Last week I wrote that — unless you're a reimbursed business traveler — your best bet for earning as much travel as possible, as cheaply as possible, is to manufacture spend furiously. Actual purchases made for consumption by a credit cardholder won't generally earn sufficient miles and points to pay for a single trip, let alone an entire travel hacking lifestyle.
That's the origin of my maxim that miles and points earned from everyday spend should be a rounding error in your travel hacking strategy. You may as well be paying with cash.
With that in mind, I thought it might be worth laying out a few suggestions for what it means to manufacture spend furiously.
Reflect often, but not too often
I'm a blogger, so I don't mind spending hours poring through forums and blog comment sections finding opportunities that aren't widely known, so I can share them with my readers and in my subscribers-only newsletters.
It's literally my job.
But it's not your job. You're a lawyer, consultant, software developer, marketing professional, or exotic dancer. You have a family. You shouldn't be spending every spare minute researching new manufactured spend techniques.
But you should spend the occasional minute examining the techniques you have available, and making sure you're maximizing them.
Are you earning the miles you use, and using the miles you earn?
If you spent any time following affiliate bloggers before discovering my blog, you may have signed up for a variety of random credit cards you don't actually use to manufacture spend. In that case, you might be sitting on 100,000 Membership Rewards points, 80,000 Marriott Rewards points, or 50,000 Delta SkyMiles.
Do you have plans to use them? Can you work them into your actual travel plans?
Don't waste your time applying for cards that earn miles and points you can't use, and make sure to use the miles and points you do earn.
The corollary is that lower signup bonuses and earning rates can be worth pursuing if they're the miles and points you're actually going to use. If you aggressively redeem American Airlines AAdvantage miles during the "low" season to Europe, 40,000 AAdvantage miles are worth a lot more than 60,000 or more Delta SkyMiles.
9 questions about your manufactured spend practice
I don't repeat myself here on the blog much because I find it excruciatingly boring to write the same things over and over again. With that in mind, here are 9 questions to ask while taking your personal manufactured spend inventory:
- Have you tried buying prepaid debit cards at every local gas station?
- Do your local grocery stores allow you to buy Reloadits or PIN-enabled prepaid debit cards with credit cards?
- Have you searched for all your local Simon and Macerich malls?
- Have you visited every local store that sells Western Union and MoneyGram money orders?
- Do you live near any Family Dollar stores?
- Do you have relationships with some or all of your local credit unions?
- Do your Walmart store locations still allow bill payments to Visa and MasterCard credit cards?
- Have you asked your friends and family to let you administer Serve, Bluebird, and Prepaid REDcards for them?
- Have you opened Nationwide Visa Buxx cards for all the teens in your life? In your partner's life?
I hope I've made clear that I don't believe everyone should be pursuing every possible technique as aggressively as possible. There will always be techniques that are too time-consuming, or that simply require more attention than you're willing to pay, to be worth your time and attention.
But once in a while, even the most time- and attention-constrained travel hacker should take a quick inventory to make sure that the time and attention they do have is being deployed in the way they earns them the trips they want to take — hopefully as cheaply as possible!