Today, I’m joined by Dr. Erin Casey, a retired hematologist-oncologist turned hospitalist. Without expenses like kids, a mortgage, or debt payments, Erin wasn’t sure if she could earn as many points as those who play the points game with a spouse or friend. Yet, she implemented a strategy to maximize her points, and if you’re in a similar situation, you can too.
Welcome to Point Me to First Class, the only show for employed professionals, entrepreneurs, and business owners who are looking to optimize their higher-than-average expenses to travel the world. I'm your host, Devon Gimbel, and I believe that your expenses are your greatest untapped asset if you know how to leverage them. Ready to dive into the world of credit card points and miles so you can travel more, travel better, and travel often? Let's get started.
Welcome back to the podcast everybody. Today I have another special guest joining us, and she is here to help debunk a common myth in the points travel world. Which is that if you are a solid points earner, you're much more limited in your points earning ability than maybe people have the benefit of having a spouse, a partner, a P2, or what is commonly referred to as a second player or player two and the points world working together to earn points.
Devon: In fact, my guest today has earned over 1 million points this year as a solo points earner, and she is going to break down for all of us exactly how she did it so that you can steal her secrets if you want to, and you can do it too. Today I'm joined by Dr. Erin Casey, a retired hematologist oncologist turned hospitalist. Welcome to the podcast, Erin. I am so excited for you to be here and share your story with all of us today.
Erin: Thank you, I'm glad to be here too.
Devon: So I introduced you very briefly, but can you tell us a little bit more about your background, especially as it pertains to how you came into this whole world of points and points travel?
Erin: Well, I have had credit cards since I was like 18. My dad actually worked for our state revenue department. I was like very financially savvy. He taught me from very early on that you pay your bill off every single month. So I've always done that. I had maybe three cards that I used fairly regularly. Nothing with any sort of sense of which card for which, but they were all like cash-back. Obviously, I would then just cash the cash-back and then use it however I wanted.
But I would use credit cards even before this for most purchases. So that wasn't a new thing for me to be able to use credit cards for everything. My brother has a Sapphire, and he had been talking about it for a few years just here and there. But nothing significant. He just kind of mentioned that consider getting one.
Then one of my colleagues and friends, she also has a Sapphire. So she was talking to me about it and then she added me to the group. I remember at the beginning, I was like, wow, this is a lot. I totally was fine with the idea that getting more credit cards isn't necessarily a bad thing. Although I did pause for a little bit with thinking about how many I was going to get. But the part that like I was worried about was the redeeming the points.
I remember from the beginning, I thought I'm just going to pay somebody to redeem them because this just sounds like way too complicated. Then I was actually, this was like right before I went to Greece, which was about a year ago. So I took a couple of cards with me there. I was there with like a tour group of people that I know. So I was like oh here, let me by lunch and you can all Venmo me.
Then I was just talking about points like nonstop. My friend was like stop talking about points. Same thing with my family. They're like oh my gosh, all you talk about is points. So it was just fun to like learn and then I ended up just doing all the redemptions myself. So.
Devon: That’s amazing. So when you first got into this points hobby, you had described yourself to me as a solopreneur who had some limitations or some challenges in terms of how you thought about the ability to earn points maybe compared to somebody else who has a partner, spouse, or has a big family that they're feeding and needing to buy all of the things for. So can you tell me a little bit more about what do you think are some of the obstacles or challenges that some solo points earners can face in this hobby?
Erin: Well, I think it just depends on sort of what your expenses are. At this point in my life, I have my student loans paid off. My house is paid off. I don't have any debt that I'm paying towards every month. Then also too I don't have children that I'm spending ridiculous amounts on groceries for every week. I don't have another person that is contributing points.
Then also too just I hear about people with these businesses, especially some of these private practice physicians talking about buying their vaccines, and I was like man. I don't have that. I don't want to be able to buy vaccines to get points. So it was mostly just kind of like how am I going to get enough points to actually make this worth my time and effort to enjoy it?
Devon: Yeah, I think that's a really valid question to have because I think one of the things that all of us talk about in the points and travel community is, and certainly I'm a huge proponent of this, is talking about how amazing it is to have expenses, right? Not spending money that you don't want to spend or buying things that you don't need to buy.
But when you do have the, and I think it's like a luxury to have certain expenses, to be able to leverage those to earn points. In that sense, to me, at least as someone who does have expenses related to having little children and feeding them and doing all the things with them. To me, it really is a luxury to say oh, great. At least I can use these expenses and really, really take advantage of them in terms of being able to earn as many points as I can.
