BiggerPockets Money Podcast 27: How to Get Even MORE from Your Travel Rewards Credit Card with Lee Huffman

by | BiggerPockets.com

Open up a credit card, earn miles, get a free plane trip or hotel room. Sounds great, right? But what if you could exponentially increase your travel rewards? Fly free every time? Never pay for a hotel room again?

Lee Huffman travels the world in luxury with his family for less than the cost of your economy vacation by using travel rewards. He’s an expert in travel rewards, credit cards, and personal finance. Today, Lee shares how you can save on your next vacation using travel rewards — and how to squeeze every drop of value out of those rewards!

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 Scott: Welcome to BiggerPockets Money Podcast, Show Number 27.

“So you want to start and say where do I want to go? Do I want to go to the Caribbean? Do I want to go to Asia? Do I want to go to Europe? Where is it that you want to go, or you know what, I just want to go to Orlando. I just want to take my kids to Disneyworld and have a fun week. So figuring out where you want to go first is going to help you figure out which program is going to be the one that you should focus in which then based on that is going to say, okay, I should get XYZ cards to maximize my miles and points for that program”.

It’s time for a new American dream, one that doesn’t involve working in a cubicle for 40 years, barely scraping by. Whether you’re looking to get your financial house in order, invest the money you already have, or discover new paths for wealth’s creation, you’re in the right place. This show is for anyone who has money or wants more, this is the BiggerPockets Money podcast.

Scott: How’s it going, everybody? I’m Scott Trench and I’m here with my co-host, Miss Mindy Jensen. How are you doing today, Mindy?

Mindy: Scott, I am having another fantastic day. It’s actually really hard to have a bad day here in Denver.

Scott: Yeah, it’s pretty nice. I actually am having a great day. I’m having a great week last week. I went on a vacation. We’re recording this on June 11th so the prior week, I went on vacation and used travel rewards to book the flight for me and my girlfriend. I used a Companion Pass to Baltimore and then I went down to Carolina for a bachelor party. I really enjoyed my week there, kind of benefiting from exactly what we’re going to talk about today, which is travel rewards and how to maximize it.

Mindy: Yeah, today’s show is for anyone who likes to travel and doesn’t want to pay full price. We’re talking to Lee Huffman from Bald Thoughts about his experiences and tips for getting the most out of his travelling dollars. But before we continue, I want to say who this show is not for. This show is not for somebody who is heavily in debt and cannot afford to pay off their credit cards every month.

These are advanced travel hacking techniques and it doesn’t make sense to get a trip for free and then pay 25-35% interest on that trip until you can pay it off. So if you are listening to this show and you really like to travel but you have significant credit card debt or significant debt that you just can’t pay off every month, still listen, we’d love to have you, but really focus on paying off your debt before you start using these techniques to travel.

Scott: Yeah, this is for someone who has already got a solid financial position and is able to pay off a credit card exactly as you said, and it’s for someone that’s comfortable, maybe have a high credit score. A lot of what we talk about is opening credit cards. Lee’s got 40 credit cards. That’s more than most people will probably want to open.

But you know, maybe over the course of ten years, you might get there and find that that’s worthwhile, but for more of us, opening a credit card and having a hard inquiry can hurt your credit score by a point or two. And so you have to be comfortable with a relatively minor drop in that score to open a credit card and get an advantage of maybe thousands of dollars in travel rewards.

Beyond opening up credit cards and getting those signing bonuses and bonuses on cashback spending, we also go into advanced detail that’s applicable for everyone on how to shop for things in ways that maximize your points and take advantage of certain resources online. And we’ll link to everything in the Show Notes at BiggerPockets.com/MoneyShow27.

Mindy: Yes, and before we bring in Lee, before we hear from today’s show sponsor, I got an e-mail from listener Chuck who has a question that he’d like a few different perspectives about.

What to do with a windfall. My wife inherited a sum and we are lucky to have a few investment opportunities to put it to work. However I am interested in knowing how people manage extra cash to keep it accessible and still earn a reasonable rate of return.

I’ve looked at money market accounts and CD lattering, both of which keep money somewhat accessible and produce a small rate of return. I wonder what other options are out there and/or advice on how to make these ones work best.

So this is actually a question that I get every once in a while in the BiggerPockets forums. I’ve saving up for my next investment property or my first investment property. Where do I put the money so that it grows the most while having the least amount of risk?

So if you’ve got some advice on this, please e-mail me at [email protected] or Scott at [email protected]. Or if you have experience with this and can speak intelligently on this for an entire show, send us an e-mail and we’ll talk about getting you on the show and talking about the different ideas to invest your money while you’re waiting to invest your money.

Scott: Yeah, I’m fascinated by this idea and this is such an interesting psychological and financial problem because this is an amount of money that people come into for a lot of reasons. Inheritance is one, just saving up over the course of a decade or two and just kind of keeping it in your bank account and then discovering investing or financial independence.

There’s a lot of reasons why ordinary people can come into more wealth than they’d ordinarily be able to accumulate within a year or two or three of savings. And knowing what to do with that is kind of actually a fairly common problem that I’d love to—Mindy and I would love to learn about and kind of pick the brains of someone who is an expert at handling those kinds of situations.

Mindy: Yes, so we look forward to hearing your responses and then I will put all these together and have that available for people on BiggerPockets as well. So today, before we bring in our guest, let’s hear from the sponsor of today’s show.

Today’s sponsor is FreshBooks. If you’re an entrepreneur who is not on top of your business financials, you need to get a good dose of FreshBooks in your life. FreshBooks is the ridiculously easy accounting software made specifically for small business owners who need to find a better way to deal with their paperwork. It takes literally about 30 seconds to create and send a polished, professional-looking invoice. And with two clicks, FreshBooks can set you up to receive payments online. FreshBooks can even show you whether or not a client has looked at the invoice you’ve e-mailed. For a 30-day, unrestricted trial, go to FreshBooks.com/BPMoney and enter BiggerPockets Money in the “how did you hear about us” section.

All right, big thanks to today’s show sponsor. We are now going to bring in Lee Huffman from Bald Thoughts to tell us all about the exciting world of travel rewards.

Lee, welcome to the BiggerPockets Money podcast. How are you doing today?

Lee: It’s great to be there. I’m doing awesome. How are you doing?

Mindy: I am doing fantastic and it’s a beautiful day outside today. We’ve had quite the run of really hot weather so I’m glad it’s cooling off today. So Lee, you are here today to tell us about travel hacking. Is that the right term, travel hacking, or is it credit card hacking? Credit card churning? What is the right term that we’re going to talk about today?

Lee: All those terms work. It’s really about trying to win at the game of travel, using the rules to your advantage and taking advantage of promotions, taking advantage of ways to earn miles and points and then redeeming those miles and points so that way you can save money on the travel that you’re going to be doing.

Scott: Yeah, this is an area of wealth-building that I—Scott here—did not really consider as a real path to kind of actually produce significant financial results. To my great detriment, I think, over the last couple of years, I recently only discovered this maybe about six to eight months ago and I’ve actually employed some of the tactics that we’re going to talk about today and I guess go over some of the concerns that a lot of people like me might have about kind of entering into this travel hacking game. Is that right?

Lee: Yeah, that sounds right. So essentially the way I look at it is it’s like a virtuous cycle. It’s essentially if you take care of your personal finances and your credit, then you can qualify for the best credit cards. Then you can use those miles and points from those credit cards to reduce your costs of travel, which then gives you more money to pay down your debt, to invest for your future, or even have more or better vacations.

Scott: Awesome. I’m definitely looking forward to learning more about this because I’ve jumped down the rabbit hole and I’m halfway through and I’ve just started. I’ve got my Companion Pass but before we get to travel hacking, can you quickly introduce your background and maybe kind of give us a brief overview of your wealth-building journey?

Lee: Sure, sure. So I’ve actually just recently quit my job so that’s obviously not the right path towards wealth-building, but yeah I’ve been in banking for approximately 20 years on the sales side of banking and then in the last 13 years on the corporate side basically doing corporate finance, budgeting, forecasting, strategic planning, things like that.

I did financial planning and then also bankruptcy consulting. So all those things, it hasn’t been a straight linear path like people have in their career but it’s allowed me to kind of think outside the box and learn alternative ways of looking at opportunities to find the best ways to increase your wealth.

