Background: Million Mile Madness was the mad quest to earn a million points in one month. Throughout March, I did everything I could to earn as many points as possible while keeping within my ethical boundaries. During the month, I tracked all of the points that I expected, and I declared victory when the expected total topped one million.
It wasn’t easy to earn a million points in one month. I started the month with a burst out of the gate by signing up for 11 credit cards in one day. I was approved for 10 of the cards and I earned 516,000 points from sign-up bonuses (you can read the details here: Million Mile Madness: The big churn story). Then, the hard work began. With 484,000 points still to earn, I had to find a way to average approximately 24,000 points every weekday for the rest of the month. My approach for acquiring most of those points and miles was to buy and sell: Earn as many points as possible while buying items and resell those items for as little loss as possible.
In the months leading up to my Million Mile Madness challenge, I tested many different scenarios for earning points through purchases. I looked for opportunities to get points for buying gift cards and for using the gift cards. That’s known as a double dip. I also looked for (and found) a few instances where one could get points for buying a gift card, then get more points for using that gift card to buy a different gift card, and then finally get even more points when using the latter gift card to buy merchandise. These were triple dip opportunities. Each of these opportunities made use of shopping portals and, often, credit card category bonuses to increase points earned. For details about some of the tests I ran, please see “Million Mile Madness: Preparing to buy & sell.”
Watching for deals
The site SlickDeals was my best friend that month. For each of the merchants where I knew I could earn lots of points, I setup email alerts within SlickDeals. I wanted to be alerted to hot deals as they appeared. This proved to be a huge help, especially for deals from Staples and OfficeMax.
Buying like mad
Whenever a great deal would pop up, I quickly did some research to see if I could resell the item easily. My first stop was always to Amazon.com to see if Amazon would let me list the item as new and use their Fulfillment by Amazon service for the resale. I would also check to see the price I would likely be able to sell the item for and I would get an estimate of Amazon seller fees (see “Tips for selling on Amazon“). If, after the research, I still thought the deal was good, I would then initiate a double or triple dip purchase. For example, when I found great deals at Staples, I clicked through from TopCashBack (5.5% cash back at the time) and paid with my Chase Ink Plus card (which offers 5 points per dollar at Office Supply stores). For an OfficeMax deal, I clicked through the Ultimate Rewards Mall to OfficeMax (the mall offered 5 points per dollar at the time) and paid with my American Express business card with OPEN Savings which offers 10% cash back for OfficeMax.com purchases over $250. I bought many thousands of dollars worth of merchandise with methods like these.
When packages arrived at my house, I opened them to inspect the contents, then I logged onto my Amazon Seller account to print out packing slips and mailing labels. I repacked everything and set it all out by the front door for UPS to pick up. When just a few boxes were involved, this was easy. When many boxes showed up at once, it was a huge pain in the you know what.
Once items were sent to Amazon, I simply waited for them to sell. Occasionally I had to adjust my prices to make sure I had the lowest price. Usually, the items sold out quickly as soon as they were fully checked-in (which could take up to a week). In one case, I had to edit the listing details to get the product to show up in searches on Amazon.com (and once I did that, the product sold quickly). In another case, Amazon decided to fight me in a price war. Every time I lowered my price, Amazon undercut me further. That was the only item in which I had expected to earn a profit, but I ended up taking a loss instead.
By far, the most buying and selling I did was with items from Kohl’s. Through a double-dip I was able to earn 20 points per dollar. And, thanks to my wife having a Kohl’s charge card, I qualified for 30% off coupon codes that they offered twice during the month. I bought small kitchen appliances, Disney headphones, toddler iPad cases, Bluetooth speakers, watches, and even a few robot vacuums. The worst loss I took was 21% (due to the price war I mentioned above), but most items earned a profit. Profits went as high as 50%, but most profits were in the 1.5% to 13% range.
At Staples I bought tablet computers, SSD drives, and portable external drives during fantastic sales. Profits ranged from 5% to 22% for these items.
At Lowes I executed a triple dip to get 15 points per dollar, plus I used a 10% off coupon to save money. I bought a few thousand dollars worth of Nest Learning Thermostats. Even though the thermostat was on sale and I used the 10% off coupon, I still lost approximately 9.5% on this deal (for details see “Million Mile Headaches: Lowes, Round 2“).
When Drugstore.com offered 20% off any health & beauty items, I found (thanks to SlickDeals!) that I could buy Fitbits for 20% off. When clicking through from a portal, the coupon didn’t apply, so I gave up on shopping portals for this deal. Instead, I used the 20% off coupon and paid with a credit card that earns 5X at drugstores (my Citi ThankYou Preferred card, for 12 months). The Fitbits sold immediately and I earned a profit of about 10% on this deal.
I only took advantage of one OfficeMax deal in March. A device called Ooma Telo was on sale at OfficeMax for a great price. I earned 5 points per dollar by going through the Ultimate Rewards Mall and I got 10% cash back by paying with an American Express business card with OPEN Savings. I only bought 4 of these, but I earned approximately a 14% profit.
Final tally… soon, very soon
Yes, I succeeded in earning a million points in one month, but there was another aspect to the challenge: my goal was to keep my net costs below $1000. That meant that when buying and selling items, there was very little room for error. At this point, I still have just a few items that remain unsold, so I can’t yet give a final tally, but I expect to do so very soon.
Learn about Million Mile Madness:
- A crazy million mile idea. Should I do it?