But as you mentioned, not everybody's picture is going to look exactly the same. So I do think that for people who, like you said, don't necessarily have a partner. Maybe you don't have children that you're raising, or you are in a situation where you also have the luxury maybe not having really, really high expenses, which is a benefit in and of itself.
Then how did you overcome sort of that initial belief or that initial fear that wow, maybe this hobby actually isn't going to be as useful or beneficial for someone who maybe isn't walking in with all of these different streams of expenses that they can leverage?
Erin: I definitely knew that I probably wasn't going to be able to get as many points as people that have a lot of expenses, but that didn't mean that I couldn't still like take advantage of them and still get good redemptions from them. So I may not have as many points, but I can still utilize them for stuff that I would not normally have done before with using just cash-back cards.
That was like one of the things that I did, and then just too I was just kind of like a sponge of information. Just kind of looking at the different cards, and which ones do three times points for groceries and then just kind of getting those based on like what my typical expenses are, not necessarily what everyone's expenses are.
Devon: Yeah, and I think that's such a smart way to think about it is essentially, one of my philosophies is that I think for people who want to be in this hobby, of course, that we all have some resource available to us. Our resources may not look identical, right? So some of us do have what I consider to be the resource of having high expenses or maybe higher expenses than other people do.
Like you mentioned if you're running a private practice or if you're another type of business owner, I work with some business owners who have online based businesses. So they have very high social media ad spend so that they can get a lot of attention on their business. That is a wonderful resource to have. If you do have the luxury of just having high personal expenses or high business expenses and being able to leverage that, that's amazing.
But that doesn't mean that that's the only way that you can succeed in this hobby. Because I think there are all sorts of resources that we can tap into. Some of us have the resource of having a lot more time than other people do. I know some people, just the nature of their life is that they don't have two or three hours a week where they can learn about this or read about this or want to do that with their time. Others of us actually really enjoy that. If time is one of your resources, you can absolutely leverage that to learn a lot about what are some of the specific strategies that are going to benefit you.
Kind of what I'm hearing from you saying too is also just acknowledging and recognizing okay no. Maybe you don't have the same resources that maybe you see someone else talking about or posting online, but being still able to identify what are the resources that you have available to you that you can absolutely leverage.
It sounds like, to me, based on what you had posted and sent in messages to me that when you actually kind of made the jump away from the cash-back cards and into the points earning cards, recognizing that you are going to have to take advantage of being really strategic about this and being really deliberate about maximizing the expenses that you do have to earn points as a solo points earner. It sounds like you really knocked it out of the park.
So I want to hear more about how many points have you earned from when you really first started getting these points earning cards and over what timeframe did you earn those points?
Erin: So I did make some rookie mistakes at the beginning. Three cards like within a month. So then I was already at 3/24 at that point and didn't really realize exactly what that would mean for getting future cards. Obviously, like I've made other mistakes, and we all make mistakes. But you just learn from them even though they kind of crush your soul a little bit when you realize that you didn't use something that you should like use the right card.
So, like I said, I kind of just looked for cards that had higher earning potential based on things that I spent my money on typically. So most of my expenses at this point are groceries, dining, even though I don't spend as much on groceries as other people, and then travel, and then just kind of like household expenses. I definitely, being retired, I have more time to kind of spend time. At the beginning, it was very heavy on the learning.
Now I feel like I have learned most everything that, I mean obviously, there's still tidbits here and there to learn. But I don't feel like I have to, like constantly be checking, like which part I can use for this. I kind of know in my head which cards to use.
So I started last August, with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. I wanted kind of the lounge access, and I liked the three times travels since that was one of my big expenses. Then I quickly got the Amex Gold for the four times groceries and dining. Then I don't know why, oh I got the Citi Premiere. I'm not sure exactly why, but I did. That was my first like oh, why do I have this card? Actually, my annual fee just posted like this week, and I'm trying to decide if I should keep it or not. But anyway, so I started last August. Quickly got three cards.
Overall, in the last year, I had gotten 12 new cards. I actually got to 4/24. So pretty much everything since then has been business cards. I, like a lot of people, kind of hesitated about the idea about getting a business card without like a big business or a major business. I actually, just this year I made an official business, but I started a swim lesson business. So I have a pool at my house. I used to be a competitive swimmer. So I just started that.
But I had done stuff where I sell stuff on Facebook marketplace and all that. But it did take me a little while to like feel comfortable getting that first business card. Then when I signed up, and it's asking me like what my profit or what my revenue per year is. I was like $1,000. But I don't think I've ever listed more than $5,000, and I've gotten a business card. I've gotten eight business cards in the last year like with only putting in that much money.
