How to prevent your brain from exploding


Lately, thanks to Rolling Stone magazine, our hobby has become “The Hobby”.  I prefer to think of it as The Game.  Regardless, while this game/hobby/whatever is awesome for those who master it, it is also filled to the brim with complexity: deals, opportunities, nuances, exceptions, and changes.

Just deciding which of many deals to go after can be daunting on its own.  Take, for example, these recent Quick Deal posts:

Some of these deals are easy to dismiss from the title alone.  Already locked into a phone contract?  Then, forget about the $450 cash back AT&T deal. No plans to fly between the east cost and Los Angeles?  Then, forget about those American Airlines deals.  Most deals, though, take more thought.  Consider merchant gift card deals, for example.  Do you have plans to buy anything from those merchants?  Is it worth your time to buy those discount gift cards and then resell them?

Some deals, though, are “no brainers”.  These are the deals that offer free miles, free cash, etc.  Take the top example: 750 United Miles don’t amount to a lot, but it would be silly to pass up free miles, right?

In addition to these one-time deals, there are often opportunities for increasing credit card spend (also known as manufactured spend techniques).  Many of these are money makers.  Use a 2% cash back card, for example, and manufacture spend for less than 2% in fees, and Bingo, you just got free money!  Clearly, these too are “no brainer” deals.  Right?

Too many “no brainers” will cause your brain to explode

OK, maybe your brain won’t literally explode, but sometimes it feels that way to me.  Pretty much anytime I meet up with others in this hobby, discussion turns to one deal or another.  And, more often than not, I’ll admit that I don’t (or didn’t) take advantage of the particular opportunity being discussed.  Why not?  Isn’t it easy money?  Doesn’t it lead to free miles? Isn’t it a no brainer?

Every deal, big or small, takes time and mental focus.  Most deals require multiple steps, spread out over time.  Many require follow up: Did the portal track my purchase  correctly? Did Amex credit my account for that Amex Sync offer?  Every one of these deals adds a bit of stress to my life.  There’s always a mental cost – not just to understand the deal in the first place, but rather the ongoing weight of participation.  For each deal, there is work to do, usually followed by a feeling that something might have been missed or forgotten.  Did I use the right credit card? Did I use up that gift card before filing it away?  Have I maxed out the bonus spend on this offer yet?  I have until XYZ date to complete this other deal — will I remember?  Did I setup reminders in my calendar?

[Editor, please insert image of brain exploding]

[No, that would be gross –Editor]

[Editor, how about a cartoon with red lines indicating an explosion?]


brain exploding

Keep your brain intact: pass on most deals, and setup routines for others

My approach to brain preservation is to let most deals slide by.  Almost everyday I pass up “no brainer” opportunities.  Even if the opportunity is super easy, I’ll usually pass it up if the gain is small.  I value my sanity a wee bit higher than $10 in free cash back.

I go for the big deals and/or those that are repeatable and require minimal effort.  The former are worth the mental energy and include things like big credit card signup offers, mistake fares, and significant free money (like when Amex gave $150 to AT&T customers just because).  With the repeatable deals, I try to setup routines.  Once routines are established and ingrained, the mental cost decreases substantially.  For example, I explained my multiple REDbird (Target Prepaid REDcard) routine in-depth in the post “Managing multiples: Bluebird, REDbird, Serve.”  Even though I juggle 7 different cards, the mental cost is low.  I have a set routine and I stick to it.

Deals on the bubble

Unfortunately for my brain, many deals fall somewhere between too small and big enough.  Many Amex offers fall into this grey area.  A good example is the ongoing Amex Checkout offer (details here).  Each registered Amex card can get a one-time $10 rebate from a number of stores.  By buying items that cost a dollar or so, one can easily earn $9 profit.  If this deal was limited to just one card I wouldn’t even consider wasting my time.  But, between my wife and I, we have quite a few Amex cards.  Should I take the time to buy items online one at a time, and each time checkout with a different Amex card?  There’s no question its easy to do, but is it worth the mental weight?  In this case, I think it is, but only because the effort is minimal and the risk of not following up to ensure the $10 credits is tiny.  You can find full details about how to take advantage of this offer, in this Miles to Memories post.

