As you know, my true passion is travel, not Manufactured Spend. I had never looked into making profit from our hobby aside of free trips. I had been advocating against going into Manufactured Spend for profit for a long time; right until it stopped making sense. However, increased spend requirements and decreased benefits of the loyalty programs made me take a hard look into darker, murkier waters of our hobby.
Nowadays, you have to use at least some Manufactured Spend techniques even if all you want to do is meet the spend. In one year time between my first and second editions of Travel Free, the minimum spend requirement for the credit cards I recommended shot up from $28,000 in 12 months to $41,000 in 15 months. That’s already no joke, and that doesn’t take into account the $10,000 spend for the Citi AAdvantage Executive card (it wasn’t available at the time of writing)! That’s some serious dough you have to spend in order to get your one million miles and points annually (well, to be fair to myself, you would get more than a million, but still).
Ever since I started looking into optimizing Manufactured Spend for my goals and my lazy nature 🙂 I can’t help but think about what my free travel has really cost in terms of lost opportunities. I‘m not talking about your money being tied on everyday spend and losing on some investment opportunities. I don’t know much about investing, well, not nearly like this dude!. I am talking about profit that you could receive from cashback or points cards that you forgo (at least, I forgo) in favor of meeting spend requirements.
Here is an example. I recently received a targeted offer from American Express Business platinum card for 100,000 MR points after spending $10,000 in three months. There is no question in my mind that the bonus and benefits of this card are worth the spend and the efforts, and I have no problem spending $10K in three months, but it still comes with a cost. If I chose to use my AMEX Blue Cash card to generate $10,000 it would pay me the following.
$10Kx5% cashback = $500.
20 One Vanillla Fees at $4.95 each = $99.
$6,000 in money orders at Walmart at $.70 each = $4.20*
Total Profit after expenses: $396.80
* You can do better, but we in NYC don’t have a Walmart in our backyard so I try to cut my visits there to the minimum. The number above stems from the daily limits on Bluebird reloads coupled with money order purchases at the same time.
Yes, it is possible to further optimize the spend by buying AMEX gift cards via cahsback portals first. But for our example, it doesn’t matter because you would do the same if you did it for profit too. I can’t take into account all variables. This is not a dissertation, you know. 🙂
As you can see, the true cost of my 100,000 MR points if we add lost profit is not just $450 annual fee. It’s $846.80, out of which I can recover $400 in two annual $200 reimbursement credits.
That brings the total cost for 100,000 MR points to $446.80.
Of course, there are other terrific benefits that sweeten the pot. There are Priority Pass lounge access, the SPG Gold status, and $100 Global Entree credit, but you’ve got the point. In terms of lost profit, I am still paying for this card. Paying almost as much as they wanted me to pay to begin with.
It’s not to say, that the fee isn’t worth it. 100,000 MR points are totally worth $450 and then some (especially with all the added goodies). But it does make those points much less attractive if you stop for a moment to think about it.
Stemming from this line of reasoning, the current Citibank AAdvantage Executive card 100,000-point offer will cost you even more in lost profit. The card’s annual fee is also $450, but the statement credit they give you is “only” $200 instead of $400 that you can get from AMEX Platinum.
Thus, the final cost of the Citi AA Executive card will stand at $696.80.
Is the 100,000-mile bonus from American Airlines coupled with the access to Admiral and One World lounges worth $696.80? You bet it does! But once again, the real cost of these miles is not what it appears to be on the surface.
Here are the real costs of some other credit card bonuses. Once again, this is what it would cost me considering my MS pattern. Your Mileage May Vary.
Barclaycard Arrival card, or Citibank AAdvantage card or Chase Sapphire Preferred ($3K spend, $0 annual fee for the first year): $150-$29.70-$1.40 = $118.90.
US Bank Club Carlson card ($2,500 spend, $75 annual fee) $125-$24.75-$1.40 = $173.85
Chase Ink Bold, Chase Ink Plus, AMEX SPG ($5,000 spend, $0 annual fee for the first year) $250-$49.50-$2.10 = $198.40.
Once again: does it mean that I’m going to stop applying for the best travel reward credit cards and meet spend requirement? Not a chance! But it might be an interesting exercise to look at things from a different prospective every now and then.
Photo Credit: Tax Credits