I think that's what I thought was that you'd had to have like a decent amount of revenue in order to qualify, but that is not true. So I've gotten a bunch of business cards as well. I pretty much got them all as a sole proprietor until I just formed the LLC this year for the swim lesson business. So total of 12 cards, eight business and four personal. So I have one, the Citi Premiere, I have five American Express cards, and six Chase cards.
I had ended up obtaining a total of I think it was like a million and a half points total in that time period. I think for me, again, this kind of goes back to the sole proprietor or this P1 only, to me I have to earn points by getting subs because I'm not going to have as much to spend on certain category of things.
I try to be strategic about what I'm going to get the sub. For example, I know that in the next month I'm owe the rest of bill for one of my trips coming up, and it's like several thousand dollars. So I'm like okay, which card can I get to use to pay for that so that I can get a sub on sort of a basic level in terms of like acquiring cards?
Devon: Yeah. I can imagine some people are listening to this and thinking like wow, 12 new cards in a year. I think some people will think oh, that's a piece of cake, and other people might think like wow, that's a lot. I'm not sure that I'm quite ready to do that. I just want to note that I think one of the best things about this hobby is that there is no one right way to do anything right.
So a strategy that works for someone, if that is appealing to you, go ahead, grab it, run with it. You're always going to hear someone's strategy or some approach that someone takes in this hobby that you're like wow, that's overwhelming for me, or that doesn't resonate with me. Or I don't know that I would want to take my time and do that one particular points learning strategy.
I just want to acknowledge that all of that is fine. I think it's really interesting to hear how many different ways there are for people to kind of construct their points earning scenario because the way that someone actually goes about earning the total number of points they have is never going to be identical from one person to another.
So hearing from you that you had identified early on that one of the main ways that you were going to be able to earn points was to leverage getting those new credit cards so that you could qualify for the welcome bonuses and get those on board as being kind of the mainstay of your points accumulation.
But diving into that even a little bit deeper. Can you tell me kind of what was your strategy, if you actually had a strategy. Maybe in the beginning you didn't. You mentioned that you kind of just went and got a bunch of cards like right, right in the beginning. But especially as maybe after that first month, kind of what was your strategy in terms of pacing out your credit card applications given that you did get 12 new cards in a year? Also what was your strategy in terms of how did you pick which cards you actually did want to bring on?
Devon: Again, like I said, I kind of got three right away. That wasn't the smartest thing. But I would say, the first six months was probably when I got most of my cards. I think over the last six months I've maybe gotten three or four. So it was kind of at the beginning. I wouldn't necessarily say that I waited like 30 days. I definitely would wait 30 days between which bank that I was getting them with, but I would look.
The main thing was to try to get the cards that have points that I can use for more than just like I don't have to do just only Hyatt points. Like I can use them for different transfers. So those were the ones that I kind of aimed for first. Then I did think about which ones, from a standpoint of continuing to earn points.
So like I have, I don't know if you know Hy-Vee. I'm in Iowa. So they have a drugstore right near me, but that kept coding is drugstore, not grocery. So that's why I was like I'm going to get the CFU because that's three times drugstore. That's where I get my prescriptions and stuff too. So I got those kind of at the beginning. After that, I just kind of got them just for the sub essentially. But even some of the other, I think like my 12 card was one of the Delta cards just for like using the lounges and stuff like that. So.
Devon: So you've mentioned, obviously, that signing up for new cards is one of the sort of main pillars of your points earning strategy to make sure that you kind of always have that influx of a new welcome bonus coming in. But I know that you actually have earned points in a lot of ways and are not focusing just in terms of getting new cards.
You actually have like a multi-part strategy for earning a lot of points as a solo points earner. So can you tell us what are some of the other like most significant ways that you've been able to earn points, even beyond just signing up for new credit cards and earning those initial signup bonuses?
Erin: Sure. So I would say, for me, the two main things that have gotten me the most points are using Rakuten and using my Chase Ink Business Cash. Before, like a lot of people, I just buy everything on Amazon, right? Even though I don't like the company, I still it's so easy. It comes so quickly. You can usually get it cheaper. So I had to get used to the idea of actually buying stuff like from the merchants directly to utilize Rakuten.
So what I end up doing is I kind of make a list of the stuff that I know I'm going to need to purchase over the next several months. Like I know that I'm going to get my niece a Lego. So I just kind of write that down. I don't just go buy it right away when I think about it. Then I just monitor Rakuten. When I see that Lego has a higher percent back then I will utilize that.