Scott: Awesome. So were you able to—what was your kind of approach towards pursuing financial independence while working this career? Was it index funds, real estate, or how were you saving towards that goal?

Lee: A little bit of both. I’ve always been a big saver as far as contributing to a 401K and things like that when I had my first real corporate job. Basically, I didn’t really need a lot to live on so what I did was I try to control my expenses by whenever I got a bonus, any sort of raise, things like that, I would always put that money into my 401K and increase the contributions.

The funny thing is I was working at the bank inside one of the branches and we would get paid our bonuses for our sales every other pay period. So what I would do is on the pay periods where I wasn’t getting a bonus, I would put 6% in and on pay periods where I got my bonus check for my sales, I would max out my contribution.

So HR probably hated me because I was changing my payroll contributions every pay period but you know, that’s the way to kind of control your expenses and make sure that you don’t inflate your lifestyle and the next thing you know, everything you’re making is going out towards everybody else instead of keeping it for yourself.

Scott: I can relate exactly because for many years at BiggerPockets, I was a salesman for advertising and so one paycheck would be a small one and the other one would have all my commissions in it and I would put all of that towards savings and try to live well below even the base salary portion. That’s a really good tactic.

Lee: Some of it has also I’ve been just lucky on timing. As I was increasing—well not current anymore—at my old job, I was starting to make a lot more money. My parents, they were getting older so what I did was I actually bought their house and then that way, I had the tax write-offs from the interest on the mortgage and they got rid of a major bill for them.

And then my dad’s health started going down so in April of 2006, I sold that house. We sold it for about $750,000 and so I bought them a house in North Carolina and while we were out there looking for houses for them to live in, I found a house that I think was about $112,000 or $115,000 that already had a tenant built into it. I was like, well, I have a little bit of extra money after buying their house, so maybe I’ll buy that house also and start getting some of that rental income. That was really my first foray into real estate investing.

Mindy: Wow, so how many houses do you own now, rental properties?

Lee: I own three myself and I have five with a partner.

Mindy: Okay. And where are these located?

Lee: They’re all in North Carolina. So it was the two that I bought in April of ’06. It took a little while, obviously the economy took a dumper and things were going crazy and then I bought my third and I want to say it was March of 2013, somewhere in that timeframe.

And then I started talking to realtors that were more savvy on real estate investing and I started talking to some different mortgage brokers, trying to figure out some of the rules and some of the different programs that are available and then from there, I basically brought on a partner and then over the next couple of years, we ended up buying five more together.

Mindy: Are these single-family homes or are these multiple multi-families?

Lee: All single-family residences and we use a program called delayed financing. So essentially what it does is you pay for everything up front in cash, including the repairs and then at the end of it, when you’ve done all the rehab, now you have a tenant in place and then you can refinance it. If you can do all of that within six months, you can basically use 70% of the ARV or whatever you put onto the HUD one to be able to get your maximum mortgage value.

Scott: Awesome, it sounds very similar to the BRRRR strategy talked a lot about in BiggerPockets.

Lee: Yeah, it’s like a different flavor of the BRRRR strategy.

Mindy: So you’ve mentioned a couple of times that you have recently quit your job. Let’s talk about how recently this is. This is what, yesterday?

Lee: Literally Friday, June 8th, was my last day at work.

Scott: We are recording this podcast on June 11th, the Monday after.

Lee: This is my first full day of freedom, if you want to consider it that way.

Mindy: Wow, and you got up early to talk to us. Thank you.

Lee: Oh yeah, I wake up between 4:00 and 5:00AM.

Mindy: Oh, my goodness. I do not join you there.

Lee: Well I have a three and a seven-year-old. It’s the only way I can be productive. I’ve got to wake up before they wake up, get a little work in, do little things and then take them to school and come back and then be productive the rest of the day until I’ve got to pick them up from school again at the end of the day.

Mindy: Does your wife work?

Lee: She does. She is a HR Manager for a manufacturing plant.

Mindy: Okay. And does she have any plans to quit at this time?

Lee: Hopefully not. You know we do have a mortgage and we do have bills to pay. But hopefully I can start making a bunch of money doing everything I’m doing and then get her to retire earlier as well.

Mindy: Nice.

Lee: But I joke with her that she’s six years younger than me and I started working a lot sooner in my life than she did. She has a good 10-15 years after I retire before we can retire.

Mindy: Okay. Well my husband is retired and I continue to work but that’s because I love my job so much.

Lee: There you go.

Scott: Well let’s transition here to talking about the travel reward stuff. So what I think you’re the expert in is you’re really good at telling other people how to kind of maximize their use of travel rewards while they are working, right? So during those working years. So can you kind of give us an intro into how you got started with that and yeah, maybe talk about some of the recent, some of the benefits you’ve derived from it?

Lee: Sure. So for the longest time, I had the Southwest card and the AMEX SPG card and I thought I was doing everything right. And then all of a sudden, my wife wanted to go to Paris. I’m like well, Southwest really doesn’t fly to Paris. So how about we go to Chicago instead? She was fine with that for the next couple of weeks but after that, she was like, I still really want to go back to Paris. So I’m like all right, let me figure it out.

So based on that, that’s when I really started, if you think of it like The Matrix, the red pill or the blue pill, so I took the pill which basically brought me down the rabbit hole and really started learning more of the advanced strategies of airline miles and hotel points to reduce our travel costs. And so from there, what I thought we were going to be able to do is be able to get some economy tickets for my wife and me and our son who was about two at the time.

And I ended up earning so many miles and points that I actually brought my mother-in-law as well. We flew there in economy, did a stopover in New York, and then on the way back, we flew back in business class. So there’s nothing like seeing a 26-month-old just sprawled out, as happy as can be in business class while all these other people who have real jobs and everything are trudging their way back to economy.

So after that, I was really hooked just realizing the power and the potential of those airline miles and hotel points, all the different advanced strategies as far as being able to earn all those miles and points without spending tons of my own money and you know, it’s been a wonderful journey since then.

Mindy: So how did you get those miles? You said you earned so many miles that you were able to bring your mother-in-law and your son to fly business class back? How did you get those miles because traditionally, to get miles on airline rewards programs, you had to fly those miles.

Lee: Yeah well ‘earn’ is a little bit of an oxymoron in this world. So there’s a thing at the time called the two-browser trick where at the time, I applied for two different Citibank and American Airlines cards that at the exact same time, I had two different browsers open and literally filled out all the information on one, then filled out all the information on the other, and then you click one to apply and then you switch over to the other one two seconds later and you click apply.

So both of them are applying at the same time and then I end up getting approved for both. So that was one of the things that allowed me to earn a lot more miles and points very quickly, and then there was also an opportunity with Fidelity at the time that said, okay, if you deposit $100,000 into an account with Fidelity, then we’ll give you, I don’t remember how many miles it was. I think it was 50,000 miles or something like that.

And I said okay, well I don’t have $100,000 I’m going to write a check, but what I can do is I can deposit $8,000 over and over and over again 12 times over the next two or three months. So I would deposit $8,000, let the funds clear, withdraw them, deposit it again, let the funds clear, withdraw them, did that over and over and over again until I got $100,000 deposited and boom, I got the bonus.

So a lot of these things were back in the heyday, five years ago. They’re not really available right now but it’s just every time the game is always evolving and you just have to keep following bloggers like me, following other bloggers going into some of the forums and just kind of trading secrets with people and learning and taking notes and implementing them right away because some of these loopholes will close in an instant and some of them were open for quite a while.

Mindy: So how are you finding out about these new ideas? You just said following bloggers and connecting with other people but how do you find out about them? Do you get e-mails from the banks or do you just scalp them or something?

Lee: The banks certainly aren’t going to tell us about that because we’re not always the most profitable clients of theirs so they’re taking steps to reduce the availability of these offers for people that like you said earlier, are credit card churning, things like that. They want customers that are going to apply for a card and keep that card for years and years and years and pay the annual fee for multiple years.

Essentially, it’s like a loss leader when they give you 50,000 or 100,000 points when you first sign up because they want to keep that long-term relationship with you. So how I find it, there’s conferences you attend to, sometimes people that work for those companies will e-mail you and share something with you, and some of it is just making connections and building friendships and getting the information that way.

