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Buenas tardes from Cancun! I wanted to tell you all a little bit about how my last year went. In 2016, I blew past my previous record for miles traveled, went all in on gift card reselling, moved to Mexico, and picked up a handful of credit cards and bank signup bonuses along the way.
I flew just over 197,000 miles last year, a significant increase from my previous record of 125,000 miles in 2015. The change was mostly because I did a lot more flying across oceans – my 2015 trips were entirely in the Americas, but I spent a lot more time in Europe and Asia in 2016.
Some of my highlights included:
- Traveling to Indonesia with one of my best friends on a super-cheap Delta/Garuda ticket (<$400 roundtrip)
- Watching the Northern Lights in Fairbanks, Alaska with some other travel hackers
- Visiting Palestine and Israel for the first time on a $250 KLM ticket
- Flying to Bangkok and Tokyo for the first time, by combining a super-cheap ANA ticket with a Thai award ticket and a JAL mistake fare
- Spending a month with my partner in Honolulu, Tokyo, Osaka, and Hong Kong
- My first round-the-world trip (MEX-JFK-LIS-ZRH-VCE-IST-TPE-KIX-LAX-SMF//OAK-PHX-MEX)
- Taking the United Island Hopper from Honolulu to Guam and getting an incredible behind-the-scenes experience with a group of Flyertalkers
- And of course, our holiday trip to Europe and Cancun for the holidays – which I’m still in the middle of!
I easily requalified for Alaska Airlines MVP Gold this year, and might have hit MVP Gold 75K if Alaska hadn’t slashed earnings on AA in August. I also did a status match to United Premier Gold and appear to have accidentally picked up Delta Silver Medallion. I also gained Virgin America Silver status from FoundersCard, though with the Alaska-Virgin America merger, I don’t think that matters much anymore.
I didn’t earn any hotel status organically, but I got Hyatt Diamond, Hilton Diamond, and Best Western Diamond from status match promotions. I also gained SPG Gold from my American Express Platinum Charge Card, which got me Marriott Gold after the Starwood-Marriott merger closed. And I have IHG Platinum and Club Carlson Gold from their respective credit cards.
Reselling and Gift Cards
2016 was the year of gift cards for me. I went from selling 3-5 cards a year to the public gift card exchanges to spending $70,000 on gift cards, making a small profit, and racking up nearly 200,000 points and miles across various programs (the vast majority being Ultimate Rewards). Almost all of this happened in the growing world of private buying clubs – I only had one transaction with Cardpool last year, and none with any of the other public gift card reselling sites. I may be focusing more on Citi Thank You Points in the next few months, since I’m close to the annual maximum on my Chase Ink Cash Credit Card, and I’ve been spending a lot of TYPs lately.
I didn’t do much reselling myself, but I was able to take advantage of several opportunities to acquire inventory for other people to sell on Amazon. My biggest score here was the hottest toy of the holiday season, Hatchimals – I was able to pick up 16 of them during “Buen Fin” (Mexico’s equivalent of Black Friday) for about $74 each, then brought them to the US and shipped them to Amazon warehouses for a friend, who paid me $100 a piece. That was a nice little $400 profit for a relatively small amount of products. Most of the time though, I buy products and ship them to one of my virtual mailboxes to be forwarded – it’s less profitable that way, but requires almost zero effort on my part.
I had a relatively slow year for credit card signups:
- Citi Premier (50,000 Citi Thank You Points)
- American Express Business Platinum (150,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points)
- Chase Sapphire Reserve (100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points)
- Barclay Arrival Plus (50,000 Barclay points, worth $525)
- BoA Spirit Airlines MasterCard (15,000 Free Spirit miles)
- American Express Delta Business Platinum (70,000 SkyMiles + 70,000 SkyBonus points)
During the year I also closed my American Express Business Gold and TD Bank Aeroplan Visa cards, and downgraded my Chase Ink Bold to a no annual fee Chase Ink Cash (which I now regret). I also downgraded my Southwest Business Premier to a Southwest Business Plus with a reduced annual fee, but kept the card open since I took advantage of a 0% balance transfer offer on that card to pay off some debt and increase liquidity for reselling.
I did pretty well with bank signup bonuses this year. I picked up $250 from First Tennessee Bank, $200 from Homestreet Bank, $100 from Northpointe Bank, and $500 from a Chase Business Checking account. I also got a partial signup bonus of $100 from Bank of the West, but missed out on an extra $50 from them because I didn’t satisfy the debit card requirements. I also tried to get the $350 bonus from HSBC, but despite several tries I wasn’t able to satisfy their documentation requirements for online account opening – next time a big HSBC bonus comes around, I’ll be sure to open my account in branch.
I’m already planning a couple of big trips – we’re going to Spain, Hong Kong, and Taipei in February, and Japan in May. I’ll also have several work trips to DC and Chicago, and at least a couple of trips to Europe for various conferences. I’ll probably look to pick up some more credit cards in the coming months, and keep going strong on gift card reselling. And of course, I look forward to sharing my adventures and progress with all of you!
What are your plans, goals, or wishes for the coming year? Let me know in the comments.