Then there are the great Amex Sync Offers that require visiting stores to buy gift cards.  While the deals are often fantastic, the mental weight is high.  First, I need to signup as many of my Amex cards as I can for the offer.  Then, I have to identify which cards are signed up and bring them along to the store.  If I use some, but not all of these cards at the store in question, I then have to keep track of which ones have not yet been used.  At the end of all of that, I have gift cards bought at a significant discount that I need to either liquidate, sell, or use.  More mental weight.  As a result, I pass on many of these Amex Offers.

My exceptions

For completeness, I should mention that there are some deals I participate in that don’t fit the general rules I described above.  Some I do because I find them fun.  A good example is the convoluted approach to rolling Sears gift card credit into points that I outlined a few weeks ago (click here for details).  Yes, I have a strange sense of fun.  Others I do as blog research.  I’ll click through portals to buy gift cards I don’t even want, for example, just to find out if the portal pays out.  I do this to add data to the Frequent Miler Laboratory.  Or, I’ll try out new manufactured spend techniques, or conduct Prestige 4th Night Free experiments, or…

And, there are occasional big deals that I don’t participate in because I can’t blog about them.  In some cases, the deal was told to me in confidence. In other cases I believe that blogging about the deal would kill it prematurely.  In these cases, I usually don’t participate because the activity takes away my attention from the things I can and do write about.

There is one more type of “big deal” that I’ll pass up.  Often, a deal crosses my ethical line (see “Drawing the line”).  If it doesn’t feel right I won’t do it.

Peer pressure

Meet-ups with others who play this game are great ways to make new friends and learn new tricks (see: Secrets and Meetups).  However, there are times where you may feel peer pressure to take part in more activities than you’re comfortable with.  Often, I hear people say something like “I guess I really should do that”, usually with a hesitation in their voice that makes it clear that their not at all comfortable with the idea.  Its obvious, but I guess it should be said: don’t give in. If you’re not comfortable with a deal, don’t do it.  Save your brain for other things.

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[…] Going forward, Amex Offers will still be lucrative, but less than before.  And there’s a consolation: our brain’s won’t explode.  For more on keeping brains un-exploded, see: How to prevent your brain from exploding. […]

[…] to get the extra 10K points, but I didn’t think it was worth causing my brain to explode (see: “How to prevent your brain from exploding”).  So, I scheduled three $500 monthly payments using the Plastiq bill pay service.  I figured […]

[…] How to Prevent Your Brain from Exploding (FrequentMiler). Issues I have thought about a lot recently. Every time Dan’s Deals shouts, “Hurry!” and it is another Amex offer I am tempted to get 99 AUs on each account and turn my life over to this madness. My current limits include no Walmart, because of location inconvenience, and mostly no Amex offers because of endless hamster wheel time suck. […]

[…] in my Miles and Points Beginner’s Guide, but I also enjoyed Frequent Miler’s post about how to keep your brain from exploding trying to manage your miles and […]

[…] a recent post, I shared strategies that help prevent brain explosions.  The basic idea is that if you try to take advantage of every deal and opportunity you read […]


I looked at a link for Kaiku Visa cards . My brain was in pain already from studying all the credit unions so I didn’t examine it thoroughly . Does any one have any experience or any comments about Kaiku Visa ?


Great post and the perfect cartoon!


I try to quantify to decide what to do/not do. Usually as a minimum 3.8% profit. Or sometimes at a $50/hour minimum. This usually leads to doing only bonused MS.

In the beginning, c/l and liquidating capacity were the primary constraints but nowadays spending my time efficiently has become the biggest constraint.


btw Greg, if this is “the game”, what do you call us (people who play the game)? Gamers? Players?