Scott: Okay, so there’s always different programs and basically what you’re saying is when you get to this advanced point, you have to kind of continuously keep up with what’s going on, read a lot, keep self-educating to make sure that you’re finding the next best deal that will get you miles that are related to your travel goals, right?

Lee: Exactly, exactly.  But the thing is, the people who are listening to the podcast, they are years away from having to worry about that type of stuff. I kind of call myself the person that’s more like a middle-class blogger where it’s not trying to get these guys that are advanced that already have like all the different offers out there and they’ve had 50 different credit cards and used up all the different offers.

I’m more focused on saying okay, you’re a family of four, you want to go to Hawaii this year but you really don’t want to spend $5,000 on airfare or hotel for you and your family to fly for that vacation. So that’s really where I focus on, educating people on taking the spending that you’re already doing and maximizing that for the maximum value. That way, you can get the biggest return on your dollar.

Scott: That’s definitely like something I’m really interested in learning about. I’ve only had a couple of these cards and I want to know what still as a newer person I can do to kind of get the most out of my travel plans with this kind of stuff. Quick question here, how many cards have you had and how much time do you need to invest in this at the advanced level to kind of keep getting significant rewards?

Lee: At the advanced level, it can be quite challenging. I currently have around 40 credit cards open right now.

Scott: Oh, my gosh.

Lee: I knew that was probably going to give you a little bit of a heart attack. But again, I’m more like PhD level. What I kind of teach people is more Credit Cards 101. Some basic things that are going to make a big impact in your life whereas for me, it’s like that diminishing returns, right? So if you put in an hour or two, you’re going to save a few thousand dollars pretty easily, right?

Whereas for me, I’ve had most of the credit cards that are out there, most of the different offers, and a lot of things are making it more and more difficult for people like me to get more rewards than it’s a lot harder. I have to put a lot more time in to get those rewards for everything I’m trying to do.

Scott: Awesome. So how should a family start? What’s sort of a good entry-level approach to beginning to travel hack here?

Lee: Again, with me and my experience going to Paris, it’s finding the card and finding the program to help you get to where you want to go. So you want to start and say okay, where do I want to go? Do I want to go to the Caribbean? Do I want to go to Asia? Do I want to go to Europe?

Where is it that you want to go or just you know what, I just want to go to Orlando. I just want to take my kids to Disneyworld and have like a fun week. So figuring out where you want to go first is going to help you figure out which program is going to be the one you should focus in which is then based on that, is going to say okay, I should get XYZ cards to maximize the miles and points from that program.

Scott: Awesome. For me, when I was thinking about this, my thing is I’m 27. A lot of my friends are getting married at different parts in the country. So I’ve got to go to Columbus. I’ve got to go to Memphis. I’ve got to go to North Carolina. I was just in North Carolina last week for a bachelor party and these flights kind of are all stacking up so I was like oh, I need Southwest points because I need them for practical travel around the United States right now.

Lee: Exactly. And I’m not sure if you have a wife or girlfriend or whatever but getting a Companion Pass basically just slashed your prices of your flights in half.

Scott: Yes, I do have the Companion Pass and I use it to take my girlfriend on these flights now. It’s a huge saver. It’s ridiculous for Southwest.

Lee: So I’ve had the Companion Pass for 13 years now and back in the day for the first two or three years when my wife would fly—at the time we weren’t married yet, but we would fly and I didn’t realize that the Companion Pass counted when you redeemed for miles for Southwest points. So I was only redeeming those passes on flights that I would actually pay for. And you know, I just did a like big old face palm when I realized what? It actually works on those redemptions as well? I’m like oh my God, I missed out on so many free flights.

But you know, you live and learn and you can’t beat yourself up on something that you missed. You’ve got to focus on what’s the next thing you’re going to do and how to maximize that. So in your case, yeah, getting the Southwest Companion Pass for those people who don’t know what it is, essentially you have to earn 110,000 points with Southwest in a calendar year and then based on that you get a Companion Pass where every flight that you take, your designated companion can fly for free other than just paying the little bit of taxes that the federal government mandates that you charge. So what Scott’s doing is say if a flight costs 20,000 points from—where do you live at, Scott?

Scott: Denver.

Lee: Okay, so you’re in Denver and you’re flying to North Carolina, that’s 20,000 points. Essentially instead of paying 40,000 points for you and your girlfriend, now you’re only paying 20,000 points and $5.60 each way for you and your girlfriend to fly.

Scott: Yeah, it’s buy one, get one free.

Lee: It’s the ultimate, right? And now Southwest is getting ready to open up flying to Hawaii and they bought Airtran a few years ago, so now they’re doing a lot more international routes. They’re doing the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Mexico, all these different destinations so I call it International Light, their footprint, but they have a great network and they have a great program. So I’m looking forward to seeing how you maximize that. That’s pretty awesome.

Mindy: Yes. Stop telling people that they’re flying to Hawaii because I don’t want the competition. I actually have a friend who is a Southwest flight attendant and she doesn’t even know or she won’t tell me when they’re going to start opening up that route but I cannot wait until it’s opened up. I don’t go to Southwest every morning to see if they’ve got flights to Hawaii yet but I’m really excited for that lower cost flight to Hawaii.

Lee: Oh yeah. Well there are other ways to go to Hawaii for relatively cheap. So I live in California and there’s British Airways Avios is a great way to go to Hawaii. Most people think what, we live in America, why would you earn a British Airways Avios miles points? Well basically they have partnerships with American Airlines and other airlines and you can fly from California to Hawaii for 12,500 points.

Mindy: Yeah, each way. And I’ve done that on American for slightly more, but American is the least expensive rewards trip to Hawaii. A couple of years ago, British Airways was offering a really, really amazing signup bonus. My husband and I signed up for the cards and get 200,000 miles and took the kids to Hawaii for I think it was $95 for an annual fee that’s charged up front.

Lee: Yep.

Mindy: So let’s talk about annual fees because some cards don’t have an annual fee or they have an annual fee that’s waived for the first year. Do you pay an annual fee or can you get that waived? Is that kind of like an always set in stone charge? Do you recommend having a card with an annual fee? Like you get better points? Answer all 27 questions I just threw at you.

Lee: Well, a lot of people are afraid of paying annual fees, right? Why would I pay for something when I can get this other card for free. And you have to think about what you’re actually getting. So a lot of these cards now have the annual fees. Like say on the hotel side, like Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, all those different cards, all those different programs, they offer a card that has an annual fee but generally you’re getting a free night in exchange for it on top of the bonus points for when you sign up.

So you’re paying a little bit less than a hundred bucks for most of them, anywhere from $50-100 is the annual fee but you’re getting a free night, so if you’re going to redeem that free night for a hotel that’s more than $100, you won, right?

Because you automatically got a discount on something you were going to do anyways by staying at a hotel. And if you do it right, you can redeem that free night for something that would have been two, three, even four hundred dollars. So it’s all about trying to figure out kind of how to game the system, so to speak, by prepaying something up front to getting a massive discount later on.

Some of the more premium cards now, a lot of cards are coming out that have annual fees of $350, $450, even $550 and those are a little bit harder to justify because it is a big investment up front of that much money. But you know what, I guarantee you the first year, you’re going to save way more than the annual fee because you got the signup bonus anywhere from 150,000-200,000 mile points.

A lot of times you get a global entry reimbursement of $100. Some of these cards offer travel reimbursements of $200-300 so you can see very quickly how paying that annual fee of $350-550 whittles down and the next thing you know, it’s maybe $100 after you factor in all the different benefits. And for me, having lounge access, having all these premium benefits is worth $100.

Scott: Awesome. So let’s go ahead and transition here. Let’s walk through the specifics of how someone getting started should approach this problem, right? And let’s start assuming that you want to get the Southwest Companion Pass because that seems to me to be the most practical for a large majority of people who are trying to do United States based travel or maybe the Caribbean where Southwest flies.  I’m just getting started on this, I’m not sure, I’m a little tentative about opening a new credit card. What do I need to do to go and get that Companion Pass?

Lee: The easiest way to get a Companion Pass right now is getting the personal version of the credit card. It’s going to be I think about a $99 annual fee. You’re going to get probably 50,000 Southwest plus points if you spend $2000-$3000 on the credit card the first three months. So now you have 50,000 plus whatever you spent on the card.