Then the Business Cash Card, I mean the five times office supply is amazing. So like I use that for basically like anything that like one of my cards wouldn't cover. So like there was something I knew I needed to order from Nordstrom. So in the past, I would have just ordered it with my card. Now I use the cash card to purchase a Nordstrom gift certificate or gift card, and then use that.
Obviously, some of these purchases, you're not going to know about ahead of time. But Staples Online, you can get a lot of gift cards. They don't have all of them. They don't really have like Apple or Amazon, but they have Nordstrom, and it's email delivery. So I'm on Nordstrom. I know that I want to get this. Then when I'm ready to get it, I just go on Staples, get an email delivery of the gift card, usually it comes within a couple hours, and then use that.
I have noticed, and I can't unfortunately remember which merchants do this, but I do sometimes still get points on Rakuten even though I'm using gift cards to pay for the items. I don't know which ones do that, but I figure it's might as well try it if it's on there. Then for all of the other things like Amazon, Apple, Target, I just go and stock up on those cards and load up my accounts like Starbucks and that kind of thing. Then as it's getting lower, I go back and buy more gift cards. So that's huge.
Then also too because it's five times on like cable and cell phone and stuff like that. So that those are kind of my other sort of higher monthly bills. I have my parents on my cell phone account, that kind of stuff. So those are, I would say, the two main things that in addition to the Amex Gold or how I get my points other than subs.
Devon: Yeah. So I just for everybody who's listening to this want to clarify that the card that you're talking about, Erin, that gets you the ability to earn five times points on office supplies spend, you'd mentioned its abbreviation the cash card. But for those of you who are kind of a little bit newer to this world, it's specifically a Chase Business Card.
So Chase, at least currently, offers three what can function as points earning business credit cards, and the one that we're talking about here is called the Chase Ink Business Cash Card. So just one specific Chase business card, and it's one of its bonus categories is five times points at office supply stores.
Using this method that Erin was talking about where you can go into an office supply store, and you can purchase store specific gift cards within that office supply store using your Chase Ink Business Cash card is a really smart and effective way to essentially earn five times points on whatever type of store you're buying a gift card for.
So Erin, you mentioned Nordstrom. If you do have an Office Max, an Office Depot, a Staples type store within driving distance of where you live, you can actually physically go into the store. They'll have this beautiful display rack of all of the different gift cards that you can buy there. As you mentioned, Amazon is a big one.
There are so many of us, I joke that my family's Amazon spend is essentially equivalent to the GDP of a small country. But I think a lot of people can relate to the convenience of being able to go online and click a button. I mean, for better or for worse, we won't get into what we think about Amazon as an actual company. But in terms of convenience, I mean, again, depending on where you live, you can literally get things delivered on your doorstep four hours later, or certainly two days later.
So a lot of us are maybe not kind of willing in service of earning points, again, to expend a lot of time and energy. I know I certainly have a cap on where I'm willing to drive to and what I'm willing to have to take the time to do to earn points. But to be able to maintain my same shopping patterns of just being able to go on and shop online at Amazon or shop online through another online merchant, that doesn't mean that you've lost the ability to earn points for those transactions.
I think leveraging exactly what, Erin, you're talking about here's just one method is getting the Chase Ink Business Cash Card so that you can go and get store specific gift cards at office supply stores and earn five times Chase points on that purchase is, again, such a powerful way to turn a purchase that may otherwise only be getting you one point for every dollar spent. When you are able to five times that, obviously your ability to earn points is going to accelerate really, really quickly.
So I think part of being strategic, again, about being able to leverage the expenses that you do have is looking at where can I earn more than one point for every dollar that I'm spending so that you don't have to spend five times as much. It's certainly not something that anybody, I think, in this hobby advocates is not ever spending money that you did not already intend to spend, but getting really, really strategic about how can you make sure that you are taking advantage of a lot of these methods that exist to be able to earn more than one point per dollar on everything that you're spending.
So you mentioned that it seems like an in sort of the like hierarchy of your points earning ability and strategy that getting new cards and earning welcome bonuses kind of takes that top slot and then kind of right below that would be combine the points that you can earn shopping online through Rakuten and then taking advantage, again, of the Chase Ink Business Cash card in order to earn five times points on gift cards.
So between Rakuten and the Chase Ink Business Cash, do you have like a ballpark idea of about how many points you're able to earn over the last year just using those strategies? If you don't know off the top of your head, it's totally fine. I didn't tell you to like prepare this really, really detailed spreadsheet breakdown of all of your numbers.