Great post. Someone said in A2 that there’s not enough articles on the negatives/failures of the game, i.e. the reality. I’ve found my niche. I’m happy to learn more but pass on most due to not fitting my goal or passion. Can’t do it all. Like many said, I go for low hanging fruit and the biggest bang for the buck.


“750 United Miles don’t amount to a lot, but it would be silly to pass up free miles, right?”

I don’t know why anyone would bother, unless they need to top off, when you can get 100K from 2 card sign ups every 24 months.


Great post Greg, I feel the same as you. Go for the low hanging fruit and skip all the rest. Don’t chase after deals, there will always be enough coming soon. Like everything in life, the more time you spend in the hobby/game, the more you can profit, but after a certain point, you reach diminishing marginal gains. If you are not having fun, don’t do it.


Beautifully, perfectly put. You expressed what so many feel. But it is very individualistic — many of my friends think I’m nuts just for juggling 20 credit cards and only 2k per month ms. It’s all relative. ( I’d earn much more if I spent this time on my day job, but this is much more fun!)


great post and captures my feelings too. Full time employment, mother of two, I can’t always spend time driving here and there to buy gift cards, liquidate them, etc. Same goes for online deals. There has to be a high ROI at this point. I spent a whole day this week thinking about the amex 6k offer for saks. I decided against it. oh well.


Right on!

Feeling guilt at not taking advantage of more deals. I’m retired and this has been a part time job for me. I have felt lazy for passing up some points deals. But those with a routine to follow I have jumped on, e.g. 180k in dollar coins.

Now I can recategorize my hesitation more appropriately as mental weight. That’s exactly what it is. Thanks.


What deal is “180k in dollar coins”?


Oh you young one


Jason, what is that supposed to mean? Do you know what he/she is referring to?


Likely, the old timer is referring to the opportunity provided by the U.S. Mint a few years ago. In order to create interest/demand for the Presidential dollar coins being issued, they offered a deal that couldn’t be passed up. Free shipping and no surcharge for buying coins that could be deposited into your bank to pay the credit card bill! MS was easy, no complicated steps or worries about reselling or portal payouts/loading to BB/Serve.


Dave, thanks for replying back. I had a feeling that’s what the person meant but I didn’t understand the “$180K” part. Was that supposed to be the “profit” he/she made from it? I remember that “deal” well, however I never took part in that. I distinctly remember it being against the T&C to deposit them in a bank account. I guess many people (not surprisingly) ignored that.


Whether he got 180k in points or ordered 180k worth of coins I don’t know. Either way, folks like that ruined a good thing. The mint definitely wanted them collected or in circulation not getting returned to the Federal Reserve by the banks.
I used the offer to get cash advances without the fees. Great short term interest free loans, but not more than $1k at a time.


To save some ppl time…

Just checked out the $10 deal from Amex checkout….one of the company’s shipping, Sabonnnyc, charges > $12.50 to ship a SINGLE, 12.8 oz, bottle of shampoo….which costs $20 itself.

Talk about laughable. Must be some small shop in nyc selling “premium” crap and padding the shipping like fleabayers…


Have to agree w/ Lynn. Once you learn the ins/outs and build up a good stash-o-miles, you feel much less inclined to chase after the “small potatoe” deals (that’s how Dan Qayle would spell it).

Granted, that goes against some/many ppl’s “earn and burn”, even if at the same time they’re banking them in “transferable” accounts. The more ppl that join the game, the less motivation CC companies have to offer incentives (good ones at least). I think, in the longer-term, we’ll see good incentives but with much higher spends and to highly qualified individuals….ie..the ones who can actually do the spend AND keep a good credit score.

-2 cents


Great blog post! Just what I needed as I was having a hard time lately with all these offers.


Great post! I think when you first get involved in “The Hobby” or “The Game” you are eager to take advantage of every opportunity. Several years in, however, with large points/miles balances, I find myself passing on most things. Last night, for instance, I saw the deal about Ticketmaster and the $10 check out. I immediately thought “I should do that . . .” followed by “too much effort . . .” So I did nothing.