Most people, especially people listening to BiggerPockets podcast, have a little bit of a side business, whether it be a rental property, whether it be blogging, selling on Etsy, whatever it is that you’re doing, you have a business. It may not necessarily feel like a business but it is a business and it can qualify for a business credit card.

And you don’t have to have hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue to qualify for a business card either. Sometimes you’re just starting up a business and your CPA says, from day one, you should have a business credit card to keep your business and your personal expenses separate. So when you apply for the card, don’t lie. Just say I have zero revenue or I have $3000 of revenue, whatever your number is, and now you can apply for a business credit card whether you have an EIN or just using a social security number.

So I would definitely recommend getting an EIN though. They are free. I can go to the IRS website and apply for that. It takes maybe ten minutes. So the next step beyond that is getting the Chase Southwest Business version of the card and the offers kind of bounce around but I think right now it’s offering 60,000 Southwest points, again for the $99 annual fee. You’ve got to spend $2000-$3000 in the first 90 days.

And now you have 50,000 from the first card, 60,000 from the business card, you have 110,000 points. Voila. You just qualified for a Companion Pass. And it’s good for this year and all the way through the end of next year. So you’re really benefiting most if you can apply for that card and qualify earlier in the year as possible. That way, you can get as close to two years with the Companion Pass as possible.

Scott: Yeah, so that means if you get it in January, then it will be good through January to December of 2018 and then through January through December of 2019. But if you get it in December, you only get 13 months on that Companion Pass, so you want to get it earlier in the year.

Now, a quick question I have because I’ve never actually figured this out. Can I get 109,000 by December 31st and then get my last 1000 points on January 1st or do I have to collect all 110,000 points in that year?

Lee: All 110,000 in one calendar year.

Scott: So you want to start this January 1st, basically.

Lee: Some people that are more trying to game it will apply for the card in December and they won’t spend any money on it until January 1st. Then they spend everything from January 1st through that current billing cycle and then bam, they have a Companion Pass because those bonus points post as soon as the statement closes. You have a Companion Pass generally by the end of January.

Scott: I didn’t game it that much. I got it somewhere in like March/April but that was still great for me. That was a big improvement than not having the Companion Pass prior to that.

Lee: I mean, honestly, most people don’t travel that much where it’s going to mean that much of a difference whether they get it in January or March or even June. So just the fact of them having the Companion Pass for 18 months if they get it in June is going to be a huge difference in their life versus March.

Scott: All right, now if I have a business card and a personal card, I can spend both business and personal expenses on the personal card and then switch all of my spending both business and personal onto the business card in order to quickly get to these $3000 limits. Is that correct?

Lee: Technically correct. I mean they really don’t want you to mix personal and business on the different cards but the credit card police aren’t going to come after you and say what’s going on? I mean, there are levels, right?

If you start putting a million dollars of business expenses on a personal card or you put a million dollars of personal expenses on a business card, they’re going to probably start looking at you a little bit closely. But if you put a few thousand here and there, nobody is really going to bat an eyelash on it.

But realistically, say you have an LLC, a corporation, something like that and you specifically set it up to protect yourself, you don’t want these avenues where there are end roads where they call it piercing the corporate veil where say somebody trips and hurts themselves on one of your rental properties and now because you’ve put personal expenses on a business card and business expenses on your personal card, you’ve kind of called it commingling your funds. Now they can pierce the corporate veil and come after you and sue you personally instead of just suing your LLC that owns the rental property.

Scott: Yeah if you have an LLC or a business setup that is a significant entity, that’s where you’ve got to talk to your accountant and your lawyer first before trying to game any type of system like this. But if you’re house-hacking, for example, and you live in a property, you maybe don’t have an LLC at that point because you’re living there. And that’s still a business. My house-hack is still a business and I can then put a business with real revenue coming in as my application for this card. Scott’s House Hacking Business or whatever.

Lee: Exactly, exactly. I mean, one of the things that we always need to talk about is any miles or points that you earn are not worth paying any sort of interest on the cards. So only do this if you’re able to pay off the balances in full every month. Because credit cards, especially with interest rates rising, credit cards charge anywhere from 20-30% interest rates on their cards.

So in a couple of months, it’s not going to take much where the interest that you’re paying overwhelms any sort of benefit that you got from the card. So only do this is you’re able to pay off the card in full every month.

Mindy: Thank you for saying that because I have always paid off my credit card all the time so that’s kind of second nature and sometimes you do forget that yeah, you said interest rates are 20-30%. That astounds me because then you’re bumping up against usary laws in my opinion. In real estate, you’re bumping up against usary laws in like the 18-28% bracket which seems ridiculous that credit cards can charge so much.

Lee: Yeah.

Mindy: So you talked about the Southwest Companion Pass. What are some other really good programs like for hotels or for other flight programs?

Lee: Say you don’t have a destination in mind and you’re not quite sure where you’re going to go. Some of them, they call them the bank proprietary points like Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi Thank You Points, American Express Rewards, those points are very flexible and so you can redeem them for cash, you can redeem them for travel, or you can transfer them to their transfer partners.

Say in Scott’s case, right? Say you have a personal version and the business version of a Southwest card. Now you’re going oh man, now I really want more Southwest points because I really want to be able to travel and maximize this Companion Pass.

Well, you start getting some of the Chase Ultimate Rewards credit cards like the Sapphire Reserve or Preferred Business Cards, start getting some of those cards, now you’re getting another 50,000-100,000 points on each one of those cards and they transfer one to one to Southwest.

So say between a couple of cards, you accumulate 100,000 points in Ultimate Rewards, transfer them over, now you’ve got another 100,000 Southwest points, which because you have the Companion Pass, is really worth 200,000 points for you and your girlfriend to travel.

Mindy: Wow.

Scott: That’s awesome. So this kind of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, Citi Thank You Points, and American Express, what are they called?

Lee: Membership Rewards.

Scott: Membership Rewards. These are kind of like the all-rounders, you know. Like versus the Southwest card points that I’ve got go right to Southwest. I can’t use them on United or whatever. I can actually transfer these points to other airlines and book my trip to Paris or whatever.

Lee: Exactly.

Scott: So I’ve heard the 5/24 Rule. Is that one that you recommend as a way to get started along this? Does that kind of give you a balance of this kind of stuff?

Lee: Yeah, again, for the average person, you’re not really going to have to worry about these rules too much. Because the average person is not getting five credit cards in a two-year period of time. Every bank has kind of implemented these similar type of rules. Chase 5/24 means that they will not approve you for the most popular cards if you’ve had five new cards in the last 24 months.

American Express has a one bonus per lifetime rule where each different card, you can only get that bonus once. Say like the SPG card, you have it then you cancel it. Five years later, you apply for it again, you’re not going to get the bonus on it. So each different card, you can only get the bonus once.

Bank of America recently implemented a rule where you can only get two new cards within 60 days, three within six months to a year and then four within like two years. Something like that. Citibank, you can only get the bonus once per family every 24 months when you open or close one of the cards. So they offer multiple American Airlines cards, right? On the business side. So if you get one of the American Airlines cards today and then two years from now, you go and close it, well you’ve got to wait two years before you can get another American Airlines card.

So really that’s what people do is you apply for the card today. You wait until almost two years from now. You apply for the second card of whatever flavor that they have and then you cancel that first card. So that way, your two-year rule kind of is based on when you got that bonus versus when you closed.

So there’s always similar rules and again, most people don’t have to worry about it because they’re only going to get one or two new cards a year. That’s kind of what I recommend people do is get like an airline card, a hotel card, or like you said, one of these utility player type cards where they’re flexible and they can do cashback, they can pay for travel, or they can transfer the points.

Get one or two of those a year. See how it works for you. And then based on that, it depends—decide whether or not you want to go deeper into the different world of travel cards or just kind of stay with those cards that you picked out.

Mindy: Do you have a favorite hotel program? It sounds like the Southwest program is your favorite airline program.

Lee: It is. Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of movement recently in all the different hotel programs. Marriott and SPG announced August 1st that they’re merging their two programs even though Marriott acquired SPG a couple of years ago and they’ve been running simultaneously. They’ve allowed you to transfer the points. So there’s big changes there.

