The following post is available for archival purposes only. There is an updated debit card post that will show you the current options. Please read there and continue to earn miles for paying your bills and non-credit purhcases.
This is a post about getting miles on everything, and I mean everything for which you exchange money. I get miles on rent/mortgage, insurance, I even get miles when I pay a babysitter. I will get into that shortly, but first, here is a little background on why I am writing the post. If you are sick of hearing about credit cards (and don’t need anyone else moaning about it) you can scroll down three paragraphs to the dotted line where I get to the point.
Some topics in the travel blogging space get covered extensively, especially when a new credit card comes out. My RSS feed is filled with titles like, “Great new offer for (airline) card” or “Expanded bonuses for new (blank) card”.
I’m really bored with it. Full disclosure is added all over the place that states whether or not the blogger receives proceeds from the referral and I don’t have a problem with whether they make money on the referral link or not. As a consumer, if I am able to take advantage of an offer that will benefit me and the credit card company will pay someone for explaining the benefits, that’s fine by me.
But there is a line between advising your readers about an offer that will benefit them, simply because it’s a great offer, and quite something else when you are doing it simply because it is the new bonus and blogging is not a hobby but a business. I don’t mind recommending, I do mind constant solicitation.
So how do I get miles on absolutely every purchase I make? I have a Delta SunTrust Debit card (FULL DISCLOSURE: I receive no referral bonuses). There is also a Hawaiian Airlines debit card that I DO NOT RECOMMEND, but I will get to that in another post.
Angelina from the Boarding Area blogs recently wrote a post about how disappointed she is when she sees someone pay with a debit card over a credit card for a purchase. I think her post was really a valid point for people that may not be getting miles for their transactions – you should always take advantage of the benefits available to you. But where I believe she missed the mark, is that credit cards can only really be used for purchases (without being tricky). Additionally, some people do not have good enough credit to obtain credit cards (or believe they don’t have the credit it takes which may be incorrect). Angelina is getting miles for every purchase that she makes, and if you are not, you should follow her lead. If you have the money to pay for it in your checking account (many people are nervous about credit) then why not pay for it on a credit card, and then just pay off your credit card with cash? If you pay off your credit card every month there is no accrued interest so its no different than a check card, except that you are receiving points for the transaction. We make multiple payments to our cards every month just to keep out of trouble.
Here is how the SunTrust Delta Debit card works. For every swiped charge you make you receive one Delta Skymile per dollar spent. For the privilege of having the account there is a cost of $12/month if you hold a cash balance averaging less than $3,000 during the month. For this post let’s just assume you will have to pay the $12/month. There is also a card fee of $75 once annually, but it comes with 5,000 bonus miles (some bonuses have been as high as 30k in the past, but none higher than 10k during the last 19 months. Combined, that’s $219/year in a worst case scenario (12 months x $12/month = $144 + $75 annual fee). Let me show you why it is a great value.
But before I do, let’s insert another player into the equation. The AMEX Bluebird card. This is a free card that allows you to load money onto it using a debit function (you must use your pin and load from a debit card or cash) for free from any Walmart or online. You can then use the money loaded onto it for ATM withdrawals, bill payment or regular card purchases.
KEY Additional Benefit: For any company or person that wish to pay with Bluebird who is not setup on Billpay (small banks, church, even the baby-sitter), Bluebird will send them a physical check. By loading your Bluebird with a mileage earning debit card, you earn the miles when you load the card so even ATM withdrawals from your Bluebird will technically earn you miles because you have already earned them at the time of loading.
Here is how it works.
1) Take your SunTrust Delta debit card and your Bluebird card to a Walmart.
2) You can load in $500 increments up to $5,000/month on the card. You load $500.
3) On the way to your car, using your Bluebird app you make your car payment using their billpay option and you just received 500 miles for paying a bill.
I usually find creative ways to make sure I get my full $5,000 load per month, netting me no less than 5,000 miles/month at a cost of $.00365/mile (when I factor in monthly maintenance and annual fee). Put another way, that’s 60,000 miles per year (enough for a free economy ticket to Europe and nearly enough for an economy ticket to north Asia, for $219. If you have the means to load your SunTrust account with the minimum average balance of $3,000 and avoid the monthly maintenance fees your cost for the 60,000 miles drops to just $75 or $.00125/mile. That’s an unmatched eighth of a penny per mile.
Your Skymiles debit card is not limited to 60,000 miles per year (the Bluebird is for in-store fund loading), in fact there is no limit on it. If you have the means and have a significant other who does not want to bother, you could use their Bluebird as well, load $500 to each card on the same trip to Walmart and double your miles by using your Skymiles debit card to load both Bluebirds.
This also works great for those who are using credit cards to buy everything and paying off the balance each month. Let’s say you spend $2500/month on everything that’s not a bill (fuel, groceries, entertainment, shopping, etc.). You spend this on your airline card of choice earning 1 or more miles per dollar, then pay it off with your Skymiles debit card using the Bluebird option and earn another 2500 Skymiles for paying your credit card bill. Here is a simple example of how beneficial that would be.
Let’s assume you have the US Airways Mastercard as your card of choice (not a plug, just a card I carry because I like the award chart – choose any card you like).
- You earn 2500 US Airways Dividend miles for regular monthly spending.
- You earn another 2500 Skymiles paying off the US Airways card.
- You also earn another 2500 Skymiles for your $2,500 worth of bills for the month.
You have earned the regular 2500 miles with US Airways you always get, but now you have padded that with another 5,000 Skymiles at an extremely low cost.
I have trouble understanding why more people do not participate in this mileage circle of love, and then I realize exactly why. Convenience.
I often say,
Mileage hacking is not “no work”, it’s just not “hard work”.
That, for some people, is the rub. This method requires you to “experience a Walmart” 10 times per month. Some Walmarts have a kiosk inside the front of the store where you can load your Bluebird on your own, and its as convenient as an ATM so if there is one on the way home with this kiosk, it could be really quick and easy.
In the first year of Bluebird you could load $1,000 at a time, it’s been reduced to just $500 now. Using the monthly maximum of $5,000/$500 per load means you will make ten visits to a Walmart every month, and they can be painful. The Sherpstress has it down to the point where she can instruct the Walmart cashier who often is unfamiliar with the rules and the process through the transaction.
Sherpstress: In case you are wondering, if a Walmart employee is having trouble, just tell them to do an “Action Code 70” and load the card with a debit.
If you have the patience this process can be even more lucrative. In the last 19 months I have generated over 117,000 Delta miles using this method (and being creative with deposits and spending) and fully expect to redeem these for a business class flight to Asia. Assuming it will take me a full two years to achieve the 140,000 miles it requires for the ticket, I will have expended $438 + taxes on a trip that will be worth no less than $3000 but due to creative routing, it will likely be far more valuable than that.
NOTE: I am not an avid Delta flyer, their miles are not as valuable as other carriers, they are not carrier of concentration. However, for a business class flight for less than $500 to Asia, I would fly Delta in a heart beat.
To review, the miles are not free, and it’s not “no work”. But if a trip to Europe for $219 + tax (worst case scenario) is worth it, then this is another weapon in your travel hacking arsenal, one that even many bloggers do not take the time to execute. The best part is, this is merely in addition to your other mileage strategies and in no requires you to change the rest of your earning or preferences.
Special thanks to Angelina and her excellent observations regarding leaving points on the table.