One True Key to the Miles & Points Game

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one key miles points
Photo by Scott Robinson.

The 1 Key to Miles & Points & A Lot of Other Things

If you are new to this whole “game” as some people call it, then things can no doubt be overwhelming. There are literally thousands of things you could/should learn. From loyalty programs to credit cards there is honestly more information then you will probably ever learn. The truth is you don’t really need to.

The most successful people in this hobby and in the world actually are the ones who learn the system and figure out how to navigate just inside of the boundaries. It takes a lot of work, but honestly the key to what I write about here and what you will find on just about any points & miles blog relates back to this reality.

Setting the Rules

Think about something for a second. Lets say you are creating a set of rules. It doesn’t have to be for a loyalty program, but can be for anything. You are going to write those rules with the masses in mind. While this is often unintentional, the side effect of catering to the masses is ignoring the outliers and that can be dangerous for rulesetters and good for us.

The truth is as a set of rules grows larger, then the opportunity for loopholes grows larger as well. You, the outlier are looking for those loopholes. Those thing within the rules that allow you to make them work for you instead of against you. If the masses exploited those loopholes then they would become too costly, but if only the outliers do it, then the pain remains tolerable.

Is This Wrong

Some will say that this is a dishonest way to go about life. For example, some people think that credit card churning is wrong and so they don’t do it. How exactly is it wrong? Is it wrong to lie to a bank in order to get credit? Yes. Is it wrong to apply for a bunch of credit cards when the banks have all of the information that you are doing it? Absolutely not in my opinion.

The truth is this way of thinking applies to the real world in just about every way. Have you ever heard how Apple and just about every major company avoids taxes by forming offshore businesses in countries like Ireland? They do it legally because the rules say they can. If they are studying the rules and finding their way within the lines then why shouldn’t you?

Grey Areas

Before I go any further, I am all about staying legal. Personally, I will not cross a legal line. For example, a suggestion that I see crop up from time to time is taking unactivated prepaid cards from one store and bringing them to another during a sale. Guess what? That is stealing. Will you get away with it? Maybe, but people do get caught eventually. I’m not ending up on an episode of America’s Dumbest Criminals for stealing worthless gift cards.

There are also moral lines of course. You will constantly be asked to evaluate whether something crosses your own personal line. The reality is that your line will also change as you mature both as a person and in this hobby. Moral lines are a good thing because they keep us from doing stupid things and instead force us to study and find alternative ways to get to where we want.

So What to Do

If you are beginner you really need to study. Don’t rely on this blog or other blogs to tell you everything. If I tell you that I value Ultimate Rewards points at 1.7 cents each, don’t accept that value as your own. Study the program and what can be done with it. Learn the ins and outs and see if they are worth more or less to you.

What if I publish a deal for gift cards on eBay? Study how the eBay gift card ecosystem works. Buy and sell cards. Learn how to do it. Study the rules everywhere. I guarantee eventually you will find something that I didn’t. In fact, that is how many of the hacks you hear about surface. It is people reading, learning and studying. Always trying to find out how to operate just inside of the lines.

Where to Start

So many people will tell you to start by studying this award program or that credit card. You should do all of that, but the real place to start is by making the decision to make the effort to understand. Whatever you are reading about or looking at you need to understand it. As I always say, “Slow & Steady Doesn’t Make You a Loser.”

The 1 Key

Ok, I’ll finally address the title of this post in one simple sentence. It really applies to everything in life and is something that has worked well for me in many ways. Oh and I love that the word “maximize” can mean so many things! 🙂

Understand it so you can maximize it.


The truth is blogs are amazing stepping off points for an almost limitless world of possibilities when it comes to miles & points. With that said, I wouldn’t be to the level I am without spending time researching, talking to others and reading. I do sooooo much reading. Of course I will continue to share my knowledge and perspective here on Miles to Memories, but that should just be the beginning for you.

If you made it this far, tell me one thing? Do you feel like this entire post was worthless or did it help? Do you value the occasional editorial like this?

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  1. Who are the developers in da house!? We need an app for MS, Churning, eBay/Staples etc Deals Deals Deals and finding MS friendly locations like Waze app!!

    Cloud Based Crowdsourced Real-Time GPS deal finding and you can add friends and share locations of MS operations and etc!! That would make this game so ridiculous!! Like you would go to an airport, bust open the app, and quickly ID all points/miles players and you can contact them and etc!

    Does anyone play INGRESS?! Would be exactly like that!! FOR THE ALLIANCE!!

  2. Wait! I thought the first true key was to hurry up and sign up for the CSP using your lucrative affiliate link?! Oops…wrong blog! :-p

    I value reminder posts like these. And your blog is tops in my book – along with Frequentmiler and DoC. I still RSS many of the other mainstream points blogs, but the content is mostly rubbish.

  3. well said, there are blogs to inspire people, spoonfeed some angles and give the newbee a condensed version of certain programs. Once you get the bug, and enjoy reading T&C, and know enough abbreviations to know that means “terms and conditions”, you would want to graduate to Flyertalk forums where there are more programs under the sun discussed than you knew existed. To be full gonzo you have to read all the subforums and invest more time and money in gaining points in the programs you want. It can become a time consuming hobby, but that first flight in first class and epic vacation on points makes it all worthwhile!!