Hyatt recently changed their program about a year and a half ago where they went from the Hyatt to World of Hyatt and they kind of messed things up. And then my favorite was Kimton. I still really enjoy all their hotels but now that they’ve integrated into IHG like Holiday Inn if you think about it that way, a lot of the benefits, a lot of the perks aren’t as lucrative as they used to be.

So it’s harder to say which one is a favorite nowadays. We’re kind of still waiting for a lot of details to flush out to figure out where kind of like the loopholes are that are really going to maximize the value for you. So honestly I have cards with all of those different programs.

Mainly because every card gives an annual free night so I have a free night from IHG. I have a free night from Marriott. I have a free night from Hyatt. So all those cards makes sense for me to pay a little bit less than $100 a year for the card to get that annual free night where I’m going to spend it on a room that would normally be $150 to $300.

Scott: So you have all these cards. I’ve got a couple of these. I have three cards that I’ve opened up in the past year. The Chase personal card for 50,000. The Chase business card for 60,000 Southwest points. I wanted to get my Companion Pass. And then I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred card to get my Chase Ultimate Rewards points. I’m probably going to look into opening another one but let’s say that I’ve got the bonus on the Southwest personal card. I don’t use that one anymore because I put all my personal expenses on the Chase Sapphire Preferred card for personal and I put all my business expenses on the Chase Southwest business card. I hope everyone can follow this so far. What do I do with the personal card? Can I cancel that now? Do I lose those points? I don’t want to pay that next fee but I don’t want to lose the bonus points that I accumulated.

Lee: Okay, so two things. One, about one to two months before an annual fee is going to hit, call the card company up and say I really like this card but I’m unsure if I’m getting the right value from the card to know whether or not I want to keep it. Is there anything you can do for me?

So essentially in a roundabout way, you’re threatening to close the card. And depending upon what type of volume you put on the card and your credit score and your value of relationship to the bank, they’ll oftentimes provide you an offer where they’ll waive the annual fee, they’ll say if you spend x numbers of dollars on the card, we’ll give you some extra bonus points. There’s all these different types of offers that what they’ll do, they’ll call that a retention bonus. And so based on that, you decide whether or not it’s lucrative enough for you to keep the card.

Scott: That’s a really good tip. I’ve never heard of that before. So now I can get not only the signing bonus but also when I’m about to cancel, I can say okay great, I haven’t spent any money. I’ve got the bonus, basically nothing more. I’m not going to spend any more for the rest of the year on this card, and then I call them up and they’re like okay great, I’ll put another $3000 on it to get it another 10,000-15,000 hopefully bonus points. That’s a great tip.

Lee: I mean ultimately you may decide to close it anyways. I mean, I know people that do that retention bonus. They’ll do that two or three months before the annual fee hits. They’ll get whatever bonus that they offered them and they will close the card anyways.

So to me, that’s kind of like a jerk move. I mean you want to act in good faith with the banks because ultimately you want a good relationship with them because they’re going to come out with new cards. You want to make sure you can get approved so I played the long game, not the short game as far as trying to maximize those rewards. 

But again, you can do those types of things. Again, to me looking at those annual fees, it’s like any business, right? Whether you’re going to a local hardware shop, you’re going to a restaurant, whatever. They have to earn your business and earn that share of your wallet every single year. We work hard for our money. Don’t just blindly give them money because they ask for it.

So every year, look at the card benefits because card benefits do change. So look at it and go, is this worth me paying $49, $99, $350, whatever the annual fee is, look and see does this card still deserve a slot in my wallet and do they still deserve a chunk of my income?

Scott: Again, if they don’t, I don’t lose my points that I’ve collected. They just go into some account somewhere that I can store.

Lee: Sorry about that. So it depends on the type of card. So if it’s Southwest, American Airlines, whatever, or a hotel card, every month when that statement closes, those points transfer into that airline or hotel program and they’re there. Like if you close that card, they’re not going away.

You will have potential statute of limitations on those points where they expire about 12 months, 18 months, or 24 months if there are no activity. But once those points are in there, they don’t just evaporate. You can just close the card.

But if you have Citi thank you points, Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, essentially those points could go away if you don’t use them within generally 30-60 days after you close the card. So if you’re going to close the card, do a redemption, use those points for cashback, redeeming them for travel or transfer them to one of their partners before you close the car and then that way you are free to close it. And no worries.

Scott: Awesome. It was a great tip.

Mindy: So when I was closing one of my cards, I called them up and asked them that same question and they said as long as there’s activity in the account. And I said what do you mean activity in the account? Activity on the credit card accountant or the rewards account? And they clarified it is activity in the rewards account. I only fly Southwest. This year, I’m going to Greece and they don’t go there so I have to fly like Romanian Airlines or somewhere? When I’m on Southwest, I always put my account number into my—

Lee: Reservations.

Mindy: Thank you. Wow. Can we skip that? We can put that into my reservation and then there’s activity on my account even if I’m paying with points, there is still activity on my account. And my kids have their own rewards account as well because we don’t always have enough points to fly so I have to give them money. So after the age of 2, your kids can’t fly on your lap so absolutely get them a rewards account for whatever is your favorite airline so that they can be earning points, too.

Lee: Exactly. And there’s other ways to earn miles and points also that aren’t related to buying airfare or paying a hotel room. So obviously everybody does online shopping, right? Most of us don’t go to the store too often anymore. So instead of going directly to Staples.com, BedBathandBeyond.com—you’re going to a lot of weddings so you’d be going to Bed Bath and Beyond every weekend buying a wedding gift.

Don’t go to the store. Don’t go directly to their website. Go through a shopping portal that’s associated with one of the airlines or hotels and based on that you’re going to earn points that are going to be able to kind of keep activity going on into your account.

Same thing if you’re renting a car. Go through their portal. Attach your loyalty number to it and then you’re going to earn some miles and some points for renting a car through like say Hertz or Avis or one of those guys.

Mindy: Wait, wait, wait. Where am I finding these shopping portals because I’ve never heard of this and I thought I was a travel hacking genius. Apparently I’m not even at the 101 level. I’m at a 99 level. I’ve got to test into it.

Lee: No, no. You sound like you’re a sophomore so you’re going down the path and you’re learning and you’ve been able to implement a few things but yeah, there’s always more to learn. So essentially, one of the websites I would recommend going to, is a site called CashbackMonitor.com. So they are kind of an aggregation tool and I know they owner. He’s a real nice guy. And so what he does is he aggregates all the different ways to earn cashback in miles and points through shopping portals.

Say you’re going to go to Kohl’s. You go to CashbackMonitor.com, look at Kohl’s and say okay, here’s all these different places you can earn cashback and you can earn miles and points.

So you go, oh, I’m trying to earn Southwest points. Let me see how many points they offer. Or oh, this one is offering 5x return and Southwest is only offering 1x or 2x. Well I’m trying to earn Southwest points but I’d rather have 5% cashback than two extra points on Southwest. So you can make that decision every time you go to online shopping.

But yeah so basically from there, click on the link and it automatically transports you to that shopping portal for Southwest, Hilton, Hyatt, whoever you try to earn miles and points with.

Mindy: Does it cost more to shop through the portal?

Lee: Nope. It doesn’t cost anything. So essentially, it’s like anything. You’re a blogger, Mindy. And so it’s like affiliate marketing. So these websites pay marketers like me, bloggers like you, to refer business to them. They’re giving you a portion of their affiliate commission. That’s really what it boils down to.

And if you’re going to do a lot of shopping, pay attention and shop near holidays. Holidays and back to school are the best times to shop online because that’s when they give extra bonuses. The bonus points don’t count towards like the Companion Pass but these points count towards being able to redeem flights and hotel stays.

So right now it’s Father’s Day is coming up, right? So a lot of these, American Airlines, Southwest, I get all their e-mails and they are talking about all these promotions where you start at $50, $200, they give you not only points you are going to earn through that merchant, but they are going to give you bonus points of 500,000 or 5,000 miles or points just for shopping through their portal.

Mindy: Oh, my God. I’ve never heard of this ever. And I’m not a sophomore. I’m a seventh grader.

Lee: For people who are just listening to the podcast, I definitely recommend zooming through the video to this point just so you can see the look on Mindy’s face when I’m talking about this.