Erin: I don't know if I could necessarily estimate, I mean, how much, but it's yeah. It's really basically been subs and that and the groceries and the dining. Then I got a Blue Business Plus card for the two times points. So I use that for like anything that doesn't fit in the category. The other thing I didn’t mention is that I also, when I'm going to buy something, will check all the offers for the different credit cards.
So, again, like if I want to get something from Nordstrom, and I find my American Express Gold card has like 10% back or even better, two times points for every dollar that you spend at Nordstrom then I will get the gift card using the Chase Ink Business Cash, use Rakuten, and then pay with the card that has the deal. So that I would say that is the main thing.
The other thing that I do is, like I had said at the beginning, paying for other people and then getting paid back by Venmo. So a lot of my expenses at this point are travel. I'm sort of the one that typically organizes the travel, does the research. So I'll pay for flights for two of us, and then my friend will reimburse me. So that's also another thing. Even with my parents. Like we'll go out to eat now, and I'll be like I'll get dinner tonight and that that sort of thing.
So just kind of paying for those other people that either don't really know about points, although that's not true because I talk about points all the time, but just don't want to put in the effort to do the points. So that's kind of like another way I do it.
Then kind of going back to the Chase Ink Business Cash. I know a lot of people take advantage of the no fee Visa and Mastercards. I do not do that because I have found that it's too much of a pain. It's just like not worth my effort, especially when people have issues with them working and only being able to use them at certain places. So I don't do that. I know a lot of people do.
Devon: Yeah. Just to kind of expand on that a little bit. Again, for people who are not quite all the way into this hobby yet, when you're using, again, the specific Chase Inc Business card, the Chase Ink Business Cash card, and you're utilizing it so that you can go and buy store specific gift cards inside of an office supply store so that you can earn five times points on those purchases.
One of the things you may or may not notice, depending, again, on how fanatical you've gotten about the whole entire points earning hobby is that when you go, and this is true regardless of if you make a purchase with the points earning card or with a debit card or whatever.
But when you go into a grocery store and an office supply store and you want to buy a store specific card, a Nordstrom gift card, a PetSmart gift card, whatever the case may be. You, as the customer, don't actually have to pay anything in order to get that gift card other than, of course, the amount of money that you want to load onto it right. So if you want to get a $50 gift card there, if that's the only thing you bought, you would only have to pay $50 at checkout. There's no additional fee or cost for you to buy a store specific gift card.
But what Erin is referencing right here is that if you wanted to go into an office supply store and instead you wanted to get a cash equivalent gift card, like a Visa gift card, that could then just function essentially as a cash gift certificate or as a debit card. It's a Visa gift card or a MasterCard that can be loaded as well with $50 or $200 or whatever the case may be. Those cash equivalent gift cards do actually require that you pay what's called an activation fee.
So if you want to get the Visa gift card, for example, and you want to load it with $200, you can do that, but you're going to have to pay $5.95 or $6.95 in order to be able to purchase that gift card and loaded up with money. At that point, it's not necessarily worth it to have to pay a fee in order to be able to earn five times points on that purchase.
But every once in a while the office supply stores will run a promotion where you can essentially get these Visa gift cards or Mastercards without there also being an activation fee required to pay them. So you can actually purchase them just at face value when there are promotions going on. They're essentially fee free promotions.
This can be a way, again, to be able to walk out of the store with a $200 Visa gift card that you've essentially earn five times Chase points on, and then you can turn around and use that Visa gift card to make your own regular purchases, usually, again, things that would not ordinarily earn you five times points.
So if you don't have a rewards card that rewards you with a bonus category for gas, for example. You can go to a gas station and use one of these Visa gift cards and fill up your car with gas. This allows you, again, to really start to maximize the amount of points that you can earn for a lot of expenses that would otherwise get you only like one point per dollar spent, maybe one and a half, or two points per dollar spent.
But I really want to highlight this point, Erin, that you made in the context of this episode is that that is a strategy, specifically buying those promotion fee free Visa gift cards or Mastercards at office supply stores. That's a strategy you're aware of, and you've identified as being like hey, that one's actually not for me in terms of either the energy that it takes or just what you have to do on the back end to keep track of that or deal with any potential problems that arise with these types of Visa or Mastercard gift cards.
I think it's really, really important for us to be able to highlight that and say listen, even if you are a solo points earner, you don't have to go out, again, and employ every single points learning method that exists. There still is room for you to be able to kind of stratify or calibrate like what are going to be the highest yield strategies for me? Right.
