Thursday, March 30, 2023

Editor's note: We welcome Atara Mauskopf, who has for years been optimizing rewards programs for travel opportunities. We look forward to her insights.

In need of a vacation but don’t have the resources to pay for an extravagant island getaway as seen on social media? Wondering how they can afford them? If yes, then credit card rewards programs might be just what you need.

Over the past few decades, I have been fortunate enough to take my family on vacation two to three times a year, ranging from quick road trips to longer winter breaks. We’ve been to numerous hotspots, including Cancun (three times), the Bahamas, Aruba (two times), Jamaica, Panama, and several cities, such as Hollywood, Orlando, Miami, and Boca (which goes without saying, because otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to call ourselves Jewish, right?), Las Vegas, Chicago, Boston, the Adirondacks, and the list goes on. And the best part is, we paid a grand total of $0 for these trips. You read that right — zero, zilch, nada.

My goal is to travel the world for free, including airfare and lodging, for the whopping price tag of ZERO dollars. It’s non-negotiable, just like keeping kosher. Playing the points game and vacationing for free has become a requirement that I have set for myself. My family knows that we go as far as our points and miles can take us. If our points accounts are depleted, then travels are postponed. However, we do average two million points/miles across all loyalty programs. In full disclosure, my husband and I own two inventory businesses, and a good chunk of these points are gained via business expenses. Nonetheless, the secret is to spend on the appropriate credit cards to maximize the rewards, where you can earn two-five points on your spending habits, rather than just using a debit or airline card. Don’t worry: this column will discuss various ways to increase your points.

My goal is to continue traveling the world without spending a single penny on lodging or airfare. I firmly believe that it’s both manageable and doable. I often wonder why some people choose to pay full price for just a few days of sun or snow when it’s entirely possible and, in fact, quite easy to do so for free. Perhaps it’s a psychological thing, with some people unconsciously believing that a vacation can only be truly exciting, and exhilarating, and outperform social media photos if they spend a minimum of $5,000.

So, how do you get started?

It is all a mindset. Switch the psychological thought process to think it’s a game, and games are usually fun. Right? Start by thinking this a halacha, just like you make it a point (pun intended) to eat kosher, so too “playing” the points game and vacationing for free can be another requirement.

I’ve been using credit cards since high school, and my dad, a wise man, has taught me many valuable lessons in life, particularly about financial literacy. As a true Israeli who grew up with nothing, he instilled in me the importance of valuing hard-earned dollars and never spending more than necessary, especially on frivolous wants just to keep up with the Joneses (or the Kleins). Another piece of financial advice he gave me was to utilize credit cards to float my funds for an extra 30-45 days until the statements are due. Though he offered this advice during the high interest rate years, the strategy still holds true today, provided you can afford to pay for those purchases. I’m grateful for my dad’s financial and medical advice, and his teachings have helped me maintain good credit and financial stability.

Before embarking on the journey to accumulate rewards through credit cards, it’s crucial to make sure that you pay your credit card balance in full and on time each month. Failing to do so can quickly result in carrying a balance, accruing interest charges and late fees, which can negate any rewards earned. If you find yourself carrying a balance or struggling with late payments, it may be time to seek advice from a financial professional. However, with the right budget, simple math skills, and determination to be financially responsible (Mitzvah 614), you can start on the path to earning rewards through credit card spending.

When I first started focusing on earning free travel, I set my sights on accruing one million credit points, specifically with American Express (AMEX). Within several months, I had amassed 750,000 points before the deal was leaked and AMEX shut it down. I was disappointed, but that experience only fueled my addiction to the points game. At times, I would accumulate points just to see if I can reach 1,000,000 points in one loyalty account (aka Chase or AMEX). It was tempting to hold onto them, but the point is to use them! I quickly became called “The Points Queen” by friends and colleagues as I cringed about their non-existent credit card motivation.

Once the easy method of earning points dried up, I had to find other ways to actually spend the money. But as someone who couldn’t personally spend a million dollars a year without going broke, nor did I want to, I had to get creative. That’s when I stumbled upon a blog post about earning credit cards by reselling. It was an AH-HA moment for me. Having already sold on eBay since its inception, for the fun and games of who’s going to buy my crap, I was familiar with the e-commerce platform, PayPal, and marketing strategies from my decade-long financial career. I quickly became a proficient self-taught third-party seller on Amazon, Walmart, eBay, and other channels, which fed off my love of analyzing data and graphs from my days as a financial advisor and project/product management. Of course, the best part? Stockpile credit card points at an advanced rate.

Now, you may be wondering how you can accrue the same amount of points as someone who is self-employed and sells inventory. In my next article, I’ll share some tips and strategies for earning points that anyone can use, regardless of their job or lifestyle. Stay tuned to Living on Points by The Points Queen.

Atara, aka The Points Queen, is a former Wall Street executive who has transformed her passion for ecommerce and credit card rewards programs into a successful career. She also runs a consulting business assisting small businesses and individuals optimize their online presence and teach travel hacking concepts. Atara enjoys multiple free vacations each year thanks to her extensive collection of points and miles. To learn more, contact Atara at [email protected]

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