Mindy: That’s amazing. I’ve never heard that before. Okay so what are some other spending hacks that you know to help you with your minimum spend? Because I never have a problem hitting that. It’s usually $1000 a month or $1000 in one month or $2000 in two months. I’ve seen $5000 in three months so in order to get the bonus, you have to spend a certain amount of money in a certain amount of time.

I am always working on my house or working on some sort of project. But I’ve actually finished it now but it was lightning pace here. So what are other spending hacks that you know of?

Lee: Number one, tying your credit card applications for about a month ahead of any sort of major spending activity you are going to have, whether it’s paying for your renewal on your life insurance or your auto insurance, home insurance. Those are big ticket items, generally $1000 to $2000 a year. Paying tuition. My kids go to daycare and private school, so I’ve got to pay big tickets for their tuition. Even buying tires. Four tires on a car is $1000 right there.

So tying your applications to big ticket items and then on top of that, say you buy some gift cards. I like going to TGIFriday’s a lot of times or Domino’s or whatever and if you have the money and you can float it, buy $1000 worth of those gift cards. You’re going to eat there throughout the year anyways. So if you can float the money, spend it and buy the gift cards from the grocery store or from Staples or wherever.

Definitely where you’re getting your bonus points because every credit card is a little bit different and they incent people to spend at certain types of stores. Sometimes they’ll give two or three times the points at a grocery store. Some of the cards offer three to five times points at Staples. And both of them have tons of gift cards for just about any store that you’re going to shop at, whether it’s Kohl’s, Home Depot, Southwest, whatever. They have a lot of different gift card choices for you to choose from.

Mindy: That’s interesting. So my personal—my personal grocery store. It’s open just for me. The grocery store that I go to all the time will frequently have four times fuel points on gift card purchases and typically around the holidays, so Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, all these gift card giving holidays. So today I went and got gas and I saved $1.00 a gallon on gas because I had all these fuel points that I had actually forgotten about until I went to the grocery store yesterday. So that’s another thing you can do.

That’s another tip, is to look at these store’s reward points because sometimes Staples has really great rewards points or cashback or something. I don’t shop at Staples very frequently because I don’t do anything on paper anymore.

Lee: Well yeah. You can get a Staples card. You’ve got a card that’s going to pay for three to five times points in office supply stores and now you’re going to Staples just with a gift card. And now you can then spend those dollars elsewhere.

So what you mentioned with the store rewards on top of the rewards you’re earning from your credit cards, that’s called stacking. So what you want to do is you want to be able to leverage the opportunities to get as many miles and points possible out of spending you’re going to do anyways. So I don’t go out to restaurants too often but what I do is I want to maximize those points when I’m out there dining.

So here’s a strategy I use. I use a card that’s going to pay me two to three times points whenever I’m out dining, and then I register that card through my preferred dining rewards program. Most of the airlines and I think a couple of hotels participate in it. So I leverage them through Southwest.

So I’m getting points for my credit card. I’m getting points from dining rewards which go into my Southwest account. And then on top of that, I sign up for this program called DOSH and what they do is at participating restaurants, they give you anywhere from 7-10% cashback on most of their participating restaurants.

Mindy: Okay, so DOSH is D-O-S-H.

Lee: That is correct.

Mindy: You can find links to all of these sites that we’re talking about in the Show Notes of today’s show which is BiggerPockets.com/MoneyShow27. A couple of weeks ago, we had Becky and Noah on. They were in the middle of their pre-FI, mini retirement road trip. And they told us about another spending hack that I had never thought of before.

And it’s really just you have to think outside the box. They said prepay your utilities. Prepay a few months of utilities. If you have to spend that money in order to get these big huge travel rewards if you don’t have anything coming up, that’s another way to do it, too.

Lee: Mhmm.

Scott: So these are great tips to meet the minimum spending requirements of a few thousand dollars per these cards. If you’re getting a few years, this is how you can kind of easily hit that spend and make sure that you get that signing bonus where you get that minimum spend.

What if you had the opposite problem? What if you are about to buy a rental property for example, or have some other type of expense that’s going to come up that’s going to large? Say you buy a rental property and you’re going to put $20,000 of rehab into it in closing costs. So $20,000 between a medium-sized rehab and all these appraisals and PMI, all that kind of stuff.

Lee: Sure.

Scott: How do I go into that strategizing ahead of time so that I can make the most of credit card signings and bonuses?

Lee: One, you want to make sure that whoever that you’re working with takes credit cards. Say your contractor. Or work with your contractor and say okay, you go take it to Home Depot or whatever, the local hardware store is, whatever you want to buy.

Give me the shopping list. And I’ll pay for all the supplies. So you can take a look at it that way because most likely the contractor you’re working with, they’re going to take their labor and then they’re going to take whatever they’re buying from the supply store and they are going to bill you, right?

But they don’t want to pay 2-3% to the credit card company on all the stuff they just bought from Home Depot, right? So offer to pay directly to the place to be able to buy those supplies. Or I mean, here’s what I do. I have these. What I do is I buy gift cards and then I basically turn them into money orders. There’s a little bit of a cost to that, but take those cards and turn them into money orders and then pay your contractor with the money order.

So it’s a way to meet those minimum spend and at a very cost efficient manner and it’s not a problem. I’m probably not going to go into all the different ways of converting the money orders but if you search online, you’ll find a lot of bloggers talking about that. I generally don’t talk about that too much.

Scott: Yeah, I try to either buy all the materials myself, or and this is because I trust the contractor, I’ll buy a $1000 gift card or several $500 gift cards to Home Depot and ask for itemized receipts from that. And that spend just goes right onto my credit card and I’m able to collect the points and bonuses from that that help me with some spend.

Lee: Exactly. But like we talked about, don’t go to Home Depot to buy that card. Go to the grocery store, go to Staples, and get those multiple points on those gift cards.

Scott: I’m a sophomore still too. So I’m still learning. That’s a great tip.

Mindy: Yeah, that’s awesome. Okay. Where have you travelled? Where are some of the favorite places that you’ve travelled to?

Lee: One of the last ones I went recently with my wife, I took her to Italy. We flew business class, or actually first class, domestically to get to our launching point to go international. We went to Rome. Stayed at the Waldorf Historia in Rome for a couple of days.

Took a train up to Milan, stayed at the Park Hyatt in Milan then took a train to the Atomic Coast and the Cinque Terre, all the picturesque houses on the side of the hill overlooking the sea, and then came back to Rome for a couple more days and then flew back to business class again.

That trip would have cost $12,000 if we paid cash for everything like our hotel rooms, the airfare, etc. I used, I think it was about 200,000 American Airlines miles, some free nights from the hotel points, and I think about $1200 in taxes and fees. And annual fees, etc. to get those points.

So I’m really good at earning the points. I’m not always good at redeeming them so I actually paid somebody to book the flights for me and I think the fee was about $350. But totally worth it. They got us far better routing and a better plane than I found on my own and if I were to look for the flights myself, I think our cost would have been $1000 and I paid them $350 and in total, it was $800 including their fees and the fees charged by the airline, so not only did they find me better flights and better routing, it was actually cheaper than what I found myself.

Mindy: Okay, you said you paid someone to book the flights for you. Was this like a travel agent or is this a service that people provide?

Lee: Yeah, so normally people are used to travel agents, right? Where you pay cash and somebody books a flight and a hotel or cruise or whatever for you. In the world of miles and points, they have pseudo travel agents where what they do is called Reward Booking Services. You tell them how many miles and points you have from different programs and you tell them where you want to go and they’ll find the best routing based on the miles and points that you have and the type of class you want to take, whether it’s economy, business, first-class, etc.

Mindy: And then do you actually have to book them yourself based on links that they give you or do you give them access to your account and they book it for you?

Lee: Generally, you give them access to your account. I mean, it kind of depends what you’re comfortable with. They can give you the routings and you can do it but you’re going to pay the same amount whether you do it or they do it so I’m fine with just giving them my access to my account. I actually changed my password right before I give them access to something that’s totally random and then once they’re done then I changed it back to the normal password that I may use.

Mindy: Okay. So that’s a good tip. How do you keep track of your rewards?