I think that's the really wonderful thing about this hobby even when you are a solo points earner is that there are literally dozens of different points earning strategies that are out there. As you've heard Erin say, you can earn a heck of a lot of points without employing every single one of them.
So Erin, one of the things I'm really curious to hear from you is now that you have these 12 cards that you have gotten in the last year, what is your plan for those cards next year? Do you anticipate that you're going to keep all of those? If not, how are you going to decide which ones you want to keep and which ones you don't? Like do you anticipate having these stay with you for the long run?
Erin: So, like I said, the Citi Premier card, I just I don't have a lot of use for it because the main thing on it. You know I have better points earning cards for certain categories than that card. So gas is about the only one that that card has, gas stations, that that card has that my other ones don't. But I don't buy gas because I have an electric car. So just going in and getting like a candy bar every now and then is not going to earn me a bunch of points.
So I have thought about canceling that one. But I'm sort of like well, I don't know. But the annual fees only $99. This is kind of funny too. I mean, I'm sure there's other people like this, but it's kind of fun to just see like your stack of cards. Although I suppose I can still keep the card, even though I'm not using it. I'm kind of like a giddy schoolgirl whenever a new card comes in the mail too. I like take a picture of it. I get so excited about new card.
The other one, I have the American Express Business Gold Card. Again, there's not a whole lot of things that I utilize it for. So I'm not sure if I'll keep that one. That's still several months away before I have to make that decision. I'm definitely keeping the Chase Sapphire Reserve just for the travel, even though just the $300 travel credit is basically worth the card itself.
Then I'm definitely keeping the American Express Gold, like we talked about. The Chase Freedom Unlimited for the drugstore. Then the Chase Ink Business Cash. Those are kind of the main ones that I use. Then also the Blue Business Plus. Like I’ll keep those, Blue Business Plus ones and probably even the Chase Ink cash ones, just because they don't have an annual fee. So it's not like it's going to cost me anything to keep those.
Although I suspect, and you can help me with this, in order to get more like if I wanted to get another Chase Ink Business Preferred for the sub, I'm wondering if I need to close the one that I already have. But yeah, so that's kind of where I'm at.
Devon: Tell me too, I'm really curious to hear from you. Looking forward now to the next year. Do you anticipate that your points earning strategy is going to stay the same, essentially really focusing on earning the welcome bonuses for new cards, or do you think that your strategy is going to shift next year? Have you thought about that yet?
Erin: Yeah. So I don't know that I'm going to be able to get as many signup bonuses. Again, I'm at 4/24. So I'm basically at business cards. At one point, I'm guessing that these banks are going to be like no, you don't need 12 of our cards. So that's why I'm like well, maybe canceling some of these cards or closing them might be a better idea so I can open more.
Mostly I'm thinking about kind of like the Rakuten, office supply, using those sort of things, but I am still planning on doing some signup bonuses. So like, recently I got some furniture or something that I'm going to buy, right? It's going to be several thousand. So I'm like okay, which card Can I open to get this signup bonus. I'm limited to business cards. So I kind of look. As of yet, I haven't gotten the American Express Platinum, regular or business card. Just the annual fee’s pretty high for me. Just I don't use a lot of like the business type of expenses that the card offers.
But I was looking in, I have some United flights coming up. So I was like, okay maybe I should get a United card. So I kind of now more into the not necessarily the flexible points earning cards, but kind of more of the like branded cards. So just trying to decide which one of those. I like Delta. I have a Delta card. I also got the Hyatt Business card.
Then majority I'm in Iowa. So there's not like a major airport here that I can like fly across the Atlantic to. So Chicago is about four hours for me. So that's typically where I fly out of. So, it's a United hub. So okay, maybe I should get the United card because a lot of my flights are going to be United.
So that's kind of where I'm at. What I've done is like there's been periods where I've kind of taken some time to like look at the different cards. I actually have like on my, I have kind of like a spreadsheet of all of the different cards and what their points are and all that kind of stuff.
So I do have even like a okay, these are the cards that may be good for me, and I just kind of have them as a list. Then when I know I have this expense coming up, I can look at that list and think okay, which one of these should I get now. So that's what I anticipate kind of over the next year, at least until I can get below 4/24.
Devon: One of the things that I really want to hear about because I think this is the fun part honestly of having points is using them. I do think that it is fun to get a new card. I think it's fun to look at your points balances and see them going higher. But ultimately the whole reason that we're doing this or I think most of us are doing this is so we can actually use these points and do things with them.