- Million Mile Madness, it’s on
- Million Mile Madness: Strategy
- Million Mile Madness: Preparing to buy & sell
- Million Mile Madness: Tracking points and expenses
- Million Mile Madness: The big churn story
- Million Mile Madness: buying, selling Kohl’s
- Million Mile Madness: Banking on Lowe’s
- Million Mile Madness: A setback from Sears
- Million Mile Madness: Pending Success
- Million Mile Madness: Bumps in the road
- Million Mile Madness: Credit scores and pulls
- Million Mile Madness: Easy points
- Million Mile Madness: Success!!!!!
- Million Mile Madness: Which points?
- Million Mile Madness: How it was done
- Million Mile Headaches: SunTrust
- Million Mile Headaches: Lowes, Round 2
[…] I described in the post “Million Mile Madness: What I bought and sold,” my primary mechanism for earning points (after signing up for credit cards) was to buy […]
Ken: Thanks, that’s a great tip (I wish I knew it sooner!)
And the greater the price the greater the difference can be while still winning the BB. For example, something for $9.99 you might be able to do $10.25 and still win the BB, but something $199.99 you could do $202.50 and still win the BB. You just have to play around with it. Those few dollars really add up when you’re moving lots of product.
Try to make a sample product listing on FBA. It won’t let you if you’re blocked from selling. Watches are for sure one category where you have to be preauthorized.
@ FM, you said “if Amazon would let me list the item as new and use their Fulfillment by Amazon service for the resale” how do I find out if i can sell the item new…
Thanks. I listed a NINJA blender once, after selling 1 then i got email from Shark corp, that i am not authorized dealer or to prove that I am an authorize dealer to sell the item.
Great post. Definitely enjoying the after action reports of Million Mile Madness as you continue to peel back the onion.
My head hurts just thinking about this, seriously – great job! I am a computer programmer by trade so I very much enjoy and appreciate the in depth ways you come up with to rack up miles.
Just an FYI about Amazon… You don’t have to be the lowest price to win the Buy Box. I always price my items either the same as the lowest seller or slightly above. And I watch the lower seller’s inventory so I know they are not earning more sales than I am. This keeps the price form continually dropping when people are determined to have the lowest price.
Amazing feat!! I just want to thank you for trying different things ….very creative channel to earn extra points/miles. I love your “Lab” It definitely provided me with innovative ways to earn points/miles or satisfy large spending requirements without spending more money!!! THANK YOU!!
jason please troll elsewhere. You like to bash the bloggers and have nothing useful to add. FM is giving details as promised to his readers who have asked for it–that is the point of the story. Sorry you seemed to miss it.
What is the point of this ridiculous story? Buy/Sell and go broke?
Only ~48% of his points came from reselling. His return is yet TBD – irrespective of risk. Per FMs admission there’s a great deal of risk flipping. Even what he thought would be slam dunks turned into losers. Never know how low your competitor can go in price without II.
I hope no one got the idea from this post that I recommend this path for most people? I’ve said over and over that million mile madness was crazy and painful. Yes, its possible to do well with buying and selling, but it is a huge commitment of time and risk.
iahphx: The 1 million points could easily be valued at $10,000. McDonalds doesn’t pay $10,000/month… even with overtime.
jim – I think that the apple store is at 2x earning in the ultimate rewards mall this month. So, you’d get a total of 3x (1x for your regular spend, and the 2x bonus for going through the UR mall).
This way you get 2x more points and you also keep all of your credit card benefits.
Honestly, I think small-scale reselling merchandise is, by far, the worst way to manufacture spending unless, perhaps, you can get the merchandise for free (like sometimes with 100% rebates, etc.). Shipping costs and listing fees will eat into almost all your potential profit. And, God forbid, the buyer claims he didn’t get the merchandise. Honestly, I think taking a job at McDonalds would be easier and more profitable for most folks.
Great post, FM. I really appreciate reading your details.
Very informative post. Great Job!
@FM. How do you subscribe for slick deals email for deals at specific vendors?
Any more ideas for future challenges? Like reaching 100,000 miles/points by spending less than $10?
Would you be willing to share FBA costs?
jim: Watch for deals on rakuten.com
I cannot see your Fulfillment by Amazon expenses incurred?
Simon: Lines 192-196 show the net totals from FBA. The amounts include both the money earned as well as expenses incurred. Note that this section is not yet complete as I still have some more money coming in from FBA soon.
Would you be willing to share how much risk money you put up? ie how much worth of merchandise did you buy?
Also, any estimate on time spent with all the shenanigans?
I hope it is clear what I am asking is: you are telling us that you earned 400000~ points and made a $$ profit, but how much capital was involved and how much of your time did it take?
john: All information about how much I spent is in a Google Docs tracking spreadsheet: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Alhjm5TWvn9AdFRqLVV4WWFDZFZvN29tU0pRcFdJSGc&usp=sharing
I tried to track time spent, but it wasn’t very useful so I gave up half way through the month. My actual time on task was fairly small, yet I found myself obsessing over this stuff nearly 24 hours per day. As a result, even though this was more than a full time job, the hours tracked made it look like an easy part time job. It was not. I’ve said many times (but forgot to say in this post!) that I do not recommend others follow in my footsteps!
Where did you sell the watches?
might not be very related but is there any store that I can earn a good amount of miles when I buy an iPad?
Great post. You prove once again why you’re the best in the blogger biz. Great informative/experiential post, with no link farms.
This is why you will continue to get ALL my cc referrals when I apply.
Raghu, Borat: Thanks!
jim: I don’t know of a way to earn huge numbers of miles but you should be able to get some points buying BestBuy gift cards and then using them (double dip). Note that you won’t get your credit card’s extended warranty that way though.
Corky: I sold everything, including the watches, with Fulfillment by Amazon. I think I was approved for watch sales at some point in the past.