After yesterday’s post about my productive week of manufactured spending, I received a lot of questions from people about how I spend my points and miles and whether I even need to earn that many to begin with. To be clear, I don’t usually generate this much spend in a typical week. It’s only in the last 2-3 months that I’ve increased my numbers to this level. Prior to that, the highest number of gift cards I churned in a week was probably $23,500. When I took my family to Asia last summer, half the miles were earned from credit card sign-up bonuses and the majority of the miles I did earn through gift card churning were earned when it was possible to off-set the fees completely thanks to shopping portal cash back offers on Amex gift cards.
Over the past few months I’ve come up with an efficient route, a Simon Mall location that’s ms friendly, and some great cash back portal offers that off-set most or all of the fees associated with manufactured spending. All of this has made gift card churning much less time consuming, allowing me to increase my numbers substantially. Noticeably absent from my posts lately are any trip reports. So what do I do with all the miles I earn and am I wasting my time with this hobby? For the most part, I save my points and miles up for one big family trip every year, as well as the occasional weekend getaway and an emergency fund. That being said, the majority of my miles are spent on trips for family members.
Last month, my aunt passed away in Toronto. My parents flew out the next day and I was able to cover their roundtrip airfare with just 25,000 miles. I flew out a few days later and my roundtrip fare (one-way in business class and the return in coach) came to 37,500 miles. That’s almost 90,000 airline miles used for a single trip, which was worth it considering our return flight was right after NBA All-Star weekend and fares were nearly $800 roundtrip. Over the past two years, there have been several family emergencies like this and I’ve been able to book my parents on the next flight without having to worry about the exorbitant cost of last minute airfare. The fact that the international flights were almost always in premium cabins was also a plus because it made their travel experience more comfortable during stressful times.
There have been happier times as well: Engagement parties and weddings around the world that I was able to fly my parents to at a fraction of the cost. When my brother decided to spend his spring break volunteering in Managua, he didn’t have to spend over $1,000 on airfare like his friends did. When my sister wanted to visit our cousin in London in the middle of summer, she didn’t have to save up for the trip like most teenagers would do. When I was a kid, my parents took us all over Europe and the U.S., always focused on making sure we had fun (even when we’d go to Vegas). I always wanted to be in a position to repay them for it and this hobby has made that possible.
After an incredible trip to Sydney in 2013, where I met most of my dad’s family for the first time (who gave me a warm welcome and threw me a huge birthday bash), I was able to repay their hospitality just a little bit by flying my aunt and uncle to the U.S. During the trip, my great aunt passed away and my uncle found solace in the fact that he got to reunite with her after 30+ years. And when my younger cousin turned 18, I was able to book her a room at the Park Hyatt Sydney for a slumber party and a day in the city with her friends.
All of this amounts to millions of points and miles spent (and thousands of dollars saved). The luxury hotel stays and international flights would have put a dent in my wallet that Suze Orman would not have approved of. And yes, I could have just let everyone pay for their own travel and instead used the miles to continuously fly around the world in style (and trust me, I’ve been tempted to do just that). However, I get just as much joy out of redeeming miles for my family and if that means I get to take fewer first class trips by myself, I’m fine with that.
Ironically enough, I wasn’t able to do any of this back when I worked 40+ hours a week. Now I’m in a position where I’m able to support myself on a 5-hour work week as a freelance writer while also earning the miles needed to travel when I want. I get to sleep past 6 AM (a luxury I’d hopelessly wished for when my alarm would buzz at this ungodly hour every weekday), I can spend as much time with my family as I want, and I can read and binge watch tv shows to my heart’s content. I do think about my career and am taking steps to move ahead on that front because I want what I do for a living to matter on a greater level. But this hobby has given me the freedom to be picky about which path to pursue, without sacrificing quality of life.
So is spending 5-10 hours a week on manufactured spending a waste of time? No, because while I may not be making constant use of the miles I earn, I do get to put them to good use for people I care about. Plus, it’s fun and more productive than collecting bobblehead dolls.
As a reformed wokaholic, I realize that working constantly isn’t everything – I missed out on some important experiences as a consequence of putting work ahead of everything and I now know better. So when someone tells me I’d be better off channeling my spare time towards learning a new skill, working a second job, or starting a business, I see those as valid suggestions – and I do spend some of my time doing those things – but it’s all about achieving balance. It’s not healthy to spend all your time working and it’s not healthy to spend all your time churning gift cards or traveling. I’d like to think I’ve achieved a healthy balance.
Life is about more than being endlessly productive. Been there, done that, and I’ve got the premature gray hairs and frown lines to prove it. As my sister always says, “Work smart, not hard” – I’m living by this mantra and it’s worked well for me so far.
This post is a departure from my usual ice cold tone (and maybe a bit too personal), but I wanted to share my thoughts honestly on a topic that I’m frequently asked about. I’d love your feedback as well: How much time and effort do you spend on manufactured spending, and do you consider it a waste of time?
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