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Free Points, Travel and a Little Extra Cash

This past weekend I wrote about a way to truly earn free points and travel. There was an unidentified prize for anyone who correctly guessed it. While there were a few good guesses, unfortunately nobody got it right. It wasn’t fair, since I gave practically no clues in an effort to buy myself time until I got this post together. In the spirit of the “free” theme, there will be an opportunity for all of you to get the prize at the bottom of this post.

To recap, I mentioned this new activity would get you the following:

  1. The ability to travel free. You will buy your own airline ticket, pay for your own hotel, meals, and get these expenses reimbursed.
  2. The ability to accrue free points. Your spending on this activity will be reimbursed, so you will not only earn points from frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs, but you will earn points from your point-earning credit card.
  3. Make some cash on the side. You will earn a decent amount of cash, enough to offset any cost that isn’t reimbursed.

Fringe benefits

  1. Elite status. Do this often enough and you’ll get closer to airline elite status. Depending on the circumstances, you’ll have the ability to earn status with hotel loyalty programs.
  2. Meet difficult spending requirements. That $10,000 spending requirement looked totally do-able with a 75,000 point offer flashing above it. But you’re not exactly flushed with cash, so how are you going to pull this off? This activity could help get you there faster, without breaking the bank.

By now you’re guessing “get a job that involves a lot of travel,” and you’re close. For business travelers, earning free miles is easy. They get to earn points on flights, hotels, meals – all expenses which are reimbursed. 

I was jealously mulling this over along with why I ended up with the only Communication job in America that requires zero travel, when I realized this great opportunity has been right under my nose and I’ve completely ignored it: Mystery Shopping.

When I graduated college three years ago, the job market was terrible and I wasn’t as in-demand as I thought I would be. So I took up mystery shopping as a part-time gig until I got myself a proper job. 

Let me start by debunking the myth that you can earn $10,000 per month as a mystery shopper. Most assignments pay just $10, require lengthy reports, and are generally not worth the hassle. However, there are assignments that let you eat and travel free. This is how you will benefit:

  1. You sign up to evaluate a restaurant, spa, hotel, etc.
  2. You charge all of your expenses on your point-earning credit card (dinner, spa services, hotel reservations, travel expenses)
  3. Submit a report outlining your experience
  4. The mystery shopping company reimburses your expenses and pays you a fee for your report. 

You keep the miles and the cash!!!

Here are a few examples of mystery shopping companies and the lucrative travel assignments they offer:

BestMark need shoppers to evaluate Las Vegas casinos, hotels, restaurants, retail stores and more. The payment for casino and hotel evaluations is very generous at around $75. Mystery shopping in Nevada requires a Nevada Work Card, which can be obtained for around $120. After completing 3 assignments, BestMark will reimburse this expense to you.

The creme of the crop in the world of mystery shopping is Coyle Hospitality.  Coyle is one of the most exclusive mystery shopping providers and offers the following types of assignments:

Restaurants. Dine at top-notch restaurants in cities like Napa, New York, San Francisco, London, among others. Pay with your Chase Sapphire Preferred and earn double points on your meal (earn bonus points if it happens to be part of a dining rewards program). Meals for 2 are fully reimbursed (usually includes appetizers, main course, dessert), with payment ranging from $15-25.

Hotels. Stay at top hotels in cities around the world.  Chains include Morgan Hotels and Mandarin Oriental. If the hotel is out of town, you are reimbursed for airfare. Domestic trips usually come with a $125 travel reimbursement, while international flights are reimbursed around $900. Payments range from $50-75.

Cruises. There are two types of cruise evaluations. One is for people who already have their cruise booked and involves a small payment in exchange for filling out a questionnaire. The other involves a paid cruise with a payment of around $200.

Spa Evaluations. Depending on which spa you’re evaluation and what the payment requirements are, you could sign up for a spa evaluation, pay for your services with a SpaFinder certificate (earn 4 points per $1 or 4% cash back by purchasing these through a shopping portal), and get reimbursed through PayPal. I did a spa evaluation a few years ago, paid with a credit card, and had the amount credited back to my card. You should inquire about forms of payment and reimbursement before signing up for an evaluation.

