2015 Year in Review (Part 1)

2015-2016Many bloggers in the travel hacking community have posted their 2015 year in review, and I’m only about a month behind! I have a huge backlog of articles that I’ve been wanting to write. I don’t know how others do it, but between my full-time day job, two little kids that demand my attention all the time, and all the buying/selling for FPT Gift Box, there’s just not much time left to blog which actually takes the most amount of time. I find the buying and selling part much easier than blogging… but here it is, a reflection of the past year, which ended up being the story of how FPT Gift Box started.

First Year as a Travel Hacker

2015 has been an amazing year for me. It was actually my first full year as a travel hacker. For more than a decade, I traveled extensively both internationally and domestically the traditional way – that is, paying out of pocket with the only credit card in my wallet (Chase Amazon)!

In October 2014, I read an article on Mr. Money Mustache about credit card churning. My eyes opened to a whole new world of travel hacking. I wish I had known about it a decade sooner. It would have saved me tens of thousands of dollars in travel expenses!

Barclay Arrival Plus MasterCardThe first credit card I applied for after reading about credit card churning was the Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. That was October 2014. This past October 2015, I celebrated my first year with the Barclay card. I logged a total of $230k in spending and earned over $5k worth of free travel. It was also the first time ever in my life I paid an annual fee for a credit card. This is the kind of fee I’d never have paid for in the past but is now a new normal. Some annual fees are worth paying for if you know how to get a lot out of the cards.

Since the Barclay, I’ve applied for 2-3 credit cards every quarter throughout the entire 2015. I’ve also recruited my husband, my parents, several family members, and a few friends to travel hack with me. As of this post, I manage over 40 accounts and 80 credit cards.

Meeting Minimum Spend to Traveling Around the World

In the beginning, I was just trying to meet the minimum spending requirements so I can get the sign up bonuses. I planned out all our household expenses to match the minimum spend for each card. Occasionally, I opted to pay a little fee to charge property taxes and mortgage payments to a credit card.

I followed a few blogs like Million Miles Secret, The Points Guy, Frequent Miler, Mommy Points and several others to learn about different credit card offers. Then I learned how to earn a lot more points via manufactured spending. I was a few years too late to do the U.S. Mint game, but I acquired 5 American Express Target RedCard and was manufacturing at least $25k every month. I made a lot of trips to Target, Safeway, and Staples.

With all the miles and points I earned, I was able to travel with my family to many places. Our 2015 travels include Los Cabos Mexico, Las Vegas, Disneyland (Anaheim), New York, Boston, Greece, Turkey, and Hawaii.

Travel Around the World

Gift Cards, Reselling, and Bank Bonuses

It wasn’t long before I learned about gift card arbitrage, reselling, and bank bonuses from blogs like Doctor of Credit, Point Chaser, Oren’s Money Saver, and Money Metagame. I’ve always loved buying and selling, so I was quite intrigued by the idea that I could easily meet minimum spend and earn LOTS of points with the many arbitrage opportunities out there.

I learned how to stack gift card purchases with sign up/credit card bonuses, shopping portals, store discounts, AMEX offers, rebates, bonus categories, and many more. I learned about getting the best deals on eBay (e.g., iPads, MacBooks, iPhones, LEGO sets, gift cards, and more) by using discounted eBay gift cards and timing the purchases with increased eBay Bucks offer and shopping portals. I also learned the ins and outs of various gift card exchanges and applied to become a bulk seller at several exchanges.

Gift Card Rack

Before I knew it, I was selling $50-100k in gift cards and random goods a month! I knew exactly where/how to find the best deals and where/who/when to sell them. I studied the psychology behind people’s shopping behaviors as well as other resellers. I learned how to set prices and time my sales as not to coincide with a million other resellers. I learned that with reselling, there’s not much barrier to entry, but to do well and make a profit, it’s an art. You have to figure a few things out yourself and not just follow other bloggers. It’s all game theory, which  I’m finally able to put my bachelor’s degree (in economics) to good use… for the first time.