So I'm curious to hear after you've amassed this enormous points mountain, have you already started going ahead and using those points to book travel? If so, can you just tell us some of the highlights of the travel that you've been able to book using all of these points that you've earned in the last year?
Erin: Sure. So actually, when I kind of went through everything that I did for the year, it kind of broke that down. I actually currently have almost 960,000 points that I need to use, and I have used 615,000 points. So, again, this kind of goes back to like each person is different. Somebody may have a whole family that they need to fly business class. So obviously, they're going to need a lot more points, which they're earning because they have kids that are earning them points.
But what I've been able to do is actually utilize the point for friends and family as well. So not every one of my friends is a physician in a high earning specialty. They would balk if I talked about spending this much money on a flight. So I'm able to use points to fly people business class that have never flown business class before. I'm doing that with my mom.
I used Hyatt points for an all-inclusive that I took a friend with. Also being a P1, it's not like I have a P2 that I travel with all the time. So in order to have travel buddies, you’ve got to have people that are willing to go. So I'm like hey, if cover the flights, do you want to go to this place? They're like yeah sure, of course. So that's kind of been how I've mostly been using them.
I actually haven't yet gone on my first business class flight. It's actually in a couple of weeks, I'm doing delta one from JFK to Reykjavik in Iceland. So I'm excited about that. I've found that I use the points for flights, I mostly use for international flights. I've also use some of them just for like upgrades. Like oh, I'm going to upgrade the Comfort Plus, or I'm going to upgrade to business class on this one that I already bought tickets for that are domestic flights.
But so yeah, the all-inclusive, and then hotels, Hyatt Hotels especially, just for like little things. Like next year, I'm going on a cruise, and we fly out of Miami. The cruise, I need to get to, you always want to get there a day before just in case. So I'm using like hotel points for that night in Miami. Because as a lot of people know, Hyatt has pretty good redemption values. So that's kind of like where I've used my points mostly.
Typically mine, I try to do like above 2.5 cents per point. My brother and sister-in-law live in Chicago, and I have two nieces and a nephew that are three, two, and six months. So sometimes I'll just get a flight. It's like a 45 minute flight. So sometimes I'll just use points to get a flight there so I don't necessarily have to drive. Or even just hotels, that kind of thing. I think I'm looking at my little spreadsheet here. It looks like the highest cents per point I got was 6.2 cents per point for some business class flights to Europe. So yeah.
Devon: So yeah, I actually did just pull out my phone calculator when you were talking about those numbers just because I think really doing some of these numbers or understanding kind of what they mean, to me, is beneficial because I use this as proof, right? I use this as proof of okay, I actually am getting some finite value out of the points that I'm earning.
This, to me, is what helps me to make decisions and to help justify do I want to keep earning points or not? Would it actually be more valuable for me to have just solid, really solid cash-back earning cards? Because I think there is energy and time that is required when you decide to get into this hobby in terms of making decisions about which cards do you want? How do you want to use them?
You mentioned the work that goes in kind of on the back end of actually then booking things with these points. So I think it is a really valuable exercise to go through every once in a while and say well, what are these points actually getting me? Just one because I think it's fun personally, but then two, actually use that as valuable information to determine do I want to keep doing this? Is this something, again, that is actually really worth it for me versus having a much simpler approach that I could take with either using cash-back cards or just sticking with one solid rewards card.
So you had mentioned that you've used around 600,000 of your points that you've earned so far and that the overall average value that you're getting from kind of that whole kind of chunk of points was about two and a half cents per point.
Erin: That’s probably a little more. Maybe three.
Devon: Which I think is actually incredibly solid. I think we all love those really crazy aspirational redemptions where we’re getting 10 cents per point in redemption value, but those are not going to be your everyday redemptions. So I think it is really smart to kind of compile a whole set of trips that you've taken over six months or over a year and just said okay. Over all of these trips combined, just what's my average redemption value?
For you to get two and a half cents per point, average redemption value is incredibly solid. Like I said, I just pulled out my little phone calculator. If you had 600,000 points that you've used at that rate, that's essentially like $15,000 worth of travel. Those $15,000 worth of travel that one, you didn't have to pay using actual real cash that you can put towards something else or just save.
Number two, that's travel, again, that maybe you wouldn't have actually booked using cash. Like you talk about some of these international business class flights. That's a flight that, I think, if we can get using points, a lot of us are really happy to do that. We may not actually be willing to book that kind of travel if we didn't have the luxury of having these points here.
