s US Air- 35,000/$1000 spend (I expect these to transfer to AA after the AA/USAir merger is finalized)

    So that’s 230,000 miles for $14,500 spend, and the spend has already been met!

    Thanks for teaching my so well, Gary!
    I think I need to visit Suntrust for that Delta debit card, as I also have a hefty quarterly tax bill.
    Do you know of any other debit cards that earn AA or United miles?
    I’m not a Delta fan.

  12. How many Vanilla Reloads can I buy at CVS at one time? Last week I tried to buy 4 @ $500 each and was told the limit per day was $1,000. Was it because I tried to put it on one card? Can I do 2 @ $500 on one card and 2 @ $500 on another card?

  13. @Rebecca D – the limit per transaction is 2 x $500 .. some CVS’s won’t let you do more, but the CVS I frequent will let me do as many 2 x $500 at one time as I want, they just have to start to ring up a new transaction for each set of 2 cards I buy

  14. @Matt .. gee, ’cause the people in the West Bank would be better off with LESS industrial production there, right?

  15. I love it, a great listing of chores. The folks at my home CVS think I’m very strange each time they ring up reload cards for me…

  16. I can see my old apartment from one of your pics! 🙂 And I never in a million years would have guessed that THAT CVS in THAT location had VR…

  17. @Gary,… geeeee the people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory would be better off getting their land back (and collect taxes from companies), consistent with international law. Were you a supporter of apartheid? Those colored folks got the opportunity to work for major companies as well, while being oppressed. It’s different when it’s the promised land?

  18. Re: the VR daily max of $1000, I visited a CVS in upstate NY that had over 20 in stock (so obviously not a frequent hunting site), and they told me there was a $1000/day/person limit “as per the manager,” and there were four more CVS within 15 miles with the same policy. Didn’t go for it, though, just satisfying curiosity.
    PS — glad to see a lot of walking in this itinerary: the best medicine!

  19. Geee… I forgot how good the Palestinians had it. My bad. I forgot how often I’ve heard them call out in yearning for the status quo.

    I mean, really, who wouldn’t want a sweatshop job rather than freedom and autonomy? Now you can feel like you’re doing a charitable deed while you’re rotting your teeth.

    In all seriousness, since the US Govt and those in power are clearly fine with the defacto apartheid, it is the job of the American people to force their hand. Without a change in the policy of the US Gov’t, there will never be a two-state solution since the Israeli gov’t can rely on the US Gov’ts unwavering support regardless of their actions.

  20. Everytime I buy Amazon GCs at this staples, there’s only a few stocked and they kid me that “people always come in and buy GCs with *that* card.” I smile and shrug.

  21. was a beautiful day in Virginia today and I had the chance to combine my two favorite hobbies. I had my cruiser all serviced up and ready to go last weekend, while we were @ FTU. So this weekend was time for a long ride to the far-flung ‘burbs of DC, with half a dozen stops at CVSs and Walmarts along the way. Lots of VRs to be found 20 mins outside the beltway 😉 which I combined with tons of Vanilla PIN GCs. I got through $10K spend @ 5% .. not a bad haul for what a few years ago would have been a just another beautiful ride on a beautiful Spring day!

  22. @Matt M “Without a change in the policy of the US Gov’t,” which you think is going to come about by boycotting Sodastream?

  23. @Gary Anything that brings attention to the issue that the US And Israeli gov’t would gladly sweep under the rug is a good thing. A boycott against a product like Sodastream sheds some light on the issue, often for people who wouldn’t otherwise care. It’s a chance to get people to realize that they can vote with their dollars, so to say.

    Would you have criticized all the people bringing boycotts/divestment against S. African businesses during the days of apartheid there?

  24. Hi Gary. As for the Suntrust Delta debit card, what’s the maximum (and SAFE) amount per transaction you can do when paying PayUSA Tax? I,too, have to pay quarterly estimated taxes. Thanks.