  4. Awesome Post! I have been reading your blog for a few months and I really enjoy your sharing of knowledge. Thank You!

    • I 2nd this. Great article, provided a bit of a refresher for me. A little bit of strategy talk, a little bit or moral grounds talk :), and ya, dont steal guys. I have learned some things from you, Shawn; thank you for your time and effort(blog).

  5. Another great post, Shawn. Of course, I”m biased because you’ve become a friend over the past year. But when I got into this “hobby” (realizing the recent negative connotation of the term) a little over a year ago, I first found a few other (bigger?) blogs like many newbies (of which I still count myself as one) do via Google. Fortunately after a while I figured out that yours and a few others are far superior, in terms of content and having the best interests of your readers in-mind.

    What you’ve written about here today (both specifically and tangentially) is exactly the reason why your blog has become my favorite. You work hard (obviously must read a lot!) and have consistently good and varied content. While I suspect things like deals and MS drive your traffic, the fact that you write other content (like reviews, past travel experiences, and opinions) keeps things fresh and interesting. And your travel experiences give you a lot of credibility.

    I think you’re right-on, in terms of your moral compass – including realizing that everyone will have to make decisions for themselves on this front.

    I should note that there are a lot of other great miles/points blogs out there (including another one that you write for!), but yours stands out clearly among the best. Keep up the good work.

    • Well I really love this miles to memories website also… I am a newbie and I’m wondering if you’d be willing to share the other websites/blogs that you found were almost as good as this one? Thank you so much.

  6. Shawn, you always seem to get it right, IMO.
    The only place we’d differ, relative to noob advice: what are your goals? Be it travel, cash back or something else. I’m splitting hairs a bit here, but again – you’re on the money as usual.

  7. These types of posts are actually my favorite to read on blogs. Similar to the proverb “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” it is best to learn something that can be used many times rather than just hearing about the latest deal/promotion (that usually is over with before I even read the article).

  8. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that there are “thousands” of things to do. Perhaps a dozen for the absolute beginner (i.e. opening a few credit cards) and perhaps a few dozens for somebody who wishes to do a bit of manufactured spend. The ebay gift card reselling and other such things are quite complicated and/or time consuming so I wouldn’t bother with them. I started from zero and I accumulated about 1M airline miles in approximately half a year by playing this in a team of two (me and my spouse) and by not doing anything crazy.


    • That is awesome Laura. I more meant thousands of pieces of information to learn, but you are right. You can certainly get up and running fairly quickly. Thanks for the comment. This post was meant to really start a conversation and I’m glad it has had that effect.

  9. Let me be the first to congratulate you — the post was worthwhile — as are many of your posts.

    Working within the rules is absolutely OK in my book — if the rules become too lax, the card issuers will change them — and Chase and the others already are.

    I am not a big fan of card chrurners firstly because it devalues the hard earned points that I have accumulated and second, it might make it less likely that fat bonuses could become available on a product that I wish in the future.

    As you noted, it becomes quite a bit more in the grey area when such things as the 1 browser trick is/was employed — it is one thing to state that card issuers are aware of your credit information and the number of cards that you have applied for, and a seeming IT glitch that permits you to submit more than one application at the same time — that cards are issued for such applications does not convince me that a card issuer intended to issue you those many of the same cards on the same day, but I digress.

    I am glad that you call it a game, because a game can have positive and negative connotations — I often view the “profit” maximization as a way to keep your mind sharp — so you earn more points/cash and you keep your mind agile — nothing wrong with that.

    I look forward to reading more of your blogs as I am about to open my first Serve account — can’t believe that I had for so long ignored this option for bill pay for those bills where you can’t pay with a credit card and earn miles.

    Who knows, I might even buy some gift cards to load to a potential spouse’s account to further pay bills that can’t be paid by credit card. Will it ever reach a level to buy stuff to re-sell on e-bay or back to a gift card re-seller –No, but that is a personal choice. As long as this is permitted — and I don’t see anything wrong at all with trying to pay your remaining bills that don’t accept credit cards with a credit card issued “currency,” I say continue on with your good work educating novices like myself, it is most appreciated.

    That does not mean that I am going to stop publicly shaming those who are of dubious ethical presentment and who are nothing but out and out pigs. Those who play within the rules should harbor a similar sentiment as such excesses bring to a far swifter end those processes though perhaps not anticipated by the card issuer/vendor, etc. are still tolearable unless exploited in an underhanded way, then it is the honest that ultimately bear the cost for the dishonest individual’s temporary gain.

  10. Sup bro. I like this post a lot. Solid Snake.

    While I totally agree with your simple one sentence “Key”, I think you only lightly touched on a more important precursor key which is more important for someone like me.

    You said, “the real place to start is by making the decision to make the effort to understand.”

    That to me is the REAL KEY. That trumps all other efforts because everything starts from this square one.

    Another point I would add is that you have to go “ALL IN”. Just like anything in life, you cant half-ass this shit or you get half-assed results and you wont get why everyone is playing this game. (unless half-ass results are fine for you)

    YOU HAVE TO GO BIG OR GO HOME. (of course, start slow and ramp up and take calculated risks just like you said)
    = Sub-Key Part B

    Thanks Shawn for your posts.


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