Well, reselling is about all I do now. I haven’t done much manufactured spending ever since AMEX RedCard discontinued credit/debit card load at Target. I didn’t even bother to convert my 5 RedCards to Serve as my neighborhood Walmart is not very MS-friendly. I also haven’t signed up for many credit cards lately because I’ve already maxed out on the number of AMEX I could have and Chase is tightening up on credit card applications. For now, I’m happy with the cards I have (all 80+ of them) and plan to keep some of them, even with the annual fees.

Travel with kidsTraveling Less and Less

With all the miles and points I was earning from all the sign up bonuses and reselling, I thought about what my goals were. As much as I love to travel and see the world, traveling is quite stressful for the family. I have young kids that thrive when we have a set routine. Long flights, time change, jetlag, and irregular diet due to allergies/dietary restrictions create the exact opposite effect.

So…  after several trips the first half of the year, we slowed down and stayed put for a few months. I was itching to go somewhere with all my points but then work got busy, my daughter started kindergarten, and my husband went back to work full-time. We made very few travel plans. Meanwhile, I was still accumulating miles and points like never before from all the reselling! I didn’t want to stop because it was literally free money and I love what I was doing.

Then the idea came to me. If I’m not able to use all the miles and points for my own travels (we all know hoarding miles/points is a bad idea), then I want to be able to use them for a good purpose.

I decided to start a business. With the volume of reselling I was doing, I needed to register as a business anyway, so in August, I registered as an LLC and chose the name FPT Gift Box.

FPT Gift Box – “The FPT (5+2) Model”

FPT, short for “Five Plus Two,” was originally a non-profit I had been working on. The original “Five Plus Two” aimed to teach people how to maximize charitable contributions and giving impact via donor-advised funds (DAF). I figured out how to turn $1 donation into 10-15x giving impact and wanted to share that knowledge with others! Sadly, I’ve abandoned the non-profit project for several reasons which I won’t go into here, but the 5+2 concept, rebranded as “The FPT (5+2) Model” remain the same – that is, turning limited resources into abundance and blessings, the same way that Jesus fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.

FPT Gift Box

What I do with credit card churning and reselling is essentially turning my 5 wallets and 2 “talents” (pun intended) into free money, free travels, free gift cards, free iPads, free toys, and even free gas. I want to be able to give these freebies away to those in need. More specifically, I want to help families with kids who face severe medical conditions and/or disability.

A Respite at the Happiest Place on Earth

Lost ChildhoodOver the years, I’ve met a number of families that have faced very difficult and dark times due to circumstances beyond their control. No words can describe the emotional pain of watching a loved one, especially a child, suffer while in medical treatment. Many parents have lost countless hours of sleep, and the kids, whether they’re the one with the medical condition, or their siblings, have lost the innocence of their childhood as they face an uncertain future. The physical, emotional, and spiritual toll these families experience is beyond measure.

I thought it might be a wonderful thing for these families to be able to go on a respite trip to the happiest place on earth (aka Disneyland). Going on a vacation is often the last thing on these families’ mind due to the financial stress of medical bills and the urgency/severity of the situation they’re having to cope with.

However, if the family is able to get away for even a few days, there’s something to be said about the magic of Disney that can be very uplifting and therapeutic for the family. This is where all my extra miles, points, and Disney gift cards come in handy!

disneyland.png
Hence, FPT Gift Box kicked off. I first started with a Facebook page, then launched the official FPT Gift Box website (www.fptgiftbox.com) in October. In November, I ran a logo design contest with 99designs and picked the winning logo after reviewing over 200 entries from 28 designers!

Logo Design Contest

There’s still much to do and I’m still learning, growing the business, scaling the reselling, and figuring out what to do next. I’m also scouting for families to sponsor for these Disneyland trips. I wish I had more time but this is after all a side project I do after the kids are in bed.

Perhaps, one day I will quit my day job – what many consider a dream job – and give FPT Gift Box a lot more attention. For now, I love my day job too much to quit. I do what I can when time allows it.

To Be Continued…

In part 2, I’ll share the numbers from 2015 – all the credit card applications, sign up bonuses, annual fees, cash bonuses, gift card sales, and many more.

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4 Comments

  1. Great post, love the 5+2 model and the great things you are doing for the families in need. Keep up the great work

  2. Thank you for such a great post, Susan.

  3. Pingback: Here's 2 different ways to get arrested while travel hacking - Points with a Crew

  4. Is the part-2 coming?

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