Lee: There’s a super simple app called Reward Wallet and they have a free version and a paid version. Essentially the free version will do most of what everybody here needs. You log into each of your different accounts, whether it’s Southwest—actually, they don’t track Southwest. Actually sorry, they don’t track Southwest but you track Hyatt, United Airlines, American Airlines, all the different programs.

They even check TGIFriday rewards, so they have all these different programs that they track and then you have all of your miles and points in one simple interface and you can look and see where you have all your miles and points. And every week, they’ll send you a really simple summary of here’s the changes in balances that you’ve had from your statement closing and points posted. You went on a flight. The points posted. Or you redeemed for a flight. Or a hotel stay and points got deducted from your account.

So it’s super simple. I’ve been using it for probably like seven years now and really enjoy it. What I do is I pay, I think it’s $10 every six months or something like that so that way you get every notification when your points are about to expire. And that $10 saved me a couple of different times where programs that I hadn’t paid much attention to but I had some decent balances in, that way I redeemed those points before the expiration date.

Scott: That’s great.

Mindy: That’s fantastic. I thought that you were going to say spreadsheet and I was going to be like can you share that? AwardWallet.com.

Lee: Correct.

Mindy: And again, all of these links will be in the Show Notes at BiggerPockets.com/MoneyShow27. Okay, now it’s time for our Famous Four questions. These are the same questions that we ask every one of our guests. There’s actually five because we didn’t know how to count when we first started this.

Lee: It’s personal finance. Nobody counts.

Mindy: Nobody counts or know how to do math. Our first question is what is your favorite finance book?

Lee: Well of course, How to Sell Your Home by Mindy Jensen. I bought that one about a month or two ago. But no.

Mindy: And why did you buy that book?

Lee: Because I am selling my house. But yeah, but beyond that, the book that I read a long time ago and I even actually kind of followed this mantra before I even heard of the book, it’s called The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach. And I’m just a huge fan of setting things up once and letting them run and that way I can go on about my life and focus on everything else.

Scott: Except for travel hacking.

Lee: That way I can focus on things that require my attention.

Scott: That’s awesome. I love that book as well. It’s just a great simple blend to become very wealthy over time.

Lee: Exactly, exactly.

Scott: What was your biggest money mistake?

Lee: I would say it’s more on the job and income front. So back in 2001 I had just started doing financial planning and I had an opportunity to go into mortgage. One of my dad’s attorney friends was starting a mortgage company and he said hey, why don’t you come run one of my mortgage offices for me?

He said well no, I just started this job doing financial planning and I promised all these people that I was going to be their financial planner. I was going to help them out, reach their goals. And then I just basically said no thank you.

I ultimately left that job later on that year and who would have foresaw that the mortgage boom was going to happen over the next five to six years? And I realized that I would have made so much money. I mean multiple millions of dollars just based on the way I am and everything like that. I know I would have made so much money. And I missed out on that.

But you know, life is what it is. You can’t focus on what you missed out on and I had a good career in banking. I left financial planning, went into banking sales, and then from there went into the corporate finance shop that I have now.

Who knows if I would have met my wife based on where I would have been in life and things like that so everything, it’s like I think that movie is called Sliding Doors or something like that where one day, Gwyneth Paltrow got on the subway car and the other day she didn’t, so like these parallel paths of how her life was so different because of one different thing.

Yeah I would have made a lot of money. It was a big financial mistake as far as that goes, but my life has turned out pretty awesome and I have a beautiful wife, awesome kids, and who knows if that would have happened if I hadn’t have gone down the path I went. So it was a mistake financially but it turned out well.

Scott: Yeah, I love that you bring that up. We rarely hear oh I forewent an opportunity that would have worked out really well. It’s mostly I bought this thing or didn’t invest in this or whatever. But that’s a great perspective. Thanks for sharing that.

Lee: Definitely.

Mindy: I would like to correct you. You said, and now I have the job that I have. You have the job that you had. You are now retired.

Lee: I know. I’m still getting used to the fact that I don’t have to go there anymore.

Mindy: Lee and I are friends on Facebook and I saw he posted his picture, okay I’m out of here. Bye. He was like, oh yay. See ya!

Okay, so now that you are at the end of your journey, or the end of your employment journey, what is the best piece of advice for people who are just starting out?

Lee: I would say the number one thing is to automate your finances. Automating your savings whether it’s setting aside money towards a goal that you have, automating it towards investing in your 401K and whatever retirement plans that are available. Direct depositing your paycheck.

That way, it doesn’t get lost. You’ve got the money in there. You’re not running down to the bank, wasting your time. And then also automating your bills so that way you’re not getting late fees. You’re reducing interest charges and things like that. Again, by automating things, you were able to focus on things that are higher value in your life versus things that are just more repetitive tasks.

Mindy: That’s awesome.

Scott: That’s a great tip. All right, the final, well second to last and hardest question of the Famous Four. What is your favorite joke to tell at parties?

Lee: Well, my parties are probably a little bit different than yours, Scott. I’m almost 43 and I have a three-year-old and a seven-year-old.

Scott: A lot of jokes at those parties.

Lee: Yeah my audience is probably a little bit different. So the joke that my son loves is a knock-knock joke. So knock-knock.

Scott: Who’s there?

Lee: Interrupting panda.

Scott: Interrupting—

Lee: Nahnahnahnah.

Mindy: Interrupting panda who?

Scott: Yeah, I’m so bad at knock-knock jokes.

Lee: So the panda interrupts you before you get a chance to say interrupting panda who.

Mindy: I know how to do that joke. Scott didn’t do it right. Say it with me.

Lee: Okay. Knock-knock.

Mindy: Who’s there?

Lee: Interrupting panda.

Mindy: Interrupting panda who—

Lee: Nahnahnahah.

Scott: I went to the zoo last week with my girlfriend back in DC. I was visiting my parents and then drove down to North Carolina to hang out with some friends at a bachelor party.

Anyways, at the zoo, we see the panda den and next to the panda den, there’s a bar. And the panda walks into the bar and we’re all sitting there and we’re like, what’s going on? And he takes out a gun, shoots somebody and then walks out of the bar.

And we’re all just completely stunned at this panda’s behavior and we’re like, what are you doing? Why are you doing this? So the panda turns around, looks at us, and points to the sign. And the sign says, “Eats Shoots and Leaves”.

Sorry, had to go with my panda joke.

Lee: That’s a good joke for again, your audience. Probably not one to talk about shooting pandas with three-year-olds and seven-year-olds.

Scott: Yeah, sorry.

Mindy: Okay. I’m going through all of the jokes. People will send us jokes because not everybody had a joke when we first started asking these questions. So a man walked into a bar with a piece of asphalt under his arm and says, I’ll have a beer and one for the road. Scott laughs at that.

Scott: I like that joke.

Mindy: I’m sure you do. That was from Steven. Thank you, Steven, for submitting that amazing joke. I am never a fan of these jokes because they are terrible. Okay, so Lee, where can people find out more about you?

Lee: I’m available at BaldThoughts.com and @BaldThoughts on all the different social media channels, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.

Mindy: Okay. We will again link to those in the Show Notes at BiggerPockets.com/MoneyShow27. Lee, thank you so much for taking time out of your—I guess it’s not that busy anymore now that you’re all unemployed. Thanks for getting up early today on your first day of not working, to talk to us about this.

I learned a ton. I think now I’m in fifth grade, and will hopefully be entering middle school at some point. Middle school of travel hacking. This was great. AwardWallet.com. I know I’ve got a ton of awards programs. I’ll be typing them in. Your points expired yesterday.

Lee: The number one thing is we work very hard to earn all these miles and points. It’s like heartbreaking when they expire. Don’t build this effort and then not use them. Like your miles and points are not like a 401K. They do not increase in value over time. Use them as soon as you earn them or shortly after you earn them.

Again, in our world, they call it earn and burn. Earn them and then use them. Or earn them with a redemption in mind so that way they don’t expire because every year, airline miles and hotel programs, they look at ways to reduce the value of those points. So use them, use them, use them. That’s probably the ending word as far as miles and points goes.

Mindy: Yeah, that’s an excellent tip. All right. Well we are going to get out of here. Thanks again, Lee. We’ll talk to you soon.

Lee: All right, thank you. Byebye.

Scott: Thanks so much. All right, that was Lee Huffman from BaldThoughts.com. Wow, wow, wow.