Apartment Evaluations. These require touring apartment complexes for at least 20 minutes and evaluating your experience. The payment is about $40, in addition to travel expense reimbursement. Apartment evaluators are in demand, so Coyle offers hotel accommodations in exchange for completing several assignments on the same day.

Now for the prize. I was going to give away a copy of my ebook The Complete Guide to Legitimate Mystery Shopping to anyone who guessed what this post was going to cover. However, I will give away a free copy to all readers who subscribe to my blog or follow me on twitter.

The book gives step-by-step instructions on how to become a mystery shopper, tips and tricks for getting the best assignments, a complete list of all legitimate mystery shopping companies, as well as a list of companies I have personally shopped with and can vouch for.

What do you think of mystery shopping as a means to earn free miles and travel? Is this something you would consider doing in the future?

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Ariana Arghandewal

21 Comments

  1. Interesting! Definitely for someone who has more time on their hands. I’d be interested in an e-Book, as I’m in that stage you were in 3 years back.

    • @ Amol, happy to send you a copy. Sounds crazy, but enjoy this stage while you can. I thought being unemployed was the worst thing until I ended up in a miserable job. Waking up at 6 AM and feeling like you’re headed to the slaughterhouse each morning is not fun. Take your time, be picky, and only take a job you’ll love. After all, you now have mystery shopping to hold you over. 🙂

  2. just found your site recently and love it! so many good tips and not as overwhelming as some other blogs. would be very interested in getting a copy of your ebook!

    • @ wh, thank you! Please subscribe to my blog (right side of page) or follower me on Twitter, and I’ll send you a copy right away.

  3. i follow you and subscribe it 🙂
    PS: I understand your other articles, but this one might confuse me a lot, except restaurant, maybe I need this book to study something.

    • @ Li, sorry to confuse you! I was in a time crunch and realize this post has alot of information crammed in. Basically, you sign up to be a mystery shopper. You evaluate restaurants, hotels, spas, casinos, cruise ships, apartment shops. You charge everything on your point-earning credit card. After you submit a report to the mystery shopping company, they reimburse your expenses via Paypal. This way, you get to travel free AND earn free points on your credit card.

    • @ CR, you’re welcome! Simply confirm your subscription and I’ll send you a copy shortly.

  4. As someone who has done reviews for Coyle, I will say they take quite a bit of time and effort. I spent hours on a dinner review and realized that (while we loved the “free meal”) it simply took too much time to be worth it. However the big trip assignments could be worth it if you want a short getaway and don’t mind writing. But you have to be a solid performer for Coyle to get the fancy assignments.

    • I agree, most assignments are time-consuming and not worth the hassle. Travel assignments are definitely worth it if you can go to places like NYC, London, Singapore free while earning extra cash and points. I was assigned my first hotel evaluation shortly after completing 2-3 phone evaluations, so you can definitely work your way up to that.

  5. wish i had known about this when i was unemployed a year ago! still, very interested in this, so please send me your ebook! subscribed :).

  6. I followed your twitter feed a few days ago, but didn’t get the ebook.yet Could you send? Thanks!

    • @ R, sorry about that. What’s your Twitter name? You can email it to me if you don’t want it public (ariana at pointchaser.com)

  7. I subscribe to your blog and would absolutely LOVE to do the mystery shopping travel, shops, restaurants, spas, etc. I used to be a customer service trainer for businesses, and thus service is a HUGE priority for me. I LOVE to travel and I LOVE to shop, and I am at a point in my life where I have the time. Please send me the ebook and any other information you think would be helpful for me to get started. Thank you so much! Elise

    • @ Elise, thanks for subscribing! Sounds like you’d be a perfect fit for it. You should get an email from me shortly.

    • Hi there! I couldn’t make it to FTU this time, but I’ll try to make it in DC. I took a look around your blog and absolutely loved it. Especially your trip reports. I’ll send you a copy of the guide shortly.

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