So first of all, and we'll wrap this up soon. I only have one or two more questions for you. But I really kind of want to dig into this point is, do you think ballpark? I don't know how closely you've been tracking kind of all of these things you've been using your points for, but does around $15,000 saved hit right for you for those trips that you've already booked? Or did you actually keep track, and it's a way different number?
Erin: No, I mean, I kept track, but I haven't done like an estimation, per se. I've just kept track of I kind of have a thing where I put the redemption that I'm using, how many points it used, where I got the points from, and then do the kind of the calculation. But I haven't like averaged that out. But yeah, I mean, I would say definitely. I would not pay cash for a business class flight. I mean, I'm retired. I'm not like raking in money every month.
So I think I want to say that I've gotten like 12, if you count a leg like from Chicago to Germany, and then Germany to Austria, like as one of ours. So yeah, 12 total business class like seats flights. That's basically six for two people. So I've got my mom that I'm taking for a trip. Then I have another one where I'm taking a friend for a trip on business class.
Neither of them have ever flown business class. Neither have I, but in a couple of weeks I will. But it'll be fun to like, just see them experience that. That's probably like, my biggest issue now is I have all these points, and I can't really use them because I already have travel like every month. I'm like where can I use these points? I already have things. I don't have any time to use them now, basically. But yeah.
Devon: That's a really good problem to have is to kind of have more points than that you have upcoming trips planned. But I think this also speaks to the fact that there are ebbs and flows. That it's really nice that you're still sitting on this points balance of still almost a million points left over knowing that if some time opens up for you to travel, or if a really good deal pops up somewhere.
Sometimes we see last minute award flights that just kind of show up in terms of availability. It's really wonderful to be in the position where you've already got those points kind of sitting around and saved so that you can take advantage of a last minute opportunity sometimes.
So one of the last things that I'm really curious to hear from you, because, again, I like looking at these numbers. Based on the assumption that let's just say that you were going to get that same two and a half cents per point redemption for that whole entire bulk of 1.5 million points that you earn, that still comes out to around $38,000 in actual value, which is not insignificant. That does not seem like a small number to me. Just throw around potentially having points that can get you $38,000 worth of travel.
But you had mentioned earlier in the podcast episode about how traditionally, you are a cash-back card person. So I'm just really curious to hear from you. Knowing that you've now earned enough points in the last year to theoretically get potentially $38,000 worth of travel with all of those points, how do you think that compares to the cash-back that you were earning when you had the same kind of lifestyle and the same general expenses, but you were earning rewards in the form of cash-back. Were you earning $38,000 a year on your cash-back credit cards?
Erin: No way. No way. That's another thing too. Like when I first started doing this, and I was like talking to people about, well annoying people because I was talking about it constantly. I had friends that were like well, I have a cash-back card that's earning me like 3%. So just trying to explain to them like how the points part is more valuable overall depending on what you do for your redemptions.
Devon: Yeah, absolutely. Erin, I want to thank you so much for coming on the podcast today and sharing with us what feels like a masterclass in earning points as a solo points earner. That, again, even as someone who has a partner in this game, I think we can always learn from other people and take little pieces of their story and add it to our own strategy.
So I know that everybody listening is going to be able to take something from this episode and make their points earning a little bit easier or a little bit more fun. Before we wrap up for good today I'm just curious, do you have any last pieces of advice or tips for people who are solo points earners or who are considering getting into this hobby but think that being a solo points earner is too big an obstacle to overcome?
Erin: Well, sure. It's kind of what we've talked about already. We don't have to compare ourselves to other people that earn points. So I don't have to say this person I mean, sure I get jealous, but I don't have to say I'm not going to do this because I can't earn as many points as this person.
I also think that, like I said, at the beginning, the redemption part really was kind of like scary to me, but just practicing has made that easier. You can pay people to do it for you. So if you determine that you would love to go get points and have free travel, but you don't want to deal with the redemption part. You can pay people to do that part.
So you can take or leave whatever part of the points game that you want based on what your goals are and based on how much energy and effort you want to put into the whole hobby.
Devon: I agree with everything you said. Erin, thank you so much for joining me today, for sharing with us your experience, and your words of wisdom. I really appreciate your being here. I know that this is going to give a lot of solo points earners a lot of amazing ideas for how they can go out and create their travel dreams and make them come true. So thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate your time.
Erin: Thank you for having me.
Thank you for joining me for this week's episode of Point Me to First Class. If you want more tips on turning your expenses into travel, visit pointmetofirstclass.com to learn more. See you next week.