Mindy: Mind blown like the whole time we were listening to him talk. I had these questions and I was assuming he would answer it in a different way, especially the ‘how do you keep track of your rewards’. I thought he was going to say, oh I’ve got this spreadsheet or whatever, you know, because I think it’s important that you need to keep track of them. And I had no idea that a thing exists, AwardWallet.com, that actually keeps track of them for you. That’s really awesome.

Scott: Yeah, I mean that was just an incredible wealth of information from someone who is an expert. I had no idea about any of this stuff. I felt the same way I felt about when Travis Hornsby talked about student loan debt and those kinds of programs back in Episode I think 22.

And then in Episode 3 when Erin Chase talked about cutting your grocery bill, I felt the same way. Just these are things that I had never considered. Huge hacks that can give you 10-15%, maybe more, return on spending you’re going to do anyways. Just fantastic.

Mindy: That’s the important part. This is spending you’re going to do anyways. When I get a new credit card, when I open up a card, I put it in my wallet and then that is the only card that I use everywhere I shop—groceries, gas, paying bills. I can put my utilities on it. Anytime I’m spending money, I’m putting it on that card.

And when you have two kids and a household, spending adds up really quickly. But Lee even shared some tips when you can’t quite make the spend. There’s still ways around that so you’re not losing out on these rewards. And this was just like from start to finish, fantastic show. I’m so happy he came on the show.

Scott: And one of the things that I think impacts the financial independence community, I think, is we’re averse to spending. If you’re listening to BiggerPockets Money Show, you’re trying to build wealth and spending unnecessarily hurts a little bit. And what I’ve found travel rewards has done for me to a certain extent is now I’m not spending money on my travel. This is mostly points.

So I can enjoy myself travelling a little bit more. It doesn’t bite quite as much when I have to go see my family or go to a wedding. A wedding used to cost me $1500-2000 to attend. Now it still costs me a couple hundred bucks with the gifts, getting a suit dry-cleaned and all that stuff, but the travel, the flight and the hotel, are booked with points.

And I can enjoy myself. I don’t know, it’s a kind of a psychological trick for someone like me that’s a little averse to spending to get really comfortable with these things and have a great time. It’s just so much better to go for free than to go for $2000.

Mindy: Yes. Book with points earned on money you would have spent no matter what.

Scott: Exactly.

Mindy: You always have to eat. But with Erin’s tips that now you spend less on that.

Scott: Exactly.

Mindy: This was just fantastic. I’m so excited. This one went a little bit long because we just couldn’t stop talking to this amazing guy. So we are going to let you go. Scott, do you have anything else to add before we sign off?

Scott: Nope. Just take one quick step as a result of this episode and consider maybe going for the Companion Pass or going for one kind of generic Chase credit card that has a low fee and will give you a good amount of points. And then spend them on something. Reward yourself.

I think it’s just a great tip that will help you reduce your travel expenses on things you either want to do or have to do.

Mindy: Yes, and you reduce your travel expenses so now you can do more travelling.

Scott: Exactly.

Mindy: All right, from Episode 27 of the BiggerPockets Money podcast, this is Mindy Jensen, over and out.

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In This Episode We Cover:

  • What is travel hacking?
  • Lee’s background
  • How he saved up and bought real estate properties
  • How he got into travel hacking
  • How to get a lot of travel miles
  • Benefits of owning a lot of credit cards (40 to be exact!)
  • Why you should get a companion pass
  • All you need to know about airlines and secret perks
  • How to to deal  with annual fees
  • Specific techniques for handling credit cards
  • Considering transferrable points
  • His thought on the 524 rule
  • Shopping through the Portals
  • Other spending hacks
  • Places he has been to
  • An app that helps him keep track of rewards
  • And SO much more!

Links from the Show

Books Mentioned in this Show

Tweetable Topics:

  • “Only do this when if able to pay the balances in full every month.”  (Tweet This!)
  • “There is always more to learn.” (Tweet This!)
  • “Life is what it is, you can’t focus on what you missed out on.” (Tweet This!)

Connect with the Lee

About Author

The BiggerPockets Money Podcast is for anyone who has money… or want to have more! Join BiggerPockets Community Manager Mindy Jensen and Director of Operations Scott Trench weekly for the BiggerPockets Money Podcast!
Each week, financial experts Mindy and Scott interview unique and powerful thought leaders about how to earn more, keep more, spend smarter, and grow your wealth.
You’ll get tips for getting your financial house in order and actionable advice from guests who have been in your shoes – and found their way out.

12 Comments

  1. Kerry Baird

    I really enjoyed this podcast. It got me thinking about methods to I maximize my family’s typical spending, and leverage this in new ways. I feel as if a whole new world has opened up! This was a meaty show, from beginning to end. Great job, folks!

  2. Kerry Baird

    I really enjoyed this podcast. It got me thinking about methods to maximize my family’s typical spending, and leverage this in new ways. I feel as if a whole new world has opened up! This was a meaty show, from beginning to end. Great job, folks!

    • Lee Huffman

      I jokingly refer to it as “The Matrix” as in taking the red pill or the blue pill. Once you start into travel rewards and understand their power to save serious money, travel will never be the same for you.

    • Lee Huffman

      Thanks, Aubrey. I’ve used a combination of multiple ways to earn the Companion Pass year after year.

      Some of it was traveling for work… work would pay for the standard ticket, then I would pay to uprade the ticket to Business Select for the 12x multiplier instead of 6x. And I would rent cars through the Southwest portal for even more points.

      I use the Southwest credit card for my personal spending. When my Dad was in business, I would have him put his business expenses on my card as well.

      You can receive the sign-up bonus every 2 years, so I apply for a new Southwest personal or business card every couple of years to earn another 50K points.

      Hotel point transfers used to count towards earning the Companion Pass. This avenue ended in March 2017. I would transfer Marriott points through their “Flight & Hotel” packages to receive a week stay at a Marriott and a bunch of Southwest points.

      And shopping through the Southwest portal also earns points that count towards the Companion Pass.

      So, there are a number of ways to earn points towards the Companion Pass without actually flying enough to earn 110,000 points.

  3. Angel McClinton

    Hi Lee,
    Great information!
    One question… I heard you say if you’re going to buy gift cards to make the minimum spend, buy the gift cards at grocery stores or Staples. I missed why this made a difference. Can you please explain why that is more advantageous?
    Thank you!

    • Mindy Jensen

      My local grocery store offers extra Fuel Reward Points on gift card purchases, and I think Staples does a similar thing with their own store rewards program. So I am essentially Double Dipping on the rewards by buying gift cards to places I will go anyway, while using the credit card to spend the initial money. I’m meeting my initial spend minimum on the card and getting extra points off on Fuel Costs.

    • Lee Huffman

      The big benefit of doing this is using credit cards that offer additional points for spending at office supply or grocery stores. If you do it the right way, with the right cards, you can earn points that are worth far more than the cost of the gift card (typically $3.95-$5.95 per $500 card).

      For example, say you buy a $500 gift card for $5.95 with a card that earns 5x points at office supply stores. You earned 2500 points, which would be worth at least $25 (100 points = $1) vs. the cost of $5.95 plus $1 for money order.

      Similarly, if you want to buy something at a store that doesn’t offer bonus points, like Bed Bath & Beyond for all of Scott Trench’s wedding gifts, buy a gift card from Staples or the grocery store with a card that earns bonus points so you’re earning 3-6x points on the purchase vs. only 1 point per $1 when spending directly at BB&B.

  4. Jared Duckstein

    Lee,

    Really enjoyed the podcast, thank you.

    I’m getting married in two weeks and have been thinking about ways to use our time under separate house holds to our advantage.

    What are your thoughts on taking out two credit cards in our own names so we can both receive the bonus miles? We do have the cash to put $3k-5k on these cards upfront and pay off immediately. We both have excellent credit as well.

    Is there anything I am not seeing about this strategy besides the usual activity when applying for a cc (temporarily bringing down our credit score)? Can we eventually join accounts so we both aren’t paying the annual fee?

    • Mindy Jensen

      I do this with my husband. As long as you can both qualify and pay off the balances, and have 3-5k to spend, you should be good.
      Now that we’re not in the middle of a flip, the 3-5k spend is what’s holding us back from doing this more.

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