  25. @Airgypsy – One commenter said the maximum was $30k. I asked Suntrust and they told me $35k per transaction (per day? not sure). I haven’t had to make such a big payment 😀 so haven’t tested the limits…

  26. Gary when you said, “And there are some rumors that Suntrust is looking at changing the terms and conditions of the card to limit the ability to earn miles for churning money orders and for tax payments since those are driving up the bank’s costs.” I am curious if you or anyone reading has figured out how the bank would know when someone is buying MOs vs a ton of expensive laptops every day?
    .
    I mean they may assume it or even downright know it (if people are dumb enough to tell them what they are buying), but WMT is not divulging any data about WHAT people are buying and receipts for MOs vs a pack of gum still say ITEMS PURCHASED so how can ST actually have hard indications that we are buying MOs? only WE know and feel good about or guilty about what we actually use the card for!
    .
    AND even if ST did know or want to rely on their suspicions, does anyone here think they’s be curbing just WMT PIN spend, or every store everywhere that can sell a MO to a PIN based debit vehicle?
    .
    I find it hard to fathom that they would be able to pull it off unless something drastic were to happen in the retail world for the sake of one southern-based bank.
    .
    Of course I’ll agree that it may be possible, as some I know have suggested, that ST could eventually curb daily or monthly/yearly DL earnings with POS caps and the like. BofA has always done this with their cards and to stop the action they simply began to do away with the cards themselves. AS is done for new users soon (or already may be) and we don’t yet know if and when they will phase out its use like they did with US last year.
    .
    Would love to hear more toutings on ST… because I rarely believe the hype.

  27. @JetAway,

    Are you sure you saw the Vanilla Reloads at the Lee-Harrison CVS and not the myVanilla debit cards? I live near there and have stopped often and never seen them. Recently I asked the employees and they stated that they don’t carry them at that CVS.
    Mike

  28. @Rebecca D the trick is to go to the pharm and buy 2 beans, then go to the front and by 2 more. I have never had a problem doing this, of course I use two different CC’s.

  29. @Tony, I tried it once and got told by the mgr a week later that they had me on film doing it and barred me from buying GCs from that CVS. So I have to go to others. Fortunately there are others near me. I have a very overzealous mgr in the one nearest my home. I since moved our family prescriptions from there and wont even go in for a stick of gum now.

  30. Bought lunch w/ Freedom then went on to Lowe’s to pick up Amazon, Petco and Petsmart GCs. I buy my pet food at Petco and my cat boards at Petsmart. I may not max out the Freedom bonus this quarter but I will get closer this quarter with GCs from Lowes. I only buy gift cards from companies/businesses that I know I have a regular need such as Petco for the pet food.

  31. @Mike and JetAway – I’ve still yet to see a single VR inside the Beltway! That’s in a whole lot of looking and even a couple 30-minute sessions of calling CVS stores one by one. Which is why this post surprised me.

    Regardless, the whole economics of the VR don’t make any sense to begin with. Product costs nothing to make and sells like hotcakes, and yet there’s no supply. I think someone (Perhaps AMEX paying off a party to throttle VR production/sales?) is intentionally constricting the supply.

  32. Ah, mile errands…it starts with some aspect of picking up or dropping off packages at UPS for Amazon fullfilment on a product I made 12-21 miles/pts per $ purchasing through the Chase UR mall. Then it’s a mile walk to Staples to pick up GCs and any FAR items that appeal to me that week (especially if it’s those visa/mc GC deals they’ve had lately). I have a friend who gladly funnels some of her family’s spending through my miles-earning shenanigans, so I then email her the Subway and Starbucks codes from the cards I just picked up at Staples. Sometimes I’ll do free deals at Rite Aid (a throwback from my smalltime couponing days) before hitting the supermarket, where I lament the lack of a 3-5x bonus category card 🙂

  33. Is milesmoneykate the same one who was with us at dinner at the dc ftu speaking of her shenanigans with glee? If so, find me in milepoint or ft and pm me. Lol

    MM

  34. Nope, I’m totally new to this game – didn’t even get a CC with sign-up bonus until Feb 1 of this year, and never booked an award ticket until last week. And I was in Montevideo during that last FTU (which is something I haven’t quite figured out yet what it is).

  35. Hey Gary and View from the Wingers – Any insight if you can use your Starbucks card (bought at Office Depot of course!) in other countries? The reason I ask was that I was in Japan and tried to use a Nike gift card at the Harajuku/Nike store and wasn’t able to. Maybe its case by case?

  36. US Starbucks cards work in some countries, not others.

    The Sapphire Preferred dining benefit is not limited to restaurants in the US, in fact they promote it as being “No matter where, or what, you eat” and of course there are no foreign transaction fees. Travel generally includes metro but is a function of how merchants are coded. It should even include tolls and taxis. Museum tickets aren’t travel, however, in my experience.

    Any airline spend seems to earn the 3x points, if it’s charged by an airline (rather than the charge showing up as processed by an online agent) then it usualy earns the bonus.

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